Teaching with a keyboard
The golf magazines will shout: “Fix your slice,” “Ten steps to improving your short game,” “Hit it 20 yards longer,” and so on. Just plunk down a few bucks and your golf game will be cured.
That’s obviously overly simplistic, but the golf “how-to” industry is big business. Eagle County has its own magazine sage in Tom Stickney II, the director of golf instruction at Cordillera, the four-course resort in Edwards. He’s been teaching since 1992 and writing for golf magazines since 1996.
Though working with a golfer 1-on-1 in person and writing for the masses are different animals, the result is the same.
“More than anything else, the greatest thing is seeing how jazzed up people get when they hit a long drive, they play their best game or do something they’ve never been able to do in the past,” Stickney said. “It’s like any other endeavor you help people with. The smile on their face makes it all worth it.”
Stickney seemingly was born into the game of golf. His family’s home was on the 15th hole of the Colonial Country Club, home of what was known as the Memphis Open, and then the FedEx St. Jude Classic until 1988.
Stickney played at Memphis State and dabbled with the mini-tours until he got an offer.
“I was offered a chance to teach at my home club. I tried it,” he said. “It was a lot more fun to make money all week than it was to spend it all week.”
Of course, being a golf pro is not a license to mint money. Stickney has lived the nomadic life of pro, now settling between Naples, Fla., and Cordillera. He’s now one of Golf Magazine’s top 100 instructors in the country.
At Cordillera, he teaches at complexes at the Summit and Valley Courses. At these stations, there is seemingly enough technology to launch rockets. He uses three-dimensional motion analysis, a digital video system, as well as monitors that break down a golfer’s center of gravity and ball launch.
“All that is conglomerated into something that helps to analyze your motion,” Stickney said. “The bottom line is that they help us focus on the most efficient path in order for people to improve.”
Stickney can pick out the usual flaws in a golfer’s swing. Then, there’s snagging what he calls “contra-indications,” more-advanced errors in the stroke of an average duffer.
“Most people have three things,” he said. “They have inefficient setup. They have a very loose lower body motion ” they flop all over the place, and they come over the top of it.”
He describes the range of golfers with whom he has worked from “‘I’ve never seen a club’ to professionals.” He says the best way to go about mending problems like the ever-present slice or that hook (a personal favorite of the author) is a set of four-hour lessons.
The gratification comes when the golfer returns with straight ball flight.
“They’ll come up and say, ‘God, that worked,'” Stickney said. “I say, ‘Good, otherwise, we’d both be in trouble.'”
Stickney notched his first cover with Golf Magazine in 1996. The magazine hangs in his office.
“I have it up on my wall in the learning center. It was the catalyst,” he said. “It was very flattering and hard to believe. I still laugh at it every time I look at it because I still can’t believe I got something published.”
Since then, he’s been featured in numerous magazines, including Golf Digest’s “Breaking 100-90-80” in last March’s issue. Appealing to a broad audience requires taking on the basic issues which affect most players.
Curing the slice is usually at the top of the list, not to mention more power off the tee.
“I try to pick very general topics which cover a wide range of players and then I try to tailor articles,” Stickney said. “I’ll start with a more basic article. Then, I’ll do a medium article. Then I’ll do an advanced article. I try to write in a way where I cover as many phases as possible.”
He did have an article in Golf Digest “How to hit it 1,760 yards.” The title had a little fun with the math of 5,280 feet, but the piece was designed to teach people how to adjust for altitude in the High Country.
Stickney admits that there is ego boost to be had in writing articles for major golf publications. With each article, he sees his reputation increase. At the same time, he does derive the same gratification through print as he does after a 1-on-1 lesson.
“It’s really cool when someone actually takes the time to contact me via e-mail about that article,” Stickney said. “That’s what’s really neat. People read what you write and they take time to come by and say something.”
Be it in Golf Magazine or on the range, the job is the same for Stickney ” find a way, any way, to get a point across that will be the “magic potion” to improve a golfer’s game.
“Any one that works,” Stickney said. “I’m not being facetious. It can be tips I think are basic or tough. Anything I can say to help anyone get better is it.”
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