A Student’s Odyssey: Navigating the World of Online Golf Instruction

In my first article in this series, I made a statement that continues to prove itself true every day: 

What a great time to be a bad golfer.

That statement has never been more true than it is when looking at the evolution of golf instruction. I don’t plan on touching on the advancements in motion capture and data collection that have enabled people to finally see exactly what is happening in the world’s best golf swings. Surely there are many people better equipped to do that than I am. Instead, I want to focus on how the internet has made finding quality instruction accessible and affordable. I won’t be writing out a bunch of bullet points that will tell you if online lessons are right for you. That’s a decision you’ll have to make for yourself. Instead, I want to share my experience in the hopes that it will help those of you that are interested make the choice to start. I will stress that no matter what method of instruction you choose, change is a gradual process that takes time, patience, and perseverance. 

Why Online?

The purpose of the Breaking the Code series is to explore technology’s impact on game improvement, so I decided to eschew my local options and find an online instructor for the project. Online instruction was in its infancy before my golf hiatus. A small number of instructors offered virtual lessons, but they were the exception. 

Like many of you, I was a captive audience to the local PGA professionals in my area. Was that so bad? Not necessarily, but it wasn’t perfect. While PGA certification does at least ensure a level of proficiency in golf, it doesn’t guarantee a person is a good communicator or that their methodology works for everybody. I was craving more. I wanted to collaborate with an instructor to build a roadmap to success. I wanted somebody to listen to me and design a program that worked for me. I wanted an open line of communication between lessons to ensure I was making progress and hitting benchmarks. I wanted to be able to go back to the lesson tee and remember exactly what it was that my teacher said before I started hitting balls better.

Failure at a Snail’s Pace

Inspired and energized, I dove into research and almost immediately all hope that I’d come to a quick decision on my new teacher was dashed. Unlike ten years ago, when options were scarce, there is an overabundance of online instructors available today. An hour of browsing YouTube or Instagram should make that clear. 

Eventually, I settled on star power as my deciding factor. Yes, I’m an idiot sometimes. Seriously. I noticed a person I’d been following on social media had a lesson program, so I did some research, reached out to him, and eventually enrolled. The basic plan was that I would watch an instructional series and send him swing videos twice a month for analysis. My gut told me he was too busy to offer me what I really needed, but I am an eternal optimist. Believing everything would work itself out, I digested hours of instructional material, carefully took swing videos, sent them off for analysis, and waited for a response.

Online Golf Instruction can be a tough choice
Waiting and Waiting and Waiting

And waited. And waited. I waited ten days for a response to be exact. While waiting, I did what any idiot would do and self-diagnosed and self-prescribed. We all do it, but it’s sometimes unproductive and often damaging. In my case, it was mostly the former. I was able to make some small improvements, but nothing near what I’d hoped to accomplish in that timeframe. When my swing analysis finally arrived, I dove right in and found most of the material helpful. I even got a quick answer to some points of clarification I asked for. I worked very hard at home, and a week later sent in my next set of swing videos. 

And I waited. And I self-diagnosed. And I started cheating on my instructor with YouTube videos. And I really screwed myself up. It’s a vicious cycle.

This time a response never came. Two weeks passed. My subscription was about to renew, and we’d barely interacted. Knowing winter is only so long, I finally made a good decision. I fired my instructor. 

Starting Over with Skillest

Somewhat dejected, but still optimistic, I started my search again. This time I chose to use the Skillest app, an option anybody that has searched online for a golf instructor should be familiar with. Skillest is a golf-centric app that connects teachers and students from around the world. The platform enables quick communication and simplifies the online lesson process by providing a user-friendly interface for sending videos and receiving feedback. Better yet, every instructor’s page has user-reviews, and many provide sample lessons for prospective students to view. 

One of Skillest’s greatest assets is its massive catalog of instructors, which includes some very well-known names. At the same time, this presents what is becoming a common complication in our modern universe: paralysis by analysis. Much like staring at Netflix for 30 minutes and struggling to find something to watch, looking through hundreds of instructors and picking the right one is a challenge. The aforementioned user-reviews and sample lessons do help, but it’s still easy to endlessly browse. Fortunately, a number of instructors offer free Zoom consultations, which can provide an easy way to see if your goals match up with their methodology. 

Online Golf Instruction during the winter months to change the swing

If I learned one thing from my first experience, it was that communication (specifically, timely communication) was key. I finally narrowed down a candidate and reached out to him. Actually, I sort of poured my heart out to him, describing my long and fruitless journey, my goals, and my intense desire to improve. A short time later I received a notification that he’d responded. In fact, he’d sent me a four-minute voice message that almost immediately let me know 1) he’d listened to me and 2) he was up for the challenge. I do want to note that I didn’t mention I’d be writing an article about my experience, and he’s still unaware of that fact today. 

I signed up for a monthly subscription, consisting of two in-depth video analyses, one thirty-minute live Zoom lesson, and unlimited communication between lessons. Skillest offers a price range that should fit just about any budget. In my case, the cost is $70 per month, which is close to the going rate for one short in-person lesson locally. I submitted two swing videos and quickly got a response that my instructor was traveling out of the country but would still provide a full breakdown within 48 hours. 

how to choose online golf instruction

True to his word, I woke up two days later to his response. In it he provided two separate swing analyses, one detailing my most detrimental faults and one detailing his proposed blueprint for how we would improve my golf swing over the coming months. In addition, he provided four separate videos, each describing in detail specific drills for me to incorporate into my practice. In total, this amounted to almost 45 minutes of detailed instruction, along with benchmarks that he wanted me to reach prior to our Zoom lesson in ten days. More importantly, he told me the things I’d be seeing happen as I combined proper mechanics with the many compensations I’d created, namely low pulls and heavy contact. This helped me take focus off the ball and on to accomplishing two relatively simple tasks. 

As I embarked on the next 10 days of practice, I experienced the boosted confidence a lesson provides, followed by the unavoidable uncertainty that I was executing his instructions correctly. I think we’ve all experienced this, and the major pitfall this creates is wasting time between lessons practicing poorly. Rather than flounder, I reached out to him with my concerns and a few still photos. Within minutes he put my fears to bed by affirming I was on the right track. This is where I’ve found the online medium most valuable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgot half of a conversation with my teacher, done a drill incorrectly for two weeks, or done too much of a good thing to the point I’d accomplished nothing at all. 

Our Zoom lesson took place two days after Christmas and my excitement was palpable. After displaying that I’d accomplished my two major tasks and could execute them at will, we did normal lesson things that left me feeling that wonderful sense of optimism that maybe I was on the right track after all. My steep swing was a little shallower, my swing path was coming from the inside slightly, and I wasn’t flipping quite as much. Remember, progress is gradual, and improvement comes slowly, so little changes are big accomplishments. We made plans for the next two weeks of work and signed off.

And they lived happily ever after. 

Well, maybe it’s too early to go there, but it’s good. Really good. As time goes on, I know there will be good days and bad days, but having the stable presence of a person I can reach out to, one that is invested in my success, is just what I need to stay focused and optimistic. 

What are your feelings and experiences with online instruction? Is it something you’ve considered, or have you utilized it in the past? Please join in the conversation on the THP forums and let us know. 

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Ryan Hawk
Editor and writer Ryan Hawk lives in northwestern Illinois with his fiance and son. He's been a writer for The Hackers Paradise for two years and has been involved with a number of THP events.