Getting from the lesson tee to the 1st tee

by   (Senior Writer I)   |   November 29, 2012
Whiff

The longest walk in golf is from the lesson tee to the first tee. How can you retain what you have learned and take it to the course?

This is a true story: I had a lady in my school in Palm Springs, Calif., many years ago who topped almost very shot. This was because she was over the top and late —  lack of radius tops I call them.

Every time she topped the ball she would say, “Oh there I go again, I picked my head up,” to which I would reply, “No, you moved your body well before you got your arms down and extended. On this next swing, let’s get your arms and club down to the bottom of the ball.”

Sure enough by Tuesday or so, she was behind the ball, extending her arms and hitting most every shot in the air. Later in the week, I was actually able to talk to her about the body turning through on the downswing as well. These were 5-day schools at that time and long story short, she had a good week with GREAT improvement. So on Friday we would give them a review. I asked if she understood the nature of her swing flaw and she said she was good to go.

“I can’t believe I hit that many balls in the air this week,” she said.

I left California and came back home to New Jersey for the spring and summer season.  About a month after I was back, the woman from the school called.  She said, “We just got home to Pennsylvania for the season and I can’t stop topping the ball.”She asked if she could come out for a lesson. Sure, I said.

After watching her top five in a row, I asked her why she was doing that and she said — wait for it — “I must have picked up my head!” 

It was then and there I knew I’d never be out of work! Golfers have great memories; they are just short. Why can’t you take it to the course? Why does “it” leave when the pro leaves? How many times have you had a GREAT lesson and walked away and started slicing or shanking again?  Too often I’m sure.  This is the bane of the amateur golfer, so we need to take a look at why.

Im going to make a short list of the things I see that are a hindrance to learning and that create a poor learning environment. In my experience, thay are the root cause of not retaining information.

Nerves: Most golfers are really uptight when they arrive for the first lesson. They fear failure and being embarrassed in front of a pro as if their swing is the worst I have ever seen. It’s so bad at times that I think the first 15 minutes or so of a lesson are a total waste of time.

Preconceived notions: Most golfers come to a lesson thinking they already know what the problem is. The golf propaganda lingo is so entrenched in their brains, I often wonder why they need us teachers?  If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they are picking their head up or “coming over it,” I could buy a new car. Cash.

Adversity to change: I’m sure the teachers reading this will agree that if the student could see the lesson through our eyes, they would relalize how resistent they are to change. It’s like rigormortis has set in to live humans. Frail, gentle souls become beasts with a club in their hands. Tension the terrible.

External distractions: As a student, you are filled with the internal distractions I mentoned.  The last thing you need are EXTERNAL distractions. These might include everything from a busy driving range to bad weather to cell phones or distracting noises — anything that make it hard to concentrate on what you’re learning.

Passive learning: Many times the student becomes too dependent on the teacher to “tell” them what to do; somehow he/she will connect the dots for me. Even if it’s not working yet, I’ll get it later. This is passive learning, bump on a log waiting for osmosis or some divine intervention.

Here are a few suggestions for taking lessons that i think are more effective.

Relax: You dont have the worst swing in the world, you are just fine. Pat yourself on the back for being out there and trying to improve. I admire anyone who has the courage to say, “HELP”! I have been teaching for a very long time and believe me, whatever you’re going to show me, I have seen it before! Let’s have FUN, let’s play … this is golf not a life threatening illness. If the doctor says “get your affairs in order,” that’s time worry. Don’t worry about a golf lesson!

Leave your own swing theories at the door: Most likely you are victim of the 19th hole lesson syndrome. Golf is the only game with more teachers than players. Your friends are well intended, but not always well informed. Open your mind to what the instructor suggests and don’t try to tell him/her what your problem is. There’s a good chance they already know.

Be ready to change: Stay open to all suggestions, and try anything the teacher asks. The old way wasn’t working. That’s why you signed up. My favorite line is:

“That feels strange.”

Of course it feels strange; you have been doing it another way for 20 years and this way for 20 minutes. My experience tells me that only those really willing to change are going to improve.

Peace and quiet: You are better off with a serene, quiet lesson place away from the maddening crowds of other golfers or any other signs of civilization. The internal distractions are numerous, eliminate the EXTERNAL ones.  You have to be able to hear and converse clearly with your teacher and focus on what youre learning.

Be an active learner: Example: The teacher says, you have to hit more from the inside; try this. Did it work?  If not, ask for another way to feel it. Did it work? If not, ask for another way to feel it. Sooner or later you are both going to arrive on a way for YOU to feel the inside.  That’s when you can move on. You must abandon the “I’ll get it later” mentality and learn to get it now! 

My goal for every one of my students is to understand WHY they did not succeed on a given shot. You are not going to hit great shots every swing — that cat is already out of the bag — but, if you know WHY you failed BEFORE you leave the lesson, you have a much better chance of retaining it.

Finally, look around you. You are playing the greatest game in the world in a beautiful setting among friends. What could be better than that? Relax and enjoy, it will make you’re lesson easier to understand and retain.

By the way, I am writing this on the evening of the big lottery drawing, like a zillion bucks or something, And if I win, guess what I’m going to do tomorrow?  Yea you got it, I’m gonna play and teach golf!

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

About

Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional and advanced certified instructor, a distinction held by fewer than 2 percent of all PGA Professionals. He is recognized as one of the top instructors in the country, and holds no less than seven PGA awards including "Teacher of the Year" and "Golf Professional of the Year." Dennis directs his own academy in Naples, FL. He can reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

Dennis holds two degrees in education and has worked with golfers of all levels for over 30 years. A native of Philadelphia, Dennis currently directs the Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.

GolfWRX Writer of the Month: April 2014, May 2014


6 Comments

  1. Brian Huston

    December 14, 2012 at 1:34 am

    I am a young aspiring teacher of golf and this article has really given me a better understanding as to why some of my students are just not understanding some of my teachings. I believe I am knowledgeable in the golf swing and I am improving with every lesson that I teach. This article has just given me a better understanding as to why some students are not improving. I always tell them that golf is not a sport anyone can just pick up and expect to be good. It takes time and practice to understand the game. Knowing the key points to this article will help me improve in my teachings. Thanks.

    • Dennis Clark

      December 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it; if I can be of any help with your teaching career, feel free to contact me.

  2. JC

    December 4, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    For me, I feel like it’s not that I resist to change, it’s just simply difficult to break a habit. In fact, I believe most students like myself WANT to change, and that’s why we pay more hundreds and thousands of dollars on lessons.

    It takes great effort, concentration, and discipline, and a few weeks of practice before I can really make any significant changes in my swing. However, during this process, I occasionally get a few glimpses of hope, and hit a few very pure shots with the new and better swing, and that helps me believe that I am doing the right thing.

    As a student, I found out that by being exceptionally courageous, bold, creative, and sometimes ‘humorous’ help me make changes in my swing. What I mean is that when I’m asked to make some adjustments, I’d like to experiment by doing exaggerations or by doing things that look silly. Basically, as long as I’m doing some completely different from my normal swing, I am hopefully getting closer to breaking the bad habit, and getting closer to the new changes.

    One good example is that I’m recently working on my hip turn. At home, I would practice the hip turn with some exaggerations, and I basically look like I’m sexually thrusting something, and my girlfriend would just laugh non-stop. However, after a few weeks, I stopped slicing by about 80%, and I’ve gained 5~10 yards per club due to a more consistent draw ball flight and purer impact.

    • Dennis Clark

      December 26, 2012 at 6:02 pm

      Exaggeration is a great learning tool. Try the new move to the point of absurd. you can always back off

  3. Jack Marston

    December 3, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Thanks Dennis–This really hits home. I’ll keep this memo close by!

  4. Turn & Release

    December 3, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Great article. I think my problem taking my range swing to the first tee is, and has always been, nervous energy. I cant seem to forget that the swing on the first tee counts. I have always thought that the freedom in the swing came with confidence.
    How can I get the same confidence I feel on the range, knowing that there is another ball just waiting to be hit and not counted?

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