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The 7 different golf instructors you’ll meet on the range

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The best way to improve at golf is to take lessons and practice hard, but selecting the right teacher, while often a difficult task, is crucial to finding success.

Every teacher has a different skill set and personality, much like every student, and sometimes students and teachers just aren’t compatible. As an instructor myself, I’ve examined my own teaching and the teaching of my peers, and I’ve found that most golf instructors are one of 7 types.

Of course, it’s difficult to know exactly which type of coach an instructor is before you actually take a lesson from him or her. The best advice I can give is to make sure you take the time to have a chat with a new instructor before your first lesson. It will help better understand his or her beliefs and personality before moving forward with a swing change.

Now, let’s get to the 7 types of golf instructors, and which ones you should seek (and avoid).

The Analytical Teacher

Analytical teachers use technologies (think Trackman and BodiTrak) as their main tools to get a message across. For them, using these systems is important to helping the student understand their own motions throughout the swing. Familiar terms to this teacher’s students are planes, pivot, impact alignments, etc., and these teachers excel with players who need logical answers to their swing questions, rather than visuals and feels.

Usually, analytical teachers are best for intermediate-to-advanced players, as they tend to move quickly through the basics. Remember that a teacher’s job is to inform and explain to you the what’s and why’s of your swing, not to impress you with what they know… although you do want them to know a lot.

The Feel Teacher

Feel teachers speak in terms of sensations and the reactions to biomechanical motions that produce effective golf swings. They tend to focus on the effects of swing flaws, not the flaws themselves, and they are great for players who are very sensation-orientated.

Students of a feel teacher may complain about a vague explanation when “just feel this” isn’t working. Feel teachers have to rely on what they have felt in their own swings, or what they have been told it feels like to work on certain motions. Some don’t have all the technical answers, but they can get you started on the right track to feeling what it is you need to feel in order to improve.

The Psychological Teacher

As Harvey Penick once said, “Take a pill, but don’t take the whole bottle.” Penick, in fact, is a psychological teacher to the core.

Psychological teachers tend to focus on introspective techniques, allowing students to figure out what needs to be done. And sometimes, their students don’t make progress until after they walk back into the shop. It can take awhile for their lessons to digest.

These teachers tend to be “old-school” players of the game. Sadly, we have all but lost this type of teaching style due to advances in video and computers. Books such as The Inner Game of Golf by Tim Galloway, or the many books from authors like Bob Rotella and Richard Coop all have ideas for improving your current game by simply using your mind more effectively. Easier said than done, of course.

The Model Swing Teacher

Fitting golfers into a swing model works great for some golfers, but can hinder the improvement of others. If you go to a model teacher and you have a similar swing to the model, or a similar body style to what the model strives for, then you’re in the right place. For the player who likes and agrees with the model taught — and who has the physical ability to move as their teacher’s system requires — there is no better kind of teacher in the world. People who agree with position-based golf instruction should go to this type of teacher from day one.

If, however, the system requires a wealth of strength and flexibility, and you can’t touch your toes and haven’t seen a gym in years, going with that model may put your game, or even health, in serious risk.

The Flavor of the Month Teacher 

A flavor-of-the-month teacher focuses on teaching the most popular trends on Tour. If Tiger is holding his hips to the top, then so do all this teacher’s students, regardless of their normal hip motions or swing flaws. This teacher is very close to the Model Swing teacher, but his “model” changes frequently.

Be careful of this teacher. To achieve long-term improvement, there must be a logical path to follow, and the direction of your swing change should remain consistent for the most part. It’s important to follow progressions and adapt to body/swing changes, but changing your swing based on “what’s hot” is a sure way to struggle short term and long term.

The “What They Do” Teacher

Most beginning teachers teach golfers what they do in their swing, since that’s what they understand best. Jack Nicklaus said in his famous book, Golf My Way, that his teachings in the book reflected how HE played the game, and what he did may not be best for others.

As these kinds of teachers mature, they usually become more and more like a swing model teacher since they already have their own model in mind. Once again, if they teach a move that you tend to do naturally, then you are in good shape. But be careful, because this teacher’s understanding of the game is limited to their experience. You may run into a wall at some point in your learning process.

The Part-Time Teacher

The part-time teacher is the guy at your local range or course who hits balls all the time. He’s read all the books and taken lessons for years, but he does not necessarily understand most of what he’s read — he simply regurgitates information. This person tends to be a low-to-mid handicapper who knows a few instructional catch phrases and tries to apply them to everyone’s swing.

You should steer away from this type of instruction advice in most any circumstance. There’s probably a reason he or she is not a professional, right? Would you invest your life savings with someone who only worked in investment strategies part time? This is not to say that part-time golf instructors can’t help you, but usually they are giving tips based on results from previous swing flaws they had or have themselves. Save your time and effort for the true professionals who are fully committed to their craft.

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Tom F. Stickney II, is a specialist in Biomechanics for Golf, Physiology, and 3d Motion Analysis. He has a degree in Exercise and Fitness and has been a Director of Instruction for almost 30 years at resorts and clubs such as- The Four Seasons Punta Mita, BIGHORN Golf Club, The Club at Cordillera, The Promontory Club, and the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. His past and present instructional awards include the following: Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, Golf Digest Top 50 International Instructor, Golf Tips Top 25 Instructor, Best in State (Florida, Colorado, and California,) Top 20 Teachers Under 40, Best Young Teachers and many more. Tom is a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 25 people in the world. Tom is TPI Certified- Level 1, Golf Level 2, Level 2- Power, and Level 2- Fitness and believes that you cannot reach your maximum potential as a player with out some focus on your physiology. You can reach him at [email protected] and he welcomes any questions you may have.

30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Pingback: How To Fix Your Golf Swing – The Annika Academy

  2. alan reid

    Jun 30, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    golf takes a lot of skill and precison to master. Some coaches have different methods of teaching, some are effective but none compare to http://www.golfcoachtoronto.ca if you are in the Toronto area and need lesson check these guys out.

  3. Pingback: 7 Different Teaching Styles – Which golf instructor is right for you? – GSM Temp

  4. Andy

    Nov 10, 2016 at 11:17 am

    What a load of BS. If I presented to you a list of instructional quotes from both qualified teaching professionals and the “part time” non professionals you would be surprised which came from which.

  5. Jim

    Nov 9, 2016 at 3:19 pm

    None of whom are as dangerous and arrogant as the anonymous unaccredited self proclaimed geniuses in the ‘instruction’ forum who badger new members for “asking something wrong”, trash other comments – without explaining why they think they were wrong – OR even adding anything constructive to the thread. The folks at the range, good/bad have to look you in the eye, tell you they’re CV and NAME, and are at least out there in real world, not
    hiding in the darkweb as the lords of overcomplicated golf instruction poison

  6. Jalan

    Nov 7, 2016 at 9:36 am

    I work with a “Model Swing Teacher”. I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is no ‘Flavor of the Month” in his methods. His method has been to correct or replace one fault at a time, working on it until I have it ingrained before adding or changing anything else.

    I might add: one of his students was the USGA 2015 Mid Amateur Champion.

  7. Bob Pegram

    Nov 5, 2016 at 6:08 am

    The same is true with clubs. Sometimes what seems logical isn’t always the best way to improve. I am more accurate and more comfortable with longer clubs – the opposite of what most pros teach.

    Scott said it best. All that matters is what affects impact.

  8. Mad-Mex

    Nov 5, 2016 at 12:22 am

    Actually there is only 2, good ones and bad ones,,,,,,,, up to you to figure it out,,,,,,,,

  9. Grizz01

    Nov 4, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    Best way to get better is to go out, hit some balls and figure it out for yourself. You need a lesson from time to time, fine just go back and get the basics covered as reminder. Today there is a coach for everything and even shrinks. The greatest players the game ever produced had an old instructor they’d go back to… on occasion to get the basics back down. [excluding Tiger… who is so screwed up… gee I wonder why?]

    Just go out and hit the ball. Industry has made this more difficult and less fun than it used be. Why? Follow the money.

  10. Sam

    Nov 4, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    Went to a model swing teacher once screwed my game up ….was showing me swings of Ernie Els on comparison with mine.When I told him yea but there are other ways to swing the club he got a little irritated and said I didnt have the talent to swing different and play well.Money wasted.Time wasted.Lesson learnt.

  11. Par4

    Nov 4, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    Which one are you???

    • Tom Stickney

      Nov 4, 2016 at 5:26 pm

      Started as a do what I do when I first started, evolved into a model swing guy until the last 1/2 of my career as an analytical teacher trying to convert it into feels now. I’m always trying to get better…

  12. knoofah

    Nov 4, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    Entertaining and somewhat educational. Can’t talk about fixing the slice every week, I guess.

  13. The dude

    Nov 4, 2016 at 6:43 am

    How about the teacher that wants to rebuild your swing when you just told him you play once a week… Always been a firm believer that changing the setup is the only way to go (for 99% of us). A lot of unrealistic changes are being taught when searching for swing “advice”.

  14. B Hock

    Nov 3, 2016 at 10:03 pm

    I was hoping this would be more comedic…

  15. Pingback: The 7 different golf instructors you’ll meet on the range – Swing Update

  16. Ron

    Nov 3, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    So, based on this, I get the feeling there are two types of legitimate teachers – Analytical, and Psychological, and the rest are charlatans and hacks. Or so it seems from the derogatory way the other teachers are characterized here. I’ve been successful in the past with a teacher who simply tried to get me to reliably, repeatably get the face to the ball squarely. He started with what I had, stripped away what was preventing good contact, and built from there. My swing isn’t tour-quality, but guess what? I’m not a tour player. He’s given me a repeatable swing I can use to enjoy the game.

    Can you ask any more from a coach?

    • tom stickney

      Nov 3, 2016 at 4:51 pm

      There is no teacher listed in my article that cannot help his or her students…the only question is to what level can they take you?

  17. Rimjob

    Nov 3, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    The best teacher is the part-time guy who has gone through experimenting with all the swings himself, and knows about how the Pro and PGA teachers try to milk little bits of information bit by bit so that the students have to keep coming back, because progress is dead slow with those Pros who are trying to make a living.
    And the part-time guy also knows what hard work and dedication to practice and hitting balls means results, and still enjoys hitting balls and playing in the odd tournaments himself, unlike those other Pros who are has-beens, most of whom don’t even want to play or hit balls any more.

    • Rob

      Nov 4, 2016 at 4:28 pm

      Well put…said no one ever. Someone seems a little bitter? Seems like someone who didn’t really make it in the golf world….

    • Brian K

      Nov 6, 2016 at 4:30 am

      I fully agree on this. Best teacher is the part time guy for most of average golfer. I have seen so many times “PGA coach” teach very little by little on every lesson.

  18. Scott

    Nov 3, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    Before I read this I had a few in mind and you hit all of them. I’ve been to the Model Swing, the “What they do”, the feel and the analytical. In the end I grabbed a bit of knowledge from each but found the analytical approach worked best for me. It was less about positions and more about the moment of impact.

  19. Christosterone

    Nov 3, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    Great article….

    My only teacher I ever had was a VHS player…

    So it began with Bobby Jones “how I play golf” and “how to break 90″…
    Later I got my hands on range sessions of Jones acolyte Nicklaus…then Nicklaus acolytes Johnny Miller and Colin Montgomerie(thank u BBC)…

    Needless to say I still worship at the altar of Jack, Johnny and Colin and will swing as they did in perpetuity….a reverse c born of tempo and timing with very little stress on the body(contrary to the bad back propoganda of the 80s and 90s)

    No need for instructors…amazon sells the Bobby Jones set and YouTube has the rest though my Monty collection is without parallel in the Americas I would guess…and Miller as well

    Long live Robert Streb…the best facsimile of Monty on planet earth!!!

    -Chris

  20. dennis clark

    Nov 3, 2016 at 9:01 am

    spot on Tom…

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Clement: Weak grips are injuries in the making for many golfers

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The crazy things golfers do to square the face!

Like Jordan Spieth, trying to go to a bowed wrist at the top or in the downswing to square the club is placing you in a dangerous position for your lead wrist; you are one tree root or deep rough situation away from a nasty injury that could easily require surgery. Don’t let this be you.

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Clement: Laid-off or perfect fade? Across-the-line or perfect draw?

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Some call the image on the left laid off, but if you are hitting a fade, this could be a perfect backswing for it! Same for across the line for a draw! Stop racking your brain with perceived mistakes and simply match backswing to shot shape!

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The Wedge Guy: The easiest-to-learn golf basic

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My golf learning began with this simple fact – if you don’t have a fundamentally sound hold on the golf club, it is practically impossible for your body to execute a fundamentally sound golf swing. I’m still a big believer that the golf swing is much easier to execute if you begin with the proper hold on the club.

As you might imagine, I come into contact with hundreds of golfers of all skill levels. And it is very rare to see a good player with a bad hold on the golf club. There are some exceptions, for sure, but they are very few and very far between, and they typically have beat so many balls with their poor grip that they’ve found a way to work around it.

The reality of biophysics is that the body moves only in certain ways – and the particulars of the way you hold the golf club can totally prevent a sound swing motion that allows the club to release properly through the impact zone. The wonderful thing is that anyone can learn how to put a fundamentally sound hold on the golf club, and you can practice it anywhere your hands are not otherwise engaged, like watching TV or just sitting and relaxing.

Whether you prefer an overlap, interlock or full-finger (not baseball!) grip on the club, the same fundamentals apply.  Here are the major grip faults I see most often, in the order of the frequency:

Mis-aligned hands

By this I mean that the palms of the two hands are not parallel to each other. Too many golfers have a weak left hand and strong right, or vice versa. The easiest way to learn how to hold the club with your palms aligned properly is to grip a plain wooden ruler or yardstick. It forces the hands to align properly and shows you how that feels. If you grip and re-grip a yardstick several times, then grip a club, you’ll see that the learning curve is almost immediate.

The position of the grip in the upper/left hand

I also observe many golfers who have the butt of the grip too far into the heel pad of the upper hand (the left hand for right-handed players). It’s amazing how much easier it is to release the club through the ball if even 1/4-1/2″ of the butt is beyond the left heel pad. Try this yourself to see what I mean.  Swing the club freely with just your left hand and notice the difference in its release from when you hold it at the end of the grip, versus gripping down even a half inch.

To help you really understand how this works, go to the range and hit shots with your five-iron gripped down a full inch to make the club the same length as your seven-iron. You will probably see an amazing shot shape difference, and likely not see as much distance loss as you would expect.

Too much lower (right) hand on the club

It seems like almost all golfers of 8-10 handicap or higher have the club too far into the palm of the lower hand, because that feels “good” if you are trying to control the path of the clubhead to the ball. But the golf swing is not an effort to hit at the ball – it is a swing of the club. The proper hold on the club has the grip underneath the pad at the base of the fingers. This will likely feel “weak” to you — like you cannot control the club like that. EXACTLY. You should not be trying to control the club with your lower/master hand.

Gripping too tightly

Nearly all golfers hold the club too tightly, which tenses up the forearms and prevents a proper release of the club through impact. In order for the club to move back and through properly, you must feel that the club is controlled by the last three fingers of the upper hand, and the middle two fingers of the lower hand. If you engage your thumbs and forefingers in “holding” the club, the result will almost always be a grip that is too tight. Try this for yourself. Hold the club in your upper hand only, and squeeze firmly with just the last three fingers, with the forefinger and thumb off the club entirely. You have good control, but your forearms are not tense. Then begin to squeeze down with your thumb and forefinger and observe the tensing of the entire forearm. This is the way we are made, so the key to preventing tenseness in the arms is to hold the club very lightly with the “pinchers” — the thumbs and forefingers.

So, those are what I believe are the four fundamentals of a good grip. Anyone can learn them in their home or office very quickly. There is no easier way to improve your ball striking consistency and add distance than giving more attention to the way you hold the golf club.

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