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TeeTime: Get the Most Out of Your Golf Lessons

By Matt Hombach

When the month of April and the Masters Golf Tournament rolls around each year, hope springs eternal in the minds of golfers. Everyone gets a fresh start and begins the season with all the best intentions for improving their golf game.

By this point in the summer, many players' games have plateaued and they may not be seeing the improvement or results they so easily envisioned in the spring. Now's the perfect time to take a step back, create some new goals and take some lessons.

First Time Golfers
For those interested in starting to learn the game, group lessons are ideal. Most area courses offer group clinics throughout the summer, the cheapest option for beginners.

"One-on-one lessons aren't always the way to go for those just learning the game," said Bill Cullum, head golf professional at Gunpowder Falls in Kingsville. "A lot of folks are a bit intimidated and suffer from performance anxiety when it's just them and the pro.

"Group lessons take the focus off the individual and allows them to perform at their best," he said. "But the beauty of it is, a good teacher will still spend a good amount of time during the group clinic with each individual golfer."

If you feel comfortable with one-on-one sessions and are serious about learning the game, scheduling a series of three lessons is the way to go, according to Cullum. One lesson would focus on full shots, the next on the short game and the final lesson would be on the course, playing a few holes.

Regular Practice is Essential
To maximize what a golfer learns in lessons, the amount and content of the practice time in between and after lessons is much more important than the lessons themselves.

"In between each lesson, a golfer looking to improve his game should spend at least two separate one-hour sessions working on what they just learned," said Joe Rahnis, general manager of the The Woodlands/Diamond Ridge facilities in Windsor Mill.

"I recommend golfers space their lessons seven to ten days apart to allow for plenty of practice time," Rahnis said. "If the golfer doesn't practice what he learned in the previous session, we end up spending time on the same topics in the next lesson and don't get to move on to new things."

Rahnis tries to make a habit of touching base with his students in between lessons to check in and see how things are going, encouraging them to work on the things they have learned.

"Of course, I want my students to succeed and practice is an essential component of that success," he said. "Improved golfers that I gave instruction to are my best advertisement. If someone I teach doesn't move towards accomplishing their goals, it reflects poorly on me and my teaching ability."

Playing Lessons with the Pro
For intermediate golfers looking to improve their course management and scoring, on-course playing lessons are another outstanding option.

"Playing lessons are the best way to get the individualized attention some golfers need to take things to the next level," says Jeff Bell, head golf professional at Rocky Point in Essex. "It really helps me improve the mindset of the golfer, their mental approach to the game and the physical approach to playing a specific hole."

Playing lessons usually last about an hour. In that time, you'll usually get in four holes. The pro will quiz you on your thought process for each shot, including your target, shot selection and swing thoughts.

"I recently worked with a golfer that was an all star on the driving range, but when he walked 200 yards to the first tee, he lost that confidence and shot making ability," said Bell. "The success he had in practice was simply not translating to his on course play."

After several playing lessons and some insightful tips from Bell on mental outlook and club selection, the player saw a marked improvement in his game.

In addition to doing your homework on choosing a teacher to work with and setting personal goals, you also need to remain studious after each lesson and keep notes on what was covered. The best part is, you can always reference those notes down the road when you need a refresher course if your game starts to fall apart.

Whether you are a newcomer to the game or a scratch handicapper, teaching pros offer a personal contact and individualized attention that instruction books or the latest technical article in Golf Digest just can't give you.

Issue 1.11: July 6, 2006