Mark Wood works on his game plan

Mark Wood has been the Head PGA Advanced Teaching Professional at Dale Hill golf club in East Sussex since 2002. He has over 17 years’ experience and has coached every standard of golfer from complete beginners to European Tour and Ryder Cup players. Glyn Pritchard spoke to Mark at the Mark Wood Golf Academy about the latest teaching techniques.

Has new technology changed the way you teach?Mark Wood

I use V1 Golf analysis, Flightscope and Tomi Putt as teaching aids. They don’t change the way I teach, but they do make it quicker for the student to learn. There’s a huge difference between ‘real and feel’. A student may think they are swinging in to in, but when you show them with digital video that they’re not, that’s powerful feedback that they cannot ignore.

With the V1 digital video, I can send students a follow-up video on things they need to work on and the drills to accomplish that, so it shows a professional approach to coaching. Flightscope adds a third dimension to the process with the angle of approach, club head speed, ball speed, flight and so on. The student gets instant feedback of what’s happening and they know that the technology doesn’t lie.

Is it necessary to teach students the perfect textbook swing or work with what they’ve got?

First of all I don’t think there’s any such thing as the perfect swing and the top tour pros have different swings. Some like Jim Furyk and Jeev Milkha Singh have unorthodox swings, but even McIlroy, Garcia and Fowler who topped The Open all swing the club differently.

Secondly, there’s no such thing as a standard human being so you can’t have a one-size-fits-all swing. People have different heights, builds, old injuries and strains. As a coach you have to work with that. The critical point is that no matter who the student is, you have to get them squaring the clubface at impact.

The current orthodoxy is that the swing should be as simple and repeatable under stress as possible with no hand action – do you agree with this?

A lot of the hand action used in the past was down to the limitations of twentieth century equipment. Golfers tried to shape the ball far more than they do today. There’s so much more choice now in terms of shafts and custom fitting.

Our knowledge about the swing has also advanced. It’s only in the last ten years with high definition super-slow motion video that we’ve come to understand that when the ball is centre struck, it’s the face of the club that imparts the initial launch angle and the swing path that determines spin and ball flight.

What’s the ideal duration of a lesson and the best sequence of lessons for a mid to high handicapper?

This is where things have changed hugely and is critical to my own approach. I prefer to focus on what the student wants to achieve in golf, rather than tinker around fixing this or that problem. So if a player with an 18 handicap comes to me, we sit down and I ask, “what is your goal?” and they may say I want to get down to 14. Then I ask them how long and how much effort they think that will take and together we draw up a coaching programme that will allow them to achieve their goal. That way I’m not just selling a series of unconnected one-off lessons which are of limited value to the student.

Is it worth explaining the technicalities of the swing plane and the ‘physics’ of the ball flight to students?

All the student wants to do ultimately is to hit the ball better. The more jargon and nitty-gritty you get into the more confused they will get. A golf swing lasts less than one and a half seconds and in that time you can only really carry one thought in your head.

I went to a PGA coaching seminar conducted by Butch Harmon and he said, “less is more”. Always keep it as simple as possible.

Mark Wood 2Are your methods radically different between teaching amateurs and pros?

Technically they are not different but the approach is different. A tour pro is like a finally tuned Ferrari, you only need to make some minor tweaks to something that’s crept into their swing. A lot of the time they are seeking feedback and reassurance that everything’s OK under the bonnet! There is a danger with pros that their knowledge about swing technique can start to inhibit their natural tempo and rhythm leading to ‘paralysis by analysis’.

You have made a major effort to market the Mark Wood Golf Academy using the web and social media. Is it paying off?

Meeting Andrew Wood (no relation) and reading his book ‘The Six Figure Teaching Pro’ was a turning point for me. It crystallised a lot of the thoughts I had about teaching. In the end there are a finite number of hour slots you can sell in a week even if you work six days a week, and there’s a limit to how much you can charge per hour. Once you’ve done the maths on that you’ve worked out you earnings potential, even if you completely fill-up your diary. If you are going to increase your earnings potential you have to look at working smarter and offering value-added services. I have two books planned for publication with one scheduled to come out this year. I take time to work on my business as well as working in my business. I put tips and technique videos onto YouTube, write a blog, use Facebook, do eshots and post tweets. In the same way that I ask my students to set goals, I have set goals for myself and they are paying off.

Final question, have you ever had a student that you could not teach?

No, never.