InstructionDecember 5, 2016

Teaching Golf In The 21st Century

Best Young Teacher Jake Thurm watches PGA player James Hahn in action on the BodiTrak mat.
Best Young Teacher Jake Thurm watches PGA player James Hahn in action on the BodiTrak mat.

“Most golfers are experimentologists," says Jake Thurm, who was just named one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers in America. "Golfers are more confused than ever. It's not that the tips and instructional videos out there are bad, or wrong. People just don't know what is right for them."

By embracing technology—and we're not talking just launch monitors and standard video—Thurm, 37, has taken instruction to an exciting new level that he uses both with his regular students in the Chicago area, where he is the director of instruction at the Learning Center at Fresh Meadow in Hillside, Ill., and with the PGA Tour players he coaches (including Kevin Streelman, whom he dubs "the ultimate driving machine"). "Technology lets us get away from opinion and back up what we're saying with quantifiable data."

One of Thurm's favorite tools is BodiTrak, for which he serves on an advisory board for the PGA Tour. Without getting overly technical, BodiTrak frees golfers to "feel the 'how'." A student simply stands on a mat and swings while 1,000 sensors provide instant feedback on the force the golfer applies to the ground during the swing and the quality of the motion made. "The downswing starts from the ground up," notes Thurm. Weight shift can be witnessed on a camera but the pressure, or traces, can't. The BodiTrak sensors map lateral, rotational and vertical ground-force reaction. "Motion creates position," says Thurm, who learned to teach from Dr. Jim Suttie, a doctor of biomechanics and one of the country's pre-eminent instructors. "Bad motion prevents a good position from taking shape."

When Thurm first started using pressure mapping, he took the BodiTrak system into his basement and swung away. He spent hours running through every drill that he had ever been taught so he good figure out which drills would be best suited to players with certain tendencies.

Thurm could see the benefit of pressure mapping for all levels of golfers because of his personal experience taking lessons as a junior golfer, when he would be on information overload after a lesson. "I couldn't play after a lesson. Overthinking is paralyzing. I like to say that instructors have a license to paralyze. The spoken word is the hardest to learn," he contends. Pressure mapping technology takes the guesswork out. "My students tend to leave the lessons with so much confidence that they want to tee off in five minutes."

Thurm enjoys sharing his knowledge and experience with others and travels the country giving clinics as part of Athletico Physical Therapy's golf performance team. "I enjoy helping other coaches learn," he says, and he has spotted Nick Faldo and Jim McLean at his clinics "listening to something I had to say."

Thurm's methodology is a welcome change for golfers who spend hundreds of hours a year trying to perfect the textbook golf swing. "Golf is about what the ball does—that's what counts," he says. "Not what you look like at the top of your swing." He quips, "The Hall of Fame is full of 'bad' golf swings."