TIME FOR USGA TO RETHINK AMATEUR STATUS RULES

Is it just me, or does anyone else think it’s past time that the USGA revises and modernizes its Rules of Amateur Status?

After all, just what is the purpose of making someone who is a golf teacher compete as a professional? This might come as a shock to some of you, but if I could play as an amateur again, that would be my preference. Yet, as the Rules of Amateur Status currently read (and probably will be for the rest of my life), anyone who takes compensation for giving lessons must forfeit amateur status…for PLAYING PURPOSES!

Now, in this day and age, this makes absolutely no sense. Maybe years ago it did. The USGA’s position was (and is, for some reason) that a golf professional who teaches has an “inherent advantage” over amateurs. I’ve got news for the USGA. This “inherent advantage” disappeared a long time ago. Today’s high school and college golfers spend virtually every waking hour in the summer practicing and playing, sharpening their games.

And what do golf teachers do? Spend their days giving lessons, watching others hit golf balls. Most full-time teaching professionals are lucky to get out 2-3 times a week to play, along with a few abbreviated practice sessions thrown in.

My solution: make playing as a professional or amateur an entity all its own. In other words, you choose to either play as a professional or as an amateur, without regard to anything else. Doesn’t this make the most sense? I submit it does.
YOUNG GUNS MAKING STRONG STATEMENT

YOUNG GUNS MAKING STRONG STATEMENT

When Harry Vardon left the scene, undoubtedly there were those who said that golf would never be the same, that no one could replace him.

Enter Bobby Jones.

And surely, the same thing was said after Jones departed competitive golf, and also after the departures of Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus. Each time, though, new blood has infused the game and created new interest.

The year 2010 was quite a year for majors and European Tour golf. Three out of the four majors winners are exclusive members of that tour across the pond, and all are relatively young. In years past, European-based players were probably at a disadvantage at the majors because three out of the four (except for the British Open) are played on American soil. Today, being at a disadvantage is no longer the case, because the European Tour has grown from an insular entity that rarely strayed from the Old Continent to one that is truly THE worldwide tour. European Tour players are used to playing around the world in different conditions, so they are quicker to adapt today to the conditions they face in America. You also have the case of Graeme McDowell, who played four years of college golf in the USA at Alabama-Birmingham, so he is very comfortable in playing over here.

Some sports fans decry the fact that the old-line favorites like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, etc., did not win the last three majors and that three relative unknowns water down the value and interest of the majors. Well, what can one say to that, other than, while these people may be sports fans, they are definitely not golf fans. No, the game not only is more interesting when new faces emerge, but the game thrives on it and requires it. If we only had a handful of players winning all the time, the game would quickly become stale. Even with the dominance of Woods, he wins “only” about 1/4 of the time, so 3/4 of the time someone else takes home the prize. Now, if Woods were to win 90 percent of the time, let’s say, the game would definitely be less interesting.

So let’s revel in the new faces that we see hoisting golf’s most important trophies. And, you never know who’s next…which is the beauty of it.    
Teacher Talk

Teacher Talk

In the past month, we’ve seen Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby each shoot 59. In addition, you had a couple of 60s and assorted low-60s scores thrown in.

Some pundits are saying this is proof that the equipment has gotten out of hand, that it is making the pro game too easy. Or, they say that the courses are too “short.” These same pundits need to look at history.

Sam Snead shot a 59 in 1959 at the Greenbrier, although the course played 6,475 yards back then. Still a great score. Al Geiberger shot his 59 at Colonial Country Club in Memphis, and it played over 7,200 yards that day. Mike Souchak held the record 72-hole score on the PGA Tour for the longest time, a 257 in 1955.

Interestingly, there were seven 60s shot on tour in the 1950s. Maybe they were saying back then that equipment made the game too easy for pros, but since I wasn’t around then, I can only speculate.

The point is that top-flight professional golfers throughout history have shot incredibly low scores. Granted, the courses are longer today, but they have to be to keep up with the equipment. Plenty of pros routinely hit par-5s in two shots back in the day. It’s just that those par-5s were all 500 yards or less for the most part.

Golf is not easy, even though some pros recently make it seem so. The last thing the sport needs is for some misguided effort to toughen up the game – the USGA already knows how to do that at the US Open. Pebble Beach barely played 7,000 yards and I don’t recall anyone saying that course was too short. No, toughening the game will simply drive away players who are already frustrated enough with the difficulty of golf.

Let’s enjoy the great skill these top pros possess, and leave the equipment rules as they are.  
TEACHERS, GET OUT AND PLAY!

TEACHERS, GET OUT AND PLAY!

One of the unfortunate aspects of the golf business is that you will probably play less golf than you think you will. For many teachers, a full teaching schedule precludes getting out and playing very much. Yet, it’s still important to tee it up on at least a semi-regular basis in order to keep your skills sharp, among other things. More importantly, playing golf can and does help your teaching.

How is this, you may ask? Very simple. It might be hard to believe, but if you stay away from the golf course any significant length of time, it will in all likelihood diminish your skills as a teacher! You should learn something about the game each and every time you play, and it doesn’t matter whether you played great or poorly. You might find a swing key that resonates with a student, or find yourself coming up with a mental game aspect you hadn’t thought about before that can be useful to someone else. Perhaps above all, playing should help to keep you enthusiastic about your profession.

What about competing? Certainly, a fair number of your students are likely to engage in competition, whether it be a money game with the regular gang, the club championship, or even statewide competitions. If you haven’t played in any competitions in a long time, it can be difficult to relay good competitive advice to such students.

Let’s talk about competing in the United States Golf Teachers Cup, for example. Every year, about three-fourths of the field is comprised of the same individuals yearly, with about one-fourth either newcomers or occasional participants. It is surprising to some of us at the National Office that demand for this great event, while high, is not even higher. In 2010 it is no secret that the economy is hurting just about every facet of business, including the golf teaching industry. If you are not participating in this year’s US Cup for economic reasons, that is perfectly understandable. But, if you have the financial means and no true work or family obligations, you owe it to yourself to check out this great tournament in 2011. Not only will you meet many of your fellow members from all over the country, you will definitely have a great time.

It also doesn’t hurt to get the juices flowing in serious tournament competition, which will give you a greater appreciation for what your competitive students are facing.

   
US CUP A GREAT EVENT

US CUP A GREAT EVENT

For the 15th time, I was fortunate enough to be able to play in our national championship event, the United States Golf Teachers Cup. From modest beginnings in 1996 at Ponce De Leon Resort in St. Augustine, Florida, as a one-day event with approximately 40 players, the event has blossomed into an extravaganza with over 100 participants regularly.

Originally, the event was simply called the USGTF Members’ Tournament. Like the Masters, which was called the Augusta National Invitational for the first few years, the original name didn’t adequately convey the stature of the tournament. In time, the name United States Golf Teachers Cup was adopted for the 2001 version of the event, which took place in Jensen Beach, Florida, as part of World Golf Teachers Cup week. In fact, it was in 2001 that the tournament took on its current format of 36 holes of stroke play. Now, this may be changed in future years if circumstances warrant, but for now the two-round format works well. Many participants get in a few days before the event and spend 4-5 nights. A great deal of camaraderie and friendship occur each and every year.

Personally for me, the best part of the tournament is not in the actual playing itself, but in getting to see many of my old friends and making new ones. I would say that we have at least 75 “regulars” each year who come to the events. I would like to think that they are there for the same reason.

For those of you who never come to the event, you really don’t know what you’re missing. Honestly, if you have the time and the money, you owe it to yourself to make the journey. You will guaranteed wish you had come sooner. We get to play two tournament rounds plus practice rounds on great golf courses, at a time of year where things are winding down for most of us. For those who live in the Sunbelt, October-November is the lull before the storm, so to speak, so we’ve found that these months are ideal for having our tournament, regardless of where you live.

Next year’s US and World Cup tournaments appear to be headed towards Orange County National in Orlando. You may have heard of this venue – they have Tour Q-School finals here every 2-3 years.

So don’t delay. Once signup begins for the Cups next year, be sure to get your entry in…especially you first-timers!  
Golf should challenge not humiliate

Golf should challenge not humiliate

I was fortunate to attend the Players Championship for the final round. When I entered the grounds, I walked into the bowl of the famous 17th green. They were still finishing up the third round because of a weather delay. The hole was playing 137 yards and the pin was situated on the front left. It was my first on site view of the hole and the green is in reality pretty large. That is not apparent on TV, but where they place the pin makes it a tiny target. Anyway, Mark O’Meara was up and he hit a shot that landed about 12 feet past the pin and then started rolling back toward the hole, went right on past and off the green into the water. He walked up to the drop area, hit a nice pitch again, just past the hole and same thing. So then I go up to 18 and follow Graeme McDowell who was 14 under and leading. From the right rough he hit a nice looking shot. The ball landed on the green, right of the flag, rolled up the slope past the pin and started back down and then right off the green and into the water. Ridiculous, and not right. I believe it cost him the tournament.

It is one thing to hit a bad shot and get punished but when a good shot results in a penalty, I think it is bad design and boring. It would have been much more interesting if the ball had been held up in a little collar of rough requiring a delicate chip to save par. Contrast that with Phil Mickelson who I followed for 9 holes. On the par five number 2, he hit his drive in the woods, found it and played up the first fairway. He tried to hit his third shot over some pines about a hundred feet high. Failed, but found his ball and hit his fourth off a palm tree and into the bank short of the green. Standing awkwardly he chipped past the hole about 30 feet on to the fringe. He then made his putt for one of the greatest sixes I have ever seen. That was fun and exciting. How often have we golfers just hoped to be able to swing after an errant shot into the trees? So my message to the golf course architect is simple – punish a really bad shot but if I am a little wayward, just give me a swing.
USE A LESSON PLAN TO KEEP STUDENTS ON TRACK

USE A LESSON PLAN TO KEEP STUDENTS ON TRACK

When you have students that don’t seem to want to practice or they are not quite getting what you are teaching them I have found that writing out a lesson plan for each student really helps.

Over the years I have developed a five part program that puts the major aspects of the golf game into a format that students can understand. I call each program a Box and I use the idea to combine practice programs with on the course pre shot routines and swing thoughts. Box 1 – Driver ( I give each student a swing thought, an idea on what we are working on and a plan on how to practice) They can take the swing thought to the course and they can evaluate if what they are working on is getting better. Box 2 – Fairway, Box 3 Long Irons / Hybrids, Box 4 Mid / Short Irons, Box 5 – Short Game.

Each part of the game has a different swing thought. If you notice putting is missing – that is because putting is game by itself as is the more advanced parts of short game.

In each Box you can develop your own concepts and ideas to help your students. I try to get all my students to practice in each Box at each practice session. I ask them to allot time based on how much total time the have to practice. If the have an hour, then they only have 10 minutes after they warm up to practice. I tell my students that if they really want to get better the have to allot a minimum of 2 hours, 3 times per week to get better, the also need to get on the course 2-3 times per week.

Arlen Bento Jr. is a USGTF Master Teaching Professional, former Head Golf Professional of the PGA Country Club and PGA Village and Director of Golf at Eagle Marsh Golf Club in Jensen Beach, FL. He is the Director of Junior Instruction at the Stuart Yacht and Country Club in Stuart, FL and He can be reached via his website at www.abjgolfsales.com
I am not a teacher, but an awakener

I am not a teacher, but an awakener

These are the words of Robert Frost, the great American poet. I can think of nothing better to describe the men and woman who toil daily helping average people learn a game that is never really mastered. Somewhere I once read that nine tenths of teaching is encouragement. Much of our time is spent cultivating, bolstering and saying “you can do this.” Would the game be enjoyed by so many without the guiding hand of teachers willing to share their knowledge and experience? Not likely. We do it with little fanfare. Our student’s thanks are enough recognition. For this is our passion and sharing it is the motto of the United States Golf Teachers Federation.

 

This summer the USGTF will honor golf teachers with a National Day of appreciation. Now I could say it’s about time but I’m sure I speak for all teachers who will humbly say thanks for the recognition, we are grateful for the tribute. I have been around the game of golf for 51 years now and often think back on how much pleasure it has provided me. I can think of nothing better than sharing that enjoyment with those who would like to find out what it is all about. Teaching and passing on the traditions of the sport is what I chose to do. It has been a rewarding experience and along the way I have collected lifelong friendships and supporters. On the National Day of Recognition, my fellow teachers, let’s lift a glass of cheer to each other and keep the fire burning. I leave you with the words of Cicero, “What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state, than that of the man who instructs the rising generation.”  
IS THERE ANY WAY TO CHANGE INCORRECT BELIEFS?

IS THERE ANY WAY TO CHANGE INCORRECT BELIEFS?

One of my great frustrations as a long-time teaching professional is the proliferation of wrong information that is taken as gospel in the golf world. For example, the belief that high humidity produces “heavy” air and a shorter ball flight. In fact, as highlighted in Golf Teaching Pro, humid air is actually less dense than dry air, and will thus produce a couple of extra yards instead of a reduction. Yet, ask any golfer about the effects of humid air, and 99% will say that the air is heavier and the ball will carry less.

Or, how about incorrect Rules beliefs? Twice in competition my fellow competitors tried to penalize me for holding onto the removed flagstick while tapping in a putt. This is not a penalty, as Decision 17-1/5 makes clear. When I informed these fellow competitors of this Decision, they then say, “Well, it used to be a penalty.” In fact, no, it was never a penalty. Another favorite is practicing on the putting green after you hole out. Again, well-meaning fellow-competitors have tried to call penalties on me for this, saying that the practice is illegal in stroke play but not in match play. In each case, I had to direct them to Rule 7 which governs practice. They are genuinely surprised to learn that it is not a penalty in stroke play, except if local rules provide for it.

The instruction realm is not immune. How many times do we hear that for every club in the bag, the butt end of the grip should be a fist away from the body? The fact is that the longer the club, the farther away the butt end should be from the body. Or how about “the slower the better” when it comes to backswings, backed up with “evidence” that amateurs swing back more slowly than professionals. The truth is that the opposite occurs, and swinging back too slowly is not good for most people. Or how about the downswing should be started by the arms and hands?

There are many more examples, too numerous to list here. So, is there any way to correct all the mis-information that is out there in one fell swoop? Probably not. People believe what they are going to believe. All we can do as USGTF professionals is to know what is factually correct and to pass the correct information along. We can start with educating one golfer at a time, and go from there.
Teaching Your Students About Patience

Teaching Your Students About Patience

It’s a fast-paced world out there. Information and communication are at our fingertips. We can board a plane and be on the other side of the planet within 24 hours. In fact, technology has bred a whole new generation of “I want it now-ers!” Fortunately for mankind, however, the game of golf seems to be the only holdout. There’s no magic wand to becoming a good golfer, and you can’t buy an instant reputable golf game.

The ability to play well takes time, effort, guidance, and perseverance. It involves frustration, for some even tears, and I may add a thousand humbling experiences. What becoming a competent golfer does require, and as Sherlock Holmes once said, is “Patience, my dear Watson!”

Being in the personal service business, I believe it is important to be honest with your students, especially beginners. Let them know about these learning factors and that they won’t become great overnight. Let them know that golf can be a lifetime learning process, but the benefits of pursuing the game far outweigh everything else.

I recall a recent conversation with Mike Levine, USGTF Level IV member and course examiner. Mike is a very quiet, thoughtful and soft spoken individual – all factors that contribute to his popularity as a teaching pro. He was talking about how the advent of the Internet can’t provide our kind of personal service; how the Internet can’t recognize talent or talk to a young golfer’s parents about nurturing that talent properly. And, about the handshake and dealing with people face-to-face as human beings.

In training teachers, Mike always makes a point to talk about sharing with students the idea of enjoying the journey of the golf learning curve. “Progress will come if your students allow it,” he espouses, “but in the meantime, they should be encouraged to enjoy the belly laughs, the camaraderie, and all the other elements involved in the pursuit of improvement.”

Pretty good advice in golf and in life.