By Mark Harman USGTF Level IV Member and Course Examiner, Ridgeland, South Carolina
One of the biggest reasons a golfer may not take lessons is one that many golf teachers may not have thought of. That reason is intimidation. Yes, many people, especially women, are intimidated at the thought of taking lessons and putting their game in front of someone to judge. Part of the problem is the old stereotype of the grumpy old pro who has little patience for beginners and novices who seemingly (to him) can’t walk and talk at the same time. Unfortunately, there is some ring of truth to this, as golf traditionally has more than its fair share of course employees and “professionals” who are condescending, sour, and ready to rip your head off. Now for the good news: these bad actors can work to your advantage. By contrasting your behavior, attitude, and actions to theirs, it makes you look that much better to the golfing public. It’s not enough to just smile and be friendly. It’s been researched that body language is perhaps the most important means of communication in personal contact. This means using welcoming gestures, such as open arms, instead of standoffish ones like folded arms and hands in the pockets. Do you provide any literature, brochures, or a website for potential students to peruse? If so, you undoubtedly want a picture of yourself on the material. Believe it or not, there are some teachers whose picture on such materials looks like a mug shot. Now, what kind of welcome is that? Not a real good one. You can also find teachers who, while they may be smiling, are wearing dark sunglasses because the picture was taken outside. Again, not a good idea, because it goes back to the old adage, “He must have something to hide.” Once on the lesson tee, take a genuine interest in their games. Ask a lot of questions. Involve the students in the learning process. Ask them if what you’ve asked them to do is uncomfortable or too difficult. If so, you must find something that they can accomplish. If it’s appropriate, self-deprecating humor can be great at putting people at ease. It lets them know you aren’t perfect and that you empathize with them. Don’t hit balls to just show off your superior skills, but only when necessary to legitimately demonstrate a point. A teacher who starts bombing 300-yard drives in front of his female student who can only hit it 120 might get her to start thinking, “What’s the point if I can’t do what he’s doing?” You should also take the personality of your student into account. If they are a quiet type, they will feel ill-at-ease if you are a boisterous backslapper. Say fewer words and talk in a quieter voice to these people. Although it’s hard for a naturally gregarious person to tone it down, it must be done unless you want that person’s first lesson with you to also be the last. Putting people at ease isn’t rocket science. A lot of it is common sense – treat the person with respect, treat them as an equal, and be humble. You can separate yourself from others – not just in golf but in all walks of life – by acting accordingly.