Finding a golf instructor to help get the most out of your game is more important than that new driver you are eyeing. It is not, however, an easy quest. I have seen at least five instructors in the past 1.5 years since picking golf back up after a long hiatus. Each had some useful guidance, but none were the perfect fit. One, though, helped me on my way to that perfect fit. While sharing my golf background and telling the story of how an old instructor helped me switch from right-handed to left-handed, he mentioned the name Eric Driessen. Fireworks went off in my brain. THAT'S HIM! It had been 20 years since I last had a lesson with the guy and could not remember his name for the life of me. Today was my first lesson back.
Season One: The lost episodes
I started playing golf as a kid and was told by my first instructor to learn the game right-handed because he said it would be easier to find rental clubs and borrow from other players. I played like that for 10 years before I got a free lesson that came with a set of golf clubs I bought right out of college. The instructor was Eric. He watched and coached me for an hour and then looked me in the eye and said, "You're left-handed, aren't you?"
I was a little surprised because I had not mentioned a thing about it and it no longer even registered that I was playing the game with my off-hand. "I can teach you to be better right-handed than you are, but you will be your best if you commit to learning as a leftie."
I was already terrible, and his certainty inspired me. I returned the clubs for a left-handed set and signed up for weekly lessons with Eric. It was like learning to walk again. The results were...ugly...for a time.
Eric never wavered. His whole setup was very advanced for that time, with multiple video cameras at different angles that we could watch frame-by-frame and compare to pro players. I would bring a Zip disk that he would save my lesson to each time.
He had a way of teaching that just worked for me. I was going to the range four times a week, but Eric would say, "Going to the range is only useful if you are practicing the right things. It's easier to develop bad habits than good ones."
What Eric did that no other instructor has been able to do for me was give me physical checkpoints at various points in my swing that made it far more repeatable. Instead of 10-20 things that could go wrong, I had 3-5 body positions and physical sensations to use as a touchstone.
In a matter of a couple of months, I was shooting in the low 90s and dipping into the high 80s. I had never hit golf balls like that before. I had never dialed in distances with such confidence. I was actually playing the game instead of fighting my swing. It was glorious.
Then, I had kids. Gave up the game for two decades, and forgot almost everything Eric taught me, including his name.
Season Two: Lesson one
As he walked up from behind me while I was warming up for our lesson today, he already saw four things he knew we needed to fix to get my swing back in groove.
Correction #1: Ball position
I have been struggling with pretty painful golfer's elbow for months. I tried taking some time off and it helped, and have done a bunch of other treatments I will share in another post for those interested, but I am fairly certain at least one of the major factors is that I have a tendency to hang back and scoop the ball instead of compress it with a downward strike.
Eric could tell before he even saw my swing from the front that my impact point was too far back.
Have the ball this far back almost requires me to keep my weight back and come in too steep.
Eric asked me to move the ball forward as if it was a driver, off my front foot. His main goal was for me to focus on really getting my weight forward. I had suspected this issue from my own video (above), but it helped to get confirmation from a pro.
Correction #2: Grip
He saw the balls flying right (remember, I'm a lefty, so that's a pull), and heard me talk about my golfer's elbow.
He had some explanation about why having the club rest on the pad of my middle and ring fingers would be hard on my elbow. I can't say I really understood that part. He also said I was not getting the club enough in my fingers by having it there, so he moved it onto the first knuckle.
He also weakened my grip. If you have not done that before, rest your club on the ground, twist it a bit to open the club face, grip the club, and then rotate the face back to square. That's a weakened grip.
Correction #3: Get my back shoulder to finish higher than my front
This was a new swing thought for me. Eric primarily wanted me to be firing forward, and part of that was getting my back shoulder through impact.
The finish Eric was after was that trail shoulder out past the point of impact, so far rotated that it is almost pointing down the target line, and a bit higher than the (formerly) lead shoulder.
This was a fun one to think about and work on. It was the kind of swing checkpoint Eric gave me years earlier. It doesn't necessarily matter how I get there. I just need to work on getting there.
Correction #4: Shoulder position at address
My grip was part of the problem with ball direction. My shoulders during setup were another. Eric asked me to take my address position, and asked where I was aiming.
I pointed to the flag, thinking he was going to tell me my feet or knees or hips not aligned. He asked me to look at my trail shoulder, and then look down the line of where it was pointing toward my lead shoulder. It was maybe 20-30 yards to the right. He grabbed both of my shoulders and rotated me back toward the ball.
This was one of those physical aha moments that was super encouraging because it was easy to fix, and has potentially large ramifications on my game.
Please take it easy on the rest of my setup. I know it's not great. WIP. The hope is this tip will help someone else.
There were three other tips that came up as we worked further into the lesson that I want to capture here.
Tip #1: Straighten trail arm through impact
I asked Eric for a reminder of what it is supposed to feel like getting through the ball at impact. I have been told to focus on getting the grip/handle past the ball, or firing my hands at the ball, or any number of other thoughts that had varying levels of usefulness. Eric just told me to focus on getting my trail arm from bent at the elbow when my hands are near my trail hip, to straight a few feet past the ball.
Simple. It just so happened I had been practicing something like that recently and having some success, so this was welcome validation.
Tip #2: Clubface angle matches back tilt angle at takeaway and should be lining up with where the ball had been sitting on follow through
The first part of this was something I had heard before and simply had forgotten over time to check. I was way out of whack, with my face far too open by the time my hands were even with my hips. The face should actually look closed at that point. Truly, it is square to the line, but because you are bent over, it should match that spine angle.
The new part for me was hearing that it should look like the mirror image on the follow through, with the face in line with where the ball was before it was hit. I was not getting the club in the right position on either side. Two for two!
Tip #3: Drop front hip below trail hip
This was not necessarily something Eric was saying should always be the case, but he wanted me to really feel the sensation of the hip staying over the ball instead of hanging back.
This was a kind of revelation as well as I could immediately feel the difference in how it kept me down over the ball.
He was having me put most of my weight on my lead foot even at address at this point as a way to help me get the feeling of finishing with my weight fully forward and stacked on that lead leg.
Time will tell whether the reunion with Eric will prove as fruitful as I hope. Finding an instructor you truly trust is key. I don't know if he is the best instructor around, but the way he teaches works well for me.
I got home and immediately started practicing these news concepts off the mat on my back deck.
It was rough for a bit, but the great thing about hitting into a net is you only have feel to go by. Ball flight gives you a little indication, but you know when you catch a ball flush. I got that feeling repeatedly by the end of my practice session.
I am supposed to play tomorrow at McCormick Woods, but the chances of a frost delay or course closure are strong. Worst case scenario will be finding an open range or indoor studio. I probably should take a few days before heading back to the course, but I cannot help myself.
Whatever works or does not will be captured here for my reference and yours. It will not always be pretty, but hopefully it will be helpful. Cheers, and hit 'em straight.