It might seem difficult, but learning how to swing a golf club properly isn't as hard as it looks. The key to mastering the proper form lies in the method of instruction, says Kay McMahon, a former LPGA National Teacher of the Year.
McMahon is co-owner of EduKaytion Golf, a golf instructional business based in New Lebanon, N.Y., that she started in 2003 with friend and business partner Eloise Trainor, director of innovation and administration. She refers to her teaching method as "golf 8.5."
"There's only four things you do before the swing, and four and a half things you do in the swing, and that's it," McMahon said, referring to her teaching philosophy.
McMahon, who gives lessons in the Berkshires, New York's Capital Region and the Orlando, Fla., area during the winter, is a past national president of the LPGA's Club and Touring Pros, and was named to that organization's Hall of Fame in 2010. She has been named the LPGA's National Teacher of the Year and as one of Golf Digest's 50 best female instructors.
McMahon, originally from Minnesota, taught golf at clubs in California and Michigan before arriving in the Berkshires 16 years ago. Trainor, who was the founder, owner and operator of the LPGA's Developmental Tour for 20 years, asked McMahon to come here to show her how to teach golf.
Golf instruction isn't all that McMahon does. She serves as a golf commentator in the Orlando area during the winter months. For the past two years, she also has served as a volunteer instructor for Fairway for Warriors, an organization that helps disabled military veterans recover from post-traumatic stress disorder by teaching them how to play golf.
I spoke with McMahon recently about her golf career, how to teach someone to play the sport correctly and what it was like to play with golf legend Arnold Palmer.
Q How did you become involved in golf?
A My parents played golf. As kids, we'd basically go along with our parents. They'd send us off in the woods and we shagged golf balls. I'm from Minneapolis; my dad built a three-hole golf course around our house because we lived on a cul-de-sac. For a dime, you could play nine holes; it was a penny a hole. Then I went to college and played all kinds of sports. I didn't play golf in college.
Q When did you get serious about the sport?
A After college, a lot of us girls started playing softball and you just ended up with bad knees, bad hips, and all the scrapes and scratches. I had a girlfriend whose brothers were playing golf. We were coming home with these plastic trophies, and they were coming home with TV sets and bigger trophies. When I started out, my handicap was 26, but I didn't like playing in the back, so I took some lessons and my handicap dropped to 10 pretty fast.
I entered the Minnesota State Public Links [championship] as an amateur and won two in a row [1975 and 1976]. After I did that for a couple of years, I decided that it was an easy game and I wanted to turn pro. So, I bought a Volkswagen van and, with a college education, I headed out to California to seek my fame and fortune.
Q Was it a lot harder to make the tour than you thought?
A I tried nine times [to make the LPGA Tour as a touring pro]. I went to nine qualifying schools. I missed by a shot three times.
Q Why did you become a teaching pro?
A I wanted to be a good touring pro so I could be a good teacher. I knew I had started [my golf career] late. I was a pretty good player, but after nine times, you kind of go broke. I ended up right where I should be: as a teaching professional. I was a very good teacher in college, and my background's in it. I was born to be a teacher. And I love it; to this day, I love it.
Q What happened next?
A I ended up in a place in Palm Springs, [Calif.], Ironwood Country Club, an Arnold Palmer design. I worked for Arnold Palmer at that place for 10 years, which was kind of cool because I got to play a lot of golf with him.
Q What was it like playing with Arnold Palmer?
A Absolutely magnificent. The way he was with people and the way he relished the game, it was fun. He would show up maybe two or three times a year out there. I was at the range one day when he was practicing. I walked by and said, "Mr. Palmer, I'm so sorry that so many people interrupted you." And he said, "Remember why I'm here. Because those people are our fans." He definitely appreciated the people.
Q You were one of the first 10 women in the United States to join the PGA in 1986, after that organization finally began to admit women. You've been involved in pro golf since the 1970s. Have attitudes toward women in golf changed since you became involved in the sport?
A It's still a more male-dominated sport due to the fact that more men play than women. But the PGA of America just now has its first female president. ... I think golf tends to be more of a male sport because you have to have some strength and some distance in order to play it. I think we need to make golf courses more woman-friendly, which means they have to be shorter. ... When I was playing way, way, way back the fairways were cushy, not as nice and tight because now everyone wants to hit their irons tight. Being a woman in this profession, you pretty much have to stay focused on what you're doing.
Q What does that mean?
A To get ahead, you have to be good at what you do.
Q Why is golf such a tough game to master?
A I think it's overtaught, it's overanalyzed and I don't think it's made simple enough. Golf language sounds so complicated, so, when I teach, I use simple, simple language so that people can understand. ... We have a 300 percent retention level if we do something called "chunking." It's like learning your ABC's. Each part is reliant on the previous one.
Q Why does your teaching method emphasize the club so much?
A Everybody talks about the golf ball. But nobody talks much about the club. It's like the hammer and the nail. If you don't know how to operate the hammer, the nail's not going to do anything.
Q You joined the LPGA Touring & Club Pros in 1978. How has teaching golf changed since you started?
A There's a lot more technology. You get a lot of numbers, a lot of data. Spinning, the launch angles, ball spin, the golf face is open 2 degrees ... that's why I think players can get better faster. ... But I think the technology has also made the impression that it's harder. So, I've broken it down to golf 8.5. ... The great teacher has to know the stuff, but you have to break it down into something that's very simple.
Q Have you ever taught anyone that those who follow pro golf would know?
A Brandie Burton. She was the youngest pro at the age of 19 to make over $1 million. [Burton won $4.5 million in 1991, the same year she was named LPGA Rookie of the Year]. She's retired. She thought I was still in Palm Springs. She had to come out here to take lessons from me.