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Teaching professionals, take a seat (literally)

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I’ve had the opportunity over the years to watch hundreds of teaching professionals give lessons — generally from a distance so as not to disturb them or their students. What I’ve observed is that they are always standing as if they were a waiter in a restaurant taking a dinner order.

I have to ask: Why?

Where is it written that a teaching professional must stand when giving a lesson? And yet I would venture that this is the standard protocol for virtually 100 percent of them. As a teacher, I think it is essential that we understand the great teachers that have gone before us, and so I’ve made a point to research each and every one of them dating back to Harry Vardon. In my research I found an accounting of John Jacobs’ life written by author Laddie Lucas in 1987. What he reported was that Jacobs, Europe’s preeminent teaching professional, had an advanced case of varicose veins because he had always stood while working with students during the course of his entire career.

I wish he could have read this article early in his career; it could have saved him a good deal of discomfort and pain. That said, before discussing this issue further, I think it is important to make a distinction between two different types of teaching professionals:

  1.  Those that spend most of their time in the golf shop. When requested, they give a lesson here and there. They may not give more than 10-15 lessons per week, and in many cases these lessons are of a “touch-up” nature lasting no longer than 30 minutes.
  2. Those who are career teaching professionals and may give 40-50 lessons a week. They might be at a country club, a public course or a driving range. For the most part, their lessons are an hour in length. They may spend between 8-10 hours a day on the lesson tee teaching — on some occasions, seven days a week.

You might imagine standing for that long on your feet day after day, week after week, year after year. In what other profession would you be required to withstand that level of punishment. And for what? I was hired as the Teaching Professional at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minnesota in 1977. This was of course where Bobby Jones won the third leg of his Grand Slam in 1930. The very exclusive club is steeped in history, having held every possible USGA championship at one time or another. The invitation fee in 1977 was $50,000 and there was a two-year waiting list.

How did those members react back then when they saw two chairs sitting behind my teaching station? They were initially surprised, but when I explained the purpose of the chairs they understood completely. And those members who took lessons found how much they enjoyed the opportunity to sit down and relax between shots.

Here was the routine that I followed.

  • At the beginning of the lesson, the student and I would sit down and talk about what had transpired since their last session.
  • In the event they were a new student, I wanted to hear their story. I would, during this first session, ask them a few probing questions while identifying their goals and objectives — all the while in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere.
  • I would then ask them to hit a few shots with a variety of clubs. I would sit and watch. After they were done, I’d ask them to sit down. I would then stand, and move to the practice station, where I would explain what changes were necessary for them to improve. I would demonstrate the right and wrong way if I thought it would be helpful.
  • The student would then stand and join me. I would then adjust their grip or setup if necessary. And then when advantageous, I would physically guide them through the correct backswing or downswing movements to provide them with the correct feel.

Through this process, I had armed the student with:

  1. An intellectual understanding of the problem.
  2. A visual picture of the correct position or desired movements.
  3. A physical feel for the required changes.

I would then sit down again as they began hitting shots, while at the same time giving them feedback from one shot to another. After they’d hit several shots, I would have them join me in sitting again. I would then have them state the changes they were to work on for two reasons:

  1. I wanted to make sure what they heard was what I had said, because I’d found over the years that often times the two accounts were different. This step avoided any possible confusion.
  2. I was of the opinion that if the student was not able to articulate what they’d learned, they likely didn’t really understand it. And in that case, I would clarify it for them.

In most cases, my next student would be warming up just as I was finishing with the first. I would slide over and repeat the entire process again with a fresh diagnosis and a custom-designed remedy.

I have not varied from this routine for more than 40 years. The only exception has been on some occasions that I have utilized a bench or a pair of stools while achieving the same effect. And what I’ve found through this process is that my students are not only more refreshed between shots, but they enjoy their lessons more because they are not so fatigued. You might be wondering, have I ever been chided by a student for sitting down? The answer is “No, never.” Whenever you visit the doctor, he enters the room what does he do? He sits down. Exactly.

Teachers around the country, I would like you to look at yourself in a mirror and repeat these words after me until you come to believe them as if they were gospel: “I am a highly trained and experienced professional, and for that reason there is no need for me to perpetually stand in front of my students as if I was hoping for a tip.” Once you have convinced yourself of that fact, find yourself two comfortable chairs, stools or a bench and start using them as I’ve described on the lesson tee.

And now that we’ve established that, let’s sit down and have a talk.

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As a teacher, Rod Lidenberg reached the pinnacle of his career when he was named to GOLF Magazine's "Top 100" Teachers in America. The PGA Master Professional and three-time Minnesota PGA "Teacher of the Year" has over his forty-five year career, worked with a variety of players from beginners to tour professionals. He especially enjoys training elite junior players, many who have gone on to earn scholarships at top colleges around the country, in addition to winning several national amateur championships. Lidenberg maintains an active schedule teaching at Bluff Creek Golf Course Chanhassen, Minnesota, in the summer and The Golf Zone, Chaska, Minnesota, in the winter months. As a player, he competed in two USGA Public Links Championships; the first in Dallas, Texas, and the second in Phoenix, Arizona, where he finished among the top 40. He also entertained thousands of fans playing in a series of three exhibition matches beginning in 1972, at his home course, Edgewood G.C. in Fargo, North Dakota, where he played consecutive years with Doug Sanders, Lee Trevino and Laura Baugh. As an author, he has a number of books in various stages of development, the first of which will be published this fall entitled "I Knew Patty Berg." In Fall 2017, he will be launching a new Phoenix-based instruction business that will feature first-time-ever TREATMENT OF THE YIPS.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. One Day At A Time

    May 10, 2018 at 1:49 am

    I want to point out a chronological pattern I’ve observed. Working carts, we sat down for a few minutes twice a day. Working the driving range, the picker was considered a bit of a break. Working the counter, we met customers standing, face to face. Teaching juniors, we often were kneeling and moving up and down the line. Observing from down the line and moving to face on in doing a diagnosis. Standing in front of mirrors demonstrating an adjustment to an address position. Moving from an inside setting to an outside setting. Taking payment, face to face, with a handshake and a “Thank You for coming out”.

    The trend is, it’s an active job when done in this linear fashion.

  2. Dave r

    May 5, 2018 at 11:08 pm

    Hey. He’s giving you the lesson I’m not paying some pro $150.00 an hour to sit and watch sorry. I go for a reason for him to tell me what I’m doing wrong I shouldn’t have to ask .

  3. Rev G

    May 4, 2018 at 11:53 am

    Another nice thing about sitting while practicing or taking a lesson is it gives you a chance to slow down and collect your thoughts. Also, physically it stretches out your back and relaxes your shoulders. If you just sit there and bang balls standing up for an hour straight, it’s often difficult to stay mentally and physically ready to hit balls in a manner like you want to on the course.

  4. larrybud

    May 3, 2018 at 10:54 pm

    I quit an instructor because he would sit the entire lesson. He would say “do this” and never show me. So it depends on the student and what you’re working on. If you’re trying to get me into a certain position, or tell me a certain drill, you better show me.

    • PGA Coach

      May 4, 2018 at 9:19 am

      Did you ever say “I’m not sure understand, can you show me?”

    • Radim Pavlicek

      May 5, 2018 at 6:31 am

      Did you tell him?

  5. ViagrGolfer

    May 3, 2018 at 12:27 pm

    A new set of golf clubs will do wonders for your swing and your game. It did for mine.. PXG.

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