The Alexander Technique can help every golfer improve their performance around the greens
‘Drive for show, putt for dough’ is one of golf’s best-known sayings. According to the legendary South African Bobby Locke, it’s a player’s short game around the green that separates the great golfers from the merely good ones.
The implication in Locke’s statement is that driving and putting require different approaches. A golfer applying the principles of the Alexander Technique, however, would argue that the approach to these facets of the game should be the same – the only difference being in the execution. Our Alexandrian golfer might instead concur with another giant of the game, Henry Cotton, who insisted: ‘Every shot counts. The three-foot putt is as important as the 300-yard drive.’
Alexander Technique is a way to develop better use of your body by recognising habitual patterns of tension and learning to release them. Golf is a game demanding both physical stamina and mental focus over a long period of time; the Technique can help golfers of all standards ‘think in activity’, release any build-up of tension and maintain optimum performance all the way to the 18th green.
‘Lessons with an Alexander teacher will help you find your natural length, and to feel as though your body is “better organised” and moves more freely,’ says Alexander Technique teacher, STAT spokesperson and golf coach Martyn Jones.
‘This is important for all aspects of golf, since tension is so easily transmitted to the club head, but it’s particularly beneficial when it comes to putting. Getting tight can play absolute havoc with the fine motor control needed to hole a six-footer.’
Jones has created a simple five-point routine, based on the principles of the Alexander Technique, for golfers to follow every time they reach the green:
1. Check your line to the hole
As part of your preparation to putt, focus on what it will ‘feel like’ to play the shot. This will help you stay in the moment rather than jumping ahead to the outcome. ‘Concentrating on what an Alexander teacher will call “the means whereby” is much more likely to produce the result you want,’ says Jones.
2. Find your natural length
‘As you move to the ball,’ explains Jones, ‘allow your neck to be free which will encourage your head to be forward and “up”. This is a skill you will learn with an Alexander teacher and can then apply on the golf course. It will help you arrive at the ball with your body in a lengthened state, giving you maximum freedom to execute the shot.’
3. Check your line a second time and align your putter face, forearms and shoulders to the hole
‘It’s not the position of your feet and lower body that will determine the path of your stroke,’ adds Jones, ‘it’s your forearms and shoulders.’
4. Allow your body to release any tension
This will make your putting more fluid and increase your sense of ‘connection’ with the action you’re about the perform.
5. ‘Don’t putt’
‘The key to successful putting is not to think about “hitting” the ball,’ Jones explains. ‘Allow the shoulders, arms and club to work as one, making a pendulum action coming from the shoulders into the arms from a body that you have already allowed to lengthen and release. This will move the club head onto the ball without tension and without you having to “hit” it. A verbal cue is a good way to reinforce this point. I use the phrase “don’t putt” just before playing the shot, but choose whatever works for you.’
Peter is a 16-handicap golfer who has been taking Alexander lessons to help him improve aspects of his game: ‘I have come to realise that by learning to release the tension in my whole body, I can develop far greater freedom of movement and release in the swing. As a result, I hit the ball a lot further than I ever could before.
‘In particular, my putting has improved. I am now able to release any tension in my hands and arms before making my stroke. As a result, the ball runs more smoothly and my distance control of putts has improved considerably.’