USGTF Teaching Pros Share Insights: What I Have Learned from My Students

“Inever let my
schooling interfere
with my education,” Mark Twain said. Observations
expressed by America’s most renowned humorist
over 100 years ago still ring true today. Twain, an astute
interpreter of human nature, had a way of illuminating
life through genial satire.
Golf teaching professionals worldwide, in their
quest to share their skills and knowledge, affi rm
Twain’s assertion as they invariably discover that their
own educations continue through what they learn
from their students. Over time, instructors hone their
methodologies and adjust their techniques as a result
of wisdom they glean from those they teach.
USGTF teaching professionals are in a unique
position to shed light on this fascinating facet of golf
instruction. Here are some of their insightful refl ections,
which seem to prove that Twain knew of what he
Listening is Key
Teaching is an art, as anyone who has ever devoted
serious effort to the endeavor is aware. Subject matter
notwithstanding, it has been known for centuries that
learning occurs on a more profound, lasting, and
meaningful level when students are involved actively
in the process – asking questions, responding to an
instructor’s prompts, and engaging with their peers.
Indeed, the best teaching, it is said, has its roots in
the Socratic method, in which inquiry and discussion
stimulate critical thinking and understanding.
Effective golf instruction seems to follow this
pattern. The best teachers know that a perfunctory
verbal introduction to the game, followed by a
demonstration of swing techniques, is likely to leave
students new to golf confused and overwhelmed. A
more welcoming and compelling approach is to put
students at ease by asking them to pose questions
based on what they would like to learn. While at times
those questions may surprise an instructor, they can
serve as an important tool for formulating a lesson –
whether in a group or individual setting – as well as for
shaping the instructor’s methods at that moment and
far into the future.
“I learn everything from my students,” says Peter
Hudson, head of training and recruitment for the
WGTF of Great Britain and Ireland. “Whereas there is a
torrent of information concerning every aspect of golf
improvement, only my clients, whether golf coaches or
game improvers, can offer me the feedback necessary
to help achieve their goals.”
His students have taught him the importance of
detailed questioning, Hudson says, and how essential
it is to listen intently to their replies. Often, his students
already have the skills they need, and Hudson realizes
it is his role to help them discover and tap into those
skills before he adds new ones. He recognizes he
doesn’t know as much about the feel of their golf
swings as they do.
“I approach each new client with total fascination,”
says Hudson, “and adopt a blank-canvas attitude so
we can enjoy a master class in learning together. Every
time I coach, I learn as much, if not more, than my
clients, and realize how much there is still to learn.”
As lifelong golfers themselves, instructors may fi nd
at times that it is easy to forgo teaching the most basic
of basics. Yet, the greenest of novices may serve as
beacons of the importance of thoroughness. David
Hill, USGTF Master Teaching Professional at Montreal
Golf Academy, recently had a student ask what part
of the clubface should come in contact with the ball
when using an iron, the center or the toe? The student’s
reasoning was that the toe of the club presents a larger
hitting surface. Hill found it a valid question deserving
of a serious and thoughtful answer.
“I learned early on if I wished for success, it was

up to me to adapt to my students,
rather than the opposite,” Hill says.
“The easiest solution I discovered was
to listen carefully to my students as a
means to clarify their perceptions or
and Passion
Make a Difference
The common desire of all
golfers is enjoyment. Playing well
enhances enjoyment, to be sure,
as do attainment of skill objectives,
measurable improvement, and
golf’s inherent camaraderie. What
unites everyone who loves golf –
around the world and throughout
the years – is passion for the game.
While every instructor has a unique
way of imparting knowledge and
responding to students’ needs, what
connects everyone involved is love
of the game in all its manifestations:
history, personalities, record books,
swing styles, and the sweet joy of success, no matter
its definition. Stoking this passion for the game is just
as much a part of each instructor’s role as is teaching
proper grip or stance. And, what a dividend it is if that
passion encompasses humor along the way.
“Laughter helps to settle the nerves, which gives
a new perspective on lessons,” says Carlos De Barros,
USGTF Master Teaching Professional, who teaches in
Lake Worth, Florida. De Barros also believes that “…
failures only lead to successes.”
For Steven Oostrom, USGTF instructor in Ottawa,
Ontario, Canada, the key to helping students reach
their goals is the common factor of
enjoyment. Believing that golf is a
lifestyle as well as a game, Oostrom
strives to keep his students laughing
and smiling, using methods that are
encouraging as well as beneficial
to learning. Oostrom sticks to the
fundamentals as his first instructional
priority; individual styles come
second. He makes frequent eye
contact with students and remembers
their names as well as some details
about their lives. These efforts on his
part, Oostrom says, help his students
know that he cares about them and
that they are important to him.
“Students teach us what works and
what doesn’t work,” says Oostrom.
“What I have learned is that their
passion is contagious, and this is what
keeps me running my golf schools
year after year.”
Shared Goal Setting
Sets the Stage
Good teachers know that every lesson should
have clearly-stated goals and objectives. The beauty of
teaching golf is that these can be personalized for each
student to a great degree. In fact, asking students what
they wish to learn or achieve at any given time goes a
long way toward making those objectives relevant and
achievable. Blending teacher-set goals with studentset
goals is something the professional golf instructor
consistently does subtly and effectively, resulting in
realistic and successful outcomes.

John Mason, USGTF teaching
professional at Diamond Hawk Golf
Course in Cheektowaga, New York,
is accustomed to listening to students
express what they want to learn, and
finds it beneficial.
“Through decades of teaching
golfers of all ages and abilities,
I realized that my students were
teaching me as I was teaching them,”
Mason says. “Perhaps the most
important thing I learned from my
students is that their primary goal
is to hit the ball accurately towards
the target, with a secondary goal of
improving distance.”
Mason’s students come to
understand that good distance
with ineffective aim is worse, and
more frustrating, than the opposite.
Therefore, Mason says, he emphasizes
the importance of a good pre-shot
routine in order to focus on proper
alignment and aim. In fact, Mason
developed a special mat that helps
students learn and practice a pre-shot
routine and align themselves properly
before starting the swing. He teaches
specific techniques of a pre-shot
routine that lead to proper alignment
for each swing.
Professional golf instructors are
cognizant that goal setting often is
dependent on each particular student’s
most effective learning style. Beyond
the basics, ensuring the smooth
trajectory of each student’s progress
hinges partly on tailoring lessons to
how he learns best: Is he an auditory
learner? A visual learner? A group-support learner? An
individual learner?
Norm Crerar, of British Columbia, Canada, sees
firsthand both sides of the equation. As someone who
teaches skiing and takes golf lessons, his perspective

is that of both an instructor and a
student. Just as in teaching golf, Crerar
begins teaching a ski lesson with such
elemental skills as stance and balance,
all the while respecting the age,
flexibility, fitness, body shape, and
athletic ability of each student – and
incorporating instructional options,
teaching aids, and other techniques.
The one big thing Crerar says he has
learned from his ski students surely
applies to golf instruction, too: how
to accommodate different and varied
learning styles.
“This is as important as dealing
with mechanical and technical
challenges,” Crerar says, “and a skill
that only comes with experience. Is
the student a fast learner that responds
to visual stimuli such as constant and
simple demonstrations? Is the student
a pedantic, lineal thinker that has to
master one thing before moving on
to the next? Did the student change
personalities this morning by skipping
breakfast and having three cups of
coffee instead? This ability to deal
with personalities and learning styles
is constant and ongoing, and keeps
students coming back when we are
Simplifying the
Multitudinous factors affect the
outcomes of golf instruction. Every
student brings a set of preconceptions,
personality traits, individual physical
attributes and expectations to the golf
course. Taking these characteristics into account while
teaching proper golf techniques presents the ultimate
“Players think too much, read too many magazine
articles and golf books, and watch various videos and

golf-instructional shows,” says Wayne
Dahlstrom, USGTF professional who
teaches in Naples, Florida. And, they
often “…have no point of reference as
to the setup or the swing that is being
observed by the instructor.”
There is no model swing
or single fix that fits all golfers,
Dahlstrom says. “Golf swings look
different based on people’s physical
characteristics. I have seen golf
swings that resemble an octopus
falling out of a tree.”
Dahlstrom tells his students that
their objective to “hit the ball” is not
central to success. He teaches that the
ball is not the target; the target is the
target. One of Dahlstrom’s goals as an
instructor is to strive to simplify the
various elements of the swing for his
“The key is to quickly analyze
what’s happening,” says Dahlstrom,
“determine the problem, decide on
what corrective action is needed, and then be able
to convey the correction to the student in a way that
is simple and understandable, and that will solve the
problem with ongoing practice.”
Sometimes, the intangibles of a player’s personality
affect an instructor’s approach in noticeable ways,
rendering the simplification process a little more
involved. Toby Tse, Master Golf Teaching Professional
and USGTF-China director, offers an example of this
phenomenon. Creating lag in a golf swing, to help
control the direction and distance of the ball, is easier
to talk about than to execute or teach, Tse believes.
Through his teaching experience, Tse has learned that
students with a “laid-back character” can acquire this
skill faster and more easily than others, because they
do not rush into hitting the ball.
“Their character dictates a natural rhythm
and tempo, generating a proper timing of release
repeatedly,” says Tse. “My observation is that four
elements are required in developing lag: skill, physical

and mental ability, and character. The
first three can be acquired through
training, but character is inborn.
Therefore, students with a soft and
easygoing character have a definite
advantage over others in acquiring the
skill of lag.”
Drawn to the
Profession: The
Art of Teaching and
What is it that attracts people to
the field of golf instruction? Beyond
being a good player and being
willing to teach the fundamentals, the
aspiration of passing along knowledge
and the pure love of the game inspire
instructors both initially and year after
year, keeping them happy in their
chosen field.
USGTF president Geoff Bryant
knows what drew him to the fold. “When I think of
what I have really learned from my students over the
years,” Bryant says, “I immediately reflect upon one
of the USGTF’s trademarked slogans, ‘Sharing our
Passion.’ Of course this is what we do…we share our
passion with our students.
“And, in doing so, I’ve learned that there has always
been something about helping other people that gives me
a good feeling. Perhaps that’s why I chose this profession.”
Bryant takes this concept one step further, thinking
about everything he has gained from teaching. “With
all the various cross-sections of students this profession
can provide, I feel I have learned the art of getting
along with people,” says Bryant, “and getting along
with people truly is an art…in fact, it’s the essence of
life and of business.”
Although Mark Twain probably never taught a golf
lesson, he did possess an instinctive understanding that
education is a lifelong undertaking. Instructors learning
from their students would have been no surprise to
him. Oh, the stories he could have told.…


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