Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Don't Stop Learning!

I'm 52 years old and I can say honestly that I have studied my craft, teaching golf, for 30 years.  When I was young, I observed many great teachers.  My winters in Phoenix gave me opportunities to watch Bill Forrest, Mike LaBauve, Sandy LaBauve, Arch Watkins, Craig Bunker, Donald Crowley, and Ruth Jensen.  In the summer, I got to teach along Steve Satterstrom, who was very good.  Then I moved to Texas and got to talk with and watch Dick Harmon, Charlie Epps, Jackie Burke, Butch Harmon and Phil Rodgers.  I'm quite sure I sounded dumb with the questions I asked and I know for a fact that I would get a lot of stuff dead wrong when I talked to them, but they were patient with me and simply answered my questions.  They never acted like I was an idiot or that they were above me, they simply taught.  I was careful not to ask Mr. Burke too much though.  I had a healthy fear of his sharp wit.  No one's wit or tongue was sharper than Dick Harmon's, but he liked me and when he made fun of me, it was gentle.

Now I have access to youtube, twitter and blogs to continue my learning.  I read all I can from Andrew Rice and Brian Manzella, who have both taught me so much about trackman and what it teaches us as pros.  I also like Joseph Mayo on twitter as @trackmanmaestro  They have completely changed my paradigm of what makes the ball move and it took me a long time to wrap my head around it.  Just as the old pros were eager to mentor and share, so are these pros on social media.  Geoff Mangum has both taught me new things and confirmed much of what I taught about putting.  Shawn Clements (clemshaw) and Mike Maves (sevam1) are two Canadians who do great work on youtube.  Maves is one of the clearest communicators of the golf swing I have found.  Steve Elkington was inspired by many of these guys and decided to start a website that is fantastic called Secret in the Dirt.  Here is a link to it.  I also love all the young coaches and pros who reach out and ask me questions, just as I asked the pros I learned from.  Their enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge will take them far. 

The folks I learn the most from are the experts, both those around me and those I see on t.v.  By experts, I mean players.  I have nine great players on my team who teach me something every day.  Over almost 20 years of coaching, I've been around hundreds of great players, both on my team and on other teams, including the guys teams at the schools where I've coached.  Players remind me daily that they think differently than teachers and do things that teachers don't teach.  Their intuition, ability to create and passion for the game introduce me to new ideas daily.

Sometime in the past 10 or 20 years, teachers got very involved with technology and notoriety.  When that happened, teachers began to get the idea that they were the experts, but that isn't the case.  Players are the experts.  Some of the things that I've learned from experts are, they think about shots, not swings.  They sometimes have no idea how they make the ball go a certain way, but they can do it on demand and under pressure.  Their focus when its important is on things outside their bodies, such as ball or target, not on what their left hand or right hip is doing.  They usually have a singular focus that they become obsessed with and that thing is their key to success, whether or not that is actually the case.  Finally, the true experts of the game have a motion on the course that is as learned as your ability to walk up stairs.  It doesn't need thought to work, but thought can mess it up.

The very best part about teaching golf is learning golf.  Learning golf isn't all about mechanics, trackman, aiming or shaft lean.  It also has a lot to do with human performance and human performance means heart and gut as much as brain.  It means that bad swings happen and our job as teachers might not be to fix the swing, but to figure out why it was made and take care of that instead.  So, on I go. I hope I get another 30 years of learning about golf.  That is the goal.  I can see it now, I'll be 82 and plopped in a chair on the range like Tommy Armour, telling kids to dig it out of the dirt and get those knuckles down. 

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