Golf Improvement – Where Do I Invest?

Several friends and colleagues have been asking me lately on how to best improve their golf games.  Since golf can require a serious investment in money and time, it’s best to approach from the two main perspectives; the beginning player and the seasoned player.  Their needs are quite different.

The beginner

The typical novice will make one of three mistakes.  They will either run to the sporting goods store and plunk down $300 for a new set of off-the-rack clubs and bag, or purchase the latest driver being touted in all the golf magazines and television adds, or grab dad’s old set of clubs in the garage and head off to the driving range to teach themselves the game, or worse, get some “expert advice” from a friend that plays.  When I used to teach golf, we had an old saying that goes, “amateurs teach amateurs to play like amateurs.”  The first and single most important investment the beginner can make is to invest in a series of golf lessons with a certified PGA professional.  Take that $300 and buy a series of five or six lessons and put yourself in the hands of an expert.  You will not need any equipment and your pro will be able to make recommendations to fit you appropriately for clubs.  Individual lessons are more expensive than group lessons but don’t be fooled by the cost; pay the extra money for individual.  Group lessons are what couples or friends looking for a new social activity usually invest in.  For serious learning, good one-on-one instruction is required.  For juniors, a golf camp is a great start, as instructors will build enthusiasm for the game, good playing habits, and impart the basic etiquette everyone should learn, but junior must also have one-on-one instruction to best build skills.

For beginners serious about playing the game for a living or becoming a single-digit handicap, I’d advise to learn the game backward.  First learn to get the ball in the hole, which means initial instruction on putting and short game (before any full swing instruction.)   For the rest of the general public, full swing lessons are fine.  For full swing instruction, many golf centers and stores offering in-door instruction have launch monitors to simulate your shots.  My preference is to take lessons out doors at a golf course or driving range.  The game is played outdoors and you want to simulate actual playing conditions in your learning.  Also, there is no substitute for seeing real ball flight.

The seasoned player:

When I taught golf, the lesson for the seasoned player was harder than the beginner because I’d have to work to undo self-taught habits or those formed by “friendly advice.”  The seasoned player is usually looking for a more immediate return on investment and obviously there are a multitude of areas for which to focus but the best way to quickly lower scores is to get instruction on improving your short game.  Take lessons on putting, chipping, and pitching and then devote 75% of available practice time to short game.

Many seasoned players become enamored with their ball striking and are also susceptible to the latest equipment fads that are touted to help you gain distance.  Take a step back and invest $50-100 in a good club fitting with your local professional.  Often times, you’ll be able to deduct the cost of the fitting if you purchase clubs from the same provider.  Here is where your video swing analysis, launch monitors, and simulators can provide valuable feedback and allow your pro to make sound recommendations.

I read an article in a golf magazine several years ago about golf in Japan.  The reporter visited a giant indoor mult-deck driving range and interviewed a player who was knocking shot after shot long and straight.  The reporter asked what type of scores the player shot and the player replied, “I don’t know because I’ve never played on a real course.”  The cost of playing golf in Japan is prohibitive for the general public but the point is that you’ve got to balance practice with enough play to improve.  The seasoned player must devote enough time on the course as well as off because there is no substitute for the experience you’ll get dealing with actual playing conditions and situations.  For serious devotees, get out twice a week to enjoy and develop your new-found improvements.

Finally, the seasoned player should embark on a fitness program designed to strengthen core muscles and build better balance and athleticism.  Take your normal workout and focus on making it golf-centric.  I’ve been working on a specific plan over the winter that includes a 45 minute workout just three times per week that is improving my ball striking consistency and overall endurance.  There is also an ongoing debate about whether to walk or ride.  I do both but try to walk whenever possible.  You get a better feel for the game and into a better rhythm when walking.  An investment in a good comfortable bag stand or a durable pull cart is advised.

Good luck and send me details on your improvement plans and of course, any questions!  -Brian

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About Brian Penn

Avid sports fan and golf nut. I am a lifelong resident of the Washington D.C. area and love to follow the local teams. Also worked as a golf professional in the Middle Atlantic PGA for several years and am intrigued by the game to no end. I love to play and practice and am dedicated to continual improvement.
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