Undercover Golf Coaching

Solving Other People’s Problems

Humans tend to be really good at seeing solutions in two situations: 1) hindsight 2) when the problem belongs to someone else.  In this lesson, I’ll explain how we can leverage that second skill to become better golf strategists and shoot lower scores.

This Lesson Is For You If:

You need to improve your course management

You mentally “zone out” during rounds

You want to shoot lower scores

Undercover Golf Coach

The next time you’re playing golf, secretly take on the role of coach for another player.  Let me stress the “secret” part of this plan – you’re not going to say anything about this to the other player.  No one likes unsolicited advice.

Now, silently, think of what you’d be saying to the player throughout the round.  If your paycheck was riding on their performance, what would you tell them before a shot?  What club and type of shot would you have them hit?  What things do they need to consider – wind, temperature, elevation, hazards around the target or landing area?

I think you’ll find that you’re a pretty good coach.  Not too much is slipping past your notice.  You’re recommending sensible plays.

Part of the fun of this game is seeing how often the player follows your plan.  Are they ignoring that howling wind?  Are they taking on low probability shots around the green?  If they’re making mistakes, can you learn from them and play better?

Not Just What But How

Something else to consider is how you would talk to this player.  After they hit a bad shot, are you rubbing dirt in the wound or lifting their spirits?  When they have a challenging shot, are you giving them words of encouragement, helping them focus?

My guess is that you’re being very positive with this player.  You might consider taking that approach with yourself, too.

Short Term Benefits

Being an undercover golf coach can have immediate benefits on your game.  You’ll see the game from a new, detached perspective.  When it’s your decision, it’s easy to think, “I’ll just hit this 8I a little harder.”  When you’re coaching, you can see how silly that is, because your ego isn’t involved.  This new perspective should lead to better decision making.

Undercover coaching can also keep you engaged between shots.  While there can be value in relaxing or switching your focus after a shot, it might also lead you to miss important information.  If you’re focused on coaching, you’ll pick up on more of the information that’s available to you on the course: wind, temperature, elevation, and the nuances of the course design.

Perhaps most importantly, coaching another player forces you to articulate your thought process.  When you’re coaching someone else, you can’t just shrug, “Yeah, it’s like a 4I.”  You need to consciously explain the decision: “It’s 185 yards to the middle of the green, but long is better than short.  The wind is in my face, and there is no elevation change.  I should play this closer to 200 yards.”  Doing this forces you to check all the boxes on every shot.

Long Term Benefits

If you’ve ever played golf with an experienced coach, you’ve seen the benefits of this exercise firsthand.  Not every golf coach hits the ball beautifully, but most score well relative to their physical talent.  They’re calm on the course.  They don’t compound their mistakes.  The ball tends to get from tee to green without too many detours.

The reasons for this are fairly obvious.  If you’re constantly telling other golfers to take more club and factor in the wind, you’ll start doing those things, too.  Coaches get free experience in decision making from other players, so they level up faster.  Start playing their role and you’ll see your scores improve.

Matt Saternus

7 Comments

  1. Thanks Matt, I think this article captures something that I’ve subtly thought about when playing with a friend, and early when I was learning I really wanted to give advice but realized how unwelcome that is. I’ll give it a try.

  2. Matt,
    Thus is one your best pieces!! Wonderful advice that should be actually simple to accomplish. Thanks for a very thoughtful piece.

  3. Tee Lassar

    My coach of 3 years duration, Dan Bubany, at La Paloma Tucson, offers 2 to 3 playing foursome opportunities per week and at the end of each round posts analysis, areas for improvement, drills and areas for improvement on the CoachNow platform. In his opinion, and IMO, this is the best way to teach. Frankly, amateurs don’t have the skills or competency to teach and can do significant harm in trying to do so. There’s enough to focus on improving your own game without trying to mess with others.

    • Matt Saternus

      I think playing lessons are valuable, but they’re only part of the total equation.
      While I would agree that recreational players should avoid doing major surgery on each other’s swings, the idea that the average player can’t recognize the types of errors I’m discussing here – mis-clubbing, picking bad targets – is really condescending. If I’m misunderstanding your message, I apologize in advance.

      -Matt

    • Well Tee reread the piece then maybe you will understand the true meaning of “be a secret coach”

  4. ‘You see this in someone else you’ll learn to do it for yourself.’ Yep. I was telling a buddy at a Mem-Guest to “swing thru the ball to the target line” and in my next practice swing I realized I wasn’t doing that. I was hitting at the ball, not the target. Changed my approach immediately, for the better.

  5. Good advice, particularly keeping your coaching tips to yourself.

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