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Need a new instructor? When it’s time to say goodbye

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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.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum.

Jamie Katz is a contributor for GolfWRX.com. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the GolfWRX.

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Instruction

The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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Instruction

Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf

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Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of ShotByShot.com, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of ShotByShot.com, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of ShotByShot.com in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use ShotbyShot.com

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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Instruction

PNF Drills: How To Turn Onto The Golf Ball

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In this video, I share a great drill to help you turn onto the ball. This will help you rotate through impact.

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