It’s no secret that players have a literal universe of swing tips available to them in the form of video, instruction articles online and even well-intentioned advice from friends and playing partners.
But what locks up the gears is when the advice doesn’t match a player’s capabilities, comes at the wrong time—or is just plain wrong.
Golf instructors are traffic cops on the bad information superhighway, and the best ones have seen (and heard) virtually every tip and slogan you can imagine. We asked five top teachers to reminisce about their favorite bits of misinformation and instruction malpractice they’ve witnessed on the practice tee.
How bad are average golfers at giving advice to their friends?
Michael Jacobs, Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher: “I want to be nice, but . . . it’s not good. I will say that virtually every player I’ve ever overheard giving advice seems to mean well, and a lot of them really sincerely believe the tip or fundamental they’re sharing is the one that will solve someone else's issue. But most of the stuff you hear casually is either bad application of information that could be good if complete, or straight up bad information.”
Nick Clearwater, Golf Digest No. 1 teacher in Colorado: “Yep . . . what people get really wrong are the basics. They don’t know ball-flight laws, and what really makes shots do what they do. So they’re putting the wrong tape and glue on places that might not even be hurt.”
What’s the worst tip you've ever heard somebody give?
Shaun Webb, Golf Digest top teacher in Louisiana: “How much time do you have? 'Keep your head down.' 'Don’t use your arms.' 'You’re swinging too fast.' One of the worst I’ve ever heard came from another teacher. He told someone that if you fire the hips, the club will square automatically. There’s so much wrong with that—I’ll bet the student doesn’t even play golf anymore.”
Clearwater: “ 'Hold the club like a baby bird' is one of the classics. The long drive guys are the biggest, strongest people on earth, and through impact, they're trying to rip the grip in half. There's a lot of force going on down there."
"Of all the ways you move in a swing, ‘keep your head down’ is the worst advice you could give. Just go look at the tour players. Nobody is trying to stay bent forward. Nobody. You're not hitting poor shots because of where your eyes are pointed.”
Jacobs: “I overheard a teacher giving a lesson where he told a woman that she needed to keep her head between her arms for the whole swing. She proceeded to make some swings where she got to the finish facing the target with her head stuck between her arms like she was playing peekaboo, while the coach nodded his head and told her how great it looked. I saw her a few days later, and she was grinding on the range, doing that same move over and over. That’s a disaster.”
Clearwater: “And they almost always end with, “How did that feel?” It was a grounder, but it felt great.
Do you ever try to rescue somebody unsolicited if you see them going down a completely terrible path?
Chris Como, Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher: “In a golf course or a practice range scenario, I’ve never said anything to anybody who didn’t ask for help. But if I’m at an airport or something and see somebody making air swings, I might say something. I usually get blown off, though, because to them I’m just some dude at baggage claim throwing out a golf tip.”
Jacobs: “Never. Are you one of those people who tries to get the dermatologist you just met tailgating before a football game to look at your face in the parking lot of the stadium? Make an appointment, come take a lesson and I’ll give you everything I have.”
Clearwater: “Twenty years ago, I would have been the person who tried to intervene and save the day. Now, I’ll only do it if somebody asks—and even then it isn’t a matter of some quick tip. I’d need to ask seven or eight more questions to try to get to the bottom of what they really needed. You say you’re pulling it. Well, where do you think you’re aiming the club? What are you really doing? And that kind of pulls you down the rabbit hole."
Webb: “If somebody is really struggling, I’ll say something like ‘Hey, can I take a look?” But a lot of times, you give a little something in that scenario and they’ll push back on you and say it doesn’t feel good, or that the way they do is what they heard they should do. I leave it at, “Well, I’ve never seen somebody good do that.” And I say that a lot.
Do you notice anything the advice givers have in common?
Jacobs: “You’d think that good players would give better advice, but that isn’t always true. And, honestly, it’s usually the 15-handicapper doing most of it. That’s dangerous, because that’s a player who has some experience with the game, but is still out there shooting in the 90s.”
Tony Ruggiero, Golf Digest top Alabama teacher: “I see it a lot with parents. You’ll get tons of them that can’t break 90 themselves, and they bring a kid to a lesson and give you a rundown about why Johnny or Janie is hitting it bad. They’re sure it’s because the player is coming over the top, when he might actually be swinging way in-to-out with a closed face. You kind of nod your head and try to move on with the lesson.”
Webb: “It’s almost always the guy who’s the most sure of himself who is the most wrong. And he’s almost always the loudest.”