The Playing Lesson
Not all golfers employ an instructor or coach and not all that do take advantage of a great way to combine instruction and play – the playing lesson.
In two years of instruction I had my first playing lesson recently (and it was the worst weather day of the fall season) and reflecting back the experience was fantastic. Here are some observations on why it worked for me and why you should consider doing the same with your instructor:
- Pressure play – It is rare that I step on the course and not feel nervous. While I love the game, it does not always soothe my anxious tendencies but I have enough experience with this to acknowledge it and address it. However, playing with my instructor, an accomplished player in his own right, presented unique challenges. There was a sense on the first tee of not wanting to disappoint and a concurrent goal of showcasing recent progress along with – and this is crazy – a desire to match his strong play. But there is a reason my index is close to 10 and his is not. And there is a reason I am taking lessons from him. My anxiety with golf is another story for another time but I liken this to competitive play where the nerves are heightened and it’s a place where I want to perform my best. I welcome the pressure although I don’t always respond to it well. The biggest variable of the day was cold and wet conditions which created a sense of discomfort over the ball for our entire group. Most of us scored one of our worst scores of the season and after the fourth hole my instructor said to enjoy the day and not worry about performance because the conditions are so difficult to perform well. My score didn’t improve but my attitude did. The takeaway: not all lessons are about the swing.
- Learn from observation – the opportunity to learn is not one-way. It is not simply your instructor serving as a set of eyes and providing feedback on what they see. In my 4 hours playing with my instructor, I purposefully used it as a chance to see how to prepares, approaches shots and situations on the course. How does he address adversity on the course? How does he manage holes and his game? Does his temperament change over the round? What is his pre-shot routine? The observation process gave me to draw from as his feedback on my performance. And I really valued that. It reinforced aspects of my game I did not realize were strong (in some cases) and inconsistent (in other cases). Make no mistake, I asked many questions after he hit shots (often about decision making and preparation/routine) and he asked questions of me after shots (both good and poor ones). The takeaway: allow for a two-way exchange process. Ask questions. But listen to understand.
- Mindfulness – Perhaps the better word is acceptance, but I was struck with the matter of fact nature to which my instructor acknowledged – for us all – that the conditions were not going to support great play and scoring. He mentioned early that on days like this (and I assume this to be if conditions are challenging or we’re not bringing our A game) the goal is to be mindful of our game. I took this to mean try our best, be aware of our game that day and focus more on avoiding big numbers than the pursuit of low numbers. For him, knowing it was a tough day to get birdies he wanted to focus on the conditions and what he needed to do to get as many pars as possible. For me, he said to focus more around the greens and keep big numbers off the card. This meant trusting my technique around the greens and stick to a consistent routine. It helped and looking back it was a valuable takeaway which I look to employ moving forward. The takeaway: There will be days in golf where the game is simply more challenging than others. Acceptance can keep the game fun and allow us to perform our best based on that day.
- Fun – Not to contradict myself from point 1, but at some point in time I always see the fun in the game. My performance will not impact my tour earnings or world golf rankings. I scored horribly but hit some shots I am very proud of. And most importantly, I was able to spend time with someone I consider a friend. Sure, I’ll be nervous again next time we can schedule a playing lesson but I will also continue to smile on the course, try my best and keep the experience as a positive and fun one. Because that is what my first-ever playing lesson was; fun. The takeaway: Golf is a game. Try your best. Seek to learn from mistakes, not beat yourself up over them. Smile and enjoy the experience.
Reflecting back on my first playing lesson, this is something I would like to do more regularly…at least once a year. I learned much – both positively (reinforcing new, positive approaches to my short game) and constructively (the need to commit to a pre-shot routine and establish clear set up fundamentals on the tee).