How To

How to Stop Giving Bad Golf Advice, According to Top 100 Teachers

Welcome to Play Smart, a game improvement column and podcast from editor Luke Kerr-Dineen to help you play smarter, better golf.

I was at my local driving range the other day trying to mind my own business when I overheard two golfers talking to each other a few bays down. One of the golfers was hitting balls and seemed to be having trouble. His friend, the more experienced golfer of the two, was trying to help him.

The advice wasn’t unsolicited—indeed, the first golfer asked his friend for help—and it was all very well-intentioned. But at least from my place in the house I sensed confusion. There was talk of wrist hinge, bat release, pace and something about the legs. Words were flying everywhere, as were the golf shots of the first player.

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I wouldn’t be that man and waltz there, but witnessing the exchange really inspired me to reach out to a small group of top 100 golf teachers to ask a simple question. How do you avoid giving bad advice to your friends when they ask for it and screwing up their game even more?

Their first suggestion was the most important: Refer them to a qualified PGA coach for a lesson. It really cannot be understated how important this is to any golfer who is serious about improving. But apparently they also know that this is not always possible. When you’re in the middle of a round or in the middle of a bucket on the driving range, you can’t drop everything and go to a lesson. You are trying to improve yourself right now.

Here’s what they say to do in those moments.

1. What do they WANT to do?

Ed Ybarguen of Duke University Golf Course, says that one of the best things you can do for your friend is to change his way of thinking. Instead of hearing them panic about the things they don’t want to do, get them to be more positive. Get them to think about what they really want to do.

“Most people have too many swing thoughts going through their heads; they get confused thinking about what NOT to do,” he says. ” By telling your friend to mentally confirm what they want to do before the swing, then just step in and DO IT. They’ll be surprised how this positive ‘pre-shot’ clarification will help them hit much better shots throughout their round.”

Joe Plecker of the Landings Club, says that maintaining that positivity is key.

“Giving complicated thoughts to waver when someone is struggling is the opposite of what needs to happen. To really help someone, start by asking them what they’re working on and how they feel. This gives insight into the player’s mindset and physical cues. Once you have that, make suggestions just about the setup (grip, alignment, stance, ball position) by adjusting the ball flight results – and always stay positive in your feedback.

2. Take it back to basics

Then help your friend check the boring stuff, like where they’re stacked, she says Tour coach Tony Ruggero, and make sure it matches what you see.

“Ask where they’re headed,” he says. “It’s amazing how many golfers have other things go wrong in their swing to make up for poor aim. Ask where your friend is trying to hit the ball, what his or her goal is. Then confirm that they are directed there. Give them feedback. Help make sure their face and feet are pointed correctly, but also their shoulders, hips and forearms are perpendicular to the target line.”

Often, something that can help your friend make this easier is practicing a routine before a shot, says Carol Preisinger of the Landings Club.

“A pre-shot routine with each practice shot is very helpful in helping someone with grip, stance and alignment to the target,” she says. Whatever you do, DO NOT say “keep your head down,” “keep your left arm straight,” or “slow your swing.”

3. Clubface is king

Now that they are in a good frame of mind and have a better stance, direct their attention to the club face. If they are missing to the right, the clubface is open to their target at impact. If they are missing to the left, the club face is closed. The clubface is king in golf, so focus on it.

“The best thing they can do is ask their friend what face, path and contact impact conditions led to that shot.” Brady Riggs of Hualalai Golf Hale says. “There are no absurd theories as to why it happened, just the facts of why the ball does what it does.

John Dunnigan of Applebrook Golf Clubagree.

“Let’s be honest, you really don’t know what you’re talking about, so take the advice of how your friend delivers the golf club as an open or closed face,” he says. “That way you don’t lose friends and you can actually help them.”

Sometimes, like Kelly Stenzel of The Boca Raton Club saysit means helping them learn to play with the stroke they have, rather than fixing it completely.

“Suggest they’re playing Miss, it might be the least damaging,” she says. “If the golfer is making a putt, have him aim for a putt, or aim to reduce the curve from left to right.”

And if all else fails…

“Offer to buy them a beer.”

Luke Kerr-Dine

Contributed to Golf.com

Luke Kerr-Dine is the Game Improvement Editor at GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. In his role, he oversees the enhancement of the brand’s game content covering instruction, equipment, health and fitness across all GOLF multimedia platforms.

An alumnus of the International Youth Golf Academy and the University of South Carolina-Beaufort golf team, where he helped them become #1 in the NAIA national rankings, Luke moved to New York City in 2012 to pursue his Masters in Journalism from Columbia University. His work has also appeared in USA Today, Golf Digest, Newsweek and The Daily Beast.