Talk about a day a century in the making. National Instruction Day served Wednesday as the exclamation point of the PGA of America’s 100-day Centennial campaign.
Kicking off at Baltusrol Golf Club, in Springfield, New Jersey (this year’s PGA Championship host site) and capping off at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco (host site of 2020 PGA Championship), 20 of the most legendary names in golf instruction presented their expertise at six clinics across the country including PGA members: Michael Breed, Martin Hall, Hank Haney, Craig Harmon, David Leadbetter, Cameron McCormick, Jim McLean, Stan Utley and several others, including PGA President Derek Sprague and PGA Secretary Suzy Whaley.
Golf Channel hosted 16 hours of coverage, including 12 hours of live broadcasts, which delivered National Instruction Day to America’s living rooms and golf shops. In-Studio Host Blair O’Neal, who was joined by PGA member Jeff Ritter on the set, called it “the biggest day in instruction history.”
“When we began 100 years ago, our teaching professionals were the experts in teaching the game, and here we are today celebrating National Instruction Day,” said PGA President Derek Sprague. “We have twenty of the finest teaching professionals around the country, and they’re just twenty of the 28,000 that can teach and grow the game.”
With golfers having a never-ending desire to get better at their game and instruction the heart and soul of the PGA Professional, National Instruction Day was a nationwide celebration.
“It’s really one of the critical things that PGA Professionals do,” explained PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua. “When you talk about the business of the game, the playing of the game, but the teaching of the game—it is just an area where PGA of America Professionals distinguish themselves. They’re the best teachers in the world; certainly the best teachers in the country.”
Among the highlights from coast-to-coast:
New Jersey Clinic - Baltusrol Golf Club – The Fundamentals of ‘PGA’
Golf Channel Host Michael Breed, the 2013 PGA Teacher of the Year, opened his clinic at Baltusrol with the keys of “PGA” – “Posture, Grip and Alignment,” stressing that grip is the most important aspect, as it is your attachment to the club.
Breed was joined by Tom Henderson, the 2015 PGA Golf Professional of the Year. Henderson advised to not make the mistake of going to the golf course cold, but to warm-up and stretch properly. He recommended using a stretching pole or a driver to loosen up the joints in your shoulders, especially.
Henderson also suggested when taking a practice swing to begin by moving to the finish position, and work backwards. From there, take a full swing prior to your shot.
“That way you get two practice swings instead of one,” explained Henderson.
Another PGA Teacher of the Year, Lou Guzzi (2013) explained how PGA Professionals not only help golfers but fellow PGA Professionals. “That’s the beautiful thing of what we do.”
Guzzi demonstrated his “two pumps and a hit” routine to line up your shot, which is done exactly as it sounds – two practice short swings before you swing through.
“National Instruction Day—one of the coolest days of the year—20 of the best instructors sharing their keen insights, because that’s what we love to do,” said Breed. “That’s what this day is all about.”
“For anybody who loves the game of golf, this is a very special day for them, as well as the PGA of America,” added Host Professional Doug Steffen.
Florida Clinic – Golf Channel Studios – Distance and Power
In Orlando, Martin Hall, Craig Harmon and Jim McLean addressed the Holy Grail for many amateur golfers–distance, to practice proper tilt by taking your trail hand and reaching behind your knee cap. For increased power, he uses an acronym: “prepare, order, windup, explode and release.” As an example, he stressed body, arms and wrists, as the order of your takeaway. He also explained to windup by not using your shoulders, but rather your thorax –the center of your chest.
“Fifty, sixty years ago, I heard my dad say, ‘There’s no substitution for club head speed,’” stated Harmon, who recommends taking five practice swings, slowly building up your speed until the fastest you can swing happens on the last one before hitting the ball. “And I would say that has come to fruition for the modern golfer.’”
Hall praised McLean for being an influential teacher and that his teachings on power has resonated throughout the instruction industry, in homage to the #ThxPGAPro campaign, where everyone can post messages thanking their PGA Professional on ThxPGAPro.com or by using the hashtag on social media. “In a year of ThanksPGAPro, I would thank you for your massive contributions to golf,” said Hall.
McLean, the 1994 PGA Teacher of the Year, talked about his famous “X-Factor” theory – what the body does during the golf swing with minimal hip turn and maximum shoulder turn. He sees the main power sources of golf as the wrists, hands and arms, and body. McLean advised making an “L” with your back arm behind your body, as you take back your swing to get into a power position.
Harmon explained to studio host Sara Brown the dangers of computer-like “viruses” in the golf swing. “If you keep your head over the ball, you can’t turn.” He also warned how amateur golfers will mistakenly swing straight to the target, which will cause you to lose balance and be unable to unwind your body. Instead, you should swing through to the side nearest your body. A good way to practice this with a PGA Professional is to lay two rails down—one by the ball and one by your front foot a few feet behind it—and swing towards the rail by your front foot.
Hall closed the Orlando segment by demonstrating his version of the swing of Rory McIlroy, whose power off the tee is one of the most exhilarating in golf, as an example to emulate.
Texas Clinic - Keeton Park Golf Course – Irons, Wedges and Sporting Goods
In Dallas, Cameron McCormick, who coaches the No. 1 player in the world, Jordan Spieth, advised viewers to let the “handle to win the race” when playing irons. He also says to envision the club head as the hammer and the tee as the nail, and to slightly alter address and impact when changing trajectory.
For wedges, McCormick uses “The Goldilocks Effect” to find the “just right” speed to hit the ball. “I prefer to use my body pivot, rather than my arm length, to create the force I am using in my swing,” said the 2015 PGA Teacher of the Year, who dials down distance by decreasing speed.
McCormick sank a pitch shot from approximately 40 yards to the thrill of the onsite crowd, which included PGA Junior League Golf team members.
Meanwhile, Randy Smith, 2002 PGA Teacher of the Year, demonstrated how other sports, such as fishing, tennis and baseball can be applied to the golf swing. “Body movements in other sports, as they relate to golf, are very important to transition them to the golf swing.
For example, the grip of a topspin forehand in tennis creates a right-to-left ball curve in golf. Meanwhile, the movement of a third baseman in baseball to pivot to his backhand to field, step and throw the ball is the essence of the swing.
Similarly, Keeton Park Director of Golf Tony Martinez demonstrates how kicking a soccer ball and a using a hockey stick are other examples of how you can manage and control the golf ball. As you learn how to control direction, you can use smaller balls to refine your skills. For putting, he says you can practice aiming at the right post of the soccer goal in order to hit it to the left post. “We try to do things that people can really relate to.”
Martinez gave advice for getting juniors involved. “Give them experience, and make it fun. Then, practice will make sense.”
Illinois Clinic - Cog Hill Golf & Country Club – Short-Game Expertise
At Cog Hill Golf & Country Club near Chicago, Golf Channel’s Charlie Rymer, a PGA member, encouraged viewers “to get out and play more golf” by hosting a short-game clinic with Stan Utley, Todd Sones and Kevin Weeks that focused on chipping, pitching, bunker play and putting.
“The hardest part of learning to improve is getting rid of the old,” said Stan Utley, of Grayhawk Golf Club, the site of the 2016-’17 PGA Junior League Golf Championships.
Sones conducted a putter fitting with one of his students. “People spend upwards of $1,000 or $2,000 to get to the green, and they buy a putter off the shelf that’s not fit, and it’s worth forty percent of your score. It’s the most valuable club in your bag.”
Sones also warned about standing too close to the ball, which often happens when the putter is too long from being bought off the shelf. He then explained his “The Scoring Zone” method of determining putter size. “Buying a putter off the shelf is like buying a pair of eyeglasses off the shelf.”
Utley recommended that you stand at an angle, and walk into your putt line. “Routine is such a big part, because aim is so difficult.”
For playing off the green, Weeks, PGA Director of Instruction at Cog Hill, uses a “Short Game Tree” to practice how to change trajectories–four hula hoops stacked high in the air on two poles that’s used as a target.
He recommends having the handle of the golf club always pointing at your belt buckle, “so as you move the club in your stance, the loft of the club you set is there, as a reference point.”
Colorado Clinic - Fossil Trace Golf Club – Slices, Hooks, Swing Plane and Distance
An enthusiastic crowd that included juniors from PGA Junior League Golf and The First Tee gathered in the magnificent foothills of Golden, Colorado at Fossil Trace Golf Club. They watched Hank Haney work with Golf Channel Host and PGA Member Brian Crowell on lowering your score by fixing the “big miss.” By eliminating penalty shots, two chips and three putts, your scores will go up.
“Whenever you are close to the green, you putt,” said Haney, who famously worked with Tiger Woods for several years. “When you can’t putt, you chip. When you can’t chip, you pitch.”
He also explains that there is not just one way to position your hands to hold the club handle, or ‘grip’ for everyone. However, a grip that has one’s hands rotated to the right (for a right-handed golfer) is considered weak and causes a slice. A strong grip turns the hands underneath to your left, which causes a hook. The benefit of a hook is it rolls further. Adjust your grip towards you back shoulder.
If you slice, swing more to the right, and close the face earlier. If you hook, swing the club more to the left, and hold the face open a little longer to compensate. For slices, slow your body down. Speed your hands and arms up. For hooks, get your body or at least your arms through faster to get the club face to open more.
“If you hit the golf club on the correct plane, you have the best chance of hitting the center of the face,” adds Haney. “Swing plane is the most important fundamental, after you get past the setup in the game of golf.”
Meanwhile, Sandy LaBauve explained how women and girls swing clubs differently than men. “The target plays a big factor. Your brain starts thinking about swinging on a line…What happens to women because a lot us haven’t played a whole lot of rotary sports, we have this perception that we should swing on a ferris wheel. The golf swing gets long at the top, very folded and gets very parallel.”
She explains that you will have to do something at the bottom of the swing to not bottom out into the ground. LaBauve recommends using a small club and to swing while looking into a mirror at home to adjust. She also uses an iron behind her back and her shoulders to bend over and practice pivoting. “The key we are always trying to do is to get all of these thoughts in our heads back into a ‘feel mode,’ so we’re not thinking so much standing over the ball.”
Haney spoke to the secrets of adding distance, and it lies with speed and by being more relaxed with your hands, arms and grip. Another way is to create a bigger arc, by allowing your wrists to hinge.
“Distance determines your potential in the game of golf,” explains Haney. “You want to swing the club faster…Your swing is not too fast. It’s probably too slow.”
Trent Wearner closed out the Colorado clinic, by explaining that you should have a plan not just to play, but to practice, too. “Know what you are working on and make sure it is happening when you practice.”
Wearner even demonstrated how he uses a swim noodle to work on his swing angle into the ball.
California Clinic – TPC Harding Park – Synchronization, Turning and Proper Posture
National Instruction Day clinics culminated in San Francisco at TPC Harding Park, where David Leadbetter was joined by PGA Secretary Suzy Whaley and Josh Zander.
“There are so many moving parts in the swing, it’s tough to synchronize all of them together,” explained Leadbetter, the creator of “The A Swing,” a simplified approach used by players, such as Lydia Ko. “We are going to try to simplify and synchronize the bigger parts of the swing…When you are really synchronizing, you can feel where the club is relative to your body, no matter what level of player you are.”
The “A” is about alternative in the back swing. Posture, grip, ball position and alignment are the “platform” of your swing. Use an anatomical approach for gripping the club, and let your arms hang down body. Take hold of the club into your glove hand at the angle your hand is leaning. He sees the biggest fault in golf is an improper grip, but if you are able to hinge and cock your wrist, you have a natural grip.
He quotes Ben Hogan, “Good golf begins with a good grip”
For posture, imagine getting ready to dive into a pool with your arms hanging down and hands behind you, to develop the proper stance. Ball position and alignment varies by the person. If there is a slice, he adjusts the alignment.
Leadbetter explains how the body works in the turn, which he explains is more of a coil. So, you need to load, wind up, stretch up, move and rotate. “It’s like a piston movement…Literally it takes a couple of minutes to get a good pivot motion.”
Leadbetter knows that there is a lot of difference in swing theory among instructors. He prefers to “let the dog wag the tail, so the body helps position the club, as long as you allow it.
“We want your body exploding when it moves through,” added Ledbetter, who recommends a split-your-hands drill to keep them inside the club, allowing your body to do everything in the swing.
He explains the clubs should go back steep, and come down shallow, to form the “V” plane of the “The A Swing.”
Like Leadbetter, Whaley teaches to the basics, which she uses to build the foundation of your golf swing and game. A good grip is essential. “As your hand hangs is how you should hold the club.”
She recommends holding golf tees upside down between your thumb and forefingers, angled slightly to the right, to get your hands in the exact right place along your finger line, instead of the palm.
To get in the diving posture, Whaley says to stand tall, separate your feet shoulder-length apart, so your ankles are underneath your armpits. Bend your knees slightly. Put the club up in front of you horizontally. Pull it in, so your elbows are touching your body. From your neck to your tailbone, bow in one piece, and then lower the club.
Whaley compares the proper posture to the “guard position” in basketball, so you can feel the ground underneath your feet.
She cautions against twisting, instead of turning. If you are falling backwards, that is not a good shot. Whaley uses a stick positioned through her front belt loops, as a drill to ensure she doesn’t turn her hips too far away from the ball. She also uses a step-through drill with a short iron to help your release of the golf club and get your sequence of motion on the downswing correct—by literally stepping forward with your back foot (moving up and over your front/target foot after the swing) and holding your finish. “It’s going to really help you hit better shots.”
Leadbetter adds that a drill he loves is to start your club a little forward of the ball, like the windup of a tennis serve to synchronize. “You’ll be amazed the flow of the swing, the way you can synchronize your swing—it really put things together,” he says. “Sync is king.”
Zander, one of the top instructors in California, wrapped things up by bringing in a hula hoop, to help understand that the golf swing is a circle and not a straight line. “The more the differential, the bigger the curve.”
He explained that set up of the ball for your driver can cause a slice. By moving the ball slightly back, as well as the right foot (for right handers), you, too, can cure the bane of many a golfer’s existence.
“I want to thank every PGA Professional across the country that each and every day is helping everyone at their facilities have more fun and play better golf,” surmised Whaley.
Breed and Hall closed the Day of Instruction with a postgame in-studio show, appropriately with a live clinic.
To find a PGA Professional near you, visit the “Find an Instructor” search engine on PGA.com.