Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The anatomy of a lesson

Students are often curious and sometimes a little nervous about taking a golf lesson. As a player myself who has taken lessons I can relate to those feelings. I hope to ease those concerns by outlining for you the format of my lessons. But before I discuss that let me explain why the golf ball itself is your best teacher.

First, a golf ball is brutally honest and never lies. On every shot it tells you exactly what your clubhead was doing at impact. Also known as "Ball Flight Laws" this is extremely important information and is the basis for long term improvement to your game.

The second reason why the golf ball is such a good teacher is it doesn't care about your particular technique. It doesn't know or care if your grip is "weak" or "strong", if your swing plane is "flat" like Matt Kuchar or "upright" like Jack Nicklaus. Nor is it concerned with your posture, alignment or ball position. All that matters to the golf ball is what the clubhead does to it.

By watching the flight of the ball I know exactly what the student's clubhead is doing at impact. This is extremely helpful information in order to show the student what they must do in their technique in order to improve their shots. It is also a much more personal application than some rigid "method teaching" meant to fit all players into the same mold.

A student must first understand that their shots, whether good or bad, are determined by the impact conditions. Which direction was the clubhead moving when it contacted the ball? Was the clubface facing to the left or right, or straight down the club path? Was the clubhead moving down, up, or parallel to the ground at impact? Was it moving at a relatively fast or slow speed?

With this explained you will have a better understanding of my teaching format which contains three parts - Diagnosis, Explanation and Correction.

First, I watch my students hit a few shots standing directly down their target line. This allows me to see the path of the clubhead as it moves through the impact area. I also see the ball's flight including the initial direction and any subsequent sideways curve. The ball's flight combined with observing the clubhead's path tells me where the clubface was facing at impact. At this point I am able to make a diagnosis based on what the club is doing to the ball and what the player is doing to the club.

Second, I give the student an explanation of what the club is doing at impact as well as what it should be doing in order to improve his or her shots. I may hit a shot or two reproducing the student's impact conditions resulting in a similar ball flight. Then I'll hit a shot or two with proper impact conditions to show the student how an improved condition will similarly improve his or her shots.

Third, I explain to the student what correction techniques will improve their impact conditions. Often I will demonstrate the correction accompanied by a drill or practice tip that will further simplify the student's effort.

This is not to say that our impact conditions aren't determined by the way we grip the club, set up to the ball and actually swing. They certainly are. What I am saying is that the flight of the ball greatly assists you in knowing what you should change in your technique in order to improve your shots.

In closing I would offer this advice to amateur and weekend players. Never accept a piece of instruction, no matter how impressive the presentation, without first asking just how this advice will improve your clubhead's impact with the ball.

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