If you’re serious about improving your golf game,
don’t just think like a pro, learn from one.
The problem with golf is that there’s
always too much to think about. There you are, spending a perfect summer morning amidst rolling hills, majestic pine trees and gently flowing streams. But instead of basking in the splendor of it all, you’re calculating the wind, the distance and the angle of the terrain all while trying to figure out what went wrong on the last shot. And when you decide that the only way you’ll survive another season on the links is to improve dramatically well, you still have a lot to think about. That’s because your options for golf instruction vary widely, and even the top teaching professionals disagree about the best way to improve your game.
take a lesson and
go off to practice
they acquire bad
habits, and then
you have to undo
— Jay Ewing, founder—
and president of Arizona based
Bird Golf Schools
Homeschooling for Beginners
If you’re relatively new to golf, it’s a good idea to decide how you want to approach learning the subtle ins and outs of the game. You could, for instance, take regular lessons from a teaching pro at your country club. With this option, you learn proper techniqueduring your lesson and practice it on your own while you play. Then, at the next lesson, your instructor adds new wrinkles. Gradually, you improve. This approach is the most traditional way to learn and has the advantage of offering regular reinforcement of your lessons over time. You also get personal attention from a pro who knows you and can adjust the lessons to meet your needs as your game develops.
Immersing Yourself in the Game
The alternative is to travel to a vacation golf school and take individual or group lessons with a premier instructor. You spend several days immersed in golf, you advance rapidly, and then you return home and try to remember what you learned.
“When people take a lesson and go off to practice by themselves, they acquire bad habits, and then you have to undo things they do wrong,” says Jay Ewing, founder and president of Arizona-based Bird Golf Schools, which offers three- to five-day instruction packages at 17 locations in nine states, including California, Minnesota and Tennessee. In Bird’s top program, students receive six hours a day of individual instruction and even a psychological profile. “With that extended period of time with an instructor, students build [good] habits much more quickly.”
instructor, Butch Harmon,
has coached Tiger Woods,
Phil Mickelson and
Greg Norman. You, too,
could become his student.
However, while this total immersion into the game may help you advance quickly, some feel jumping right in to elite instruction might be overkill.
“It’s like getting your driver’s permit at a NASCAR racing school,” says Gary Wiren, senior director of instruction for all Trump Golf properties and a member of the PGA Hall of Fame and the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame. For beginners, he says, “It’s more vacation than golf. If your primary intent is to travel and have a learning experience with a big-name teacher and enjoy a five-star facility, great. That’s a lifetime memory, but it may not produce the best results for your game.”
Individualized Help for Intermediates
As your game evolves, so do your options. If you’ve mastered the basics and want to take your game to the next level, you can spend three days focusing on your nine-iron and pitching wedge at Bird Golf’s flagship location at Wild Horse Pass near Phoenix. There, $3,150 buys you 18 hours of one-on-one instruction with a member of a faculty that includes multiple former PGA and LPGA tour members.
America's Top 5 Golf Instructors
1. Butch Harmon — Henderson, Nev.
2. David Leadbetter — Lake Nona, Fla.
3. Hank Haney — Dallas, Texas
4. Jim McLean — Miami, Fla.
5. Jim Flick — Carlsbad, Calif.
Source: Golf Digest magazine, August 2007
Individualized instruction is more important as your game develops, because unless you have textbook form, the right suggestion for your game might not be a standard tip. “There are a lot of effective ways to swing a golf club, and a skilled teacher understands a lot of different styles and can match them with players,” says Ewing, the Bird Golf president. “There’s not one method that’s right for everybody.”
That’s also the logic that leads advanced players toward the very best teachers. The biggest names in golf instruction include Butch Harmon, who has coached Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman; and David Leadbetter, whose current and former pupils include Michelle Wie, Ernie Els and Nick Faldo.
Studying with a Superstar
Both Harmon and Leadbetter have golf schools that employ other faculty and lead vacation golf schools, but golfers hoping to work directly with either coach need their checkbooks ready. Three hours one-on-one with Leadbetter costs $3,500; a two-day group session in Las Vegas with Harmon runs $3,900. But for experienced golfers who’ve tried everything to get over the hump, the superstar coaches might have the answer.
A HINT FROM THE
SCHOOL OF GOLF:
When putting on a severe
downhill slope, guard against
hitting the ball too far past the
hole by pretending that it is
closer to you. The steeper the
slope, the closer you should
envision the hole.
“Butch [Harmon] doesn’t line everybody up and tell them they should hold the club the same way. He has the flexibility to look at individual golfers and help them work out flaws and find the right way for them to swing the club,” says Don Callahan, an instructor at the Harmon School.
Still, you might get the same advice from your local country club pro. For the same $3,900 cost as the two-day session with Harmon, members of Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., can take a half-hour lesson every week for a year with the club’s head pro, Craig Harmon, who is Butch’s brother and a former PGA Golf Professional of the Year. (For nonmembers, the cost is $6,500.) Rates for PGA-rated club pros range from less than $100 per hour to $200 and up for instructors approaching the stature of Butch Harmon and Leadbetter.
Learn More and Stress Less
Whether your golf aspirations include making a better showing with your neighborhood foursome or cracking the PGA TOUR, good instruction offers the rare opportunity to let someone else do the thinking for you on the golf course. And whether you head to a resort golf school or trust the instruction of your local pro, golf lessons will take some of the stress out of your game: next time you inexplicably miss a shot, you can blame your teacher.
For Women Only
Some golf schools like Bird Golf offer programs aimed exclusively at women in addition to their standard curricula. The idea is two-fold: first, the physiological differences between men and women can affect swing dynamics, and instructors who focus on female golfers are more attuned to those issues; second, some women are just more at ease working with a female instructor or alongside other women.
“It’s all about a comfort zone,” says Robyn Roberson, director of female instruction at the Direct Approach Golf School in Pawleys Island, S.C. “There can be an intimidation factor, especially for beginners. A lot of my beginning students are here with spouses who are serious golfers, and these women don’t want to be getting tips from their husbands while they’re learning.”
Roberson says her instruction for women most often varies from the way she teaches men when dealing with swing mechanics because of the difference in weight distribution between men and women. She’s also learned to recognize certain swing flaws or injury risks that are common among women. For instance, she might send a petite woman back to the pro shop to buy specially made petite clubs because standard-sized clubs, if they’re too long, can make it difficult to master good, consistent form.