Golf Digest editors picks

50 Tips From The 50 Greatest Teachers

From driving to putting by the country's best instructors, as ranked by their peers

August 2009
50 Tips From The 50 Greatest Teachers

Editor's Note: Click here to see the 2011-2012 ranking of America's Best Golf Teachers.

For the fifth consecutive time, instructors nationwide voted Butch Harmon No. 1 in Golf Digest's ranking of America's 50 Greatest Teachers. But it nearly took a sudden-death playoff. In the closest finish since we started the game's only peer ranking in 2000, Harmon edged Hank Haney for the top spot by seven votes out of more than 500 ballots cast by instructors from all 50 states. Both teachers were well ahead of No. 3 David Leadbetter -- a testament to their work with the game's two highest-profile players, Harmon with Phil Mickelson and Haney with Tiger Woods. Jim McLean and Chuck Cook round out the top five.

Four teachers are new to the 50 Greatest for 2009-2010: Dave Phillips from the Titleist Performance Institute (T-35), longtime Seminole and Oakmont pro Bob Ford (39), putting expert Mike Shannon of Sea Island Golf Club (45) and Pinehurst Resort's Eric Alpenfels (T-48). On the following pages, you'll meet all of the 50 Greatest Teachers -- and read a tip from each one.

You might not be able to get time with Butch Harmon, but you can consult Golf Digest's Best Teachers in Your State, a list of almost 500 instructors, to book a lesson with a top teacher near you.

1. Butch Harmon

359 votes

Butch Harmon School of Golf, Rio Secco G.C., Henderson, Nev. (butchharmon.com, 702-777-2444)
STUDENTS: Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Natalie Gulbis, Stewart Cink, Nick Watney
LESSON RATE: $600/hour
---
DRIVING: FIX IT FROM THE FINISH BACK
Golfers overlook the finish as a way of checking their swings. It can tell you a lot about what happened, especially on tee shots. Look for these keys:
• Your right shoulder should be closer to the target than your left shoulder, which shows that you kept rotating through the shot.
• Almost all of your weight should be on your front foot, to the point where you can easily lift your back foot without repositioning.
• The shaft should be angled diagonally across the back of your head or neck, not hanging down your back or sticking up.
• You should be able to hold your finish. Try posing until the ball lands to make sure you've swung at a speed you can support.

MORE TIPS FROM BUTCH HARMON

2. Hank Haney

352 votes

Hank Haney Golf, Lewisville, Tex. (hankhaney.com, 972-315-5300)
STUDENTS: Tiger Woods
RATE: $500/hour
---
FAIRWAY WOODS: BAG THE DRIVER?
Going down to the 3-wood from the driver for a tight driving hole is common sense, but it's not an automatic. You have to consider how long the hole is. If hitting a 3-wood would leave you with more than a 7-iron into the green, you should take the risk and hit driver. Even if you hit it in the rough, you'll be farther down the hole.

When you do play that 3-wood shot off the tee, take into account your most common mistake.

The standard tee height for a fairway wood is half the ball showing above the clubface, but if your tendency is to sky shots, tee the ball closer to the ground. On the flip side, if you tend to catch your mis-hits thin, tee the ball a little higher to compensate.

MORE TIPS FROM HANK HANEY

3. David Leadbetter

293 votes

David Leadbetter Golf Academy at ChampionsGate, Orlando (davidleadbetter.com, 407-787-3330)
STUDENTS: Michelle Wie, Nick Price, Suzann Pettersen, Fredrik Jacobson, Ian Poulter, Peter Lonard, Skip Kendall
RATE: $3,500 for three hours
---
IRONS: SET UP PERFECT CONTACT
When it comes to great iron play, you need to strike the ball with a slightly descending blow to produce the ball-then-turf contact that characterizes a crisply struck iron shot. Many amateur golfers struggle with their iron shots because they try to lift or scoop the ball into the air. These actions put the hands behind the clubhead at impact, which results in either a thin or a fat shot.

To help you feel the ideal impact position and improve the quality of your ball striking, try pre-setting your hands slightly forward of the ball at address. This will encourage you to hit down on the ball as your hands lead the clubhead through impact, allowing the loft of the clubface to do the work for you.

MORE TIPS FROM DAVID LEADBETTER

4. Jim McLean

250 votes

Jim McLean Golf School at Doral Golf Resort & Spa, Miami (jimmclean.com, 800-723-6725)
STUDENTS: Len Mattiace, Erik Compton, Brad Adamonis, Cristie Kerr
RATE: $500/hour
---

CHIPPING: HOW TO SPIN THE BALL
The importance of excellent chipping has increased as architects build more collection areas around greens that are firmer and faster. The most controllable chip is what the pros call the "check and release.'' They play it with a gap or sand wedge, and it gets its name because the ball comes out low with maximum backspin, checking up on the first few bounces and rolling out to the hole.

The keys are in the setup and making a firm strike. Start with more weight on your front foot and the shaft leaning slightly toward the target. Keep your wrists firm through the strike to trap the ball and impart backspin. This shot replaces the old chip-and-run, and it's the weapon of choice today.

MORE TIPS FROM JIM MCLEAN

5. Chuck Cook

249 votes

Chuck Cook Golf Academy at Dallas National G.C., Dallas (512-422-7979)
STUDENTS: Tom Kite, Carin Koch, Hilary Lunke, Nina Reis
RATE: $250/hour
---
PITCHING: THE BASIC MOTION

On a standard pitch, fight your instinct to swing up on the ball or toward the target. Instead, focus on swinging left of the target line as you follow through. The hands should swing around the body to the left of the target line and to a point where the shaft is in line with the heels, parallel to the ground and parallel to the target line.

The body's rotation should propel the stroke. Doing this keeps the hands quiet. You'll feel like you're swinging around your belt. The big mistake amateurs make is not trusting the loft of the wedge to hit the ball high enough. That's what you're doing when you swing up on it. Practice hitting shots focusing only on swinging to the left.

MORE TIPS FROM CHUCK COOK

6. Stan Utley

242 votes

Grayhawk G.C., Scottsdale (stanutleygolf.com, 573-489-2268)
---
GET LEFT IN THE SAND:
In greenside bunkers, move your shoulders slightly toward the target, so if you hung a club down from your sternum, it would point just in front of the ball. During the swing, keep your weight on your left foot and your shoulders tilted left, as they were at address. This will feel like a reverse pivot. Then throw the clubhead early in the downswing by releasing your wrist angle, and slap the sand with the bottom of the club. You want the clubhead to pass your hands before it gets to the ball.

MORE TIPS FROM STAN UTLEY

7. Jim Hardy

234 votes

Jim Hardy Golf, Houston (jimhardygolf.com, 866-731-6777)
---
SWEEP THE DRIVER
Because the ball is teed with the driver, you want to make a shallow swing. Bobby Jones honed this move by giving his hips and shoulders a little extra turn at the top and allowing the grip to move more behind him. This not only put his arms in position to swing down from the inside, but also put the shaft slightly across the line, which helped him swing down on a shallow path.

MORE TIPS FROM JIM HARDY

8. Jim Flick

233 votes

TaylorMade Learning Center, Carlsbad, Calif. (jimflick.com, 888-546-3542)
---
WHEN TO HIT UP:
There are only two basic shots where you want to hit up on the ball: tee shots with the driver and putts. On both shots, play the ball toward your left heel, and place your weight slightly on your right leg. You need to swing up with your driver because the ball is on a tee, so you can launch it with minimal spin. You need to swing up with the putter because you're trying to minimize backspin, so the ball starts rolling smoothly as soon as possible.

MORE TIPS FROM JIM FLICK

9. Mike Bender

225 votes

Mike Bender Golf Academy, Magnolia Plantation Golf Club in Lake Mary, Fla. (mikebender.com, 407-321-0444)
---
DRILL: ROUND IT OUT
Most amateurs swing down steeply with the driver, as if they were swinging an iron. Instead, try a shallow driver path into the ball. Here's a drill: Stand up and swing the driver around your body like a baseball bat. Once you ingrain that feeling, bend over at the waist and rest the club on the ground. Now hit shots continuing to feel that rounded motion.

MORE TIPS FROM MIKE BENDER
Around The Web
Subscribe to Golf Digest
Subscribe today