2012 hasn’t started out as a banner year for the business of golf instruction. The biggest stories in golf gave golf instruction a big blow to the midsection, with the first story being the continuing saga of Tiger Woods attempt to return to the king of competitive golf. The second story is the great win posted by Bubba Watson at the Masters in April.
In the case of Tiger, many still believe his insistence on continuing to rework his golf swing has led to his struggles on the tour. Some blame Hank Haney and some blame Sean Foley, his current coach. In either case, it is interesting listening to the anti-instruction segment proclaim he should have never messed with his swing. Apparently, those people ignore his success at rebuilding his swing with Butch Harmon shortly after joining the tour.
The case of Haney and Tiger deserves a more in-depth analysis than this space can devote to it in light of Haney’s new book. But, for golf instructors, it is difficult to hear another instructor blamed for the downfall of one of golf history’s most amazing players – some say the greatest ever. The golf teacher would say that is typical. Rarely does the credit go towards the teacher when a golfer is successful compared to the criticism if the player stumbles badly.
In this instance, there is no shortage of opinions, from the talking heads on Golf Channel to the 25-handicapper at the bar. Even Harmon himself has chimed in with his opinion. As golf instructors, we know what an incredible level of talent tour players reach. We should also know how even the slightest change in their personal life can affect their games. Golf is so much a mental game that any distractions for players at that level can mean disaster. The lucky among us have never been through a public and messy divorce and had to deal with the reality of being a divorced single parent. If it has a big effect on the average person, affecting their work and ability to focus, just imagine what effect it has on an elite athlete.
Mr. Watson’s first blow against the golf professional came at his infamous news conference early this year when he voiced his opinion about his fellow peers taking lessons and having teachers. One wonders if he had any clue about the damage he did to the golf teaching professional with his opinion about instruction. Taking it into context, he was talking about tour players. But, the sound bite heard around the world just included his slap at golf instruction.
Fast-forward to the Masters. In four days of coverage, I would be very curious to find out how many times the commentators referred to the fact that Bubba has never had a lesson; dozens, at least. Watson has had many opportunities to show his compassion for the game and for golf professionals by saying he was a very rare exception and that the average golfer should seek out a good instructor so as to help them get more enjoyment out of the game, thus increasing participation and growth. Many recent studies have shown that the number one reason for losing so many golfers the last 12 years has been simply that the game is too hard. The number two reason is slow play. This is easy. See reason number one.
Mr. Watson failed to see the bigger picture and failed to put the game ahead of his own success. Some might say that it isn’t his responsibility. I say that tour players making millions of dollars playing golf have a duty to help the game that has given them so much. Need an example? See Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
There is no doubt that these two big stories have had an effect on golf lesson participation, but there is also no doubt it is a temporary effect. Still, the average golf instructor that makes his living helping others improve their skills and providing enjoyment must be wondering, what next? Does a new player look at these as examples of why they shouldn’t bother with lessons? From my experience, I have talked to some that have. That’s too bad for the game and its professional instructors.