It’s been a staple of golf instruction since the first teaching professional set up shop: the private lesson. The private lesson has evolved over the years, but it still features a student who wishes to play better golf and a teacher plying his or her trade. What makes for a proper private lesson? The answer is an inventory of the student’s desires and a plan of action that the student can accomplish. How this comes about is largely involved in the art portion of teaching, but today’s teacher has an arsenal of scientific hi-tech teaching aids that can help pin point the answer to the student’s problems to a degree never seen before. Most teachers, though, don’t have access to these gadgets, many of them not being cost-feasible. They still rely on their knowledge of the swing and the game itself to help improve their students’ abilities. Generally, students come in three types: advanced, intermediates, and not advanced, although we recognize there are varying degrees of these descriptions. Those who are not advanced are considered beginners and novices, as well as those who are wildly inconsistent. Players who shoot double-bogey golf or worse can be considered not advanced. Those who are intermediates exhibit some control over the golf ball, but lack the skills to show some consistency. This group usually ranges from bogey golf (around 90 on a par-72 course) to double-bogey golf. The third group, advanced, can be said to be players who play better than bogey golf. While some may say it’s a stretch to call someone averaging 85 advanced, for purposes of this discussion we will say they are, as they exhibit some form of regular control over the golf ball or certain areas of their game, or they may have a fairly consistent ball flight. How we teach these three groups is distinctly different: Not advanced Players in this category need to be given proper fundamentals in order to ensure a solid base for future advancement. So many players come to the game without proper instruction and it shows, as they have visible problems with poor grips and poor overall setups, and their swings tend to be arms-and-hands dominated with improper body rotation. Many of these players inherently learn that they can initially get the ball off the ground more easily with fault-filled setups and swings than they can with proper technique, or with whatever feels good. Those executing the fundamentals properly may take a little longer to see progress, but of course we all know that those who start with bad habits plateau earlier and stop progressing. Think of it as the old fable with the rabbit and the turtle: Those with bad habits (the rabbit) may have a quicker start, but those with proper fundamentals (the turtle) will win out in the end. Intermediates These golfers can be said to have short periods of success followed by long periods of inconsistency. In this stage, these players need to revisit the fundamentals. They may regress for awhile, but they don’t really have much to lose by starting somewhat over. The interesting thing is that we can also focus on the ball flight laws while teaching this level of player, whereas with the not-advanced player we don’t concern ourselves with ball flight. Advanced With this stage of player, we mainly want to focus on their ball flight and think about the five aspects of ball flight laws: clubface angle, clubhead path, centeredness of contact, angle of approach, and clubhead speed. Again, players at this level are not necessarily close to expert level, but they more often than not have control and a somewhat consistent ball flight, even if that ball flight doesn’t give them ideal results all the time. The four sub-categories of players at this level are: 1)    Poor results through a bad setup and a bad swing 2)    Poor results through a bad setup and a good swing 3)    Poor results through a good setup and a bad swing 4)    Good results through a bad setup and a bad swing (Excluded for purposes of this discussion are players getting good results through a good setup and a good swing.) The players in categories 2 and 3 are the easiest to teach, because if we correct either their setup or their swing, they will show improvement. Category 1 players are the next easiest to teach, but they will likely require both a setup and a swing change. Category 4 players are the most difficult, because they have learned to compensate for a flawed swing with a flawed setup, or vice versa. With these players, you must make both a setup and swing change simultaneously. They are somewhat different than Category 1 players, because if you change only the setup, for example, their results will be worse because their swing compensations are now unnecessary and will produce a bad ball flight. With Category 1 players, since they were getting bad results to start with, any one change may initially result in some improvement. In closing the private lesson, your students should have a clear game plan of what they will be working on. Make sure they are both willing and able to commit to the plan of action you layout. Finally, it goes without saying that the student should enjoy taking the lesson from you. This may be the most important aspect, as it means the student is happy and will likely return for more instruction.
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