By Bob Denney
PGA of America
Since 1988, the PGA Teaching & Coaching Summit presented by OMEGA has been a forum for some of the legendary instructors, players, coaches and specialists from all corners of the industry.
From Chris Sajnog (pictured above), a retired U.S. Navy SEAL instructor; to world-champion dancer Tony Dovolani; to former PGA Champion Hal Sutton; and author/motivational speaker Jon Gordon, the Summit’s opening day was filled with inspiring and personal stories before attendees transitioned to an afternoon of breakout room sessions, tailored to growing one’s coaching business and teaching acumen.
“This is about engaging the consumer, at the right age, during the right time in their golf journey, with you the PGA and LPGA Professionals, and those you lead, delivering the experience,” said PGA President Suzy Whaley. “The future of coaching is in our hands and, together, we must evolve and adapt to the changes in the game and the new generation of players.
“As an Association, we must continually evolve as leaders of the game and those who play it, our coaching approach must also evolve. Our mission is to establish and elevate the standards of the profession – we HAVE to do this through coaching, as it’s a key component of what the PGA Professional brings to the table.
“So, let’s be innovative like Netflix, Open Table, and Air BnB.”
The PGA Teaching & Coaching Summit Committee called upon those working outside the boundaries of a golf course to display how learning a coaching skill effectively transfers to the practice tee.
Sajnog (“Sigh-nog”), who wrote the U.S. Navy SEAL Sniper Manual, teamed on stage with PGA Professional Dave Phillips of Oceanside, California, for the presentation “The Warrior Mindset, Mission and Focus.”
“Like a Navy SEAL, learn to practice to absolute delivery,” said Phillips.
For Sajnog, the ability to meditate for a few minutes has played a vital role in performance, and he had the audience pause a few minutes in their seats to sample for themselves. “Meditation doesn’t take a long time, and it teaches you to be present.”
Dancer Tony Dovolani, the co-national Dance Director for the Fred Astaire Dance Studios, became the first PGA Teaching & Coaching Summit presenter to have professional dancers – Haik and Emilia Balasanyan – perform to supplement his messages.
Dovolani wants to continually improve his golf game, as he is invited to multiple pro-ams across the country.
“Coaching dance isn’t any different that coaching golf,” said Dovolani. “You first get to understand your student, their personality and create a plan. What words engage them?
“Everyone has their ‘Tiger Moment,’ and that it is different for each person.” Dovolani had a golf lesson where his coach asked him to hit a flop shot with a 3-iron. “I looked at him and thought he was crazy. What he was doing was taking away expectations and the fear of failure.”
For Hal Sutton, who started his PGA Tour career by earning Rookie of the Year honors in 1982 and a PGA Championship in 1983, the lofty expectations that others – including the media – showered upon him by calling him the “Bear Apparent” – was a major barrier and struggle. “I was insecure,” admitted Sutton. “It was tough.”
Sutton recalled his time spent with legends Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and his closest friend, Jack Burke Jr.
“Byron once was showing me a pitch shot and said, ‘That’s the one shot I had that Ben Hogan didn’t have, and he wishes he had it.’”
Sutton said that he has seen too much of coaching that is “pursuing golf in a lab.”
“There is a lot of good to be said about forms of technology in golf, but I believe that we are teaching them (students) to be their perfect, not my perfect.”
In other presentations, PGA/LPGA Professional Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson, co-founders of VISION 54, had their observations about today’s state of golf coaching.
“You need to set a playing focus and write it down,” said Marriott. “We want them to be their own best coach. This is the foundation of what we are doing and why we are doing it. It’s come full circle. Why do we coach? It’s to play better when we get to the golf course ... and enjoy it more.”
Said Nilsson, “Athletes need to be self-regulating and self-aware, so they can notice when they are outpacing themselves. There’s so much more we can do as teachers and coaches. With our game, every shot requires we show up for the players.”
Breakout Room sessions included such presenters as Wake Forest University Coach Jerry Haas now in his 22nd season as head coach of his alma mater; Dana Rader, the immediate past president of the LPGA Teaching & Club Professionals; and Martin Hall, the 2008 PGA Teacher of the Year.
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