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A PGA Master Professional’s Guide to Taking Golf Lessons

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So you’ve decided to take a golf lesson… congratulations! There is no more-proven path to getting better at this game than working with a trained professional.

As a PGA Master Professional with more than 30 years of experience, I’ve helped countless golfers make rapid improvement and achieve their golfing goals. Of course, that has meant different things to different students over the years.

Getting the ball airborne or beating their buddies is a big moment for many golfers; for others, the goal is to win their club championship or make it on tour. Whatever your golf goals are, lessons with a trained professional can help you get there. And trust me, it’s just as exciting for a teaching professional to watch one of their students hit their first draw as it is to watch one of them win a professional event.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the hidden reward in the golf instruction process, which attracted me to the field in the first place. If golfers put their best foot forward and take the time to identify the right teacher for them, they’ll learn things about golf and their swings that will cause them to fall even deeper in love with this great game. Maybe even more important? They almost always learn something valuable about themselves, which is usually applicable to another area of their life.

Throughout the years, however, I have noticed similar traits in the small percentage of golfers who don’t do as well as others with golf lessons. You can learn about those (mostly fixable) traits in my story, 6 signs golf lessons won’t help your game.

Before we get into my guide, which should answer most of your questions about taking golf lessons, let me remind golfers that they should always take lesson with a SPECIFIC GOAL in mind. As you work with your new coach, remember to evaluate your progress based on that goal.

Searching for a teacher

The instructor you choose should be someone you feel can help you. Ask around about teachers in your area. Don’t feel compelled to take a lesson at your club if the pro does not meet your criteria. You have to decide the “type” of teacher that’s best for you.

Is he or she a method teacher? Does he/she espouse a particular swing style, or work with a golfer’s existing motion? Do you feel more comfortable with a man or woman? How much experience does the teacher have? What kind of reputation? Has this teacher helped other golfers you know? What about technology? Is it important to you and your learning style that your teacher have all the latest technology?

Even after an exhaustive search, you may still have to try a few instructors in your area before you find one with whom you feel comfortable. Finally, NEVER sign up for a series of lessons the first time you work with a teacher. “Try it before you buy it.”

Set a realistic goal

What do you want from the lesson? Talk with your teacher and tell her or him exactly what your goals are for this lesson and beyond. Set short and long-term goals for yourself, and ask the teacher if he or she feels your goals are realistic. If you’re a 15-handicap expecting to play in the U.S. Open next year, the teacher should be the first to inform you that your goals are unrealistic. If you were a 10 handicapper six months ago and you’ve shot up to a 16, you’d have every right to expect that you can get your handicap back. How long it might take is a matter of how much time you have to practice what you’ve learned.

Decide what kind of lesson you’re after

Read my article on the two types of lessons. It is important that you know what you’re after when you begin the process of improving your game. You may be thinking about breaking your whole swing down and starting over. Or you may want to stay with the swing you have and tweak it a bit. That is a conversation you and the perspective teacher should have right at the outset.

My advice: Depending on how long you’ve been playing and how often you play, breaking down your whole swing and starting over is usually not productive.

Seek help with the weaker areas of your game

If you hit 12-13 fairways a round but miss most greens, it should be obvious what you need to work on. From experience, however, I can tell you that’s not always the case. I have my students keep track of their rounds, and the patterns that emerge are very revealing. Weaknesses are not as obvious as one might think. But it is imperative that you seek help with the areas of the game at which you are less adept.

When to take a lesson?

As I mentioned in my article, 6 signs that golf lessons won’t help your game, there are times to take a lesson and times when golfers should stay away from the lesson tee. But in general, if the problem you’re having is not URGENT, wait until your big match or the member-guest is over. Or even more immediately, always consider taking a lesson AFTER a round, not before it. You also need to consider time of year in your decision to take a lesson. Going into your golf season is a better time than near the end of it.

I also do NOT recommend taking lessons outside in inclement weather, such as when it’s really cold or raining. You don’t need to add external distractions to your internal ones.

Where to take a lesson?

Simple answer: In as private of a setting as possible, and NEVER at a crowded range. Again, external distractions are not conducive to optimal learning. Golfers should also arrive early to their lessons, if possible, so they can hit a few balls to warm up.

How to take a lesson

So many golfers are nervous about taking lessons simply because they are embarrassed to hit poor shots in front of a professional. Many golfers think they have “the worst swing in the world.” Or worse, the teacher will ask them to do something they’re incapable of doing. Adult fear of failure is very stressful.

Here’s what I tell my students: “You are not going to show me anything I haven’t seen many times before.” So relax, and DON’T WORRY ABOUT YOUR RESULTS. The minute any golfer becomes overly concerned about results, they cannot focus on the process of making changes. Golfers take lessons to learn, not to show the teacher what they can do.

[quote_center]I want to see your problem shots, not your good ones.[/quote_center]

Having done this work for 30+ years I can tell you this: I have NEVER expected a student to know what they’re doing when they arrive. I know all too well the internal distractions from which they currently suffer, and it is MY JOB to help them relax and learn.

I’ve never made a student feel worse, uncomfortable, or intimidated, and no teacher worth their weight in salt would. Any experienced teacher has multiple ways of getting a message across, so if something you’re hearing isn’t registering, it’s OK to ask the teacher to say it another way. If you can’t perform a drill you’ve been given, ask for another.

Remember: Be ACTIVE in your learning; participate! DO NOT stand there and say nothing. The teacher needs your feedback to proceed or change course.

Establish a dialogue that you can internalize

If you don’t understand so much as ONE WORD the teacher says, stop him and ask a question right then and there.

  • What do you mean, “Over the top?”
  • Why are asking me to do that?
  • What’s a “stronger grip?”

I always want my students to understand what I’m saying and why I’m asking them to do something in a lesson. Don’t ever feel that you’re being slow to understand or just “not getting it.” Remember, you’re not supposed to get it… until you do.

If you leave the lesson unsure of something, it will not become clear later… believe me. If you feel intimidated or inept, look for another teacher. I work my students pretty hard, but they know they can always back off when they feel pressed. It’s all about timing, establishing a flow and comfort level, and participating in the process.

Follow up

You need something to take home with you. You are NOT going to remember all you’ve learned. I email all my students a video of their lessons. It runs for 10 minutes or so, shows the beginning, middle and end of the lesson, and covers the main things we worked on. They can watch the video on their phone or tablet, which allows them to reference it as they go to practice. If taking notes helps you, do it.

Although my videos cover everything — club recommendations, drills, specific changes and general encouragement — V1 Golf has a great app that allows golfers to send swings to their teacher when they have further questions. You can do the same thing through text messaging and email now, too. Most transient guests in my schools use this this feature. Follow up is crucial as swing changes take time!

Have more questions? Contact me on my Facebook page or email me at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com.

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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

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Dave C

    Jan 8, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    Thank you. Very helpful with the points to consider.

  2. Magnus

    Jan 8, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    Yeah, I would love to have a teacher like Dennis nearby. I learn something new everytime I read his articles. And its important things that I learn.

  3. Stretch

    Dec 23, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    What device do you use to record the lesson? Thanks.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 23, 2015 at 8:05 pm

      V1 video. Flightscope radar. Boditrak. And a very trained eye ????

  4. Fran

    Dec 23, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    Very informative information. I can see why he was teacher of the year.

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Should you strive for a flatter transition in your golf swing?

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A lot has been said recently regarding flattening the transition in the downswing. As a teacher for many years, I totally agree that this is clearly what highly skilled players do. Sasho Mackenzie, the great biomechanist from Canada, explains that when the center of mass of the golf club gets UNDER the hand path coming down, we get a much easier squaring of the club face.

There is, however, a difference in the players we see making this move and average amateur golfers. Nothing in the golf swing happens in a vacuum, so to speak. That is, every move has to complement the other moves and balance the equation. So when we see Sergio “laying the club down” (flatten) in transition, it complements or is in sync with the “delivery” he has into impact.

Sergio has Hogan-esque “lag” in his downswing. That is, his wrists stay cocked very late as he approaches impact. with a great deal of forward shaft lean. While this may be characteristic of all great ball strikers, his “flat” action is more pronounced than most. He lays the club down, downcocks his wrists and voila, strikes it solid.

The point here is when the shaft is laid off and flattened in transition, it cannot then be released early. Those who cast, or release early from a laid off transition are staring shanks right in the face, and feeling heel hits with the driver. The reason is the club is being cast out, not down when it is coming in on a more horizontal plane. When a professional flattens it, they then tighten the delivery with hands in and a narrowed arc into impact. This is a huge distinction, and one I feel is little understood. If you are working on laying it down, but are used to an early release, you may accomplish the former, but are asking for trouble on the latter. It has to be released later and tighter after the transition to work.

Another common error I see quite often is the hand path issue. Here I’m referring to to how far from the body the hands move on the down swing. If you are a player who transition steep (too vertical), your miss is very likely the toe of the club. As a result you develop a habit of sending your hands out and away from your center (the distal and proximal, in biomechanist terminology) to compensate for the toe hit and in an attempt to find the center of the face. That swing habit is common and will, at times, compensate for the steep transition.  So you can see why the club will be more likely to hit the heel if it is delivered on a more horizontal plane.

The point here is this: it’s the same theme that I have seen and written about for many years:  Golf swing corrections, if that be your goal, are rarely singular; the come in pairs.  And the reason it can be frustrating is because we have develop two new feelings, not one. Many golfers abandon the effort because the accomplish one without the other.

If, for example, you decide your transition is far too steep, and you flatten it but then cast the club (remember now OUT not DOWN) and hit the heel of the club or shank a wedge, you may say: “Hey, that’s just not for me; or that was WORSE, not better”. And you’d be right, the RESULT is likely to be worse- but maybe not the effort.  If you are committed to a swing change, it rarely comes with a singular correction.

Be sure you know what you’re in for when working on laying the club down ala Sergio, or Furyk, or Ryan Moore, when you are told you’re too steep starting down.  My advice would be to try and work on one thing at at time.  For this particular correction, I have my students ht balls on a sidehill, above the feet lie. This can orient you to a more horizontal swing feeling and then an only then can start to work on keeping the hands, arms and body connected (the “inside moving the outside”) for the completion of the swing change.

One final note on this: I want to repeat that any change is optional based on your current ball striking, not what your video looks like. Phil Mickelson is one of the best players EVER, and his swing starts down as steeply as any club golfer, and he swings his hand path out away from him as a result every time. Let me me ask this question: who among us would change the swing of a 44-time champion and five-major winner on the PGA Tour? Whatever works…

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How-to Series: How to swing like a pro — golf swing transition

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How To Series: Transition

Now it’s time to focus on the transition—this part is probably the most important! Be meticulous in your practice. Start slowly and make sure you’re doing it properly before you speed things up. Get this right and you’ll see that it helps with power, too!

More info on hollow body and core movements: Core Movements – How the Legends Move Their Middle

This new series is all about helping you improve your golf swing quickly. We’re going to break the swing down into its component parts and give you specific practice direction—master these key elements of the swing and you’ll see improvement fast!

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Tip of the week: Dealing with downhill-sidehill lies

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In this week’s tip, Top 100 teacher Tom Stickney shows you how to play from downhill-sidehill lies and avoid a shot that flies well right of target.

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