Photo courtesy of golfeneur.com
Before I left the house to interview Troy Ferguson and Paul Miernicki of Twin Oaks for this post, I did a quick Google search about this topic and it returned surprisingly little.
Could it be that for all the golf instruction information available in our connected world, the most under-taught part of a golf lesson is the lesson process itself?
For those who’ve never had a lesson, I think this information will provide insightful and highly valuable. But even if you’ve taken lessons for years, I still think there’s something to be gleaned here, especially toward the end when Troy and Paul talk about creating lasting change with your lesson.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. I know many who have reverted to old habits after a few weeks and didn’t muster the resolve for long-term change. I’ve been there myself.
Troy is the Head Golf Professional at Twin Oaks and Paul is the Director of Instruction. Paul has been an instructor for 16 years, 10 with JC Golf.
What follows are their combined thoughts on how to get the best results from lessons, meaning preparation, execution, review and, perhaps most important, post-lesson practice.
FYI: The base lesson is 30 minutes, so we’ll use that as our point of reference.
1. Know What You Want To Work On
It may seem obvious, but the first lesson of lessons is to know how to ask for one. Besides the general areas of full swing, short game and putting, it’s incumbent upon the player to be specific and honest about what needs to be addressed.
Mental issues that commonly come with the natural struggles of the game can even be a lesson, but a starting point has to be identified.
“The more specific the better,” Miernicki says. “And actually taking on one thing in a lesson is plenty.”
Ferguson says a good instructor will limit a lesson to one or two areas, but many players make the mistake of trying to overload the lesson.
“It’s 30 minutes and you can’t fix it all,” Ferguson says. “If alignment is your issue, for example, you need to work on a alignment for a week or two.
“If it’s your grip, you need to focus on your grip. There might be a multitude of issues that need to be addressed individually. That takes time.”
But Miernicki says there’s victory in merely striving for change, citing the mantra, “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.”
That’s a change many golfers don’t ever embrace and play lesser golf because of it.
2. Disclose Any Health Issues or Known Physical Limitations To Your Instructor
Especially as players age, their swings are often limited by what their bodies will allow. These limitations are often obvious, but sometimes not.
To diagnose a swing properly, the instructor has to be able to diagnose the player. Being forthright about any ailments or issues assists both the player and the instructor.
“Body type often dictates swing,” Ferguson says. “Shoulder injuries in particular can be very limiting. But those also are some of the people that need the most help to be able to continue to play and enjoy the game.”
In some cases, the instructor may be able to recommend swing changes or adjustments that better protect the player’s health. Or sometimes therapies or stretching regimens can be recommended to assist with such issues as decreased flexibility.
In every case, full disclosure is best for everyone involved.
3. Have Realistic Expectations
A golf lesson is the start of a process, not a magic bullet.
Part of that process is realizing what can be accomplished.
“You can’t be a scratch golfer when you shoot 90 now and you have an hour a week to work on your game,” Ferguson says. “You’ve got to adjust your expectations.”
And this is where Miernicki is bluntly honest about what can be expected.
“If I’m asking you to do something really new, you’re probably going to get worse at first,” he says. “That’s just the reality. Guys seem to struggle with that idea more than women.
“Eventually you will improve. My ultimate goal is for you to leave happier than you arrived.”
Ferguson says a good set of questions to ask yourself before committing to a series of lessons are these:
1) What do I ultimately want out of the game of golf?
2) How much time do I have to commit to that goal?
3) Given that time, are my expectations realistic?
“Expectations may not meet reality,” Ferguson says. “This game is hard. You don’t learn it overnight.”
4. Come Ready To Learn, and Trust the Process
Knowing what you want from your lesson is one thing. Telling the instructor what your lesson needs to be is another.
There’s a lot of information publicly available about the golf swing, but people sometimes misidentify or misconstrue what their source is actually telling them.
You come to an instructor to hear the truth. Now it’s time to listen and be prepared to hear it, accept it and provide feedback toward correcting it.
Trying to guide or override the lesson only hinders progress, Ferguson says.
“You need to trust what the instructor sees,” he says. “We’ll get people who think they have identified what’s wrong by reading Golf Digest or looking at a YouTube video.
“Often the issue they’ve identified, or the fix, isn’t their issue. You need to come in with an open mind.”
Ferguson likens teaching pros to other “pros” people commonly have in their lives.
“When your mechanic say it’s your radiator or your doctor tells you it’s a torn knee ligament, you don’t second guess them and say it’s something else,” Ferguson says.
“You’re welcome to a second opinion, but at the moment, this is your expert and your need to respect that.
“There’s no perfect golf swing and no perfect golf instructor, but they’re trying to find what will work best for you. Trust that.”
5. Relax. Lessons Are Fun. So Have Fun.
It’s normal for the first few minutes of a lesson to replicate first-tee jitters. Don’t sweat it, Miernicki says. Forget it and embrace the process. But above all, enjoy your time.
“You’re not here to be on Tour. Relax and let me entertain you. I’m in the entertain business. Let’s have some fun.”
Bad shots provide as much feedback as good one. Take the good with the bad, but Miernicki says the good shots are the ones that aren’t treasured enough.
“We all focus too much on our bad shots. Focus on success. Focus on fun.”
6. Provide Feedback
Ideally your improved results will mostly be doing this for you, but Miernicki says perhaps the most important part of his lessons are the 5 minutes he specifically designates at the end for review.
He wants his client to verbally express what has been learned and how.
“If what I’m saying isn’t what you’re hearing, I need to know,” he says. “We might need another approach.”
Most important, proper review leads to retention, which leads to repetition and the player being able to replicate the results on their own.
“My goal isn’t for you to play golf for me,” Miernicki says. “My goal is for you to play golf for you.”
7. Making It Stick
Ideally, what’s covered in a lesson should be repeated and practiced once or two on the range in the next week, or, as Miernicki prefers, in a nine-hole round.
Along the lines of limiting practice to a concentrated amount, Ferguson says the first practice done post lesson should be done with a small bucket – 35 balls.
“Practice is about the quality of practice, not the quantity,” he says. “You will value the shots more if you’ve got a small bucket. When people have a larger bucket, they tend to just beat balls.
“If you only got 35 balls, if you hit a bad one, you’re more likely to step back and try to self-diagnose and focus on the next one. That’s how you improve.”
Ferguson says the sure way to waste a lesson is to just “give to two minutes the next time you’re on the range.”
To that end, Miernicki says most golfers have been taught how to properly use their range time. Too many flail away with one club before just moving onto the next.
He says for most average golfers, the perfect number of range balls is 60.
“Think about it. If you shoot 100, that’s probably 40 putts. That leaves 60 shots. Practice those 60 shots, and that doesn’t mean hitting driver 10 times in a row. How often do you do that during your round? You don’t.”
Miernicki says the best practice is a simulated round, meaning replicating the sequence of shots played on the course.
Retaining learning from lessons and improving practice habits are two of the biggest keys to improving, Ferguson says, but it takes time and commitment for those things to become a habit.
“If you don’t make that commitment, you’ll just go back to doing what’s comfortable,” Ferguson says. “That’s not how you improve.”
To schedule a lesson with Paul at Twin Oaks, please call 619.368.2269.
Note: the first lesson is half price.