Technique versus Skill

Mark and I share a common belief when it comes to the golf swing; skill is different to technique.

For example, if a player is producing a certain strike pattern which is suboptimal, this is their technique. However, their ability to move the strike around the clubface (intentionally hit different parts of the clubface) is the skill element.

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In the above example (taken from one of Mark’s lessons), the player has a toe biased strike pattern (technique). Their ability to improve this pattern will depend on their skill level (their ability to move the strike around the face to where they desire).

Swing style

While ‘swing style’ would also be categorized as technique, it is also very different to skill. For example, there are many different swing styles on tour – from flat/steep/laid off/across the line/weak and strong grips etc. However, as different as the players swing the club, all swing styles on tour still produce functional impacts as a result of the player’s skill-sets.

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In fact, a tour player would be able to produce multiple different swing styles/techniques (draw/fade/high/low etc.) and still produce functional impacts and shots.

The Golf Industry Needs a Shake-Up

Since forever, the golf industry (magazines, TV commentators, books, coaches etc.) has only looked at golf from the perspective of improving swing style. Often, we look at the player who is in vogue at the moment and we show how they move their bodies/the club. However, golfers are missing a vital element in their improvement programs – skill development.

And, with the best players all swinging the club in different ways, and different coaching methodologies offering different viewpoints, wouldn’t it be better to look at the commonalities? Skills such as;

  • Ability to control strike with the face
  • Ability to control ground contact (depth, location)
  • Ability to control loft
  • Directional control
  • Speed control

Skill Training

Luckily, skills are very trainable. And when we improve skills, we automatically get better, even if we use the same swing style. And if we were to change our swing style for whatever reason, our skills would still stay with us – this is why Tiger Woods was still able to win so many events with Butch/Haney/Foley’s swings.

While skill training is a massively in-depth topic, some of the ways that I use in lessons to improve my pupil’s skills are;

  • Understanding – improvements in clarity of task (what causes a good/bad shot)
  • Awareness – improvements in ability to identify what actually happened
  • Feedback – helps improve awareness
  • Scaling – putting the feedback on a scale to increase awareness
  • Practice methods – differential and variability practice improves your ability to ‘edit’ your technique and also improves coordination
  • Task difficulty – increasing or decreasing the difficulty to push improvements in skill or understanding
  • Gamifying – turning the task into a game speeds up learning
  • Attention – where you place your focus can improve or destroy your skills

As a result of skill improvements, we see dramatic performance changes in spite of the swing often looking very similar on video.

In The Practice Manual – The Ultimate Guide for Golfers, I discuss the vital skills for golfers, as well as many of the methods we can use to improve these skills. The book has been a number one best-seller in the UK, USA, Canada, Germany and France, and has been featured on The Golf channel. To find out more, click the image below.

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  • Skill is different to technique
  • There are many different swing styles (techniques) on tour, but all tour players have skills which allow them to control the ball
  • We often focus too much on swing technique, and not enough on skills
  • Skills are trainable – they can be improved in many different ways

10 comments on “Technique versus Skill

  • Brian Horne says:

    Adam, looking forward to checking out the book. Side note: The photo link underneath isn’t actually a link.

  • love the show /site /instruction.My golf is definately much better bec of your video instruction.

    I’ve read this book (over xmas) and it was really usefull. I now look at every shot and interpret how the ball starts and my ballflight to work out what’s happening with my swing – I make modifications during a round – for example it tought me about what really makes a ball fade or draw., and I practice these. I practice different shots on the range to improve my skill – like hiting a very low 150 yd with a 5 iron (undre the tree) or a very high draw on differnt targets usually 140 – 175 yds etc. Its amazing when you actually find yourself on a golf course and have to use this stuff to avoid danger or get yourself out of trouble. Such a buzz when it works Over the last few weeks I’ve started hitting it close to the hozzel so I’m now marking each ball to see where I hit it -on the face. As the book suggests I give myself targets and monitor performance – I use a dry board marker on a laminated sheet of A4 and score distance from target by every club – I also try and beat my scores. Now I’m trying to move strike to improve my skill. SO read the book, takie the ipad and a simple trypod and load V1 golf to work out what’s happening.

    PS> whats the email to send a copy of my son’ s swing –

  • With my long clubs (driver, woods, hybrids) I always feel like I need to set myself up with the ball being more at the toe of my club then in the center. When I setup like this I end up hitting the ball in the center of the club face. Except with my driver! Even when I setup with the ball at the toe I still hit it off the heal. Any suggestions?

    • I went through a few days with this problem once I ‘d identified it. i couldnt work out why I was so inconsitent with my driver. When I watched the videos on V1 golf I found I was casting at the top of my swing creating an in to out swing . I found that focusing on an in to out swing, initiating the downswing by bumping your hips at the top of the back swing to drop the club onto the inside helps.
      Then on the driving range, set your driver so it toe edge (furthest from hozzel) is next to the rubber tee, swing and try not to hit the tee. Get to 10 and then hit balls. I take a white board marker and mark the ball before I hit it so I can work out where on teh face I’m hitting it. Once you get good, use scholl footspray and divide the face into 3 – then try hitting nearest hozzel, miiddle, toe.
      Finally I found that making sure your weight doesnt transfer to the front of your front foot , but to the middle also helps

    • Too Fast with the arms (aka the over the top swing) can cause heel strikes. A feeling that helped me break this was too feel like my shoulders held still at the beginning of the downswing and my arms moved down instead of instantly spinning my shoulders around to attack the ball and getting the club out in front. Once the club is out in front of you its hard not to come across the ball presenting the heel to the ball first.

      Its no coincidence that slicers hit more heel strikes and draws hit more toe, its the part of the club that reaches the ball first with that swing pattern. This isnt 100% of the time but the vast majority.

      Something else you can try is to stand closer to the ball, yes closer. Try to adress the ball at the heel then force yourself to hit the toe. This is a helpful drill because like most golf drills it is an over exaggeration and will help you get the feeling of hitting the toe. You can also take an old shoebox and place it on the opposite side of the ball you are standing on, just far enough for your club to pass through, and this will give you some instant feedback as you hit the box you know you were too far towards the heel with your club.

  • Joe Boyle says:

    This 385 page book is unnecessarily long, badly written, and poorly illustrated. If there are insights that will help readers play better golf, the author has hidden them among the many irrelevant concepts and unreferenced theories he presents.

    A waste of time and money – I gave up reading after the first 100 pages, and returned the book to Amazon for a refund.

  • Look at this dispassionately: you use a driver on 12 or 13 holes. Maybe. This is the last place to look for strokes. Practice your wedges and putter and once you have them where you want them, then you can worry about drivers. Use a fairway wood or iron off the tee, fond the fairway and hot our wedges. That’s how you score.


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