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What do top teachers think about the current state of golf instruction?

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Stickney
Photo from http://www.youtube.com/user/tomstickneygolf

A few weeks ago, I was on a plane heading back from a corporate outing I do every year with about 20 other teaching professionals. All of us were either a Golf Digest Top-50 Teacher and/or a Golf Magazine Top-100 Teacher. Since you’re a GolfWRX reader, these are teachers that you probably know by name; you know, the ones who teach some of the best professional golfers in the world.

The event is one of my favorites of the year because, surrounded with so many great teachers, it’s impossible not to learn new things that can make me a better instructor to my students. Each night after teaching, we would all sit down together over a few drinks and tell different stories about life in the instructional world in which we live: some good, some bad, some ugly. I couldn’t help but reflect on a few things that were said about the game, the students we teach (both professionals and amateurs) and what these teachers viewed as the future of the game we all know and love.

So it’s with great pleasure that I present the thoughts of some of the very best teachers in the game today. I won’t name names, because it doesn’t really matter who said what. Everyone one of these insights is from one of golf’s most accomplished teaching professionals.

  • No amount of practice can overcome a bad attitude on the golf course. It will eventually catch up with you.
  • At the highest levels of proficiency, sometimes “letting go” on the putting green can take a player from struggling to putting well, instantly.
  • Doppler radar launch monitors like Trackman and FlightScope have changed the way we teach the game. When placed in the best hands, they can help players become LESS technical and LESS position-oriented with their swings.
  • Force plates are a wave of the future and will help us to better understand how to generate more power out of the ground.
  • The PGA of America must revamp its instructional curriculum to include the new technology, amended ball-flight laws and should also add a chapter covering the psychological aspects of instruction so our young professionals are more prepared.
  • The short game is important, but there’s been a shift in focus to improving longer shots. It’s an efforts to eliminate unmanageable approach shots, as well as ones that cause penalty shots.
  • Young professionals must be willing to work ungodly hours in an effort to build their brand and take advantage of the power of social media and the web.
  • No amount of reading, YouTube videos, or technology utilized by the younger generation of teachers can make up for the experience that 10,000 hours or on the lesson tee provides, but the gap is closing quickly.
  • If you have to be asked repeatedly during a lesson to remember to do something we asked earlier (like altering your grip before you hit a shot) then you are not listening and handicapping what the instructor is trying to piece together.
  • Sometimes fixing the path is impossible, but managing the face-to-path relationship can change a person’s life on the course.
  • There is no such thing as the “magic dust” that makes things better without focused practice.
  • During one lesson, a top teacher couldn’t get through to a student so he head-butted him. They guy listened from that point on.
  • Practice on the putting green without focusing on speed drills and feel is a waste of time.
  • Everyone should get at least a basic club fitting that includes: club length, lie, shaft flex, grip size and set make up based on their ability level.
  • Most players need a 60-degree wedge in their bag.
  • Wedge fitting is a must to eliminate gaps and to ensure you can hit the ball comfortable distances with each wedge.
  • At the higher levels, the golf ball you play can cost you distance off the tee and control into and around the green.
  • Hitting flatter trajectory wedges into the green is more consistent for distance and spin control.
  • Most players have the wrong bounce on their wedges.
  • Low spin drivers cannot make up for improper angles of attack or poor impact points.
  • Practicing on the golf course is a must after obtaining the “feel” you want on the range.
  • The serious high school and college golfers of today can score better than yesterday’s kids, but usually have only one shot that they can hit under pressure.
  • Ladies’ putters are often hand-me-downs and are the most ill-fitted clubs in the game of golf.
  • The most effective practice comes in short bursts, not overly long sessions.
  • Forcing everyone into a model swing is dangerous and tends to paint instructors into a corner.
  • Most people forget that golf is supposed to be FUN! Relax and enjoy it!

I hope you enjoyed the thoughts from my peers on golf today and what’s going on. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to respond.

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction at Combine Performance in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 60 people in the world.

42 Comments

42 Comments

  1. Phil

    Jul 11, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Very interesting list. One point about teaching. It lasts a lifetime. I’m sure eveyone reading this has had a lesson from years ago suddenly make sense during practice.

    What is “the wrong bounce” on a wedge? How do we determine the “right” bounce? I’ve never heard this before.

  2. Ken

    Jun 26, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Most players need a 60° wedge. The only distinctive thing you can do with one is hit the ball over a tree from a very close distance. With a 14 club limit, learning how to use a gap wedge and sand wedge will obviate the need for 60’s in 99.99% of situations that arise during a round.

    Unless you need to replace a standard 56° mid to high bounce sand wedge because of the sand consistency at any given course, it seems to me that you’d have to remove a more useful club on the off chance that you’ll be stymied by a tree when you’re within 40 yards of the pin.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jun 26, 2014 at 4:20 pm

      Ken- hitting the 60 full is the last thing I’m talking about when suggesting this club for the masses. If you’re using a 56 out of a deep bunker, pitching to a tight pin, playing greens that are 10+ on the stimp, etc you will never be the player you can be w/out one. Trust me.

  3. septic tank

    Jun 26, 2014 at 5:46 am

    Everything is very open with a clear description of the issues.
    It was definitely informative. Your website is extremely helpful.
    Many thanks for sharing!

  4. Randy

    Jun 25, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Lots of great guidance here! But I have a concern about what, at least in my experience, seems to be a fundamental flaw in current golf instruction: starting with where a player is, without learning about how he/she got there. For example, at my first lesson at the age of 52, I told the PGA instructor that I had gone to the driving range during summer vacations, played one round of golf for the heck of it as a teenager, and played some rounds of mini-golf, mostly with my son. In retrospect, I think that I would have made faster progress if he had said, “Ok, let’s start with the basics: grip, stance, alignment, posture, weight transfer, etc.,” instead of saying, “Well, I see you’re swaying; here’s a drill to work on that.” I had never been taught the basics, as I suspect many recreational golfers have not. My experience with subsequent instructors has been similar. What do you think?

    • Tom Stickney

      Jun 25, 2014 at 6:04 pm

      You should always begin with the basics…

  5. G.Love

    Jun 25, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Can you elaborate at all into what “letting it go” on putting green means?

    • Tom Stickney

      Jun 25, 2014 at 2:15 pm

      Relax…don’t try and make it happen. Allow it to happen.

  6. paul

    Jun 24, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    I was hoping to see in the article that costs have to come down or people will never take lessons. Oh wait, 90% of golfers don’t take lessons. I would love to go to the range and see an instructor there, and be able to cough up $10 for a 10 minute lesson. Or some other affordable way to learn golf.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jun 24, 2014 at 4:39 pm

      Sadly you often get what you pay for on the instructional end- not always but most if the time. Being a serious instructor is not cheap on my end either- the costs (out of our pockets) to buy video systems/TrackMan etc are very very expensive…there are affordable programs like get golf ready from the PGA and group instructional packages many of us offer as well.

      • DC

        Jun 25, 2014 at 11:41 am

        Tom, do you ever get frustrated by comments about how expensive lessons can be – only to look in the players bag and see $1,000 + worth of equipment in there? I get told all the time how expensive lessons are yet one hour with a top instructor costs 1/4 of that new driver in your bag – that you cant hit anyway.

        • Tom Stickney

          Jun 25, 2014 at 2:17 pm

          People also want cheap lawyers too but again you get what you pay for most of the time.

        • Mark M

          Jun 25, 2014 at 5:54 pm

          Lessons are an ongoing expense, gear is usually a one time expense. And I do believe that top instructors are considerably more expensive than you think. The main issue is the incredibly low quality of the vast majority of instructors out there. No one will commit time and money to see a local club pro or whatever if they don’t see it as being able to help them.
          Everyone knows someone who faithfully takes lessons and never improves. That’s the reality that the PGA and instructors need to address.

          • Tom Stickney

            Jun 25, 2014 at 11:33 pm

            Mark- as with any profession there are average and great people…golf is no different. Take the time to really investigate the teaching pros in your area. There will always be one or two names that pop up. Interview them. Ask for their philosophy etc. Equipment offered in their lessons. Check their status on top teacher lists etc. You must do your homework…I’d never go see a specialist about anything without doing my due diligence. Most people never take this step to heart…

          • DC

            Jun 26, 2014 at 7:20 am

            I don’t know any players who take lessons and don’t improve – unless they put in zero practice time and zero playing time in between lessons.

            People are going to get out of golf pretty much exactly what they put into it. You can take lessons from the world’s greatest instructors but if you aren’t willing to put in the work then you have no shot at getting better – regardless of how good the lesson was.

  7. Steve

    Jun 24, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Thanks for giving us an inside look. Can you expand on for some, path can’t be fixed? You’re saying that some who have an out to in path – no matter what they do they’ll never get it in to out? Is that because of physical limitations?

    • Tom Stickney

      Jun 24, 2014 at 10:43 am

      No. As teachers/players we have all seen flaws that cannot be fixed in certain players for whatever the reason…at that point you must work around the issue to improve.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jun 26, 2014 at 8:13 am

      DC– I’ve never seen anyone on the lesson tee that couldn’t improve…I’ve seen plenty of people stop trying to do so when they didn’t have instant results. NO one is exempt from the learning process!

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  10. Dan

    Jun 24, 2014 at 2:49 am

    Most players need a 60deg wedge? Thus is a bit controversial

    • Tom Stickney

      Jun 24, 2014 at 3:07 am

      You ever short side yourself? Am’s need all the help around the greens they can get.

      • Dan

        Jun 24, 2014 at 3:23 am

        I have one in my bag. But so many pages you look at recommend for amateurs not to have them since we don’t have the skill to hit it properly

        • Mark M

          Jun 25, 2014 at 12:26 am

          While reading about golf on the internet and talking to golfers you meet can be informative, you have to take a lot of what is said with a grain of salt. For example, no amateur can hit a long iron, beginners shouldn’t use drivers off the tee, you can’t hit a lob wedge, you can’t hit a fairway wood off the deck, you can’t hit a flop shot. All these and more are pieces of “wisdom” I have come across. None of it is true. You can learn to hit any shot and any club if you practice and seek out help with lessons as needed.

          Some golfers assume because they struggle with something that everyone else can’t do it either.

        • Tom Stickney

          Jun 25, 2014 at 2:17 pm

          All about practice

        • tom stickney

          Jun 29, 2014 at 11:16 am

          I don’t buy that…saying you don’t have the skill to hit a 60 is like saying you don’t have the skill to hit any other higher lofted club. It’s only 4 degrees of difference. If you moved from a 56 degree to a 64, I might buy the argument but 56 to 60, no way.

      • Gary Lewis

        Jun 25, 2014 at 2:18 am

        I agree. The 60 degree is very helpful for some shots around the green and one can get fairly competent with the 60 with a little practice.

    • Paul

      Jun 25, 2014 at 7:21 pm

      I agree with the 60 degree wedge.

      In fact, most mid handicappers might gain more out of carrying 4 wedges (gap, sand, pw, lw) than carrying an extra wood. By getting rid of the 15-25 yard gap between the SW & PW, people would do better scoring. Plus the GW is a great chipping club too.

      • tom stickney

        Jun 29, 2014 at 11:17 am

        Ask Pelz what he thinks of the four wedge concept in the average golfers bag…

  11. marcel

    Jun 23, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    everyone get yourself AAA+ coach that costs peanuts in comparison to new equipment. I started hitting my drives straigh and long 250m on the average with few good hits 300m and one extra long last Saturday 340m. 36 yo, 3-4x gym per week, R1 stiff, Bridgestone J38 CB stiff.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jun 24, 2014 at 3:08 am

      There are a bunch of good teachers out there for sure…

  12. Nick Chertock

    Jun 23, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    Tom: This is an excellent summary of where instruction is right now. I’m dying to know what this Corporate outing was where you end up with an airplane full of famous golf teachers. My advice is to charter a separate G5 for each pro in case of a terrorist attack. We wouldn’t want it to be “the day golf died”

    • Tom Stickney

      Jun 23, 2014 at 6:55 pm

      Ha. I’m sure the game would survive…

  13. matt nicolle

    Jun 23, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Really interesting insights into the best minds in the game right now, I like the last bullet point to sum things up, what it all boils down to is enjoyment, if too much focus is on the technical fine tuning and matching up of numbers on a screen a player will lose sight of what golf is all about, nice article.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jun 23, 2014 at 4:25 pm

      Thx. It’s just a game…

      • paul

        Jun 24, 2014 at 2:30 pm

        Just a game? You have to be kidding. Don’t tell my wife or she will have more ammunition to get me to play less. Thanks to golfwrx, YouTube, and devices I shot 2 over par on 9 holes. Don’t sell your articles and videos short. All the path and face articles really helped. I hit straight draws and fades very well now. However, 15 minutes with a pro every few months really helps the most. What I really need is a golf nerd I can bounce my thoughts off of once in a while that doesn’t cost $120/hour.

        • bradford

          Jun 24, 2014 at 2:46 pm

          Golf nerd reporting. I’ll do it for $100…

        • Tom Stickney

          Jun 25, 2014 at 11:38 pm

          Paul…that’s one of the biggest reasons why I’m on golfwrx. To help you all…and it’s free. This is also why I try and answer every reader question that’s posed herein.

      • Scott

        Jun 25, 2014 at 12:57 pm

        Right. Its not life or death. It is much more important than that.

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Instruction

A Guide (Secret) to Better Putting

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Putting is a part of the game where we can all do small things to get better. You don’t have to practice 40 hours a week or have a stroke that gets a perfect score on a SAM PuttLab. The universal answer is to simplify the approach as much as possible.

While being a world class putter is an art form, being competent at putting is probably the least physically daunting task in golf — aside from maybe driving the cart. Putting generally provides the most stress and frustration, however, as our results are almost never aligned with our exceptions, which drives us to create unnecessary roadblocks to success.

That being the case, let’s narrow this down to as few variables as possible and get ourselves holing more putts. First off, you need to have proper expectations. If you look at the PGA Tour averages for made putts, you will find that the rates of success overall are far lower than what we see on on TV on Sunday afternoon. That’s because we are seeing the best players in the world, who in a moment in time, are holing putts at a clip the average plus-handicap club champion couldn’t dream of during a near death experience on his way to walking into the light.

If you have ever seen golf balls rolled on a stimpmeter ramp (the device used to measure green speed), you have probably seen something shocking. Golf balls rolling perfectly — the perfect speed, on a perfect green, on a perfectly straight putt — sometimes miss on both sides of the hole on consecutive efforts.

This is a very important point. The farther you get from the hole, the less control you have over making the putt. That’s why actually making putts outside a few feet should not be your priority. Hitting the best putt possible is your only priority. Then be resigned that the putt will either go in or it won’t. This might seem defeatist, but it’s not; its just a perception change. If you judge yourself on whether the ball goes in or not, you are setting yourself up for failure. If you judge yourself on whether or not you hit a good putt, you will be more successful… and you’re going to make more putts.

This sounds like something you’d hear at a Tony Robbins positive thinking seminar, but it has proven successful for every one of my clients who has embraced it. So what’s the secret to hitting the best putt possible each time?

Simplify the process.

  1.  Read the green to the best of your ability.
  2.  Pick a line and do your best to set up to it.
  3.  Do your best to hit the putt solid and at the right speed.

Reading the green is something that gets better with experience and practice. Some will be better than others, so this is an intangible thing that countless books are written about. My advice is simple; DON’T OVER THINK IT. Look at the terrain and get a general sense of where low point is in relation to the hole.

The reason why perfect green reading and perfect alignment are overrated is because there is no one line to the hole. The hole is over 4-inches wide and putts break differently with changes in speed and solidness of contact. I saw a video at the Scotty Cameron Putting Studio many years ago of dozens of PGA Tour players. There was a worm’s-eye camera on a 4-5 foot putt that was basically straight on the artificial grass. Few were aimed at the middle of the hole and many weren’t even aimed at the hole at all… but I didn’t see one miss.

So have a look at the terrain and be decent at lining up in the general direction that will give a chance for a well struck putt to go in or finish close enough for a tap in. Simple. After rambling on for several paragraphs, we get to the heart of how you can improve your putting. Narrow it down to doing your best to hit a solid putt at the right speed.

The “Right Speed”

I ask people after they addressed a putt how much attention they pay to line and speed. Any answer but 100 percent speed is wrong. You’ve already read the putt and lined up. Why is line any longer a variable? Plus, have you ever missed the line on a 20-foot putt by 5 feet? Maybe once in your life on a crazy green, but you sure as heck have left it 5-feet short and long on several occasions.

Imagine I handed you a basketball and said shoot it in the basket. Or what if I told you to toss a crumpled piece of paper into the trash? Having the requisite coordination is an acquired skill, but you wouldn’t grind over innocuous details when it came to the feel of making the object go the right distance. You’d react to the object in your hand and the target for the right speed/distance.

Putting is no different, save one variable. There’s the sense and feel of how the the green interacts with the ball, and that’s a direct result of how solidly you hit the putt. If you use X amount of force and it goes 18 feet one effort and 23 feet the next, how are you ever going to acquire speed control? That is the mark of almost every poor lag putter. They don’t hit putts consistently solid, so they never acquire the skill of distance control.

Since speed is a learned reaction to the terrain/target and consistency is a direct result of how consistently solid you strike the ball, that is what we’re left with.

Learn to Hit Putts More Solid

The road to better putting is as simple as hitting your putts more solid. Put most/all of your effort into what it takes to hit more putts solid. Now for each individual, it’s less about doing what’s right. Instead, it’s about avoiding movements and alignments that make it difficult to hit the ball solid. It would take an encyclopedia to cover all of the issues that fall into this category, so I will list the most common that will cover more than 90 percent of golfers.

The most common one I see — and it is nearly universal in people who are plagued by poor lag putting — is excess hip rotation. Sometimes there’s even an actual weight shift. Think of it this way; take a backstroke and stop. Rotate your hips 20 degrees without moving anything else. The putter and the arc is now pointed left of your intended line. You have to shove it with your arms and hands not to pull it. Good luck hitting it solid while doing all of that.

I had a golf school in Baltimore and told this story. Ten of the 15 people there assured me they didn’t do that. After 8 people had putted, we were 8-for-8. No. 9 said, “There is no ******* way I am going to move my hips after watching this.”

The entire group laughed after his putt told him he was wrong. The last 6 did everything they could to avoid the fault. We went 15 for 15. Many people are unaware that this issue is so dire. If you add the people that are unaware they have this issue, we are near 100 percent of golfers. I have gotten emails from 8-10 of them telling me how much their putting improved after all they did was focus on minimizing hip rotation and just hitting the ball solid.

This issue is not just the bane of average golfers; I’ve had several mini-tour players with putting issues improve with this. We are all aware Fred Couples would have won many more majors if not for a career-long battle with his putter. Watch the next time he misses a 6-foot putt to the left. As you will see, it’s not just a problem for a high-handicappers.

The best way to judge and practice avoiding this, it putting with an alignment stick in you belt loops.  If your hips rotate too much, the stick will definitely let you know.

Other issues include the well know chest/sternum coming up too soon in an effort to see the ball go in the hole, as well as:

  • Not aligning the putter shaft properly with the lead arm
  • Grip pressure issues (too much and too little)
  • Too much tension in neck and shoulders
  • Poor rhythm
  • Long back stroke

I could go on and on and on. The main point; find out why you aren’t hitting putts solid and do whatever it takes to do so, even if it’s something crazy like a super wide-open stance (with my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek). See the Jack Nicklaus picture at the top of the story.

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Instruction

WATCH: How to Improve Your Golf Club Release

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Many golfers release the club way too early. The low point of the swing moves back and they hit the ground behind the ball or pick the ball clean off the top of the surface. They then dream of “lag” and the “late hit” trying to achieve this by thinking of holding on the the wrist angle too long.

In this video, I share a drill that it will improve the way you release the club.

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Instruction

Alistair Davies: My 3 Best Swing Tips

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In this video, I share with you my three best swing tips. Watch the video to get on the path to lower scores straight away.

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