How Do You Feel About Instruction?
I was fortunate growing up that I got a very early start on golf, and was mentored, tutored and taught by my father and a wonderful golf professional named Carl “Swede” Gustafson. In the 1950s, even our little small town 9-hole course had a pro, and he was a wonderful teacher who really focused on the kids. Later in life, I learned that he had been an assistant under Harvey Penick at Austin Country Club, which explained why so much of what we heard was remarkably similar to what we read in “The Little Red Book”.

As I’ve gone through my adult life, I’ve never hesitated to engage a golf professional when my game was stagnated or retreating, and I couldn’t figure out why. As studied and knowledgeable as I am about the golf swing, another set of eyes is always helpful, and often just what is needed to fix what’s really broken, instead of messing up what is working.

I am in Houston this week, traveling with our sales rep there, and engaging teaching pros and fitters. That got me thinking about why the majority of golfers will spend thousands of dollars on new equipment, golf trips, country club dues, cart rentals and green fees . . . but not engage a golf professional to help them improve their results. Or as I see it, their return on all that investment in golf.

Regardless of your handicap, this game is increasingly more enjoyable if you are constantly improving. Becoming a better driver and iron player sets up more birdie chances and makes pars come easier. An improved short game technique drops your scores faster than anything. And standing over short putts just “knowing” you are likely to make them is a thousand times more fun than shivering and thinking about missing.

So, I wonder, why don’t more golfers take advantage of the 30,000 golf professionals out there whose lives are dedicated to helping us get better? Why are so many golfers stuck on “a number” with regards to their handicap, and not searching for any and all ways to improve?

I’d like to toss this out for dialog with all of you. Share your highs and lows of golf instruction experiences and let’s learn from one another, OK?

Who wants to go first?
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[ comments ]
legitimatebeef says:
For me its just fun to study the swing, learn about impact, coach myself through the mental game, etc. I love to read Harvey's and Hogan's books. I can use video if I want to see what I look like. There's just so many resources these days, so much accumulated wisdom. I feel as a recreational golfer, by taking a little time to study the basics of impact and ballflight I acquired the basic know-how to keep a swing working. All due respect to the fine instructors in the world, I just can't imagine paying someone to help me with my hobby.
5/8/12
 
GolfSmith7 says:
I'll go first. I have taken lessons twice, The first time I improved from 20 handicap to low teens then about a year ago with golf tech and I hated it. My trouble with golf pro's is this I don't know who is a good one or bad one. I wish there was a website that rated the local golf pro. I am moving to Harlingen area soon, know any good golf pro's down there? At the moment though I am working mainly on my mental game.
5/8/12
 
sigmapete1 says:
Because even PGA pros are like everyone else. Some are good, some are bad, some teach only one method and some have an understanding of the many theories out there. Truly good teachers, like it sounds yours was, are few and far between.
5/8/12
 
snuffyword says:
Ever since I started following this column, like legitimatebeef, I have become more of a student of the swing than improving my handicap. I get more upset at poor execution than what I scored on a hole. I have had a few instructions, always looking for advice from better players, read books and watch youtube. I have become quite a range rat, lately. I figure out what works for me and then I try to practice, prcatice, practice. I'm hoping muscle memory kicks in and shots become almost automatic on the course. I'm improving and it will be a matter of time that my handicap will show the results. In the meantime, I'm trying to find the fun factor, again, because I think I have been "working" too hard to improve.
5/8/12
 
Mr_X says:
Speaking for myself, I have been put off by golf pros for two main reasons: the size of their egos and their inability to instruct. I have only had a couple lessons in my life, so I am basing my experience from dealing with pros on the driving range and experiences my friends have shared with me about their golf professionals.

Most of the swing jockeys I have seen are trolling a driving range watching everyone's swing waiting for an opportunity to make a pitch. A snap hook here or topped ball there and they swoop in. At this point they ask the generic marketing BS that permeates the golf industry.

"How would you like to to get more distance with that club?"
"Would you like to shoot lower scores?"
"How much would another 25 yards from the tee be worth to you?"
"Are you satisfied with your game?"

These are real quotes!
5/8/12
 
Mr_X says:
Even if I wanted to stop what I am working on by myself and engage them in a real conversation, there is no way I cannot get hooked into their sales pitch when they ask these types of questions. So, I politely say no thank you and start swinging again. 50% of the time I get some jack ass who grabs one of my clubs, and starts to show me his variation of a golf swing in the next bay! WTF!

And that is where I see the ego problem with swing jockeys! I have my own golf swing. Jim Furyk has his. Moe Norman had his own thing a beauty as well. All golfers should not have the same swing! So, why do the local idiots at the range want everyone to swing the same way? I have a couple friends who have taken lessons for years. Neither track their handicap. I doubt the years of lessons and thousands of dollars spent have shaved more than a two strokes of their scorecards. These guys are always "working on fixing this problem" or "eliminating that problem".
5/8/12
 
Mr_X says:
Their pro has them believing that their swing is broken. (These are the players who play a 5 hour round because they try to remember what their "coach" wanted them to do. Every round with them is a new lesson. I am the lucky one who gets to hear about the problem and the fix!) That broken swing - that negative perspective to their ability is a persistent problem that shows up mental game and their scorecard. If I was taking lessons every month for two years I would want results. I want more fairways! I want more greens! I want a lower handicap! Sadly, years of lessons have not yielded any notable results.

I have heard their are great instructors who understand a golfers weaknesses before designing drill for improvement. These instructors realize that swinging within your limitations and abilities yields the best results. These teachers promote swing awareness and mental exercises. My problem, I have not met any of these golf instructors yet.
5/8/12
 
Dusty23 says:
I have had one lesson, a one hour 4 person group lesson (it was a raffle prize) the pro reviewed our grips, stance and then focused us on, alignment and ball position. It reaffirmed some stuff that I have read and been doing, so it was worthwhile. Like Beef, I have read alot and applied what I can. I try and focus on fundamentals. I think my biggest fear, like Golfsmith7, is what if I spend good money on a clown and how far backwards will I go before I see improvement. My game is frustrating enough without getting worse to get better and what if I don't.
5/8/12
 
phallstrom says:
I've never had a lesson (6.8h) and not sure I ever will. The main reason is that in 10 years of golf I have *yet* to meet someone (ie. hooked up with strangers on the course) who has taken a lesson and been happy. Across the board the pro has rebuilt their swing from scratch and screwed them completely up. I get that some changes will take awhile to get used to, but not a single happy person in 10 years?

Now... if i could find someone that could watch what I'm doing and *augment* it just a bit... I'd be all over that.
5/8/12
 
GBogey says:
I guess I got lucky, because I was really struggling when I took up the game and signed up for lessons at a local range and found a great pro. The lessons have been invaluable and I really attribute them to a large part of my improvement. Even if I am doing well, I will sometimes go back every two months or so for a check up. I find the golf swing has too many opposites to always understand what I am doing without another set of eyes. Still, I understand why some people don't want lessons - it adds expense and it changes things that won't work without practice. The other thing is that a good pro will only fix one thing at a time and most golfers are looking for more than one fix. But a good pro will understand you and understand how you learn - read Harvey Penick's "Little Red Book" where he talks about getting to know someone before a lesson - that's what good pros do.
5/8/12
 
Dusty23 says:
I had one lesson, focused on alignment and ball position, It was worthwhile. Like Golfsmith said I would be nervous about spending my money only to figure out that I've got the wrong guy. My other fear is taking my already frustrating game and breaking it down, getting worse to get better and then not. Like Beef, I have read alot, focusing on fundamentals and try not to read too many "different theories". I read somewhere once that if you are going to go with a someones teaching, to pick one and stick with it and not jump from idea to idea, teacher to teacher as this will probably mess you up (look at Tiger) I know a good teacher is probably best, but it is a committment both physically and financially. Picking up a book or video is about $20, once and its always available.
5/8/12
 
DoubleDingo says:
Mainly comes down to money. I would love to take lessons, but I cannot justify spending more money on golf than I already do. On a single income I have a mortgage, car payment, other bills, 2 dogs and myself to feed, fuel costs, golf membership, and house projects, etc. I too, since finding oob have concentrated more on the fundamentals of the golf swing, and trying to be consistent at impact so I hit more fairways and greens. Some holes I am on fire; others ruin my score. I now hook my woods and driver and cannot fix it no matter what I try and it pisses me off. I can stripe one down the middle and then the next hole I hook it into the trees with what I feel is the same swing that got my a straight-striped-down-the-middle shot the previous hole. And I get the same results on the range, straight and then hook, irons perfect! Having an extra set of eyes would help, but like I said, I simply cannot afford it. Any pro-bono golf pros out there?
5/8/12
 
bubbyblack says:
I have never hesitate to go to a pro and get help with my game. My first teacher was my dad and he could only take it so far, he is a feel player and tough to teach feel. PGA professionals have always been there to help and never have i been given a sales pitch, I have always looked for the help i have needed. I currently work with a teacher, who isn't interested in changing my swing, but helping with good fundamentals and getting my ball in the fairway more. He does't have a swing he teaches but instead works with mine. i enjoy the second set of eyes and after a tough round saying this is what was happening and him working with me to find the answer. With any teaching, if you don't practice what you are being taught it won't be ingrained, just like fractions in 4th grade. So I think teacher are great and there are alot of positive experiences to be found and often tell people to go see a teacher before they spend $500 on the next driver thinking that is the answer.
5/8/12
 
Dusty23 says:
Sorry about the double post, My computer had frozen up and I didn't think the first one went through.
A final thought, To quote Leslie Nielsen from Bad Golf made Easy, " the one thing you can learn from Golf books, is that you can't really learn anything from Golf books, but you have to read alot them to figure it out"
5/8/12
 
TR1PTIK says:
I just simply can't afford lessons, and like many have already stated, I wouldn't know who to go to (who to trust) if I did have the money. I don't even get to play golf often enough to fully calculate a handicap, but I know my strengths and my weaknesses, and I do the best I can to improve. For the past couple of years I have struggled with my irons, but after reading and examining pro swings (or even just better player swings) I've discovered a swing that works more often than not. Even if the ball doesn't go perfectly straight, I at least get it off the ground without completely shanking it. My biggest problem area by far right now is my putting. Luckily, putting greens are free :).
5/8/12
 
Tim Horan says:
Modern professionals very rarely discard all that you have and all that you are. They genuinely work with you to achieve the best result. It is not a quick fix and needs time and committment not only from you (you are paying) but from them also. I had some real swing issues a couple of years ago and a club fitter refused to make me a set of clubs until they were addressed. My pro worked with me for months to get the swing on plane and re-align feet, hips and shoulders. Both the club fitter and the pro set out what they wanted to achieve. If you are not happy, move on to another pro but take from each what works for you. There has to be synergy and trust between you.
5/8/12
 
cvargo says:
Local course by me has a great pro. I am always willing to take advice from the pors. But I do not like the guy out on the course who gives you instructions while you are playing your round, especially when I end scoring better than him.
5/8/12
 
SteadyHoo says:
After 20 years of playing at around an 18+, I took lessons with a pro and got down the a 13-14. Then, a few years went by and I took GolfTec lessons and am now down to an 11. Main reasons to take lessons are: 1) They can see you, you can't see yourself. 2) They inspire you to practice more. 3) You can and will get better if you have the patience to work through some changes. You don't have to stop tinkering if you're taking lessons...if anything, you'll tinker more. But the $300 you spend on a driver will do a lot more good with 4-6 sessions with a pro.
5/8/12
 
jpjeffery says:
I like my pro and I know I'd be a LOT worse without him. He always focuses on the positives, never lets me finish a session with a bad shot and always finds out what we need to work on.

My playing partner doubts him though as my scores haven't yet come down much but I know that's because of me, not because of my teacher.
5/8/12
 
Anti-Mulligan says:
Here are the reasons more people don't get lessons:
1. Time - People would rather play in the small amount of free time they get from work, family, chores, etc.
2. Cost - People like to buy goods rather than a service they won't see the direct change from immediately.
3. Fear - Most golfers think they will lose what little they understand and coupled with (1) they won't be able to get it back.
4. Experience/Hearsay - Everyone remembers the one bad lesson or heard about a bad lesson from a friend and uses that as the reasoning to not get instruction.

I take a couple of lessons usually in the offseason unless I get really messed up and work hard to get better. It is very important to talk to the instructor first before booking and see if your learning stlye marriages with their teaching style.

Terry - With so many comments, I think a great followup article on friday would be how to correctly pick an instructor coupled with the varing levels of expectations.
5/8/12
 
aaronm04 says:
@Mr_X: Don't let guys come to you at the range. Go find someone and be the initiator. You will likely have better luck that way since you would be less inclined to get a sales pitch. Talk to them first and if you just don't click, find someone else.

I take lessons from the pro at my club. Well before each lesson(a day or two), I tell him what I want to improve or accomplish so that he can prepare or start thinking about our time together. He has told me that this is a big help for him.

Bottom line is when seeking out a pro, have an agenda/goals and be as specific as you can. Let them guide you on to a different path if they think it will lead to those ends but don't let them tell you what you need.

Good luck!
5/8/12
 
mjaber says:
My wife bought me a gift card for 3 lessons at the local pro shop/driving range. I guess I was pretty lucky. The instructor didn't try to make drastic changes to my swing, my setup, my grip, or anything else. He would watch me hit a few balls, and then make a slight adjustment. The biggest thing I took away from the lessons was to bend at the hips, instead of the waist.

I'm not sure I would shell out the money for another set at this point, because I'm ok with my game for now. The things I need to improve are things that I can work on by myself in my backyard.
5/8/12
 
Mr_X says:
I was given a free lesson at an indoor range walking distance from my office as a present. I just scheduled the first lesson for tomorrow afternoon. I am emailing the pro to introduce myself and describe what I want to work on. Hopefully this turn out to be a good relationship. I will send some feedback later in the week.
5/8/12
 
JPinMI says:
My playing companions and I often talk about trying some lessons because we could surely use the help, but none of us can justify/afford the cost. We asked around and lessons run $100-$165 an hour in our area. Now I know these fellas need to make a living but that's a lot of dough in a tough economy. When money is tight I'm gonna spend that $100 on 5-6 rounds of golf at a "budget" course and maybe a couple buckets of balls.
5/8/12
 
Jattruia says:
I've had a handful of lessons over the past couple years, and they really helped. He didn't change my swing, just an adjustment here and there, starting with grip and posture. Of course it took some practice and a couple rough rounds before everything stuck, but it was well worth it. Too many students give up if they don't see immediate results. I like to take lessons in the winter so i have range time to work on everything without even being tempted to try on-course.

I've also known at least 2 others that have gone to the same pro, and none of us ever did the same drill. Different issues and different swings equal different lessons. Maybe i was lucky enough to get to a 'good pro,' but with a little research, they're out there and worth it. The ~$100 is way better served going toward a lesson than a new club.
5/8/12
 
GBogey says:
JPinMI - might suggest asking if they have 1/2 hour lessons - many do in my area do and that is all the time needed for a single concept. I also see 5 lesson intro packages. I know I think it's worth it if someone is serious about improving. I like what Harvey Penick said (maybe slightly misquoted),
If you play bad once, forget about it.
If you play badly twice in a row, practice.
If you play badly three times in a row, get a lesson.
It's worked for me.
5/8/12
 
joe jones says:
It has been said that there are two things that are required to play golf well.
The ability to know what you are doing wrong.
Knowing what to do to correct it.
Obviously a complete understatement.. It requires another pair of eyes to do these things and that is where a good teaching pro is necessary.
Take a group of lessons from someone that will make minor adjustments, give you a few key swing thoughts and this will allow you to enjoy the game to the best of your ability.
5/8/12
 
JPinMI says:
GBogey, some places do offer 30-45 minute lessons or packages. I'll have to explore that further. I know where a lot of my problem lies... I it my fairway woods and mid and long irons fat or thin about 50% of the time. Perhaps a session could set me on the right path.

A nice course in this area has a heck of a deal for women. For $225 they get a 30 minute group lesson with 9 holes afterward 1 evening a week for 12 weeks. I'd be all over that if they had it for men (it's discrimination I tell ya :D ) because at the price they're charging it's like getting the lessons for free.
5/8/12
 
Duffer 83 says:
I would consider taking lessons if I had time to actually practice and work on my game. Just taking lessons by them selves is not enough. You have to practice the changes to make them stick. I don't see the point in paying someone else to help me fix my swings when I don't have time to do the reps to keep it working. I would be all about taking lessons if I had the time to practice though.
5/9/12
 
dooboo says:
I am not looking for a golf pro, but I am looking for a golf teacher. How many times that we run into people who are subject matter experts (pros), however, they are not a great teacher.

I have so much respect for teachers, who understands what student's needs are, and developing a "Lesson Plan" around it. So many so called teaching pros just want to teach, but not develop a lesson plan. This is how I know if a person is a good teacher.
If your so called "teacher" hasn't developed a teaching plan for you, then I think you need to try to find another.
I remember few PhD professors in college were just absolutely terrible at teaching...same goes for any school level. I feel the golf teaching pro is the same way. Just because they have the knowledge, doesn't mean he/she can translate that into teaching.
And I am still searching for one, but I think I may have found one...1st lesson next week.
5/9/12
 
SteveMM says:
I've taken lessons from two people. The first was a guy I was referred to. He was REALLY good at teaching the short game, and because of it my short game is as good as or better than most people with whom I play golf. The problem with him came when it was time to hit something longer than a pitching wedge. He couldn't teach it. We worked for 1.5 hours at the range and I walked away no better than when we started. His answer was to go to the range and hit 100 balls. It's ridiculous to do that if you've got a problem with your swing that you don't know how to fix -- all you're doing is cementing a bad habit.

My second instructor was MUCH better and has helped me a lot. Funny thing is that he knows and DESPISES the first guy I went to :)
5/9/12
 
onedollarwed says:
Very very enjoyable posts, and I could go on way too long on the subject; I have in the past. I actually had the pleasure to teach golf a few years back, though not a pro. It was a local adult school, and the pro had a 2 semester hiatus. In preparation, I read every book, and watched every video that I could find - there are a ton of materials at your local library. But what I had in spades was an intimate knowledge of how people learn, and education psychology - right down to the dissection and photography of rat brains. I have a M.Ed. in special education, and while a degree proves little of one's classroom effectiveness, I had spent years as an effective teacher in the inner city, prisons, specialized schools, and with gifted kids. I designed a curriculum for the program director, who was a little surprised. The students were broken into pairs or threes, and spent time watching each other to correct alignment, posture, and positioning issues. The core of the curriculum however was a series of competetiv
5/9/12
 
onedollarwed says:
The core of the curriculum however was a series of competitive games which highlighted a particular phase of the game: putting and chipping distance, or accuracy. Any longish club game utilized a center line and straightness, or a green-sized target. I lugged a ton of equipment to the classes every week: barrels, ropes, flags, and balls. We took time to watch A Nicklaus video to reinforce swing mechanics without getting too particular (he must've been largely intuitive, because his demonstrations were quite general and athletic). Most of the other material is quite gimmicky, and features remedies and quick fixes - or advice so ideocentric to the pro that nobody could possibly benefit. Sadly, when I assigned homework, there was no response, and the students weren't really playing much outside of class. So we got a ton of reps, played relevant competitive games, and had a lot of response from question cards (every class students wrote at least 1 question on a card that they cared about (rules, how to's, etc.)
5/9/12
 
QuickBrownFox says:
I have had lessons with a local pro and watched my kids do group clinics and one on one lessons with him and several other pros in the same academy. I have found a big barrier to taking more lessons is the time required between lessons to practice and ingrain the fixes and skills learned. I have also noticed that different pros have different approaches. My coach works on feel. But I am quite technical and read everything. I have learnt heaps from my kids' main coach without taking my own lessons with him because he has a similar technical inclination.
5/10/12
 
stedar says:
I agree with the sentiment that a Golf Pro will change what I'm doing so I have to start from scratch, even though I'm on an 8.5 HC. I've seen some good friends on less; have coaching and go through the rebuild to not even get back to where they were after a year.

The old adage, practice 10,000 times to get better at something seems more apt. You will not be able to keep hitting a bad ball if you practice hitting it 10,000 times - a human naturally improves, even if they do not know how to do it better. Golf is all about improvement and fun. Coaching can take the fun out of it from what I've seen, A) having to start all over again and B) getting too serious and taking the fun out of it. My 2c worth....
5/12/12
 
onedollarwed says:
@stedar: like!
5/12/12
 
ATEglauer says:
I've been contemplating a lesson (or few) for about 20 years; and my scores/stats certainly indicate I need them! For me, it comes down to desire, as much as it does time/cost. While I would like to be able to score better, I've realized that I generally do not want to practice. I've realized that since I am largely unwilling to spend the time practicing, I just need to accept the fact that my scores will generally not improve much. I'm comfortable with that and head out each round with the main goal is to spend time with friends.

I may end up taking lessons at some point, because I curl against a golf professional. I joked with him at the start of the curling season (and end of golf season here in Calgary), "I just don't get it - I play golf 5 or 6 times a year and I STILL don't get any better!"
5/13/12
 
Tim Horan says:
@steveMM - I see that Sir Nick Faldo is advocating just going to the range and having fun moving the ball around to see what you can do with it a la Bubba. Whilst I can see your point that to go to the range, hit 100 balls may just ingrain a bad habit/ swing fault. If you know the theory and basics of how to hit a fade for instance, playing around, accentuating, minimising, opposing that or your natural shot shape you will begin to understand your swing (nobody elses, nobody's take on what you should be doing or look like while you are doing it). Finding it for yourself has far more long term benefits for your golf and your confidence.
5/15/12
 
Mr_X says:
I had my first lesson in years lesson last week. It was a gift for two hours of instruction. The outfit that sold the program would not let me break it up into two 60 minutes sessions. I told them I wanted to work on my driver and eliminate pushes and pulls. We spent the first 75 minutes working on a six iron. I brought my driver but spent most the lesson swing his 6 iron??? By the time we got to my driver my swing was so out of sorts that I was slicing and topping the ball. I have not been that frustrated in years.
5/22/12
 
Mr_X says:
I felt like there was too much time in the lesson. As a result, the lesson was not focused. We worked on everything involved in a full swing except my grip. As someone who regularly breaks 100, I was shocked that there was nothing about my swing that was good. My set up, take away, backswing, follow through and finish were wrong. They needed to be "fixed". In the end I was tired, confused and less confident with my ability then when I walked in. I played three full rounds since the lesson. Those were the worst three consecutive rounds I have played in years. On Sunday I had no confidence in any shot I took. I wanted to walk of the course and give up the game.

How do I feel about instruction? I am done with with it! I think I will spend my money on a net and video camera before I give an instructor any more money.
5/22/12
 
Tim Horan says:
@Mr_X - Get yourself a DVD called The Secret of Golf by David Blair each part of the swing including the grip is broken down into bite size sections. No opinions, no criticisms, no loss of confidence. Learn each part of the swing - watch, follow the drills, mimic the actions. It will help and it stays with you. I am constantly refreshing parts of my swing using this DVD.
5/28/12
 
Mr_X says:
Tim, I ordered the DVD a couple weeks ago. It has not gotten here yet because it is coming from England. I have watched the few free videos I could find online from David Blair. I do like his simple explanations. My swing s is beginning to feel like my own swing again.
6/14/12
 
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