It’s easy to know when you want to find a golf instructor: You can’t get rid of the duckhook with your irons, you hit every wedge fat or it’s winter and the course is closed and your wife wants you out of the house.
Or you could post on GolfWRX in the Equipment section that you have a 95 mph driver swing speed and you want a driver that will help calm down your nasty slice. At that point, you will get five responses saying that you need a swing fix, not a new driver, or that it’s the Indian, not the arrow.
When it’s time for a teacher, you’ll find lots of stuff on the web about what to look for — an experienced PGA guy or gal; someone you can afford and who works nearby so you don’t have an excuse to skip a lesson; a good reputation or strong references; someone whose instructions you can understand and with whom you’re comfortable; and someone who will work with what you’re trying to accomplish and what you will bring to the partnership in terms of learning style, time to practice, and the like.
So you don’t need me to tell you what to look for in a teacher. Instead, I’ll offer a few thoughts about something less discussed and a bit more complicated. When do you say goodbye to your instructor and move on to another one?
I started golf early in my teenage years. I gave it up when I went to college and didn’t pick up the sticks for 25 years. Then I started up again without lessons and achieved mediocre to crappy results, until I reached a point where my swing looked like a circus act without a ringleader. I had all sorts of moving parts, noneof them coordinated, and no connection between my intended swing and the final resting place of the ball. I finally decided to either throw away the clubs or find a teacher.
My office, back then, was in downtown Boston. I found a small indoor golf practice facility not far from where I worked. I started with the head teacher, taking lessons mostly in the evening and whacking balls at lunchtime. I will be forever grateful to the instructor because he gave me something that resembled a real golf swing. I went from a reverse pivot and an awful slice to a swing that produced much longer and straighter shots. I ultimately developed a draw—OK, yes, and a hook, on occasion. My scores came down and I could go back on the course without quite as much fear and embarrassment.
I stayed with my teacher for a number of years. I would take a number of lessons in the winter and early spring, than stop when golf started. Except that inevitably, sometime over the summer, things would fall apart, at least a little. Then I’d go back for a lesson or two, my teacher would give me some fixes, and with some time at the range, I’d be back in business—sometimes more, sometimes less.
During my time with this teacher, I came across a couple of other instructors. There’s an outdoor driving range near my house, and I was given a coupon for a lesson from the pro there. I went, just to check it out. The range pro gave me one piece of advice over and over—post around my left leg. He’d been a pro at a long series of clubs for very short periods. He did not use video or any other teaching tool, and he didn’t spend much time talking to me about what I wanted to accomplish. I’m sure he does a fine job starting people off in golf, and maybe he even had some things to offer me, but that wasn’t obvious in the lesson he gave me.
Then I had a lesson from a guy who runs an indoor golf center in my area. He is by all accounts a good teacher and I’ve seen him enough to know he’s a good guy and easy to work with. I go to his place in the winter to hit in bays or to play games on a simulator. In the lesson I had with him, he wanted me to change my swing to a two-plane move where my arms came down from the top at one angle, then halfway down shifted to another. I thought about it after the lesson and decided it would take me forever to be comfortable with the dramatic shift in my swing. I don’t get to practice nearly as much as I’d like and I would need a lot of practicing to get the new swing right. He may well have been right, in terms of what he wanted me to do—but I simply didn’t have the patience or energy to make the dramatic change he suggested.
Fast-forward a few years. By then, I had two issues with my first teacher. The first was he would take calls on his mobile phone during the lessons and that habit was getting worse. The second was, I didn’t really understand the swing he’d given me. Either he didn’t explain it well or I wasn’t smart enough to figure out what he was talking about. When things went wrong on the course, I couldn’t figure out for myself how to fix them. I’d always have to go back to him to get the swing repaired. I felt like I’d hit a plateau both in my play and my understanding of my swing.
Two years ago, I made the switch. I did some homework on teachers around my home and found a GolfTec in a neighboring town. There are certainly golfers out there who are skeptical of the GolfTec model because they ask for a commitment to a number of lessons upfront, but I started with an evaluation and my eyes wide-open. And I found a good teacher who has made my swing more consistent and my game more reliable.
My new instructor focuses only on teaching when I am with him. He’s given me a swing with concepts and key moves that I understand and can repeat. He has built my new swing steadily, with a succession of new pieces over two years. I still go off the rails at times, but I can often fix things by working on them myself. I did need to see him at one point this summer when I was in a bad funk and he gave me a few quick things that helped right away. But now I have a much clearer understand of what I am supposed to do and when I do it, good things happen.
Recently, I started off badly on the front nine, but was able to concentrate on a few swing basics and turned things around on the second nine, dramatically improving my play and my score. Under my previous teacher, I would not have had a clue what I was doing wrong, let alone how to fix it.
I’ll always be grateful to my first teacher—he got me back to a good enough swing to make golf fun again. But sometimes a teacher can take you only so far and you have to graduate to someone else. Maybe you’re stuck in the nineties and want to get to the eighties, or in the eighties and want to get to the seventies, and you’re not sure your teacher can get you over the hump. I don’t know why Tiger or Padraig Harrington switched teachers, but for me, I wanted something simple — help beyond what I was getting so I could play better on a consistent basis. I wanted a better picture of what I needed to do, the guidance and repetitions so I could instill and then repeat the moves, and the capacity to do some self-repairs.
If you’re missing any of that, maybe it’s time for you to move on, too. Or maybe you should do what I probably should have done some years ago—put the teacher’s phone on the tee and knocked the damn thing right down the middle of the hitting bay, with a little draw.
Jamie Katz is a contributor for GolfWRX.com. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the GolfWRX.