Three times each year for the past five years, Leisure World in Mesa has been gracious enough to allow Advanced Teaching classes at the Golf Academy to come out and offer instruction to its membership. It’s a great relationship – the members get free lessons, and students get an opportunity to teach over a period of three consecutive weeks.
Leisure World has upwards of 700 members spread out between its two courses: Coyote Run and Heron Lakes. At 6,437 yards, Coyote Run is the championship course while Heron Lakes is a 4,024 yard executive experience. Leisure World also has a very nice practice facility.
There’s a three-tiered driving range and two putting/chipping greens centrally located at Coyote Run and several other putting/chipping greens located elsewhere throughout the 950-acre property. Most of the golfers living here trade-in their car keys for golf carts.
When we huddled-up as a class beforehand, PGA Professional Jay Friedman asked us if we were a little nervous, and several guys either raised their hand or expressed some concern. Jay said, “That’s only natural. Some nerves are good.”
I would say those nerves were understandable. For those of us wishing to pursue a career in golf instruction, our 15 months at the Academy has essentially been building up to afternoons like these. Now it was time to put our knowledge to the test to see what we could really do. Jay added, “You know more than you think you know.”
Director of Golf Travis Fish, who’s been a very entertaining guest speaker at the GAA in the past, introduced Jay and our class to those members who had signed up in advance to take lessons and then paired us up with them. It was then that Jay paid us a really nice compliment and settled any remaining nerves. He called our 4th Semester class “the best group he’s ever had come through the Golf Academy in Phoenix.” That’s pretty high praise for a group of guys affectionately referred to by the faculty as “Chatty Cathys.” I can’t say I disagree with either assessment.
My gameplan going in was to “keep it simple,” which also happens to be my teaching philosophy. I like to focus on the basics of grip, aim, and set-up based on skill level, of course, and only give a student 1-2 things to work on. Any more than that really goes in one ear and out the other. Golf is a very complicated game to learn and can be even more complicated to teach.
Each of us gave three, 45-minutes lessons. As always, any names have been changed (or omitted) to protect the innocent. Here are a few of my observations:
* Fit – the first gentleman I worked with was consistently hitting weak shots off the toe and to the right. From my days in Golf Club Fitting with PGA Professional Gary Balliet, I knew this shot pattern to be symptomatic of golf clubs that are too short. Clubs that are too short not only cause a player’s posture to be too hunched over, they cause the toe of the club to hit first, which pushes the ball low and off to the right (for the right-handed player).
This guy was taller than your average man, so it made sense, and sure enough, he admitted that he felt like he was having trouble “getting down to the ball.” That’s definitely a fitting issue. I suggested that he look into getting shaft extensions or even new shafts installed. Getting fitted was something he also told me he’d never considered even though his wife had been fitted and her clubs had to be shortened.
As we learned in our first two weeks at the Golf Academy, club fitting is the most important aspect of player development, but sadly, it’s also the most often overlooked. Check the tools first.
* Grip – both of the gentlemen I worked with complained they were hitting weak shots off to the right. One guy thought it was because he was swinging outside-in. However, when I looked at his grip, it was incredibly weak. The grip is a player’s only connection to the golf club. I want the player to see 2-2.5 knuckles on his left hand, which is actually neutral, when he looks down. The V’s formed by the thumbs and forefingers should both be pointing between the player’s right ear and his right shoulder (again, for the right-handed player). Once I got them to adjust their grips, both players starting hitting the ball more solidly and with a slight draw.
* Alignment – the second gentleman I worked with was pulling the ball to the left when we started and again complained that he thought it was because he was swinging outside-in. I decided to check his alignment, and it was way off! He was aiming way left of his intended target.
I put a shaft down at his feet, parallel to his target line, and whaddya know? He started hitting the ball straight at his target. Feet, knees, hips, and shoulders need to be aimed parallel to the target line to hit the ball online more effectively.
* Putting – my last lesson surprised me. When I asked her what she wanted to work on, she said, “Putting.” Cool! That’s usually the last thing people want to work on, and only one other gentleman I worked with tried to squeeze in a little pitching practice toward the end of our session. This woman was having trouble with distance control and told me she three-putts way too often.
We worked on the length of her putting stroke. I told her that the length of her backstroke should make the length of her forward stroke, something I learned a long time ago from Golf Digest Top 50 Instructor Todd Sones. Once she got the feeling for what that felt like, she starting putting the ball a lot closer to the hole on her first putt.
* Time flies – one of the gentlemen I worked with was hitting golf balls like they were going out of style. He went through a medium bucket in about 20 minutes, and it was the only point all afternoon that I actually looked down at my watch and thought, “Oh crap! Now what do I do?” Looking back, it was the only lesson I felt like I could have kept more simple. I probably gave my guy a little too much to think about because he was blowing through balls and the time seemed to be creeping by.
At the end of the day, the time goes by quickly. You know something? Jay was right. We do know more than we think we know, but sometimes that knowledge can be detrimental.
The one thing I will say is that teaching out at Leisure World was a very fulfilling experience. I walked away fulfilled… and happy. That makes me feel like I’m choosing the right profession. In my opinion, this is easily the best and most rewarding experience we’ve had since we’ve been enrolled at the Golf Academy.