Rant: When Calling Someone “a Natural” is a Left Handed Compliment

I am very proud of both my son Ben and the work we have done with Shawn Clement.

Sometimes I feel bad in that by throwing Ben in experiment after experiment that I have hindered his development as a golfer. However, the payoffs in what Shawn and I have learn are a fret free structured sequential progressive practice paradigm that has yielded surprise after surprise.

I am not going to lie, I love showing off the fact that Ben discovered a LH swing in just 3 days. This amazing feet was one of the surprises that made me start to rethink about how to structure a practice not only for ADHD golfers but all golfers in general. It was at this moment, when I started to turbo charge my using of the neocortical theories of Jeff Hawkins and Numenta in everything that we do.

However, when I showed this to some and said, “Ben discovered this without a single mechanical positional instruction with the exception of grip, posture, and awareness of when the left elbow should bend in the left handed backswing.”

The response from PGA pros or apprentices is almost always the same “Boy he is a Natural”. Nothing to take away from Ben. Ben is talented and I am a proud dad. However, these statements started to feel like a left handed compliment or even worse a little patronizing. It is almost as if these people can not fathom a method to discover a golf swing outside of the micro positional management method that hey have been indoctrinated into.

The Ben discovering a LH swing part was born from my curiosity in proving Shawn’s method in attacking the slopes. I said to my self “Shawn is all about balance and rhythm through impact. If that is true, then I should be able to swing an 8 lb medicine ball back and through without stopping on each slope with ease using his methods.” It worked flawlessly.

In fact, the medicine ball down hill swing completely disproves the shoulders parallel to the ground method popularized by David Ledbetter and Michael Breed. On a downhill slope, if you put your shoulders parallel to the ground the medicine ball will pull you down the hill.

The only method on the downhill slope that will maintain balance and rhythm is to park your head back and feel the swing being anchored on the left leg, specifically the arch of the left foot for those how are right handed. Thus, when you are swinging a half pound golf club, the golf club is light enough that you can manipulate it. However, if you set up with your shoulders parallel to the ground, your are still making micro compensations in order to hold yourself on the downhill slope. With Shawn’s method, there are no micro compensations to make.

So when Ben came down for Thanksgiving, Ben and I spent a lot of time at the range and par three course at the amazing Duran Golf Club. We had some do to some video walk throughs for Shawn’s visit after New Years.

However, I also put Ben through the paces of a Medicine Ball Perpetual Motion Drill (PMD), Medicine Ball Toss and golf club PMD sequential regimen. I added the one legged downhill PMD because you very quickly gravitate to the right head position and left leg anchor otherwise you fall. The medicine ball turbocharges everything.

I then had Ben hit shots on the slopes. He was lights out.

So we progressed to the range. Ben, was swinging with great rhythm. So as usually happens to an ADHD dad, I started getting bored. I turned over his driver and started popping drivers left handed into the range.

Ben looked at me and said, “Can I try that?” I said sure. So he took a few practice swings. Now his balance was wobbly, but the rhythm was there. He pulled a couple of shots, but it was not that bad.

Day 2: The same thing; Ben went through medicine ball and PMD warm ups on the slopes. I get bored on the range but this time when Ben intervened, his balance was tighter and his left handed swing was better.

Day 3: Same warmup. I was bored again. But this time I started hitting my LH 8 iron, which I use for chipping since I putt LH. Ben asks me “can I try that?” Ben’s practice swings were flawless, better than my right handed swing. When he address the ball, he steered a little through impact with a slight block but otherwise his left handed swing was better than most of the right handed swings on the range. How did this happen?

Day 4, New Years Weekend: Shawn was in town. With just a minor adjustment using the grass whip, Ben was swinging well. Then Ben got cocky and said “Hey Shawn look at this”. Ben turns his driver upside down, swings left handed and PURES it into the range.

Day 5: Shawn and I shot a slopes video. After shooting Shawn on the slopes, we shot video of Ben left handed on the slopes. Since it was the first time he swung lh on the slopes, we did place the ball for him so it sat up a little on the tufts of grass. The results were a little stiff but the contact was solid. It was amazing.

Now the one addition Shawn made to the medicine ball regimen was to start out with the feet together medicine ball swing. This both stretched you out as well as forces you to turn and clear the hips both ways.

We put a friend Archie, who is in his 60’s, through the medicine ball/pmd on the slope paces and the results were amazing… Archie for the first time could hit the ball flush on a downhill slope. Archie was astonished he picked this up so quickly.

What Shawn and I learned is the following:

  • That the medicine ball feet together swing turbocharges the learning of the rhythm of turning the hips with relation to the swinging of the medicine ball arm unit
  • The one legged downhill medicine ball swing, one legged downhill PMD and one legged downhill swing/shot turbocharges the feeling of needing your head to be parked back as well as being well anchored on the front post.
  • The feet apart downhill is the next step of a progression into doing the same thing feet apart flat.
  • The uphill medicine ball swing, uphill PMD and uphill shot had some interesting side effects. You have to keep your weight anchored on the back foot, just like Shawn does on his uphill swing as well as Phil Mickelson on uphill bunker shots and uphill green-side pitches. You can not have your weight go to the outside of your back foot otherwise you fall. Lastly and most importantly, with the uphill PMD we noticed that by having your back foot anchored, the deployment of Ben’s left handed backswing was flawless.

The latter discovery was the big key. When you swing your arms in the backswing there is still some momentum going away from the target. Thus you must be properly anchored for the backswing to be properly deployed. This is was the big aha moment.

So we now understood why Ben learned a LH golf swing so fast. Yes he has talent. But, the medicine ball swing and PMD on the slopes were the key. Even though the tossing of the medicine balls and the golf club PMD was for a right handed swing, Ben learned the rhythm, timing, turn and anchors of the golf swing for both a right handed and a left-handed golf swing each time we went through the progression of drills.

We have often heard announcers, instructors and the like say the “Bubba Watson is an amazing natural talent”.

The problem with the left-handed compliment “He is natural” is that once you make that statement, it stops you from being curious and ask the all important right questions such as “why?’ “How did he do that”

Maybe there is a method to Bubba’s madness. Maybe there is important lesson to be learned from how Bubba crafts his practice rounds. Maybe Bubba both has talent AND knows something.

What we have learned from Jeff Hawkins is that the Neocortex is like an blank hard drive when you are born. Every human neocortex on this planet earth learns from scratch. Brain chemistry, partition sizes and other factors might lead to some learning faster in certain areas, but even the most talented golfers including Bubba has had to learn to swing a golf club “from scratch.”

The majority of people in the golf instruction industry blindly hang the talent moniker whenever an accomplished golfer, who both practices and learns differently, excels. What this pervading perception actually does is put blinders on the majority of the golfers out there who might actually learn from those labeled a “Natural” who also have learned to swing a golf club on planet earth.