If you type “Golf How to” into Google you’ll get results like: “How to hit a draw,” “How to fix a slice,” “How to putt,” and “How to chip.” What you won’t find is, “How to take a golf lesson,” and that’s a shame because I can tell you, based on teaching hundreds of lessons, that most people are bad at taking golf lessons.
How can you get better at taking golf lessons? I’m glad you asked.
Before the Lesson
1. Start with the end in mind. Before you start calling instructors or researching them on the internet, before you drive out to meet your instructor, and certainly before you reach for your wallet to pay for a lesson, you need a specific, concrete goal that you want to accomplish. What do you want to be able to do, or know how to do, when the lesson is over?
“I want to be more consistent” is NOT a good goal. What does consistency mean? Are you referring to your score, your putting, your ball striking, your driving, your mental approach, or something else? “I want to hit the ball more consistently” is not good enough either. What’s the current problem? Do you hit it fat, thin, too far right, too high, too low?
A good goal might be, “I hit my driver too far to the right. I want to know how to hit it straighter or possibly with a little draw.” That is a specific, measurable goal that addresses a problem you have in your game.
Shooting a certain score can be a goal, but only if you know why you don’t shoot that score already. “I shoot 90 and I want to shoot 80” won’t fly on my lesson tee unless the student and I are immediately heading out for a playing lesson or they have five or ten rounds worth of (good, honest) statistics that I can analyze. There are dozens of reasons why you might shoot 90: bad driving, bad iron play, bad putting, bad course management, etc. As I wrote about here, I helped a student drop 20 shots without doing much to his swing; I just adjusted his attitude and expectations.
A good score-related goal might be, “I want to shoot under 80. I hit 80% of the fairways, but I only hit 3 greens per round, so I need to improve my iron play to bring my score down.”
2. Set a timeline. Sometimes you go take a lesson because you want a little tweak before a big match. Sometimes you want to start an overhaul that you expect to invest hours and hours in. Figure out how much time you want to invest in improvement and when you want to see changes. Communicate both things to your instructor and discuss them with him. A timeline that includes both the required investment and the expected “completion” of your plan is a big part of a specific goal.
3. Research your instructor. Taking a lesson with a guy because he happens to work at your course is a roll of the dice: he might be great or he might be terrible. If you’re going to invest time and money into making changes to your golf game, you want to know who is going to be guiding you. Call around and talk to multiple instructor. Ask about their background, their experience, their philosophy, and their methods.
During the Lesson
4. Ask “Why?” A lot. I think a lot of people are intimidated during the golf lesson, so they don’t ask questions. Golf can be an intimidating game, and, as a student, you are dealing with someone who is supposed to know more than you, an expert. This causes a lot of people to be submissive and just do what they’re told. The problem is that these behaviors do not lead to good learning, and they don’t push the instructor to do his best work.
Asking “Why?” is not an insult to the instructor; all it means is that you want to understand the reasons behind the change. If the instructor can’t answer that question, they shouldn’t be telling you to make the change.
Equally importantly, you are more likely to learn if you are engaged in the process. If you understand the change and why you’re making it, it’s more likely to stick; you won’t have that “Should my elbow be here or here?” feeling two days later.
5. Demand a good answer to “Why?” “Because (insert name of Tour player here) does it,” is not necessarily a good answer. What’s good for Tiger may not be good for you. Push your instructor for a solution that makes sense for your game and your goals.
After the Lesson
6. Practice. Practice. Practice. A friend of mine took a couple of lessons with a golf instruction company and reported that, “It didn’t work. I took two lessons and got worse.” I asked how much he practiced the things he was taught. I think you can probably guess the answer: not a bit.
Is it fair to blame the instructor if you don’t get better? If you did everything that was asked of you and you don’t see the promised results, sure, blame the coach. But if you don’t practice or you abandon the change because “it feels bad” or “I hit some bad shots,” well, in that case the person to blame resides in the mirror.
Once the lesson is over, the burden for improvement falls back on your shoulders. You fueled up the car and packed your suitcase when you defined your goals and found the best instructor for you. Your instructor gave you a map that will lead you to success. Now, it’s up to you to get in the car and drive down the road to better golf.