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Opinion & Analysis

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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Opinion & Analysis

More Distance Off the Tee (Part 1 of 3): Upper Body Training

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If you read my previous story, Tour Pro’s Revealed: 3 Tests to See How You Stack Up, you are well aware of the fact that improving your upper body power is one of three sure ways to increase your distance off the tee. If you have not, I strongly suggest you check it out to gain some context about what is to follow and what is critical for your golf game.

Through our testing and the testing done of many of the industry leaders in golf performance, we have found that the ability of golfers to generate “push power” from their upper body is critical to maximize efficiency and speed in the swing. The way that you can test your power is simple. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Keeping your back on the chair, chest pass with both hands a 6-pound medicine ball as far as you can. When you compare this to your vertical jump as described in More Distance Off the Tee (Part 2 of 3): Lower Body Training Plan, the number in feet you threw the ball should be relatively close to your jump in inches.

If you threw the ball and it went 5 feet, you have an upper body power problem. If you threw the ball 25 feet and jumped only 14 inches, your upper body is not the problem — you probably need to focus on your lower body. It’s not rocket science once you understand what you are looking for. What can be challenging is knowing how to improve your power once you identify a problem. That is where the rest of this article comes in. What I am going to outline below are three of the most common upper body power exercises that we use with our amateur, senior and professional golfers.

The key with any power training exercise is to make sure you are as rested as possible between sets so that you can be as explosive as possible for the repetitions. Try not to do more than 6 repetitions in a set to assure that each one is as fast and explosive as possible.

Med Ball Chest Pass on Wall

This is one of the most basic exercises there is for developing upper body push power. Make sure your feet are about shoulder-width apart and don’t be afraid to use your legs to help maximize the punishment you deliver to against the wall!

Med Ball Wall Ball

Watching the video, you may be scratching you head and wondering why this is in the upper body power article when clearly the athlete is using his legs. The reason is that in the golf swing, power starts with the legs.

Med Ball Sky Chest Throws

This one is simple. Laying on your back, all you need to do is push the ball up as high as you can, catch it on the way down and the explode it back up into the air as high as you can. If you incorporate this exercise into your routine even once a week, you will see huge gains in your ability to swing faster if this was a problem area for you.

That being said, power creation requires not only speed but also strength development. It is also important that you have a solid strength program to increase your ability to generate more force. While this is beyond the scope of this article, finding yourself a solid golf fitness expert will help you create your ideal program.

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Podcasts

GolfWRX Forum Member dpb5031 talks about the TaylorMade Twist Face Experience

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Forum member dpb5031 (aka Dewey) joins TG2 to talk about his Twist Face Experience at The Kingdom. Recently, him and 6 other GolfWRX Members went to TaylorMade HQ to get fit for new M3 and M4 drivers. Does Twist Face work? Dewey provides his answer.

Listen to the podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Inside the Ropes: 5 things you didn’t know about playing on the PGA Tour

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Golf finds a way to take a hold on you… whether you become entranced by the skill of the world’s best professionals, fall in love with the feeling and beauty of a well-executed shot, or simply enjoy getting outside and having fun — the game is addictive.

I started playing at the age of 4 and began watching the pros on TV dreaming what it would be like to play golf on the PGA Tour. When I earned my PGA Tour status for the 2014 season, that dream became a reality. And like anything, it’s not until I actually experienced that life did I have any idea what it entailed.

For those of you who are curious what it’s like to be on the PGA Tour, here are 5 things to describe it.

1) The Culture

Traveling the world to various cities can be fun, and it’s an underrated part of the Tour lifestyle; you get to see new landscapes and taste the cuisines that define different regions across the country and the world. Unlike some other professional sports, where players stay in one place for maybe a night or two, we get to stay in places for a week or more, which allows for plenty of time away from the course to see the sights and get a feel for what the cities and their cultures offer.

2) The Show

The setup and time that goes into planning an event — the grandstands, concession stands, volunteers, and the whole network that makes these tournaments run — is beyond impressive. We see the finished product at the event in the epicenter of it all, but the planning goes on behind the scenes all year. When it’s game time and the golf ball gets teed up, it’s time for us players to block all of that out, but we certainly appreciate all of the hard work that goes into putting on an event. It may feel like being in a circus at times, but performing in the show is a thrill.

3) The People

The game of golf in general brings people together, but especially so on the Tour. Thousands and thousands of fans come to watch the golf action and enjoy the festivities. The Pro-Ams are a great way for the fans to get an up-close look at what goes on at a Tour event, and they’re also a great way for us pros to interact with fans and maybe provide some helpful swing tips, too. In my opinion, one of the best events of the year is the Pebble Beach Pro-Am — a gathering of pro golfers, athletes, musicians, actors and other celebrities. It’s a testament to how the game can bring people together from different walks of life.

4) Inside the Ropes

The Tour is almost like a private school of sorts. It’s a select group of a couple hundred guys traveling around playing these events. The jocks, the nerds, the geeks, the loners; you see a little of everything. As much as there’s a sociable aspect to traveling on Tour and getting to know these people, it’s a dog-eat-dog world where everyone is playing for their livelihood and playing privileges.

5) The “Pressure”

A season-long race can come down to a single shot making the difference — for some it’s between winning and losing a tournament, and others it’s between keeping and losing your card. The cameras, the grandstands, the noise… it can all be quite distracting. The idea is to block all of that out and pretend you’re playing like a kid, focusing with pure imagination for the shot. All the extra attention can help heighten the focus further, adding inspiration to “give the people what they want” and hit even better golf shots.

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