World class instructor Hank Haney with Charles Barkley.
Photo by Associated Press

As golf season gets ramped up, many of us will be investing in lessons in an effort to improve.  High handicappers right down to touring professionals all benefit from formal instruction.  I took my first lesson of the season last weekend and have scheduled a series every two weeks for the balance of the spring.  I’m reminded of a few Do’s and Don’ts when taking lessons:

Do:

  1. When you sign up for lessons, ensure your instructor has the “PGA” acronym after his/her name.  Some courses and training facilities employ instructors or managers who give golf lessons at a discounted price.  If they aren’t PGA certified, don’t go for it.  Membership in the Professional Golfers Association is an indicator that your instructor has spent the necessary time in the business, has been formally trained on how to teach, and has given many lessons.
  2. Prior to or during your first lesson, set clear expectations with your instructor.  Let them know your skill level, current handicap (if you keep one), what your goals are, and how much time you have to devote to practice.  You may get a completely different lesson if you indicate you plan on practicing every day, compared to if you can only devote one day per week.
  3. During instruction, ask questions!  Your level of engagement will often get you a better lesson.  Golf pros are human.  They get bored at work too and often perform better when fully engaged with their students.  If something doesn’t feel right or if you’re getting it and enjoying the success, dialog it.
  4. Take full swing lessons outdoors on the range.  Some instructors will teach at indoor facilities and you can make improvements using a simulator, but there is no substitute for seeing actual ball flight.  Sometimes what feels good on a simulator may not be the shot pattern you want.
  5. At the completion of your lesson, reiterate with your instructor two or three key points that you’re going to work on until the next lesson.
  6. Practice between lessons.  Sometimes during a lesson, you may perform poorly because the changes you’re making are difficult to implement.  Try and get out multiple times between lessons and reinforce what you’ve been shown, and do it at your own pace.  Often, you will “get it” during practice, because you’re able to take your time and you won’t feel like you’re being watched.
  7. World class instructor Hank Haney advocates taking 100 swings per day in your back yard.  Do this even if you can’t hit balls and try to feel the change you’re working on.  It’s the fastest way to ingrain the new feel.

Don’t:

  1. Try and change too much at once.  Learning can be confusing, and we learn best by focusing on one concept at a time.  Sometimes even a seasoned professional will give you too much to think about.  The pro wants you to succeed and if the first or second swing change doesn’t immediately work, they can introduce more in an effort to find something that resonates.  When this happens, tell your pro you’d like to focus on one concept and ask what that should be.
  2. Play the day after a lesson and expect to score well.  Your mind will be in mechanical mode and you will be playing “golf swing” not golf.  Forget your score and just focus on enjoying your time in the outdoors and trying to focus on the changes you’re trying to implement.
  3. Seek swing tips from your inexperienced playing partners.  Best to stick with your pro’s advice and remember the old axiom, “Amateurs teach amateurs to play like amateurs.”
  4. Fail to practice between lessons and then claim you got a bad lesson when the changes don’t work on the golf course.
  5. Forget about short game and putting.  Instruction is not all about full swing, although the vast majority of lessons are given on the practice tee.  Ask your professional about a short game lesson or if they’ll take you out on the course and play a few holes to help you with your course management.

Got any more Do’s and Don’ts?  Please share and good luck if you’re taking lessons.  Play well!

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