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By world renowned containment theorist,
David Fineg


Containment theory is simply the application of certain aspects of Zen philosophy ---to golf. You must stay "contained" in order to play golf effectively. The "Nonsense Zone" is that place in your swing, beyond which only nonsense occurs. It is also the place where your ego, and a poor perception of your ability (when you are awake) will take you. We will also discuss "Pure Power" in this article.

Golf is the pursuit for a lifetime. No matter how good you get, you will never be as good as you could be. You cannot be in too much of a hurry to grow your swing. This will actually hinder your progress. You must understand that you are the "grasshopper" This is the essence of Containment Theory. You may find yourself resisting many of the concepts of containment theory. That is your decision. Use these ideas, or discard them, as you will.

I have listed a few of the mantras of Containment Theory below. They help to illustrate how the theory is applied to golf and the golf swing.

  1. You canít have a whole swing, until you have a half swing.

  2. You will never execute the golf swing at speed, until you can execute it slowly.

  3. Testosterone is the enemy of golf.

  4. Mechanical swing thoughts are the enemy of the golf swing.

  5. The more you want, the less youíll get.

  6. The slower you swing, the farther they go.

  7. Straight is always great, and long will often be wrong.

  8. Purity almost always makes power, and power almost never does.

  9. When you hit a shot pure, you donít try to hit the next shot more pure.

  10. Forget about the last one, and think about the next one.

  11. The more you hit, the better you get.

  12. Maximize the possibility of success, and minimize the probability of failure.

    1. You can't have a whole swing, until you have a half swing. The half of the swing that contains the most important parts of the swing, is the half on a watch dial from about 8 to 4. This area of the swing contains the first half of the takeaway and the club through the impact zone. They are the only parts of the swing that matter. The rest of the swing doesnít really matter that much. If the first half of the takeaway and the club through the impact zone are correct, chances are the result will be something you can live with. The other two sections of the swing can be downright ugly, with a lesser effect on the swing. You must learn the middle two sections of the swing, first.

    2. You will never execute the swing at speed, until you can execute it slowly. When you are swinging slowly, you are more likely to be swinging correctly. Ask any researcher, and they will tell you that when you are trying to learn something, you must go slowly. Otherwise your mind wonít be able to "watch" you execute. Anytime the mind doesnít see what is happening accurately, it makes things up to fill in the gaps. Therein lies the problem with swinging at speed from the get-go. You must swing slowly at first, so your mind can watch what your doing.

    3. Testosterone is the enemy of golf. Testosterone destroys fluidity and tempo. These are the two things that might have mitigated the results of an otherwise poor swing. One way to get rid of the testosterone stored up in you, is to transfer it to your playing partner. When they ask you what club you used on that 185 yard shot, tell them it was a pitching wedge. TRANSFER COMPLETE.

    4. Mechanical swing thoughts are the enemy of the golf swing. Everybody and their mother wants to tell you what is wrong with your swing. DON'T listen to them. (Hey buddy, you DO know your not cocking your left side shift plain, don't you?) Anybody that offers you swing advice, when you havenít asked for any, has not been playing golf for very long. You will hardly ever see better players offering unsolicited swing advice. (especially when they were not asked for any!) Even if a person has a swing, that does not mean they can tell you what is wrong with your swing. You will find that you have to pay good money for good swing advice. (Professional instructor) A poor swing usually has one mechanical component that is not being executed properly. But your lightning mind is making five changes, (during the swing) to try to correct the situation. Few amateurs are capable of spotting that one component. When you latch on to a mechanical swing thought (whether it is the correct swing thought or not) you do it at the expense of all the other aspects of the swing. Thatís why things generally do not get any better. Any time your shots start going awry; some aspect of your swing has outgrown your ability to control it, and it doesnít even matter what that aspect is. Remember, you are the grasshopper. Your swing is not that big yet. To get your swing back, simply shrink the swing back down to whatever size will restore the desired shot shape. (You know, straight) Once you have restored the desired shot shape, grow the swing back out slowly until you are close to the point where the results started going badly. This is the size of your swing at this point. Go past this point and you have entered the nonsense zone!

    5. Straight is ALWAYS great, and long will OFTEN be wrong. Once you stop worrying about how far the ball is going, that is when it will start going far. But that is not the point of this concept. The only way you will ever shoot a low score is when every shot taken heads on a line toward the hole. The distance those shots go is less important than the fact that they go straight. Ever been soundly waxed by a golfer in their 60's or 70's that could not hit any club in their bag more than 200 yards? How many times have you seen the young buck convert that rare 300+ drive into a par on that long par four?

    6. The more you want, the less youíll get. A few of these concepts tie in with the testosterone issue. This is one of them. Do not let "need" creep into your golf.

    7. The slower you swing, the farther they go. Why? A ball hit correctly with a slower swing speed will go farther than a ball hit incorrectly with a faster swing speed. The highest swing speed you can muster is useless if you miss the center of the clubface.It is said Isaac Newton had a problem with this concept. Until he started playing golf.

    8. Purity almost always makes power, and power almost never does. Again, hitting the ball on the center of the clubface (purely) imparts huge amounts of impact energy with a slower swing speed. Golf, like life, is a search for the power of purity. When you stay contained, purity graces you with its presence.

    9. When you hit a shot pure, you do not try to hit the next shot more pure. Purity is as good as it gets. Do not let "need" work its way into your golf.

    10. The more you hit, the better you get. Your swing can be the worst technical swing on the planet. If you make a billion swings with it, and you can rely on the shot that swing makes, then it is a good swing.

    11. Forget about the last one, and think about the next one. Try to see how many good swings in a row you can make. If you make a bad swing, forget about it. If you canít put a bad swing out of your mind, it will be there to have an effect on your next swing.

    12. Maximize the possibility for success, and minimize the probability of failure.


Remember the maximize/minimize tenet? It can play a key role in your practice. Maximize (possibility for success) by eliminating variables in your practice. Practice is the principal by which you attempt to get better at something.

Variables occlude the righteous path of practice. Eliminating variables allows you to focus on that thing you are trying to get better at. "That thing" we are talking about is a golf swing.

ALWAYS practice on a mat, if one is available. WHY? A mat is the same lie, the same footing, and the same alignment for EVERY SINGLE SWING! Most practice facilities (mine included) are a lunar landscape where not one swing to the next is the same. Lie, footing, and alignment are the big three variables! Eliminate them. Now you can work on your swing. ONCE YOU HAVE A SWING, IT NO LONGER MATTERS WHAT THE BALL IS SITTING ON. Are you more concerned with how well you hit the ground, or how well you hit the ball? I have heard it all. "I don't hit off plastic!" or "You can't take the mat with you to the course".Guess what? Every golf course in the world gives you a mat for your round at no extra charge. They just call it the fairway. Don't tell me about how you would never hit off a mat and then in the same breath say that you really want a better golf swing. Of course, if you have the luxury of practicing at a country club, where they have the "cake" to repair the hitting line after the excavators carve it out, then by all means... But if it is the difference between the linearity of a mat, or the nonlinearity of the cratered surface, the mat wins every time! It's called science, maybe you have heard of it.

ALWAYS start your practice with a middle iron. WHY? Because the length of a 6-7-8 iron is right in the middle of the lengths of all the other clubs. They probably fit you the best. You are more likely to find your rhythm, and a manageable swing quickly with these clubs. Once you have found your swing with a middle iron, then you can get out a club you are less capable with. You must be confident with your swing before you attempt practice with a less familiar club. If during your practice with the less familiar club, your shots start going, (poorly) put the club down and get back to the middle iron. The worst thing you can do is begin your practice with a driver. Never try to locate your swing with the lowest percentage club in your bag! Almost every day out at the range, someone will show up with only a driver in hand. They tell me they just bought it and want to see how well they can hit it.For me, that is a dead giveaway. This person has no idea how to practice. (To say the least)

ALWAYS choke up on the club you are beginning practice with. WHY? The less club you have in your hand, the more control of that club you have.

ALWAYS start your practice with the three S's in mind.


For the first 10 or 15 swings, try not to look at the shots you are making. Try to keep looking down at the impact area and concentrate on the swing only, with no concern for the result of the shot. This does two things. It keeps your maximizing concept in tact. Your swing only takes a few seconds, but the ball flight could last ten seconds. Thats a 5/1 ratio of bad to good. If you're watching the shot shape of your first swings you may be altering your swing to suit bad shot shapes. Try to make the smallest swing you can make. Try to see how slowly you can make that swing. (Whenever I am talking about slow swings in this article, I am referring to club head speed and not the rithym of the swing. Tempo never changes no matter the size of the swing.) Try to see how softly you can hit the ball. This trains you about the half-swing that is most important. Once you find the power of purity with the"3's" swing, see if you can repeat it many times. Then you begin to grow your swing a very little bit at a time until you reach a point where you start losing control of the result. This is the size of your swing at this point. Strive not to go beyond this point. This is the boundary of the NONSENSE ZONE. You will find that whenever you are trying to grow out your swing, it wonít grow. If you try not to grow your swing, and stay in control of the swing you do have, that is when it grows.

Once you are warmed up, the first target you should aim at is one at about your pitching wedge distance. Shoot at this target with a 6 iron first. When you are landing them accurately with the 6 iron, then switch to an 8 iron. Shoot at the target with the 8 iron until all is going well. Finally take shots at this target with the wedge. What this is doing is further reinforcing the memory of the half swing that you must have first, and allowing you to grow the swing out slowly. With your last 5 balls make the wildest, hardest swings you can make. This does two things. First it allows you to forget about how well the last shots of your session go, (performance pressure reducer) and second, it is a subtle push of the envelope for the next practice session. Whenever you can, tape the face of your clubs with masking tape or impact tape. Keep an eye on the size of the impact pattern. The impact pattern of the better players is no bigger than the size of a dime. If your impact pattern grows beyond the size of a quarter, you are missing the power of purity; your swing is too big! Shrink it down!

NOTE: I should have warned you a little ways back that I was going to start talking about concepts you are going to find yourself resisting. What is it with guys that they would resist things that could actually make them better because of the way it might make them look to their pals? I would have thought that you would want to be the bigger man on the course by waxing your friends with a good score. If you would just give up the manhood at the range you might be able to improve to a point where that would be possible. Here is a little more "resistance" for you to contemplate.

Finally, let's look at a few of the statistics of golf. When you do you discover some interesting things. It turns out that the fewer clubs you use, the lower your score is. Some clubs turn out to be totally useless to all but the most advanced golfers. It is actually worse than that. These clubs COST you strokes, and never SAVE you any. They keep you from going to the next levels.

The one I want to talk about is the DRIVER. The driver is the club that permits professionals to go below par, and prevents amatuers from ever even getting close TO par! If you are not at least a 5 handicap or better, the driver IS USELESS to you. It probably costs you 30 strokes for every 1 it ever saves you. (If it ever saved you any) The moments of majesty will never compare to the hours of anguish. Take it out of your bag and leave it out for 3-4 years. Start playing golf with only a 4-7-PW-Putter. Using only these clubs will help to teach you feel for golf shots and control over the golf club. Spend a year filling out your irons. After 2 years you can put a 5 wood in your bag and see if you can make it score for you. After another year, put a 3 wood in and see how it performs for a year. At the end of 4 or 5 years you might see if you can get a driver to help you with score. I am here to tell you that you probably will never be able to get a driver saving strokes for you. This is only bad news if you refuse to accept it. If you can accept it, you can get to the next levels.

One final golfing insight is a concept known as course management. Every golfer has a club that he or she is supremely confident with. It is usually a middle iron. If that golfer would play golf from the flagstick back to the tee box, (strategically speaking) he or she would discover that the yardage of that favorite club subtracted from the total yardage of the hole makes a driver unnecessary. Lastly is the fact that 60 percent of the score in golf, occurs within 100 yards of the flag. If you are not practicing your chipping and putting 60 percent of the time, you can forget about score. Blasting tee shots into the weeds, chugging a beer, and hollering "You da man!" is not what golf is about.

Take a methodical approach to improving at golf. You will get to a place where you can enjoy the game all that much faster.One of the greatest golfers of all time, summed up the essence of golf best."A man has got to know his limitations." Harry Callahan.


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