Old School vs. New School Golf Instruction

Bob-Duncan-4cAny way you slice it, there is a new debate going on in the teaching industry: Do you place your faith in instruction that incorporates an impact-based launch radar and technology, or in learning to make swing corrections based on your ball flight? There are strong arguments on both sides of the discussion.

“New School” teachers more likely use technology to analyze the golf swing – launch radars that measure the launch characteristics of the golf ball, 3 dimensional animation, and perhaps slow motion photography. Trackman and Flight Scope are 2 of the more popular launch radars in the industry, and with these some pros are embracing digital technology and a numbers-based approach.

ballflightOn the other hand, “Old School” teachers use the ball flight and an understanding of the “Ball Flight Laws” to make swing corrections. Ball Flight Laws are an analysis of swing path and face position based on viewing the swing and the entire flight of the ball. Because of New School computer numbers, a slight revision of the Ball Flight Laws has taken place. But it still boils down to the moment of truth: at impact, what was the position of the face in relation to the path your club took?

Some Old School instructors do use technology in their instruction (be it video or launch radars), but they may rely on it less, while instead comparing what they see with what happened to the ball in flight.

According to PGA Pro Ric Jeffries at RiverRidge in Eugene, OR, “It depends on how the player learns – visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. It’s a balance and each approach has its benefits. All players can take a picture or video and look at themselves. Old School teachers may use a more team-teaching approach in which they may involve other instructors and a ‘what do you see’ approach. Any analysis goes back to cause and effect, and how the instructor applies the corrections.”

flightscopeTechnology offers digital information on impact conditions such as clubhead speed, face angle, clubhead path, ball launch angle, ball spin rate, and you can get as technical as you want to with things like smash factor, spin axis, etc. For some that much information might make your head spin, but it depends more on how the instructor uses and interprets the information and applies corrections.

According to Utah Teaching Pro Tom Stickney, “Using hard data from golf radar to control the golf ball’s curvature and then feeling HOW you, in fact, made the ball go straighter will make it easier to reproduce shot shapes on the golf course when it matters. I prefer using golf radar to define feels, not the other way around — it saves time and stops wasted effort.”

The perception of digital launch information varies from player to player, and may be more valuable to a somewhat more experienced player. “As a beginner, I think Old School makes more sense. I need to develop. I see technology as addressing nuances that don’t yet apply to me,” says beginning golfer Bob Salisbury of Eugene.

Each approach is based on improving the golf swing and flight of the ball, and neither has cornered the market on teaching. “Once again; technology is not the complete answer – it’s a tool,” says Jeffries. “Technology doesn’t have a relationship with the player. Either way, it’s really about bringing people to the game and helping them play better.”

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