I’ve been thinking about going to golf school for years.
The idea started with the realization that golf is hard, and I don’t have any particular savant-like aptitude for it. I’m guessing many of you are in the same boat, and you’ve probably wondered (often) if immersing yourself in a two or three day golf school might be a better use of your money than two new drivers and a fresh set of blades.
Me… let’s just say I’ve waffled on the idea.
With a steady influx of new gear going into the bag, I was more or less able to convince myself that I was managing my game just fine on my own. Bubba never took a lesson, right?
Over the past few years, my index wasn’t dropping dramatically, but I was showing consistent improvement – a stroke or two year-over-year. After a strong end to the 2016 season, I went into the 2017 season fully expecting to finish the year with a single-digit index.
Let’s call that a miscalculation on my part.
2017 was a disaster. My scores and my index ballooned, and by mid-season, I wasn’t having any fun at all on the golf course. I found some small bits of solace in tweeting Arccos screenshots of my biggest debacles, but I had lost everything resembling a reliable and repeatable swing. For the first time ever, I welcomed winter.
I was basically at the lowest point in my golf life when, serendipitously, Martin Chuck reached out to ask why MyGolfSpy doesn’t have a Most Wanted category for Golf Schools. The short answer is logistics, but after some brief back and forth that started with Martin telling me that he runs the best golf school in the world - the kind of bold statement one doesn't often hear from a straight-talking Canadian guy - and that he was more than happy to prove it to MyGolfSpy and one of our readers.
What did I have to lose? Besides, the staff had been kicking around the idea of content centered around golf experiences. The idea is for a staff member to do something you might be thinking of doing yourself and report back to let you know what it's really like and whether or not it's worth spending your money on.
So long story short, we put a contest together, picked a winner, and by early December, Forum member GoalieWales and I were on our way to Phoenix where we'd spend 3-days at the Tour Striker Golf Academy working with three world class golf coaches. We'd have had a great time, and leave the Raven Phoenix golf club feeling a bit like Tiger Woods.
Should you expect the same?
Listen: Tony Covey & Mike Wales discuss the Tour Striker Academy Experience
About the Tour Striker Academy
The 3-day experience at the Tour Striker Academy runs $1995 per person before lodging and airfare. Classes are generally capped at 12 students, as Martin maintains a 3:1 student-to-coach ratio to ensure every student gets plenty of individual attention. Daily breakfast and lunch are included in the cost and the table time provides a great opportunity for students to get to know one another and the coaches a bit better.
If you’re wondering about the demographics; the typical Tour Striker student tends to be older, and a good bit of Martin’s business is driven by his affiliation with Revolution Golf. While nearly everyone is looking to build a better game, it’s not unusual to see golf school leveraged as a buddies trip of sorts - an opportunity to do something fun with friends and family, perfectly suited to those with the wisdom to appreciate the experience every bit as much as the instruction.
Assisting Martin Chuck are coaches Jim Waldron and Mike Krahne. Jim is a long drive competitor who spends his summers teaching juniors at Pebble Beach. Mike has a graduate degree in Sports and Exercise Psychology. He has a holistic approach to teaching, but above all else, he considers himself a mental coach. Each of the coaches brings a slightly different approach to instruction, which provides Tour Striker Academy students with a well-rounded experience.
The first thing I would say about any golf school experience is that it’s important to set reasonable expectations. “It’s not pixie dust,” Martin Chuck told me on one of our calls ahead of my visit. Like most anything else in life, you’ll get out of a golf school what you put into it, and that starts with the understanding that there are seldom any quick fixes. Truth be told, before I left for Arizona I had settled on the idea that a successful school would leave me with a better understanding of what I needed to work on and a blueprint for success.
For the overly ambitious, it’s sometimes too easy to move the goalposts.
By the time we sat down for breakfast on the first morning – forget the blueprint - I had all but convinced myself that I was probably just a couple of minor tweaks away from shaving ten strokes off my game. I got way ahead of myself, but at the Tour Striker Academy, delusions are crushed quickly.
Tour Striker Academy: Day 1
After some introductory stuff and warm-ups, golf school started for real with an eight-station evaluation that included:
- Pitching over a bunker to a tight pin
- Low point control
- Ball striking with a driver
- Wedge distance test (Trackman Combine)
- Gears 3D club path evaluation
- Shot shaping
- Weight distribution and transfer
The wedge test, which involved hitting a total of 9 shots to distances between 20 and 60 yards, was the high point for me. My projected handicap bested my actual handicap by nearly ten strokes, but that was more than mitigated by humbling futility nearly everywhere else – including the driver impact drill where I hit everywhere but the center of the face.
About that quick fix… fuhgeddaboudit.
The rest of Day 1 is about setting the tone for the week. Through the evaluation process, Martin and his team work to identify the core issue for each student. In my case, it was a severely inside takeaway (Martin described it as like trying to start a lawnmower), a flying right elbow and a cupped wrist. The result was some less than desirable positions in the downswing and some genuine questions about how I ever managed to hit a golf ball where I wanted to.
While Martin rotated students through one-on-one sessions inside his studio, Jim and Mike gave me a series of drills to work towards keeping the elbow under control. This is where I got my first sense of how Martin’s staff functions as a single unit. While there’s plenty of time to work on whatever it is you need to be working on, the coaches (and their video recording devices) are constantly rotating through, so you’re never alone for very long. What I realized quickly is that while each coach brings to the table new drills and new solutions, there’s never any conflicting information. Everyone is on the same page working towards the same result.
At the tail end of each day, the class heads out in groups to play golf with the coaches. On the first afternoon, GoalieWales and I played with Martin, who had us both play Smart Ball golf. That means every swing with anything longer than a putter requires a Smart Ball to be anchored between the forearms. In my case, the goal was to stay more connected, keep the elbow under control, and try and prevent the abrupt collapse of the arms instead of a full follow through. Martin says that last one is common among golfers who play a lot of indoor golf or swing in a restricted area.
For a guy with my particular issues, Smart Ball golf is a frustrating process, and I finished the day without any of the affirmation that golfers optimistically salvage from so much as a single good shot. I left the course dejected, demoralized, and in a generally sour mood.
Tour Striker Academy Day 2
For every Tour Striker Academy class, Day 2 begins with a 1-hour Yoga Session with the Golf Yogi. If you’re new to yoga, as most of us were, the experience can push you out of your comfort zone, and it certainly was a departure from my standard fitness routine (insomuch as I don’t have one). Once settled in, I think most will appreciate the change of pace, and the class definitely got everyone loose, moving, and ready for a second long day of golf. The yoga experience also helped clear my head and put me in a better mindset for the rest of the day.
The first part of the morning is devoted to swing drills. Part of the time is spent working with Martin’s training aids (Tour Educator and Smart Ball). There are also stations for hitting a driver off an elevated tee (think tee-ball) and from a downhill lie. The drills are designed to help students begin to better control the relationship between club face and path.
While this portion of the school leverages some of Martin’s inventions, students and coaches have unfettered access to a literal wagon full of training aids – some conventional, some less so. There’s no pushing of Tour Striker products. Whatever works is cool with everyone.
You may want to read GoalieWales’ Recap for more details about the morning session because I wasn’t long into it before I found myself exiled to the indoor studio to focus on the elbow situation. Being separated from the herd provided some insight into how Martin and his coaches work together to build an individualized program for each student. Each coach takes a slightly different approach, but they don’t step on each other’s toes while pushing students to improve.
After lunch, I was allowed to rejoin the group for a discussion on shot shaping and ball flight laws.
Throughout the golf school, Martin and his team host sitdown discussions on a range of topics. Everything from the basics (grip, posture, etc.), to ball flight laws and shaping shots is covered. The sessions are really about establishing fundamentals and making sure everyone understands why the ball does what it does.
If you have a good grasp of that stuff, you may find yourself wanting to get on with it and just hit some balls, but it’s an understatement to say that golf school is a grind. You’re going to hit hundreds, if not thousands of shots, and by afternoon on Day 2, even if the lesson is a just a refresher, you’ll be grateful for the breaks.
After the group discussion, the class moved on to a dedicated short game clinic. While things such as grip, setup, and posture are constantly being reviewed, the short game session was every bit as much a lesson on course management. Central to the lesson is the idea of a short game hierarchy. Even if they’ve never heard it called that before, I suspect many better players are already familiar with the concept.
While you could probably extrapolate the idea to your entire game, at the root of the hierarchy is the idea that you should hit the easiest shot on the course. Putt if you can. If you can’t putt, chip. If you can’t chip, pitch. And finally, when no other options exist, your last resort is the flop shot.
For some, that’s all but intuitive, but for me it was a new way to think about the shots I hit around the green. There’s a good mix of philosophy and technique, including chipping with a hybrid, and I’m optimistic it will all translate when I start playing golf again regularly this spring.
After some additional range time with the coaches, we headed back out for some on-course work. While overall things didn’t go much better than the day before, I wasn’t forced to play Smart Ball Golf (winning!), and I managed a couple of swings of that coach Mike described as halfway-good. Call it progress, I suppose.
Things didn’t go so well for our contest winner. GoalieWales struggled mightily with his Day 2 changes, and found himself every bit as frustrated as I was the day before. Ultimately, he chose to stay on the course and play a few extra holes by himself to try and get something to click. Nothing did. He returned to the hotel dejected, demoralized, and in a generally sour mood.
Tour Striker Academy: Day 3
After breakfast on Day 3, the class huddles up for a quick review session. It’s an opportunity to ask questions, fill in any knowledge gaps, and reinforce the fundamentals we’ve worked on over the course of the two previous days.
Once that wraps up, the class is again split into three groups to cover putting, bunker play, and the flop shot. Both bunker play and flop shot lessons are heavily focused on technique, and for me, that was the best-case scenario.
As with many other aspects of my game, I’d recently found myself completely lost when my ball settled in a bunker. Golf is a difficult game, and when something gets away from you, it can be very difficult to get it back (without professional help anyway), so the bunker lessons provided a much-needed opportunity to burn the sand game to the ground and rebuild it from scratch.
Buried in the sand with coach Jim, I eventually started to get a feel for hitting bunker shots, and before I knew it, I had strung several legitimately good shots together. Not only was there immediate benefit, but the more controlled and abbreviated nature of the bunker swing should serve as a building block as I continue to work on improving my full swing.
A couple of months removed from golf school, I’m reasonably certain some review will be necessary, but that won’t be a problem because nearly everything that happens at the Tour Striker Academy, from discussions to group lessons to all of your individual instruction, is recorded. Included in the golf school package, the personal video library you go home with provides a simple means to review lessons, fill in holes, and re-learn whatever it is you’re working on.
Comfort in Bad Habits
As ridiculous as it sounds given how many golfers struggle with it, I was more comfortable during the flop shot session than at any time all week. Apparently born without the common sense necessary to just chip a golf ball, I taught myself the flop shot years ago and went to it at every opportunity. While I’ve since learned that my reliance on the shot isn’t the best thing in the world for my scores, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Martin made some adjustments to my weight distribution and ball position, but I came out of the session feeling pretty good.
GoalieWales and I finished the morning in the putting clinic with coach Mike. If there’s a weakness in the Tour Striker Academy, to my mind, it’s the putting session. The mini-clinic is devoted to speed control via a counting method that Martin and his coaches use. While I think there are some consistency benefits that will come out of it, it’s largely surface level stuff. I certainly would have appreciated having some time dedicated to technique and green reading, but there’s a case to be made that those needs are better serviced by a putting specialty school.
After lunch is your last chance to work with the coaches on whatever it is you want to work on. While I continued to make some small semblance of progress on fighting my elbow, coach Jim saddled me “Dustin Johnson” as the definitive swing thought to try and improve my left wrist condition. I don’t expect I’ll ever get to where Dustin is, but working towards it is slowly taking the cup out of it.
As part of the Day 3 activities, every student goes through a final one-on-one video review with Martin. For me it was an eye-opening experience in that, as much as I still have plenty of work to do, the evidence of legitimate progress from Day 1 to dDay 3 was irrefutable. Call it proof that the grind and some frustration was well worth it.
Like the previous days, Day 3 ends with some on-course time before heading in for one last drink with your classmates and the coaching team. As we waited for the last groups to come in, I took the opportunity to ask some of the others what they thought of their experience. The response was universally positive, glowing even, which isn’t surprising given Martin’s past reviews. Everyone I spoke with felt that they had not only improved but that they had established a long-term path to better golf. The universal opinion was that money was well spent.
The end of the 3-day school doesn’t mean the end of the Tour Striker education. With a golf school package, you get access to all of your course material, and perhaps more importantly, the ability to continue to work with Martin and his coaching team. Through the provided Edufi app, students can upload videos for the coaches to review and provide feedback. Again, ongoing coaching is included in the package. Coach Mike told me that 99% of students don’t take advantage of that opportunity, and while I find that ludicrous, I must confess that I haven’t uploaded anything since I left Phoenix. What can I say, I’m a moron.
I’ve been exceptionally busy these last couple of months, and haven’t had much time to work on my swing. What I’ve seen so far has been encouraging, and should provide me with plenty of motivation to keep working with Martin and his team once I get back to swinging regularly.
So what are the takeaways?
First, don’t do what I did. Don’t let things get so bad that you start to lose your love of the game. Whether it’s golf school or a lesson package, do something.
What separates the Tour Striker Academy from a typical lesson package is the experience that extends beyond the instructional piece. It’s a making memories kind of thing you can do with a group of friends as an alternative to the typical golf trip.
That best golf school in the world stuff… I can’t make that claim with any degree of certainty. There are one or two (hundred) others schools we’d need to look at, but I can say that Martin and his team do everything they possibly can to make sure you improve your game, have a great time, and leave with a blueprint for success. While the experience reaffirmed the reality that there are no quick fixes, I left with all of the above. I’m not lost anymore, and I can’t wait for the season to start.
After three days in Phoenix, I was feeling like Tiger Woods. That is to say, improvement is a process, and it’s on me to put in the reps and continue working with Martin and his coaches.
For More information visit the Tour Striker Academy Website.
If you have any questions about the golf school experience, leave them below and GoalieWales and I will do our best to answer them.