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Get the most out of your lessons

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I know of a great professional who, mid-way in his career, decided to change his swing.  He wanted to be more consistent under pressure and win more major championships. His routine consisted of hitting 300-to-500 balls working with his teacher in the morning, lunch and then to the course. As soon as he would make one of the old swings, he and his teacher would head back to the practice tee. It took the better part of a year to make the change he wanted.

I often give lessons to golfers who leave a one-hour lesson and immediately go play with their regular group for a $5 Nassau or whatever it might be. Out of my own curiosity (and amusement I might add), I often get a golf cart and sneak around to watch things play out. It is enlightening and unbelievably predictable. In most cases, golfers can’t even go two holes without making the old mistakes. By the end of the lesson, the slice was gone– maybe it had even turned into a nice little draw. But almost IMMEDIATELY, the slice comes back for golfers on the course, time after time. Why can’t they take it to the course, they wonder?

There are several reasons, but we should begin with the most obvious: They shouldn’t have gone to the course in the first place! At least not that soon after a lesson! If golfers absolutely have to go to the course, they should go alone. Maybe they could go with a close friend of theirs, but they should NEVER go with their peers (unless they like them so much they want to donate to their beer money).

After most lessons, golfers should spend their majority of their time learning the new swing motion. It is foolish to think that they can make a swing change quickly enough to head straight to the course. Most golfers have been swinging the club a certain way for some 20+ years. They really think they can make a change in an hour? Seriously?

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But here is the really interesting part of the story: Most golfers are able to make positive changes very quickly under the guidance of the instructor. That means that they are certainly physically capable of doing it. But because many students have great success during a lesson, they assume (almost always incorrectly) that they have mastered the new move. But it just doesn’t work that way.

On the lesson tee, golfers get feedback on every swing as they are directed through a change. It’s like riding a bike with training wheels. But on the golf course, the training wheels aren’t allowed. Golfers are on their own, and at that point, their new swing can’t hold up without the teacher input. Very often, things get worse.

The reason for this conundrum is that contrary to what most golfers believe, they simply did not “get it” on the lesson tee. They were walked through it; and at that point, it is far too soon to be without the eyes of the teacher. This is why I advise my students to bundle their lessons, because I don’t believe that one lesson gets it done. Take your lessons in a more concentrated package, and keep them up over time.

In a lesson, golfers are fully concentrated on going through the process with their instructor, and they are not so worried about trying to produce a result. That’s the nature of proper practice for a swing change. It’s N.A.T.O. (not attached to outcome) golf, as I call it.  Golfers are simply thinking of the changes they’re trying to make and getting the body and/or the club into a new position. So what if it goes 30 yards off line?

As soon as golfers get to the course, however, their whole focus shifts to OUTCOME and getting a RESULT. And as soon as they do that, they have lost all sight of the process. For example, “Turn the shoulders more in the backswing,” as you were working on with your instructor, becomes “How can I save a bogey or NOT hit it in that bunker!” There goes that one-hour lesson right down the drain.

And of course there is our old friend, peer pressure, a golf virus that infects all of us. “I will look so silly if I top this ball into the lake in front of my buddies,” peer pressure tells us. Because who wants to be the worst golfer on the block or in the office? A golfer’s chances of making the new move in the early stages of a swing change are slim and none with peer pressre, and that slim didn’t have a tee time that day.

And then there’s the pencil, every golfers worst enemy. As soon a someone is standing there with that little lead stub with no eraser, counting all a golfer’s shots, all hell breaks loose.  Many golfers shy away from the pressure and say something like, “Oh I’m not keeping score today.” With that attitude, they play pretty well and go to the 19th hole saying, “Hey, If I’d have kept score today, I would have done really well.” Image that!

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Here’s the deal: If you are committed to changing some things and playing better down the road, spend way more time on the practice tee than the course after a lesson.  And if you do go to the course, go alone and at a time when you can drop a few balls on each hole and work on the change. Or you may even enjoy a late nine with your spouse in a very non-competitive atmosphere, and work on the new stuff there.

It is difficult to change any motion habit, let alone one as complicated as a golf swing. If you put your jacket on right sleeve first, just try left sleeve first for a week. See how often you catch yourself doing it the old way. You know you CAN do it, but your body is screaming, “But this is the way I’ve always done it.”

If you’d really like to get the most out of a golf lesson or golf school, walk the walk don’t just talk the talk. Take a month or even a season and commit to the change without reservation. A lifetime of better golf awaits if you do.

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Pingback: Taking it to the golf course | Hacker to Single Figures

  2. Jesse

    Dec 22, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Old swing habits can creep back even years after you made a change. I was in college and simply was laying the club off on takeway, my instructor basically made me stay in certain positions until it actually started to hurt because i held it so long. Played great for about 5 yrs then i stopped working on it and took a couple months off and no more range. Only play 2-4 times and month now, guess what my swing is exactly the same as it was before my lessons again. Went from a 9, to +1 and now i struggle to break 80, as all the old habits have crept back.

  3. Double Mocha Man

    Dec 19, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    I never expect what works on the range to work on the course. And vice versa. The range and the course are two different games. The best stuff I’ve learned I learned on the course.

    • naflack

      Dec 20, 2013 at 2:39 am

      +1

    • P

      Dec 22, 2013 at 11:29 am

      Double Mocha Man,

      That is, IF you are already a good ball striker. Please don’t be telling that to beginners.

  4. Rich

    Dec 19, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    After committing to a series of lessons my instructor asked that I not play until the series was over, and since the lessons were full swing he recommended that I not practice the changes but use time away from instruction to practice putting instead. Two sessions of one hour a week for eight weeks made my putting improve WAY more than the full swing lessons. Best lesson I ever received.

    • naflack

      Dec 20, 2013 at 2:45 am

      so it wasnt enough that you committed to a series of lessons…?
      that instructor has some serious onions.

  5. Adam

    Dec 18, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    i agree 100% with this, i got a lesson that changed my whole swing in early august and spent the better part of a week straight hitting golf balls on the range, before my dad got bored and wanted to go play. take the time to let your lesson sink in and be able to do it by yourself repeatedly.

  6. paul

    Dec 18, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    I had a lesson that changed everything for me. I folllwed it up by playing a round of virtual golf the next day (-40 degrees outside) and did 10 strokes better. now that i have had a year to work some mlre on what i learned i shot 80. Lucky i guess.

  7. Ian Bainbridge

    Dec 18, 2013 at 2:22 am

    If people felt a major improvement in their game from having a lesson then they may commit to the process, but not many feel they have that change. If teachers could keep it simple and get the basic fundamentals into a golfer then we would all improve. How many golfers turn up for a lesson, feel they don’t get much, and go back to the old swing fault?

    If people swung in and up on way back, and down and out on way through, most of us would have a nice baby draw instead of the fade/slice 80% of us have. That and not trying to knock the cover off the ball 😉

  8. naflack

    Dec 17, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    Good stuff…
    Definitely take any opportunity to practice on the course.
    If its slow and you’re a single hit a couple extra shots here and there where time allows.
    Some of my best practice rounds haves come playing with my wife, she couldn’t care less about what I’m doing and how well I’m doing it.

  9. Andrew Adamonis

    Dec 17, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Boy this sounds like me. I never go right to the course after a lesson, but my swing changes do tend to fall apart after several holes. Makes me think that improvement in golf just takes too much time and money. Wish there was an easier way.

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About the pro

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Lesson synopsis

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Student’s action plan

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  4. Flatten left wrist to close the face during your backswing to downswing transition

 

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