GOLF TEACHING PRO®
USGTF Contributing Writer
I bought a private golf lesson for my son Erik, on his thirteenth
birthday. He was elated! A week later at the appointed time, we
showed up at the public golf club in London, Ontario where I had
purchased the lesson. Upon presentation of the voucher, the teaching
pro named Kyle, somewhat unenthusiastically introduced himself to
us and asked me what kind of lesson we were expecting. I answered,
“Just work on some fundamentals,” expecting the focus of the lesson
to probably be on the grip, the take-back, the follow-through and
finishing with some practice swings. WRONG! He led us out to the
practice green just outside the pro shop, which was quite large,
and had a noticeable tilt to it, back to front.
Kyle seemed in a bit of a hurry. He explained that it was too far
to walk over to the club’s driving range to work on full swings,
so instead, he was going to work on chipping around the green. Okay,
fair enough, I thought. I discreetly retreated to the far side of
the green and plopped myself under a large shady tree thinking that
I may just pick up a few tips myself, watching from a distance.
Before I continue, perhaps I should tell you that I am a fifteen
to twenty something handicapper, probably your average, to slightly
above average golfer who plays once or twice a week, wishes he could
play more, and probably should take some lessons myself to correct
the basic flaws most golfers of my level and vintage have. However,
I am also a Level Four C.S.I.A. (Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance)
ski pro and have been for over thirty years. I have taught not only
in Canada, but also Australia, New Zealand and several years in
the U.S., and as a result, think I know a thing or two about not
only teaching skiing but also about teaching or coaching as it pertains
to any sport, whether it be skiing, swimming, baseball, golf or
this in mind, I would like to compare the teaching approaches between
what I saw that summer day last year to what we in the ski teaching
business would preach. Not being a certified golf professional,
I cannot compare conceptually how Erik’s lesson should have been
presented according to golf teaching doctrine, but rather how I
would have approached the lesson as a ‘sports pro’.
C.S.I.A doctrine which I teach from each winter, is based on three
- 1. Technique
and Skill Development
The skills system and technical knowledge should keep teaching
simple, creative and fun.
- 2. Customer
Achieve results for the client by basing teaching decisions on
their needs; focus on their progress and development.
- 3. Developing
the Guest Experience
Dealing with the customers’ communication and psychological needs.
in my own teaching, I would almost put the “Guest Experience” first.
Initially, I make sure to formally introduce myself to the customer
and look him (or her) in the eyes as I firmly shake their hand.
Upon learning their name, I make a point of asking them to tell
me about themselves, why they are taking the lesson and what their
expectations are as a result. I then tailor the lesson as close
to these expectations as is realistic according to their ability
level. I do this by watching them warm up. In golf, that probably
means watching them hit a few balls; in skiing if would mean going
up the ski-lift (giving you further time to converse with the student),
then skiing behind them down an easier slope. (Our logic here is
maximum speed on minimum terrain rather than minimum speed on maximum
terrain.) The warm-up allows me to evaluate their skill level in
terms of not only technique, but their fitness and mental state
I then introduce the concept and goal of my lesson, repeatedly demonstrate
it (“a picture is worth a thousand
words”), then explain it as simplistically and clearly as I can,
then have them try it a few times, and after observing their progress
(or lack of), make an assessment of their progress and then figure
out how I can develop it further. Note the above highlighted words
that basically summarize the ingredients of a good lesson: choose
the proper terrain, introduce the goal, demonstrate the skill repeatedly,
explain how to, have them try it, and after observing them doing
it, assess their progress, and then figure out how you can develop
that progress even further.
the lesson I remind myself not to ‘rush’ my teaching agenda, not
to ‘push’ the pupil too much (although at higher levels, there are
students that demand an aggressive approach), to ‘build’ the lesson
up as it progresses, and finally, end on a positive note or even
some kind of a ‘high’ if possible. The student will then leave your
lesson as a ‘Happy Camper’ and that’s what it’s all about: skill
improvement, skill achievement and FUN!
to Kyle and my son’s golf lesson…the pro picked a target pin and
then quickly chipped five balls close to his target. Erik followed
– three topped balls, one reasonably good chip and one chunk later
(was Kyle assessing his skill level at this point?), Kyle repeated
his demonstration (three good chips, two so-so) and then asked Erik
to keep his head down and concentrate on a smooth half swing with
a conscience follow-through. On his second try Erik’s chips became
a bit more consistent. Progress! Great!
my further surprise, Kyle’s ‘choice of terrain’ was near the upper
side of the tilted practice green, shooting downhill. Personally,
I would have thought a flop shot would have been easier to execute
swinging on an up-hill slope. Sure enough, Kyle’s flop shots, although
demonstrated reasonably well, were not that consistent. That should
have told him something. Erik’s attempts were absolutely futile
and could better be described as ‘flop chops’. I could tell he was
getting frustrated. The word ‘FUN’ was nowhere to be seen. Gradually
however, Kyle caught on to his tactical errors and realized he had
somehow overestimated Erik’s skill level (assessment), chosen the
wrong exercise (development), and definitely chosen the wrong side
of the green from which to chip (choice of terrain).
apologetically, he inferred that the flop shot was perhaps not the
appropriate skill to be working on ‘today’ and suggested instead,
that they now turn their attention to putting. The balance of the
lesson was much improved, and I can honestly say that Erik did learn
something about putting and he did seem reasonably satisfied when
the lesson ended.
Kyle (again, somewhat casually) said his good-byes, I took Erik
onto the patio for a soft drink. A few minutes later, who do we
see teeing off at the first tee, but Kyle with what looked to be
his girlfriend. Now it all came together for me – he had used the
lesson with Erik as a personal warm-up session for his own upcoming
round of golf, putting his perceived needs ahead of those of his
customer. I said nothing. Erik finished his drink and asked if he
could hit a few balls on the range before we left. We did – and
we had FUN doing it.
time, I thought on the way home, I’ll need to be a little more careful
to pick a more experienced or mature golf pro for a private lesson,
or maybe, just maybe, this was just one of those things that happen
to all of us from time to time.
Note: Knute Dohnberg is a CSIA Level IV certified ski instructor
and an active Course Conductor of certification courses in the Province
of Ontario. He has been teaching skiing for over thirty years and
is the technical director of the Beaver Valley Ski School, located
in beautiful Grey Highlands near Flesherton, Ontario, Canada.
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