In the swing of things

Golf is a demanding, often-frustrating sport, even for the most gifted athletes. Among proficient golfers, there are fewer still who enjoy teaching golf and are able to communicate techniques clearly to students of various aptitudes.

Rich Stinchcomb is a teaching pro at Oak Knoll Golf Course. Stinchcomb had taught at Fiddler's Green in Eugene prior to landing his job at Oak Knoll. He estimated that, during his tenure in Eugene, he taught around 20,000 students, including group lessons.

Stinchcomb emphasized that many students run into formidable obstacles to a comprehensive understanding. For example, he estimated that only 10 percent use a correct grip. Also, most golfers have unrealistic expectation of both themselves and the teacher.

"Golf cannot be learned in one lesson," Stinchcomb said. "Golf mechanics are learned over a period of time, much like putting several pieces of a puzzle together."

During Tiger Woods' rise to the top, golf swing coaches have become an integral part of PGA players success.

Butch Harmon, who was at one time Woods' instructor, is one of the most respected swing coaches in golf. Other noted instructors include David Leadbetter and Hank Haney, known for his junior golf clinic.

Stinchcomb feels that the refinement of video instruction enables one to see their swing from various angles and in slow motion. Also, various aspects of the swing can be highlighted and scrutinized through this method. Video also provides a clear mirror of what they are doing, both correctly and incorrectly, he added.

Stinchcomb combines both golf history and etiquette in his lessons. He noted that few people realize the PGA was for "whites only" until 1961. He said that Bill Spiller, a name no one hears, was a black golfer who could have easily competed on the tour prior to 1961.

He reiterated that it took a while for him to learn some of the important pillars of teaching.

First, it is imperative to interview the students to find his or her level of understanding. Secondly, the teacher needs to communicate what the student needs to know, not what they do know. Perhaps most importantly, the teacher must divine whether students learn primarily from a mechanical and verbal process, or visually.

Stinchcomb particularly enjoys teaching young golfers. He prefers to teach up to only six students at a time. But with the recent explosion of golf, some of his group classes have more than 20 students.

James Whelan, who has played only a couple of times, has a natural swing, way beyond his 11 years. His father said his ability in baseball has easily carried over to golf.

Christopher Buckley, a 9-year-old in the beginning class, has a powerful, baseball-like swing.

"My dad is a lousy golfer, but I like to play with him anyway," Buckley said.

Share This Story