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Coaching improves consistency, performance on course

What will improve your golf game the most, instruction or coaching?

This is a question that anyone wanting to either learn golf (beginners) or make an improvement in his or her existing game (experienced golfers) should ask. Too many golfers spend a lot of time and effort trying to get better without results. Often this is because they are either getting poor advice or working on the wrong things.

Instruction is needed to learn or change technique. If you have poor fundamentals, you need instruction from a qualified golf instructor.

I watch golfers for a living, so I am always watching golfers on the range. I estimate that 75 percent of the golfers have poor to terrible fundamentals, that is, a significant problem in their setup, body motion or swing plane. An instructor can evaluate your entire game and give you advice about what to change and how to change it.

Here are a few key points:

* If you are a beginner or want to make a major change or improvement in your game, consult an expert. The golfers who have been self-taught or rely on the advice of friends almost always end up creating bad habits that take longer to correct.

* Plan on a minimum of once each week for instruction for three to six weeks.

* Practice the changes as much as you can (minimum of three times to the range between lessons).

* Be patient about your score, it is difficult to shoot good scores when you are thinking about your swing.

* Consider group lessons as an option. They are less expensive and usually cover all major strokes. The downside is less one-on-one attention from the instructor.

Coaching or focused practice is needed to improve consistency and performance on the course.

If you hit a lot of quality golf shots but are inconsistent during a round, you may need to change how you practice. When you are changing technique, you need to focus on your motion. When your technique is pretty solid but you are too inconsistent, it is often because you are still focusing on your motion.

There are three stages of learning a new technique, and most golfers get stuck in the first stage.

The first stage is to change the technique and focus on your motion. The second stage is to observe the shots, focus on how the swing feels and watch the results. The third stage is focused practice. This is the area that few golfers ever go, but it is the most important in achieving consistency.

Here are a few key points to guide your focused practice and can be done in all skill areas:

* Try to simulate the golf course as much as possible.

* Hit a small group of shots (five to 10 shots) toward a target.

* Measure your success. For example, hit five shots toward a flag at 130 yards; count how many land inside 30 feet.

* Record the results. Write down how you did (three of five, for example) and compare it to last week’s practice.

* Have a consequence. Repeat the drill if you don’t reach a minimum standard. Make the standard something that is challenging, but achievable. You should be able to reach the standard every other attempt.

* Raise the standard as you improve. If you are consistently hitting four or five out of five shots inside 30 feet, make the radius 20 feet.

I have been using this type of practice for several years at the Mike Davis Elite Junior Academy with great results. Over the past 30 years, I have had over 100 of my young students play major college golf.

I have seen more improvement in my juniors using focused practice than my previous methods, which were very successful.

I still work with golfers on correct fundamentals, but my goal is to get them into focused practice as soon as possible. Many of my adult students are now using this type of practice on a regular basis. Think of it like working with a personal trainer; you can get a great workout with the personal trainer and then do the workout on your own a few times.

The key is to not get stuck focusing on mechanics all the time when you practice; use focused practice with goals and measurable results to better simulate the golf course.

Mike Davis, a PGA master professional, is the director of instruction for Walters Golf and teaches at Royal Links Golf Club, Desert Pines Golf Club and Bali Hai Golf Club. He is recognized by Golf Magazine as one of the Top 100 Teachers in America and by Golf Digest as the No. 2 teacher in Nevada. He can be reached at 450-8159.

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