By Tim Dietrich

“Reverse every natural instinct and do the opposite of what you are inclined to do, and you will probably come close to having a perfect golf swing.” – Ben Hogan.

I don’t think it is quite as black and white as Ben would have you believe, but he makes a pretty good argument for taking golf lessons. Let me give you my take on the “instinct versus acquired skill” argument.

While many golf-specific skills and fundamentals have to be learned and mastered before one can play consistent golf, I believe that instinct plays an important role in our development as golfers. Give a golf club to an athletic 20-year-old person who knows nothing about the game and ask them to hit a few balls. The odds are that they will not pay much attention to set-up (grip, stance, ball position, posture, etc). Their instinct will tell them that the ball needs to be hit hard, so they throw the whole kitchen sink of “natural” moves at the ball. They will probably sway on the way back and through. Their inclination to rise up on the backswing – particularly their upper body – so that they can hit down harder on the ball that is, after all, on the ground will happen without fail. Just as strong will be their inclination to rise up out of the shot as they try to get the ball airborne by helping it up with their movement as opposed to letting the clubface do the job. The neophyte will probably have too much tension in their arms because the urge to leverage the ball with their trailing arm will feel right. In the beginning, instinctive moves tend to be done too fast or too soon or excessively. I could go on and on about how the instincts of the uneducated golfer get in the way of making an efficient and effective golf swing, but I think you get my point.

On the other side of the equation are the golf-specific moves and fundamentals – things that aren’t instinctive at all and have to be learned. These include understanding and learning a proper set-up; maintaining a constant spine angle through impact; learning how to rotate the forearms; learning how to make correct sequential rotation on the through swing (ie hips, shoulders then arms); swinging within yourself; and host of other subjects that comprise the majority of golf lessons.

I think that if you focus 100% percent of your efforts on learning the mechanics, as Ben would seem to want you to do, you will lose your instinctive flow and become too mechanical. Your sense of rhythm and tempo will be disrupted and without rhythm and good tempo, your timing will certainly suffer. So what do we do? I feel strongly that we need to work on both sides of the issue. We must curtail and refine the instincts of the beginner while at the same time developing our golf skills and fundamentals. Limit your instincts and work on acquiring the fundamentals – just as Ben would have you do. If you have any trouble balancing the “instinct vs acquired” equation, see your local PGA professional.

Mahalo for reading and please feel free to reach out to [email protected] with your feedback.