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What your golf game really needs this holiday season: Four top teachers offer some (free) advice

December 05, 2019

Gift certificates, boxes of balls and shiny new clubs are certainly popular holiday golfer presents, but we wanted to find out what some top golf instructors believe would really change a student’s game. Obviously, lessons from a local golf professional should be at the top of the list. But would kind of advice would top teachers offer to golfers over the holidays? The answers are a mixture of conceptual and concrete—and best of all, most of them are free!

For the Hard-Headed Golfer: An Open Mind

“Ask any teacher about the student who comes in determined to tell you what he or she needs to be working on,” says Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Tony Ruggiero, who is based at Frederica Golf Club in St. Simons Island, Ga. “You’ll get a story right away because people come in with that mindset every single week.” At best, it delays the learning process until you let the teacher get to the real root of the problem. At worst, says Ruggiero, it’s a waste of the cash you laid out for the lesson. An anti-gift, so to speak.

“I recently had a good junior player come in and he was obsessed with this little move he was making in transition,” says Ruggiero. “He was convinced he was swinging over the top, and he was determined to fix that swing path no matter what we talked about. But, eventually, he saw that his path really wasn’t bad, and that he really should be spending time on what the clubface was doing. Being open lets you come out of a lesson with a plan that actually addresses the real stuff that is making your scores go higher.”

For the Easily Stressed Golfer: Perspective

“Every player wants to be ‘consistent,’ but what does that really mean, and how do you get it?” asks top Nevada teacher Matt Henderson, who is based at TPC Las Vegas. “Whether you’re on the tour or shooting in the 90s, improvement isn’t linear—and just because you aren’t shooting lower scores right now doesn’t mean you aren’t improving.” What does that mean for you in 2020? Graph your rounds and look for the trend, not the individual data points. “In 2017, Justin Thomas shot rounds everywhere from 59 to 80. Just because he shot 80 didn’t mean he wasn’t getting better,” says Henderson. “If you can add some perspective and see the bigger picture, it becomes much easier to handle the ups and downs that are a part of everybody’s game.”


Photo by Walter Iooss Jr.

For the Three-Jacker: A new and improved putting stroke

If you’re determined to get something that can get wrapped up and put under the tree, invest your money in the place where you can shave the most strokes in the shortest time: putting. “Putting is the one thing you can work on inside no matter what the weather is, and you can create a station that is remarkably like putting on real grass for pretty cheap,” says Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Bernie Najar. “They make some really nice putting mats that don’t take up much space, and they help you practice from 10 feet and in—which is where most strokes are gained or lost.” Najar’s favorite mat, the Perfect Practice Putting Mat, is built with a slightly upward tilt, and covers an area two feet by ten feet. “Whatever mat you use, it helps to have a way to make sure you’re lining up where you think, and to be able to see your ball roll in relation to your intended line. If you have a green that has a line on it, that works, or you can lay something down on the surface as a frame of reference.”

For The Chipping Yipper

Even the sparkliest new wedge won’t do what it’s supposed to around the green if you have bad chipping technique. Lessons certainly help, but top Tennessee teacher Joe Hallett says the Orange Whip Wedge is so good as a training aid that you don’t even need the directions. “It’s a wedge with a very flexible shaft, and it really encourages the right kind of short game tempo and swing,” says Hallett, who is based at the Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin. “I’ve handed it to students and said, ‘good luck,’ and 15 minutes later they come back and say that it was completely self-explanatory and totally changed their feel.”