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Looking for a golf instructor? Use this checklist

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Over the last couple of decades, golf has become more scientific. We measure swing speed, smash factor, angle of attack, strokes gained and many other metrics that can really help golfers improve. But I often wonder if the advancement of golf’s ‘hard’ sciences come at the expense of the ‘soft’ sciences.

Take, for example, golf instruction. Good golf instruction requires understanding swing mechanics and ball flight. But let’s take that as a given for PGA instructors.

The other factors that make an instructor effective can be evaluated by social science rather than launch monitors. So, if you are a recreational golfer looking for a golf instructor, here are my top three points to consider.

1. Cultural Mindset

What is cultural mindset? To social scientists, it means whether a culture of genius or a culture of learning exists. In a golf instruction context, that may mean whether the teacher communicates a message that golf ability is something innate (you either have it or you don’t) or whether golf ability is something that can be learned. You want the latter!

It may sound obvious to suggest that you find a golf instructor who thinks you can improve, but my research suggests that it isn’t a given. In a large sample study of golf instructors, I found that when it came to recreational golfers, there was a wide range of belief systems. Some instructors strongly believed recreational golfers could improve through lessons, while others strongly believed they could not. And those beliefs manifested in the instructor’s feedback given and the culture created for players.

2. Coping-and Self-Modeling can beat Role-Modeling

Swing analysis technology is often preloaded with swings of PGA and LPGA tour players. The swings of elite players are intended to be used for comparative purposes with golfers taking lessons. What social science tells us is that for novice and non-expert golfers, comparing swings to tour professionals can have the opposite effect of that intended.

If you fit into the novice or non-expert category of golfer, you will learn more and be more motivated to change if you see yourself making a ‘better’ swing (self-modeling) or seeing your swing compared to a similar other (a coping model). Stay away from instructors who want to compare your swing with that of a tour player.

3. Learning Theory Basics

It is not a sexy selling point, but learning is a process, and that process is incremental – particularly for recreational adult players. Social science helps us understand this element of golf instruction. A good instructor will take learning slowly. He or she will give you just about enough information that challenges you but is manageable. The artful instructor will take time to decide what that one or two learning points are before jumping in to make swing changes. If the instructor moves too fast, you will probably leave the lesson with an arms-length of swing thoughts and not really know which to focus on.

As an instructor, I develop a priority list of changes I want to make in a players technique. We then patiently and gradually work through that list. Beware of instructors who give you more than you can chew. So if you are in the market for golf instruction, I encourage you to look beyond the X’s and O’s to find the right match.

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Sue Shapcott, PhD, PGA GB&I is the owner of Change Golf Instruction.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Andy

    Nov 11, 2021 at 8:27 am

    Wow, you couldn’t have made this more esoteric if you tried.

    • Evan

      Nov 15, 2021 at 8:57 am

      I think the gist of it is- most of my fellow PGA pros are fairly clueless and not as smart as me, stay away from them and come to me instead.

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Instruction

Clement: Find big power in the flying elbow!

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Matt Wolff, Bubba Watson, Jack Nicklaus, and so many more have been criticized for their golf swings and the flying elbow has been a subject of those criticisms.

When you watch a baseball hitter, a baseball pitcher, a tennis player, a lumberjack and so many more sports and disciplines, you realize they were all good to go all along!

This video will hopefully nudge you to experience this power for yourself too!

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Clement: Smash your fairway woods!

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This video is chock full of fairway wood wisdom that will allow you to understand several things including why a low spinning 5-wood would go much farther and what to focus on feel wise and sound wise with the SOLE of the club through the turf and ground. At least four solid nuggets throughout this video that will be sure to sharpen your fairway woods and hybrids!

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The Wedge Guy: Chipping away strokes

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I’ve always admired golfers who can really chip the ball well. Through my years in golf, I have seen players of all handicaps who are excellent chippers, and all tour professionals are masters of chipping it close. But for such a simple little stroke and challenge, chipping seems to be a part of the game that eludes many of us.

A good short game just cannot be achieved without a commitment to both learning and practicing. In watching the best chippers, it seems that their technique or chipping “stroke” is very similar to their putting stroke in style, form and pace. I think that’s because both chipping and putting are primarily “feel” shots. Yes, technique is important, but I’ve seen good chippers with all kinds of form and fundamentals.

This brings to mind two of my golf buddies who are both good chippers of the ball while employing totally different styles, but each one closely resembles their individual putting style. One uses a more stiff-wristed technique and quicker pace and tempo — just like his putting. The other, who is a doctor with a delicate touch, uses a more rhythmical pace not dissimilar from his syrupy smooth putting stroke.

Now let’s talk about techniques.

I personally prefer to use two different chipping techniques, depending on the chip I am facing. If I simply have to carry a few feet of collar and then get the ball rolling, I’ll choose a mid-iron or short iron, depending on the balance of carry and roll, and grip down on the club so that I can essentially “putt” the ball with the club I’ve chosen.

In employing this technique, however, realize that the club you are “putting” with weighs much less than your putter, so you want to grip the club much lighter to make the club feel heavier. It takes just a little practice to see what different clubs will do with this putt/chip technique.

On chips where the ball has to be carried more than just a few feet, I prefer a chipping technique that is more like a short pitching swing. I position the ball back of center of my stance to ensure clean contact and set up more like a short pitch shot. I usually hit this kind of chip with one of my wedges, depending on the balance of carry and roll needed to get the ball to the hole.

On that note, I read the green and pick an exact spot where I want the ball to land, and from there until impact, I forget the hole location and focus my “aim” on that spot. Your eyes guide your swing speed on chips and short pitch shots, and if you return your eyes to the hole, you are “programming” your body to fly the ball to the hole.

So, while sizing up the shot, I find a very distinct spot on the green where I think the ball needs to land to roll out with the club/trajectory I envision. From that point on, my complete focus is on that spot, NOT the hole. That loads my brain with the input it needs to tap into my eye/hand coordination. I think many golfers chip long too often because they focus on the hole, rather than where the shot needs to land, so their “wiring” imparts too much power. Just my thinking there.

One of my favorite drills for practicing chipping like this is to take a bucket/bag of balls to the end of the range where no one is hitting, and practice chipping to different spots – divots, pieces of turf, etc. – at various ranges, from 2-3 feet out to 20-30. I do this with different wedges and practice achieving different trajectories, just to load my memory banks with the feel of hitting to a spot with different clubs. Then, when I face a chip on the course, I’m prepared.

I’m totally convinced the majority of recreational golfers can make the quickest and biggest improvement in our scoring if we will just dedicate the time to learn good chipping technique and to practicing that technique with a purpose.

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