Anatomy of a Golf Lesson – How I Teach

by Herman Williams

Demonstration of takeaway in backswing - golf swing lesson by Herman Williams.

Hands-on private golf instruction

What to Expect From a Golf Lesson with Herman

When you think about the so-called “anatomy of a golf lesson” or establishing a teaching philosophy, you first must take into account that every student and every golf lesson is unique. Although there are certain philosophies I have about the golf swing and its overall movements and how Tour players have evolved the swing over time, what we choose to do on the lesson tee all depends on the student and what they bring to the game.

Attitude being the #1 prerequisite. If you are open-minded, persistent and willing to accept that swing changes are uncomfortable but necessary, you will go far. Private golf lessons are the recommended way to go, but we know sometimes online golf lessons make more sense due to convenience. Either way, we have you covered.

Before we really get into your golf lesson, I need to learn about you, the athlete, and the state of your golf swing, learn about your overall game and golf history and your own personal understanding of your game and your swing. We also need to assess what you want to get better at – full swing, short game, putting, etc. In an effort to do a thorough job, we recommend new students allow an hour for their first golf lesson. Half hour sessions as follow-ups are fine but aren’t always enough time to do a detailed assessment on the first visit.

Golf Lesson Background Interview

As you are warming up and we’re preparing to start the actual golf instruction, I will go through basic questions such as what medical restrictions or physical limitations you may have, which is your dominant hand, what is your predominant miss (high, low, hook, fade, fat, topped, etc.), what shots do you fear or struggle with, what is your favorite club, what are your goals with instruction? As I watch you hit a few shots observing your technique and approach, I begin formulating in my mind what I consider the “root evil” in your motion or approach to your shots. I also need to understand what you think about your own abilities, your strengths and weaknesses, and what it is that you really wish to accomplish by taking golf instruction in the first place. We can’t just dive into making repairs if we don’t know where we came from and how we got here … and especially we need to know if where we’re going is reasonable and doable.

Video Golf Swing Analysis & Diagnosis

After a few minutes of ball hitting I will almost always film a few swings for us to review. I usually will not comment on your style or technique until I/we have a chance to view the swing from down the line and face-on. Of course the slow-motion and line-drawing capabilities of our swing video software reveal everything and really help us formulate what to focus on first and how to proceed with the instruction. In our one-hour lessons we will make a custom video copy of your swing analysis with all of my mark-ups and voice-over recommendations. I will also provide written practice notes in addition to the video.

The key is getting that root problem diagnosed correctly … basically figure out the one thing that starts the cascading list of errors we see in most golf swings. There are usually one or two primary underlying causes for the things you see wrong in a swing. If you get started in the right place, the rest of the puzzle comes together much more easily.

For example, a student whose “root evil” happens to be a “weak” grip will:

  • have an open clubface at the top of the swing,
  • come over-the-top cutting across the ball with a steep downswing,
  • cast the club losing all wrist hinge on the downswing and
  • stand up losing the spine angle at impact as he or she hits a pull or slice and “chicken wings” the lead arm.

Now, it appears there are at least 4 or 5 things to fix in that list. And if you were to start out in the middle of the list by telling the player to stay down and swing from the inside, they might not accomplish any of it and would naturally assume they are incapable of getting better. However, if you had the same player start with the proper grip, it would almost force them to make all the other corrections out of necessity with much less coaching.

Golf Lesson Summary & Blueprint to a Cure

So for me, it is imperative to educate the student and give them an overview of how I think their swing works, sort of a blueprint of what we’re about to build. I’ll show what is good about the swing so the student doesn’t get suckered into changing something that was already fine, then I’ll show the errant swing moves and flawed positions. Finally, we’ll talk about what can be done to make it better and what order to do it in. Like building a house – foundation first, then the framing, and finally the roof goes on at the end. Now the student is fully informed about what is wrong and what to do about it, and as long as they are willing to follow the guidelines we set forth, improvement should be attainable and long-lasting.

The Steps in a Golf Lesson and Learning the Golf Swing:

  1. Learn what your golf swing does and why it’s been difficult to achieve the results you want. This is where we establish your current swing style – we all have one, good or bad.
  2. Learn what the best swings do and how they differ from your swing. Now we’re building a model for success in your swing, correcting the style you have and making sure all the components you have going forward fit the new corrected style. We want you to have a solid mental image of what a good swing should do.
  3. Learn to see and feel the movements that you need to incorporate into your swing in order to make it more efficient. This will involve slow motion reps and lots of thought and visualization. It may be pretty uncomfortable at first, but this is the beginning of “conscious competence.”
  4. Learn ways to practice in order to commit the new changes to memory. Learn about a truly structured practice system and the “4-ball rule.” Now we’re developing “unconscious competence.”
  5. Learn to take the changes onto the golf course and trust the new motion. Learn to practice like we play. Here we start learning to play on “automatic.” Routine and trigger keys keep you from thinking consciously about everything you are doing.

In this whole process I never want you to try something or change anything because “Herman said so.” You will be fully educated about every change we plan to make and why it is both necessary and based on sound principals of human movement or ball flight. You will know why you are doing something as well as how to do it. It may not be perfect until you’ve done a few thousand reps, :) but it will not be a mystery or a guess. As a result, you will own your swing and understand how to self-correct in the future or even in mid-round.

Master each idea and move to the next. This is better than trying 6 things at once and only achieving mediocrity at each one. For the record, that golf ball will wait until you have achieved all 6 if that’s the number of changes you need to make. If you have fixed 4 out of 6, that’s a nice success, but the golf ball demands 6 out of 6 before you see the results you were really expecting.

So don’t be discouraged if you are in the first week of lessons wondering why the shots don’t look very good yet … you’re still pouring the footings on your new house. Wait ’til the roof is finished before you call friends over to look at your masterpiece.

Incidentally, be willing to make mistakes and fail. Sometimes achievement comes when you’ve exhausted all other options and the only one left is the right one. The struggle strengthens us, much like our body’s own immune system. It’s okay to get sick as long as you battle through it.

Ultimately, I want you to have a clear idea of what you would like to do in order to hit the ball down the fairway and onto a green, then to feel the same confidence over every shot you face. When you have knowledge of the golf swing in general, and particularly knowledge of your own swing and its tendencies, then you can make better decisions as to what might be going on when things do inevitably go wrong. You can watch the Golf Channel or read Golf Digest without being tempted to try every new technique they talk about. When something comes across your radar screen that matches your style, you can listen and use it to possibly further strengthen what you already know about your swing and the game.

Otherwise, stay the course with what you know, and if it really falls apart call me when you can’t figure it out. :)

So if you’re still reading, I hope to see you on the instruction tee soon for your next golf lesson and look forward to helping you get “Hermanized.”

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