The Learning Curve, Golf and Bernard Hinault

Bernard Hinault at bottom of learning curve
Bernard Hinault – lowest point of learning curve

1. The Learning Curve – Myth

Basic Learning Curve
Basic Learning Curve

Ask anyone about ‘the learning curve’ and they’ll describe a nice, elegant smooth curve. It looks as if all you need to get through that difficult first ten years of learning to play golf is; time, an endless supply of money, patience and some resilience.

2. The Learning Curve – Reality

Real Learning Curve
Real Learning Curve

However, that hasn’t been my experience. Learning doesn’t happen in a nice smooth line. The way golfers learn is through a series of disasters interspersed with a few brief moments of pure delight. The delight is a tantalising glimpse of how the game can be played. A moment when you hit a shot as good as anyone on earth has ever played. It is as rare as a ghost orchid or a Youtan Poluo but it’s enough to make you endure the next 3 months of pain, false promise and shattered dreams.

Learning is not a curve – it’s a cross-section of the Alpine mountain stage of the Tour de France and you are Lance Armstrong. Each stage is more exhausting than the previous one. I lied when I said you were Lance Armstrong – you’re not Lance Armstrong – you’re Yauheni Hutarovich (2009 Lanterne Rouge)

How it works;

1. You think you understand golf ….. then it bites you on the bum –

2. You hit a 210 yards three wood to 6 feet ….. then you 3 putt –

3. You think you understand golf ….then it bites you on the bum.

Incidentally the best sporting quote ever was from a cyclist – Bernard Hinault – “I attack when I’m tired. In that way no-one knows I’m tired.”. Translated into golfing terms this means – when you’re playing your 7th out of the rough on a par 5 give it your full attention – make it your best shot (there’s a facile line that many a wizened golf writer would use here about counting the shots at the end of the round and that one shot you saved turning the 12 into an 11 will make all the difference. But we all know that that’s all tosh – if you’re shooting double figures on one hole the odds of getting in the top half of any competition are as likely as Tiger Woods three putting – oops hold that).

However I do feel that focusing on every shot, especially when you’re at your lowest, is fantastic for you as a person. I would recommend it unreservedly as one who has had a number of those moments when all you want to do is walk in. If anyone has played West Mon (the highest tee in Wales) you’ll know what I mean. It’s permanently cold, invariably blizzard conditions and there’s the 13th par 5 hole that starts uphill and keeps going uphill. It’s generally horrid – I’d like to see some of the spoilt US PGA pros leaving the South Coast of US to play a Cock of the North league match at Tredegar and Rhymney, West Mon or Mountain Ash. /RANT

Now focusing on your 6th approach shot to the green when your clothes are as wet and cold as they used to be when you went out in the rain as a small child, your lips are blue, your seven extra gloves are all soaking wet, you can’t feel your hands, can be a bit of a challenge – but it’s excellent if you can do it. And you’ll laugh about it later… perhaps a long time later … but you will remember that and learn from it. You’ll learn far more about yourself from the hard times, than from the easy times – trite, undoubtedly, but also absolutely true.

Bernard on top of Learning Curve
Bernard on top of Learning Curve

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