Gimme Three Strokes:~The Right Instructor

Over the last few months this column has discussed many ways to approach lowering your golf handicap. While the newest equipment, training aids and practice routines can start you on the path out of Hacker-ville, there may come a time when you need the opinion of an expert. That’s when it’s time to call on your local PGA teaching professional.

So who is the right professional to choose for your game?

First things first: any PGA teaching professional can help you with understanding the fundamentals of the sport. If you are just starting out and are looking for a way to simply get the ball airborne, then a blind draw in the phone book (do they even make those anymore?) could be as effective as researching hundreds of names. As the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know, which in my case could fill an Encyclopedia Britannica.

That’s right, an “encyclopedia.” It’s a book with interesting facts and knowledge… no, it doesn’t have a touchscreen. Oh nevermind.

For those who are seasoned golfers and want to lower their scores, other factors come into play when picking a new teacher. One thing to consider when choosing your PGA teaching pro is compatibility. It is your responsibility to make sure there is a connection between you and the instructor you’ve chosen, not the other way around. You are the person who will benefit the most from this working relationship, so do your homework and learn as much as you can about a pro before hiring him or her.

Word of mouth is your friend in this situation. When you first contact the instructor, ask if he has any testimonials or reviews he is willing to share from past lessons. Have any of your friends or coworkers used the instructor? Has any press been published about the instructor (Golf Digest publishes a very helpful “Best Teachers in Your State” column annually)? Has he ever been on “America’s Most Wanted?” You know, important questions.

Next, inquire as to the instructor’s educational background. Does he have any special accreditations or certifications in addition to being a certified teaching professional? Anyone can say they are a golf “expert,” especially if they are not affiliated with a known golf course or PGA Learning Center. If you are serious about changing your game, I would highly recommend against hiring a teacher from Jumpin’ Joe’s Golf Emporium and Taxidermy, even if the price seems right.

This leads me to another important factor to consider: pricing. Golf lessons are not cheap. Some lesson packages can run as much as a few hundred dollars, if not more (as in the case of a resort golf academy, which can exceed $1,000). If nothing else, you have to understand that you are going to get what you pay for in this area. Consider golf lessons an investment in yourself.

However, this doesn’t mean that you have to break the bank when choosing your personal instructor. While names like Harmon and Leadbetter are well known around the globe, they are also going to have a world-class price tag for any lesson. Literally hundreds of talented teaching professionals likely live in your state, many of whom have studied under the better-known teaching legends. Plus they’ll be a lot cheaper.

Finally – and most importantly – speak to your potential instructor about his or her teaching philosophy. Every teaching professional should have a clear, concise method that they follow for every student regardless of playing level. Will the instructor want to completely overhaul your swing to fit a particular mold, or will they work around your current swing? How much attention will be paid to the mental side of the game in addition to swing mechanics? Does the instructor implement video or other technologies into the lesson? Will there be any whipping involved? These are all critically important questions to ask before hiring your instructor.

The best instructors I have worked with over the years take my physical limitations and abilities into consideration when rebuilding my golf swing. Golf lessons are not a time to be overly proud or bashful; if you can’t do a particular movement or recommendation, tell your instructor. Trust me, you will benefit the most in the long run.

Just as there are hundreds of golf gadgets on store shelves, there are hundreds of teaching professionals from which to choose. The entire process can be quite overwhelming. However, with the proper research and pre-screening approach, hiring the right instructor for your game can help you improve your scores, lower your handicap and lead to years of enjoying this great game.