Joe Bosco’s book, “Real Golf: Taking Your Best Game to the Course,” is required reading for anyone who has struggled with becoming a better golfer. Instead of trying to learn the game or improve by beating balls at the driving range, Joe recommends his on-course “three-ball scramble” method. After reading the following golf conversation, you can learn more about Joe by visiting his web site.
Golf Conversations: I read your book; I like the idea of learning the game on the golf course. I’m the poster child for the wrong way of learning the game. I started at age 40. I didn’t know about golf. I didn’t understand golf. No one in my family had ever played golf. I would go to a driving range and pound balls weekend after weekend. I never got onto a golf course.
Joe Bosco: Is that right?
GC: My thought was, “Let me master this game on the driving range and then I’ll go out and shoot par.”
JB: Easy to think that.
GC: So your idea of teaching the game on the golf course, I think that makes perfect sense.
JB: You experienced what so many people who come to the game – at any age – are indoctrinated into. Let’s understand at its foundation that golf is a challenging game. It’s multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary. There are lots of things you need to do to enjoy a round of golf. The playing field is vast. That small ball has more stored energy than any other ball in sports that I’m aware of. Those are variables that no other sport shares.
Unfortunately, when we break things down to the level where, “Ok, well I have to get good at this before I can do that,” it takes it out of context.
JB: Think about any sport that any kid plays: soccer, baseball, basketball, football, tennis, swimming. It doesn’t matter. You’re on the playing field, or on the court, or in the pool. That’s where you’re taught and where you practice. You make mistakes and are corrected. And you learn and self-coach during that process. Why not in golf? Well, the golf courses are supposed to be for playing …
GC: And for paying.
JB: Well, the dollar is part of this. However, if you go back to where the game was invented in Scotland … they never had driving ranges. They taught the game on the golf course. The Old Tom Morrises … that’s where they brought people to teach them. And you learn by watching, you learn by experimentation, trial and error. That’s what my book brings to the table.
Someone asked me, “In a couple of sentences, what is your book about?”
As in a tournament golf scramble format, you scramble your own golf ball – three times – all the way around the golf course. If you think about it: what a wonderful way to practice. To find out what you can do when you have three chances for a particular skilled shot during the course of play. You do that all the way around the golf course.
GC: Let’s say you hit a slicey drive, another slicey drive, and another slicey drive. What does that tell you?
JB: One thing is, “Maybe I should change the club.” Or if I’ve been self-coaching with swing ideas from magazines and books and TV, try one of those ideas on the golf course instead of the driving range.
It will provide you with a clear mirror. You’ll be able to see where you excel and where you’re struggling. And that’s one of the most important parts early on in the book: “Let’s assess, let’s self-assess.”
GC: I’ve found that even more than the self-assessment, it’s the mindset. There’s such a mental difference between hitting ball after ball on the range where it doesn’t “count” … and on the golf course where it does.
It happens to me all the time; I’m loose as a goose on the range but when I get to the first tee … I don’t care anymore who’s watching, I’m way past that point. But I do feel myself tensing up. Why the hell is this happening after 20 years of playing golf? I shouldn’t be feeling my rear end tightening at this point in my golf career.
JB: The subject you’re talking about I find so fascinating.
GC: My rear end often fascinates people.
JB: I do a lot of group training with companies and clubs. I ask them right off the bat: “Who has taken a golf lesson on their full swing?” Every hand goes up. “Who believes that the game is some part mental?” Every hand goes up. And then I ask: “What percentage of your game do you think is mental?” And I get “110%”, “100%.” Then I ask them: “Who has taken a mental golf lesson?” Usually, no hands go up. Isn’t that interesting?
GC: For the example I just cited … for someone who has been playing for a long time and still feels tension … what can you recommend in this instance?
JB: There are things you can do on the range that can help you prepare. It’s interesting to note that every tour player – if you watch them on the range – they are like machines. It’s a beautiful rhythm, the shots are the same, it looks like “Wow!”
JB: If you watch that same player – it could be Tiger, it could be Mickelson – they don’t hit the ball the same on the golf course. The percentages of the shots that they hit the way they want to on the range exceed what they do on the course.
GC: And they’re all loose on the range: they’re joking with the caddie, they’re looking at their phones.
JB: Right. So they experience the same thing. They really do. When somebody comes to me a for a golf playing lesson, we go to the range and we simulate the holes that they’re about to go play. It’s not my idea, but it’s a fabulous idea. That’s one thing. But go beyond that.
Learn to understand what you do in your routine and streamline it to make sure that your mind and your body are preparing the way they should. Just like a free-throw shooting routine that you see basketball players do. You need to have something to fall back on so you’re doing less thinking. I believe that it’s the stress of thinking and doubting and fearing – all those things – that get in the way of our normal human performance. So the golf swing you’re trusting on the range is merely a matter of de-stressing, slowing things down, and letting yourself just go. It’s hard to do on the golf course.
GC: Trevor Immelman gave this advice to one of his pro-am partners: “Play as if you don’t care.”
JB: “Care but don’t care” is a concept in sports psychology and performance coaching. Stewart Cink said that when he ended up stealing that British Open away from Tom Watson…
GC: He didn’t steal it. Don’t say that!
JB: You’re right. I teach with a guy named Stan Utley who’s a wonderful guy. He wrote the forward to my book. He came out to Chicago to do some special work with me and the Chicago District Golf Association. It was the Monday after that British Open that Stewart Cink won. Stan was surprised that Watson didn’t chip that ball on the 72nd hole.
In Real Golf, in the training that I’m asking players to do, what they can do when they’ve hit it over the green, is they can experiment with a chip, a putt, a three wood. Learn what really works well for them. And then build an experience.
GC: Do you use your Real Golf method with lots of students?
JB: Every one of them. This is how I’ve taught for 25 years. It’s certainly evolving and never stops growing and improving. But absolutely, I’ve done playing lessons from the moment I started teaching.
GC: I’ve noticed that when I’m on the range and near a pro who’s giving a lesson – and I can hear him – so many of them talk too much. Especially when you’re a beginner, you can only process so much. And if you’re telling some nervous newbie to make believe you’re a waiter holding a platter, or pretend you’re sitting on a bar stool, or you’re the butler bowing to the king, and on and on … you can see the membrane coming down over the beginners’ eyes.
JB: One of my mentors was a well-known management consultant who worked for Coopers and Lybrand. He challenged us: “What do words do in the process of communication?” It really taught me how to dig deep and penetrate my own thinking about why I think what I think when I think. Why I speak and what I say. And what happens in the other person’s mind in the process of communication and interaction.
GC: I wish I would have found you 20 years ago. As somewhat of a writer, words mean something to me. If Sam Snead says to grip the club as if you’re holding a live bird … to me that means you hold the club loosely. As if you were holding a piece of wet linguini.
GC: That screwed me up for years. I could feel the club face at impact turning this way or that way. That image, those words, worked for Sam Snead. So I’m with you, Joe. Sorry I interrupted you. I get very upset. I’d like to sue Sam Snead’s estate.
JB: The key dynamic for me to understand how I could teach at a much higher level was when my mentor challenged me to take a student and agree upfront that I would teach six straight weeks – two sessions a week – and not utter a word from the moment it started. There was no verbal expression from the beginning of the session to the end. Now we would do a debrief after. We might do a preamble beforehand to say, “Ok, this is what we’re gonna do,” but it was really about no words. Eyes, body, reading body language, communication through expression. The key was, I had to watch like a hawk how this player moved, when they were frustrated. Words were off the table.
GC: You watched a person swing a golf club for the first time and you just watched? No words?
JB: The key was to not utter words. This guy went from not being able to break 100 to the low 80s in a two-month period.
JB: Much more profound because now I had to be paying attention … not making the assumption that he understands my words. You’re right: the interpretation of words is different for you and for me.
GC: This sounds similar to what Harvey Penick used to do. After 20 minutes of watching a student, he would say something like, “I’d like to see you square up that left foot a little bit” and then walk away.
JB: Any time that somebody suggests that I have something that is akin to Harvey Penick, I really appreciate that mention. And I would say to you that less is more.
My book is about being real. It can change people’s lives outside of the game. The patterns and the concepts within – and the realism of what’s to be expected. It goes back to the tour players. The top players that have dominated golf – Tiger and Phil – they’re only hitting the fairway about half the time. So let us all understand that if the best in the world are about 50% accurate, how should we set our expectations?
GC: That’s a good point.
JB: My mission is to let the world know that golf is a real game and I think it’s an important game. Because in our society that wants instant gratification and everything now, golf is a point of departure. Let’s slow down, let’s understand that we can’t be perfect. We’re human and this game helps us to know ourselves and to understand that it’s a human game. You can’t buy it, you gotta work it.
GC: And to your point about it being real, I would use as a sub-title, realistic golf.
JB: That’s interesting. This book is the first of a series: Realistic Golf, Unreal Golf, Get Real Golf. There are a few coming and they’re under 80 pages. I wanted to make sure that anybody at any level who reads this thing can read it in one sitting.
Golf pros around the world have reached out to me with feedback. I’m proud and pleased that they’ve said, “Thank you for writing this. This is great. It’s gonna help me put golf back on the golf course for playing lessons.”
I think a lot of golf pros get stuck with the half-hour/hour lesson on the range. And then you have to figure out how to make it work on the golf course. Well that’s not how the tour players are learning with their teachers. The teachers go out on the golf course with them. Make no mistake: a lot of the caddies double as extra teachers. They’re on the golf course helping that player; the same way that you can start to learn to help yourself by going through the book’s process.
GC: Joe, driving range ball-banging doesn’t work. I like your method of learning on the golf course. I think it’s a great idea and would recommend folks check out your philosophy at your web site: www.RealGolfBook.com Thanks for your time.
JB: You’re welcome.