FastFirst Golf is a program related to club head speed training. Merely an extension of what I learned, trained, and applied in other sports first as an athlete then later professionally as a coach.
As kids we strived to run fast, throw far, jump high, kick long, swim fast, catch every ball, hit home runs, etc. Only thing was, at 12 years old, I was too awkward and too slow. I had to change that because there was no room for awkward, slow kids in Texas football. I invented interval training before I ever knew there was such.
Since I couldn’t beat teammates in the 40-yard dash, I spent afternoons after school, by myself, sprinting—first 10 yards until I could beat the others, then 20 yards, then 30 yards, and finally to 40 yards. In about 14 months, training every day, I was fast and no one could beat me. At barely 15 years old, I started as a running back and safety on a good varsity football program. I also became a sprinter and jumper in track and field.
A few years prior to that at age 12 my dad got me a job as a caddie at a new little 9-hole course. I was able to start the process of learning by carrying for the best players, who happened to be our high school football coach, and the football coach at Tarleton, our local junior college in Stephenville, TX. I watched and mimicked their motions and actions on the golf course. It was easy to see why these two were best, too—they out drove the other players by 40 to 50 yards!
Golf became a part of my play-the-sport-in season program, but only for a couple of months in the summer when I wasn’t caddying for one of the football coaches. I followed in their footsteps, too, in becoming a coach—first in track and field, and assistant football coach, and later a head football coach, and I played golf a few times in the summer. Selfishly, I got out of football to have time to devote to training and to develop as an athlete again — this time in golf.
I played and practiced, using speed, athleticism, and timing, the same qualities I had acquired playing those other sports. Speed wins. If you don’t have it, you’re always chasing it. Following a couple of failed attempts at qualifying for professional tours, I was given the opportunity to become an instructor in golf schools. I directed golf schools in Florida before coming to Connecticut to help launch Stonington Country Club, and develop the instructional program. I taught there for 13 years. We opened our FastFirst Performance Center in Ashaway, RI 10 years ago.
I coach and train players in developing timing, acceleration, club head speed, ball compression, distance, and ball command. We are fortunate in having golf athletes coming to our facility from every state, from Asia, Europe, Canada, and South America. We quickly put to rest many of the old golfing myths: First, that you either have club head speed or you don’t — and most don’t. Second, that if I get longer I will also get wilder. And, third, I have to get stronger to get faster. Those three are not true and never were true, but they still, to this day, have life. We’re extremely proud and thankful for our players’ diligence. They improve length and scores significantly in brain-compatible drills and exercises. It’s not me, it’s not the program, and it’s not the tools we use, it’s the players working diligently, using the tools, and training within the tenets of the program.
MATT WARD: You’ve been around golf for quite some time — what motivates you each day?
BEN JACKSON: Helping the next player move closer to his or her objective — reaching par 5’s in two, playing par 4’s driver/wedge. Birdie opportunities present themselves more and more often the closer we get to those objectives. Golf demands the longest ball flight of all sports, yet players are told to “slow down”, or “let the club do the work”, and they are already too slow and too short. Changing that mindset motivates me.
MW: Do men and women differ in terms of how they approach instruction when taught?
BJ: I don’t think so. We have to remember there is always a brain change before there is a performance change. Gender has little to do with that in our process of learning.
MW: Interestingly, FastFirst is about building speed in swings — but not necessarily changing swings. How is that possible?
BJ: True, we never set out to change what someone knows. The great majority of players have better swing skills than their scores indicate, but they’re too slow. Players come to us with one goal—add length to their swing results. And, of course, we human-shaped golfers are capable of much more than we believe, even in our wildest expectations. We optimize the results of the swing skills players already own.
As an analogy, if an NFL linebacker goes into a speed-training program with 4.8 second speed, and in six months is running a 4.5 second 40, he obviously ran that distance in a shorter time period. But, didn’t his running technique have to have improved also? Yes, it did. Otherwise, he could not have run a faster time, correct?
MW: You emphasize “efficiency” in dealing with a person’s swing. Define that.
BJ: Efficiency is the capacity to accomplish something with the least waste of time. Elite athletes are more efficient than others in performing the sport-specific skills. That is, they generate greater force in less time, whether it is in running, throwing, jumping, swimming, or striking something with a stick. A less efficient golf athlete may generate 85 mph club head speed in one second, while a more efficient player will generate 100 mph club head speed in .85 seconds. We quantify efficiency with an Efficiency Factor. Using the two examples above, the first player had an EF of .85, and the second player had a higher EF of 1.18. Obviously, higher EF indicates greater efficiency. Also, we have found a strong relationship between higher Efficiency Factors and lower scores.
MW: What’s the biggest mistake many students make when they come to you?
BJ: They’re too slow and need length, and they know it. They also greatly underestimate their capacity to learn, improve, and perform at a high level. Most are somewhat bruised mentally by years of poor to mediocre play. In addition, most have been allowed to believe the old golfing myths mentioned previously. They are then totally excited as they begin to show immediate signs of improvement. A veteran player recently came to us with a club head speed of 82 mph. Early in the process he was delighted with 88. Then he reached 92, 95, 98, then 102 mph. Same man, same day, same driver, learning and absorbing in brain-compatible drills. He’s averaging 97 mph with driver on the golf course in about one month of training. As human beings we have plenty of resources provided by Mother Nature.
MW: What’s the biggest mistake many teachers make when communicating with students?
BJ: Information is not knowledge. It matters little how much I know, what matters is what I can lead the player to discover on his or her own. Learning is self-discovery. Telling someone what he or she is doing wrong, or what he or she needs to do “right” has fallen on deaf ears for centuries. The brain that hears that stuff is not the brain that learns and coordinates golf swings. So that “how to” instruction is not learning. Golf is glutted with what to learn, but is starving for how to learn the “whats”! Think about this —we all do the same things while walking, but no two of us look alike while walking. One more thing, too—swing details stifle most very capable learners.
MW: Despite all the gains made in technology over the last 20 or so years — the overall reduction in golf handicaps has been only rather modest -1-2 strokes. Why do you think that is?
BJ: I’m not sure handicaps have improved at all. The majority of golfers don’t know how to take advantage of these great advances in technology. It’s never the technology itself, but the players willing to take advantage of the technology. Today’s golf equipment is built for speed, power, and distance, but Joe and Jane Average aren’t taking advantage of that. And, many professionals aren’t either. The only real obstacle we face in this sport is overcoming the length of the golf course, and that requires clubhead speed to generate distance. Yet everyone talks about speed and wants distance. Once again, we’re talking about the three golfing myths. That, and many players and instructors realize that speed is important, yet they have little idea of how to attain it.
Look, strength is not speed. Strength is not power, either. Yet, many players who train are in the gym doing strength and endurance training. Power is how fast one can summon and apply the strength he or she has available. Strength training doesn’t build speed, but FastFirst training – speed training – builds strength. We are recruiting and training fast-twitch motor units and placing demands on the anaerobic system to provide the energy for explosive bursts. Hey, a driver weighs only about 10 ounces, less than a large bag of potato chips, and it doesn’t require a lot of strength to handle either of those two things. I’m not saying strength is necessarily a bad thing, but it surely doesn’t make one faster, and training for strength might even make a player slower. Obviously, we’re speed specific. We improve athleticism, too. We do that in many brain-compatible drills with real-time feedback.
MW: The overall golf industry has been shrinking for the last decade — what steps should major organizations such as the PGA of America, the USGA and PGA and LPGA Tours do to get more people to only try golf but incorporate it as a lifelong leisure pursuit?
BJ: The first thing we need to do is stop the exodus of players. We lose 1 to 2 million players a year. You stop the losses by getting players better. People leave because they can’t stand shooting high numbers. Who in their right mind wants to spend 25 years doing something without improvement? We weren’t put on this planet to languish. Athletes in other sports improve every day. Golf athletes don’t. Get them better. Reward instructors whose players are shooting better scores. Get rid of instructors whose players don’t improve. This is a bottom line business. As instructors the athlete comes first — we’re paid to help them shoot lower numbers. If they don’t then we must be accountable for our lack of production. Maybe golf instructors need scoreboards.
MW: If you could change one thing in golf — what would it be?
BJ: The greatest positive change we can do is change the attitude of those working within the culture of golf. The aura surrounding this sport is one of negativity. I just heard a “top 10” instructor expound for five minutes on how difficult golf is to learn and to play. Golf is not hard — it’s a game of inconsistencies and that suits us humans perfectly because we’re not hard-wired for consistency anyhow. Great players handle the inconsistencies better than others by narrowing the differences.
MW: What’s the best advice you ever got?
BJ: Roland Harper was the long-time professional at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, TX. I went to him for instruction. He asked me to take out my three-wood. He gave me a ball and I made a shot. He gave me another ball and told me to do it again. He gave me the third ball and said, make another swing. I did. He then said, “You have a great pair of hands, don’t ever let anyone try to change what you’re doing.” With that he got in his golf cart and returned to the clubhouse. Lesson was over. Roland was not a hands-on changer of swing technique, yet he was a great golf instructor for many years. Colonial probably had more low-handicap players — and professionals — than any other place on the planet.
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