My son John recently came to me for advice on teaching while he rehabs after back surgery, and it got me thinking about the state of instruction.
One good thing about getting older? I’ve now seen every “new secret” and “magic method” that’s come down the pike. When I started teaching in the 1970s, we had nothing but the club, the ball and our eyes to diagnose swing flaws. Eventually, video came along, and then high-definition/high-speed video. Now we have launch monitors like TrackMan.
Technology was supposed to solve all our problems. It hasn’t. Golfers still hit shanks. The average handicap (in the high teens) hasn’t budged in decades. Sure, technological developments help teachers, but they’re merely tools to aid students. They don’t fix every flaw. With that in mind, here are the three rules of teaching that I shared with my son. I feel they stand the test of time.
Rule No. 1: It’s about the student, not the teacher.
Instructors must check their ego at the clubhouse door and do what’s necessary to get you, the student, playing better. They don’t need to show you how knowledgeable they are. They need to show you something that works. And success is the best motivator. If you’re not a range rat, a quick tip might do the trick. If you love to practice, an improvement program is probably better for you. Either way, your teacher should make your goals the priority.
Rule No. 2: Teachers should know the swing in its utter complexity to teach you with utter simplicity.
Only with a total understanding of the swing can a teacher identify the root cause of poor shots. Seeing a swing flaw is easy. Seeing what’s causing that flaw is hard. Anyone can tell you what you’re doing wrong. Fewer can tell you what to do right and how to do it right. Getting to the root cause often fixes multiple problems. Let’s say you’re swinging too far around your body, then raising the club over your head, cutting across the ball and hitting slices. Your takeaway, downswing, and impact are all flawed. Rather than scribbling lines on the video screen, or spitting out impact numbers to confirm what’s wrong, a good teacher might notice that the root cause is, say, a weak grip. A small grip tweak could cure all those problems. Your teacher must understand complexity to teach you with simplicity.
Rule No. 3: Teachers must never stop learning.
Listen up, instructors: Don’t ever think you know it all, because you don’t. Keeping up with trends is fine, but don’t be seduced by every new method. Video and launch monitors should never replace your most important tool: your eyes. I know teachers who rely so much on video that they can no longer see what’s happening in a real-time swing. Real-time is when you see if the lessons are working.
My teaching motto? “There’s no one swing for everybody, but everybody needs one swing.” A good teacher constructs a swing that fits the student’s ability and ambitions. It was true four decades ago when I began teaching, and it will be true four decades from now.