The Golf Improvement Pyramid

Players who are new to the game of golf - or even those who have played for years - are on a constant search for enlightenment in regard to taking his or her game to the next level. This is a unique aspect to the game of golf; perfection is always sought and never achieved. Even the best players in the game continue to tinker with their golf swings and continue to practice, just as any serious athlete should. The search for something more is at the forefront of every golfer's mind. But is unlocking this path to enlightenment or perfection a matter of your mental acuity, physical prowess, or another characteristic entirely?

According to GolfProgress.net's Nick Chertock, improving your golf game must first start with what he has deemed the "Golf Improvement Pyramid". Similar to the nutrition pyramid guide that everybody learned about in grade school, this pyramid provides a graphic representation of what Chertock believes are the four most important elements to improving one's game: Physical elements, Technical skill, Strategic planning, and one's overall Mindset.

What I find to be interesting about Chertock's model is how he defines each of the four elements within the pyramid. For example, he suggests that the base of the pyramid - Physical elements - are basically comprised of general physical ability and fitness characteristics that will provide the foundation of any player's game. Chertock then argues that this physical component to his model is the most important factor for a golfer:

Why is Physical at the base of the pyramid?  Because no matter how good my decision making is, if I’m unable to bend at the hips and establish rotary stability in my swing, I won’t be able to make the club do what I want and my choice of shot becomes irrelevant if I’m not hitting the golf ball solidly.

While I agree that a player's physicality is extremely vital to his ability to execute certain shots, I am not fully convinced that this is the most important element to improving one's game. Likewise, while Chertock's model suggests that a player's mental acuity is least-vital to overall success, I would argue the exact opposite.

Golf, as we all know, is a unique sport insofar as that a 16 year-old high school student can play the same round of golf as a 70 year-old retiree. "Golf is a game you can play for the rest of your life". Obviously there will be differences between the younger player and his older playing partner, especially in a physical sense. However, there is no guarentee that the 16 year-old novice player will score better than the older - and more experienced - golfer just because the younger golfer is stronger. Likewise, if the senior player has stiff joints and lower flexibility than a teenager, this doesn't guarentee that he will play worse than his younger opponent.

The key to success is not establishing a strong foundation of physical strength. Instead, it is my opinion that a proper mindset and mental approach to the game will benefit the player far greater than physical strength.

Chertock does point out the irony within his model, however, by stating the following:

The irony of the pyramid structure that I have in mind is that in the long term, the pyramid is best built from the base up, with improvement layered on top of the level below.  But in the short term, such as when you have a 175 yard shot over water with bunkers to the right of the green, the tip of the pyramid proves most influential on the outcome of the shot.
 
This I completely agree with, however I again contend that proper mental planning throughout a round will help the player make these decisions more routine. It is my belief that course management - coupled with proper technique - can help any golfer shoot in the 80's on any given day. Using myself as an example, I routinely score better when I am thinking two-shots ahead during my round but begin to make more mistakes when I lose this focus. My physical strength or technique acumen hasn't changed (I haven't suddenly gotten weaker or forgotten every lesson I have taken) but my mental preparedness prior to a shot may have.

Overall, I believe the pyramid itself is a solid model to accurately explain the levels needed to attain golf excellence. There are many levels that a player must address in order to improve, all of which varying in level of importance. How these levels are ordered, however, is certainly open to debate.