The Argument for Golf Instruction

Johnny Miller has always been critical of Tour players and their instructors.
Johnny Miller has always been critical of Tour players… and their instructors.

The topic of golf instruction came up again in our Golf Fundamentals class with PGA Instructor Jay Friedman. A lot of us, including myself, would like to be golf instructors when we graduate from the Golf Academy, so almost any talk of the teaching profession, whether it be from NBC’s Johnny Miller or Golf Channel Analyst Brandel Chamblee, is going to be discussed. These guys are always slamming golf instructors on their national telecasts, and that led Jay to bring up a great point in class. Most, if not all the Golf Channel analysts, whether it be Miller, Chamblee, Frank Nobilo, Notah Begay, or Charlie Rymer would much rather still be playing on a tour of some kind. Any kind. If they had a choice, do you think they would rather analyze player’s golf swings on cable television or be ranked in the Top 100? They say the reason they’re not playing anymore is that bad instruction ruined their games. And they might be right. But these analysts have a platform from which to knock the teaching profession while the profession lacks the forum to defend itself. They don’t have the viewership, and when you attack the way a man provides for his family, it gets personal. That’s why Wayne DeFrancesco’s article on is so timely. Here is that article:

If you watch golf on television these days, you might think that golf instructors are ruining the game. Certainly the travails of Tiger Woods have offered up plenty of ammunition for the anti-instruction movement so obviously embraced by just about every commentator on the Golf Channel and PGA Tour broadcasts. Their argument is a simple one: too much information ruins the “natural” ability of the players who seek help from instructors.

Just this week, Sean O’Hair gave an interview that was hailed by every media person who commented on it as an honest assessment of how too much instruction ruined his game, and only now that he was “finding his own game” was he finding success again.

At the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Sean O'Hair told the media he "got in his own way."
Last week, Sean O’Hair told the media that he “got in his own way.”

Tiger’s problems have been laid directly on Sean Foley, who, as the pundits would have you believe, had Tiger working on a swing technique guaranteed to hurt his back and give him the short game yips. Brandel Chamblee has gone as far as stating that “Tiger has had the greatness coached out of him,” and “modern golf instruction is a cancer on the game.” According to Johnny Miller, anyone who qualifies to play on the PGA Tour is already good enough and should never change anything.

Of course, Miller forgets that every year a bunch of players lose their card due to substandard play, while every player not yet on the big tour tries to improve enough to get there. The desire to improve is a constant characteristic of successful athletes.

In a game as complex as golf, the player can’t be expected to understand the nuances of all the technique he or she uses to navigate around the course, and the truth is most players don’t want to think about what they are doing. But the game is so difficult that there will always be periods of poor play, and the player will naturally begin to worry about retaining his position in the game.

Golf instructors usually have some sort of playing background, and if they have been tabbed by a Tour player to be a coach it is for a good reason. It is vital to remember that no instructor can be on the range at a Tour event unless they are invited to be there. The player has to request credentials for the teacher, and the teacher cannot be on the range without the player. In other words, instruction is entirely voluntary.

I was hired by Kevin Streelman last June when he was unhappy with his game and the look of his swing. He had missed four straight cuts and was frustrated enough to seek different advice.

No teacher or player has all the answers to the game of golf. Golf instructors have preferences, and players who like to look at or measure their swings develop their own preferences as well. My vision of the swing is readily available on my website, and Kevin liked what he saw, so he contacted me. He wanted to change a swing pattern that had bothered him for years and that he felt he was not making progress on.

Players know their deficiencies. They also know that if they are not among the top players, a small retreat in performance will mean a loss of playing status. You can imagine the angst that exists after an extended slump. My point here is that while the players on the Tour are certainly good enough to get there, they may not be good enough to stay there, and they may not be able to improve enough to move up into the top echelon of players.

If they are not technically oriented and already have a great work ethic, then what is left for them to do? Who is going to offer them better direction or an answer to the problems they encounter when simply practicing all day doesn’t help? Every great tennis professional has a coach. All the major team sports have instructors for every aspect of their game. They all use video obsessively, and every movement is analyzed in super slow motion as the coaches look to correct technique flaws. Hitting, pitching, fielding, blocking, tackling, covering, every play is recorded, every practice is recorded, and the whole team spends huge amounts of time watching and going over technique.

Why has it been decided that to do that in golf is such a horrible thing?

Wayne DeFrancesco describes himself as a NASCAR crew chief.
DeFrancesco describes himself as a NASCAR mechanic in that he tries to get the car, or in this case, the player, running as well as he can. 

I compare my job to that of a NASCAR mechanic. I don’t drive the car and I’m not going to tell the driver how to drive. I just get the car running as well as I can so that the player doesn’t have to worry about it. How to organize the information and simplify the thought process is ultimately the job of the player, because he is the car and the driver.

It is ironic that just about every golf commentator is a former player who is not playing anymore. They have all lost their status for one reason or another, and now it seems that all of them have forgotten where they came from. No one wants to stop playing the Tour. There is no top-100 player who would trade his status for a spot in front of the Golf Channel cameras. You would have to think that every commentator who lost their card sought some sort of instruction in order to avoid their eventual demise, instruction that obviously failed. Such an experience would definitely color how they view instruction now.

Again, it is important to remember that the players control who instructs them, or whether they get instruction at all. This is true from the club level all the way to the Tour. No one is being forced to take a lesson.

My lesson book is open to whoever wants to sign up. If no one signs up, I don’t teach. If Kevin hadn’t sought out my advice, you wouldn’t see me on the range at Tour events, just like you wouldn’t see Butch Harmon, Todd Anderson, Sean Foley, Pete Cowan, or any other teacher of Tour players you can name.

No teacher is seeking to fill up a student’s mind with information that the player doesn’t ask for. Teachers use different methods to be sure, and some use more technology than others. But in the final analysis, if the results aren’t there the coach gets fired.

Teachers are hired to help. Almost every player has someone they look to for help and advice. What prompted this article is the television media’s decision to focus on the players who have suffered a loss of performance under the tutelage of an instructor, while ignoring the success stories. Meanwhile, Michael Breed is ever present on the Golf Channel, with, you guessed it, golf instruction.

Go figure.

I think there will always be a place for golf instruction. While it’s certainly an individual preference, I think you’ll find it to be more beneficial than harmful.

About the Author
Wayne DeFrancescoWayne DeFrancesco has been playing tournament golf for more than 40 years and teaching golf for over 27 years. He is the Director of Instruction at Lakewood CC in Rockville, Maryland and is founder of the Wayne Defrancesco Golf Learning Center (WDGLC).

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