Why Teacher Doesn’t Always Know Best

Think a round with a top pro will instantly fix your game? Be careful what you wish for. Through the years I’ve found that too much advice is often worse than none at all.


Brian Kendall, Editor, Canadian Golf Traveller (Image: Sharon McAuley)While enjoying the extravagantly privileged life of a golf writer, I’ve had the opportunity to play fabled layouts such as the Old Course in St. Andrews and Northern Ireland’s Royal County Down, often in the company of club pros so talented they once performed on the PGA or European tours. Even the most unsung among them boasted velvety swings most golfers can only envy.

Our rounds always begin in the same congenial fashion. The pros praise even my mediocre tee shots. And they gaze skyward and blame erratic wind currents when my iron shots fly the green. Good humour and a forbearing nature are, after all, two of the prime requirements of their profession.

Soon, though, I can sense an undercurrent of tension. With each swing their praise rings increasingly hollow in my ears.

Castlerock Golf Club, Northern Ireland (Image: Sharon McAuley)

Bunker trouble at Castlerock Golf Club, Northern Ireland.

The problem, I’ve come to recognize, is that by now they’re practically busting a gut with impatience to help me fix my game. A flailed bunker shot or a chunked chip affronts their esthetic sensibility. Most club pros live to teach, yet the code of their profession demands that a playing partner must first ask for advice before it can be given.

So, naturally, I oblige them. It takes far greater strength than I possess to resist free advice from a gifted professional.

Given the green light, Canadian Golf Hall of Famer Bob Panasik, while warming up beside me at a course in Muskoka, Ontario, suggested I change my grip, although just the week before the head instructor at the PGA Tour Golf Academy in Florida had praised it as impeccable. Several pros deemed it essential that I learn to roll my hands through impact; others pronounced that such a swing thought is unnecessarily confusing.

Whom to trust? Was it the young pro in the Bahamas who overnight transformed my old two-plane swing into the one-plane model espoused by instructor Jim Hardy and his legion of acolytes? Rapidly coiling my club around my body, I found I hit my driver longer than ever. But I was just as wild as before and I couldn’t hit my irons worth a damn. Though the one-plane approach would no doubt benefit many golfers, I abandoned the experiment within weeks.

On and on it went. Every pro I met discovered new flaws — and offered his or her own remedies. But so many cooks had by now completely destroyed my confidence and unrecognizably altered what had once been a perfectly serviceable golf swing.

Predator Ridge Golf Instructor Len Harvey (Image: Brian Kendall)

Veteran golf instructor Len Harvey’s swing advice: “Stay within yourself.” (Image: Brian Kendall)

My first step toward salvation came at Predator Ridge Golf Resort in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. There, I had the opportunity to observe the silky smooth swing of Len Harvey, Predator’s veteran teaching pro. From dawn until the northern twilight, novices and low-handicappers alike eagerly line up for swing insights from an unassuming guru who twice represented Canada internationally during his playing heyday in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Like his old friend George Knudson, the greatest of all Canadian ball strikers, Harvey stressed the importance of maintaining perfect balance throughout the swing. “Stay within yourself,” he repeated like a mantra. “The biggest mistake golfers make is trying to overswing.”

Thankfully, before I had time to forget or distort the lessons learned from Harvey, I met Debbie Savoy Morel, a Montreal pro travelling in my group during a late-season tour of the K Club, Portmarnock, Druids Glen and other acclaimed Irish courses. “Let’s get you back to basics,” said Morel, who with CPGA pro Anne Chouinard produced a superb instructional video aptly titled A Swing for A Lifetime. Morel quickly returned me to the swing I had started out with years before: Smooth one-piece takeaway, a full turn, a balanced finish.

Now, at last having rediscovered my swing, I’m praying to the golf gods for the strength to resist any new advice offered by the pros I’m so very fortunate to meet.