The List: Steps to mentor a new golfer

Jason Scott Deegan explains the approach he's taken to teach a beginner the game of golf.
John Ryan and Golf Advisor's Jason Scott Deegan pose at the Santa Teresa Golf Club.

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Anybody who has seen me swing a golf club knows I'm probably the worst person on the planet to mentor a new golfer.

Yet here I am at the San Jose Municipal Golf Course teaching a friend the ins and outs of the game. A buddy, John Ryan, surprised me with a text this summer that he was ready to pick up golf. He's never really played before, just a few random rounds maybe 20 years ago.

It's been a fun process. Although I'm sure I've helped him a little bit, he's actually been a bigger help to me. He's reinvigorated my love of the game. I've started playing casual rounds with a few local pals, instead of just reviewing courses for work. It has #MadeGolfFunAgain. This week's List details what steps I've taken to welcome John into golf and make his transition from beginner to "real" golfer as smooth as possible.

Have you mentored a beginning golfer? Please share the experience in the comments below.

  1. The best advice: Golf should be fun

    My ultimate goals for John are simple: Play fast and have fun.

    I'm as average as a golfer can be, ping-ponging between an 8 and 15 handicap my entire life. I'm trying to teach him that no matter how much you practice or how hard you try, golf will be frustrating at times. The key is to laugh off those moments when the game punches you in the mouth.

    During our second round together at Santa Teresa, he hit a nice drive down the middle that hit an electrical wire and went out of bounds. Based on local rules, he got a free drop to hit another tee shot, but the bad break rattled him. He pushed his next drive right into a tough lie on a hill, leading to a big number. He wasn't the same the rest of the round. It was his first lesson that the golf gods can be cruel. It won't be his last, either.

    Just keep smiling, John. Don't fret over score. Savor the moments and memories with friends. It's the only way to enjoy this crazy game.

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  2. Sharing swing tips when asked
    GolfPass Senior Writer Jason Scott Deegan teaches John Ryan a putting drill at Santa Teresa Golf Club.

    Nobody likes getting unsolicited swing advice. Beginners are no different. They're still learning what their body can and can't do in relation to their swing. No sense in messing with their enthusiasm for golf by critiquing every move.

    I've kept my mouth shut when it comes to John's game. I only offer advice when asked. I've taught him how to handle downhill and sidehill lies. After a particularly frustrating round putting, he asked for a putting lesson. It's on my agenda to share a few drills and small tips. Some time on a putting green should improve his stroke and most important, his confidence.

  3. Teaching the rules

    Perhaps the hardest part of mentoring a new golfer is teaching the rules and etiquette. I've taken a laid-back approach to only talk about rules as certain situations arise.

    All of his blatant rules violations have come in bunkers. During our first round together, John took a few practice swings in a bunker before another friend and I intervened, telling him that was against the rules. During our latest round, he didn't take a practice swing in a bunker, but he did ground his club by touching the sand before the shot, another no-no we explained.

  4. Learning one step at a time

    I couldn't be more impressed in the path John chose to learn the game. First he bought a series of lessons at the Santa Teresa Golf Club, a county-owned muni near my house. He put the instruction and additional time at the range to good use before he ever set foot on the course. Too many new golfers just head right to the course. They expect too much too soon.

    Our first round together was at Santa Teresa's nine-hole par-3 course. I didn't expect much, but he hit the ball solid all the way around. A few weeks later, we hit up the "big" course to mixed results. Swinging drivers and taking on longer holes exposes any amateur. He had good holes and bad, but making one par felt monumental.

    So far, we've only played straight-forward munis with virtually no water hazards and minimal bunkering. That means mistakes rookies make aren't as penal. We won't go to the next level of course - a tougher private club or a target course like nearby Cinnabar Hills - until he improves.

    Baby steps, John, baby steps. He's on the right path.

  5. Donating hand-me-downs

    Getting into the game has a lot of barriers. I didn't want to the costs of a new set of golf clubs to be one of them. I gave John a full bag of hand-me-down equipment to use a couple years ago. It gathered a lot of dust in his garage before he eventually put them to use. Maybe it was like planting a seed, the idea needed a couple years to grow. I even donated my son's old junior set to John in case his young son gets interested in golf.

    As we all know, new golfers don't need Pro-V1s and PXGs. As they improve, they can make the call if better gear is worth the money.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Commented on

Since you and John live in the South Bay when he's ready I would like to invite you guys to TPC Stonebrae for a round of golf

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That's great! Thank you for your kindness.

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The List: Steps to mentor a new golfer