Choosing The Right Golf Teaching Professional
I've often heard, "no one has ever explained it that way;" or, "you are so easy to understand"
That other guy didn't know what he was talking about." Or, "my old teacher was way too technical. You say things that actually make sense to me."
These are some comments I've heard over the years from players of literally ALL skill levels, and it points to what's wrong with the golf teaching profession.
I have long believed that there are two types of teaching professionals. The ones who want to help and the ones who want to get paid. Don't get me wrong...we ALL want to get paid for our services...no matter who we are or what we do...I think you get the message.
This to be an over simplification, but let me elaborate.
Much too often the student will seek out someone who is an excellent player, thinking that they can teach them how to swing the club; or, conversely, a professional who IS a good player will hold themselves out as a golf teaching professional. Oh, were it that simple.
Some years ago, a PGA TOUR player I'd just met shared with me that he, in fact, only knew 'which end of the club hit the ball and which end of the club to grip.' That was all he knew about the golf swing and golf clubs, according to him.
He also lamented that when it came to the golf swing, he only knew what worked for him.
I viewed those remarks to be perhaps the most honest I'd ever heard from an accomplished player.
Over the past 30 years I have had the good luck to meet with and pick the brains of some of the best and most well-known golf teaching professionals and TOUR players in the game. While I do not by any stretch of the imagination question their qualifications or abilities, I do, from time to time, question their motives. Whenever I've gotten them to talk about the swing, they've generally agreed that teaching is about communication and not necessarily the ability to play the game itself. However, when writing articles or taping instructional videos, it is a different matter.
Don't get me wrong, I understand marketing. I simply have always felt that the market, (you), would eventually figure it out much like the, "you gotta have the same club Tiger uses if you want to play your best", sales pitch.
One TOUR coach commented to me once, "I'm very lucky to have had ____ ____ as a student. You know, it only takes one."
What he was saying simply was in order to be 'on top'...a golf teaching instructor needs one student to make it into the winners circle. Then, everyone wants to come to them for help.
That same coach said to me, "25% of pros who hold themselves out as teachers take their craft seriously. The other 75% are interested in how much money they can extract from their students or use teaching to boost their own egos." I have found over the years that I have to agree.
In order to be an effective teacher of the golf swing there are issues far more important that need to be addressed by a teaching pro than being able to shoot lights out every time he or she picks up a club and hits it 3000 miles (a bit of an over exaggeration here).
As I say at least once a week on my show, "It's up to me to understand the dynamics of the different golf swing methods, then help you the WAY YOU PROCESS."
In the weeks ahead I'll get more in-depth about the above statement, but, this is a piece about choosing the right golf teaching professional.
Going in, know that you are probably going to take 2 or 3 lessons from as many instructors before you settle on the one that can be of the best benefit to you.
Generally speaking and as a rule of thumb I tell clients to:
Take a golf lesson from a teaching professional a friend thinks is 'THE BEST'
One that you've seen at the local driving range, and
One from someone you've NEVER heard of. OR....Make a few calls and find out about THEM.
How? Simple. If an golf instructor tells you, "my rate is 'X', the sessions last 30 minutes BUT I also have packages, (or series of several sessions), for 'Y'." My suggestion is to move on and call someone else. Don't fall into the 'money trap'. When a golf teaching pro starts talking about or trying to 'sell' multiple sessions OR tells you how good you're going to be, chances are the motives here have less to do with you and more to do with their wallets.
If, on the other hand, an instructor says something like, "well, I have time to take a look at you on Thursday at 4pm, my rate for one lesson is 'X' and my sessions run between 30-45 minutes", OR, "I don't wear a watch when I teach, my rates are flat and based on an hour. You'd need to plan on spending at least 45 min up to an hour. I've got time Thursday at 4pm. I don't discuss series or packages unless you or I 'both' feel we have synergy."
I've got to tell you, THIS is the person I'd probably take a lesson from! Yes, it may cost a few dollars more, (maybe not), but at least you know the chances are very good that this is a true communicator of the golf swing and not a self-proclaimed 'golf guru'. Again, the reason they don't generally want to discuss package rates is they first want to find out if the two of you are a match.
The other way you can make a selection is simply to go around to a couple of driving ranges, get a coffee or soda and simply sit down in the area where lessons are being conducted and listen to the dialogue between the student and the teacher. Simply find out if what is being said makes sense to you. Put yourself in the place of the person taking the lesson. Now, I am NOT suggesting here that you try to 'learn something'. I'm simply suggesting you listen to the delivery of the pro to see if it 'makes sense' to you.
You might buy a bucket of balls and hit some balls in the area of the lesson so as not to be to obvious....BUT DO NOT TRY TO TAKE THE ADVICE being given out in the lesson. I would suggest you try to set up to the left, or behind the student. Oh, and if the pro asks what you're up to, (sitting and listening), be honest and tell them that you're looking for a golf teaching pro and you simply are listening in to see if they might be a good fit for you. Believe me, if the person you're 'checking out' is a 'serious' instructor, they're NOT going to have a problem with what you say. NOW, remember, the ultimate decision is up to the student and if they appear distracted by your presence, I suggest you consider how YOU would feel and move away so they don't feel intimidated. This is why sometimes if you're set up to the left, (for right handed golfers), of where the session is taking place, you're generally less obvious to the student. But either way be considerate just as you would expect.
If you live in snow country, I'd bet there is an indoor facility in your area. Check it out. Talk to your current instructor, if you have one, to see what they think of the teachers at those facilities. I've worked with students of other pros in the winter months at golf domes and have never assumed myself to be anything more than a 'stand in' or substitute teacher. In fact I often refer clients to area teachers if I'm going to be out-of-town for an extended period.
To a fault, I guess, my first and foremost concern is the student and their ability to grow. I have always believed that there are plenty of golfers to give lessons to just like there are plenty of instructors to take lessons from. The BIG problem, for me at least, is that the match between student and golf instructor should ALWAYS COME FIRST!
About the Author:
Steve Riggs is a retired golf teaching professional of over 30 years working with countless clients in the U.S. and the Caribbean. Now retired, Steve is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and regular contriubtor to Par Excellence Magazine, New England Golf Monthly magazine and mynegm.com. Steve is the host/producer of a weekly Radio/Internet golf program, THE myNEGM LESSON TEE which airs Wednesdays 10:05-11am ET. Listen live at WNRI 1380 AM radio or online at: mynegm.com and www.wnri.com . The show is followed around the country and Canada in it's second year on air.