Dr. Fran Pirozzolo – Former Chief of Neuropsychology Baylor College of Medicine.
Michael Hebron has undertaken a frightfully ambitious, Herculean challenge in this heroic attempt to change the minds of people engaged in the mysterious rituals that have developed around golf learning and teaching over the last one hundred years. Some may argue that his task is more Sisyphean than Herculean, as confronting people about how they teach, learn and think is a thankless job. All of us offer up snappy lines about open mindedness and the search for “truth”, and yet we promptly slam the door in the face of change. It is much safer and far less destabilizing to our view of the world to return to our offices and homes insulated from the winds of change.
Michael Hebron is an award winning teacher who was recently inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame for his innovative work. His previous works have included novel conceptualizations of the golf swing, and methods of teaching people how to play the game of golf. The present book is likely to have a more profound impact on golf than his previous efforts, and it is also likely to annoy the golf professional who is quite comfortable with the methods he employs to teach the game to the masses.
Michael has made a career out of taking on difficult challenges. He has been responsible for pushing a very conservative, large organization (the PGA of America), made up of mostly well-meaning, benevolent, and compassionate professionals who have been, objectively speaking, poorly prepared in the areas that pertain to how their students learn and compete in golf.
Golfers as it turns out are not that different from real people. The simple fact is this, that people are decidedly not open to new ideas and even less so when new information contradicts what they think they already know about how the world works. Research in cognitive neuroscience has consistently shown that we overestimate what we think we know. There exists in the field of cognitive psychology an entire category of research that has been come to be known as “judgment of learning” research. The simple (and sad) fact is that learners not only are consistently overconfident in what they think they know and have learned, but even in the face of scientific evidence that alternative methods (which are not so painful after all) are superior to the ones that we prefer to use to learn.
Here’s an example. Researchers separated learners into two equally matched groups giving them a text to be read for the purpose of learning the subject matter which would be tested after completion of the study requirements. One group was asked to prepare for the exam by re-reading the text a second time, which turns out to be the favorite method for most people who want to retain information and do well when tested. The second group was asked not to re-read the text but to simply test themselves on the subject matter only. When tested, group two was far superior to group one (the rereading group), suggesting that learning is supported by the processes which are activated when you are forced to re-conceptualize material. The most interesting aspect of the study was the follow up. The researchers told the subjects in both groups what the results were. They then gave them a second text and told each subject that they could prepare for a test in any manner they preferred. Almost all of the subjects preferred to re-read the text a second time to help them learn the subject matter! Needless to say, the few subjects who chose to test themselves on the subject matter as their test preparation strategy, and not re-read the text, performed better than their counterparts.
In the world of science, we often point out that there are two “ways of knowing”, through “testimonial evidence” and it’s opponent process, empirical scrutiny or scientific study. Professional sports has never been reluctant to accept testimony as evidence of fact. If a prominent Tour professional states that the ball he uses is superior to the others, in spite of the fact that we know he is being paid for this testimony, then we accept that this particular ball is superior to others. We are so addicted to this kind of information that one golf publication queried professional golfers about which hamburger is best among the fast food choices. Nobody asked me, but I chose ” In and Out Burger”.
Most other domains require some level of scientific proof, controlled scientific studies proving efficacy. Golf has been steadfast in resisting scientific investigation to support the claims of its constituents, and nowhere is it more harmful than in the learning area, which Michael points out (ad nauseum, as some reviewers may choose to point out). Readers could be annoyed by the re-stating of many of the main points that Michael makes, but I am thinking that this strategy is but a Darwinian vestige. His voice has not been consistently heard, and he may feel the need to keep making his case.
Some readers may not be familiar with the alarming fact that, in spite of all of the efforts of millions of teachers, golf is the rare endeavor in which people do not improve after their initial forays into the game. The National Golf Foundation keeps statistics on the handicaps of golfers over the years, and no, the average player still does not break 90, and his/her handicap hovers around the same number for years. Certainly, young people, gifted with enormous neuroplasticity (as well as being a lot more open to new ideas that us old folks are turned off to), make good strides of improvement in their games for several years. Adults, however, after they have taken up the game and worked at the new techniques for a couple of years cease to improve. This “learning disability” should be shocking and unacceptable to golf teachers, but alas it is the accepted state of affairs in golf. Sometimes it would seem that only Michael and his precious few like-minded colleagues know the depth of this problem. This phenomenon exists in spite of the fact that golf equipment is far superior to the tools used in the past. The golf ball flies farther and straighter than ever before (from the same force and vectors applied at impact). Golf courses are far better conditioned. There are literally hundreds of teaching and learning aids that claim to take strokes off your handicap in a month’s time. Certainly the feedback mechanisms used in the game today, such as video, augmented feedback, Tracman, and the myriad of technology-based gadgets, including distance finding global positioning mechanisms, provide more information about how the player is performing than could possibly be imagined by golfers of even a generation ago.
This book will enlighten the people who can read it without a bias towards their particular, preferred ways of training, teaching, and learning. It is my hope that the book will find its way into the hands of millions of teachers, coaches, parents and golfers. Michael has had a second career as an itinerant graduate student in education, psychology and neuroscience, and he has done the game a service by sticking his neck out, while most of us timid souls wring our hands and fret over the sad state of affairs and future of the game. I have had the blessing and the honor of wearing a New York Yankee uniform and going to work everyday with athletes like Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, and I have also witnessed the courage and mental toughness of other athletes that I have worked with such as Evander Holyfield, Bernhard Langer, and Andre Johnson. Michael’s courage belongs in the same category with these sports heroes.