Start the New Golf Season With a Lesson
By Snyper on 2/21/11
Matt is an opinionated* golf enthusiast from Pennsylvania. He coaches at the high school level, molding the minds and swings of our next generation. His column will appear each Monday on ClubSG. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts and opinions of Matt in the comments. Don't hold back- because Matt won't.
One of the most popular ways for people to start a new season of golf is with some lessons. I get questions all the time about when to take lessons, who to take them from, and even if I think they are worth taking at all. Well, the answers aren’t always as obvious as they may seem.
First of all, if you are thinking about taking lessons, there really isn’t such a thing as a bad time to sign up for some help from a professional. That being said, the best time to take lessons is in the spring. For those of you who are fortunate enough to live in a climate that allows for golf all year around, the timing isn’t nearly as important. However, if you have a time of year that you begin to play much more often, then it is at the start of this season that you should schedule your instruction. The obvious reasons are reason enough for this timing, but there are still a lot of people that will wait to take a lesson until things start going poorly. While a lesson is not necessarily a bad way to turn things around, starting your season with a good foundation is an even better approach.
Secondly, and probably most importantly, spend some time talking to people about the instructors in the area before you decide with whom to schedule your lessons. There are usually quite a few qualified instructors in most regions, but choosing the best one can make all the difference. That statement begs the question of, how do you know who is the best? Good question and the answer isn’t the same for everyone. The best teacher is not always the pro at the most expensive course or the guy that shoots the best scores in the local pro-ams. Playing good golf is very different from being a good golf instructor. I recommend getting some feedback from your playing partners on whom they have worked with and how they felt about it. Just like anything else, it’s good to know some information about the person you are hiring before you commit to them.
To help you know what to look and listen for in your search for a good teacher, let me describe what I think good instruction looks like. The first key to properly helping someone improve at the game of golf is not trying to make them a scratch golfer in one lesson, but instead working on their swing one step at a time. Because a lot of golfers want to leave a lesson totally cured of all mistakes, pro’s will sometimes give their student too many things to change right away. While they may have some instant success with the instructor standing their reminding them of everything, they will soon forget most of what they were told and return right back to where they were before. So, do your best to find someone who works in small steps and focuses on one or two things at a time.
Another key to good instruction is being able to explain to the player the reasons for the drills and adjustments that they are asking him or her to make. Some instructors are much better at helping golfers to understand the fundamentals of the golf swing. That element of understanding is crucial to long term improvement. In other words, anyone can teach you how to repeat a process and sooner or later, you will be able to do it. But if you don’t understand why you are doing it, you are more likely to forget how to do it and also less able to realize when you are doing the process correctly. It’s not good enough to say “Your problem is your swing plane. Try this drill and it should help your slice.” While that may be true, I believe that in order for someone to truly make corrections, they have to understand why their swing plane is causing them to hit a slice and also why that drill helps to correct their swing plane. So, if you are asking someone about their lessons, ask them what they learned. It is not a good sign if they don’t remember or can’t really explain why they did what they did.
In conclusion, if you are thinking about taking lessons, I recommend that you do it, but be smart about it. Just like you wouldn’t hire a contractor without a good reference, don’t hire a pro until you hear the right things. The most expensive or best player does not mean the best teacher. Find someone that you will work well with and that will take the time to explain to you the changes he/she is making to your swing. If you can schedule a series of lessons at the start of your golfing season, that is a great way to set yourself up for success. And, if you are willing to take lessons, you must also be willing to practice. Don’t bother spending the money on instruction if you aren’t willing to spend time on the range working on what you learned. You won’t see the benefits on the course until you have put in the time on the range and that is not the fault of the instructor. Money spent on a good teacher and some baskets of range balls is money very well spent!
* Matt's views and opinions are his own do not necessarily reflect those of oobgolf.
[ comments ]
I agree, I recently had my first lesson with a teacher and he did everything you described above. He watched me swing a few times and took video. Then he started from the setup and posture. He talked about why posture helps good contact and what muscles should be used. We worked on posture and rotation for the first 30 mins then he stated that my shot was pulled because of swing plane and takeaway. He explained why this affected my shot and showed me how to correct it. We worked on that for the next 30 mins and he stated I would have to do 3000 swings correctly for my body to remember without thinking. That's were the range comes in without a teacher. I have alot of swinging to do. I did notice alot of great shots when I did what he taught, correctly. Money well spent so far.
Good Article. Adding my opinion that lessons are great at every level of experience. I started with a local pro two years ago at a local driving range.
At first I was intimidated by how well he struck the ball (ego getting the way!)
By the end of the first lesson, I was hooked! He took a frustrated slicer-hack to seeing a straight ball flight swing [straight on purpose instead of luck!] in 30 minutes with a few adjustments. I needed to work on the consistency, but it worked and I saw the results!
I credit him [and time on the range]from taking me from the low 100's to a rounds in the 70's this last year.
PS - I looked at my first video of my swing he took - ROFLMAO at myself! But so glad that I took the step of getting lessons now!
Great timing for this article - always helps to see a pro.
@lcgolfer64 - the videos from old swings are priceless.. always good for a laugh ;)
I had my firs lesson in January. My guy is great he had me warm up, then I used the Trackman software to get data on my swing. This showed he and I that there are very consistent parts of my swing, and one very inconsistant part. Then he showed me the shot chart from those swings, and it looked like I shot the screen with a shot gun. He was able to focus on making that part more consistant. We did ONE drill, and worked it in to full shots, then when I started to lose it again we went back to the drill. 1 hour, bad right angle slice off the tee GONE!!! Ten yards of distance added!!! The shot chart has compacted it self to one consistant miss as opposed to 8 different misses. The most important thing is I now know what is going on with my swing and I know how to read my misses.
Bryan K says:
I'm going to catch a lot of guff for saying it...I always do...but lessons aren't for everyone.
I've taken some lessons. They've gotten me nowhere. On the other hand, I have also taken video of my swing and sat down with other people to analyze what is going on. This is something that has helped me tremendously.
I suspect that once my handicap starts to stagnate, I'll look into getting lessons again. However, even during the times when my handicap isn't improving, I am seeing drastic improvement in my game on a round to round basis. I'm considering getting lessons on how to hit out of the sand this year. I'm going to start working on it, though, like I worked on my driver last year and see how far I can get before doling out the money. I've just had too many rounds where a half dozen extra sand shots are the difference between a good round and a terrible round.
I was taught that the typical time between making a significant change and mastering the change is 6 months. Some will be faster and others may take longer but the process is the same. Initially one becomes worse and then slowly improves as the new technique is ingrained. I would have to say that this was the case when long ago I took a series of lessons. Initially I was much more inconsistent and scoring was worse. However, sticking with the new technique eventually resulted in a sounder swing, more consistent results and lower scores.
The really tough part is going backwards at the start. You finally decide this is the year you break 90 (or 80 or 100) and after a few lessons and conscientiously performing the drills you now can't break 100. It is really tough to have faith in an eventual payoff.
The "two steps back to go three forward" is one of the reasons I find it hard to start in again with professional instruction.
Lessons are for everyone, even the pros. But, the same type of lesson does not work for everyone. That's why it is important to find an instructor who provides the type of lesson that does work for you.
Bryan K says:
Pros don't get lessons. They have swing coaches with whom they tend to work exclusively with. There is a huge difference. If I could have a guy come with me to the practice facility every day to help me work on my game, I would.
But lessons are definitely not for everyone. I've never been a good classroom learner. I absolutely must be able to understand something before I can even think about implementing it. If I can't process the information before trying to implement it, I'm wasting my time.
Everyone learns in different ways. I've taken a good amount of time understanding how I learn best.
One day a golfer decided he needed some help and decided to get a few lessons. He went to a PRO and asked him for help on his driver..... The pro asked him to hit a few so he could evaluate what he needed. The first shot was 250 yards dead straight, the second was 280 ... again dead straight. The pro.. thinking something might be off... told the student to aim at a certain point. The next shots approached 300 yards right at the target. At this point the student asks "So... do you think you can help me?" And the pro replies... "Well... the first thing... You're grip is all WRONG!" If you want lessons to really help your game.. then 1.) understand what the proper golf swing should be. and 2.) Find a pro that will transition your swing over gradually, and help you become... YOUR OWN SWING DOCTOR! My 2 cents... Scotty
I'm ready to play my best right now and besides I won't take a lesson. I take a lot of pride in my game and my self-reliance, and I believe that you can build a good swing by keying in on a select few fundamentals and tailoring them a bit to your particular physique and natural motion. Sure the game demands an infinite variety of different shots but the basic technique should not be a mystery. It takes a bit of homework at first but I want to believe that once you comprehend the fundamentals, you are kind of set for life. Which is not to say you will not ever go through bouts of suckage, but at least you'll understand what's causing it.
I've coached and consulted pretty high level athletes and coaches for over 25 years in a sport where precison is everything. I have to admit that 90% of the time I'm not 'reconstructing' them to my style, I work to help them understand and feel when they have made their own corrections.
Most times, the 'fix' is not just pointing out what they are doing incorrectly, it's getting them to understand what they already do, good and bad, and just put in a voice they can comprehend. It's definitely not 'one size fits all' or the same for everyone!
My opinion - Find an instructor this way and I think you'll have a new outlook on 'lessons.'
Besides, the average person has so many resources these days to help him understand his own swing as well as other people's swings. Reading Ben Hogan's book it is obvious that he was a keen student of the game from the time he started playing as a boy. But this was like Depression-era, and it must've been really hard to study golf swings. I bet he would've killed for a bit of slow-motion film of a great golf swing. Now most us can watch golf swings from our mobile phones. I have read that he did make do at some point with watching film reels of baseball swings and from those trying to learn something about the release of the golf club. Think how much better Hogan could've been if he'd had a digital camera, Youtubes, and the Golf Channel.
Actually, there are very few, if any, coaches that work exclusively with a pro. Most, if not all, work with several guys on tour and have multiple other gigs as well. And, pro's certainly do get lessons. Working on the range with a swing coach is pretty much the definition of a lesson.
Bryan K says:
The beefmeister is exactly correct. There are so many resources available out there to help a person get better at his game, anyone who is serious about improving and practicing has all of the tools he needs to improve without taking lessons. Some people need one-on-one interaction in order to learn. Other people don't get any benefit from one-on-one interaction at all. I'm among the latter.
My ideal lesson would involve a session where nothing was done but video taken. Then, the pro would watch the video and write a dissertation of what he thinks I could do to improve. Then, I would have a week or so to read and absorb that information. Problem is, I can do all of that without shelling out $50 to $100 on a pro. And to shell out $50 to $100 on a half hour session...I'm not going to retain any of that. So unless I can have a coach who is with me every day on the range, I'm better off spending my money on tactics that actually work for me.
Bryan, the key is being able to view your swing. That's what a pro or video can do for you. Being able to understand what needs to be corrected and putting time in to work on it. I don't need someone to watch me for an hour, just watch me for 10 mins and then give me some drills and reasons why it is happening. I don't want a cure for the symptoms, I want a cure for the disease. Don't give me a quick fix, I want to know why and how. That's something a pro can give most of the time. But I understand if you research enough you can find anything you are looking for and work on it yourself.
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