I know in the mind of many women activities like fishing, hunting, and golf are things that guys get into as an excuse to be out of the house and away from the wife and family for as long as possible. This is not the case for me, and this year it’s gotten to be time to put my money where my mouth is and see about getting The Missus into the game.
She’s never played before. She has swung clubs a few times at the range, but that’s it. Helping her get off the ground has forced me to think about the best way for someone to learn the game from scratch. I don’t know whether my approach is correct or not, and I can’t even say whether it’s the best approach for her, but here goes.
We have started out just going to the range, and I think we’ll continue doing this for some time before I get her into a formal class. There are several reasons for this. For one, I think less is more when it comes to the things a golfer has to think about. The swing a teacher is going to try to get her to aspire to would constitute a huge step for a beginner, and I think it would introduce a lot of frustrations and complications that are not necessary at this level.
As veterans of the game we have to make sure we keep it fun. This is a lot easier by making sure the beginner just worry about hitting the ball and not all the minutiae of the golf swing.
Also, in order to get your money’s worth out of classes you need to practice quite a bit between sessions. This requires a decent level of golf fitness. Most beginners don’t have this.
While I’m not a particularly big fan of his, this is one of the things I really agree with Harvey Penick about. I think it was his son in law who was taking up the game, and Harvey told him to hit balls by himself for six months before coming to see him.
The counter-argument is that you don’t want to develop any bad habits that are tougher to correct later on. This is a valid point, but I think it’s significantly less important than allowing her to build up her golf fitness and enjoy her time on the range.
I give very little advice, and I hardly ever correct her on the range, unless I see something glaring. She knows about the left arm being straight, and about not moving her head, and her grip basically along the right lines. At this point, that’s really all I want her to worry about.
Remember what’s important to a beginning golfer. When chipping, for instance, it doesn’t matter whether they’re able to get up and down. We just want to avoid having them scull it across the green or chili-dip it two feet forward. I tell her to ignore the flag and aim for the middle of the green. I currently have her chip with a 9-iron. It gets the ball air bound enough for most cases, but even if she hits it a little thin the swing is not such that the ball will shoot 20 yards over the green.
Encourage, encourage, encourage. She’s already intimidated by the fact that I hit the ball hundreds of yards. The worst thing I can do is to micro-manage and uber-critique her swing.
She’s currently using 30 year old clubs we got at a garage sale, with new grips on them. For where she is right now, I don’t think it would make an ounce of difference if she had anything better. For one, until we know she’s going to be into it there’s no sense in spending a lot of money on gear. For two, until she starts to make somewhat consistent contact with the ball the quality of the clubs don’t matter much.
Once we determine that golf is something she likes we will upgrade her SOMEWHAT. This doesn’t mean we’re getting her a $1000 set of irons. We’ll probably get a irons-woods-bag combo for $200-$300, or something from eBay.
She currently has a half set, and again I think that’s fine when you start out. If you don’t make consistent contact and don’t hit it a consistent distance when you do make contact it won’t hurt you not to have an 8-iron.
The counter-argument here is that if you don’t have good equipment you won’t improve as fast and you are more likely to lose interest. This also is valid, but when you first start out it really doesn’t make any difference in my mind. Yes, once we know she’s going to enjoy it and stick with it we’ll get something decent. There’s already too much good money thrown after bad golfers in this sport, and I don’t want to perpetuate that.
We’ve been out on the course a few times, and that’s useful so she learns the rhythm of the round, the rules of golf play and golf etiquette, and the applications of what she’s working on.
What I think we’ll do a lot more of, however, is to go to a par-3 pitching course. The holes are between 60 and 120 yards long. This will allow her to hole out every hole (which doesn’t always happen on the big course), and it will get her to be confident in those tricky shots around the green. I think once she has a nice foundation here it will be easier to extend her game from there. Plus, she has a real chance to get a par or a bogey here and there, and that’s really exciting to a beginner. We can’t forget how much fun it is when you have those good holes when you’re just starting out.
I don’t know who said it, but I’ve heard the theory that the best way to teach a beginner is from the green out, rather than from the Tee in. I think this makes a lot of sense.
Short game work makes a lot of sense to golfers of any level, as a matter of fact, so playing this course is going to benefit me (a 12 handicapper) at the same time as I get to work on her game.
Keep it simple. Less is more. Encourage. Make sure they have fun.
Keep’em in the short stuff.