Players embrace the thrill of golf. They buy new clubs for enhanced technology, new bags to place them in and new GPS watches to measure yardage, even obtain a post-round analysis.
It’s also wise to invest in themselves. There may be nothing more valued in the advancement of one’s game than a golf lesson. It reveals the fundamentals of the swing and the groundwork to make it consistent. Good swing mechanics will outlast any new development in the sport.
For some, the lesson eases them into a difficult game. For others, it’s like seeking a masters.
“Professor” Matt Callaghan runs an excellent academy on the grounds of Twisted Dune Golf Club in Egg Harbor Township. Celebrating his 25th year as an instructor, Callaghan conducts both personal 1-hour sessions and several larger-group clinics in the Juniors, Adults, Women and Men’s categories. He can spot a swing flaw instantly and patiently work a player through it.
“I enjoy putting a smile on people’s faces when they leave here,” he says. “One of the best things you are giving them is the knowledge of how to practice. You can beat a million balls into the ground at a driving range, day after day, but if the technique isn’t right, what’s going to happen? You will have the same result and only build on bad habits.”
People have varied reasons for seeking instruction. Paul Ruth of Egg Harbor City attended one of Callaghan’s weekend clinics with his friends. A few days later, he selected an individual 1-hour lesson.
“At 70, I’d like to be hitting the ball as far as I was a few years ago,” he says, reflecting a widespread concern about players losing power as they age.
Ever wonder what happens at a lesson? Let’s take you inside one.
Ruth looks a little above average, with the specific goal of improving distance and removing a slice. Callaghan first had him line up in a stance, placed an alignment rod nearby to track the flight path of the shot and then observed three major preliminary items: grip, alignment and address. All satisfactory. Then he had Ruth take some swings, capturing them with pictures and video on a phone from a side view.
“Do you use your hands to start the takeaway (back swing) or your shoulders?” Callaghan asked.
“Hands,” Ruth replied.
“It’s good you know that,” Callaghan asserted, pleased Ruth knew the origin of his swing. Because a change was coming.
Callaghan wanted the swing to be launched from the core of upper-body strength, chest, shoulders and other parts, rather than from the hands. He gave Ruth a different swing path to try, creating the feel of a one-piece unit. One major difference would be Ruth letting his wrists break naturally, toward the top of the swing, rather than manually, much earlier in the process.
As Ruth tried that, just as a technique and without striking the ball, another photo was taken. It froze his club at the top of the new swing. The photos were shown to him, one atop another. The later picture showed the club much further back.
It revealed a sizable difference in how much downward arc Ruth had now allowed himself. The further a club travels, the more it can generate speed and power.
Callaghan then took a club, swinging one-handed, into the air. His first example created a small stir. The second, illustrating Ruth’s new swing path, produced a strong “Whoosh,” indicating enhanced club speed and contact.
Now came the ball striking, with an 8-iron.
“Don’t worry about the results of these,” Callaghan said. “It’s going to feel awkward, just familiarize yourself with doing it this way.”
They smiled as Ruth first hit grounders. Slowly, over the course of a few shots, contact improved. And suddenly, the ball flew off the club. Ruth was coming through sharply, the snap of contact resembling the “whoosh” Callaghan had shown. A by-product of the new swing: his hips were no longer blocking the follow-through.
In a few minutes, Ruth had essentially discarded his swing, started over and excelled at a new one. The shots stayed in the air longer. They were straight. For Ruth, knowledge was power. About 40 yards of power, just with a high iron. It would be even more with a driver.
A few minutes later, he left, with a smile and a swing that looked 10 years younger. He hadn’t lost distance after all.
“I think I’m going to play a real round somewhere,” he grinned. “I’ve got got to see what this does for me on the course.”
Callaghan emphasizes the follow-up portion of a lesson. Play or go to a driving range at least a couple times a week to keep the new techniques fresh in one’s mind.