Step 3. Take Lessons from a Professional
In the last section I gave my list of essential golf books, which covered the gamut from the full swing to the short game. Let's look at just a few instruction books that focus on the full swing:
These are all excellent books, in particular the one by John Jacobs. Remember, though, analysis and rules and tips offered in these books is not how the authors learned to play golf. No, indeed. They (and virtually every other top golfer in the world) learned to play first, by imitation and trial and error. Having learned to play well, then they analyzed their swing (and that of other top golfers) to tell you about it. But you can't learn the golf swing from reading books (or watching videos).
As a hacker or beginner, you must have personal, hands on instruction. In
the beginning you must have someone show you how to:
If you've played without formal instruction, you obviously have your own way of gripping, setting up and swinging -- and your way is likely full of bad maneuvers (otherwise you wouldn't be a hacker!).
Bad habits are hard to break. Someone has to show you how. I suppose that one in a million adult hackers could dedicate themselves to learn the game from books and videos, but you aren't that one in a million -- are you? The truth is this: without commitment on your part -- and commitment includes obtaining hands on instruction from a professional -- you will remain a hacker.
There is nothing immoral or dishonorable about being a hacker. Most adults who take up the game as adults are hackers initially. Very, very few people start this game with a good swing and low scores. But if we want to be in the second group, accept your fate (that you are compelled to improve your game), and read on!
There are an estimated 15,000 teaching golf professionals in the U.S. By all means, you should be taking lessons from one of them. This is not a game that adult hackers can learn on their own, at least not enough to play well.
The point is obvious, yet many people struggle year after year, with no (or only desultory) lessons. Think music. You need someone to show you how. A good golf pro will help you to develop your own effective personal swing, as opposed to the one Tiger Woods or Greg Norman uses.
Like any group of teachers, the range of teaching pros is from fantastic to abysmal. How do you know who's good? You don't, because the real question is: how do you know who is good for you. The best advice I can give is to start by relying on word of mouth from other novices and high handicappers.
All private golf clubs and most upscale golf courses have affiliated golf pros who give lessons. If you belong to a club, that is an obvious place to start. If you play at a public course regularly, that is another place to look. But you can find golf pros anywhere, and you can take from any private club pro even if you are not a member.
Check out the Web. Both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine publish a list of the top 100 golf teachers in America, but these people are a)expensive and b)obviously spread very thinly. You don't need a Top 100 golf instructor, just a good one. One who can examine your swing, see what needs fixing, and then help you to do just that. The PGA (Professional Golf Association) and the LPGA (Ladies' Professional Golf Association) web sites allow you to search for instructors around the country. Neither web site provides any information about a particular instructor.
Teaching is so personal, and so based on individual preference, that the only real advice is to "try one" and see how it goes. There is no reason why women can't learn from a good man and vice versa. I do recommend that you receive one on one instruction, if possible. Small groups are OK, and less intimidating for the beginner, but one on one is the quickest way to improve.
And avoid friends, relatives and spouses. While the majority of pros learned from the parents or close relatives, that was when they were kids and had unlimited practice and playing time. It doesn't work so well for busy adults. You need a true professional relationship with your instructor.
Expect to spend anywhere from $25 to $50 per 1/2 hour for personalized instruction (or double that for an hour). Top pros charge well over $100 an hour, but then you don't need a nationally famous pro.
And don't just take one lesson. You need sequential lessons you can build on. If you and your instructor really hit it off, you might benefit from a life time of lessons. There is more to golf than just the full swing, of course, and over time he or she could help you develop a decent short game.
There are many excellent golf schools. Golf Magazine publishes a list of the top 25, and gives information on hundreds of others. Many other sites provide lists of schools, including World Golf List of U.S. Schools.
Golf schools range from half-day clinics to a full week. There are now several schools that specialize in the short game, most notably Dave Pelz's Short Game School. Golf Digest, the most widely circulated golf magazine, also runs schools around the country. John Jacobs, where my wife and I first "went to school", provides instruction in over two dozen locations around the U.S., including increasingly popular "mini" or one-day schools.
Golf schools are good for an intense introduction to basic skills, and the best ones have a students:instructor ratio of no more than 4:1. A higher ratio (more students per instructor) and you are apt to receive too little individual attention. We have been to several golf schools and learned something from each of them. However, you cannot expect to improve your skills just from attending. You still have to study and to practice (yes, like music.)
One of the aspects of golf you should study is ball flight, a direct consequence of the way you swing the club. This is discussed in Step 4.