PGA Professional Suzy Whaley knows a thing or two about facing tough situations. As the first women in 58 years to tee it up in a PGA Tour event, Suzy has gained a legion of fans and industry respect by her charm, her enthusiasm and her insight into the growing the game of golf. Suzy has agreed to help PGA.com as a consultant in our Women's section, an underserved market which may represent the next great growth demographic in golf.
"I don't play golf because I'm not any good at it."
Besides being a circular argument which is incredibly cited by way too many women as to why they won't come to the golf course; it also promotes the ridiculous theory that most people that do play golf ARE good at it. That's simply not true. We'd all like to play better, and with some practice and proper instruction, we can. But believe me, no one just picks up a club for the first time and is a good golfer, and truth be told, there are more 'not so good golfers' than there are 'good golfers' out there. Golf is a game to be -- above all else - enjoyed, and for those that can excel at it as well, that's wonderful for them.
But if you can be quick, can learn some basic etiquette norms and learn the basics of a golf swing, you can be comfortable and at ease playing golf. You don't have to be great to have fun, and more than anything, that is what women need to understand about this game. If you are looking for a way to socialize, exercise and network while also having a superior physical and mental challenge, nothing beats golf and I'd love to see you on the course.
For those looking to make their first steps into golf, it's not that hard. In fact, if you have an interest in golf, that's all it takes. When women come to me to learn golf, particularly women who have no real knowledge of the basics, I find that exciting. Sure it will take some work to get them ready to tee it up with their husbands, boyfriends, corporate outings or other golf friends, but it's a new person that I get to introduce to one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences I think a woman can have. I go through four basic steps with each new woman who comes to me for lessons and I believe these steps are a great starting point for you as you get inducted into this great game.
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1.) Learn the Basics: Get comfortable with the equipment, including the nomenclature of the clubs. Know the difference between a putter and driver, what's an iron, what's a wood, things like that. Learn the layout of the practice area. I always meet my new students and walk them around the different areas of our practice facility so that they know where I will teach them the full swing, the bunker shot, where the putting green is located, all of those things. Learn the proper etiquette about clothing. Yes, as women, we do care what we look like -- and we should -- but there are also rules and etiquette norms that we need to know regarding what is appropriate and what isn't. You don't have to go out and spend a lot on new shoes or golf outfits, but you don't want to call attention to yourself by wearing the wrong attire either.
2.) Learn the Facility: Women can often feel extremely intimidated by the formality and structure of a golf clubhouse. I make sure that all my female students know where to drop off their clubs as they arrive, where to park, where to check in, where the restrooms are, where to find golf carts, things that many men might take for granted. I want my students to introduce themselves to the golf professional in the shop, to know how to make a tee time or book a lesson, to not be shy in the least about being part of the clubhouse atmosphere. Being comfortable as you arrive is such a large part of making you feel welcome on a golf course, and addressing some of these issues will make a big difference in your attitude as you come to the course.
3.) Learn to Enjoy Playing: I think that one area that I differ from many instructors is that I like to start my new students with a full swing while many like to start new students on the putting green. I understand that putting is a skill that everyone can do to a certain extent and getting the ball in the hole elicits a great deal of satisfaction, but I don't think that's the great appeal of golf. Hitting a ball, seeing it fly, making solid contact -- that's what makes golf so enjoyable. I want my female students to experience that thrill immediately. I want them hitting the ground consistently, then knocking a tee out of the ground, and then putting a ball on that tee and working on getting that ball up in the air. You will feel the excitement and satisfaction of watching that ball fly, and then we can move to the short game areas. But remember this first and foremost, this is supposed to be fun. Enjoy the sensations of golf. The sight of the ball flying in the air, the sound of the click when you make that contact, the smell of the fresh air; these are some of the most rewarding aspects of playing this great game.
4.) Learn to Play on the Course: After five or six lessons, most of my new students are ready to test their skills on the course. I take each student -- regardless of age - to the 200 yard marker on each hole (not the forward tees -- unless they are true prodigys) and let them play in from there. There, they will learn every shot they will need and gain confidence. I put a ten stroke limit on them on each hole and they soon start finishing more holes as we continue our lessons. Obviously, this isn't designed to be strictly in line with the USGA rules of golf, it's designed to teach the basics and the love of playing the game. I don't think that clinic after clinic or hour after hour on the range is as effective as many people would want to believe. It's being on the course, the nature, the scenery, the socializing, the accomplishment, that's the benefit of playing on the course.
And one other note I'd like to make to the women who are starting out in golf. Quit comparing yourself to the men, at least, the ones you see on t.v. Most women don't play the same type of golf as many men, it's a fact. We aren't as strong, we're not filled with testosterone, but that doesn't mean we can't, or shouldn't, enjoy the game and play it with as much passion and love as anyone else. What you see on television is not a good indicator of the real world of golf anyways. I promise you, if you can develop a consistent swing and some good skills in your short game, you'll be beating more men than you would have ever thought possible. But also keep in mind, that's not the big goal. The big goal is for you to feel comfortable and excited about playing.
People often assume that playing in the Greater Hartford Open in 2003 (as the first women in 58 years to qualify for a PGA Tour event) was the highlight of my golf career. Well professionally, it obviously has to be way up there. But there's another story that I think most women can relate to and is just as gratifying to me -- if not more so. I recently had an experience where my daughters, who are 13 and 10, were playing golf with my husband and me and they were actually playing their own ball. We had graduated them from the family tees to the forward tees and we were all playing golf. Walking down the fairway together, the four of us, golf bags slung over our shoulders -- that brought tears to my eyes. And that is an embodiment of what golf is to me. It's beauty, it's excitement, and it's great satisfaction. I don't remember what I shot that day, but I'll never forget how much I loved being out there. And that's a great reason why you should find time to get yourself out there as well. There are a lifetime of memories waiting to be captured.
Best of Luck!
Suzy Whaley, PGA
For more instruction or information on Suzy Whaley, or to inquire about booking Suzy for your next event, you can get more information at www.suzywhaleygolf.com/