Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Teaching the Game Debate

I was over at the Brian Manzella forum and the question was posed about what 3 things would you tell a person who wants to learn the game of golf but has never played it before. My first response was that I would teach some putting basics, teaching alignment, the arced stroke and left side connection and then explain how it ties into the golf swing.

This was questioned by a couple of posters and here was my response:

I believe that in any walk of life, when we are teaching somebody something we teach them the easy and simple things first, then when they have a pretty decent grasp of that, we move onto more complex and difficult subjects. Then when they grasp that concept, we move onto more and more difficult subjects.

Except for golf.

For some reason in golf we tend to do it backwards. We tend to want to learn the complex and difficult things first (full swing, especially with the driver) and then neglect or leave the simple and easy things for last.To me, it's absolutely moronic to do it this way. It's like trying to learn chaotic mathematical equations without knowing how to add and subtract first. And remember, the OP said *3 things* you can teach them. So I'm pretty limited IMO. I've actually spent an hour with my neighbor, a 15 handicapper who is 55 years old, and he grasped the putting concepts quite quickly and we spent the last half hour working on his chipping.

This is the way that the old school teachers like Harvey Penick *used* to teach. And as Brian mentioned in CoFF, his first lesson with Mr. Doyle consisted of Brian having to "give a chipping lesson" to Mr. Doyle because Mr. Doyle had to basically re-instruct Brian's method of chipping. And it's no coincidence that Bobby Clampett's 'Impact Zone' book talks about learning the game in this method.

Remember now, I only have 3 things to really instruct this person on. They don't really know much about the grip, the path of the club, etc. And I truly believe two things:

1) If you cannot get the chipping motion and stroke down pretty well, there's no way you will get the full swing down pretty well.

2) If you learn the chipping motion and stroke pretty well, it makes the transition into the pitching motion then the full swing motion more seamless and easier for the golfer.
Brian then made a video response which I appreciated because there's a lot of things he wanted to express and often times I find it difficult to express my thoughts and opinions clearly like I want to and without offending somebody. But I find if I can "talk it" instead of "type it", then my thoughts are conveyed in a much clearer manner. Brian's video response can be found here (http://www.brianmanzella.com/forum/golfing-discussions/11399-blank-canvas-what-3-things-would-you-choose-3.html#post132748)

I thought this was a great assessment and sharing of Manzella's experiences as a teacher. Although I still believe that too many golfers go into the more complex parts of the golf swing too early. IMO, that's what hurt my neighbor. He went and got a lesson and the pro had him hit a bunch of full swing drivers and told him to cut down his backswing a bit. A few weeks later he almost quit the game before he came to me asking for some help. It should also be noted that I used a camcorder to record his swing and the pro he went to did not use the camcorder, but after the first lesson going over a chip shot motion that was a 'miniaturized version' of the full swing (something I didn't clarify in my post) he went onto play the best golf he's played in the past 3 months....although he did falter a bit down the stretch.

And *perhaps* I disagree with Brian debunking my theory that if you can learn the chipping motion and stroke it will make the transition into the full swing more seamless. One of the things I try to stray away from is what Geoff Mangum talks about in his 'Optimal Putting' book is an instructor giving 'it worked for me, it should work for you' type of advice and instruction. When I came back from the game after the surgery, the first thing I wanted to work on was getting rid of the flip. And I wanted to accomplish that through improving my chipping and pitching methods first and then transitioning that into the full swing. That all being said, I would say I'm a pretty average chipper of the ball, but I'm really good with pitches, flops and bunker blasts.

So yes, it 'worked for me', but that doesn't mean it will work for everybody. And from Manzella's insight, it's not the best way to work with amateurs from his years and years of experience teaching the game (and I readily and whole heartedly acknowledge that he has far more knowledge about the game, the golf swing and teaching than I do.)

Anyway, in a reply to Brian's video response I talked about how much I learn from the forum almost every day and I think you can too, so check it out at http://www.brianmanzella.com/.


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