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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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Trackman Tuesday (Episode 2): Driver Loft

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Welcome to Episode 2 of Trackman Tuesday. In this weekly series, I will be using Trackman data to help you understand the game of golf in a little more detail and help you hit better shots and play better golf.

In this week’s episode, I look at driver loft. What effect does driver loft have on your shots and how important is it, really?

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How Far Away from the Ball Should You Be at Address?

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How far away from the ball should you be at address? This video is in response to a question from Tom McCord on Facebook.

In this video, I look at the setup position. I offer a simple way to check your distance from the ball at address with your driver, irons and wedges.

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Tour Pros Revealed: 3 Tests to See How You Stack Up

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You want to be better at golf, more consistent and longer off the tee. I am sure a lot of you would love to stop hurting. You would like these things with minimal work, if possible. You also want them yesterday. That about sum it up?

In the next 5 minutes, you’ll learn about the one thing that solves these problems for good. Before we dive in, though, I want to tee up three stats for you from my research.

  1. PGA Tour players can jump between 18-22 inches off the ground while LPGA Tour players can jump between 16-20 inches off the ground. Long drive competitors can often leap 30+ inches off the ground!
  2. Elite-level golfers who drive the ball 300+ yards can shot put a 6-pound ball more than 30 feet with less than a 5-percent difference in right-handed to left-handed throws.
  3. Elite golfers in the world can hurl a medicine ball with a seated chest pass just as far in feet as they can jump in inches (ie. a 20-inch vertical leap and a 20-foot seated chest pass).

What do these numbers have to do with you and your game? More importantly, what do these stats have to do with solving your problems? Let’s start by telling you what the solution is.   

Objective Assessment and Intelligent Exercise Prescription

Say that three times fast. It’s a mouth full… But seriously, read it two more times and think about what that means.

It means that before you act on anything to improve your health or your game, you need to objectively assess what the problem is and get to the root cause. You should use quality objective data to arrive at intelligent health and golf improvement decisions based on the long-term likelihood that they will be successful. We can’t just select exercises, swing changes or training aids based on what is hot in the market today or what the latest celebrity was paid big bucks to sell to us.

There is a reason why the infomercials you see today on Golf Channel will be different in 2 months. The same gimmicks run out of steam when enough people realize that is what they are… gimmicks. When looking to achieve your goals of playing better golf and/or having less pain, don’t just grab for the quick fix as so many golfers today do. 

We are in the information age. Information from quality data is power. Using this data intelligently, you can fix problems in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost. Hopefully, I am giving you the power to make a meaningful and lasting change in your game. I’m sorry to say that most amateurs will not be hitting 300+ yard drives despite what the latest marketing ploy will have you believe. But, if you know what tests you can do to measure the areas that affect your distance off the tee, you can at least gain insight into where your biggest return on your time investment will be. 

This is where working with a golf fitness expert can be so valuable to you. Not only can they help you interpret your results from the tests, but they will also be able to prescribe you the most effective means to move closer to 300 yards from where you are right now.  

If you have a problem with your car not accelerating as fast as you would like or not being able to reach top end speed on the highway, I hope you take it to the mechanic and don’t just look up quick fixes on YouTube to see what you can do on your own. The reason you pay the mechanic to fix your car is because that is what they do all day. They will get it done as quickly as possible. More importantly, they’ll get correctly so that the problem doesn’t pop up again in 2 weeks.

A golf fitness expert is no different. Use them for their expertise and knowledge. Once you have a diagnosis of what is holding you back and a plan to correct it, you are on your way and won’t have to waste any more time or money trying silly quick fixes that never stick.

The three statistics mentioned earlier represent numbers measured across the globe by industry leaders and at our facility 3-4 times per year on hundreds of golfers each time. Our facility has thousands of data points. With this much data comes the ability to draw conclusions from objective assessments. These conclusions drive the intelligent implementation of successful solutions directed at the root causes of problems for thousands of golfers around the globe.

The first three statistics have an R-value of over 0.85 in correlation to clubhead speed. Translation: if you perform well in the first three tests with high numbers, you are very likely to have a high club speed. Further, if you improve in any of those three tests relative to where you started, you are almost assured to have a higher club speed than when you began (assuming swing technique and equipment is relatively unchanged).  

Keep in mind that in statistics, correlation is not the same as cause and effect. But when the R-value is that close to 1 and anecdotally you have seen the results and changes we have, you put some weight behind these three tests. So:

  • See how high you can jump
  • See how far you can shot put a 6-pound medicine ball
  • See how far you can chest pass a 6-pound medicine ball from a seated position

Doing so will give you an idea of how much power you have in your lower body, total rotary system and upper body respectively. Train whichever one is the worst, or train them all if you want. Rest assured that if you improve one of them, you will more than likely increase your swing speed.  

By doing these assessments and addressing the one or two weak areas, you will improve with the least work possible. Sounds about what you were looking for, right? If you are able to identify where you need to improve BEFORE you buy whatever is claiming to fix your problems, you will save lots of money and time. You will actually start to improve with the least amount of work possible and in the least amount of time possible.  

What’s next? After completing the assessment tests, start working to improve them.

  • Coming Soon: Lower Body Power for Golf
  • Coming Soon: Upper Body Power for Golf
  • Coming Soon: Rotary Power for Golf
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