By: Thomas T Wartelle WGCA contributing writer
When I was younger, I was fortunate to spend some time with Lionel Hebert, winner of the 1957 PGA Championship. That year was the last time this major championship was played as match play. His brother, Jay Hebert, later won the 1960 PGA Championship when it was stroke play. Both played on the Ryder Cup team and were close friends of Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret, Jack Burke, and the other greats of that era. I was eager to listen to his stories and readily absorbed Mr. Lionel’s wisdom of golf. He was not a traditional-type teacher, as he was first and foremost a player. He often spoke in parables about the game and had a unique way of conveying his homespun messages.
I will never forget one afternoon when Mr. Lionel and I were walking together near the driving range the day before a tournament. He looked me directly in the eyes with the most serious look and said, “You see all those fools working on their swing the day before a competition? You know, if you ain’t brought it with you, you are not going to find it out there!” Truer words were never spoken.
You see, Mr. Lionel knew that playing the game, especially tournament golf, is about getting the ball into the hole. When we think about tough major championships like the Open or U.S. Open, we think about perseverance and the ability get the ball in the hole under the most extreme pressure. Mr. Lionel knew this; Mr. Hogan knew this; champions know this and find a way to win. Good golfers find a way to get the ball into the hole.
As golf instructors, we can learn from this lesson. Instructors would do well to teach less on the driving range and more on the golf course. Teach the game. I have seen so many cases over the years where a golfer spends hours and hours on the driving range pounding balls. They are not even working on their short game, yet endlessly picking apart their swing. Several times when I was working overseas, I saw golfers, including kids, who had never been on the golf course because of their instructors insisting that they learn to swing it a certain way. What a terrible way to learn the game of golf. I actually prefer to do the opposite with my students. I like to get them on the golf course as soon as possible and have fun while learning to golf your ball on the course.
Golf is meant to be played on the golf course. When golf course play is not an option, simulate playing the game as closely as possible on the practice area. Get your students playing and watch your students’ skill level and enjoyment soar. It will make for more return customers!