Can Golfer Rory McIlroy Help Your Basketball Game And Shooting?

By Don Kelbick

I am a big golf fan. Not only do I love to play, but I am always finding lessons in golf that I can use in teaching basketball. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go the other way. I have not found anything in any other aspect of my life that will help me with golf. If you have read anything else that I have written, you will notice there are a lot of golf references. I even recommend the book “Zen Golf” to all of my basketball clients because I believe there is a great carry over in the mental aspects of golf that can help in almost any other situation.

Golf is the ultimate individual mental challenge. Everything about it is counter-intuitive and makes no sense. If you want to make the ball fly further, swing easier, if you want the ball to go higher, strike it on the downswing, etc.

While reading the June 30 issue of Sports Illustrated, I came upon this article, by Brandel Chamblee, about Rory McIlroy. If you are not familiar with McIlroy, he is a 21-year old Irishman who crushed the field while winning the U. S. Open after leading the Master’s for 3 rounds and imploding on the final 18 holes. He is widely considered the next great player in golf.

The story appears below.

“Rory McIlroy’s swing—a combination of perfect positions, tempo and balance—makes comparisons with the great Sam Snead inevitable. Meanwhile, McIlroy’s surrounded by technique-addicted golfers who have been stack-and-tilted, golf-machined and one-planed to death. Rory (below) is dismissed as a natural by those who think that the swing should be more complicated. Teachers who preach a series of static positions over a fluid motion and scoff at the word fundamentals are the root of the problem. Until 30 years ago golf was taught by former Tour players who talked about grip and grip pressure, stance, posture, ball position, tempo, rhythm and the waggle. These are the fundamentals. Recently I read a blog by a teacher who said that I was reaching when I used the word fundamentals, to which I say he is reaching if he doesn’t.

What makes Rory’s swing perfect is not the positions he hits, but an approach that allows him to achieve those positions. His posture is relaxed and poised for athletic movement. By comparison, his fellow competitors look as if they are trying to achieve prescribed angles at address and straining to do so. Rory’s grip is perfect, but the lack of tension is the best element, because it allows him to hinge the club perfectly and unhinge it properly.

Some will use his swing as a model and show their students the positions he gets in and make it a goal to copy the original, but the genius of Rory’s swing is its simplicity. Simplicity that’s born out of fundamentals, which sadly are considered antiquated in today’s world.

Brandel Chamblee is a 15-year PGA Tour vet and Golf Channel analyst.”

Some may read this article and think it is about his swing. That may be, but I see it as about his mentality. It is not the swing, but how he gets to the swing. It is not where he puts his hands, but how his hands work. It is not about where he stands, but how.

How does this help us in basketball? Well, I get hundreds of emails, I read thousands of questions, “Where should my thumb be when I shoot?”; “Should I flick my thumb down or inside?”; “Should my elbow be at a 60 degree angle or 90 degrees?” I see comments such as “The optimal arc for a shot is 137 degrees, strive for that when you shoot,” and “Make sure your knees are directly over your toes and your back is at 90 degrees to your waist when you play defense.”

I don’t believe that is any way to play basketball. When I teach the game, as I have for 30 years and to thousands of players, I have learned that they will figure out what is best for them by themselves. Throw in too much technique, it gets harder, not easier. Too much science in this game of art makes it worse, not better. Computer analysis, hours of film study, statistical analysis does not, in my opinion, make better players.

It is not necessarily what you do that predicates success, but how you do whatever it is you do. Some of the best shooters in history (see Reggie Miller) have shots that look like they have never been on a basketball court. I defy you to teach someone how to shoot like Shawn Marion, but he is an NBA Champion. Give players the idea, the basic concepts and then give them confidence and encouragement, correct don’t criticize and enough repetitions, the players will figure it out. As they figure it out, they will gain confidence and will acquire a relaxed approach to their skills and the game. Once they have that, their enjoyment of playing and their enthusiasm will grow.

As a coach, it is not my job to get players to do what I want them to do. It is not my purpose to get them to fit some type of ideal. It is my intention to try to teach players to enjoy the game and allow them to become the best players they can be.

It remains to be seen how Rory McIlroy’s career will progress. But, if you watch him play, it is easy to understand how he has accomplished so much at such a young age. I believe using the same thoughts and philosophies in basketball can lead to similar results.

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  1. Paul K. — September 15, 2011 @ 8:25 am

    That article is spot on!

    One of the best tongue in cheek golf lines I’ve ever heard, “Never have more than 256 swing thought when you are addressing the ball.”

  2. Sue B — September 15, 2011 @ 3:11 pm

    As a PE teacher Dons article makes great sense. The key is to optimise what works naturally for each athlete and certainly if it is natural it is less likely to let the athlete down. Really enjoyed it.

  3. Dion — October 4, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

    As a basketball coach of 20 years and an avid golfer I regularly use comparisons between golf and basketball, some of my favorite references have come from Dr Bob Rotella who is the author of golf books such as “Golf is not a game of perfect”, “Putting out of your mind”, and “Your 15th club” which refer to the mental side of sport, Dr Rotella was a basketball coach and a lacrosse coach at varsity level and quite often uses references between all 3 sports, but now is a mentor to PGA tour players, I have found using his theories, especially on mindset, have helped improve shooting among the players I coach, particurlarly free throw shooting.

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