The secret of golf revealed–become an ideal student

Before Todd Graves reveals the secret to playing great golf, he always tells his audience: “I know you won’t do this.”

So, here it is. The Holy Grail of Golf. The tip of tips. The Secret. Hear it, live it, and pursue it with the doggedness of hobbits trekking to Mordor. Maestro… music please:

“Don’t play golf for six months.”

Oh wow. There it is. Finally.

“Are you kidding? That’s freaking it!” I can hear you say, or variations of same.

At this juncture in our surprising tale, it’s time to introduce our inspirational figure—a real person who actually followed Todd’s advice.

John Olson of Minneapolis-Saint Paul struggled through life as a 20+ handicapper. (Italics mine for dramatic affect.) But John went through such a radical transformation that Todd honored him with the ultimate teacher’s compliment, naming him The Ideal Student.

John Olson

John’s tale began in 2003 when he attended a Graves Golf Academy school in Wisconsin and then another in the fall of 2005 in Indiana. Todd and his brother Tim created a program expressly for John, a business professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. He was 42 at the time.

With winter approaching, John’s golf was going to be restricted to his basement. (See? Giving up playing golf for six months isn’t such a stretch, after all.) The program recommended John work daily on his grip and set-up, performed a series of drills.

He diligently followed the program, but he didn’t swing golf clubs. (His clubs were in storage due to a move). Instead, he used a lead pipe. “I got desperate and actually started to video myself swinging (the) pipe,” John wrote Tim in an email. “The funny thing is the pipe was always on plane.”

In the spring, John got his clubs and started to play. Even though he had not hit a ball for more than six months, the results startled him. “When I went into the winter I was hitting a slice,” John wrote. “Now the winter is over and I can’t slice the ball at all. In fact, if I miss a shot, I hit a small hook”.

During the season, John continued to work on his fundamentals but also on his short game. He practiced through the next winter, but didn’t focus on fundamentals and found the next season that he had not improved much.

“I was really good at listening initially and then I stopped working and I went backwards… The game is hard!”

John began mailing videotapes—this was the VHS era—for Tim and Todd to review. They’d send each tape back with one suggestion. John focused on the one thing for a month at a time. (The mailing process took weeks, but now Tim can exchange videos with students in minutes.)

“I really started to learn,” John said. “In the course of a month if you can master one part of a swing, you really have accomplished something.”

Over a year, his 19.3 index dipped to 5.0. His driver swing speed went from 106 to 118 because, John says, “I am on plane and I maintain my leverage.

“I rarely shoot over 80 now on tough courses and I have really started to enjoy the short game because I know the long game is good,” said John, who has gone up to 8.4. He’s now got two young children and plays only nine holes once a week.

There are several morals to John’s story:

  • Learn the grip
  • Learn the grip (you likely got it wrong the first time)
  • Practice often without a club
  • Chip a lot
  • Work on putting mechanics—if you can’t putt, you can’t score.
  • Practice the impact/leverage position looking into a mirror to make sure you get it right
  • When learning, practice for short intervals only, such as 5-10 minutes at a time 2-3 times a day, which allows your brain to focus on the feeling
  • Write your physical sensations about the swing in a journal and read it often
  • At the range, practice shot-making only—not positions
  • Work on positions at home only, possibly with whiffle balls

When you are working on your swing John adds: “Don’t care about ball flight. Just use the time to learn and ask a ton of questions.”

John sloughs off the suggestion he is an ideal student, but his example shows there’s no secret to improving your game. It’s like a business principle: work hard and smart and reap the dividends.

Your humble author is trying his best to be a good student, figuring ideal is an unattainable standard. I’ll let you know how it goes when I actually start to hit balls on green grass.



About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!