The Case for Uncertainty

People like certainty, especially when it comes to experts.  It’s reassuring. No one wants a car mechanic to tell them, “I think you’re transmission is broken.”  We want him to know, and then to fix it.

This love of certainty is, in my opinion, a big part of why method instructors are so prevalent.  Instructors want to appear certain and knowledgeable, so they pick one method and they teach that all day long.  It makes teaching very black and white: “That motion doesn’t fit into the swing that I teach, so it’s wrong.  This is the move that you should do, it is right.”  Not only does it make the job easy, but people like it.  People think, “He is certain, so he must know what he’s doing.”

Unfortunately, the golf swing is not like a car engine.  There is very little that is objectively right or objectively wrong.  One needs to look no further than the PGA Tour to confirm this: among the best players in the world, there are many different kinds of swing…and they all work.

Teaching Golf Is Not Fixing a Car

Every mechanic knows what a car owner wants from their car: they want it to start when they turn the key and get them from A to B.

As a golf instructor, I do not know what you want from your golf swing until I ask.  You might want the ball to move more right or more left.  You might want it to fly higher or lower.  Outside of wanting to hit it longer, which is pretty universal, every golfer wants different things from their swing.

Every (good) mechanic can identify and fix a car that doesn’t start.  A car is a machine with very clear, unchanging cause and effect.

Golf swings are made by humans.  Humans are not machines.  We all come in different sizes and shapes.  We have varying levels of athleticism, flexibility, and coordination.  Our “feel” is different.  While I am very certain about what the club needs to do to create various shots, I can only suggest what you might need to feel to create those shots.  Furthermore, while I have seen certain causes lead to certain effects more often than not, I’ve also seen exceptions to every rule.  So much for certainty.

Do You Want a Certain Golf Instructor?

Let me be very clear in what I am and am not suggesting:

I am not suggesting that you want an instructor who lacks confidence nor one who is uncertain about the basic realities of ball flight (the D-Plane, gear effect, etc).

What I am suggesting is that the teacher who appears to know it all probably doesn’t.  I will also suggest that the instructor who tells you what to do before asking questions is not doing the most important part of his job.

Finally, I will suggest that while your gut may not like an instructor who asks a lot of questions and offers possibilities rather than certainties, that instructor might offer you your best chance to improve.

It has always struck me that the best people in any field are very aware that they will never know it all, but they’re always trying to anyway.  That’s the kind of instructor that I would seek out.

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Matt Saternus

Founder, Editor In Chief at
Matt is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Plugged In Golf. He's worked in nearly every job in the golf industry from club fitting to instruction to writing and speaking. Matt lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with his wife and two daughters.

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