With Tiger Woods' recent return boosting ratings, there is, yet again, a bubbling opinion that he can infuse the game with converts. But as I have said before, talents like Tiger, Jordan Spieth and Rory Mcilroy really aren't the most important connection to the neophyte golfer.
Instead, that connection can be found in the multitude of PGA professionals around the world.
Superstars - like great works of art that draw crowds to a museum - compel non-golfers to watch, but increased viewership will not translate into the increased growth of this already-difficult game unless there is someone who compels potential players to pick up a club. Someone needs to convert an interest into a fascination. That someone is the teacher.
The problem, however, is that we do not truly know who the best teachers are, and thus we do not know how to best teach the game. And all the while, would-be golfers are slipping away.
I recently read a round-up purporting to identify the 50 best teachers in America. While I know many of the individuals featured and have no doubt of their considerable knowledge, the criterion used to determine the “best teachers” is hardly ideal in judging something as objective as a student’s improvement, or lack thereof. The list was merely a survey of 1,000 or so teachers, which is inevitably based more on popularity than these polls should be. The process bodes well for the most famous. But are the most famous actually the best?
Imagine if the Official World Golf Ranking identified players the same way others are identifying the best teachers - based on a survey of who we think is the best and not on an objective, results-based system. There would be, regardless of what was presented, incessant arguing about who the best golfers are and what their rank should be; and it wouldn't get us anywhere.
It is precisely this imprecision that makes acrimony so pervasive in the teaching world. Arguments over ideas, technology, technique and results are commonplace on the social media platforms teachers use to disseminate their information. While debate can at times be healthy, it is in this case suboptimal when we could instead examine the results that thousands upon thousands of case studies could provide.
In my mind, the PGA of America, and all golf professional associations around the world, should endeavor to find a system that can determine which teachers are having the most success with students. Think of a purely objective system based on what kind of player someone was before and after they worked with a particular teacher. Players' handicaps, which are readily available, could, if used properly, serve as our data.
Imagine if we found a relatively unknown teacher whose students on average all got significantly better than anyone else’s in the game. With the case studies and information there for everyone to see, students and teachers would be better served, as would the game itself.
As it is, the “best teachers" now are the ones who are quite good at promoting their message. While success has been clearly evident for some, for others it has been not so apparent.
Again, imagine if the 29,000 PGA of America members were ranked according to computer analysis of their success, and not by opnion, every year. Wouldn’t we all want to know not only what they were teaching but also how they're teaching it?
My sense is that the game would begin to be taught in a much more holistic way, in a way that made the game more appealing to the new player, such that interest could develop into fascination and into inspiration and into skill.
The interest in golf, with so much competition for the attention of kids, has not turned as cold as winter; but the frost is on the pumpkin so to speak. The only way to turn up the heat is to clearly find out who the best teachers are, what they are doing to connect with their students, and what they are doing to make them better.
Replicate those ideas - kid by kid by kid - and growing the game will go from a slogan to a reality.