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Golf Guide: Getting lessons the best way to improve your game

Saturday, April 9, 2011
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Golf instruction is available in many different modes these days, including videos, the Internet, magazines and/or books, but the best way for the average player to learn the game or improve to another level is to seek the advice of a professional.

One of the main duties of the Northeastern New York PGA club professionals is to advance the game by teaching people how to play it properly. Mohawk Golf Club head pro Jeremy Kerr insists that visiting a local pro for golf lessons is invaluable, especially for the new player just starting out.

“I think it’s extremely important to get lessons when you’re trying to learn the game,” said Kerr, a former NENYPGA Player of the Year. “A lot of people start out, and when they try to learn how to play, they try to pick up a magazine like GOLF or Golf World. It’s certainly cheaper to buy a magazine for $3.95 than to pay for a lesson. Some people are intimidated by golf professionals and would rather try to teach themselves.

“But even though the information in all of these golf publications or videos may be accurate, it might not be right for that particular player, based on body type or ability level. Plus, the person in the magazine isn’t there watching them. We are right there to guide them, and we can see immediately what they’re doing right, and what they’re doing wrong.”

Kerr said he has his own teaching plan that concentrates on the fundamentals.

“I have a pecking order that I go through when I first see them, whether they are a brand new player or an experienced one looking to improve,” he said.

“I always look at their setup first. That’s the part of the game that they pay attention to the least. I use what I call the GAP system, and that stands for grip, alignment and posture. They are the three fundamentals. Without those three things, it’s really difficult to make a good swing. Of course, there are exceptions on the PGA Tour. You have players like Raymond Floyd, Jim Furyk and Lee Trevino who use the former reverse C swing. Their swings have evolved through time, and they repeat them until they are second-nature. Look at a modern player like Bubba Watson. He certainly has a different kind of swing.”

Of all the fundamentals, Kerr believes the grip, whether it be the Vardon grip, the reverse overlap or even the baseball grip, is the key.

“You need a good grip. It’s the most important part of the golf swing, and the only thing that connects you to the club,” he said. “You can get away with a little misalignment or posture problem, but you need a good grip.”

Kerr also said that players must learn a good setup position.

“Outside of some physical limitations that some people have, most players should be set up square to their targets,” he said. “The railroad track system is the most common metaphor. Your feet and body are aligned on the left side of the tracks, while your target is on the right side of the tracks, parallel to your body and feet.”

Posture is also an important element to a good swing.

“You must bend from the hip sockets, but you need to stick your butt out as a counter balance,” Kerr said. “Your knees should be relaxed. You don’t need to bend them that much.”

The more serious golfers often get instruction on the swing plane, but Kerr said that he doesn’t get into that part of the game unless the player is advanced, and really wants to know about it.

“I would say that, in general, unless an experienced player really knows his stuff, Joe Q golfer doesn’t care about the swing plane. It’s difficult to understand, anyway. There are some high handicappers who understand it, but they can’t implement it. People can’t relate to the swing plane that well. I try to use feel, and I show them how things are supposed to feel at each position or points during the swing. I show them where they can check with their eyes where they are in a swing.”

Kerr said that training aids can be helpful.

“I’m all for training aids. In fact, if I’m trying to get someone to feel the path of a swing, there are plenty of teaching aids available. Some can help you with alignment, and some, like the Inside Approach, teaches you how to bring the club from an inside path. It keeps you from releasing the club too early.”

Although learning the golf swing is paramount, all golfers must understand how to score, and that means sharpening the short-game skills of putting, chipping and pitching.

“I think it’s up to the individual teacher to figure out what a player needs to improve upon the most, but the short game — from 50 yards out and in — is at least 60 percent of the game, and it’s the part that average players practice the least. If I’m giving someone an introductory series of lessons, let’s say six individual lessons, two of the six would be about the short game. I’d do one on chipping and pitching, and the other on putting.”

Kerr said that for the beginner, one series of lessons should get them started.

“One series of about six lessons could do the trick. It would get them acclimated to the game. I always try to cover as many areas in the beginning. Once I see their strengths and weaknesses, I always concentrate on their weaknesses. Then, later, when someone wants to improve even more, we can concentrate on certain aspects of their game. My guess is that most people eventually need more help with their short game. Everybody loves watching the ball fly far, but scoring in golf is all about the short game. The guys on the PGA Tour who are No. 1 in putting, chipping or sand saves are the ones who score and usually win most of the tournaments.”

For more information on instruction, see your local NENYPGA club professional. You can contact the local PGA office at 438-8665.

 
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