The very first thing a golf instructor should do, in my opinion, is ask the student her/his short-term and long-term goals. When and only when that has been determined can the collective effort commence.
The next thing is to assess is the student’s skill level to determine if the goals are realistic. If they are, the lesson can proceed; if they are not, the lesson should stop immediately, and a reassessment is in order. I’m not going to waste my time or a student’s money telling a 15-handicap he can get to scratch. Blowing smoke is what teachers who have no work do. But the 35+ years I’ve spent teaching people to play golf has revealed that unrealistic golf goals are the exception, not the rule.
The vast majority of people I’ve taught are very realistic in their goals. The 15-handicapper who just went to a 20 does not desire to be scratch; he simply wants to get back to being a 15.
No one comes to see me or any teacher if they are playing well, so we get down to the real work, which is: What’s the problem? Their very presence on my lesson tee indicates some sort of trouble, so I have to determine what that trouble is and find the source of it.
Where to begin? Well, how about with the obvious? What is the golf ball doing?
In golf, there is no other trouble: never has been and can never be. If a golfer spins around, stumbles and finishes with the club in one hand but the ball flies consistently straight at the target that golfer by definition has a good swing.
A flying elbow is not a problem. A spin out is not a problem. Quick is not a problem. Unless they affect impact.
So we come to the most critical part of the lesson: the diagnosis. I’ve seen the golf ball in flight and know from experience that the only thing that made it do what it did is the golf club at impact. Closed, open, shallow, steep, in-to-out, out-to-in, toe, heel? The answer is right there in that four ten-thousandths of a second.
Now when I find that out, then and only then can I proceed to what caused the club to move as it did. Things like flying elbows, aim, grip, spinning out, casting, losing balance, falling — back, blah, blah, blah — may need to be discussed, but only in the context of how these movements affected the golf club at impact.
For all of you who have used my online swing analysis program, what is the first question I asked? What is your ball flight? I cannot even begin to offer a correction in the absence of that knowledge. If anyone offers you a tip without seeing your ball flight, leave immediately. They are guessing, and about to spout some meaningless phrase they have seen on the Golf Channel, read in Golf Digest or heard somewhere else. They may be right, but it would be a blind squirrel finding a nut if they didn’t know your ball flight problem.
We could go right down the list of greats: Jack Nicklaus’ flying elbow, Lee Trevino’s loop, Tom Watson’s quick swing, Walter Hagen’s lunge, Bobby Jones’ narrow stance, Arnold Palmer’s in-and-over, Byron Nelson’s dip, Ben Hogan’s weak grip, Gary Player’s flat swing… Modern day, let’s talk about Jordan Spieth’s bent arm, Rickie Fowler’s laid-off position, Fred Couple’s outside takeaway, Jim Furyk’s everything, Ryan Moore’s loop, Hideki Matsuyama’s pause… and on and on and on.
My personal assessment of those swings? All GREAT! I wouldn’t know any of them (and you wouldn’t either) if they weren’t. What do they have in common other than great impact? They put all their pieces together. Each player’s swing has compatible moves, and that’s all a good teacher is trying to do; put your various pieces together. I’ve heard some people say, “Well, I don’t need lessons. I picked up this or that tip and it worked for me.” Great! Stay with it.
I am the most pragmatic instructor you’ll find. But remember that offering a personal improvement story as proof something is “right” in the golf swing is really only saying, “It worked for me.” What separates a good, experienced instructor from the myriad of also-rans who call themselves teachers is the knowledge of what works for whom.
To finish I’ll give one classic example about “casting” and “over the top,” although there are many. Casting is a necessary ingredient in an over-the-top move. It MUST complement it. It is not optimal, but is very functional. Try coming over the top and lagging the club. You won’t even make contact. Now, tell someone who is over the top to hit from the inside. I’m giving you 10-1 odds they lay sod over it, because casting does NOT complement an inside path even though it was an essential element of an outside one.
Looking at the swing in this way offers real answers to golf swing problems, not stabs in the dark. Everyone of you reading this has the ability to solve your golf equation; you just gotta know the formula. And that’s what good golf instructors try to provide.
Questions? Concerns? Post your comments below. If you’re interested in my online swing analysis program you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.