In teaching golfers on a daily basis over my time as an instructor, I see many people who are frustrated with the game and want to get better. They get sick of hitting the ball badly and scoring even worse, and simply have had enough. So their way of “throwing up the white flag” is to come see me in order to find a solution. It’s in this critical first visit that I need to get some real answers as to what kind of commitment they are truly going to give to improving. As a fellow golf professional and I were discussing recently, saying “I want to get better” is much different than actually being willing to do what is really necessary to make it happen. Wanting to be better is a great step, but only the first one.
When someone is explaining to me what they struggle with in their game, I will certainly try and ask questions to really dig in deep. Perhaps the biggest one is finding out how much time they REALLY can dedicate to the task of making adjustments to their swing. This is so critical because it will definitely make a difference in how I approach the lessons as their coach, which will in turn have a major influence on our success together. Students really need to be honest here; they often view the question of how much they will practice much like they view going to the dentist. They hate to be asked how much they have been brushing or flossing, and they rarely want to be honest for fear of being judged. But remember that your coach is also a person too, a person that has home, family, and financial obligations just like you do, so they will certainly understand if you tell them you just don’t practice much because you are busy.
If the person in front of me says that they just can’t practice much or maybe can get to the range once a week outside of playing a round of golf, then I will approach things in a different manner. I’ll first try and find the major flaw in their swing that is really causing issues; not to say I wouldn’t do this with everyone, but I may tweak another issue too if I have the luxury of extra practice time. But for the busy person who just can’t get there, we go with the simplest approach first. Then, once I have assessed them with a few different clubs and recorded some video and shots on TrackMan radar, I will begin to formulate the plan on how to improve. This plan may involve a feel in their swing based on an exaggeration that is the opposite of what they normally do, so that we can have their mind “paint a picture” rather than feel as if they are working on multiple moves that add up to a whole swing. This kind of “piece by piece” method typically doesn’t hold up on the golf course, and since golf course time is the vast majority of their golfing life, I need to give them something that can make an impact. As an example, if a student hits a terrible slice and needs help fixing it without a lot of practice time, I will give them a feel and an image for swinging the club in a way different direction in their practice swings so that they have a sensation of what to do when they step up to the ball. I’m also an optimist, so I’ll also give them a practice plan for the range should they be able to get there, and maybe a few moves they can do in a mirror at home or at the office between meetings. This method of coaching definitely can make a student better. It may require “tune-ups” more often if they lose the feel, but it can really help them feel better about their game.
On the flip side, if I have someone in front of me who can practice a lot, we may go a slightly different route. In this instance, the assessment part doesn’t change, as I always want a baseline to start from with each student. But the difference is that we may hit more small shots with short clubs to work on a movement, and also use drills in the lesson to get them to feel a change in a shorter swing, and then work up to a fuller motion. This is always my preferred method of instruction, as I believe smaller success creates steps up to bigger success. But again, it all depends on practice time available. Since this student can get to the range and work hard on it I will create a detailed plan of attack for them so that they know exactly how to practice at the range, right down to the number of shots I want them to hit with each particular drill. I would still give them a feel to have on the golf course so that they can enjoy playing, but in this case I get luxury of time and dedication so that we can really ingrain the improved mechanics in the swing. While I like commitment to long term programs and seeing students more often, this type of person may get a little more time between lessons since they have been given a detailed plan on what to do in practice.
Regardless of whether you are Average Joe who can’t practice much, or Johnny Rangeball who likes to spend time at the range, my commitment to you doesn’t change. We still communicate through video, email, and even text to stay on top of things and create a partnership. But if we want that partnership to last and flourish, be sure that I know the real truth on how much you can practice so that I can coach the way that YOU need to make the leap into better golf.