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Get the most from a golf lesson

Tom F. Stickney
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

All golfers, no matter their level of play, want to improve. Golf is a hard game and nothing is more satisfying than beating your friends or simply being better than they are; golf is a direct link to one’s ego.

In order to get better you first have to recognize what is happening within your game that’s keeping you from playing the way you want. Secondly, you must understand the learning process and learning style you possess in order to maturate your learning curve at a more rapid pace.

The golf ball does not care how much money you have, how good a football player you were in high school or how many widgets you have sold to date. It’s like the old computer programmer saying, “Garbage in equals garbage out.” Thus you must put your ego aside in order to learn effectively and for the long term. No one is exempt from the learning process of habit elimination or re-programming – not even Tiger.



Here are a few questions to help you “take” a lesson and get the most out of it and your time spent on the practice tee.

As your instructor, the first question we must answer together is what are your goals? Not mine for you, but yours? This will be the foundation on which all other fundamental components of your lesson are built. Make a mistake and deceive yourself, and it will cost you. If you tell me you are tired of your “over-the-top slice” and want more than anything else to cure it for good, then I will take you down the anti-slice road – and disregard the other parts of your game until it’s time to address them. However, if you tell me that even though you slice the golf ball your only desire is to break 100, then I will take you down another road designed for you to break 100 – not one necessarily to cure your slice for good, but control it until we have you breaking 100 successfully. Always remember that your personal golf goals formulate the building blocks of your lesson. Before you take your first lesson this year, take the time for some real introspection and decide for yourself just what are your goals, and prioritize them before you see your pro. It will help both of you in this process.



The second question heavily correlates with the first one, and in certain situations it can re-shuffle the above priorities because sometimes a student has unrealistic golf goals. What do I mean? Let me give you my favorite example. A new student is growing tired of a certain shot pattern, so he decides to get a lesson to fix his faulty swing. During the interview process with the professional he tells the pro that his number-one goal is to fix his shot pattern, period; and he also says that he practices at least three times per week in addition to playing twice on the weekends. But in reality he hits balls once every two weeks and usually it’s before his round on a very cold day, but he plays twice weekly. Based on this student’s practice and playing schedule his goal – to fix his swing for good – is unattainable in the short term. Why? The practice time involved with fixing his fundamental problems will require more of a long-term approach than this golfer has time for. In this case I would highly suggest to this student to re-evaluate his goals, so they may be more attainable in the short term. I did not say he couldn’t improve, but if your practice time is limited, then you must live with taking baby steps, keeping the big goal of total swing correction in mind for later. Teachers will work with you and help you see the time involved with curing any fault in your game, but only if you allow them to. That involves giving them t accurate and correct information concerning your practice schedule. So, after you’ve picked your goals, really check your schedule and then together we’ll format your learning program around it.

Everyone has a learning style. You are either a visual, verbal or kinesthetic learner, and these styles can even flip-flop depending on what you are working on; one style will fit you most often. I try very hard to ascertain what type of learner my student is before I start the lesson – if I don’t I could be in trouble. Many teachers try and use the same learning style on all of their students, and sadly they are only successful one third of the time. This is where instructor communication is misunderstood. You always hear about this teacher’s communication versus another one’s, but it goes much deeper than that. Even if I instantly knew everything there ever was to know about the golf swing, by using the incorrect learning process with any one of you, I still wouldn’t be successful in teaching you effectively. Now, did we have problems because I didn’t know what I was talking about? No, it was because I tried to teach you with the wrong approach; my communication might have been perfect using the wrong style with you. Knowledge is only one aspect of teaching and is very important, but student learning styles are also very important and this is really what successful communication is all about.

Let’s examine the three styles so you can find the one that best describes you:

– Visual learners need pictures, images, and concrete things in which to formulate their differences against.

– Verbal learners need an analytical, step-by-step, language-based process in which to follow. It must make sense verbally for it to work.

– Kinesthetic learners need the ability to feel the correct motion versus the incorrect one. They do it without words or pictures. This type of learner is the “I learn by doing” type of person.

Each style has its certain advantages over the others, and very few successful “Big Name” teaching professionals fail to understand what type of learning process their students work best with. Remember, your teaching professional has an obligation to you. They must be educated to the fullest extent possible, and they must understand how to teach their styles effectively regardless of the learning process you need.

In today’s high-tech learning centers (such as mine at Cordillera) I try and use the technology necessary for you to improve (within your particular learning style) as much as possible. It is much easier for people to learn if they have an understanding of what it is they want and how they are to get there via technology.

Be aware: If you just can’t grasp what you’re doing with your pro, presently check out his knowledge of learning styles and how to teach you using a different one. But be prepared, he might only know how to explain “his” style of teaching in just one way, and this will severely limit his effectiveness with you. Because of this you might have to make a change. Understand the three questions necessary for the proper lesson program you need, make sure your pro knows what he’s doing when it comes to learning styles, and make sure you give him the proper information so he can help you as much as possible.

After all, every improvement you make on your game will lead to the ultimate goal: a justified golf ego.


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