Almost all of my tennis buddies, except for a few "holdouts," are now playing golf. The athleticism and excellent hand-eye coordination they bring to the game enables them to be fairly successful right from the start. Of course, as we golf nuts know, and I represent that remark, success in golf is fleeting. You can 'borrow it but you can never own it.' It’s the pursuit of perfection by the imperfect (us).
Golf is the classic closed activity, a habitual motion, with no time or environmental restraints. Tennis, a classic, open skill, is totally different. In tennis, you are always adapting to the ball. It comes at different speeds, different angles, up and down with different spins…you get the picture.
In order to succeed in golf, you need to beat balls! There’s a golfer’s motto – the answer is ‘in the dirt’. I’ve been playing since age 12. I’ve hit so many practice balls in my lifetime that I can recall having to quit because my hands were bleeding. The answer was in the dirt but I may not have found it that time. The repetitive motion of making a golf swing simply creates muscle memory and swing patterns. Of course the old expression that ‘practice makes perfect’ is really a fallacy. It should be ‘practice makes permanent’! If you keep swinging outside to in with an open face and slice every shot, pretty soon you’ll be an expert slicer. In golf, as in many sports and skills, you should ‘learn backwards’. By that I mean, observe the results and figure out the cause and ultimately, work on the solution. Another golf expression is ‘the ball tells all’. This is problem solving 101. If you don’t know the cause and effect, you can’t fix the problem. Another one of my favorite expressions is, and I’m sure you’ve heard this one, is the classic definition of stupidity – “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’. Golfers, as a group, must be the stupidest people I know. Ever go to a driving range and observe. I took my golf class (I teach golf at Queens College also) to the Alley Pond Range a few weeks ago to point out this phenomenon. Player after player, teeing up balls and making the same mistake over and over again. Stupidity at its finest.
Ultimately, with a lot of trial and error, we golfers improve and reach a level of success that, unfortunately, we’re never content with. I’m still working on that 5 yard draw. And that, is the beauty of golf – the pursuit of an unattainable goal. Take, for example, the greatest golfer of our generation and possible of all time, Tiger Woods. As the number one player in the world, he’s changed his swing three times!! What was he thinking? Ah, but that’s the golfer’s mindset – I can always get better but not perfect. What a great game.
I’m often asked what’s your favorite sport. I answer, golf is favorite game but tennis is my favorite sport. I believe, that while a certain amount of athleticism is necessary, anyone with persistence can be successful at golf. You just need to put in the time. My tennis buddies simply have not put in the time. I’m 35 – 50 years ahead of them.
If I were to tell tennis players how to swing a club I might make the analogy that it’s similar to hitting an inside to out topspin forehand. The in to out swing being more preferrable to the out to in swing. Other than the path of the swing the only other variable to be concerned with is the face of the club at impact. An open face results in left to right spin (fades and slices) and a closed face results in right to left spin (hooks and draws). It’s a simple equation but it’s not easy. Awareness and understanding of the underlying causes is the key to learning. A previous article, if you’ve been following me, suggests that the key to learning a motor skill is conscious incompetence – knowing what you are doing wrong. Once you know, you can, with practice, get to the next level – conscious competence. Ultimately, if you beat balls enough and put in the time – unconscious competence or being so skilled that you don’t have to think at all. Of course the human brain wants to think of something and that could be dangerous. Golf provides golfers way too much time to think.
So what do we have. We have two great activities both with the capacity to provide participants with a lifetime of enjoyment and healthful exercise. Two activities, so different, yet so complementary. Golf is the ultimate challenge of mind over matter, and tennis a terrific sport that combines athleticism with speed, power and agility. For all you tennis players who have turned to golf, I say, put in the time. Successful people, in any walk of life, whether it be business or sports, sometimes, erroneously think that they should be successful in golf right away. They are ‘fooled’ by their early successes and frustrated by their inability to improve. Put in the time!
<p>Ed Wolfarth is the director of tennis at the Meadowbrook Pointe Club in Westbury, N.Y. Besides being an active member of the USPTA Eastern Division, he is also on the regional board of the USTA Eastern Section. He holds national senior rankings in both singles and doubles, and has been USPTA High School Coach of the Year, as well as USTA Senior Player of the Year. When he's not on the tennis court, Wolfarth is a professor of physical education and sport sciences at both Hofstra University and Queens College. He may be reached by e-mail at <a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.</p>