October 29, 2008

Interview Your Instructor

Golf Digest Challenge

Finding the right teacher is a lot like choosing a spouse: Ideally you want to have things in common, enjoy each other's company, trust and respect one another and have the ability to communicate.

Because there aren't any Match.coms or eHarmonys in the world of golf instruction, how do golfers go about finding a teacher who fits their game and personality? Here are my five rules for picking a teacher:

__1. Find an instructor who has had success teaching golfers of your ability, age, sex and commitment level.__Some teachers prefer (and are at their best) working with really good players, high-handicappers, men, women, kids or seniors. Ask potential teachers what type of golfers they regularly teach and even talk to a few students if you can.

2. Select a teacher who is close to where you live or work and has the time and energy to give you the attention you want. If you have to drive a long way to take your lesson, you might not stay with it. Also, you want to avoid teachers who are overbooked and might rush through a lesson with you.

3. Look for someone who you enjoy spending time with. You might have to take a couple of lessons to find out. Another way is to offer to pay a teacher for half an hour to ask some questions and get better acquainted. You need to find out if you connect.

__4. Go for credibility.__You can't learn if you don't trust the message. Unlike kids, adults tend to approach lessons with skepticism and question the instruction they receive. Kids are better at trusting what the teacher tells them. Adults could learn from that. If you don't believe in what the teacher is telling you, you're wasting your time.

5. Decide if you want a teacher who is technical and analytical or one who teaches based on feel and visualization. Both methods/philosophies work. But some golfers respond better to one or the other. Discuss your preference with any potential teacher.

Challenge: Low 90s By Labor Day

When people hear that I'm the art director at Golf Digest, two questions come up: "Do you know Tiger?" and "You must be a great golfer, right?" No and no. Being a new golfer here is like eating at the kids' table on Thanksgiving: You're part of the family, but not ready to join the adults for fine wine and sophisticated conversation.

Every month I design instruction stories (I've seen more grip photos than a hand surgeon), but I've never really tried to improve. Now I'm tired of not being able to break 100. I've decided I want to take my place at the big table. I've found a teacher and signed up for the Golf Digest Challenge. (The Challenge is an online game-improvement program with stat-tracking and personalized lessons using the top teachers and players.)

A few guys in the office recommended an instructor named John Strevens (right), at SportsCenter of Connecticut, about 20 minutes away. John and I quickly established a rapport, which opened my mind to learning about the swing. He's giving me a total overhaul, and I'm learning what a good swing feels like.

I've posted five rounds on golfdigest.com/challenge -- still haven't broken 100, but I see promise. My Long Game Handicap is 30; Short Game is 31. With a lot of trips to the range, I'm hoping to be in the low 90s by Labor Day. And with any luck, I'll be sitting at the big table on Thanksgiving.

-- Tim Oliver