On the Job: Dede Cusimano takes a swing at Aspen Golf Club

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times
Golf professional Dede Cusimano, left, works on a drill with Tom Harbison at the Aspen Golf Club driving range Wednesday morning.
Karl Herchenroeder/The Aspen Times |

Editor’s note: “On the Job” is a series that profiles locals and the work they do. It runs every other Thursday in The Aspen Times.

Dede Cusimano says the most important thing for a golfer to take away from a lesson is understanding a swing flaw and how to correct it.

During Cusimano’s first lesson Wednesday morning at the Aspen Golf Club driving range, the player was making a common mistake: On the takeaway, she was picking the club up and creating a steep swing path. By the end of the lesson, Cusimano had the player making a more shallow swing, which allowed for more distance with her woods and driver.

Cusimano’s video feed showed one swing early on in the lesson, where the shaft was almost vertical at the top. A clip later in the lesson showed a flatter swing, one closer to the correct swing path.

“As a golf instructor, you can never stop learning.”
Dede Cusimano
Instructor, Aspen Golf Club

Cusimano — the 2013 LPGA National Club Professional Senior Champion, who has split her time teaching in Aspen and in La Quinta, California, for the past decade — said that when you’re on the course, “make the exact same swing you made on the range.”

PGA professional Jim Furyk is a good example of a steep swing, she said, though he uses his lower body to bring the club back into the slot, so it’s squared away at impact.

The chief problem she sees with amateur golfers is they try to swing too hard. They look at the hole before them, realize the distance they have to travel and try to kill the ball.

“Golfers are too ball-bound,” Cusimano, 55, said. “They try to control where the ball goes.”

The key, she said, is not to focus on where the ball will end up. Focus on making the right swing, and the club will do the rest.

Originally from Torrance, California, Cusimano played tennis at Boise State University. Taking up golf during her senior year, she competed on the LPGA tour from 1988 to 1990. She currently plays on the LPGA Legends Tour, competing in five or six tournaments a year. Racking up multiple wins as a senior in 2013, she was able to compete at the LPGA Tour Championship.

“That’s very important to me — still playing competitive golf,” she said. “I think my students love to see me play in a tournament and win a tournament. So they see that I’m not only out there teaching, but I’m also keeping my game up to play at the competitive level.”

A teacher for 23-plus years, Cusimano said her biggest challenge with instructing is her passion, her drive to help students progress. By the end of a lesson, she said, the player should be hitting a different shot than they were at the start. She said all of her students improve, but it is her job to stay current with them.

“It’s my responsibility, a lot of times when I see them, to come over and talk to them and make sure they’re improving,” Cusimano said. “You just stay current with them, and you just keep doing the follow-ups.”

When a player fixes one area of their game, another area might falter. For example, it’s difficult to focus not only on the full swing but also on the short game. But if a player sees improvement a few shots a round, it means they need to continue practicing, Cusimano said.

She keeps up with instruction by attending teaching summits with the likes of Butch Harmon, Sean Foley and Chuck Cook.

“As a golf instructor, you can never stop learning,” she said. “You have to continue your education. (The game) is different than it was 10 or 15 years ago.”

This is Cusimano’s first year teaching at the Aspen Golf Club. The 2013 Western Section teacher of the year has been instructing elsewhere in the Roaring Fork Valley for the past 10 years. She offers half-hour, full-hour and nine-hole lessons. Rates vary, depending on whether you are a passholder at the club.

In Cusimano’s second lesson of the day, player Tom Harbison was having trouble maintaining his posture through the swing. One look at the video, and you could see how far his head moved from takeaway to contact. This was caused by shifting of the spine with an up-and-down motion.

“You’re losing a lot of speed,” Cusimano told him.

To correct this, she placed a club on the top of Harbison’s head so he would know whether he was moving it up and down, a common drill used to fix the problem. Her recommendation for him was to hit a lot of 9-irons and pitching wedges, because you have to stay down on those clubs.

Along with the video feed, Cusimano sometimes uses rubber balls and noodles for various swing flaws. She said a lot of flaws have been repeated over and over. The only way to unlearn them is to get out on the range and hit balls.

“The best players, the pros, are on the range all day,” she said.