By Mark Harman USGTF Course Director Ridgeland, South Carolina

My teaching career began in early 1989 with The Florida Golf School, before there was a USGTF. In order to get my feet wet, I was assigned to teach beginners. I was told to teach them the basics, and I knew enough about them to get by. Although I was about a 2-handicapper at this time, I soon learned there is a world of difference between having knowledge of the basics and how to impart them.

Fortunately, I had a number of very good mentors who helped me along the way. In particular (and these names might be familiar to some of you old-timers), Mitch Crum, Chris Kelly, Jack Feola, Doug Freeman and Judy Garvey helped guide me, patiently answering my seemingly endless questions. They showed me drills to fix certain problems and certain swing concepts.

Also instrumental was Dr. Gregg Steinberg, who was attending Florida State University at the time earning his Masters degree. Gregg and I  met  at Seminole Golf Course in Tallahassee, where I lived at the time. He really helped me understand the concept that the lower body starting the downswing was instrumental in how a golfer returns the clubhead into the ball, particularly the clubhead path.

All of these things I learned I still use today. However, it would be inaccurate for me to say I still teach the same way. I’ve always  appreciated the John Dana quote, “He who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” And USGTF Hall of Fame teacher David Vaught’s words always inspired me: “I never want to give a bad lesson.” David’s mantra drives me more than he knows – until he reads this. I’ve earned further certifications with Dr. Ralph Mann and his ModelGolf – now SwingModel – methodology, and with Dr. David Wright and his Wright Balance system. I’ve read more about motor learning than I ever thought I would.

It’s also important to keep an open mind and try new things and not get stuck in the same old teaching style and using the same old  corrections over and over. That’s because the corrections that might work on 7 out of 10 students may not work on the other three. It’s also  because a certain teaching style might not appeal to a significant number of students.

As I’ve gotten more and more into giving individual lessons once again, I have made four significant changes to my way of teaching. The first is I willingly admit to the student when something I recommend is not working. In the past, I might have told them to just keep working  on it and eventually they will get it. While there could be some truth or even a complete truth to that for some students, my ego is such that I  will say, “Well, that didn’t work. Let’s try to figure out something that will.”

The second is my willingness to experiment more, which kind of goes along with the first change I mentioned. I let them know that we need to find out what works for them, what they are capable or not capable of doing. Back in the day, my insecurity might have prevented me from doing this, lest the student think I don’t know what I’m doing. But I now know, at least for me, that this is important for me to do if I’m to have any success.

The third is getting the student to swing on plane, or at least closer to it. It’s ironic, because Dr. Mann doesn’t believe in swing planes, but I’ve found that the closer a student can keep the shaft parallel to the initial shaft plane at address somewhere in the downswing, the better the ball striking that student will have. To help achieve this, I use a U.S. Kids Golf measuring stick (just over five feet [152 cm] long). I hope I can explain this correctly. If the student is right-handed, I will stand to their right so I am along the extension of the target line. I hold the stick parallel with their stance and make them swing back and forward under the stick, which prevents them from coming in too steep into the ball. On rare occasions, I’ve had students who swing too flat or too much around their bodies, so they have to swing over the stick. This simple training aid has worked wonders for many of my students.

The fourth change involves my using four new drills. One involves the U.S. Kids Golf measuring stick as described earlier. The second  involves hitting  shots one-handed with the lead hand (left hand for a right-hander). It’s interesting how weak most people’s lead sides are, and you see it manifested with the trail right hand and arm dominating the downswing, producing casting and over-the-top. I sometimes combine this with a drill where they let go of the club with the dominant hand at impact, a drill I’ve long used.

The third new drill is having students hold the club from the wrong end so the grip is where the clubhead would be. I have them make a  whoosh sound, and a lot of students make the whoosh before impact. I tell them I want to hear it at or past impact, and to make it as loud as  possible. I will then video them while they are doing this, and visually it’s astounding how many people make a swing that looks like a low-handicapper’s. I heard this was one of Peter Kostis’ favorite drills, so I’m in good company there. The fourth drill involves having students actually throw the club down the target line just after where impact would be. Fred Shoemaker, a top teacher, is famous for this, and it really drives home the point that the club should be swung freely through impact.

In keeping with what drives David Vaught, the question is, do I ever give a bad lesson? Unfortunately, I have to believe that I do. When I can’t get a student to make the necessary changes, right or wrong, I feel that’s on me. Other teachers have said they have the same problem, and I read where even David Leadbetter said there are students with whom he can’t help. But still, it gnaws at me that I could have – should  have  – found a way to help them. I’ve also had students who have made the suggested changes but saw no improvement, or worse yet, regression, in their games.

So please, keep evolving as a teacher. This is not to say you have to change your core convictions about how or what to teach, but strive to learn something new about teaching every now and then. At the end of your career, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come.
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