Recently I have had the pleasure of helping quite a few people pick up a golf club for the first time. It’s a daunting task for many of them because they are getting into something that they have never done before, and we all know how the “fear of the unknown” can get a grip on us. Plus, no one wants to be bad at something or feel as if they look foolish – and those of us who play and teach the game know how golf can make you look foolish RIGHT NOW. But I enjoy these lessons because as an instructor you are working with a clean slate – no bad habits to speak of, no preconceived notions about how to swing, and generally someone who is going to give you full control to help them learn.
As an instructor, I would advise anyone who is looking to pick up the game to follow a few guidelines that I believe will lead to better golf and a lifetime of enjoyment.
First, finding an instructor who is patient and encouraging is tremendously important. You need someone who has taught many novice golfers, and who has a track record for getting them better and being supportive. Nothing can stop your improvement before it ever gets started more than taking “lessons” or getting advice from a friend, co-worker, or family member. They all mean well – but they don’t know what they are doing. Would you go to a friend for a physical issue? No, you would go to a doctor who has the degree and experience to make a correct diagnosis. Do the same when you pick an instructor and find a PGA or LPGA Professional in the area and do some homework on them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of them in your initial contact with them and get a feel for their beliefs and level of commitment. Taking up golf is a great choice, but can be ruined by someone who won’t work with you on your level and help you with a plan for improvement.
Second, once you have finally picked your instructor, understand that steady wins the race. My philosophy, coined by many instructors but often by Jim McLean, is a building block approach to golf. I am going to take it nice and easy and teach basic fundamentals first, then we will swing a club. My belief is that you need to set up to the ball and look like a good player first before you swing the club – then we can work on the rest. Once we reach our objective of a great set up, we will go into the swing with some very small swings, teaching you motion and contact. This is where new golfers can get a bit frustrated… Why can’t I start swinging for the fences like the guys on TV? Simply put, trying to make a full swing right off the bat if you have never swung before is like jumping on a bike for the first time without training wheels. Better have a helmet on, because a crash is sure to happen. Golf is best learned in gradual steps, not in leaps and bounds. It’s my job during this time to be encouraging and help guide you through the process and let you know that you are 1) doing great and 2) going to get better. Our relationship as a teacher and a student will never be tested more than during this initial stage.
Finally, and this is a big one, you need to stick to the plan. A good instructor will give you some basic information early on in your learning process, and that will include swing issues and practice drills. Hopefully, he or she will be keeping it simple for you. Then it is your job to do a couple of things. First – ask questions, and I mean lots of them. I go out of my way to tell students that they can ask me questions and that they shouldn’t feel dumb asking them; this is where that fear of looking foolish comes in and has to be stomped out immediately. Next, you need to practice. Let me type that again – YOU NEED TO PRACTICE. I’ll tell you a little secret about instructors like me: nothing is more discouraging than having a great lesson with a student, then having them struggle during the next lesson, only to find out it has been 2 weeks since our last lesson and they didn’t touch a club in between. Obviously, life gets in the way, but if you can’t practice regularly then let your instructor know. This may change his/her plan of attack with you and it may be necessary to conduct lessons more regularly as a part of a learning and supervised practice situation so that you can continue to improve.
One last thing here: enjoy the journey and go easy on yourself. Golf is hard. Trust me, it really is difficult. But it is also a great game and can be enjoyed by all ages, all genders, for a lifetime. Learn as much as you can, practice as much as you can, forgive yourself if you hit a bad shot, and laugh at them occasionally too. You will be shocked at how this steady approach pays off in the form of good golf, more enjoyment…oh, and a happy instructor too.