We caught up with Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Mike Bender to talk about the biggest differences between Tour stars and recreational players and what it means to him to be named the PGA of America's 2009 National Teacher of the Year.
How long have you been teaching golf professionally?
I've been teaching since 1991, so about 19 years.
How do you feel about winning the PGA of America's National Teacher of the Year award?
It's overwhelming, a truly great honor. To be singled out from the 28,000 or so PGA members is amazing. It's like my Masters. Zach [Johnson] texted me the other day to offer congratulations on winning the award and that's what I told him. That's how big it is to me.
How much of your time is spent with average recreational players and how much with Tour pros and other more accomplished players?
When I first started of course, about 95-percent of my time was spent teaching beginners and recreational players. Now I probably spend about 85-percent of my time with competitive juniors, college and mini-Tour players and PGA Tour players.
What's the biggest difference between working with average players and better players like Zach Johnson?
The biggest difference is the type of communication you have to use. For the average player you have to simplify things a bit. Not by degrading the information but by putting things in a way they can relate to and understand. You want every student to improve and to help them do so you have to know how to communicate.
Why should the average player make a commitment to work with a PGA teaching professional on a consistent basis?
Golf has a lot of technique involved, like playing a musical instrument. It takes time. I like to compare learning the game of golf to taking a road trip. If you're driving from Orlando to Chicago you hopefully will look at a map that gives you the most direct and complete route. When you take a tip here and there you're only getting part of the map and you're not necessarily going to get where you want to go. Working with a pro consistently will help you get to your final destination, which is playing better golf.
How important is fitness for the average player?
Most recreational golfers can improve more by making their technique better rather than by making their body better. Working on fitness will improve your range of motion, improve your strength, and help avoid injuriesthere's really no downside to improving your overall fitness level. But the average guy needs better technique more than anything.
How important is getting properly fitted equipment?
In this day and age equipment can make a huge difference. If you're the type of player who doesn't want to work, but just want to maximize what you have, then you need to get fitted. At the same time, any player who's committed to improving needs to make sure their equipment keeps up with their changes. Pretty much any golfer would do well to get equipment that maximizes their results.
If you had to pick one area of the game that the average player needs to spend the most time on, what would it be?
Every player is unique but in general I'd say the average player should spend 1/3 or their total practice time on full swing and 2/3 on short game. If you do this you'll get better a lot more quickly than if you do it the other way around. The problem for the average player is they don't know how to practice the short game, which in my opinion is 80-percent feel and 20-percent technique.
How critical is putting in general?
The easiest way to improve fast is to improve your putting. When Zach won his first Tour event he made almost everything he looked at, and that's typically the case most weeks on Tour. The thing the recreational player should keep in mind is that time invested in short game practice is almost always rewarded on the course immediately. Time spent on the full swing oftentimes is not.
Mike Bender is the Master instructor at the Mike Bender Golf Academy, Timacuan Golf Club, Lake Mary, Florida www.mikebender.com