Advancing Players

[PODCAST] How Good Golfers Get Good with Graeme McDowall & Peter Arnott4 min read

Golf Science LabAuthor: Golf Science Lab


Posted on: 18th May 2017

How do we explain great players? And what can we discover when we ask questions like, “how do PGA tour players become PGA tour players”?

We’re sitting down with two guys, Graeme McDowall and Peter Arnott, who have some interesting concepts that might explain a lot of the “luck” and “mystery” surrounding great players.

Ecological psychology is really the study of how organisms act in their environment, how they adapt, and how they become functional in their environments.

One of the key concepts explains how we are able to directly perceive our environment and how we are able to scale movement solutions to that environment. This essentially reverses the paradigm – you’ve got to find the problem first, then come up with a solution.

With an ecological dynamics approach, you don’t give the organism any solutions. Instead, you just give it appropriate problems and let the organism (golfer) come up with the solution. Because we are all different in the sense that we are unique, we act with creativity and novelty.

For instance, you see all these guys in the PGA Tour with different movement patterns, but they are effectively doing the same thing and that is behaving functionally in the environment.  Each of them has come up a unique solution to a problem. The human system is very smart. It has evolved to adapt to the demands of his environment. These are empirical chase-able theories and facts that you put down that we can present a lot of literature to support these in motions

The human system is very smart. It has evolved to adapt to the demands of his environment. These are empirical chase-able theories and facts that you put down that we can present a lot of literature to support these in motions

We just need to provide it with an appropriate environment and an appropriate level of development and the whole organism will be capable of whacking whole things out and you’ll have such as self-organization.

Real World Example of Great Players Adapting to the Environment

One of the great examples of this is from Padraig Harrington when he talks about his junior golf development.

He talks about being a part of a group of players who used to play games for money every day and quite simply, if you couldn’t hole a putt for money, you had to leave the group. If you couldn’t develop that competency, if your skill couldn’t emerge to a high enough level you would have to leave the group because you couldn’t afford to be a part of this group.

Padraig talks about never ever being concerned with technique, but only that they knew how to get the ball in the hole.

We talk about this certain illusion of form following function.

When you look at the PGA tour you see a lot of different golf swings, grips, and techniques. Some of these are techniques you wouldn’t necessarily want to teach someone . What you are seeing there is people who have learned to do something that is a function.

Learn to get the ball in the hole, “This is the way I get the ball in the hole, my technique has just emerged”. It doesn’t necessarily resemble a particular standard.

It doesn’t always look optimal, but I am going to get this ball in the hole because those are the demands of the environment placed on me.

That’s what Harrington is describing here. He is saying that his environment growing up was such that if you couldn’t learn to hole putts for money, then you had to leave the group.

You see a skill being emergent; they didn’t really concentrate on the technique. They were just figuring out a way of getting that ball in the hole because of the constraints that were part of the environment.


About Graeme McDowall

Graeme has an MPhil in Sports Coaching from the University of Birmingham and is a full-time Golf and Sports Coaching lecturer at the SRUC in Scotland. He is also an associate lecturer and a PhD researcher at the University of Abertay Dundee.

His main area of research is skill acquisition in sport and as well as being a practitioner in this area with the high-performance golf programme at the SRUC, he has worked with coaches in rugby and football. Graeme is currently involved with some of the world’s leading experts in non-linear pedagogy, in a project aimed to bring coaches, academics and education professionals together to raise standards in player development.

Follow Graeme on Twitter Here

About Peter Arnott

Pete Arnott is the Teaching Professional at Craigmillar Park Golf Course. Pete is currently studying a MRes in skill acquisition and has worked with all levels of golfers, from novice to European Tour Players, using a constraints-led approach. Indeed, recently one of his star pupils, Nastja Banovec, won a very prestigious Professional Tournament (The Paul Lawrie Invitational) whilst still an Amateur.

Peter has also just recently returned from talking to over one hundred delegates from all sports at the English Institute of Sport on how he puts ‘science’ into practice and has been asked to talk at several high-profile institutions as a result. Basically Peter specialises in creating effective practice environments, which enable a greater transfer from practice to play.

Follow Peter on Twitter Here

Golf Science LabAuthor: Golf Science Lab
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