The Plan

By: Tom Sargent, PGA

Although the following is an important element or every level of instruction it is written for those who are new to the profession and are beginning the fascinating world of golf instruction.

I find it interesting when a potential student poses questions such as, “How long will it take to get from a 15 handicap to single digit?”  Or, “If I take lessons twice a week for two months, what do you think I can get my handicap down to?”  How about, “Do you think I can get down to a single-digit index?”  The answer, however, remains the same.  It depends.

I generally will emphasize that golf is a game which should be learned internally more than taught externally.  We, as instructors, are the coaches who are along for the journey and maybe we can keep the player from going down the wrong path or convince them that there might be a more efficient method to try.  But no matter how good the instruction we are constrained by the ability and the determination of the client.  Most students want to improve but the real question is not whether they want to be good but are they willing to do what it takes to be better.  Sometimes physical ability is a tough hurdle.  Or while the body may be able, is the mind willing.  Often it comes down to do they have the time.  Life does have a way of disrupting our best laid plans for the game.

Obviously there are many things that factor into the equation when a player wants to improve his or her game.  And how often does he/she want the quick fix instead of making a sustained effort to improve his or her overall game.  Such a scenario reminds me of a sign I once saw in a golf shop posted near another sign which advertised lesson rates which were One lesson – $5000.  Lesson Series of 10 – $250.  The other sign simply said, “If you want a miracle you’ll have to pay for it.”  So your goal should be long-term improvement whenever possible.

One thing is for sure, once you’ve established where the individual really wants to go then you need to come up with a plan.

Many times (if not most) an individual comes to the instructor looking for a quick fix.  Sometimes that’s a good thing.  Often the instructor will provide such a quick fix and believe me I pride myself in being able to do so.  However, generally speaking I don’t think that is the best option for the student’s game.  Since the vast majority of golf swings, including those among the best players, are flawed to one degree or another, the quick fix can often be the easy out.  And even flawed swings can produce good shots, if only infrequently.  Depending on one’s point of view it can probably be said that just about every swing has a flaw.  With better players one often finds that there are usually an even number of flaws with one being the original flaw and the second being the compensation that corrects the original.  That isn’t always a bad thing and is sometimes best left alone.  But often there may be combinations of flaws or what are generally considered to be flaws.  When that is the case it can be tough to get all those errors and corrections to fly in formation more than once in a while.  Thus we find brilliance and inconsistency living in the same bag.

The best thing one can do as the instructor is to coax the player into long-term improvements which will benefit the player for more than next Saturday’s round of golf.  That’s a project which will benefit both the instructor and the player.   That often takes a sales job.  But what does that entail?  Laying out a plan is often the best closer.

I will assume that most instructors inquire as to the client’s goals in the early going.  Once a goal has been established, it’s the instructor’s responsibility to build a plan which the player can see and understand.  That requires an understanding of the subject’s entire game.  Do they need to focus on iron play?  Driver?  Distance? Short game play?  Putting?  And to take it a step further each of those can be broken down into parts.

It certainly helps to see the player on the course.  However, sometimes that’s not feasible.  So the interview will need to be fairly intensive and the tough thing about that is the player often doesn’t have a clear understanding of what his or her own issues are.  Or if the player is a beginner, they may have a tough time comprehending all the things that need to be learned.

What does the plan look like?  Well, it should take every aspect into consideration.  Then it should be prioritized as to which is most impactful to the player’s overall game (think scoring).  As examples, consider the intermediate player who has average or plus distance but doesn’t score well.  If the player understands that all he/she needs to do is reach an area on or around the green in regulation then a short game can solve a lot of problems.  The player who is just getting started will need (and want) to learn how to hit the ball.  One often finds that chipping and pitching – there is that short game again – teaches the player impact which carries over into the longer shots.  If driver is an issue, it helps to guide the client towards a one-way miss so there is some level of predictability with the tee ball.  Those are just a few while there are actually an infinite number of possibilities.

It is incumbent on the instructor to explain what the plan is. Why it is the recommendation and how it’s going to get the player where they would like to go.

So my recommendation is to lay out a plan in front of the player – one that sets out the steps in a systematic, simple and somewhat linear direction.  The plan should include an understanding not only what to practice but how to do it and some drills that specifically address the issue.  It should explain repetitive practice and any drills you wish to incorporate and the purpose.  It should include some random practice and also work in some competitive practice to provide a method of measuring progress.  As the instructor it helps to find a way to monitor those measurements.

I would encourage the instructor to get on the course again with the student once some of the basics are learned even if it’s only for a few holes.  We know that many students can get a rhythm going while hitting seven iron after seven iron on the range.  On-course observation will help assess if the student is truly learning, help with the measuring and allow an instructor to witness the progress under duress.  We are, after all, trying to help them learn to play golf.  That’s when you become as much a coach as you are an instructor.  And the real goal of the instruction is to get the player to score lower.

There is an old adage which a golf instructor should remember.  It simply states that “To fail to plan is to plan to fail.”   So if you want success as an instructor, get a plan.