After being cooped up in a classroom for the better part of three days, Thursday’s Introduction to Teaching Seminar was long overdue. The always energetic Bill Cioffoletti (PGA) was back, this time alongside Rafael Floriani (PGA). Both are PGA Master Professionals, which is saying something. Out of the 28,000 PGA of America Members, there are fewer than 400 Master Professionals. When it comes to teaching, they’re the best of the best.
This morning, we learned that Bill worked under Claude Harmon (Butch’s dad and the 1948 Masters Champion) at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York while he was in high school. Bill’s a true New Yorker. He told us a great story that ended with the Harmon line, “Don’t wake up stupider than you were yesterday, kid.” Bill helped open the PGA Center for Golf Learning and the PGA Golf Club back in 1995. Pete Dye actually drew out the design for the 35-acre practice facility on a napkin but wouldn’t endorse it. It’s great because it’s designed to get you to move around from one place to another – from different lies to different wind conditions. It’s practically a 360-degree practice environment.
What you notice right away is that there are several different-looking practice bunkers on the property. What makes them unique is that they all feature a different type of sand, an idea Bill and the then Course Superintendent came up with while drinking beers at Duffy’s Sports Grill. “Players come here from all over the world,” said Bill. “So why not have sand from all over the world?”
Bill also told us that one summer he switched to playing only left-handed “just to see what it was like.” At the end of the summer, he finally played a round left-handed. “The feel shots were the toughest,” he recalls. I want to write down every word this guys says. What a character!
Rafael, on the other hand, is widely considered to be the best player on staff at the PGA Education Center. He told us initially he only wanted to work with Tour players but that he quickly realized, “It was an awfully small market.” Now, he says he really enjoys working with beginners. Rafael moved to Florida in 1998, but a bout with skin cancer finally scared him indoors and into the classroom. We’re the lucky beneficiaries. Like Bill, Rafael has great energy, and he’s a great presenter.
This morning was mostly a review of what I learned in my 16 months at the Golf Academy. We covered everything from the different learning styles to the ball flight laws and principles, and finally, the importance of club fitting. I continue to be amazed at the relative lack of fitting in the golf industry! Despite the fact we use our putters (and wedges) about twice as often as any other club in our bags, there’s a surprising lack of putter and wedge fitting out there.
When Rafael asked if anyone did putter fittings where they worked, four guys raised their hands. When asked if anyone did wedge fittings, only two guys raised their hands! These are scoring clubs too. Of the 17,000 golf facilities nationwide, only about 3,500 are actively engaged in club fitting at all, meaning that they charge for the service. The reason why standard-length putters are too long for people at 35″ is because manufacturers designed them that long to stick out of the top of the golf bag. Great!
When we talked about the early phase of learning, Rafael remarked about how it always reminded him of Tiger Woods. In the early phase, the student searches for a new motor program that produces the desired movements, but old, previously-learned patterns can get in the way, making it difficult. That’s one of the things that’s happened to Tiger. He has too many motor programs and too many different swings to choose from, and he can’t pick just one. Some of the best players in the world attempt to make a major swing change, and they simply never get back to where they were. To learn a new habit, you have to do something 60 times a day for 21 days.
The best part of the day came after lunch. Around 2:30p, we split up into groups. First, we went to Ballroom C for a Ball Flight Assessment. Inside, there were three different, high-end simulators: aboutGolf, Foresight, and Swing Catalyst. We got to hit balls while reviewing the five Ball Flight Laws: clubhead speed, centeredness of impact, angle of approach, angle of face, and direction of path. David Kraus (PGA) was in there helping us out. David was a teacher in inner-city Dayton, Ohio for 30 years, and after he retired, he decided to become a PGA Professional. Pretty cool.
Then we headed outside into the humidity. Bill was waiting to show us how to give a golf lesson using us as students. In Level 1, the focus is on teaching beginners and juniors. We’re way above that skill level. In fact, Bill told us we’re in the top 5% of all golfers nationwide as far as ability. “By the end of Level 1, you’ll know more about the golf swing than you ever did before,” said Bill. “By the end of Level 2, you’ll be brilliant, and by the end of Level 3, you’ll be a superstar. But don’t overdose your students.” Bill must have said “don’t overdose your students” five or six times. The most important part of any lesson is the closing and the scheduling of the next one. We also got some great drills for fixing some of the most common swing flaws.
From there it was off to Evaluating Golf Club Performance with Rafael. We partnered up and hit a series of different golf clubs. We didn’t know what we were hitting. Some of the clubs were too long, others were too short. Some of the grips were too small, others were too big. And some of the clubs were too stiff, while others were too flexible. We had to hit three balls with each club and then see if we could identify what we had just hit. It was pretty tough. Rafael told us certain specs should produce certain results, but that it’s not always the case. “The only way to know for sure,” he said, “Is to put the club in a person’s hands and have them hit it.”
That was certainly the case for me. My miss with the club with an oversize grip should have been to the right. I hit the ball to the left. Perhaps I was subconsciously releasing the club early or maybe I wasn’t holding the club as tightly and the looser grip pressure made my hands release early. My favorite club was a 47″ driver. It was like swinging a garden hose. It was long. It was flexible. And it caused me to hit the ball super high. The exercise further illustrated why you shouldn’t tell the person you’re fitting what they’re hitting. You want them to swing normally – freely and without bias.
We were finished by 5:25p (instead of 6:00p as scheduled), but we could’ve easily gone for another hour if Bill and Rafael had asked us to. As we were walking back to the hotel, one of my buddies said, “That was a good day.” My roommate replied, “Yeah. That was a great day.”
Not only was it fun, it was easily my favorite day and the best part of the week so far. Instead of being draining, it felt uplifting.
Preview of Day 5: Introduction to Teaching Seminar (8:30a-6:00p)
This is our last day! At this point, I’m tired of bacon and scrambled eggs for breakfast every morning, I’ll tell you that. I’m now convinced that the smartest thing the PGA does is end the Level 1 Seminar with Introduction to Teaching and not Business Planning. If they did, no one would come back for Level 2. Ending with teaching is going to skew my entire impression of the week… to the positive.
When members of the faculty say they’re “serious” about helping you with your Work Experience Portfolio, they’re not kidding! I’ve already emailed one of Tuesday’s instructors, Erik Nielsen (PGA), several times since that day’s lectures, but when a few of us got stuck on the 12-Month Budget in Activity 4 late Wednesday night, I emailed him again. It was 10:40p. I got a response in less than five minutes saying, “See you there,” in reference to the 8:00a meeting I had proposed. It came a full 30 minutes before the start of this morning’s Seminar and on a day Erik wasn’t scheduled to teach. That really impressed me. And it was greatly appreciated.
“If you want us to check your work, just let us know,” Erik told us. “We’ll log-in (to your Portfolio) and check your work before you send it in. We’re trying to be a little more proactive.”
Even if you just want to know if you’re on the right track, any one of these instructors will check your work. Your goal should be to get the Case Study portion (Activities 1-4) of your Portfolio done before you leave the Seminar. “We really appreciate the apprentices who make this week a ‘business trip’ and want to get things done!,” Erik wrote me later. If you do, you’re way ahead. Sadly, when one of the instructors asked us how many of us had opened up the Work Experience Portfolio online and looked at the Case Studies, less than half of the people in the class raised their hands. Wow! Erik also gave us a little inside baseball: 50% of the Level 1 students here this week won’t be back for Level 2. For some, it’s because of the Portfolio. For others, it’s because of the test and all the retakes (at $40 a pop). Only 20% of the 1,300 Level 1 attendees every year (about 260) get through the level within 12 months.
Erik told us the hardest tests come from the self-study courses, like Golf Car Fleet Management, not covered in the Seminar. According to Erik, “The hardest thing you’ll have to do throughout the whole certification process is the financials (in Level 1). It’s better to start you off with that at the beginning of Level 1 than at the end of Level 3.” After all, that’s what we’re going to be facing out in the real world.