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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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Clement: How to stay with your golf shots and stop swaying

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Nothing better than being able to stay with your golf shots and create some powerful leverage to apply some compression through your golf shots like smashing through a door with a battering ram! Get a GOLF SWING WITH LAG, POWER AND SPEED!

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Shawn Clement analyzes Tiger and Charlie Woods’ new golf swings

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Man, I am SO IMPRESSED with the progress and polish Charlie Woods has made with his golf swing in the last year; and boy it’s nice to see Tiger swinging and playing golf! Charlie still has the strong grip but a bit more tempered which allows him to stay more connected to the ground and streamline the efficiency in his golf swing and never taking away his ability to find his targets! Check it out!!

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The Wedge Guy: Learning at home

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I feel blessed to have spent my life in South Texas, where we have the luxury of playing golf year-round. Sure, we have some bad winter weather, but it usually only lasts a few days, then it’s back to the course, maybe with a light sweater or windbreaker . . . but oftentimes in shorts, even in December-February. One of the first things I had to learn when I got into the golf industry 40 years ago, was that so many of you have genuine seasonality to your golf – and actually “hang ‘em up” for months on end.

If you are one of those, or just any golfer who wants to get better in 2022, the great thing about this game is you can work on many improvements without even getting the golf ball involved. So, here are some ideas how you can improve your golf game indoors.

I have made it a life’s work to observe golfers of all skill levels to see what they do that either helps them hit quality golf shots with reliability . . . or what they do that practically makes it near impossible to do so. To me, what separates the better players from those that struggle are several core fundamentals – some have them down pretty darn tight, while others just do not seem to grasp them.

I’ve long believed that you can learn and ingrain these core fundamentals in the comfort of your own home, without even swinging a club. So, with that in mind, let me offer you some thoughts that might help you shrink that handicap, regardless of what it might be.

Learn a proper grip. I see so many recreational golfers who just do not hold the club in such a way that allows proper rotation and release of the hands through impact. The great golfers before us pretty much nailed that part of the process very early in their own learning curves and have shared that with us for decades. While you might prefer an overlap, interlock or ten-finger (not baseball) grip on the club, the fundamentals do not change much from one to the other. The club has to be held in the fingers, not the palms, in order for it to move properly through the swing. It really is that simple. Learn a proper grip and make it instinctive and you are taking a giant step to better golf. There are lots of good guides to a proper grip that can be found online, and even some great training grips that guide you to the correct hold on the club.

Build a proper setup. Again, anyone can learn how to put themselves in an athletic position that gives the body a solid starting point for the golf swing. There is no reason at all for anyone to ignore this solid fundamental. Watch the tour players – PGA and LPGA alike, and you will see very little “personalization” of this preparation for the golf swing. They all look almost identical – save for differences in height and weight – at the start of the golf swing. Again, refer to the internet and photos in magazines to see how the body should be positioned to set up a sound, fundamentally solid swing.
Understand the roles of the body and arms. From my observation, the vast majority of recreational golfers control the entire golf swing with the hands and arms, rather than the body core. That’s only “natural”, because you have a ball sitting there in front of you, and a club in your hands with which to hit it . . . makes sense to fully engage your master hand . . . but that isn’t what golf is about. Golf is about learning a powerful repeating swing, then learning how to set yourself up in such a way that the ball will be precisely in the way of the clubhead as you execute that swing.

I strongly suggest you watch and study slow-motion swing videos of accomplished tour professionals. These will show you what is fundamentally correct. From the start of the downswing, the sequence of body core rotation releases power from the legs to the hips to the core and shoulders, and the arms, hands and golf club are the “followers”, getting to the ball last.
The easiest way to learn the proper rotation of the body core in the golf swing is to cross your arms in front of you, holding a club against your chest. Feet shoulder width apart for balance. Now, rotate your body into the “backswing” until your shoulders are rotated as far as is comfortable, and you feel your weight moving to the inside of your back foot. Then rotate back to your left (for right hand players), starting with the knees/legs, then hips, then shoulders until you feel your weight move to the outside of your lead (left) foot. Do this rotation drill over and over and over until you really “nail it” without thinking about it. As you do, then tilt your upper body so that the club points downward with the shoulder tilt.

As you learn this feel of the body core being the driver and the arms/hands/club being the follower, you will make giant strides toward building a much better and more powerful golf swing.

There’s just no way I can give “lessons” in this blog, but I hope this made lots of sense to all of you. The more “perfect” you can make your grip, posture, and body core rotation, the more power and precision you will build into your golf swing.

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