Golf Thoughts: What to Think if You Need a New Coach

Sitting in the position where I am now with over 15 years of pretty strong competitive golf experience I can say with confidence that having a coach is obviously a great idea. But it wasn’t always that way.

As some of you may have heard me talk about before, I had a swing coach when I was in high school. I don’t remember a ton of the details of what we worked on or how often I went. But I remember his name. Simon McGreal. Simon, what’s up if you’re reading. I loved working with Simon. He was a great coach for me. He worked at Precision Golf School which is where I go for swing lessons now, and also where I am a mental performance coach.

But I only worked with Simon through high school. In fact, he and the strength coach at Precision, Ted Bonham, came to my high school graduation. Ted, what’s up if you’re reading. That has stuck with me as such a cool thing for so long and had a strong impact on why I chose my present coach. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Back to high school. Once I graduated and went to Appalachian State University, I stopped working with a swing coach. A combination of hoping my college coach would help with my swing and being a little too far away from Precision, and continuing to have to spend the money all caused me to abandon coaching. This proved to be a fatal error.

And this isn’t saying anything about my college coach. He was very capable of helping with my swing. I simply didn’t seek any help whatsoever. I tried being my own swing coach. And this is where the struggles began.

When all I had was my own eyes and my phone to film my swing, I became only interested in how my swing looked to myself compared to others or PGA Tour players. I would film almost every swing I made.

Making my swing look good became somewhat of an obsession. I would equate bad shots with an aesthetically bad swing. Every shot was preceded by countless rehearsals of the move that I thought was correct. If I played bad, I would spend extra time at the range or the indoor center making more rehearsals and filming more swings. It was an endless cycle of trying to make my swing look better regardless of the shots it was producing.

It wasn’t always bad though. Because I was practicing so much, even though it was probably bad practice, my sheer quantity led to improvement still. I played pretty well my sophomore through senior years. But that was relative to how poorly I had been playing prior to that. And was hardly due to my self-diagnosing and attempted fixes to my swing.

Starting out college I had a goal of turning pro the summer after I graduated. Well that didn’t happen. I graduated then moved back into my parents house to continue the chase. I still have a video of my first practice session from that May of 2013. Guess what I was doing. Yep, filming my swing. The pursuit of a good-looking swing continued on, and so did my very average play. Through 2013, 14, 15, and into 16 I worked harder than just about anyone. Hours and hours every day at the range, short game, and putting area. Playing at least 9 holes a day. But I never really got much better. In looking at my stats that I tracked back then, from 2014 to 15, the course yardages I was playing got 5% longer (about 300 yards on average), but my scores only went up 4% (from a 69.78 average for 2014 to a 72.27 average for 2015). So yes I was shooting higher on average, but the courses I was playing were much longer on average. So I was getting a little better year over year, comparative to yardage, but not significantly.

But the point is, if I could go back and measure scoring average change relative to amount of time practiced, my ratio would not be very good. I was in a 3 year long slump by mid-2016.

So now we enter into the modern era of Josh Nichols’s golf game. In summer of 2016 I had had enough of the floundering and plateauing. I had to find an instructor. I’m not totally sure what was the impetus for my change of heart from total autonomy to humbling myself down to the level of needing help, but I’m glad it happened.

I finally pulled my head out of the sand to look around at who should be my swing coach. My criteria was this: they had to be experienced, they had to be proven with results from other players, and they had to be adaptable to the modern way of instruction. Those were the things I was looking for. Honestly, the biggest one for me was finding an instructor who had gotten results in working with their players. Their players needed to have gotten better and gotten to a high level. Because that’s where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be the highest level my coach has taught. I wanted my goals to be very normal to my coach.

My criteria was this: they had to be experienced, they had to be proven with results from other players, and they had to be adaptable to the modern way of instruction.

My search didn’t last long. From the goodwill I remembered in working with Precision Golf School in my own past, they were the first place I looked. And at the time, Scott Harvey had just won the U.S. Mid Amateur a couple years prior. And Scott worked with a Precision instructor, Robert Linville. I also knew several of the players Robert was working with, and they were all much better than me. So very quickly my decision had been made. I even dug up the old email that I sent to Robert:

——

Subject line: Lesson from you or someone you could recommend


Hey Robert.


I need to have someone look at my game. I've been trying to self-diagnose as much as I can and that can only go so far and I think I've created some bad habits. My game might not look that far off, but it sure feels far off. And it feels like some things need to change.

——


Sounds about right. So Starting on August 2nd, 2016 I began working with Robert.


This proved to be far and away the best decision of my whole career, let alone my golf career. I didn’t instantaneously get resoundingly better, but I now had actual things to work on that originated from a source other than my iPhone camera.

But what truly made me better wasn’t just the swing instruction. It was Robert the person. It was Robert the coach who would do anything and everything to make my game better. Robert had recently began doing his Precision Coaching Program, which was a way for him to give exercises to players and track and measure their progress. It became a holistic approach to game improvement, not just one-off swing lessons every couple weeks. So between swing lessons I not only had my swing to work on, I also had real practice to do. I began practicing with a much higher level of quality and intentionality. And I was regularly communicating with Robert about the good things I was doing and the ways I knew I could improve. THESE were the things that were truly helping me getting better.

Oh and also I stopped caring what my swing looked like. I began using my swing videos more as a reference to doing what Robert was trying to get me to do, rather than trying to make it look good to myself. I gave up control and fully trusted and invested into what Robert was telling me.


And I believe the results show the fruit of the seeds I was planting. I worked ridiculously hard for about a year, seeing slow improvement in practice, then in casual rounds by myself, then in competitive rounds with friends, then in smaller tournaments, then finally in bigger tournaments. In the span of 6 days in August 2017 I won the North Carolina Open, won the Triad Amateur, and then finished top 5 in the Forsyth County Am. And then one month later I finished runner-up in the U.S. Mid Amateur, securing myself a spot in the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, and just one 36 hole final match loss from playing in the Masters.


So yes, my results got much better, but how can this help you in your search for a coach?


Let’s take out what helped me that could also help you. Here are what I think are the priorities for choosing a new swing coach/instructor:


First, they had to be experienced. I wanted a coach who had been doing this for a very long time. That’s not to say young coaches are bad. But there are young coaches with experience that I think would be a better choice because of it.


Second, they had to be proven with results from other players. This means different things to different levels of players. If you are someone attempting to break 100 on a regular basis, then you won’t have any problem finding a coach that has gotten enough results with others. But if you are a scratch player, then you need to narrow in your search a little tighter.

Third, they had to be adaptable to the modern way of instruction. For me this included video, trackman/flightscope/whatever else there is these days, and they had to be able to communicate remotely. This might be a personal preference on some level, but I think if a coach isn’t able to use the information from a launch monitor, then they are leaving valuable information on the table that can’t be seen in any other way.

These are prerequisites in my opinion. If instructors can’t check these boxes, then I think you need to look elsewhere.


And again. I have to stress that this is my opinion and experience. You have to know yourself.

But in looking back, for me to have gotten as far as I did, I needed an instructor with even more than that.

Fourth, they need to be invested in my game. A coach needs to care more about me than just “Alright go work on that see you in 2 weeks or a month.” There needs to be a strong level of care that can be felt.

Fifth, they need to have a holistic program. This might be the highest thing on the list. Without a holistic approach to my improvement I’m pretty confident I wouldn’t have gotten as good as I did. Robert is a world-class swing instructor and it still blows me away how quickly he can diagnose a swing. But I needed ways to spend my time to raise the quality of my practice.

Sixth, they need to be great communicators. If a coach or swing instructor can’t level with you and speak YOUR language, then it will be very difficult to get anywhere. Your instructor needs to be able to adapt to YOU much more than you need to be able to adapt to your instructor. Robert might be a world-class instructor, but even more so I believe he’s a world-class adapter, or world-class communicator. This made all the difference in my game.

Don’t get me wrong. These are hard to come by. And that’s why I wouldn’t make them prerequisites. Robert is special. He communicates so well, is so willing to help, and has a program that can fulfill these needs. So if you can find an instructor that can check ALL of these boxes, either start with them immediately or save up the money to start with them as soon as possible.

Now I know this sounds like an ad for Precision Golf School or Robert Linville. I promise it’s not. They didn’t pay me to say any of this. I am biased, but that’s because of how good my experience has been with him. If it wasn’t I wouldn’t be saying it. My experience with Robert informs how I now work with my players on a daily basis and I strive to be half the coach Robert has been for me.

Most, if not all of you won’t be able to work with Robert. So this list is meant to be adaptable to anyone’s situation. And remember, this is just my own experience. You have to first and foremost know yourself, how you learn, and how you communicate before knowing who you should work with. But sometimes it takes working with the instructor to find that out. So don’t be scared to experiment.


So if you’re asking the question “I need a new coach, what should I be thinking about?” I hope this answers that question for you. I wish you all the best of luck in your coach/swing instructor search. Don’t be afraid to email me with any questions you have: foundationsgolf@gmail.com


 

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