How to choose a golf instructor

A great golf instructor is invaluable
Photo: Courtesy The PGA of America
The right golf instructor can make a world of difference in your golf game.
By
John Hughes, PGA

Problem Area: Fundamentals
Series: Instruction Feature

Published: Sunday, June 13, 2010 | 1:25 p.m.
I originally wrote this article in 2003.  With 11+ years of advancement in technology, communication, and business, I felt it was time to revise the original article and provide a look at some factors that should help influence you in one direction or anther when deciding who you choose to help you reach your potential as a golfer.
 
The process is still as unique as your fingerprint, based upon who you are as well as what level you want to accomplish.  And the process is still comparable to choosing the best doctor to diagnose and treat you for an illness or decease.  There are certain questions you would ask your doctor and certain things you would require from your doctor that will allow you feel comfortable with your treatment plan.  You should ask similar questions and expect similar services from your golf instructor before investing your time and money improving your game.  
 
Compatibility - It is your responsibility to insure that there is a fit between you and your instructor on all levels regarding personality type, mutual goals, are your beliefs similar about the game and how it should be played, as well as your instructor's ability to relate to your individual needs. 11 years ago, the communication vehicles and methods we now have access to did not exist, and now have to be part of the compatibility side of choosing the best golf instructor for you.  Does the instructor use modern methods of communication that provides you instant feedback and contact with your instructor?  Or is the instructor still using antiquated forms of communication and not replying to his or her clients request for contact and follow-up?
Before throwing a dart in the phone book under "golf instruction," research the professionals in your area. One way is to ask your friends and playing partners for referrals of good instructors in your area they have used. Ask them about pricing, reputation, location, and their improvement under the instructor's tutelage.  Also ask about the instructor's use of technology and how good is the instructor at delivering timely communication to you in a personal way.  Chances are if you get along with your playing partners and the instructor does too, the instructor(s) they use may be a good fit for you too.  Call the instructor and ask if he or she has some time to get to know you by phone or if you can come by and watch a lesson.  A good instructor will be happy to talk to you about your game, get to know you as an individual, as well as allow you to peak into a lesson prior to helping you with your golf game.  
 
Accreditation and Experience - Does your golf instructor have the education and experience to take your game to any level you desire? Many individuals claim to be golf instructors. Many of these individuals are self-proclaimed "experts," or had enough money to take a one to two week course on how to teach golf and make more money.  11 years later, I will not back down from this statement that caused the most commotion about the original article.  I will tell you some of the organizations that accredit golf instructors have upped their games and are providing improved educational opportunities for those who are not wanting to become PGA or LPGA Members.  These companies are still ultimately out to make money the easiest way they can and at their lower levels of accreditation allow substandard instructors to promote themselves under their brands.
 
But you can not get any better golf instruction than from a Member of the PGA or LPGA.  The programs these men and women complete are intense, include first-hand experiences over a longer course of time, and are constantly required by the organizations to re-educate themselves on a regular basis.  
 
When seeking a golf professional to help you with your game, insure that the individual has an active accreditation with the PGA or LPGA, or another accreditation association that places more value on education over a longer period of time, versus just a couple of weeks of training.  Be sure the instructor is remaining active in the association he or she belongs to and is constantly educating themselves on the latest innovations of technology and instructional methodology.  And most important is to be sure that the instructor has a history of creating positive results for the clients he or she serves.  No matter what affiliation of accrediting association the instructor is part of, asking for and receiving references from the instructor is a great way to confirm if this is the instructor for you.  

More: Top Golf Instruction

 
Swing Aids - In 11+ years, I have seen some swing aids come and go, and come back.  At the end of the day, a swing aid should do one thing, assist you to feel the difference between what you are currently doing in your swing versus what your instructor would like to have you feel within your swing.  If a swing aid does not provide that feedback for you, then it is not a good swing aid for you.
 
Does your golf instructor use swing aids? Does your instructor have a solid reason for using a swing aid that applies to your needs? Many instructors have bags full of swing aids; I call them magic bags of tricks and I must admit, I have one myself.  The bag can't just be there for show.  The instructor must instructor actually believe and use the aids in a constructive and meaningful manner to assist you to improve.
 
I still believe that you must beware of the "Cure-All" swing aid that is used on every one of the instructor's clients.  It may be good for some but may not be good for all.  Ask yourself the question, is that swing aid good for me?  
 
Technology - 11 years ago this portion of the article was entitled, "Video."  Wow has time changed video and how we all use video to communicate.  Video is just a small and expected part of a golf lesson now.  If you can not post the video to various social media immediately, you are behind the times.   I stand by my statements in the previous version of this article that Video should visually confirm the diagnosis to you, not the instructor and when used correctly, its use is similar to an X-Ray or M.R.I. assisting a doctor to confirm to you what is broken or torn.  If your golf instructor is relying solely on video to tell what is happening in your swing, you will eventually lose trust in the instructor's ability to help you. 
Video now integrates into other forms of technology, most notable is ball flight monitoring.  Does the instructor use ball flight monitoring within your lessons?  Is it used for club fitting sessions, which is an entire topic unto itself?  Does video integrate with swing path tracing devices that vividly show swing direction from 3 different dimensions?  And does all this technology in a very simple way provide you enough information to develop an improvement plan that is right for you without making you confused?  Be sure to ask your golf instructor if technology can assist you (arguably it can help every golfer) and can it be implemented in a way that is easy to understand and adapt to your overall plan to improve. 
 
Follow-up Communication - We used to think that phone calls, post cards, letters and the more modern "email" were great ways for you to communicate with your instructor after taking a lesson.  There is nothing better than one-to-one communication after the fact to insure you are doing things correctly, which is why you should now ask your golf instructor if he or she used one of the many platforms of digital communication apps that allow your instructor to upload video and photos to you instantaneously, or even better, communicate instantly by audio and video to provide instant feedback of actual swings.  Can the platform your instructor use be integrated with the various other coaches you may be using, such as a fitness instructor or sports psychologist?  Being able to provide instantaneous feedback, follow-up instructions, lesson scheduling, or answers to your questions is no longer an option, it is a must for you and your instructor if you expect to get better.  
 
An Expert Team - Golf is getting so diverse that an instructor can not know everything about golf anymore.  A good instructor will surround him or herself with a team of experts that can include but is not limited to a fitness instructor, sports psychologist, nutritionist, club fitter, travel manager, educational tutors, and a host of other experts the instructor feels can benefit the student.  You may not need all those experts but knowing that your instructor has them at your disposal is a huge benefit to you.
 
Playing Ability - Can your instructor play golf at a competent level? You would be surprised as to the number of golf instructors that can not break 90!  This is still true and probably more prevalent than ever, based upon the demands now placed on golf professionals.  The real key to look for is the instructor competitive background.  Knowing the instructor has played at a level of competition that are looking to achieve is critical to allow proper communication and sharing of experiences with you, as you go through the learning and/or frustration process of reaching that level.  
 
I believe now more than ever that great players do not necessarily make the best instructors.  Some have made that transition wonderfully while others have failed miserably.  The two biggest reasons for the difference between success and failure is the instructor's ability to communicate at your level, not theirs, and the instructor understanding that what worked for them as great players may not be appropriate for you to reach your potential.  Getting stuck teaching what worked to get the player to whatever level is typically the instructor's demise.  
No matter who your instructor may be a great litmus test is their ability to demonstrate simple skills to you that they are asking you to do.  Can't demo it to you, chances are they have no clue what they are asking you to do.

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Summary - As in the previous version of this article, we can conclude that golf is still not rocket science or brain surgery, comparatively speaking to the importance of those sciences to our survival as humans.  However, with the emergence of new technologies and communicative platforms, golf is going to one day rival those two disciplines if we allow it to.  More importantly, the simple basics of physics, biomechanical principles, and geometric values still exist today, and are better understood when it comes to your golf game.  The golf instructor you ultimately choose to assist you needs to be someone you trust, can communicate and relate to as a person foremost, and possess the skills and tools to get you where you want to go as a golfer.  The instructor's intuitive ability to know when to fix your swing and when to leave your swing alone also remains a constant. The other variable factors of similar interests or beliefs off the course can add up to establishing a great relationship with your golf instructor.  But the bottom line for me remains the same as it did when I originally drafted this piece.
 
Your golf instructor should be "practicing" golf instruction, much like a doctor "practices" medicine, on a full time basis.  Choosing someone who does will eliminate any potential pitfalls that can happen between you and the unreliable instructors. By doing some research, asking simple questions, and understanding your needs prior to taking instruction, the chances of you choosing the right golf instructor for you greatly increases.  This process of picking the right golf instructor for you will ultimately provide the best way for you to realize the maximum return on your investment of money, resources, and your time while minimizing your learning curve.
 
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John Hughes, a PGA Master Professional of Instruction, is an award winning Golf Instructor, Clinician, and Coach to golfers of all skill levels, as well as an accomplished author and sought after speaker.  With more than 26 years of experience, John has been the golf coach to beginners, intermediates, elite juniors and amateurs, mini tour and major tour winners. Click here to visit www.johnhughesgolf.com.


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Comments

kennethblack

Good information. The main one is to make sure the teacher you decide to take lessons from is a valid PGA instructor/professional. Also, one lesson is usually not enough, so see if there are discounts on more than one lesson. Also, ask if there are clinics available - more people taking lessons at once, but the price will likely be lower.

KenBlackGolf.com