Every golfer has some pearls of wisdom, but none so valuable as Jack Nicklaus’: “Don’t be too proud to take a lesson. I’m not.”
But how do you choose the best — ahem — course of instruction, especially when the plethora of golf schools is mind-boggling, if not intimidating?
Well, a lot depends on skill level and the particular elements of your game that need improving. Has your swing turned into a slice? Are you wasting strokes from short distances to the pin? Maybe you’re three-putting every green.
You can narrow down the field by seeking instruction tailored to address what’s lacking in your game.
A good place to start is a reputable ranking of schools or instructors, such as annual lists published by GOLF.com or Golf Digest. Otherwise, you might consider the following standouts.
The whole game and nothing but
Whether you’re a beginner who wants to learn the royal and ancient game or a veteran who wants to polish it, working on your whole game is the first approach to consider. These schools offer that instruction.
Annika Sorenstam’s Annika Academy in central Florida provides smaller classes and a holistic approach to golf, integrating mental acuity, physical strength and nutrition to make you a well-rounded person with golf-specific instruction in swing basics, putting, chipping and bunker shots. Guests can choose from a variety of packages including individual lessons with Sorenstam’s swing coach and fitness trainer, group clinics and a round of play or the “Soren Slam” option, which includes sessions with the game’s most victorious female player.
As one of the most influential golf instructors of all-time, David Leadbetter has been the go-to guy for professionals for 30 years. With 28 clinics in 13 different countries, David Leadbetter Golf Academy gives students of all ages the options of hourlong private lessons, one-day mini sessions or three-day retreats. Each examines fundamental aspects of the game in excruciating detail.
Golfari clinics at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C., are the brainchild of LPGA great Peggy Kirk Bell. She and her staff teach all skill levels and elements of golf, incorporating practice drills with playful pneumonic devices (useful tools for beginners) and practice rounds that teach course management. Students are reminded to “have fun,” and appreciate golf as a gift to be enjoyed. Weeklong sessions are available for women only, adults and youths.
It won’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing
Let’s face it: A good golf swing is all. (Remember when Tiger Woods famously altered his in 2005 after winning eight majors?) Perhaps you’ve been playing for years, have a respectable handicap, but somehow that once-textbook swing sends the ball veering to the left or to the right. What went wrong? Perhaps you’ve unconsciously changed your grip or have too much backswing.
Gurus such as Woods’ mentors Butch Harmon and Hank Haney made careers of swing analysis, pinpointing every move by using the latest technologies such as stop-action video or interactive software as teaching aids.
Spend an hour, or four days if you have them, at the Nevada-based Butch Harmon School of Golf, where he or one of his staff offers instruction to individuals, juniors or corporate groups.
Similarly, Hank Haney hosts clinics of various lengths for all skill levels at four Texas locations.
Drive for show, putt for dough
However picture-perfect your swing, you still want to lower your handicap and give your opponents a run for their money, right? That’s where the short game comes in.
Dave Pelz is the undisputed master of this component of play, calling it “the scoring game,” because more than 60 percent of shots made during a game occur within 100 yards of the pin — where tournaments are won or lost.
Look to Paul Runyan — aka “Little Poison” — who at 5 feet 7 inches, defeated “Slammin’ Sammy” Snead in the 1938 PGA Championship, thanks to his deadly accurate short shots. He worked at them doggedly, and so will you at any of Pelz’s one- to three-day clinics offered throughout the United States and United Kingdom. You might spend most of the day chipping out of a bunker or pitching at various distances, but if it means a birdie on a crucial hole in match play, it’ll be worth it.
Pelz, of course, addresses putting, but so, too does Dave Stockton. His Dave Stockton Signature Approach to Unconscious Putting teaches you how to feel your way around the greens and visualize the ball going into the cup. With this technique, which you can learn at various clinics held throughout the United States, you’ll be sinking 20-footers and banishing the “dreaded L” from your game.
Like any sport, golf is not only a test of skill but mental toughness. Annika Sorenstam was known on the tour for her consistent, laser-like focus, whereas Rory McIlroy blew a 12-shot lead in the 2011 Masters — only to surge ahead of the pack with a 16-shot victory a couple of months later at the U.S. Open. So how do you find the proverbial zone and keep the yips at bay? The answer, according to Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott of Vision54 in Phoenix, Ariz.: Keep it positive. The idea that a perfect round of 54 shots or birdies on every hole is achievable is the golfer’s version of “Yes, we can.” You can make that fairway drive, or one-putt the green. And if not? Remember the advice of another legend, Ben Hogan: “It’s the next shot that counts.