How To Take a Golf Lesson

I did something today that I haven’t done in years. I took a golf lesson.

When I quit chasing the Champions Tour, my life got reordered. After nine years of playing and practicing golf seven days a week, working out in the fitness center six days a week and working with some of the best coaches in the world of golf, my golf-centric existence changed to writing-centric.

At the time I was putting the finishing touches on my manuscript, Attracting Miracles: A Spiritual Adventure on the Champions Tour. It was the culmination of nine years of contemporaneous emails and notes to family and friends letting them know what I was doing out on Tour. But more importantly, it was the delineation of the model of mastery, transformation and — ultimately and much to my surprise — spirituality that I was using.

So seven days a week of golf became three: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Hours of beating balls on the range for days at a time became an hour before each tee time if I was lucky. And I would sometimes putt in the living room at night if there had been a big gap since my last round. I did maintain my late afternoon trip down to the fitness center, albeit with a little less ardor: I scaled my six miles on the elliptical down to four…and then to three.

Instead of golf being a way to make a living, it became a recreational exercise in mastery. Instead of trying to shoot 68 every day, I tried to make as many good swings in a round as I could. My last coach, the legendary Jim Flick, left Desert Mountain a little after I changed horses, so there was not much motivation to seek out a new one. Besides, I knew a whole bunch about kinesthetic mastery and I wanted to work on my swing by myself.

And with Flick’s teachings still ringing in my ears, I continued to improve. It was just that without practice, my swing became…unreliable. When I hit it, it was the eighth wonder. But when I missed it, I needed a pack horse to take me into the desert to find it.

I also noticed that my swing was feeling bound up from time to time; I just didn’t feel as fast and free through the ball as I knew I should be.

And so, like everybody who’s ever gone for a golf lesson, I wanted two things to improve: distance and consistency. I didn’t know the cause of the binding in my swing and I couldn’t identify the inefficiencies that were causing the occasional wacky result.

No brainer: time for another lesson.

Two other things provided motivation: Desert Mountain just built a state-of-the-art teaching center on the back of the range at the Renegade course. It has six indoor hitting bays with roll-up doors opening onto the range and each bay is chock full of the latest hi-tech video equipment.

But as important, the new Director of Instruction, Dale Abraham, is an award-laden young guy with great teaching credentials that jump out of his bio.

So the first thing I did was find a great coach with great facilities.

The second thing I did was book two hours instead of just one. Having been through the process of changing coaches a couple of times, I knew that the first session is very important to lay the groundwork for the rest. It’s important to be able to get through that first date without feeling rushed.

And the third thing I did was sit down and draft an email to give him a sense of my background, the coaches I had worked with and, of course, what I intended to get out of our work together.

So by the time we laid eyes on each other, we had short-circuited the normal 15 to 20 minutes of “get acquainted” time. There was still some of that, but we did it on the fly.

Part of that time was used to briefly get clarification to swing mechanics questions that had accumulated for me in recent time, esoteric stuff having to do with hip action, downswing triggers, wear patterns on my grips, the balance between my hands, stuff like that.

Another basic was getting my ego out of it. No matter how bad your swing is, your coach has seen worse unless you’re the worst golfer in the world and that’s probably not so.

So with the ego considerations removed — “How good is my swing?” — you can concentrate on objective facts: is the back swing on plane, is the club pointing at the target at the top, are there body parts moving that you are unaware of? These are objective facts without any value judgments about them.

The other thing I did was that I “surrendered to the coaching.” You’re paying the guy a lot of money for his experience and opinion. Instead of rationalizing why you’re doing what you’re doing, try it his way. It’s almost always a shock to the system — mine was — but the payback, with practice, is invariably worth it if you’ve chosen your coach carefully. It’s not always the nicest guy, although that would be great, it’s more often the guy that the good players in your area use. Ask around.

As a bonus, see if you can find a coach who has been through the Titleist Performance Center’s certification system; it’s evidence that they are investing in their continuing education. They have designed a three-level program that teaches coaches the biomechanics of the swing. In other words, you may be trying to learn a swing that your body is incapable of making without some remedial work. I discovered, for example, that for all the hip stretching I have been doing, my hips are not as flexible as they need to be. So I have homework.

But it’s all good. A good coach can show you on video what you can’t feel. And that’s the only swing issue keeping most golfers from greatness. As my old golf school partner, Fred Shoemaker, used to say, “It’s not so much knowing what to do as it is knowing what you do.”

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