If I told you that you could drop your handicap by 7 strokes, increase distance on your drives, improve your driving accuracy, all without touching a golf course...would you believe me?

Hell no...you would probably think this was some 2AM infomercial, claiming only things infomercials can claim. Well that was exactly the premise behind GolfSpy Dave's latest challenge.  He wanted to see how much you could improve your game by taking only indoor golf lessons.  Hell...even Callaway got in on this crazy challenge by promising to donate a set of clubs to the "First Tee" for every handicap point GolfSpy Dave dropped in the process.

Find Out The Answer

(Golfspy Dave Explores the Effectiveness of Indoor Lessons) That was the question that I hoped to answer for all of you when I approached this lesson project.  This is actually the second lesson project that I have chronicled for MyGolfSpy.com.  You may remember my “Operation Callaway: The Pebble Project” series that I wrote last summer.  In that project, I worked with Greg Ciavarelli at the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento, CA.  Over the course of the summer, working with Greg really helped me to improve my short game and taught me that, with instruction, my game can improve.

This past winter, I was again hoping to take some lessons to improve my golf game, but I was also curious about what type of gains could be made in the indoor instructional environment.  Can working on the golf swing indoors improve your performance on the course outdoors?  I had heard both praise and condemnation of indoor lessons and so, I set out to find out first hand if taking lessons indoors could improve my game.

The Cast and Scope of the Project

Last summer I ran into someone that I went to high school with, Bobby Siravo.  This is relevant because in addition to being a fellow alum, Bobby is also a former tour player who owns iFit Golf in Folsom, CA.  Bobby’s shop seemed like the ideal setting for this project as it contains everything that you would find in an on course pro shop; excellent club selection, a putting green, club repair, clothing, footwear, and so on, minus an attached driving range or golf course.  Lessons and fittings at iFit Golf are accomplished indoors in two Callaway Performance Studio hitting bays.  I bet that iFit Golf looks quite a bit like the shops that you can find near you, thus making it perfect for this project.

After agreeing to participate in this project, Bobby introduced me to Kevin Estrella, the director of instruction at iFit golf.  As you can see from his website, Kevin has vast experience as a player and as an instructor who has been trained both in the methodology of the Titleist Performance Institute and as an authorized instructor for The Golfing Machine.  I found one of the statements on Kevin’s website to be very intriguing,

As a certified golf fitness instructor Kevin will help you understand how your body affects your golf swing in order to help you find your most efficient swing- one that produces consistent, desired results”.

As some of you are aware, I came to the game of golf later in life than some, picking up the game at thirty-nine.  My long-term goal is to play golf well into my senior years.  I’m very interested to see what kind of swing Kevin can get my forty-two-year-old body to produce.

Over the next few months, Kevin Estrella and I worked together to:

  • Assess my current golf swing
  • Assess my current physical strength and flexibility
  • Develop a plan to improve any areas of physical concern that could be affecting the swing.
  • And finally, to develop my “most efficient swing- one that produces consistent, desired results”

As those of you who followed my progress in the forums know, Greg Parry, a physical therapist, was also included in the project.  Kevin thought that it was a great idea to enlist Greg’s help to identify any areas of physical weakness that could limit my golf swing.  I agreed that this was a great idea.  What would be the point of trying to learn a golf swing that my body was physically unable to accomplish?

The final player in the project was Callaway Golf.  Callaway generously agreed to donate one set of junior clubs to the First Tee of Sacramento for each handicap point that I dropped from the start of the project to the end of the Masters tournament.  This was a great motivator for me, knowing that if I could improve my game, some deserving kids would get hooked up with new gear for the 2012 season.

The Process...

Rather than retelling the whole story that can be found in the forum (HERE), I’ll touch upon some of the highlights:

Physical Issues

  • After the initial assessment, my physical therapist Greg identified the following areas that would, if improved, make the foundation for a better golf swing.
  • Increase internal hip rotation.
  • Increase strength of hips to improve balance.
  • Increase core strength.
  • Increase strength in my mid-back.

You can find Greg’s much more detailed assessment in the forum post HERE.

To address these areas, Greg designed a home exercise program that I was to complete daily.  The regime involved about eight different exercises that strengthened and stretched the targeted weak areas.  In addition, I went into Greg’s office for weekly torture physical therapy sessions.  Again, the goal was to address the identified areas of concern.  These sessions went for about 90 minutes and I can definitely say that they were some of the most intense workouts that I have ever experienced.

Swing Issues

Again, a more detailed version of Kevin Estrella’s assessment of my swing can be found in the forum HERE.  These are the key issues that Kevin identified:

  • Swinging over the top on an out to in path.
  • Early release of the hands; i.e. flipping
  • Lack of balance due to poor weight shifts during the swing.

Kevin and I got together weekly or so and explored the components of a good golf swing, and then addressed the areas of my swing that were flawed.  The scope of this lesson process was quite broad.  Lessons actually began with me filling out a questionnaire so that Kevin could assess my understanding of how the swing works.  Kevin helped me to understand how to talk about the swing in more exacting language.  When I told Kevin that I sliced the ball because the face was open, he would ask me “Open to what?”  That would make me think a bit.  Was the face open to the target line or open to the swing path?  These conversations really allowed me to improve my "Golf Swing IQ".

As our sessions progressed, I came to understand what I was doing in my swing that was negatively impacting my game.  I couldn’t always get my body to avoid these swing pitfalls, but I knew what it should be doing.

During our lesson sessions, Kevin had me run through a number of drills to address my swing faults.  Some of the drills were effective, while some of the others were not.  For example, while we were addressing my OTT move, Kevin set up an Orange Whip in front of me such that I could only swing under the orange ball if I did not go over the top.  I hit that ball again and again.  I just couldn’t get my body to comprehend and perform the drill.  Then we switched to a drill with me swinging while balancing on my left foot, dropping the right foot well behind me.  All of the sudden, my body got it.  Through the weeks, we repeated this process for my other trouble areas, again searching for the drills that “worked” for me.  Even though I was often frustrated with my swing, Kevin remained patient and for some reason optimistic...

Challenge Results!

Again, let’s start with the physical side of the project.  Greg Parry and the staff at his office are fantastic.  In just a few weeks, I was able to feel and see real physical progress.  Exercises that were near impossible for me at the beginning of the training were easy by the end.  The settings on all of the machines at least doubled in weight by the end of the program.  It was about half way through when I realized that I actually felt confident physically and that when Greg said that he had a new exercise for me, my mind was saying “bring it” rather than “oh no”.  I am stronger and more flexible than I was last December.  My 43 year-old body responded to the exercise much more than I expected it to.

Perhaps the best assessment of my physical improvement and confidence came at the Haggin Oaks Golf Expo this April.  Greg asked me to assist him by demonstrating exercises on stage with him during his seminar presentation at the expo.  Prior to our sessions, I would not have been caught dead on that stage.  However, after my PT sessions with Greg, I knew that I was physically capable of whatever Greg needed me to do.  Maybe that’s not the most quantitative assessment of physical improvement, but I know that my physical strength, flexibility, and, as a result, confidence have all increased.

As for my golf swing, Kevin’s efforts have definitely pointed me in the right direction.  I won’t say that I no longer flip, swing over the top, stand up during the swing, forget to shift my weight, or make whatever other mistakes you can imagine, I do.  But what I will say is that I do these things less often, and when I do make the mistake, I am more aware of what I have done.  My understanding of the golf swing has increased dramatically, as has my body’s ability to execute that swing.  Not all of the time, but more often than before.

Unlike my physical improvements, my golf improvement can be measured with real numbers. Let’s take a look at my handicap and see if the kids at the First Tee are going to benefit from my efforts.  Throughout the project, I used the Golfshot app on my iPhone to keep score and to track my play statistics.  Let’s look at fairways and greens first.

Before Lesson Project

After Lesson Project

13.8% improvement off the tee and 13.4% more GIRs.  Not bad for three months.  While my driving the ball is still something I struggle with, it has definitely improved.  One other thing worth noting is that my drives are longer.  This improvement likely comes from improved technique combined with a stronger core.  Whatever the reason, this April saw my first 300-yard drive on the course.   For those that prefer bullet points, here is the improvement by the numbers:

  • 13.8% Improved ↑ Driver Accuracy
  • 13.4% Improvement ↑ on GIR
  • Considerably Longer Drives

Before Lesson Project

After Lesson Project

The putting stats are interesting, especially since Kevin and I did not work on putting.  I believe the “Scores by Par” improvement reflects my improved accuracy into the greens.  If I am landing balls closer to the pin, then the scores should be better.  Now let’s look at the scoring.  From the graphs, you can see that I have increased my percentage of pars and bogies.  Now normally having your bogies go from 45% to 52% would not be cause for celebration, but that increase in bogies come from reducing my double bogie (+) percentage by 20%.  I turned my doubles into singles, and my singles into pars.  That was just what I was hoping for from this project!

Now let’s look at scoring.  Dropping from +20.3 to +13.4 represents an improvement of 6.9 points.  Again, not too bad for a three month project.  That means that Callaway’s donation to the First Tee of Sacramento totals six sets of clubs.  While I am very happy that I am playing better golf, I am even happier that by going through this process with Kevin and Greg that I was able to get clubs to six kids.  The legacy of this project will live on in the golf game of those kids.  That’s an awesome realization.  And that realization was nothing compared to what I saw and felt when I delivered the clubs.

  • 6.9 Stroke Decrease ↓ in Handicap
  • 20% Decrease ↓ in Double Bogeys
  • Scores by Par all Decreased ↓

Delivering the Callaway Clubs to the First Tee of Sacramento

Last Saturday, I loaded the six sets of Callaway Junior clubs into the car and headed down to the First Tee School at Land Park Golf Course.  My plan was to drop off the clubs, shooting a couple of photos for this article.  While I thought that it was cool that I (with Callaway’s generous help) was going to give some clubs to the kids, I suppose that I didn’t really take into account what it would mean to the kids.  The smiles on the kids’ (and their parents’) faces really told the story.  They were super excited to get the new clubs!  Their First Tee Core Value teachings were definitely evident as well, as each kid came up to me, shook my hand and said thanks.  I should be thanking them, as they motivated me not to cheat reps at PT and to hit through another bucket of balls.

As it turns out, there was one more kid who was going to benefit from this project.  Last winter, a very young boy here in the Sacramento area was scalded with very hot water, resulting in third-degree burns over 50% of his body.  As I mentioned, I delivered these clubs on a Saturday.  Well on the Friday before, the parents of this little boy called the First Tee office asking if there was any program in which he could participate.  As it turned out, they had a perfect set of clubs for him.  You see that little set on the right, those are for him.  This project allowed me to do something nice for a kid who has had a rough start of things.  I set out to see if I could improve my golf game, and I ended up making a difference in the lives of these kids.  Words cannot really describe my elation with this unexpected impact.

Thanks and Final Thoughts

My deepest thanks go to the players involved in this project.  The combined efforts of Kevin Estrella and Greg Parry allowed me to improve much more than I had initially envisioned.  My bottomless thanks also go out to Callaway Golf for sponsoring the First Tee prize for the project.  The efforts and generosity of all parties involved has truly made this project one of the milestones in my golf career, and beyond.

In closing, let’s go back to that initial question, can someone improve his or her golf game by taking indoor lessons?  Given the right instructor, I would definitely say that you could improve your game indoors.  Additionally, I would say that improving your overall level of physical conditioning should also improve your game.  Strengthen your core, increase your flexibility, and increase your stamina and you should see your scores drop like I did.  You may be just a few months away from the best golf of your life.