Teaching Golf

To those of us that teach professionally, it is a ministry rather than a job. We have decided that the purest form of promoting the game of golf is through instruction. From the beginning  I have made it my goal to be able to relate to and teach golfers of all levels. You can tell an experienced teacher when they talk fondly of the days in the trenches helping beginners build their method. I don’t like to hear someone talk as if they are an elitist who can only relate to tour pros.

I feel like an instructor must give years of quality lessons, 10,000 would be a good starting point, with an interest in improving every day, before they can truly know what it means to be a professional golf instructor. Only after this apprenticeship can they understand human nature and the different types of learners. If experienced, they can detect the subtle as well as the obvious and feel or see the result before the student swings the club.

A true teacher has made a decision to teach a method rather than doctor with band-aids. Most solid methods are based on the equipment of the day, but the golden rules of swinging the club and ball striking have never varied. Experience gives us many ways of saying the same thing. It has always been interesting to me that you might say something to your 8 A.M. lesson and it is the greatest thing they have ever heard. Then, you might repeat the very same thing to your next lesson and they might have no idea what you are talking about.

Most instructors are sticklers for some things. Hogan was adamant about swing plane, yet in his book, Five Lessons, he barely spoke about ball position (a hot topic with most accomplished golfers). Nicklaus and Bobby Jones have spoken about the importance of good footwork. Any good instructor sees posture as an important beginning to a balanced, powerful swing. After years of teaching you understand that mechanics are surely important, but swing feel is what the greatest golfers use to produce great shots. It is helpful to understand that feel is, many times, different than what is actual. I don’t like to hear instructors get wrapped in pictures of stagnant positions and refute what someone is relating about the golf swing. That player is giving the student what they FEEL, which is what they will ultimately use.

Weight shift is a good example. Golfers of the highest level know your weight barely shifts, if at all, during the golf swing. It might move slightly from one side of the ball to the other, in the direction you are swinging the club. It is a matter of inches. It is important to understand that it FEELS like it is moving from one foot to the other as we turn our body. I believe that golfers of a higher level are advised to understand how our weight moves from heel to toe (in the form of balance) during the swing and how this affects the path of the club and our ability to keep the sweet spot on the ball. Most great golfers commit to keeping their shoulders square over their toes and then swinging for path. They must be able to control how their weight moves from within a stationary stance or they cannot maintain their swing path. In this book, when I refer to weight shift, I am talking about what it FEELS like.

The beginner, on the other hand, would likely be halted in their progress by telling them there is no weight shift in the golf swing. Your weight is definitely more onto your left foot at the finish than it was at address, because your whole body has ,by then, rotated over it. The student is helped by showing them that the rotation of the body (hips from the outset of the downswing) is the motor of the swing and weight moves toward the target as a result.

After awhile you instinctively weigh the advice you are giving against the results of the advice from over the years. No one should question where you are going with a student until they know where you have been with that person.  I am offended with the backbiting that has become more prevalent within the teaching fraternity. You detect it within the bold statements made by some, who act as if you disagree with what they assert that you are foolish or out dated. Nothing shows a lack of experience or class more than this tactic. The high level golf gurus, as the magazines portray them, have gotten there not with smoke and mirrors, but from years refining their knowledge on the practice tee. The ultimate teaching credentials are earned on the lesson tee, not in the pro shop or at seminars. The pro who can’t demonstrate or never teaches loses touch with the heart of the game.

I enjoy reading about the instructors like Claude Harmon or Harvey Penick, who gained their reputation through humble service to players of all levels. I could listen to Bobby Jones teach all day. People like Chuck Cook and Bob Toski have inspired me to teach full time and make it a life’s work. I have great respect for anyone who has taught for a long period of time, as I know they have been willing to bare their soul to their students.

I believe it is my job as a teacher to commit to the goals of my student. From the beginning I try to let them know that, if they are willing to work hard and listen, I will go to the ends of the earth to help them.

Many times they are discouraged when they first come to see me so I try to show enthusiasm and confidence in their goals. If I bail out on them, then what do they have?

I believe you must show your students kindness and respect. Part of respecting them is to be honest. This can be conveyed in a patient manner and in a light hearted tone. The lesson should be fun and interesting or you probably won’t see them again.

I try to adopt their swing and to ask myself, “what would I do to make this swing better?” The question is, “how easy is it to do what they do?” If they physically can’t make the moves that the best golfers make on T.V., then why pursue it? One size doesn’t fit all. You build someone’s method based upon their physical capabilities. I teach powerful ball flight patterns rather than beautiful golf swings. A beautiful golf swing is one that produces dependable golf shots.

I believe you should let your student perform. It is helpful to run a video camera and show them what they look like. That way the picture in their mind will be accurate. Then you can give them a diagnosis. A good teacher understands that you must say the right thing, at the right time, and in the right way, to help a student. Then, what you said to the last student might not be what the next student needs to hear. The ability to give your teaching philosophy, in many different ways, shows your experience and makes you valuable to a greater number of students.

I like to “teach past a problem.”  Rather than standing there, lesson after lesson, and work on the perceived problem,  I enjoy strengthening “around” the weakness. By teaching the student other aspects of their method and doing the necessary drills, they will gradually develop a stronger swing and the knowledge to make the old flaws a thing of the past.

If you can make your students “smarter,” so that they know too much about their method to let themselves make a certain mistake, then they are on the right path.

On some level you must let your students agonize and fail. Some students get addicted to having someone standing there for every ball they hit. At some point you must learn to sort things out for yourself so that, when on the course, you will be able to make the decisions that give you the ability to bail out a bad round.

The first time you begin poorly in a round, figure out the problem, and finish strongly, you have empowered yourself for many good rounds in the future. You’ll never remain truly calm on a golf course until you have lived through every bad thing that can happen during the round and dealt with it with patience and grace.

You know you are talking to an inexperienced tournament golfer when they feel compelled to tell you every hole of their round, every trial and tribulation, as if their pain was unique. One day they realize that everyone on the course suffered that day, just some dealt with it better than others.

What is the “Secret to the Game”? Search for and emulate the things that all good players do in their method and then match it with your physical capabilities and instincts.

My goals are to be able to teach golfers of all levels for years to come, and to teach instructors how to bring the game to those who hunger for the knowledge and are driven by their love of the game. I truly love my students and live through their successes. I also see the good in their failures, as this only strengthens them for the future. No step can be skipped. You don’t have to be friends with every person you teach, but it is certainly my goal. I believe you can be a scratch golfer and if I can get you to believe it and to go about your business with that purpose in mind, the sky is definitely the limit.

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