Eventually, you're going to get tired of hitting that same slice time after time off the tee. You could listen to your buddies give you the wrong advice, or you can go get a lesson. We'd recommend the latter.
But how do you pick the right teacher for your game? We asked three top teachers for the four most important things you should do to pick the right coach for your game (and the game of your competitive junior player, if you happen to be a parent). Top 50 Teacher Kevin Weeks is the director of instruction at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club outside Chicago. Erika Larkin is a top Virginia teacher based at the Club at Creighton Farms, in Aldie. Top Ohio teacher Kyle Morris runs The Golf Room training center in Dublin.
1. Chemistry is extremely important.
Morris: "There are two elements to it. There's the personality type piece and the communication piece. There's no doubt the goal is to play better, and you have to be able to not only communicate, but communicate the right information. But this is also an entertainment service. People are spending money to come and do something with their free time, and if they aren't having fun, they aren't going to come back."
Weeks: "That's why I always start with a single lesson before committing to anything long-term with an adult or a competitive junior. Let's get to know each other, so everybody can see what they're getting into. It can't be a one-sided relationship. You need to have demeanors that match up, and the energy level must be similar."
Larkin: "Most good instructors will be happy to chat on the phone to answer questions or do a short interview and you can get a feel for their “bedside manner” before you move forward with a first lesson. A good sign is if they are asking you questions about what your goals are and suggesting what type of programs or classes would be a good starting point. Even if the teacher has an amazing track record and reputation online, you still need to see if they are a good fit for YOU."
2. Track record is good. A particular track record is even better.
Weeks: "Has the teacher taken somebody similar to the place you want to go? That could mean breaking 80, winning the club championship, accommodating a swing to an injury, whatever. It's especially important if you're establishing a relationship for a junior player. You need to pick a teacher who has had a kid go where you want your kid to go. There's no bigger honor than having a parent trust you with a kid's playing future, and no bigger car crash than messing it up because you don't have the experience."
Larkin: "It's really no different than hiring any other service provider. Check them out online—website, Yelp, YouTube, Instagram, and ask any friends who might be students for a testimonial. What you're looking for is transparency about teaching philosophy, certifications, awards, student accomplishments, testimonials."
Morris: "I realize it sounds like I'm kissing up to Golf Digest, but their state-by-state teacher list is a great place to start. It's what I did when I wanted to get better as a player years ago. I went to the Ohio list to see who was supposed to be good around me, and started from there."
Larkin: "The rankings and things like working with tour players are important, for sure, but teachers that work with a lot of elite players may not be the best in communicating or relating to a newer golfers or higher handicappers. Some coaches are more technical and use a lot of technology—others are not, and focus on more simple swing cues. Depending on your level of play, needs and learning style, you might be better with one type of coach or another."
3. Patience is a virtue.
Weeks: "One question I get all the time is about how many lessons it will take to see some improvement. If you know where to look, you'll see improvement in one lesson! But improvement isn't linear, and real improvement takes time. Ideally, the teacher and student talk ahead of time about goals and how much the student will be able to practice, and the improvement plan reflects that so everyone is starting from the same page."
Morris: "It's my job to make you feel something different and potentially uncomfortable, because if you wanted to just keep doing what you're doing, you wouldn't be taking lessons. So there's going to be an amount of time it takes go from being uncomfortable to being comfortable with new stuff."
Weeks: "One thing that happens too much is that people aren't in it for the long haul. There's an argument or some friction and they make a change. But friction is a normal part of a coaching relationship, and it's especially important for junior players to see that they need to participate in a relationship where they don't just get what they want and what feels good. They need to be able to take ownership and solve problems."
Morris: "I like to say that there are confidence lessons and competence lessons, and the good teacher-student relationships have both and have them at the correct times. I'm headed for the tour event next week to see a client, and it's all about getting him to feel confident. But if we're in the indoor hitting bay in the middle of the winter working on skills, that's a competence lesson. Both areas have to be taken care of on purpose, with a plan."
4. Know what you want going in.
Morris: "At a certain level, most teachers teach the same things. They might pick different priorities, and they definitely communicate it differently with different styles and analogies. What you need to do is figure out if those analogies are translating into performance. Performance is about score, but it also helps to have some non-scoring benchmarks. It's why we measure things in The Golf Room so carefully. What is your real dispersion? How is the ball launching and spinning? Those are real measurements of change and progress, and how are those translating to the course? If you can see those incremental changes in your measurements, you're going to stay encouraged even as you wait for it to be reflected in your scores."
Larkin: "A lesson can be transactional, or it can be like visiting a friend. And follow-up styles can range from none to texts and emails checking in on what's going on. I'm not saying any of those things are right or wrong...The point is that the better you communicate up front about everybody's style, the better you can set the plan and expectations about results."
Weeks: I have players who simply want to enjoy the game more, and I have players who want to earn a Division I scholarship to the most competitive school in the country. Both of those things are fine, but the way you coach those two players is totally different.You measure progress very differently, and you approach the relationship differently. That should be as clear for the teacher as it is for the student."
Morris: "One sign of progress I really want to see is that the student eventually doesn't need me—because they know how to diagnose what's going wrong out there and change it when it matters. That means getting detailed game assessments and practice plans that progress, not just the same lesson over and over."