I was at a dinner party a few weeks ago and the conversation with a friend moved to golf. Inevitably, because I am a fairly serious golfer, new golfers will want to tell me stories of their first par or first birdie. I will listen and think back to when I started playing golf and when it was a big deal to finish the round with the same ball. That was always a big accomplishment when I started!
The friend will then start to tell me about their game and they will ask me, "so, how do I get better at golf?" The traditional answer is be find a local professional and start taking lessons, or go work on your short game. After years of answering friends this way I have stopped, mainly because I think that is wrong answer.
Of course, there are numerous ways to get better, and no single piece of advice will work for everyone. I also ask the person how serious they want to get. Getting good at golf requires a very high level of dedication. Take "The Dan Plan" as an example. Dan is testing the theory that 10,000 hours of dedicated practice can make you a master of a given profession. Dan is just shy of 3,000 hours in and is about a 10 handicap. The 3,000 hours has equated to about two years of just practicing and playing golf. When you look at the average person who has a job and a family, they likely only dedicates about 3-4 hours a week to golf. I find most casual golfers spend only about 3-4 hours in a month. Their rate of improvement is going to be very slow.
So the question I find myself having to answer is how do I suggest this golfer spend his 3-4 hours per month in order to enjoy the game more. If we go with the conventional answer of short game, then I can improve his or her overall score pretty quickly. I can teach them to avoid three-putt holes by working on distance control and some basic green reading skills. For beginners, though, speed control is typically the largest problem.
For me, though, having fun with golf has little to do with putting. So while this friend might score 103 versus 115, are they really having more fun three-putting less?
I think the best way for the beginner to get better is with the driver. With today's equipment the driver is far and away the most exciting club in the bag. That was not always the case. When I was starting out persimmon drivers were really really hard to hit. In the beginning I could not hit the driver, and I learned the game playing mostly with a 3-wood. This hurt my development because I caused me to hit much longer irons into greens and caused me to develop a killer short game, but put a ton of stress on that short game. The drivers of today have enormous faces and are much easier to hit.
The biggest thing is not hitting it far, but instead about controlling the spin axis. Most beginners slice, and even with the advances in balls that do not curve as much, the beginners I play with can still hit some doozies.
Early keys are usually a sound set-up, because the ball is either too far forward or too far back in the golfer's swing. From there I teach them to avoid the big slice and I find that most of them enjoy the game a bunch more. So my general advice to beginning golfers is to work on the range to fix their slice. I will often recommend a local pro in our area but I'm sure to tell the pro to first work on fixing the slice with the driver.
I actually believe that PGA Professionals would do well to make that the first lesson with any beginner. This is of course based on the prerequisite that this beginner can make decent contact with the ball. Some true beginners have trouble even contacting the ball so they likely need to start with that as the first lesson.
As golfer gets further along I typically will suggest a few books, I will suggest they sign up for The Sand Trap, and my main advice is to avoid tips in golf magazines. Golf Digest is full of one liners that simple make you worse in the long run. I suggest to avoid them at all costs.
Right now golf needs new golfers and the game is difficult enough as it is. If you have the time and want to get better with a more methodical approach my suggestions would be totally different but usually that sort of obsession typically develops in us after a few years of playing the game.
Now, for sure I am not a golf professional and I am certain that everyone will have an opinion on to make someone better. I would like to hear some of what all of you think about how to make the casual golfer, who only has a few hours a month, to make the game more enjoyable.