THE PLAYING LESSON
By Andrew Penner
USGTF Contributing Writer, Calgary, Alberta Canada
There are literally hundreds of ways to waste shots on the golf course.
For most amateur players, a faulty golf swing is the most costly, and
certainly the most obvious. A reverse pivot, a cast of the club, a lateral
slide, a straightened spine . you name it, you.ve seen it . and you know
the types of numbers that players will post if they have major swing
Often overlooked, however, is a golfer.s ability to PLAY the game. In
fact, nearly all amateur players (good and bad) fall victim - and lose a
number of shots per round - to poor course management. The remedy? The
playing lesson - one of the most underused tools in teaching the game of
Unfortunately, as most teaching pros agree, there are some difficulties
and drawbacks with playing lessons. Golf courses are often busy, and
getting the time and space to use a course for this purpose can be
challenging. Understandably, most pros are limited to when and where a
playing lesson can be done. Non-peak times - early mornings and late
evenings - are often the only solution.
I give a couple of playing lessons a month,. says Calgary golf pro Terry
Carter. I've found it works best to drive out to a quiet country course
in the evening with the student. I.ve got one or two courses where
arrangements can easily be made, and the students always enjoy the outing.
Plus, it's a great way to build a long-lasting relationship with a
Other golf pros rarely give playing lessons.
Just three or four a year, says pro Darren Gallagher. With a busy
lesson schedule, I simply don.t have time to do a lot of playing lessons.
But, I really enjoy them. When I do one, though, it's almost always later
in the evening when the course has cleared out.
Obviously, the quieter the course, the better it will be for both
instructor and student.
The purpose of a playing lesson is to thoroughly work through situations,
strategies, lies, and so on. You.ve simply got to have the space to work,.
So when the time and space are there, what exactly should a playing lesson
look like? What should be dealt with, talked about? What shouldn.t be
dealt with? Not surprisingly, there are plenty of consistencies in how
pros handle their playing lessons.
Almost every pro agrees that the number one priority of a playing lesson
is to talk strategy. I can't believe how many times I see amateur players
try shots that simply don't make sense, says Carter. During a playing
lesson (almost always nine holes), I spend a fair amount of time talking
to the student about the layout of the particular hole and what the
architect has provided in the way of options. Discussing things like good
and bad angles, for example, is something most golfers never think of.
But, clearly, golfers have to try shots that make sense, that are doable
for players at their level.
From there, Carter likes to discuss things like pre-shot routines, playing
to percentages, wind analysis, club selection, and when it makes sense to
gamble. Things like visualization, pin positions, where to .miss it,.
rules and etiquette, how to use the teeing area to your advantage, and
patience are also topics that often come up during a playing lesson.
As far as what not to teach, the resounding response from most
pros is to stay away from dealing with swing mechanics during a playing lesson.
Power, swing tendencies, and the student.s natural ball flight are
relevant to shot selection, says Carter, but, in my opinion, you really
want to stay away from getting too involved in tinkering with golf swings.
It really isn.t the time and place for that. The driving range is where
you want to dissect swings and work on specific problems..
So, why don.t golf pros give more playing lessons? Why don't students
request more of them? After all, for many of them, it could be the missing
link that will take their game to the next level.
I truly think most golf pros would rather just stay on the lesson tee,.
says Gallagher And, from what I've seen, many pros do little in the way
of promoting playing lessons with their students.
Clearly there is plenty of valuable insight that can be passed along to
students during a playing lesson. And, there are many pros who enjoy the
challenge of giving compelling, thought-provoking playing lessons.
After all, says Gallagher, golf is a thinking game. And knowing how to
really PLAY is a way for golfers of any skill level to get more enjoyment
out of the game."