Teaching Moment Photo by borisvolodnikovBy Andrew Penner USGTF Level III Member, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

I know a famous golf writer (sorry, I can’t divulge his name) who has never, and I mean never, sat down in front of a computer. To this day, still writing for some of the top golf magazines, he hand-writes every single sentence. Then, he painstaking bangs out the final drafts of his work with his two index fingers on an old typewriter. I said to him the other day, “You’re a relic, you know that, don’t you? Nobody does it like this anymore.” He just laughed and kept punching away. He’s one of the finest writers I know. His three books are all amazing and beautifully written travelogues on UK golf courses. (By now, some of you may have a good idea who I’m talking about). Just as the writing game has evolved into a technologically-savvy little craft – with the exception of a few dinosaurs still out there! – the golf teaching profession has made some strides, too. While the basic goal remains unchanged, to get people playing better golf, today’s teaching pros look, act, and talk a lot differently than they did 25 years ago. The business, thanks mostly to technological advancements both on and off the course, has evolved. Things like video playback, teaching software, digital storage, superior golf equipment, short-game specialization, greater fitness and flexibility awareness, increased competition, longer and wider golf courses, training devices, psychological training, innovation in clubfitting, increased knowledge of kinesiology and biomechanics, and a vibrant golf economy have all contributed to the many changes in the golf teaching industry. But, perhaps the biggest change in the past 25 years is the fact that a golf teaching pro is exactly that – and usually nothing more. In the past, “the pro” wore many hats. For the most part, teaching wasn’t a full-time gig. The pro was a manager, a clerk, a retailer, a buyer, and so on. Obviously, there are still many golf pros (some who are classified as “teaching pros”) who do a lot more than teach. But, suffice to say, if you’re a teaching pro, your income is made from teaching the game.  It’s what you do. It’s pretty much all you do. A large part of this revolution has to do with the USGTF. Prior to its founding in 1989, there was no organization of golf professionals that specialized solely in teaching. The PGA required its members to wear many hats, and those who simply wanted to teach were shut out of that organization. The USGTF stepped in to fill this void, changing the golf teaching industry permanently, and even prompting the PGA to change its programs in order to stay current. Obviously, yesterday’s golf pro worked with equipment that was considerably different. And, on that front, the game itself has changed significantly. Laminated woods, small sweet spots, and softer balls that didn’t go as far and curved more contributed to a style of play that was quite different than today. Golf was a little more clever and crafty. Players couldn’t hit the ball as far, so there was more creativity in style and shot selection. Swings were more varied:  look on the Champions Tour for some pretty unique “old-style” swings. Today, the rule of the day – and you can see it firsthand on the PGA and Nationwide Tours – is bomb it out there as far as you can (fairway or not) and pitch it onto the green. With a power game – thanks to titanium, higher CORs, bigger sweet spots, etc. – many courses can be conquered, their nuances, hazards, etc., not nearly as lethal. So, not surprisingly, we teach more on “power positions” than we ever have. Turning way behind the ball and eliminating any unnecessary movements (e.g., Adam Scott, Tiger Woods, and other young bombers), to obtain ideal launch conditions for the “new” equipment is the order of the day. We have in our minds – and on our computers – models of “the perfect swing.”  And, there is more and more pressure on those with unconventional swings to get more “conventional.” While “conventionalizing” (producing cookie-cutter golf swings that look very mechanical and similar) might be the norm, and for many players, beneficial, it’s still the instructors who can truly adapt to each student’s abilities, body type, learning styles, etc., who will be most effective and will have the potential to go to the top. Unquestionably, though, the greatest change in the golf instruction business has been the introduction of computers and computer software programs specifically geared for golf instructors. “Without a doubt, golf instructors today are much more technical and analytical,” says 30-year instructor Darren Gallagher. “I can see things today on computer screens that I never in a million years would have picked out with the naked eye before. Things just happen too quickly in the golf swing.” While there can be no arguing the fact that computers have helped instructors do their jobs better, it’s the ever-present end goal (making golfers better, remember?) that’s key. And computers don’t spit out the magic formulae that gets a student from A to B. It’s all fine and dandy burning a CD of a student’s swing, drawing fancy lines and circles to remind them of certain angles and positions, and so on, but corrections have to be realized, and, obviously, they need to be attainable. There has to be clear, effective, and “doable” instruction that will make them better. Otherwise, the computer age can be a detriment, leaving students, and if we’re not careful, us, more baffled and confused and on an endless search for answers that cannot be found simply in the bits and bytes. There is no doubt that today’s pro is more knowledgeable and better prepared to analyze the various swings that come through the door. The teaching industry has made significant advances in the last 25 years in so many areas. We now operate in a competitive, business-like environment and our role in the industry is only getting sharper and more important. Just like the successful pros before us, we’ve got to be well-rounded, personable individuals who don’t speak one language to all students. And, all of us should never overlook the advice of Harvey Penick (whose teaching was often very simple and non-technical): “The short game. Those are the magic words.”
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