By Vinnie Manginelli, PGA
Golf used to be a year-round sport in some areas of the country, and a seasonal activity in others. But with the growth of innovative teaching technology and golf simulators that enable players to enjoy the game indoors, regardless of the climate outside, golf is certainly a 12-month game, regardless of your zip code.
At Royal Manchester Golf Links, PGA Director of Instruction, Jaime Gylan offers his students a focused plan for improvement year-round, with emphasis placed on different aspects of the game, depending upon the season.
Mount Wolf, Pennsylvania is located just north of the Delaware state line. There is snow to be had and cold temperatures to be felt during the heart of winter – but that doesn’t mean anyone is necessarily stashing the clubs in the closet in the fall.
Gylan has a teaching facility that enables students to hit out onto the range from within a climate-controlled space. Being in the northeast doesn’t mean golf comes to a halt in the winter – it just changes. And so too does the curriculum that Gylan facilitates with his many students. It’s also different in the spring, summer and fall, as well. There is no more off season.
Technology used includes SAM PuttLab, FlightScope launch monitor, K-Vest 3-D technology and Hack Motion wrist sensor. “The investment made in such devices allows us to measure the body, the club and ball and the putting stroke, giving feedback on each and placing concentrated attention on any component of game improvement that my students need,” Gylan stated.
We have to start somewhere, so let’s talk winter. Winter is used for retooling, revamping and working towards long-term technical improvement. Gylan focuses on technique in chipping, pitching, half wedges, full irons, driving and putting, and admits that they’re all different. In fact, he says there’s much to learn on the technical side, and it often needs to be unique to each individual, their ball flight preferences, natural abilities and goals.
Winter is also a great time to improve fitness, nutrition and mental skills. “This is our chance to reset some of the areas of the game we identified that need improvement. The biggest advantage we have in this phase of the year is that most players are either playing less or not at all, due to inclement weather. It is difficult, after all, to change while constantly in a result-oriented playing phase, like the summer, and is much easier to ingrain new techniques and habits in an environment other than the golf course,” Gylan explains.
When spring arrives, it is important to transfer new skills to the grass and relearn feel-based applications like short game and distance putting. “In many parts of the country, the player may have four months off from using these skills,” Gylan expressed. “The spring is our opportunity to bring these back to life, as they are critical to scoring.”
All instructors try their best to replicate playing surfaces during the winter months, but it’s hard to mirror the feel of real grass and a natural putting green. The winter practice surface will most often be a flat mat, either fully indoors or indoors hitting out, and getting back onto real grass can require a learning curve for many players. This includes different lies, stances and surface types like soft ground vs firm, greenside and fairway bunkers, length of the rough, grain direction of the grass and types of grass, as well.
It is important in the spring to become comfortable in an outdoor environment again, and work through the details and issues that may arise either physically or mentally with this change in surface type from mat to grass. Additional factors include wind, temperature, elevation, dew and how they affect the golf shot.
Summers are made for golf, and your course conditions are generally ideal, barring an unusual heatwave or drought. Scoring, course strategy and short-term daily adjustments are in order. “Do you ever feel like you are hitting it well, but not scoring? Scoring well is not just technique, but strategy, mental clarity and routine. I do spend a lot of time with my players on the course in the summer to be sure they are being the best ‘offensive coordinator’ they can be. This means choosing the correct play based on the defense, aka the golf course,” Gylan adds.
The summer is actually a great time to do a “gap fitting.” This requires the player to hit 10 balls with each club in the bag using a launch monitor on the range. “We throw out the worst two shots and get the average carry for the top 80 percent. This becomes the player’s current carry yardage for each club,” Gylan explained. He says that knowing this information can greatly help golfers hit the ball closer to the hole on their approach shots, reducing putt length and ideally increasing their birdies. Very few golfers really know their carry yardages when they play.
Gylan says that daily adjustments at this time of year are critical. This includes proper contact, face direction at impact and shot shape. If one of these variables is trending in the wrong direction, it needs to be adjusted quickly, or the golfer’s scores will suffer. “The difference between adjusting in the summer versus the winter is we need to make a change that is simple and used in a short-term perspective, meaning the less technical the better in this phase of the year,” he also stated. The player will likely be playing golf very soon after the adjustment, so unlike winter, instructors need to keep the change simple yet effective enough to get the job done. These issues should be noted and put into the long-term plan for the following winter. Only then will Gylan look to make the long-term, more technical adjustments that can help fix the problem more permanently.
“I highly advocate that my players take detailed statistics in the summer. This is the time they are playing the most rounds, and getting detailed information is critical to the next phase,” Gylan said.
Finally, the fall is the right time for assessment and analysis of the season that was, and the implementation of a game plan for the upcoming off season. This is where detailed statistics can really help the coach and player. “I advocate that all my serious players, especially my tournament golfers, use the Decade app. This will provide me with statistics in every category of the game, and it even breaks things into subcategories, e.g., make percentages of putts from 4-8 feet.”
The statistics will be a great guide in game planning for the winter, when Gylan works on those long-term technical changes. Defining a road map for your clients is perhaps the most important part of the coach-player relationship. The fall is the best time to begin defining what the next calendar year should look like. It’s when you check in with your player to evaluate how many goals were met in the previous season and discuss new goals for the future.