By Kiel Christianson
George Connor is Director of Instruction at the Academy of Golf and Gillette Ridge Golf Club in Bloomfield, Conn. He's been a golf instructor for over 20 years, and has been ranked perennially as one of the top instructors in the Northeast.
Of course, you can take a lesson with George right here.
1. First off, talk briefly about your golf instruction philosophy and how you preach it at your facility.
CONNOR: My philosophy is to find the fastest route to where the person wants to go. Not everyone wants to become a scratch golfer or win tournaments. My full swing philosophy is based on using the big body parts (legs, hips, core, trunk) to create motion and allow the club to actually and literally swing as a result of the proper body motion. Too many players are forced to use their hands and arms to correct the golf club during the swing because their body is not moving properly.
I also teach a lot of players how to make more putts and eliminate three putts. With any student who has a goal to shoot lower scores, we spend a lot of time assuring that they are efficient with the putter. Since putts will account for 40 percent of the strokes, any scoring goal involves putting instruction and coaching.
2. What attracted you to the SwingFix platform and how effective can this method be for golfers?
CONNOR: I am a big fan of the SwingFix platform because it makes great instruction accessible to so many people. Look, the idea of going to see a golf professional for instruction can be very intimidating for a lot of people. SwingFix allows them to test the waters and establish a bit of a relationship with an instructor without meeting her or him face to face. The cost and the convenience for the student that SwingFix offers removes two huge barriers to the student's progress.
SwingFix can be a very effective tool for a golfer to get an opinion or prioritize the changes that need to be made to their golf swing or their putting stroke. Often, this advice will differ from the thoughts of their golf buddies!
3. In your opinion, what is the secret to taking the "range game" to the first tee?
CONNOR: Ah, this is the biggest question that most of my students will ask me: "Pro, I can hit it great on the range, but I am a different person on the course!" The key here is how you practice. Golfers need to understand that there is mechanical practice where you are teaching yourself a new move, sequence, etc. This is separate from practicing the playing of golf. Think of it this way. Repetitive practice, hitting 20 drivers in a row to the same target, is how you teach yourself the proper motion. This is one of the ways that you incorporate the changes that you are working on. Random practice, not hitting the same shot twice in a row on the range more closely represents the golf course. It has also been found that random practice increases the speed at which you incorporate and retain changes to your mechanics. So to get your range game to the golf course, a combination of repetitive and random practice is the key. Make sure that each practice session includes a little of both.
4. Is there a particular training aid that you tend to use most regularly and with the most effectiveness?
CONNOR: I have used some training aids over the years. I am never a fan of any strap, brace, etc., that will not allow a student to move where they shouldn't. I find that once the strap is removed, the student will only revert to their old patterns.
Because golf is played with a stick and a BALL, it might not be a coincidence that my two favorite training aids are balls. I am always playing catch on the range with students. I keep a few medicine balls on the lesson tee and very few lessons go by where we do not have a catch. Standing parallel to the target line and holding the ball at waist height, the student turns to show their back to the target and then simply throws the ball. It is a quick way to show a student how to move effectively. Throwing a six- or eight-pound ball requires very little coaching to get the student to do it correctly. It makes perfect sense for the student to use their legs, hips and core just like we are trying to do in the golf swing.
My other favorite is the Balls of Steel from Eyeline Golf. These are golf ball sized balls but are five times the weight of an actual golf ball. Having students roll some three or four foot putts is the best way I have found to get the student to make a good stroke. They are forced to hit the ball on the sweet spot and have the putter accelerate into impact. I use them all the time.
5. Is there a way students who have worked with you most often dramatically improve and achieve that coveted five-shot drop in scores? Power, consistency, short game, management, playing more golf, etc.?
CONNOR: Almost every student I see has two things in common. They are giving away power and they do not make enough putts. By showing them, teaching them and having them learn how to effectively send more energy into the ball, they increase their distance and can then comfortably reach many of the targets they could not in the past.
On the putting green, many students really don't know what they should be doing. This is sadly due to the fact that so many people do not pay any attention to their putting mechanics or how to read greens. The putting stroke is mechanically the easiest to make. It does not require a lot of physical strength, mobility or speed like hitting a long drive does. However, if the putting stroke is neglected, it should not come as a surprise that the stroke does not produce the desired results. Giving a student the ability to aim the putter correctly and start the ball on the intended line is worth a few shots every round.
A student that develops the ability to roll the ball at the proper speed will save five shots. Proper speed eliminates three putts. I think we all know that. But proper speed will let you make more putts! Because almost every putt has some break, the speed that the ball is travelling will change based on how fast the ball is traveling. Controlling the speed will allow you to more accurately read how the ball will break. AimPoint Putting is a green-reading system that I am certified to teach. This system allows you to know exactly how a ball will break, if the speed is correct.