Research and Study

Danny Crowley, Jr., PGA
PGA Teaching • Coaching Professional


Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Hungarian American Physiologist, 1893-1986

From the beginning in golf, research into skill acquisition has primarily addressed the teacher’s skills in teaching, while neglecting important correlations in the relationship between instruction and how students cognitively learn.  Teaching in golf, has relied on student sensory preferences such as visual, feel, audio, as a primary identity as to how to impart information, as though, this alone would adequately prepare students and facilitate learning. These are sensory terms used as effective means of gathering information, but have little to do with how students cognitively learn. Teaching in itself, has very little to do with student learning, but, for the most part, has been widely accepted throughout the history of the game of golf, as the primary means of student learning. Historically, our teaching paradigm, has given little attention to how students cognitively learn and has proven to be a very frustrating and often ineffective as a sole means of student learning. But, today, we are beginning a slow transition from today’s physical teaching centered paradigm into a cognitive learning centered paradigm, where the curriculum and instruction will be consistent with how students learn.

Knowledge is the death of research  Walter Herman Nervst, German Physicist, 1864 – 1941

In 2002, I was the teaching professional at Augusta Pines Golf Club, in Spring,Texas. One afternoon, I was introduced to Dr. Jay Hall, a club member who enjoyed playing the game of golf, as well as the physical and psychological study of the game. He was a Professor of Organizational Behavior in the Graduate School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. He was a social psychologist with specialties in cognitive-behavioral learning and author of seven books including (The Executive Trap) written on the psychological correlations between the games people play and the way they function in life. The Executive Trap is a book that demonstrates just how closely the way you play the game parallels your performance as a business professional. Dr. Hall was an avid golfer and student of the game and techniques who recognized the challenges in instruction and student learning. Early on, in our conversations, it became evident we shared similar views and interest in researching the physical and psychological relationships of a golf curriculum, instruction, and student learning. We agreed on a project that would require thinking outside the box of current understandings in teaching and would require years of research into the relationships of a curriculum design, teaching, and student learning. Using a structured cognitive process, we began building a curriculum consistent with how students cognitively learn. After fifteen years of field-testing our research, we have created a curriculum and written a manuscript together called, “Critical GolfThink”. Our manuscript provides teachers and students alike, the means in how to conceive and conceptualize the golf swing in terms of how they think. This approach to teaching and student learning, enables students to achieve a conceptual and physical ownership of their golf swings. Golf is such an awesome mental and physical study with very few, if any, ever achieving mastery, however, students of the game can achieve a level of mastery in how they learn. To quote Michael Hebron, PGA Master Professional “A master of anything was first a master learner.”

One should avoid carrying out an experiment requiring more than ten percent accuracy.
Walter Herman Nernst, German Physicist, 1864 – 1941

I think the happiest moments for a golfer are those that he spends in study and experimentation.

Bobby Jones, (1902-1971)




Learning How to Learn in Golf

Authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn.

Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman Philosopher, 106 – 43 B.C.

Excerpt originally appeared in Houston Golf Magazine by Jay Hall and Danny Crowley © 2003

How Golfers Learn
Learning is defined psychologically as a change in thinking. Cognitive and human factor psychologists study how what golfers think affects what they do, and what they do determines how they feel. Viewed from this perspective, learning to make a proper golf swing begins with learning how to think about making a proper swing.

“One’s golf swing,” wrote the great British Teaching Pro Percy Boome, “can be no better than one’s concept of the golf swing.” In other words, how golfers conceive their golf swings dictates how they make their golf swings. This means a proper mental set-up for conceiving is needed for acquiring golf skills. That’s where experience comes in.

Using Experience to Learn
Have you ever pounded balls on the practice tee and, and you watch some skitter along the ground while others fly off to the right or dive to the left, become so frustrated that you want to throw your club down the range? Then, have you suddenly hit a dead-solid perfect shot that seems to have come out of nowhere? Have you ever just stood there, in awe of your own unexpected accomplishment? If so–however brief the moment–what did you learn from the experience?

Teaching is really the art of assisting discovery.

Mark Van Doren, American Writer, 1894-1972)

Maybe you learned that you do in fact have the ability to make a good swing. That can be an important lesson. But what did you learn about how to make a good swing? What did you learn about how to do it again? What lessons were you able to take away from the practice tee to use on the golf course? If you are like most golfers, your answer is nothing!

The first change in thinking most of us golfers need to make is the notion that experience is the best teacher. The psychological fact is that none of us learns anything from experience alone.

We learn from the way we recall our experience.
Research by cognitive psychologists has shown that we learn virtually nothing from our experiences. Most experiences occur too quickly and have too many pieces with too little structure to allow learning to occur. The golf swing is a good case in point–it takes about one and a half seconds from start to finish and involves a golf implement traveling between 90 and 100 miles per hour. There is too much going on in too little time for anyone to learn anything from experiencing a golf swing other than perhaps the results it produces.

Insist on yourself never imitate.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Essayist, 1803-1882

This means that we learn and change our thinking after the fact–from the way we recall the experience–rather than during the experience itself! This cognitive process is at the core of learning. For a golf lesson to be successfully learned, the design of the teaching-learning experience ideally should conform to the way we humans learn.

A Learning Process for Golfers
Cognitive learning is based in experience but its lessons come from the particular elements of the experience we happen to recall. Psychologists call such elements constructs because they are the building blocks used to reconstruct an experience in such a manner as to create a cognitive model of the experience. In learning the motions of golf, a construct is not the same as a “tip” or “swing thought” or a “magic move” or a “feel”. Rather it is a reliable and valid guideline for motion that “fits” logically with other constructs so our mind’s eye can combine and assemble them all into a cognitive model of what we hope to learn.

The model we build in our mind dictates what we learn.
We have all experienced times when several individuals received the same precise instruction and walked away with several different interpretations of the learning point–different lessons learned from the same experience. A learning format that guides everyone toward the same learning point may be the missing piece on the teaching and learning of golf. It may be that to improve their performance, golfers should first learn how to learn–how to use their experiences to build a mental model they can take with them to the first tee.

A Few Thoughts On The Purpose And Value Of A Personal Learning Process

A thinker sees his own actions as experiments and questions – as attempts to find out something. Success and failure are for him answers above all.

Friedrich Nietzsche,
German Philosopher, 1844 – 1900

The learning process flows something like this

  • Experience-  for example, trying to strike a ball with a golf implement
  • Observation- to observe and acknowledge what was accomplished or not
  • Reflection-  thinking about the experience after the fact, about sensations and feelings, about the results obtained and what might have caused them–learning begins when the experience ends
  • Recall-  recalling bits and pieces of the experience–that is, swing constructs–such as sense of balance, effort expended, body part producing or controlling the swing that best describes the experience
  • Reconstruction-  selecting the most relevant and likely swing constructs to describe and reconstruct the swing experience for your mind’s eye in the simplest way that will explain all the data
  • Model Building-  Identifying relationships among and between the various swing constructs recalled so that, in the simplest way possible, a cognitive model–a structure seen by your mind’s eye–that accounts for all the data can be built
  • Learning-  changing how you think about your golf swing–that is, using the cognitive model you have built in place of the actual experience as a mental reference you can take with you for teaching yourself desired skills and lessons wherever you go

Understanding something in its complexities in order to teach it in its simplicity.
– The Role Of A Teacher: Unknown

Critical GolfThink Synopsis

Excerpt from Critical GolfThink by Jay Hall, PH.D and Danny Crowley, Jr., PGA © 2007

Critical GolfThink is the result of a ten year collaboration in research and field testing. The authors have developed a process for mind-side preparation for body-side execution. When this manuscript is published, it will serve as our curriculum in instructional programs.

Mind-Side Preparation for Body-Side Execution

Critical GolfThink provides the mental means to achieving the physical motion of a proper golf swing. It is the first book in the world of golf to explain the swing in terms of its cognitive-behavioral dynamics-that is, how one thinks about the golf swing determines what one does.

From its beginning, golfers and their teachers have tried to understand the golf swing by studying the golf club. They have studied positions, club shafts, the face of the club head, angles between club and the target line, ad nausea. These are all effects of physical movements. Few if any have addresses what causes the positions of the club shaft or club face or angles of the golf swing. Without an understanding of causes, a golfer cannot understand the effects obtained.

There is more to the golf swing than the golf club.


A New Perspective

Conventional instruction books have looked for answers in all the wrong places. They are based on what teacher and student alike can observe-the behavior of the golf club. Critical GolfThink provides a different perspective.

In the golf swing, what you can see is caused by what you cannot see-the mind.

Golf is not a game of positions-it is a game of motion. Motion causes the club to go where it goes.

The mind cannot talk to the golf club, but it can and does talk to the golfer’s body. In other words, the mind tells the body what motion to make to swing the golf club. Different messages, different golf swings.

For example, you may be able to see what a golfer is doing but you cannot see what the golfer intends to do. A preoccupation with what the golf club is doing-where it is,its weight, its tempo, and the like. These are all effects; a concern with effect distracts the typical golfer from what causes the golf club to do what it does. This is why so many golfers struggle with inconsistency, imbalance, and poor contact between golf club and ball. The cause lies not with club motion but with swing motion-the motion of the golfer’s wrist, arms, and torso.

To understand the whole golf swing, you must think about both clubs motion and swing motion and the relationship of one with the other. How you think about the golf swing dictates how you will try to swing your golf club.
Many years ago, the legendary teacher Percy Boomer addressed the core issue in swing the golf club-either well or badly. “One’s golf swing,” he said “can be no better than one’s concept of the golf swing. In other words, how golfers conceive and think about the golf swing is the key to a good golf swing. Good concepts produce good golf swings and faulty concepts produce faulty golf swings. To learn to swing your club properly requires that you learn to conceive the golf swing properly.

There are few if any golf books about conceiving the golf swing-the whole golf swing-and the cause-and-effect relationships between swing motion and club motion.
Critical GolfThink fills the void left by a concentration on the golf club alone-it explains the missing half of the golf swing equation. It helps golfers think about, conceive, and develop a mental model of the whole golf swing-with particular emphasis on the dynamics of swing motion that cause the golf club to do what you want it to do.

Ben Hogan said that to develop a good golf swing, your thoughts must be on the right path.

Critical GolfThink acknowledges this basic fact.

Your mind tells your body what to do-and your concept of the golf swing determines what your mind will tell your body.