SUNDAY MONEY: SPENDING; Choosing a Pro? Keep Your Chin Up and Your Goals
Straight , By HARRY HURT III Copyright NY Times
NEXT to picking a life partner, there may be nothing so personal or potentially
ego-shattering for some people as picking the right golf instructor. Like love, whose high
season also comes with spring, golf can defy all logic. Yet an excess of emotion,
especially anger or impatience, makes the sport only more elusive.
To navigate the perils, one needs a teacher who has all the qualities of an ideal mate --
though the teacher most definitely should not be one's actual mate. The woes of those
who have called on their spouses to teach them the game recall episodes of ''Divorce
Court.''
How, then, to pick a golf pro? With the United States Open, one of golf's four major
championships, beginning on Thursday at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton,
N.Y., the question is on the minds of many golfers. There are more than 26,000
members and apprentices of the Professional Golfers Association of America, and
scores of otherwise highly qualified instructors -- like Butch Harmon, the former coach of
Tiger Woods -- who do not belong to that organization. Names of golf pros can be
obtained from the P.G.A. or from magazines like Golf and Golf Digest.
The three main criteria for picking a pro are how well you play now, how often you play
and your ultimate goal as a golfer. The pros' fees, of course, can vary wildly.
Most beginners should not seek instruction geared to advanced players. Those who play
once a month should expect less from an occasional lesson, and from themselves, than
those who take lessons regularly and play several times a week.
And those who play only for recreation -- a vast majority of the country's 26 million golfers
-- should not seek the same types of pros as those with ambitions of playing in top
amateur or professional tournaments.
Of course, exceptions to these rules abound. A beginner who dreams of competing
against the world's best players should seek a pro who has tutored elite players.
And if money is no object, an inveterate duffer can still benefit from a high-priced teacher.



Even so, the price of a lesson does not necessarily match the instructional value.
A golf pro in Florida and one in the New York area are representative of the wide range of
approaches and lesson rates offered nationwide. David Leadbetter, who is based at
ChampionsGate Golf Resort near Orlando, Fla., and ranks No.2 on Golf Digest's list of
top teachers, commands what may be among the highest lesson rates in the nation. He
charges $6,000 for a half-day private session.
No.1 on the magazine list is Mr. Harmon, who is based at the Rio Secco Golf Club in
Henderson, Nev., and is best known for coaching Mr. Woods, the world's top-ranked
player, until they severed ties several months ago. Mr. Harmon no longer gives individual
lessons but does offer two-day group clinics, limited to 10 students, at $3,400 a person,
and three-day sessions at $4,900 a person.
Mr. Leadbetter, who was born in South Africa, has coached a long list of top players,
including Ernie Els, the winner of two United States Opens and a British Open; and Nick
Faldo, the winner of three British Opens and three Masters. A prolific author of instruction
manuals, Mr. Leadbetter is known for his highly technical, often mechanical approach.
''The Golf Swing,'' his 1990 book, offers 15 ''athletic keys'' and 11 ''links'' in describing the
ideal motion and its major components.
Mr. Leadbetter typically makes extensive use of videotapes in his sessions, analyzing his
students' swings in full speed, slow motion and stop-action detail. He is also fond of
using a wide assortment of sometimes whimsical-seeming teaching aids, like weighted
clubs, arm and body straps, beach balls and broomsticks.
MICHAEL HEBRON, 62, occupies a much lower spot on the lesson price spectrum. Mr.
Hebron, based at the Smithtown Landing Country Club in Smithtown, N.Y., from May to
mid-September, charges $145 an hour for individual lessons and $200 a person for
full-day group lessons. His rates fall in the midrange of Golf magazine's top teachers.
Mr. Hebron's approach is simple. He asks students to focus primarily on three elements:
the position of the shaft of the club, the head of the club and the angle of the club face
during the swing.
He says he does not believe that the video camera is an effective tool, in part because it
makes students too self-conscious about specific flaws in their swings.
''My whole approach is to help people learn golf, not to try to teach them golf,'' Mr. Hebron
said. ''I believe that everyone is born a perfect learner and a perfect teacher for
themselves. My goal is not to change habits but to change insights.''
Unlike many famous teachers, Mr. Hebron prefers to teach beginners and intermediates
rather than top players. Karen Thompson, 53, a retired advertising executive who lives in
Chicago, took up golf three years ago. Ms. Thompson, with a 24 handicap, about
average for female golfers, attended two golf schools in Florida before meeting Mr.
Hebron by chance this winter at a resort in North Carolina.
''Michael's approach is different than the cookie-cutter approach you get at golf schools,''
she said. ''My experience with other teachers was that I did well when I was there, but
when I went off on my own, it all went away.
''What Michael taught me has stayed with me. The individual time we spent together
made all the difference in the world.''
Ms. Thompson added that she planned to keep taking lessons from Mr. Hebron -- the
best possible indication that she was successful in picking the golf pro who was right for
her.

QUICK READ
Golf instructors' fees vary wildly, sometimes climbing to thousands of dollars for a private
lesson. In searching for an instructor, you may save time and money by asking yourself
some basic questions:

HOW WELL DO YOU PLAY?
Few beginners need to seek out famous pros, who often prefer to fine-tune the games of
top amateurs and professionals and often charge upward of $500 an hour. Beginners
can learn the basics from a competent pro for $150 an hour or less.

HOW OFTEN DO YOU PLAY?
Golfers who play less than once a month should expect less from an occasional lesson
than those who play several times a week. Most intermediates who want better scores
must practice and play more often and sign up for regular lessons.

WHAT ARE YOUR GOLFING GOALS?
If you are an advanced player who dreams of competing against the best, look for pros
who have tutored top players. The same is true for relatively youthful beginners and
intermediates with big ambitions. Recreational players can seek out nearby pros with
compatible personalities and modest rates. Get names from the P.G.A. or golf
magazines.
Choosing a Golf Pro?  NY Times
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