When it comes to studying the golf swing and thinking out of the box, two people’s names consistently come to mind in the instruction industry: Dana Dahlquist and Brian Manzella. As long-time friends and colleagues of mine, they have continued to amaze me with their quest for knowledge and ability to understand the most complex concepts of the golf swing. Although both are at the top tier of the instruction industry, they chase to become better instructors, and that does not go unappreciated by me and their students.
I encourage you to check out the YouTube channels of Dana Dahlquist here, and Brian Manzella here; I have zero doubt in my mind that after watching just a few videos from each you’ll learn something new and it will benefit your golf game.
Recently, I asked them both a series of questions. Please enjoy the insights of two of the smartest brains in our sport.
Tom Stickney: What made you want to dive deeper into the area of golf instruction?
Brian Manzella: I wanted to be a Tour player, and in my hometown of New Orleans, there wasn’t any teacher who could really help me answer the questions I needed answered. So, I went on my own and read everything I could find.
I learned enough to become a D1 college player. While at Southeastern Louisiana University, I qualified for every tournament and won a team match-play event and didn’t get the scholarship I thought I had earned. So at the end of that semester, I let a couple of the country club boys on the team “teach” me. I used to aim right, come over it and hook it. After listening to their advice I couldn’t break 85 for two weeks. I told my dad I was really going to study the swing, because nobody knew “anything.”
So I upped my study, improved a bunch, got a great scholarship offer to play at the University of New Orleans and played there for 3 years. One day in a qualifying round on a windy day on a tough track with OB everywhere, I doubled my last hole to shoot 72. I was low by three strokes, but I played just about as well as I could. Shortly after that Tom Kite shot 62 or 63 somewhere on Tour. I thought I was better athlete than he was, so the difference had to be technique. So I doubled up my study again, this time trying to figure out not just what I needed to do, but why Kite and others like him were so good.
It helped my game a little, but what it did do was inadvertently make me into a teacher. My ability to help people hit it better was soon discovered, and here I am.
Dana Dahlquist: What made me dive deeper into the area of golf instruction, as it pertains to technology and education, is that I thought there were missing links … not only in what was being measured, but also the terminology was too broad and not specific enough to communicate it clearly to all players.
TS: Why do we need more detailed information?
BM: Let’s say the “Man upstairs” came down and gave ALL instructors the answers to how the golf swing works. Then, the best teacher competition would be strictly about who could get others to do it better. And even bad communicators would give better lessons.
Homer Kelley had a great idea with The Golfing Machine, and he did the golf instruction industry a great service with his attempt at explaining the swing and ball flight. He got some things correct and a bunch of stuff wrong, but he moved the bar a mile. Now folks like Steven Nesbit and Michael Jacobs are giving golf teachers the ability to do their own research to move the bar way further. And that is exactly what Michael Jacobs and I are doing. That improved information has made me so much better at what I do.
DD: Golf instruction as a whole has been mainly looked at as psuedo black magic. Ironically, it’s one of the only sports that operates in the instruction area like this. We need more detailed information, because I want to clearly define what the problem area is and cut the time in which it needs to be fixed.
TS: What do you say to people who believe that golf instruction is too complex and needs to be simpler?
BM: I think folks look at an internet debate about something like laying the club down — a current hot topic — and think, “Wow, I sure hope these guys don’t talk at this level of complexity during a lesson.” For the most part, teachers don’t, but there are some lessons that the student can handle high-level information.
I think the level of scientific talk scares a lot of pros who don’t know what any of it means, but there is no doubt about it, it is helping. There are more good teachers now than there were when I started 35 years ago.
The student only needs what the student needs. A great lesson should be able to be given without saying a word. How complex is that?
DD: I think the perception that things are complicated is actually falling to the wayside as concepts such as pressure traces and face-to-path relationships become much more clear and easy to understand. It has become a lot easier to diagnose and relay messages to a greater amount of people.
TS: What is the biggest issue you have with the “popular” golf instruction today?
BM: For me, it’s a tie between too much focus on the ground — which to me takes focus away from the club and basic body movements — and the over emphasis on handle-dragging for the sake of the look of lag and forward lean at impact.
Dishonorable mention for not enough live instruction with real golfers at seminars. Like I have said forever, If I go to a sheetrock convention, I want to see some sheets go up and some taping and floating.
DD: I wouldn’t say there aren’t really any issues, but I would say there is room for more healthy debates and discussions about certain topics. I think it’s also important that we respect other instructors’ businesses. I’m pretty sensitive to that because we’re all professionals, and we’re just trying to get people to play more golf and play better golf.
TS: Do swing models work or is it better to teach everyone in their own way?
BM: Whether anyone admits it or not, every teacher has a “model” or multiple models that they work off of in their head. Danielson asked Mr. Miyagi what to do when trimming a bonsai tee. His answer: “Take away everything that doesn’t look like a tree.” At the end of the day, that’s what a good teacher does.
Now, the “tree” in a great teacher’s mind’s eye is the student in front of them, which may be based on another swing somewhere, but it’s still one of a kind. To me, the most fun when teaching is creating or nurturing custom swings that look like nobody else’s and work great.
DD: I think swing models give you a starting point, but not an entire template. I’m a teacher who likes to use comparisons to other players, and rarely is something I teach completely made up that another player hasn’t already done. For example, no one should ever use Jim Furyk or Lee Trevino as swing templates, but they do perform movements in their swings that could be useful for certain types of golfers or swing issues.
TS: Can you be an effective teacher without technology?
BM: Sure. Make no mistake about it; 20 years from now there will still be someone standing behind a golfer with no camera or other device offering suggestions to the player. And some folks will be really good at that. But tools can help save time and that time can sometimes save a golfer’s career.
I teach better with Trackman than without it. And it’s not “Trackman” per se, but a device that tells me detailed information about the club and ball I could not possibly see with precision. Same for GEARS, the best 3D-motion capture product and Jacobs 3D, the premier high-level kinetics and kinematics software. The tool doesn’t make the teacher, the teacher uses the tool for better information on what they are seeing or can’t see. The teacher still must process this information, sometimes in less than 10 or 20 seconds and hopefully say the right something for that golfer at that time.
DD: Of course you can be an effective teacher without technology. There are plenty examples of teachers out there who do so. That being said, if we’re going to talk about angle of attack or face-to-path numbers, that is not possible without equipment to measure it. I would say that in today’s age, it’s important that if you’re going to be a teacher you have at least some basic understanding of technical information. That is our responsibility as instructors.
TS: Many detractors say Trackman has ruined golf instruction and players are now more focused on making golf swings and not playing golf. How do you feel about that statement?
BM: If Trackman was $500, GEARS was $500 and Jacobs 3D was as available as Photoshop, you’d greatly reduce the negative comments about those systems. Also, a bad teacher can ruin a student without even using a camera. As far as “players being more focused on making swings and not playing golf,” I feel that tournament players as a group are better than ever and the top players can make a swing and still “play golf.”
Years ago I was playing with David Toms and he was watching me “play golf” all around the course. Right pin in front? High cut. Left pin in back into a wind? Punch draw. Sure I pulled a few of them off, but the score wasn’t pretty.
“Why don’t you just play a normal shot?” he asked.
My best rounds of golf were all during periods of time where I had a full swing thought or two and I played the same damn shot all around the course. Swings hit shots. A 20-handicapper can “visualize” all they want, but they are shooting 110 at Oakmont no matter what that way.
DD: I understand what they’re saying. I always like to look at things from both sides of an argument.
The first thing to understand is that when we were young, we learned how to learn what to do and how to do it at a very young age. It’s important to understand the motor learning concept and the practice habits that go into developing into a golfer. I think that might be the No. 1 thing that is not being stated as it pertains to an argument about Trackman or other measuring devices. That’s why it’s important to compartmentalize and understand all facets of the game. We could break golf instruction into course management, we can break it into technique, we can place importance on a lot of different things. But what we do need to understand is that measuring what’s going on can be a positive experience if we understand balance between everything.
TS: If you could tell the average golfer one thing, what would it be?
BM: There is hope. There is always an answer to why. And there is always someone who can help you answer it and fix it. Oh, and I am pretty good at the helping!
DD: I give a lot of lessons to amateur golfers and I think the one thing they need to understand is how to hit it solid first. That is the No. 1 thing that brings them back to playing golf.
TS: How do you manage player expectations on the lesson tee?
BM: You’d better be able to get them to at least hit a couple of good shots doing what may take them a long time to do regularly. After they see that it’s possible, you have a chance at them taking the time and giving you the chance to help them do it.
DD: This is a very fun question. Managing expectations is probably one of the most difficult facets of learning the game of golf. We need to understand that “golf course” is a difficult game to learn and time to learn it is always too short. But it is important for a coach to lay out a game plan for the student so that he or she can become better. Specifically on the lesson tee, however, 99 percent of my lessons pertain to the full swing. The “golf course” is a much more complex game to learn, and it’s important for students to understand that.
TS: What do you do with the player who has no coordination and has come “over the top” for the last 20 years. Can you actually stop him from doing this once and for all, or is he doomed to do this forever?
BM: I would have no problem if that is all I taught a couple days a week. Everyone comes over the top, or flips it, or backs their hips up. They do that for a reason, though; they hit it better sometimes because they do it.
The trick is to take the reward away and replace it with a different feedback loop that moves the process toward the desired motion and ball fight. And I am really good at the that. If I wasn’t, I’d have quit 20 years ago.
Specifically for that over-the-topper, I’d get him a better left-hand grip, flatten and add positive gamma (shaft twist away from the ball), and get them to back into it a bit and do the “one last point.”
DD: Nobody’s stuck doing anything forever if they have enough understanding and work ethic to make a change. I come from a belief that everything happens for a reason. And as long as the player understands what the reason is, or as I like to call it, “understanding of why,” then they can actually change.
TS: Who do you turn to for questions about the golf swing?
BM: Steven Nesbit, Michael Jacobs and two other scientists on our team are the only folks I’d ask a technical question to. But to be honest, I like to figure it out myself. And 99 percent of the time, I do.
DD: I like to listen and read from a lot of teachers on a lot of different subjects. I enjoy a lot of the biomechanics teachers and researchers just as much as the motor learning teachers. I also enjoy reading and talking with guys who have been in the industry for longer than I have.
I think people who are doing a lot of lessons are good ones to talk to as well, because they’re actually in the trenches. Most of these teachers are not the ones teaching Tour players, because when teaching Tour players you’re not actually changing mechanical issues like you would with an amateur player.
TS: Thank you for your time, guys!