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Navigating the Brave New World of Online Golf Instruction

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Online golf lessons are cheap and fast. And if you do a search on Google, the choices are extensive.  Getting started can be summed up in three steps — shoot a video with your mobile phone, upload it to the one of many different websites that offer the service and await feedback from a PGA professional of your choosing.  By contrast, working with a local pro requires finding one nearby, booking their time in advance and driving however long to the course for the sake of making a couple of dozen supervised swings in less than the time it takes to bake a cake — usually, for a premium fee.

If you believe the old axiom, “you get what you pay for”, then traditional instruction should easily trump any lesson you take online.  The individualized attention you receive from working side-by-side with an instructor has undeniable merit.  The question then is how much is that benefit worth?  In 2011, I took lessons from a PGA professional twice a month, surrendering over $1400 in a single year.  And that’s just a tiny fraction of the cost some recreational golfers pay to learn from a top-tier instructor.  I could have justified the continued expense had I not felt that my golf (particularly the long game) had stagnated.

So after a some soul searching, not too mention being a little poorer in the pocket, I started tinkering with online golf lessons.  With all the different choices that are available, finding the right program and instructor is a lot like auditioning a promising starlet.  A lot can be determined when she starts reading her lines.  One instructor I began working with barely had anything to say about my swing and immediately jumped to recommending that I practice the 9 to 3 drill to improve my sequencing.  His response felt canned, and it probably was since the program consistently pushed its vast library of instructional videos as the primary means for self-improvement.  After a little more research, I dived into using a different, and frankly, more popular online service that let me scrutinize different instructors by viewing actual sample lessons they gave.  I ended up choosing a Golf Digest Top-50 Female Instructor.  The cost of an individual lesson was $30, which could be further reduced by buying a pack of four lessons in advance.  Considering my instructor’s pedigree, $30 was a bargain, and there’s no way I would’ve been able to afford her lesson fee under different circumstances.

Getting started was simple enough.  I took two videos of my golf swing with my iPhone (down-the-line and face-on) and uploaded them to the website.  I also took the time to describe my swing faults at great length.  Communication is critical between between a student and teacher, probably more so since there’s no face-to-face component involved.  I received a response from my instructor 24 hours later.

The first thing she wanted to address was my hunched over posture.  To illustrate her point, she positioned my swing adjacent with that of Rory McIlroy’s.  There was something humbling about seeing my swing in contrast to Rory’s and even my instructor sheepishly noted that it wasn’t her intention to “compare” my swing with the world’s No. 1 golfer.  Rory, of course, has model posture at setup.  He also has a neutral takeaway; mine is to the inside.  My instructor filmed a nine-minute segment picking apart my swing, explaining how posture and takeaway influence the chain of events that follow.  Her analysis concluded with a pair of additional videos that described corrections that I could incorporate into my swing.

To keep me from being overwhelmed, she advised me to fix my swing in chunks, starting with posture.  To help me improve, she recommended that I increase my hamstring flexibility.  So as part of my daily fitness routine, I began using an elastic stretch band to pull my legs straight back towards my chest while lying on my back.  As for my takeaway, my instructor suggested an often-prescribed drill of placing a golf ball six inches behind my club and brushing it straight back when initiating my backswing.

I setup a homemade hitting station in my living room and worked on getting into textbook posture and making a proper takeaway.  When learning new movement patterns, the going can be excruciatingly slow.  On average it took me 20 minutes to execute 20 solid reps (the goal being 100 a week).  It also took a degree of patience and blind faith to keep from going immediately to the driving range to scrape balls (or what most people confuse with practice).

After three weeks I finally took a trip to the range.  Getting into my new posture required very little conscious effort and I made some half decent swings.  I took a few new videos of myself and uploaded them for review.  My instructor acknowledged the hard work I put in, noted that my takeaway was still going back a fraction inside and began to diagram the next phase of my swing reconstruction – improving my backswing.  Although I am in reasonably good athletic shape, I tend to cheat a little bit taking the club up to the top.  The current goal is to get my back to target so that I can finally feel what it means to be loaded onto my right side (as a right-handed golfer).  I’ll need to ingrain this new movement before my instructor and I can tackle sequencing in my downswing.

So its back to working on my posture, takeaway and backswing in my living room.  If it seems like I’m learning how to swing a golf club again, it’s probably because I’ve never been properly taught how to in the first place, in spite of all that time I clocked in beating balls with a golf pro hovering nearby.  In retrospect, the only thing I managed to get good get at was launching scuffed up balls into a far-off net.

What I’m learning now, in addition to swinging a club correctly, is to hold myself more accountable for my golf game.  Taking online golf lessons is akin to walking a tightrope without a safety net.  There’s nobody around to observe your every swing and make corrections.  In truth, this is more indicative of how golf is actually played – on your own, with nothing but the space between your ears to guide you.  In an interview with pgatour.com, Sean Foley was asked if he envisioned a time when Tiger Woods wouldn’t need a coach.

“I think you would hope for everybody that that would be the case,” Foley said.

The ability for golfers to self-diagnose and to fix their swings when shots start flying into neighboring fairways is the end game we all continually strive for.  Golf instruction, whether it takes the form of a one-on-one lesson or is given online with the help of video, is at the end of the day, just a tool to help us teach ourselves.  Learning how to do something well takes time, dedication and focused practice, concepts that are as old as dirt and are the hallmarks of all great golfers, as well as those of us who are aspiring to be great.  With all that being said, it’s time that I got back to digging.

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

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Rusty Cage is a contributing writer for GolfWRX, one of the leading publications online for news, information and resources for the connected golfer. His articles have covered a broad spectrum of topics - equipment and apparel reviews, interviews with industry leaders, analysis of the pro game, and everything in between. Rusty's path into golf has been an unusual one. He took up the game in his late thirties, as suggested by his wife, who thought it might be a good way for her husband to grow closer to her father. The plan worked out a little too well. As his attraction to the game grew, so did his desire to take up writing again after what amounted to 15-year hiatus from sports journalism dating back to college. In spite of spending over a dozen years working in the technology sector as a backend programmer in New York City, Rusty saw an opportunity with GolfWRX and ran with it. A graduate from Boston University with a Bachelor's in journalism, Rusty's long term aspirations are to become one of the game's leading writers, rising to the standard set by modern-day legends like George Peper, Mark Frost and Dan Jenkins. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: August 2014 Fairway Executive Podcast Interview http://golfindustrytrainingassociation.com/17-rusty-cage-golf-writer (During this interview I discuss how golf industry professionals can leverage emerging technologies to connect with their audience.)

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Golf Lessons Online - Can They Work? | Golf Tips and Instruction for Beginners

  2. GolfFanG

    Dec 8, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Nice article. However I must ask how can a golf coach possibly tell you what you are doing wrong without seeing your ball flight? I presume you notified the online golf coach of your bad shot and with that information the coach could link your ball flight with the adequate faults in your swing.

    E.G. If the online coach looks at your grip and you have a “weak grip” yet unknown to the coach your bad shot is a hook last thing they should do is strengthen your grip…… ?!?!?!?!

  3. Frank Dolan

    Dec 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    A very informative and well written article. I never thought that I would ever take golf lessons on the Internet but it is a definite possibility considering my game is down the tubes temporarily.

    Frank

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“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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12 reasons serious golfers don’t realize their potential

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What stops serious golfers from realizing their potential? If you are an amateur who wants to get better, a young player trying to achieve more, or a young professional with big dreams, this article is for you.

I’ve made a career out of helping athletes maximize their abilities, golfers in particular. And the things I see young playing professionals doing prior to our work together is often what is holding them back. The reality is that most young players, no matter what their level, have three key problems:

  1. They’re distracted by what’s not important
  2. They have no detailed structure and plan to reach the targets they determine are important to them
  3. They have no formal process to develop mindset and attitude

In the list below, I share what I see working with these young players and some common blind spots.

1. No real plan and steps to achieve targets

Most players do not know how to create a long-term and short-term plan that outlines all steps needed to reach targets. Players should have yearly plans with targets, steps and actions and weekly plans to organize/schedule their time and prioritize key needs.

2. Not focused enough on the object of the game

This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Surprisingly, players seem to forget that the object of the game is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. Trophies and checks are not issued for the best swing, the best putting stroke or most balls hit.

3. Not enough pressure in practice

Most young players have loose practice. The intensity of feelings between the practice tee and the course are too different. Focus and intensity must be a part of all practice. Add competition and outcomes to sessions so some urgency is created.

4. Too much practice time on full swing

The data is clear — most shots in golf happen from 100 yards and in from the green. If the majority of practice time is not spent on these shorter shots, practice time is wasted.

5. An obsession with the look of the swing

Players are not generally prepared to own their own swings and embrace the differences that make them unique. Obsessing over swing mechanics is a major distraction for many players. Many players convince themselves that if it doesn’t look “good” on their iPhone, their swing won’t get results.

6. No structure with the driver

Since scoring is the main goal, a consistent, reliable shape to each shot is important. My experience has been that if players are trying to go both ways with the driver, that is a sure-fire way to elevate numbers on the card. Pick a shape and eliminate one side of the course. Predictability from the tee increases a player’s confidence to put the ball in the fairway more often, creating more opportunities to score.

7. Expectation that they will hit the ball well everyday

Many players have the unreasonable expectation that they will hit lots of fairways and greens every time they play. This expectation leads to constant disappointment in their game. Knowing that the leading professionals in the game average about 60.6 percent driving accuracy and 11.8 greens in regulation per round should be a good benchmark for the expectations of all players.

8. Trying to be too robotic and precise in putting

Some players get so caught up in the mechanics of putting that their approach becomes too robotic. They become obsessed with precision and being perfect. Feel, flow and instinct have to be a central part of putting. This can get lost in an overly robotic mindset trying to be too precise and perfect.

9. No process for assessment and reflection

Players do not have a formal process for assessing practice or rounds and reflecting on the experience. The right lessons are not consistently taken away to ensure step-by-step improvement. Knowing how to assess practice, play and ask the right questions is key to development.

10. Getting in their own way

The voice inside of most young players’ heads is not helpful for their performance. It’s often a negative, demanding voice that insists on perfection. This voice leads to hesitation, frustration and anger. The voice must be shaped (with practice) into the right “emotional caddie” to support efforts and promote excellence over perfection.

11. A focus on the negative before the positive

A default to the mistakes/flaws in the round before looking at the highlights and what worked. When asked about their round, most players highlight three-putts, penalty shots and any errors before anything else. Emphasis should always be on what went well first. Refection on what needs improvement is second.

12. The blame game

Young players love excuses. Course conditions, weather, coaching and equipment are a few of the areas that are often targets, deflecting responsibility away from the player. Many players do not take full responsibility for their own game and/or careers.

I hope this provides some insights on roadblocks that could get in your way on the path to reaching your targets in the game. Whether it’s lowering your handicap, winning a junior tournament, working toward the PGA Tour — or just general improvement — considering these observations might help you shorten the road to get there.

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