The process of improving at golf, as I have outlined in this column many times, is sometimes a rocky road. I’m a big fan of a graphic I have seen where the picture depicts the student’s view how quickly they will get better, and then the actual vision of how it happens. In the student picture, their improvement is viewed as a straight line that gradually goes upward to golfing excellence; in reality the road to improvement ends up at the same place, but with many more peaks and valleys. If you want to be better at the game, you first have to understand how to get out of your own way.
Many students come to me with the greatest of intentions. They want to get better and they are willing to do “whatever it takes” to get there. But the reality of some of these meetings is that there are still those that believe there is a shortcut to playing better, and the first step on that shortcut is to throw money at the problem. Obviously I prefer them to spend the money on lessons over trying to buy the latest and greatest golf club out there as a way to “fix” things. But students still need to understand that I am going to be honest about what it takes to get to their goals, even if it isn’t something they want to hear.
The first step is a question: how much time do you have to practice? The answers I get typically vary, but for the most part I get the sense that practicing golf, for some of my students, is like working out at the gym. The time is there if they prioritize for it, but often times the excuses made to avoid the experience come from everywhere and cover the spectrum. So you have to ask yourself how bad you want to get better, because golf isn’t going to give it to you. But as a coach, I also want them to understand that while work is involved, the reward is worth it to be at another level. I certainly don’t spend my time telling them the reasons it will be tough; I cover it and move on to positive reinforcement and talk constantly about how they will look back on this first step in the journey and smile with satisfaction. A good coach is a realist, but also is great at pumping you up and giving you hope, even in golf.
The next part to reaching your goals is to get out of your own way. I have had many lessons that went great, with the student hitting it better and feeling like there is really a light at the end of the tunnel. Then, in the next lesson, they look lost and don’t seem to have a feel for what was working before in the previous lesson. In this moment I will often dig deeper and ask more questions, and the answers sometimes will solve the issue. Many times these students don’t exercise patience with the process, and will hit a few bad shots in practice. This is a critical moment in your journey, as you need to focus and go back over what we as a team worked on in the last lesson. Unfortunately, many students panic and begin to search and try different things out in practice. Sometimes this will work in the short-term to help them and they will hit it better, but it never lasts and often gets them lost down a dark alley in the game of golf. My feeling is that I am always looking to give them some short-term results, while maintaining my long-term focus. So students who are not patient will typically get in their own way and trouble ensues, which will lead to a step back in the process.
Remember that while you are paying me to help you get better as the professional teacher, it’s okay to ask questions and make me do my work as well. If you take a lesson from someone and they can’t really answer the “why” of what they are trying to get you to do, that’s a big problem. The first rule of teaching is “do no harm”, so when I make a move with a student I am thinking it out a few steps ahead, trying to be sure the impact long-term is worth the short-term discomfort. So put your trust in your coach, but don’t be afraid to question something for your own knowledge so that you can understand it better. If they answer the “why” then they have thought it out most likely and now you need to buy in and show trust and commitment.
So if you want to get to a level of golf you never thought you could, come out for a lesson. But understand that you will need to be a part of a partnership that exchanges information freely and questions the other side once in a while. This give and take will lead to a much better relationship that will lead to better results. I promise you that the process is really rewarding and fun in the end. Now just make sure you get out of your own way.