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Is golf instruction too complex? Two top teachers weigh in



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.”

Related: Check out this forum thread to understand a bit more of what Manzella is talking about.

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!

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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.



  1. dapadre

    Jun 12, 2017 at 6:39 am

    The reason why golf instruction has failed is something I discovered in my own search: They are trying to teach a GENERIC swing whereas we all dont have the same GENERIC build, its really that simply. We have different levels of Strength, flexibility with different height and length of arms and legs, size of chest, waist etc etc, the list goes on. Its really that simple. Trying to teach a swing to someone who has no flexibility is different from teaching someone who does. When I learned this subtle but IMPORTANT issue and started tailoring my swing to fit ME, I went from averaging in the mid 80s to breaking 80 every time I stepped on the course. Also it felt free like I wasnt fighting my body to create a swing. Im so surprised this is not taken into consideration more. Remember its all about getting to the proper impact position, how we get there may differ.

    • Jango

      Jun 12, 2017 at 2:34 pm

      They purposefully keep you confused so that you keep going back for more lessons. After all, that’s how they make a living. If each person only took one lesson each, the teacher has to keep scrambling to find new ones and that’s a lot of work they don’t want to keep doing

      • Grizz01

        Jun 12, 2017 at 3:50 pm


        A person is either going to be athletic enough to hit a golf ball or he is not. To play a person on and on and on who just does not have a gift for swinging a club. Is just cruel.

        It’s not that hard people! Just hit the ball and go after it… hit it again.

        The only real place that most people can improve on is 30 yards and in. And that doesn’t take as much instruction as it does practice. Just do it.

  2. Steve Wozeniak

    Jun 11, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    All that is really required to play good golf is to execute properly a relatively small number of true fundamental movements. Ben Hogan. Five Lessons The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.

    If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. Albert Einstein.

    Yep these two guys have a massive amount of learning to do before they can help anyone…….

    Steve Wozeniak PGA

  3. Jacksonville Dan.

    Jun 11, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    Pretty ironic that you chose two instructors who have made golfing instruction infinitely more complex. Brian Manzella, who changes theories and models more than most change underwear, first fixing people’s slice by making them hook it, then fixing their hook by taking them the opposite way, all in an attempt to sell videos.

    Then you’ve got Dana Dahlquist, whose swing models are as solid as the changing winds. He was hard core stack and tilt and now he sells a more complicated, complicated George Gankas move, sans the jovial personality.

    Go to one of these instructors if you want to get mired in micro moves. Or just wait a few months/years. They’ll be on to the next fad swing.

  4. Matt

    Jun 11, 2017 at 5:46 am

    Golf is absolutely a psychological game. As a duffer at golf (ex pro-elite competitor in another sport) I often tie myself in knots over technical stuff when playing golf poorly, whereas the good rounds are when it’s a zen thing at address, and the fundamentals like swing, course management and shot repertoire, are effectively in the background. Coaches like Nilsson and Marriott are great for the game because they teach an overall approach.

  5. Sims

    Jun 10, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    Would have to agree, if you have the time and talent you can play a game similar to what is seen on T.V. but what makes golf great is you can also play a game that is nothing like what is on T.V. and still have a very good day…so what if you shoot a par round from 6,000 yards and the guy on T.V. shoots a 65 form 7,300 yards you both feel great about it….

  6. Gorden

    Jun 10, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    Have to look at two sides of this question, sure if you have what it takes to play at a high level you need all the best you can get in coaching. If you find you are not gifted or just want to play good enough to stop buying the drinks every round then a more band-aid quick fix type swing could be a better route…If you can find someone who can show you how to take the club back and bring it back on the ball square and keep the ball in front of you with a reasonably constant distance the game can be as fun as you want it to be, just fine tune the putting and your a low 20 to 15 handicap for ever. Years ago there was a quick fix lesson called the Heard Super Swing, sold by Pro Jerry Heard…it was the basic take it back square bring it through square swing that worked very well and showing several of my over 100 shooting friends have put them in the 80’s and enjoying golf for most 20 years now. (did not need the over strong hand placement he sold either).

    • Kelly

      Jun 11, 2017 at 3:20 pm

      Your comments earlier about The Golfing Machine have some validity…yes, it’s well over the top, but whether you want to admit it or not, some very technical people think like that and understand that approach to the golf swing. Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t make it flawed. However, completely dismissing the “quick fix” as a fallacy shows a lack of knowledge of what goes on at the typical driving range. By and large, it’s the golfer that’s asking for the quick fix…”got a tournament this weekend but can’t get off the tee”…”leaving next Friday for a golf vacation and my short game is in the tank”…etc, etc, etc. From 20+ years trying to help those golfers, I can tell you that offering a quick fix or helping someone who I know for a fact won’t actually practice what we worked on is the vast majority of what the average instructor faces day in and day out. Will that fix work over the long haul? Maybe, maybe not…depends what the problem was to begin with. Bigger point is it will probably get the golfer through that tournament or trip…which is what he/she is after all along.

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Self-discovery: Why golf lessons aren’t helping you improve



Of all the things I teach or have taught in golf, I think this is the most important: It’s not what we cover in a lesson, it’s what you discover. 

Some years ago, I had a student in golf school for a few days. She was topping every single shot. Zero were airborne. I explained that she was opening her body and moving forward before her arms and club were coming down. “Late” we call it. I had her feel like her arms were coming down first and her body was staying behind, a common correction for late tops. Bingo! Every ball went up into the air. She was ecstatic.

Some time later, she called and said she was topping every shot. She scheduled a lesson. She topped every shot. I asked her why she was topping the ball. “I think I’m picking up my head,” she said to my look of utter disbelief!

I had another student who was shanking the ball. At least 3 out of 5 came off the hosel with his wedges. I explained that his golf club was pointed seriously left at the top of his backswing. It was positioned well OUTSIDE his hands, which caused it to come down too wide and swing OUTSIDE his hands into impact. This is a really common cause of shanking. We were able to get the club more down the line at the top and come down a bit narrower and more inside the ball. No shanks… not a one!  He called me sometime later. The shanks had returned. You get the rest. When I asked what was causing him to shank, he told me “I get too quick.”

If you are hitting the golf ball better during a golf lesson, you have proven to yourself that you CAN do it. But what comes after the lesson is out of a teacher’s hands. It’s as simple as that. I cannot control what you do after you leave my lesson tee. Now, if you are NOT hitting the ball better during a lesson or don’t understand why you’re not hitting it better, I will take the blame. And…you do not have to compensate me for my time. That is the extent to which I’ll go to display my commitment and accept my responsibility. What we as teachers ask is the same level of commitment from the learners.

Improving at golf is a two-way street. My way is making the correct diagnosis and offering you a personalized correction, possibly several of them. Pick the ONE that works for you. What is your way on the street? Well, here are a few thoughts on that:

  • If you are taking a lesson at 10 a.m. with a tee time at 11 a.m. and you’re playing a $20 Nassau with your buddies, you pretty much wasted your time and money.
  • If the only time you hit balls is to warm up for your round, you have to be realistic about your results.
  • If you are expecting 250-yard drives with an 85 mph club head speed, well… let’s get real.
  • If you “fake it” during a lesson, you’re not going to realize any lasting improvement. When the teacher asks if you understand or can feel what’s being explained and you say yes when in fact you DO NOT understand, you’re giving misleading feedback and hurting only yourself. Speak up!

Here’s a piece of advise I have NEVER seen fail. If you don’t get it during the lesson, there is no chance you’ll get it later. It’s not enough to just hit it better; you have to fully understand WHY you hit it better. Or if you miss, WHY you missed.

I have a rule I follow when conducting a golf lesson. After I explain the diagnosis and offer the correction, I’ll usually get some better results. So I continue to offer that advice swing after swing. But at some point in the lesson, I say NOTHING. Typically, before long the old ball flight returns and I wait– THREE SWINGS. If the student was a slicer and slices THREE IN A ROW, then it’s time for me to step in again. I have to allow for self discovery at some point. You have to wean yourself off my guidance and internalize the corrections. You have to FEEL IT.

When you can say, “If the ball did this then I know I did that” you are likely getting it. There is always an individual cause and effect you need to understand in order to go off by yourself and continue self improvement. If you hit a better shot but do not know why, please tell your teacher. What did I do? That way you’re playing to learn, not simply learning to play.

A golf lesson is a guidance, not an hour of how to do this or that. The teacher is trying to get you to discover what YOU need to feel to get more desirable outcomes. If all you’re getting out of it is “how,” you are not likely to stay “fixed.” Remember this: It’s not what we cover in the lesson; it’s what you discover!

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Jumping for Distance (Part 2): The One-Foot Jump



In Part 1, I wrote about how I think this concept of jumping up with both feet for more power may have come about in part due to misinterpretation of still photography and force plate data, self-propagation, and a possible case of correlation vs causation. I also covered reasoning why these players are often airborne, and that can be from flawed setups that include overly wide stances and/or lead foot positions that are too closed at setup or a re-planted lead foot that ends up too closed during the downswing.

In Part 2, let’s look at what I feel is a better alternative, the one foot jump. To me, it’s safer, it doesn’t complicate ball striking as much, and it can still generate huge amounts of vertical ground force.

First, set up with an appropriate stance width. I like to determine how wide to stand based on the length of your lower legs. If you go to your finish position and stand on your lead leg and let your trail leg dangle down so your knees are parallel, your lower trail leg should extend only as far back as it will go while being up on the tip of your trail toe. If you roll that trail foot back down to the ground, viola, you’ll have a stance width that’s wide enough to be “athletic” and stable but not so wide you lose balance when swinging. You can go a little wider than this, but not much.

To contrast, the stance below would be too wide.

Jumping off the ground can be caused by too wide of a stance and lead foot position that is too closed at setup

Second, make sure your lead foot is open sufficiently at address. I’ve previously outlined how to do both these first two points in this article.

Third, whether you shift your weight to your trail foot or keep a more centered weight type feeling in the backswing, when you shift your weight to your lead foot, be careful of the Bubba replant, and then push up with that lead leg to push your lead shoulder up. This is the one-foot “jump” and it will take advantage of parametric acceleration (read more about that here).

But also at the same time, shift your lower spine towards the target.

From a face-on viewpoint, this can look like back bend, but in 3D space it’s side bend. It kind of feels like you are crunching the trail side of your mid-section, or maybe just bending over to the side to pick up a suitcase, for example. This move helps lower your trail shoulder, which brings down the club (whereas this is more difficult to do if you try to two-foot jump with your trail leg). It also helps you to keep from getting airborne off your lead foot. Further it doesn’t change your low point (by not changing the relative position of the C7 vertebrae in its general orb in space) and complicate ball striking like a two-foot jump does.

At this point, the club releases and you can stand up out of the shot (you don’t need to transition in to any sort of dangerous back bend) in balance on your lead foot having generates tons of vertical ground force without having jumped off the ground or putting yourself at risk for injury.

“Movember” mustache… not required!

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Move Your Legs Like the Legends: The Key to the Snead Squat



It’s important not to overdo the “Sam Snead squat.” Understanding the subtle leg movements of the game’s greats is key to making your practice purposeful and making real improvement.

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19th Hole