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Swinging into action
TO have or not to have a golf lesson? That's the question many golf amateurs ask themselves. If they really want to improve their game and iron out the kinks, should they sign up with a golf professional and have lessons, or get by with, say, just whacking a few balls at the range on a weekly basis and rely on a few tips from their golfer friends?
Naturally, there are things to consider, such as the desire to improve, the cost, as well as the number and duration of lessons.
Says Lorna Campbell, regional director APAC, Sports Marketing & Sponsorships, H+K Strategies: "Lessons make you more aware/conscious of your swing. Taking your time, getting your stance and set-up right before hitting. I try and focus on a few key things, like keeping my lower body as solid and still as I can and getting the angle of club and my arms correct on the take-back."
The 18-handicapper started playing at the age of 16 and cites Singapore-based coach Greg Anketell as being a big influence in her improvement, as he broke things down into simple steps and used a lot of video analysis. "Keeping my head down and working on my strength in the gym were two things that I remembered from Greg. You've got to be fit and strong to play at your best."
She, however, would ideally like to visit the range and hit a few balls once every few weeks as she says it helps with consistency and confidence.
Mark Rhodes, general manager of Global Ocean Freight, Toll, also learnt some fundamentals from a professional, which include slowing down, focusing on the shot and thinking about the hole from green to tee, not just tee to green. The 41-year-old who plays off a 14, says: "The teaching pro who has really stood out for me is Richard Harries at Champions Golf. He's really helping me develop a swing for the future." He adds: "A combination of lessons and practice are essential to improve."
Ruby Chico Kurtelius, who has been teaching for 13 years and used to play on the LPGA Symetra Tour, gives lessons at Heartland Golf Schools in Jurong Country Club. She explains that amateur golfers come to her seeking more distance and consistency in their game. She thinks it important that amateurs seek help with their game.
"I believe that every person is different and our body and strength changes as we get older and our body needs to adjust to the current state. With that, we need to adjust our swing so we can maximise the potential of our game instead of trying to swing the same way a few years ago when we were stronger and more flexible."
So how about visiting a driving range? Ms Chico Kurtelius says: "I believe that a golfer only goes to the driving range if they are working on something with their swing. If they don't know what needs to be changed then they are just making it worse and they are just practising the wrong movements."
Allen Kelly, who teaches at Laguna National Golf & Country Club, has been imparting his knowledge to amateur golfers for 20 years. He says that most amateurs who come to him want to be more consistent, but explains that consistency is relative.
"If the basics are not correct, then nothing else can be. The first thing we do is check the set-up, ie grip, alignment, ball position etc. If they are not set up correctly, then it does not matter how well you swing."
As for how important it is for an amateur to seek help with their game, he explains: "It really depends on their goals, if they are happy shooting 100 with their mates, then they just need to pay attention to the set up and alignment. If they have goals of being an elite golfer, then yes, regular lessons, training and goal setting are needed."
And as to whether amateurs can rely just on friends' tips or driving range visits, he says: "Tips from friends, YouTube, magazines, they are all like walking into a pharmacy when you are sick, so you grab a random handful of medicine. It does not make you better, and in many cases, it makes you worse. However, if you go to a doctor and he sends you to the same pharmacy for a specific medicine, you get well. Tips are well-meaning but most people see the result, they don't know where to look for the cause."
One person who has had only three lessons is 11-handicapper Shahid Sen. "The lessons were quite recent, so I managed to get to a very respectable handicap. Just based on watching others, reading about it, practising and putting my skills from the other sports I play - tennis - into a new setting."
Some fundamentals he's been equipped with thanks to the lessons include keeping to the same routine, visualising the shot and course management. The 40-year-old, who works for the PGA Tour, thinks that playing regularly provides short game feel.
"When I was playing three days a week my handicap dropped to two. Everyone has a different swing, so as long as you have the fundamentals and great hand-eye coordination, anything is possible."
Former Singapore National Team member Heng Su-Ann, 27, teaches at the Phil Brew Golf Academy at Orchid Country Club, and finds that a lot of amateurs book lessons with her to find consistency as well as to "cure" the slice or the hook or contact of the ball. She believes that seeking a golf professional's advice is extremely important as golf is a technical sport.
"Often with golf, what my students 'feel' isn't what it really looks like on camera or even to the naked eye. So it's good to have someone there to tell you what really looks like and push you to do more."
Ms Heng usually likes to find the root problem. "In golf, it is called 'cause and effect'. There is usually a bigger problem that is more apparent to the eye, and it's usually something else the client is doing in his swing that is causing that result."
There are plenty of other good golf coaches in Singapore who offer lessons in Singapore or offshore, whether on an hourly, daily, weekly or full day basis.
Jason Tan, who works out of Orchid Country Club has been responsible for putting together the Ultimate Golf Lessons website which features a number of Singapore teaching professionals based all around the country. He also organises three-day-two-night golf coaching trips to Batam which cater to all golf levels.