Choose it and lose it: How to select the right training aid to improve your golf swing

A trip to any driving range will result in seeing golfers using training aids, as well as instructors utilizing them during lessons.

Research, however, has consistently shown that average USGA handicaps have improved only marginally over the past few decades. According to Golf Digest, despite significant advances in the golf ball, equipment and instruction, the average handicap has only improved by two shots since 1990, and those figures don't account for an increasing number of players who are leaving the game.

Of course, there are golfers who improve dramatically, and the lack of significant improvement in golfers collectively cannot be blamed on a perceived ineffectiveness of training aids or upgraded equipment, which can unquestionably help a golfer.

Reaping the rewards of the quest to get better is the golf training aid industry. Dane Wiren, owner of GolfTrainingAids.com, estimates it's an $80 million market in the U.S. and $220 million worldwide -- and that's not including books, DVDs, practice matts, balls and more. It can be a dizzying landscape, especially if you visit the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando each year. So are training aids right for your game?

"A good training aid helps create a picture or a feel for a golfer, which helps with the learning process," said Ed Oldham, a PGA-certified Master Professional in Golf Instruction and the head professional at Ranch Country Club in Westminster, Colo.

Added Tasha Browner, director of instruction at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, Calif., "The best training aids are simple to use and tap into multiple learning styles, for example visual and kinesthetic.

"Most importantly, a good training aid will clearly demonstrate the goal of the exercise or drill, and some of the best aids will also help to transition a golfer from the range to the course."

There are all sorts of aids on the market, some of which can make a golfer look pretty ridiculous while using them.

Browner, however, suggests keeping an open mind: "There is not one training aid that has come along that was truly bad for golfers. The way in which we use the aid is what makes or breaks its assistance."

Training aids and your golf swing

One problem the golfing public has when it comes to picking training aids is the inability to diagnose swing issues.

Alignment rods or other aids that help with problems such as setup and aim are fairly simple to use properly, but major issues can arise when it comes to using a training aid to fix technical aspects of the golf swing.

"Many training aids are designed for a specific swing error," said Oldham, the Colorado PGA Section's 2013 Teacher of the Year. "Therefore, unless you have that particular error, the training aid isn't going to be good for you."

Browner echoed Oldham's thoughts and expounded on some of the pitfalls that can come with using training aids.

"Training aids are as effective or ineffective as the teacher or students utilizing them," she said. "Make sure to ask your PGA or LPGA Professional how to use a training aid and how much you should be using it. Training aids can be counterproductive if you utilize them too much and/or set them up incorrectly."

Training aids that have stood the test of time

Not surprisingly, golf professionals have opinions about some of the training aids that they have found to be especially helpful with their students on the lesson tee.

"Training aids like the Medicus, the impact bag and heavy clubs are great and have certainly stood the test of time," Browner said.

Oldham said the impact bag has made a big difference. "I use the impact bag every day when teaching," he said. "I also use an aid called Swingyde often."

Wiren said the Swingyde, introduced 19 years ago, has been one of the most popular items ever sold. The Medicus hinging club and Momentus weighted club also have sold huge numbers and have been around for several years. The Matzie Assist, while not as well-known, has sold more than 300,000 units.

"More recently, the Orange Whip, the Tour Striker and Smart Ball, and several of Eyeline Golf's new products have taken the spotlight," said Wiren, who then added some quality advice for golfers. "But the most useful training aids are also the ones that encourage you to practice. There is no substitute for practice."

Browner also advised that golfers should not let money -- or more specifically a lack thereof -- be a deterrent when it comes to utilizing training aids in the pursuit of a better golf game.

"If you have access to a mirror, two alignment sticks, a golf towel and some tees," she said, "you can effectively help your golf game without investing a lot of money."

Do you have a favorite training aid? Let us know in the comments below!

Since 1996, Chris Wallace has worked as a sports writer for multiple newspapers and Web sites. An avid golfer, Wallace captained his college team and also served as an assistant coach at the University of Virginia for two years. He lives with his wife in Pinehurst, N.C.
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Choose it and lose it: How to select the right training aid to improve your golf swing
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