First appeared in Spring 2022 Golf Magazine

I don’t take on many new pupils any longer. I enjoy helping some up-and-coming local juniors. But with beginners and modest amateurs, one key is to have realistic expectations. And it’s up to the teacher and student to set attainable goals. We must be on the same page. It helps us both better recognize and then celebrate those achievements. Students appreciate the candor, too. The same goes for Kevin Sutherland. (I’m pictured along with Kevin as my pupil throughout.) When Kevin and I began working together 30 years ago, he wasn’t performing well enough to sustain membership on the PGA Tour. Accepting that he wasn’t yet good enough was the important first step. Oh, and old habits die hard. For example, back then, Kevin’s left knee would kick out too early. This January, we addressed that same habit. Ever-refining fundamentals are crucial to achieving your goals whether you are a Tour winner or a 15 handicap.



Students will be out of position with their swing but want to work on something else. If you go to the doctor and your leg is in pain but the doctor wants to treat your shoulder first, what’s the point? We must treat the cause of the problem first. It’s easier to screw up a swing than it is to fix one. Identify the key disrupter in your current swing rather than break down and rebuild. Thank goodness for smartphones! Analyzing videos of students’ swings with them better helps affirm their tendencies. Most of all, it prevents any loss in translation. Record your swing often. But remember you can go overboard with numbers. Data analyzers like Trackman risk overwhelming you with more than you can manage. Remember expectations! “Paralysis by analysis” happens with all levels of golfers including professionals.



Believe it or not, people send me new clients to relieve their back pain. No, I don’t have a medical license, but I prescribe less hip action than most golf instructors. “Firing the hips” too harshly, I find, is the most common cause of back pain with golfers. Many of my pupils get out of sync with their upper body and lower body. When out of sync, you have two options for a fix: either slow your body down or speed your hands up. Guess what we want to do? Everyone wants to speed their arms up. Nobody wants to slow things down. The common mistake is to “fire the hips” even harder, which leaves the club behind and closer to your body and actually slows everything else down. So, how can you quiet the body down and strengthen your legs? One drill I encourage is to first hit balls with an ultra-wide stance and to remain flat-footed throughout the swing. Ignite your legs without leaving the ground. Then, sit in a chair and swing to reawaken the arms.



During lessons, some students grip the club so hard that I have trouble moving their arms altogether. I can tell from 10 feet away as their forearm muscles are popping out. I should be able to yank the golf club out of your hands. Otherwise, you’re gripping the club too hard. I like to do a regular grip pressure check with my students. You can have a golf buddy do it with you. I have them loosen their wrists by holding the club out from their body and rotating their wrists in circles. With their wrists relaxed, I pull the clubhead until it barely comes out. The grip pressure just before the club leaves the hands is optimal. The biggest desire by 10 handicappers today is distance. Heck, I want more distance. So, you need more lag in order to raise club speed. To add lag, calm the body down, keep the back to the target, let the butt of the club go to the ball, and lighten your grip pressure. It seems counterintuitive, as golf sometimes is.



I see the same mistakes over and over with amateur players. As previously noted, their hips spin too early and fast. The other prevalent one is their lead hand breaks down allowing the clubhead to flip over. The right hand goes underneath the shaft too much before impact. Amateurs flip the clubhead, especially with wedges. Amateurs overuse their right hand. Sure, it lofts the ball higher in the air and looks prettier. But, you have far less control of distance and spin. A dominant front forearm better ensures square impact. Imagine slapping the ball with the back of your lead hand. I don’t use many swing aids, but an impact bag is great to prevent flipping the clubhead. If the impact bag flips over upon impact, you flipped the clubhead. You want to scoot the bag. During this drill, resist clearing the hips until hitting the bag. This drill will also help keep the left wrist flat. A bowed left wrist may be the most common denominator with tour professionals’ swings. A bowed left wrist helps de-loft the club and lends more to an inside-out swing providing a lower trajectory, predominately a draw, that is easier to repeat.



Whenever I would begin a lesson with a student telling me they hadn’t touched a club since our last session, I would think, “what’s the point of this lesson then?” I’m 85 years old and have dialed back to just giving lessons on Mondays. It’s a far cry from teaching 12 lessons, six days a week, but it allows me to be more hands-on with my remaining stable of students. And, with smartphones, I’m checking in with my students multiple times per week via text, calls and videos. Therefore, I can critique between lessons. I absolutely encourage this correspondence. I don’t begin the next lesson unaware of their recent progress. It incentivizes me. I’m still a golf nut. I built a ‘man cave’ at home where instead of watching movies, I watch golf swings. I can imagine how text correspondence with students could overwhelm some modern instructors. Finding an instructor willing to review videos of your swings through texting between lessons would help steady your progress. I’ll take a curious pupil or a quiet one.



When I observe the current top-ranked professionals, more of them are staying on their back foot longer. Jon Rahm is the best example. The back foot doesn’t leave the ground until the body uncoils. If you drive off your right foot very early, it puts you too far in front of the ball and the club slows down. There’s a bit of a golf swing renaissance happening as more elite players now also have a bowed left wrist (a la Palmer, Trevino etc.). These traits give the club a chance to catch up. Practice staying on your back foot longer by putting a water bottle on the outside of your back foot’s heel. You want to swing without knocking the water bottle over. This helps prevent your body from leaning toward the ball. It also keeps the back heel from coming up. If that back heel goes up first, your back hip, knee and shoulder will all lean forward, removing the ideal space between you and the golf ball.