Professionalism, Golf Coaching and a
Master of Science Degree:
Paul S. Glazier
Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living
Melbourne, VIC 8001
The stimulus article represents another in a series of well-researched and carefully-compiled
pieces on the science and philosophy of golf coaching by Simon Jenkins. Dr. Jenkins has
done a fine job at assimilating information from a diverse range of sources to support and
justify the creation of a new Master of Science degree in golf teaching/coaching, which he
suggests could facilitate the development of professionalism among golf coaches.
In principle, I support the development of this postgraduate programme, which has the
potential to increase awareness and understanding of the role that science and technology
plays in enhancing golf performance. Although the marketplace is currently saturated with
‘professional’ certifications provided by predominantly commercial enterprises (e.g., Titleist
Performance Institute, Nike Golf 360, Golf Biodynamics, The Golfing Machine, Trackman
University, etc.), a formal qualification earned through a reputable academic institution with
a strong sporting pedigree, which involves a sustained period of study and the opportunity to
undertake original applied research, should be attractive to, and welcomed by, the more
aspirational and analytically-minded golf coach.
Given the stiff competition, this postgraduate qualification needs to quickly gain
credibility and acceptance among golf coaches and, ideally, their representative body, the
Professional Golfers’ Association. To increase the esteem in which the course is held, I
believe the sport science component needs to be based on cutting-edge theoretical and
empirical research that has preferably been subjected to the rigours of peer-review. I am
empathetic to Dr. Jenkins’ apparent desire to adopt a theory-driven approach that considers
the golfer from a more holistic perspective, so in the remainder of this commentary, I will
outline a theoretical model that could provide a platform on which to integrate the various
subdisciplines of sport science to gain a more complete understanding of golf performance.
THE NEED FOR A UNIFYING THEORETICAL MODEL OF THE
It is generally accepted that proficient golf performance is dependent on a multitude of
factors, including physiological fitness, physical development, psychological preparedness
and biomechanical efficiency. Most performance-related scientific research in golf, however,
has tended to be monodisciplinary in nature with most studies being conducted within the
confines of one of the subdisciplines of sport science. Few studies have attempted to
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852 Professionalism, Golf Coaching and a Master of Science Degree: A Commentary
integrate principles, concepts and data from, for example, biomechanics, physiology or
psychology despite calls by Farrally et al.  and others to do so.
One of the reasons why interdisciplinary research into golf performance has been scarce
might be that a unifying theoretical model of the golfer, capable of integrating the
subdisciplines of sport science, has yet to be established. A model that could fill this void—
and potentially provide the theoretical basis for the proposed Master of Science degree in
golf teaching/coaching—has been described by Newell . An adapted and extended version
of his constraints-based framework as applied to golf is provided in Figure 1. This tripartite
model has been the cornerstone of many dynamical systems investigations of human
movement and it has been applied to a variety of areas, including: talent identification and
development ; sport medicine  and physical therapy ; skill acquisition ; strength
and conditioning [7,8]; sport biomechanics [9-11]; and sport performance analysis [12,13].
Acentral tenet of this model is that the coordination and control of the golf swing, which
directly determine impact conditions and shot outcome (assuming constant environmental
conditions), emerge from the confluence of interacting constraints via the formation and self-
organisation of task-specific structural units known as coordinative structures (see the classic
papers by Turvey and colleagues [14-17] discussing the degrees of freedom problem and its
According to Newell , constraints can be categorised as being either organism-,
environment-, or task-related. Organismic constraints are those that are internal to the golfer,
including height, body mass and composition, anthropometric and inertial characteristics of
body segments, and muscle fibre composition. Environmental constraints are those that are
external to the golfer, including ambient light and temperature, surface compliance and
Impact & Shot
Formation & Self-
Figure 1. An Adapted and Extended Version of Newell’s  Model of
Constraints as Applied to Golf
The shaded areas summarise how patterns of coordination and control,
which ultimately determine impact conditions and shot outcome
(assuming constant environmental conditions), emerge from the
confluence of interacting constraints via the formation and self-
organisation of coordinative structures. The unshaded areas indicate
where the various subdisciplines of sport and human movement science
could be integrated into the model to provide interdisciplinary insights for a
more comprehensive and holistic understanding of golf performance (see
text for further elaboration).
topography, and acoustic information. Finally, task constraints are those requirements that
have to be met within some tolerance range in order to perform successfully. In golf, task
constraints typically only have a spatial component, such as hitting to a particular region of
the fairway or putting towards the hole. Rules governing the game, clubs used to perform it,
and instructions issued by a coach can also be classified as task constraints. For further
examples of the different types of constraints in golf, see Glazier and Davids .
Newell’s  constraints-based model not only provides a more holistic understanding of
golf performance than other, more traditional, computational (information processing)
approaches adopted in previous studies of the golf swing [19,20], it also offers a viable
platform on which to integrate the various subdisciplines of sport and human movement
science to gain a more comprehensive understanding of golf performance. The potential roles
and contributions of the different subdisciplines are summarised in the unshaded areas of
Figure 1 and elaborated briefly below:
1. Performance analysis can interpret shot outcome data obtained from databases such as
ShotLink® to objectively identify variables and playing strategies that are associated
with proficient golfing performance [21,22].
2. Sport technology can provide the tools for measuring and analysing impact conditions
and ball flight. Launch monitors such as TrackMan® provide extensive information
about club (e.g., speed and path, attack and face angles, dynamic loft, etc.) and ball
(e.g., speed, launch angle, spin rate, etc.) dynamics. The shot outcome is
deterministically related to the initial launch conditions and governed by the ‘ball flight
laws’ . The data provided by these devices can be used as a basis for guided
discovery learning in which augmented information is used to channel, rather than to
specify, the movement patterns to be adopted . Indeed, anecdotal reports from top
golf coaches indicate that this method of instruction may be superior to more traditional
position-focused teaching methods .
3. Sport biomechanics can provide the methods and tools for measuring and analysing
patterns of coordination and control predominantly at the behavioural level of analysis
[10,11]. The neuromuscular level of analysis is accessible, but measurement tools and
techniques for measuring the output of individual degrees of freedom (e.g., muscles or
motor units) are somewhat limited at present .
4. Skill acquisition and motor control can enhance understanding of how coordinative
structures are formed and how their morphology changes during learning [27,28], how
practice design and training environments can be manipulated to accelerate their
assembly and optimisation , and how the degrees of freedom comprising them re-
organise as internal and external constraints change.
5. Sport physiology and psychology can provide the methods and tools for measuring and
analysing key functional organismic constraints, such as fatigue and anxiety, which
have both been shown to have a substantial impact on the interaction and (re-)
organisation of degrees of freedom at different levels of analysis [30-33].
6. Motor development can provide insights into how structural organismic constraints, such
as strength and flexibility, change across the lifespan and how they shape and impact on
golf performance. Movement variability and consistency have been identified as
important issues , especially among the senior golfing population . Research has
shown that there is a change – typically a loss – of ‘complexity’ (i.e., flexibility/
adaptability/variability) in biomechanical and physiological processes with age, although
this change is largely dictated by the confluence of constraints on action [35,36].
International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching Volume 9 · Number 4 · 2014 853
7. Strength and conditioning can contribute to the development of structural and
functional constraints through carefully devised and implemented training interventions
[7,8]. The contribution of this subdiscipline is important during preparation for
competition since any physical and physiological deficiencies or weaknesses in
individual degrees of freedom may compromise the structural and functional integrity
of its constituent coordinative structure, thereby potentially jeopardising its collective
output. Functional movement screening may provide useful prescriptive information,
although golf-specific tests, such as the Titleist Performance Institute movement screen
, still require further, more robust, validation.
The above list is not intended to be exhaustive or definitive, but rather it should be viewed
as a guide as to how the various subdisciplines of sport and human movement science can
work more interactively—using the constraints-based model provided by Newell  as a
theoretical backdrop—to gain a deeper, more complete, understanding of golf performance.
This type of interdisciplinary integration, in my view, is the future of golf science and
aspiring golf coaches would benefit from being made aware of the advantages and
opportunities it affords.
The proposed Master of Science degree in golf teaching/coaching has the potential to
increase awareness and understanding of the role that science and technology plays in
enhancing golf performance. This initiative would benefit from adopting a theory-driven
approach that considers the golfer from a more holistic perspective. The constraints-based
model introduced by Newell , which has been elaborated on and applied specifically to
the golfer in this commentary, offers a viable platform on which to integrate the various
subdisciplines of sport science and gain a more comprehensive understanding of golf
performance. Accordingly, I recommend that this model forms the theoretical foundation for
this postgraduate programme.
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* An earlier version of this web-article was published on the now-defunct Coaches’
Information Service website hosted by the International Society of Biomechanics in Sports.
The full reference for that version was: Glazier, P. and Davids, K., Is There Such a Thing as
a ‘Perfect’ Golf Swing?, International Society of Biomechanics in Sports’ Coaches
Information Service, http://www.coachesinfo.com/, 2005.
Dr. Paul Glazier is a research fellow at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living at
Victoria University in Melbourne. He has expertise in sports biomechanics, motor control,
skill acquisition, and performance analysis of sport, and has authored or co-authored over 40
peer-reviewed journal articles, invited book chapters and published conference papers in
these areas. His current research interests include: the biomechanics-motor control interface;
the application of dynamical systems theory to movement coordination and control; and the
functional role of movement variability.