Performance Golf Training 5: Focus on Root Cause, not Symptoms

Performance Golf Training 5:

Focus on Root Cause,

not Symptoms

Do You Make This Common Golf Mistake?

If you are trying to address an issue with your swing, don’t make the mistake of trying to fix the symptom. Make sure you are addressing the real issue – what I call the “root cause” – because no matter how hard you try, you can’t fix symptoms without addressing the underlying issue.

In the prior newsletter we discussed a process for determining your top game improvement priorities by establishing a baseline performance level and then setting improvement goals (see Setting A Baseline). In this newsletter we extend the concepts of High Performance Coaching by examining relationship between cause and effect using a common swing issue as an example: the dreaded “over-the-top” move.

If you’ve been frustrated by an inability to make the swing change you want, it may be because you are trying to fix the effect, rather than the cause. It’s an important distinction, and one of the reason “tips” and friendly advice don’t work.


The accompanying video describes the over-the-top move and then shows you how this is actually a symptom of a fundamental swing issue occurring earlier in the swing: losing your leverage position. Losing your leverage position prevents you from initiating the swing with the lower body, and if you can’t initiate the swing from the ground up, your body compensates by initiating the swing from the top down, throwing the club “over the top.” The video also includes a drill to help you learn how to maintain your leverage position at the top of your back swing.

Here’s the other important lesson from this video: as is so often the case with significant swing issues, there may be two root causes: one mechanical, and one mental. In the video we discuss how your “intentions” affects your swing because of the way they orient your body. A “ball” orientation can orient you to the impact zone and stop your rotation, causing the club to swing out over plane. A target orientation, on the other hand, facilitates core rotation and allows the club to come through the impact zone on plane with the club face square to the target line.

Look for A Mental Root Cause Too

What has become fascinating to me in working with students – and one of the reasons I decided to study Sport Psychology – is that often the mechanical issue can be traced back to the mental issue. We’ve found that many times it is possible to correct the swing issue purely by addressing the mental issue. That’s why I believe the next generation of golf instructors will need to have an understanding of mechanics and the thought process behind them, and be capable of addressing both with equal ease.

Your take-away from this newsletter is the process:

1. Trace the symptom back to the root cause (usually a swing fundamental, either mental or mechanical),
2. Address the root cause fundamental issue by picking specific drills;
3. Practice the drills in 5-ball sets, rotating through drills;
4. Observe the results in your normal swing;
5. Repeat over time.

Remember that changing your golf swing is a process, not a one-time event. If you have an issue coming over the top, try the drills in this video. If your priority is focused on a different area of your swing or game, think about how you could adapt the process to help you address your specific priority.


Here are links to the entire High Performance Golf Newsletter Series. If you haven’t seen the videos I recommend you start with the first post on establishing performance baselines. Click the link below to get started, then look for the links at the bottom of each post to continue with the next video:

High Performance Golf: Establishing a Performance Baseline
High Performance Golf: Scorecard Analysis and Setting Priorities
High Performance Golf: Driver Accuracy Practice (part 1)
High Performance Golf: Driver Accuracy Practice (part 2)
High Performance Golf: Determining Mid-Iron Carry Distance

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Newsletter Archive
Consistency – The 5th Key To Better Golf

How To Practice Your Golf Swing Like The Pros
Dr. Glen Albaugh and “Winning The Battle Within”
The Orange Whip Tempo Trainer
Golf Fitness Training with Mike Pedersen


PS – If you enjoyed the article, please leave a comment below, and forward the link to your golf buddies.

35 Responses

  1. Brent Barker says:

    Eric: I do not live close to Pleasanton or San Francisco; actually live in central BC, but would like to know if you plan on offering an on-line program using video etc. I read your newsletters and also get the emails from the Golf Lab and Leith’s blogs. I am also trying to find the video Leith mentioned you had done with the Edel wedges.

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Hi Brent, Nice to hear from you. I’m not planning on offering online video analysis in the near future. I don’t think the technology is there yet, and I haven’t found a way to make it cost effective. The best thing I can do is to help you become your own best coach, and I’ll be releasing some new training programs designed to help you do just that. Stay tuned!
      PS – I hope you get a chance to watch my video on Stats analysis. If you want a copy of ScoreTracker, click HERE

  2. Wynn says:

    Eric, I have been fortunate to be able to work with you at the Pleasanton Learning Center and, finally, after 56 years to acquire an understanding and remedy for “over the top.” I have played more often over the past two months and still find that under pressure or with unusual lies, I roll my right foot and make a poor stroke. Any thoughts?

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Hi Wynn,
      Thanks for leaving a comment. Always great to have you at the range. As for the foot – think about adding a step into your pre-shot routine where you “set” your weight on the inside part of the right foot prior to making the swing. Not necessarily a weight shift, but more of just rolling the right foot in a bit … perhaps even by canting the right knee slightly toward the target. Or think about the action your legs would make if you gently squeezed a vollyball between your knees. Give that a try and let me know. The trick will be making it automatic, and that is where the pre-shot routine comes in.

  3. koos says:

    Eric thanks for all the information , advice, help and for all the video demonstrations ,that is a simple way of explaining. Your e-books is super and the news letters is the best. You help me a lot and i thank you for that. At 70 ,you can still learn from the experts, thanks . KOOS

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Hi Koos,
      You are welcome, and thank you for the nice comment post. Really appreciate hearing back from golfers – good and bad. A friend of mine recently showed me a quote from an industry leader who said “If you stop learning, you stop growing.” I don’t think there is any age where we should stop growing, so I am glad to help!

  4. Mario Giorgianni says:

    Excellent and clear explanation. I went to the US Open (practice round) and American Express provided me with a free video lesson. One issue was my posture (too bent over); the other issue was straightening my right leg on the backswing (of which I was unaware) – the bucket drill should help me in being more aware of this. I’m also looking to employ the towel drill. I find it difficult to practice with any discipline (I often try to incorporate a new “tip” during a round of golf all the time knowing this isn’t the best thing to do). I appreciate your emphasis on effective practice and the process of learning a new skill – I now need to incorporate this message in my approach to golf.

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Hi Mario – Thanks for leaving a comment. You are correct about the difficulty of effective practice. Working on too many things or the latest Tip of the Week is counterproductive. Easy trap to fall into, though. Take a look at the last few newsletters on Baselines and game stat analysis to get an idea for how to prioritize. Remember that the golf swing is a habit, and you need to stick with your priorities until you develop them as stronger habits than previous swings. I wish you the best of luck!

  5. Ian says:

    Thanks Eric, off to the driving range after work as you were spot on about trying to hit the ball with my hands and the flipping action. Thanks again Eric.

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Thanks Ian. Glad the video helped. It’s not always easy to differentiate the root cause from the symptom, but it often does come back to fundamentals. Keep us posted on your progress.

  6. Mike says:

    Love your website and have purchased several products…really wish you could find time to complete the final segment of the golf course strategy ebook.

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Thanks Mike! I am working on completing The Practice Effect as well as Strategic Golf. I’ll keep you updated.

  7. dan dougherty says:

    Your swing lessons are simple, straightforward and make complete sense to me for my game. Whether I can do what you are recommending is another story. I’ve thought at various times that I understood swing mechanics and what I was doing and how to fix it. but, after watching your videos, that is obviously not the case.
    I enjoy your instructions and am going to try to make them work. Do you give local instruction?

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Hi Dan, Thanks for the comment and insights. I believe in finding ways to make instruction simple, because if it is simple it is actionable, and if you can take action, you can make the changes you want.
      I do give local instruction at the Pleasanton Golf Center and at The Bridges Golf Club in San Ramon. Both in Northern California.

  8. Eric;
    Thanks for the clarification. Yes indeed, I try to visualize the target landing zone, that is critical to my routine (which has been a long time coming). But the last thing that I do before I load my right side in the coil is to concentrate on the dimple or back of the ball. When I stay on the insides of my feet it is a beautiful thing. A friend once said he wanted to see the ball leave…never happened for me however. Thanks I will wait for more on focus, it is an important topic.
    Michael Brown

  9. Ian says:

    Hi Eric, great newsletters. I don’t know how you do it but they get better an better. I have practiced the 2 drills and the one using the basket I can do quite well and the difference is amazing, thank you. The drill with the towel I am having a nightmare with. 9 times out of 10, the ball goes off at a 45 egree angle. Where am I going wrong?

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Hi Ian – Thanks for the comment. Really appreciate it. Glad the bucket drill is working. Keep at it. If the towel drill is giving you issues, odds are you are trying to hit the ball with your hands, rather than allow your turn to bring the club into position. Also, make sure you are only doing a 1/2-swing, not a full swing. One of the goals is to keep your hands in front of your body throughout the swing. Watch how I go from an “L” to “L” position in the drill. On the finish the club is still in front of me and there is no flip of the left wrist (Which would indicate you are trying to hit the ball with your hands, or are throwing the club at the ball instead of turning). Try it and let me know.

  10. Richard says:

    Very interesting advice which makes a lot of sense. Thank you. It is easy to forget the basics.

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Thanks Richard. We call them “fundamentals” for a reason. Often times a swing issue can be traced back to a fundamental, and the treatment should be applied there. Think cause and effect, or action/reaction to find the root cause.

  11. Keith says:

    This may be the single most important golf instruction lesson I have ever seen. Enough said……

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Thanks Keith! Let us know how you progress and what you discover. Appreciate the comment!

  12. PG says:

    I’ve read ‘How to Practise Like a Pro’ and got a lot from it. It’s great that you have a consistent approach by advice in these videos (such as the 5-ball practise drills) that follow the pattern of practice provided in the book. Keep up the great work

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Thanks PG. Glad you like How To Practice Like The Pros as well. My goal is to help you get better, and nobody is teaching these improvement techniques yet. I am working with the PGA to help other instructors understand how to help their students get more from their practice time.

  13. Eric;
    Excellent, thanks for taking the time to make a video. Just this week a I had a buddy ask about coming over the top, guess who is getting an email link asap. I am a little confused about the focus.
    I have really worked on getting a consistent setup routine put together so that I have a repeatable swing. From behind I do a quick target/ball-flight visualization. Then when I address the ball with grip, balance, posture etc. my last thought is to focus on the back of the ball. The theory is that the swing must get through the ball “now” , before the ball gets to the target “future”. So yes the target is all important, but for me, a well executed swing must occur first, if I am to have any chance of hitting my target. And man-oh-man, can I mess it up when I hurry, skip or allow fear to enter the picture. The towel drill is an excellent idea to get the upper body into proper form.
    Thanks for the article and video.
    Michael Brown

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Hi Michael,
      Excellent description of the Pre-Shot routine, and the steps sound good.
      But allow me to explain the difference between “focus” and “concentration.”
      “Concentration” is something you do “on” something. You concentrate “on” the ball, a dimple, a letter, etc.
      “Focus” on the other hand, has a directional or intentional element to it. As in “the focus of all my efforts in the swing is to move the golf ball from here to the target.”
      So it is important to understand the distinction, because you need to “concentrate” on the ball, but maintain your “focus” on the target. In other words, during the swing your eyes need to concentrate on a specific spot on the ball, but your “inner eye” needs to maintain awareness of where the target is throughout the swing. This target awareness is what tell your body how to move correctly to the target.
      It’s an important distinction, and I’ll have much more to say on it in the future.

  14. stephen says:

    Nicely said Eric,
    I like the way you integrate the swing advice with the practice procedures.

    Excellent, thanks

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Thanks Stephen! It’s important to understand the context so that you know what you are supposed to do and why, and how parts of the swing and mental thoughts fit together.

  15. Allan says:

    Just to tell you Eric, of all the golf tips I receive, yours are the most sound and delivered in a language that makes the most sense without the hype that seems to accompany so many of the others. Thanks so much for your wisdom, experience, understanding, humility, and the care that you give us.

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Thanks Allan. Really appreciate the feedback. Keeps me motivated to do more, and it’s nice to know the info is being read and watched. Thanks again!

  16. jim dingman says:

    Eric: Thanks for the location of the problem. I was trying to focus on the shoulder turn and like you said it was going every where? The root cause not setting the right side thus not allowing me to move forward with the lower half. Thanks again for the heads UP! JIM DINGMAN
    P.S. THE SWING IS GETTING a lot better had two rounds in the low 80’s and using your record keeping to adjust errors. J.D.

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Sweet! Nice playing. Hope you are able to determine your top priorities, get at the root cause, and then focus there. Remember, it is a process! Appreciate your feedback.

  17. Beryl says:

    Thanks for SUCH helpful advice. You rock!

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Hi Beryl, Great to hear from you. Hope you are still just as passionate about the game. Thanks for the note. Really appreciate it!

  18. Larry says:

    Very good advice.

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Thanks Larry. It’s not always easy to identify the root cause. That’s where your local PGA pro can really help. But it’s really helped my students when they trace swing issues back to the real culprit and focus there.