Do You Have a Golf Coach?
By Bradley Turner Keiser University College of Golf Director of Online Golf Instruction – MBA, PGA
This past weekend, I went to the local driving range to get some much-needed practice done. As I walked down the line of golfers to an open space on the range, I experienced a very common concern. While stretching out before my practice session, I scanned the golfers slashing at the yellow practice ball on the ground. There were 18 of these golfers. I counted them. As a golf coach of almost 40 years, my concern was simple. Who the heck is teaching these 18 golfers how to swing a golf club? Where did they learn the slashing and hacking motion I was witnessing? Don’t these 18 golfers realize there is a better way to send the ball far and straight out to the end of the range? Judging by the swings and dribbling ball flights, it was safe to assume that no one was teaching these people. Thank goodness I could turn away and focus on my own game. Watching that is just too frustrating for the old golf coach.
Golfers are Not Improving
According to the USGA, the average handicap index for men is 14.2, and for women, it is 27.5. This average surprised me at how low the average handicap is today. But there are a couple of reasons why the average handicap appears to be lower than expected. First is a recent change in the handicap formula. For almost 35 years, the USGA Index formula used the 10 lowest scores of the last 20 rounds in the calculation formula. This changed in 2018 to use only the 8 lowest scores of the last 20. This has resulted in the average handicap dropping about 2 strokes over a decades-long average handicap index of about 16 for men and 29 for women. The reality is that most golfers are not improving. The chart below is from the USGA handicap statistics for 2020-2021.
|plus or better||1.8%||0.7%|
|0.0 to 4.9||8.0%||1.3%|
|5.0 to 9.9||19.5%||3.2%|
|10.0 to 14.9||26.6%||4.8%|
|15.0 to 19.9||22.3%||11.1%|
|20.0 to 24.9||14.1%||16.8%|
|25.0 to 29.9||4.2%||20.0%|
|30.0 to 34.9||2.3%||16.7%|
The second reason is that these statistics reflect the playing ability of avid golfers who actually establish a handicap. The above chart represents only 10% of the 25 million golfers in America. If we added the 90% of golfers who do not have a USGA index, it is safe to assume the true average American golfer cannot break 100. Millions of golfers need help with their golf game, so why don’t they take lessons?
Fear of the Unknown
For golfers who do not work with a golf coach, a big concern is a fear of taking golf lessons and getting worse, not better. Every golfer’s experience with an instructor is different, and it is true that some people may get worse for a short period before they start to see the results. In the hands of a quality golf coach, the fear of these changes will be mitigated, and in short order, you will be improving.
The more you may have ingrained a poor habit, the more time it may take to establish the new habit. It is difficult to change a motor skill if an athlete has used it thousands of times. Changing a motor skill is more difficult than developing a motor skill from the very beginning. Therefore, golfers who start out with a golf coach and learn some fundamentals early on will generally have better golf swings than adults who started golf by learning independently.
The other concern for a golfer is the cost of taking lessons. There are plenty of good teachers in your community that can help you develop good fundamentals. You don’t need to find a Top 100 Teacher in America to get good help. Do some research, and you will find a golf coach to help lower your handicap. Once you find your coach, commit to taking a lesson at least monthly and then work on the issues in your game, whatever they may be. Without putting in the work, you are not improving, and you’re wasting money on a golf coach!
When I watched those 18 golfers on the range, I feared the known. Their practice sessions are not doing any good for their golf scores.
I wonder how many of them paid good money to hit range balls with the expectation that they were getting better and how many of them were just whacking the ball for fun. It appeared to be more of an exercise in hitting an object as far as possible versus developing sound fundamentals that would allow them to enjoy the game more.
What to Expect
If you are interested in lowering your handicap, get with your golf coach and make a plan of improvement. Expectations are a big part of the learning process, so it is essential to talk about your own expectations with the coach. Determine how many lessons you plan to take and how often you will be able to practice. There is certainly a financial aspect of taking multiple lessons, but if you want to enjoy the game more, it is absolutely worth the investment for the satisfaction of playing better. Below are some interesting statistics on what you can expect if you decide to get some help with your golf game. This study was conducted over five years and measured the improvement of golfers over a 12-month time frame.
The average starting handicap index was 13.3, with an ending handicap index after 12 months of 9.1. The average change was 4.2 strokes in one year, lowering their handicap by 31.6%. There were 539 students in the study, with all of them receiving at least one lesson in 12 months. Some students took very few lessons and never practiced, while others took multiple lessons and worked very hard on improving their game. There was a wide array of typical golfers, and the statistics are a good benchmark in establishing realistic expectations. The most improvement was from golfers with initial handicaps over 30, with a few dropping their handicaps by over 20 strokes in one year! For those low handicap golfers dropping a single stroke in one year is great work.
Work with a Coach and Lower Your Handicap by 33%
I am quite confident that by working with a good golf coach, you can expect to lower your USGA index by a third every year. This would require putting in a reasonable amount of effort with regular sessions with the coach. I started playing at the age of 10 and became a scratch golfer at age 17. Assuming you are a 30 handicap golfer and want to become a single-digit handicap golfer, this is what you can expect:
|Baseline||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4||Year 5||Year 6||Year 7|
There is plenty of evidence to support the expectations highlighted above. The next step is to find a good golf coach and stay committed to the process. Do not become one of those golfers on the local driving range spending money chopping at golf balls. Instead, spend some time and money with an expert who can help you maximize your potential in striking a golf ball and shooting lower scores.
If you’d like to study with Bradley Turner and other PGA Master Professionals, contact the College of Golf today.