How to Pick a Golf Coach

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Too Many Choices

We live in the golden era of golf instruction.  We live in the worst era of golf instruction.

Anyone with a computer or smartphone can go online and find thousands of videos or articles on any aspect of the game.  Anyone with a computer or smartphone can go online and post videos or articles about any aspect of the game.

The problem is information overload and loads of bad information.  How do you sift through the mountains of garbage to find the gems?  The answer is to find a coach who will give you the best information for your game.  But how do you do that?

This Lesson Is For You If:

You want to take lessons, but don’t know how to get started

Wish List

Step #1: What Do You Want?

Why do you want to take golf lessons?  What are your goals?  And what do you want from a coach?

These questions are not easy, but without clear answers, you’re searching in the dark.

Start with your goals.  Be honest with yourself, and be thorough.  If you just want to drive the ball farther, that’s fine.  If you really care about your score and want to shave off 5 strokes, that’s great, too.  No matter what your goal is, define it clearly and let that drive your search.

Next, consider what you want from a coach.  Again, be honest and thorough.  There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of factors to consider.  Here are a few questions you might consider:

Do PGA credentials matter to you?

Does it matter if the coach has played competitively or if they can still play at a high level?

Do you care about how personable they are?  What kind of personality do you work well with?

Do they need to have a truckload of technology (launch monitors, cameras, etc) at their disposal?

Do you want to take lessons indoors or outdoors?  How far are you willing to drive to get to your lessons?

How often do you want to take lessons?  How much do you want to pay for lessons?

Once you understand your goals and what you want from a coach, it’s time to start your search.

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Do Your Homework

The internet really helps golfers by making it easy to research instructors.  With a bit of googling, you can find a list of coaches in your area, and you can probably learn a good deal about them.  If the coach has her own website, it’s likely that it will answer many of your questions about credentials, technology, location, and rates.  I’d recommend putting together a spreadsheet or page of notes with all your information so that you can easily compare instructors.

Once you’ve taken all the information you can from the web and narrowed your list of candidates, it’s time to make some calls.  Get the answers to the questions that the internet didn’t answer, and try to get a sense of what the coach is like.  Is this a person you want to work with?

Many coaches are going to try to get you to schedule a lesson rather than answer your questions.  Fight this.  If they’re not willing to take the time to answer some (hopefully good) questions, they’re probably not someone you want to work with.

Golf Lesson

Trial Lesson(s)

By this point you have one instructor, maybe two or three, who fit your criteria and seem personable.  It’s time to book a lesson.

View this first lesson as a try out.  Go in to find out how the instructor uses his technology and how he structures the lesson.  Ask about how he plans to get you to your goal: what is the timeline, how many lessons will it take, what changes will he make, and what does he need you to do outside of the lessons?  Ask “Why” a lot.  Why does this change have to be made?  Why does this change have to come before that one?  Why is he using or not using certain technology?  If the coach can’t explain these things to your satisfaction, you may want to reconsider working with him.

After your trial lesson(s), reevaluate.  Based on what you’ve experienced, do you want to pick one of these coaches and go forward with regular lessons?  Have the trial lessons made you reevaluate what is important in an instructor?

After this trial lesson, and every subsequent lesson, remember that it’s your game, and you need to be actively in control of it.

Your Golf Instructor

The Biggest Problem

Even after all of your research and phone calls, there is one unavoidable problem: the knowledge gap.

Think about taking your car in for service.  You can research the mechanic and read all the Yelp reviews, but at the end of the day, when he says that you need to replace your radiator, you just have to trust him.  You can ask him to show you the old radiator and explain why it’s broken, but ultimately he’s an expert, you’re not, and you don’t know if he’s feeding you a line of garbage.

The same is true in golf instruction.  Anyone who has survived as a golf instructor for more than a few months has proven successful at selling their methods.  Whether or not their method is good, however, is the unknown.  I’ve seen players work with the same instructor for months and make no progress.  I’ll be the first to acknowledge that change takes time and sometimes you need to get worse to get better, but there’s also a time for pulling your head out of the sand and saying, “This isn’t working for me.”

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Conclusion

This probably makes finding a coach seem like hard work.  It is.  But, just like the game itself, it can also be immensely rewarding.

With very few exceptions, the best players in the world rely heavily on their coaches to maximize their abilities.  If you can find your Butch Harmon or your Cameron McCormick, you’ll be much closer to playing your best golf.  Good luck.

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Matt Saternus

Co-Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker in the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.

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5 Comments

  1. What would you recommend for somebody in the Army who has lived in four places in less than 7 years (with two years in the desert for good measure) and who is moving again soon. Should I find a great teacher and try to go once a year to that same instructor even if it means traveling, for continuity or consistency, or try to find a new instructor every time I move. My concern, and one that has prevented me from pulling the trigger on lessons, is confusing myself with a new teacher every two years. Do you think video lessons are a good option? This article is great, as are others like it, but I always think they don’t really apply to me because of my unique circumstance. Or, should I continue to try to dig it out of the dirt on my own?

    • Matt Saternus

      JC,

      Great question. I would try to find one person and work with them consistently. Since you know you’ll be moving, one of the top criteria should be “Ability to teach remotely” so you can do video lessons, as you mentioned. I think video lessons are a good addition to in person work, but I am skeptical of their value on their own because of the problems with video and the difficulty of shooting good video.

      Best,

      Matt

  2. Dean Casagrande

    Matt-

    This (and your Breaking 80 piece) is tremendous…since you’re in Chicago I thought I’d ask for some specific advice. In a nutshell my question is “What’s Next: 15 or 5?” I’ll try to keep this short.

    I’m 55, a good (but aging) athlete and have been playing semi-seriously (1-2x per week in season) for 20 years – after a ten-lesson GolfTec package ten years back (Stack and Tilt emphasis) and a good deal of work on my own I went from a 15 to a 10 to a still very flawed 8.5 in 2013 – golf was getting fun. A shoulder problem and subsequent surgery cost me a full year in 2015 and this year I logged 30+ (mostly pain-free) rounds, finished the year around a 10 but suffered from wild inconsistency throughout.

    I’m at a cross-roads – I’ve never been long (210-230 Drive, ugh) and have always been a little over the top – both of these seem to be getting worse and the game is feeling like really hard work. On tougher courses this is becoming a real problem. My short game and putting allow me to score on good days – but I’ve lost the full-swing confidence that would allow me to be more consistent and get back on track.

    So, assuming my ship hasn’t completely sailed, I know I need a coach/teacher who can help me find some answers. I’m thinking 5-10 lessons that can build a framework to take into next season. I’ve done G’Tec and thought about going back – but don’t know if that’s the right step. I live in Lincoln Park – do you have any recos for folks in the city/near suburbs who I should consider.

    Thanks much and keep up the great work.

    Dean C.

    • Matt Saternus

      Dean,

      I haven’t been teaching regularly for a while, so I don’t have a good recommendation in hand.

      GolfTEC can be a crap shoot, some good coaches, some bad…not unlike the teaching market as a whole. I have some issues with their business model, but it is nice to be able to take lessons year round.

      The one name I would throw out is Rick Silva. I know him to be connected to some of the most progressive, knowledgeable coaches in the game, so I think he’d be worth checking out. I don’t know him personally nor have a I taken a lessons with him, but I know his information will be good.

      Best,

      Matt

  3. Dean Casagrande

    Matt-

    Thanks very much – I’ll check Rick out. Much appreciate the feedback.

    Dean

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