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Getting to know Instructor Tom Stickney

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GolfWRX Featured Writer Tom Stickney currently splits his time between Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert, Calif., and the Promontory Club in Park City, Utah, as the Director of Instruction at both courses. Stickney, who has also worked in Florida and Colorado, is a native of Memphis, Tenn.

The Golf Magazine Top 100 teacher is also one of a handful of Trackman Masters and was recognized as one of the best Young Teachers Under 40 by Golf Digest from 2006 to 2011. 

How he got his start in teaching…

Stickney was playing mini tours when he was approached by a pro due to inherit a hefty sum. The pro, now financially secure, wanted to try his hand at making it to the big tour. Thus, he needed someone to give lessons at his 45-hole semi-private course.

How teaching has changed in the last 10-15 years…

“When I first started…the first 10-12 years of my career…golf instruction was a very closed shop. It was very proprietary as far as the information that was out there. You pretty much developed your own style based on what you could read.”

“It’s not like you had the Internet…all you did was read every book that was out. Now, the information is out there.”

“We’ve got a couple of kids…interns in the PGM Program…and they probably know 60 percent of what I know, as far as the mechanics…and they haven’t taught at all…They just dug around the internet and figured it all out. What they don’t have is 20,000 hours if lessons to hone their crafts, like I do.”

Signs of an increasingly competitive industry…

“When I first started, getting to $100 an hour was a goal…you look around and everybody at every main resort was charging $250 an hour. There were just so many people spending so much money on golf. There are very few $250 an hour jobs anymore.”

“If you want to make any money in the instruction business, you have to have all the awards, all the accolades and you have to spend a bunch of money on technology.”

How he got started writing for GolfWRX…

“When I get home, I don’t usually surf the Internet for swing theory…but I was surfing around one night looking for something and I came across GolfWRX.”

“I’d written a bunch of articles…I’ve always been a prolific writer. I called Zak and said, ‘Hey, look, I have a series of articles I’d be interested in putting on your blog, if you have any interest.’”

What it’s been like…

“As time has gone on, it’s been fun to watch my number of views grow. It’s been addictive…watching it grow”

“I still can’t believe I’ve had a million people click on my article”

Favorite stuff he’s written…

“In my articles, I’ve always been more of a niche person on the technology side.”

“Trackman is the hot thing, and it’s something I believe in very much…My favorite articles have been the Trackman stuff.”

“There’s a need for some deeper swing theory given the clientele [at GolfWRX].”

Stickney said his favorite article he’s written is “Impact location by handicap.” Regarding the piece, he said: “That something so basic could get so many responses…the golf business never ceases to amaze me.”

On his future writing for GolfWRX…

“I look at it as an obligation to continue to write, and I’ll continue to write. It’s been fun.”

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  1. tom stickney

    Apr 21, 2015 at 12:26 am

    Dr. Britt– loved the ping becu one iron you had back in the day…used to go by the bag room as a kid look at it only to wish I had one of my own!!! I hope you well…great to hear from you! Thanks!!!!

  2. tom stickney

    Apr 21, 2015 at 12:25 am

    Thanks Steven…glad you are enjoying the articles sir!

  3. Lou Britt

    Apr 20, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    I had a lesson years ago in Florida great to aw you prospering I. Like your writing I’m an old friend of your dad from Colonial

  4. steven

    Apr 20, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Mr. Stickney is my favorite writer on golfwrx. I read his articles and try to absorb as much as my small brain allows. My favorite articles were his series The Swing in Pictures. In these articles he broke down positions of the swing from a beginner/intermediate/advanced and professional prospective.
    Tom, Thank You for sharing your knowledge and investing your time in writing great articles with this low double digit duffer.

  5. Tom Stickney

    Apr 20, 2015 at 10:55 am

    Thank you for your time! My pleasure

  6. Don OConnor

    Apr 19, 2015 at 10:17 pm

    I have enjoyed Tom’s articles so much that I recently took a lesson from while visiting California from Texas. First of all he was very accommodating when arranging the lesson on short notice. Secondly the lesson has helped me tremendously. He almost instantly noticed a flaw in my set-up that has caused inconsistency in my ball striking for the last 35 years. I have taken lessons from several well regarded pros and none of diagnosed my set-up as an issue. I am a 1 hdcp so I strike it fairly well, but now I am not searching for the bottom of my arc at impact. As you can imagine a set-up change after that many years feels uncomfortable and strange, but 2 days after the lesson I played in a So. Cal. Mid-am qualifier and made 7 birdies in the first 13 holes. If it was for a sloppy short game the 72 could have been a 67.perhaps I need to see Tom for a short game lesson. The set-up is now starting to feel more naturally and am thinking less about mechanics than I ever have. Thank you Tom, even at 51 I feel like my game can now be better than it has ever been.

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole (Ep. 165): One-on-one with Shane Bacon

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Host Michael Williams talks with the co-host of the Golf Channel’s Golf Today about the Open Championship and Collin Morikawa’s place in the history books.

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What’s old is new again

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All of a sudden, today’s newest trend in golf is yesterday’s clubs.

Golfers are making a move towards old classics the way car enthusiasts would ogle a classic Porsche 911 before they would look twice at a new Tesla Model 3. On the spectrum of art to science, Tesla is peak science and focused on efficiency in every fathomable way. The other will absolutely get you from A to B, but you are more likely to have a smile on your face while you take the detour along the water while enjoying the journey to get there. It is the second type of club that is enjoying this latest resurgence, and I can’t get enough.

New businesses are springing up to refurbish old clubs such as @mulligansclubmakers and @twirledclubs with price tags approaching (and exceeding) the RRP at the time of release of many of the clubs in question. These old clubs are often found in pictures of major champions being used in the 1970s and 1980s, which serves to make them more valuable and interesting to enthusiasts. Other clubs are simply polished examples of the clubs many of us owned 25 years ago and now regret selling. The more polish on an old blade, the better, with classic designs from brands like Wilson Staff, Mizuno, or MacGregor seeing demand and prices increase every month. Seeing these old clubs reimagined with shiny BB&F co ferrules, updated shafts, and grips can get some golfers hot and bothered, and they will open their wallets accordingly.

Around 15 years ago, I bought an old set of blades from the brand Wood Brothers. For many years, I was unable to find out a single thing about those clubs, until @woodbrosgolf came out of hibernation this year onto Instagram and into a frothing market for handmade classic clubs from a forgotten past. I was able to get information that the blades had come out of the Endo forging house in Japan, and my decision to keep the clubs in the garage all these years was vindicated. Now I just need an irrationally expensive matching Wood Bros persimmon driver and fairway wood to complete the set…

Among other boutique brands, National Custom Works (@nationalcustom) has been making pure persimmon woods with the help of Tad Moore to match their incredible irons, wedges, and putters for some time, and now the market is catching up to the joy that can be experienced from striking a ball with the materials of the past. There is an illicit series of pictures of persimmon woods in all states of creation/undress from single blocks of wood through to the final polished and laminated artworks that are making their way into retro leather golf bags all over the world.

There are other accounts which triumph historic images and sets of clubs such as @oldsaltygolf. This account has reimagined the ‘What’s in the Bag’ of tour pros in magazines and made it cool to have a set of clubs from the same year that shows on your driver’s license. I hold them wholly to blame for an impulse buy of some BeCu Ping Eye 2 irons with matching Ping Zing woods… The joy to be found in their image feed from the 70s and 80s will get many golfers reminiscing and wishing they could go back and save those clubs, bags and accessories from their school days. If you want to see more moving pictures from the era, @classicgolfreplays is another account which shows this generation of clubs being used by the best of the best in their heyday. Even better than the clubs are the outfits, haircuts and all leather tour bags to match.

It seems that this new generation of golfer – partially borne out of COVID-19 — is in need of clubs that can’t be sourced fast enough from the major OEMs, so they have gone trawling for clubs that were cool in a different time, and they want them now. Those golfers who match the age of the clubs are also experiencing a golfing rebirth, as the technology gains from the OEMs become incremental, many are now finding enjoyment from the classic feel of clubs as much as they are searching for an extra couple of yards off the tee.

Either way, the result is the same, and people are dusting off the old blades and cavities from years past and hitting the fairways more than ever before. With the desire shifting towards fun over challenge, they are even creeping forward to the tees that their clubs were designed to be played from and finding even more enjoyment from the game. If only I hadn’t got rid of those old persimmons in high school…

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Top 4 reasons why most golfers don’t get better

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A couple of years ago, I attended a symposium put on by Golf Digest’s research department. They explored the typical responses as to why people quit or don’t play more – too much time, too expensive, etc. But the magazine’s research department uncovered the real fact – by a large margin, the number one reason people give up the game is that they don’t get better!

So, with all that’s published and all the teaching pros available to help us learn, why is that? I have my rationale, so put on your steel toe work boots, because I’m probably going to step on some toes here.

The Top 4 Reasons Golfers Don’t Improve

  1. Most golfers don’t really understand the golf swing. You watch golf and you practice and you play, but you don’t really understand the dynamics of what is really happening at 100 mph during the golf swing. There are dozens of good books on the subject – my favorite is Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons – The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.” But pick any good one and READ IT. LEARN IT. It will help you immensely if you understand what the swing is really all about. Use a full length mirror to pose in key positions in the swing to match the drawings and photos. All the practice in the world will not help if you are not building a sound fundamental golf swing.
  2. Learning golf doesn’t start in the middle. A sound golf swing is built like a house. First the foundation, then the framing, roof, exterior walls, interior, paint, and trim. You can’t do one before the other. In golf, it all starts with the grip. If you do not hold the club properly, you’ll never accomplish a sound golf swing. Then you learn good posture and setup. If you don’t start in a good position, the body can’t perform the swing motion properly. With a good grip and a sound setup posture, I believe anyone can learn a functional golf swing pretty easily. But if those two foundations are not sound, the walls and roof will never be reliable.
  3. Most bad shots are ordained before the swing ever begins. I am rarely surprised by a bad shot, or a good one, actually. The golf swing is not a very forgiving thing. If you are too close to the ball or too far, if it’s too far forward or backward, if you are aligned right or left of your intended line, your chances of success are diminished quickly and significantly. The ball is 1.68 inches in diameter, and the functional striking area on a golf club is about 1.5-inches wide. If you vary in your setup by even 3/4 inch, you have imposed a serious obstacle to success. If you do nothing else to improve your golf game, learn how to set up the same way every time.
  4. Learn to “swing” the club, not “hit” the ball. This sounds simple, but the golf swing is not a hitting action: it’s a swinging action. The baseball hitter is just that, because the ball is in a different place every time – high, low, inside, outside, curve. He has to rely on quick eye-hand coordination. In contrast, the golf swing is just that – a swing of the club. You have total control over where the ball is going to be so that you can be quite precise in the relationship between your body and the ball and the target line. You can swing when you want to at the pace you find comfortable. And you can take your time to make sure the ball will be precisely in the way of that swing.

Learning the golf swing doesn’t require a driving range at all. In fact, your backyard presents a much better learning environment because the ball is not in the way to give you false feedback. Your goal is only the swing itself.

Understand that you can make a great swing, and often do, but the shot doesn’t work out because it was in the wrong place, maybe by only 1/4 inch or so. Take time to learn and practice your swing, focusing on a good top-of-backswing position and a sound rotating release through impact. Learn the proper body turn and weight shift. Slow-motion is your friend. So is “posing” and repeating segments of the swing to really learn them. Learn the swing at home, refine your ball striking on the range and play golf on the course!

So, there you have my four reasons golfers don’t get better. We all have our own little “personalization” in our golf swing, but these sound fundamentals apply to everyone who’s ever tried to move a little white ball a quarter-mile into a four-inch hole. Working on these basics will make that task much easier!

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