It’s good to be the King. And it’s even better to get golf instruction from Charlie King, Director of Instruction at Reynolds Golf Academy. A Top-100 teacher and author of 3 books, Charlie is the kind of instructor who believes “if it’s a method, it’s madness.” (That’s my interpretation of Charlie’s teaching philosophy.) I had the chance to chat with Charlie at his Academy in May, 2012. I think you’ll enjoy our conversation.
Golf Conversations: I had once heard that if you’re getting a golf lesson and the instructor is talking for the entire lesson, run from that instructor. I was watching you today when you were giving a lesson and you weren’t that way at all.
Charlie King: What we’re doing is teaching a motor skill. In golf, it’s grip the club, bend over to the ball – the pre-swing stuff. Then you start building upon that. We want you to be unique; we don’t want any two people we teach to look the same.
GC: There is no one swing.
CK: We do want them to look very similar at impact. We do want them to look pretty similar on the downswing plane. But their exact posture, their backswing, and the mannerisms of their backswing … Freddie Couples looks like Freddie Couples and nobody else does it exactly like Freddie does it.
GC: Golf instructors often say they don’t teach a swing; they work with a person’s physique and flexibility.
CK: I’ve heard people say what you just said … but there’s almost no rhyme or reason to what they do. They’re all over the place. There’s a middle ground there somewhere. I’m definitely anti-“one size fits all” method. The first lesson I ever had, that’s what it was and that certainly turned me off to that.
If you teach “one size fits all,” there’s too many exceptions to what you teach, especially on the back swing. So a teacher who has everybody’s arm go down here like Ben Hogan … well, what would happen if Jim Furyk showed up, if Ray Floyd showed up, if Nancy Lopez showed up? Everybody in the history of golf with a unique back swing, you would feel compelled to change them and it wouldn’t be right to take away what is uniquely theirs. All they need is for you to figure out what skills they’re lacking and that’s what we’re gonna work on.
GC: Charlie, are most of your students members at the golf clubs here or are they guests of the Ritz-Carlton Lodge?
CK: The majority are members. But a good amount are resort guests and people who come from far and wide to work with me.
GC: Let’s say a resort guest is here and she’s never ever played golf before. Walk me through how you’d approach a rank beginner.
CK: I would give them a big picture, an encouraging look at golf. In general, I would show them the grip, how to bend over to the ball. We’d be hitting a pitching wedge or an 8-iron, so I’d have the ball pretty much in the middle of their stance. And I would show them how to hit a golf ball.
GC: You would show them?
CK: I would.
GC: None of that standing behind the woman and reaching around her? Or we don’t do that anymore?
CK: I stand beside. We start with a small swing. I’ll be with them and I’ll move the club, move the club forward, move the club back, move the club forward. So they can sense it, feel it. As opposed to me standing there explaining it and being very easy to misunderstand.
And as they come into impact, I’m gonna show them that golf is an impact-something game, not a throw-something game.
GC: Not a scoopy game.
CK: Not scoopy. That’s what I consider to be the number-one fault in golf: scooping. I don’t want to see any of that. We’re going to be popping the ball, stinging the ball at the moment of impact.The good news for a beginner … they don’t know any better. They pick it up pretty fast.
GC: Although intuitively, it seems like you should scoop the ball to make it go up.
CK: Well, that’s it. In golf, there are three deadly instincts: 1.) The scoop. If I gave you a tennis racket and said, “How would you make a tennis ball go up?” You would swing up and the tennis ball would go up.
CK: But in golf, if you swing up, the club bottoms out in the wrong place. The ball is not hit by the club face; it’s hit by the leading edge of the club, and so it dribbles along the ground. So “up equals down” in most cases.
The second thing is: Here’s a ball, there’s a target. Wouldn’t I just take it straight back and straight through and wouldn’t that make the ball go straight?
GC: That would be the logical way of doing it.
CK: Unfortunately, not really. No. In tennis, if I swung left, the ball would go left. If I swung right, the ball would go right. In golf, you swing left, it slices. You swing right, it hooks.
And the last thing is … if I was trying to hit it harder in tennis, I’d swing harder and it would go faster. In golf, if you swing harder, you typically mis-hit it and it goes nowhere.
So the three instincts that are working against us are: trying to lift it, swing straight to make it go straight, and swing harder to make it go far. And those three things don’t work.
GC: So can you recommend a good tennis teacher?
What about all the contradictory instruction articles that are in the golf magazines?
CK: When you read an article, the first thing you should ask is: “Is this a feel article or a fact article?”
An article that says, “We’ve done X-Y-Z research and they say the start of the downswing occurs in the lower-left leg.” That’s a factual statement. But then an article that says “The first move of the downswing is the hands dropping.” That’s a feel article. And that feel is good for the over-the-top golfers. That feel is good for certain golfers and not for others.
GC: Have you seen that paralyzed golfer who does exhibitions? He sits on the side of his golf cart – he’s paralyzed from the waist down – and he hits the golf ball beautifully. Where’s the hip turn? Where’s the leg and footwork? It’s all arms and he hits it great.
CK: What does the body for sure do? For sure, it’s plugged into the ground. So he’s plugged into the ground because of the wheels on the cart. And he is plugged into the cart that has the wheels on the ground and his two feet – even though he can’t feel them – are plugged into the ground. So he’s got resistance.
If you were to take him and lift his cart and him above the ground – and now he has nothing below him – he would not be able to do any of that stuff because he would have nothing to swing against.
The guys that’ll say “hands, arms, and wrists are more important” … they’ll sit in a chair and hit a driver 250 yards. To the unknowing person, they go, “Yeah, see? It’s all hands, arms and wrists.”
No. As long as he’s on the ground, he’s able to swing against the resistance of his body. The field goal kicker braces – he takes two steps and boom! Braces the foot and kicks. He doesn’t go spinning into his kick.
GC: Did you read the Hank Haney book about Tiger? What’s it called?
CK: “The Big Miss.”
GC: Yes. I think he said that one of the reasons why Tiger thinks his left knee is bad is because Butch Harmon was telling him to straighten his left knee at impact, to have something firm to hit against.
CK: Well, for hitting a golf ball, that is what you do. Whether that would injure you or not…
GC: So you are straightening the left knee at impact?
GC: Really??? Hey, would you mind if I go hit a few balls now?
CK: You’re gonna be hard-pressed to find a picture of a really good player who does not do that. The question is: how violently do you do that? Are you doing it so violently that you’re hyper-extending your knee? But any player worth their salt straightens their leg.
GC: Charlie, is there a conscious effort to straighten that left knee?
CK: There is if you don’t already do it. The majority of good college players or tour players would not say that they consciously do it. It’s second nature to them.
GC: And foreign to me.
CK: Does a field goal kicker consciously firm up his left leg as he plants his left leg? No.
GC: Well, I can tell you one thing: after today’s chat, I’m going to try to straighten my left leg at impact.
CK: Again, the leg doesn’t have to hyper-extend. But it has to push up against the ground and slightly away from the target.
GC: Explain to me how the tour players hit it perfectly on the range and then can’t get it on the fairway when the tournament begins.
CK: It’s illogical to say, “Well, this fault crept in.” No, no. It’s timing. That’s why golf cannot be perfected.
GC: It’s happening so quickly…
CK: So quickly.
GC:… you just don’t have time to fix things.
CK: I think about how Nicklaus explained how he would hit to a target. He said, “With a 3-iron, I would line up 30 feet left of the target.” 30 feet – the greatest player in the world! He said, “If I square the face, I’ve got a 30-footer to the left of the flag. If I fade it slightly, I’ve got a 15-footer. If I fade it perfectly, I’m right next to the hole. If I fade it 45 feet, I’ve got a 15-footer on the right side of the hole. If I fade it 60 feet – 20 yards – I’ve got a 30-footer on the other side.”
So in his mind, he’s got 20 yards worth of leeway. Now, why would the greatest player in the world feel like he needed 2 degrees of club face leeway?
GC: Wasn’t that also a function of the balata ball that curved a lot and the persimmon woods that weren’t as forgiving?
CK: The balls today don’t move quite as much. So you could see how a person would line up 20 feet left instead of 30 feet left. But they don’t line up 5 feet left.
In 125-yard shots today on tour, the leader is 20-22 feet away from the hole. Again, think about the math: it’s a football field plus 25 yards. When you get to around 200 yard shots, it’s around 40 feet. 40 feet!
GC: And this is a function of pressure?
CK: No, no. It’s a function of the precision of golf and the unrealistic nature that people have of how good a human being can be. We’re talking two football fields away — 200 yards! That ball comes off the club face pretty darn straight just whistling; hey, it still ends up 15 feet this way, 20 feet that way. And that’s a heck of a shot.
GC: I guess people think that because these guys have been hitting golf balls since they were 6 years old, they should be able to hit the ball within 10 feet of the flag.
CK: Right. Except it’s humanly impossible.
GC: Right. You had a Moe Norman and a Ben Hogan and a few other guys who had that gift.
CK: They did have that gift but I’m telling you, even them, if you looked at proximity, it would still be maybe two feet closer than today’s players. But it’s the effect of a degree closed or open on a ball as it disperses out there. Why are the straightest hitters the shortest hitters? Because their ball doesn’t go far enough for the one degree miss to go offline into the rough.
CK: Using that same example, when it comes to the wedge game and distance isn’t that much of a factor, shouldn’t they be able to stuff it every time when they’re 90 yards away?
CK: It’s not humanly possible!
If it was humanly possible, they would have done it.
GC: This confirms my worst fear: golf is an inhumane game!
CK: No, they’re being asked to do something that’s unrealistic. At the US Open that was played at Pebble Beach, I heard Dan Hicks ask Johnny Miller something really illogical. The greens were fast and bumpy, the rough is high, and the course is as hard as a rock. These are the best players in the world. Two guys were under par at the time. Dan Hicks asked, “Is this because of how hard the golf course is or because of the pressure?”
And Johnny Miller never misses an opportunity to say, “They’re all choking.” But that’s illogical to me. All the best players in the world are not all going to choke on the same weekend. They’re not all going to choke on the same day unless golf is just simply a choking sport.
GC: To go off on a different subject, Charlie, how did you get involved with golf?
CK: I started late, 19 years old. Grew up playing football, basketball, and baseball.
GC: Where was this?
CK: A little town: Decatur, Tennessee. When I was a freshman in college, golf wasn’t considered a cool sport.
GC: Which college was this?
CK: Tennessee Tech. I was home visiting from college and saw some friends and told them, “Why don’t you take me golfing?”
GC: And you had never played?
CK: Never played.
GC: 19 years old?
CK: 19 years old. So I started playing. Of course, I was no good but I got the bug. Started playing more and more. The first three years, I was a slicer, like most people. Then, a friend who was on the golf team at Tech showed me how to swing from the inside, and roll my forearms and hit a draw/hook. So I picked up 15 yards immediately on my irons and 30 yards on my driver.
My last year in school, I was taking this course called “Special Topics in Business Management.” It turned out to be the most influential class I had in college. We read “Think and Grow Rich,” “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” listened to Zig Ziglar and other motivational speakers.
About the eighth week of the class, the professor says, “If you could do anything, in terms of career, and there was no limit on what you could choose, what would you choose to do?”
I had become such a golf nut. My best friend – two weeks before – had taken me to the 1987 Masters. I was just blown away. I saw Larry Mize chip in to beat Norman.
GC: You were there?
CK: I was there. So when the professor asked that question – I was over the top about the Masters – I said to myself, “Well, if there’s no limit, I’d win the Masters.”
I think to this day that I was naive enough, maybe even dumb enough, to think that I could do it only because I didn’t know I couldn’t do it.
I didn’t play junior golf, I didn’t play college golf. I’d played one stroke-play event and decided to head to Florida and play the mini-tours and figure out how to be a tour player.
GC: You broached this idea to your professor?
CK: No. I said it to myself. I went to my apartment and wrote it down on a piece of paper: “I will win the Masters.”
I did all the steps backwards: you gotta win on Tour, you gotta be on Tour, you gotta get through Q School …
GC: You gotta break par.
CK: Yeah, you gotta break par!
So I said, “Ok, gotta find a teacher and head to central Florida.” That’s where J.C. Goosie’s Spacecoast mini-tour was.
GC: You graduated from college?
GC: What year was that?
CK: ’87. Just packed up and went to Florida.
GC: What kind of scores were you shooting in Florida?
CK: Mid ‘70s.
GC: That was pretty darn good for a guy who’d just started.
CK: Not terrible. But in a way, light years away. 74, 75 sounds good; that’s a 3 or 4 handicap. But the best player on tour is a plus-8.
GC: I know.
CK: It’s light years difference. But again, luckily, I didn’t know all these statistics. Because otherwise, I would have talked myself right out of it. But it was very disappointing, very frustrating. Still, it was worth it because it got me into a sport that I loved.
If I could have found a good teacher, I would have bcome the best player that my potential would have allowed me. The first teacher had a one-size-fits-all method; he changed everything about me in 20 minutes. The next few, their philosophies kind of floated depending on the latest book they’d read. Another guy wanted to know how I got his phone number. He was only interested in working with tour players. He went through the motions for an hour and collected his money.
GC: You don’t want to mention any names?
CK: I don’t. It hurt me as a player but it helped me as a teacher. If the professor had said, “If you could do anything – but let’s take a look at your talents – what would you do?”
I discovered that I was much more built to be a teacher and a coach. The first four years I was teaching 6-8 months to make sure I had enough money to play the mini-tours.
GC: You were teaching in Florida?
CK: I was teaching for a golf school, traveling around the country. I taught in Scottsdale, Palm Springs, Dallas, Myrtle Beach, the Poconos.
I read this book, “The Great Niche Hunt.” The premise of the book was if you’ve got these God-given abilities, it’s your job to figure out how to use them to their utmost. As I read the book, I realized that I wanted to be a coach and a teacher. I wanted to help other people to be successful.
GC: In golf?
CK: I was not going to assume it was golf. Certainly all of the things were pointing me towards golf, but I was at such a career crossroads that I wanted to open my mind up to anything.
I got in touch with the Covey Leadership Center … I got in touch with the Golf Academy of the South, which is now called Golf Academy of America. It was a two-year school for people getting into the golf business. So I would be getting to teach future teachers how to teach better.
GC: What year did you start at Golf Academy of the South?
CK: 1992. I was there from ’92 to 2000.
GC: Who taught you how to teach?
CK: I learned from Rick McCord, Dick Farley, and Harry Obitz. Harry was the one who said to me, “I better not ever hear you’re a method teacher.” He said they can only help a small percentage of golfers that have the perfect body build and mindset for their method. Everybody else, they change too much about them. You need to teach principles, not methods.
That was very important for a 24-year old person to hear early in his career. That kept me from being enamored when a Leadbetter or a Mac O’Grady came along. Anytime a new method would come along, I didn’t jump on the bandwagon.
Harry’s not well known now but he was a pioneer. He and Dick Farley had written a book called “Six Days to Better Golf” which is not a well-known golf instruction book but it is a classic.
I think they were way ahead of their time because they were saying, “Teach the quarter swing; let that build to the half swing, let that build to the three-quarter swing, etc.”
GC: And on the 7th day, they rested.
CK: Back then, they did 6-day golf schools! Monday through Saturday and on Sunday you rested. So I learned a lot from them. I was at eight of their nine sites around the country. I was on the road for 6 or 8 months at a time before I would come back to Orlando to my apartment.
Dr. Rick Jensen, a sports psychologist and performance expert, influenced me a lot. Conrad Rehling was at the Golf Academy of the South. He was the Florida men’s golf coach when Frank Beard and Bob Murphy were there. Then he was at Alabama and coached Jerry Pate. So he had a coach’s mindset: skill-test people; find out where their weaknesses are.
And we started doing skill testing at the Golf Academy in 1993. We’d do skill testing, do 10 weeks of instruction, and then skill test them again. And when we did it that way, they averaged a 75% improvement.
GC: What does that mean, a 75% improvement?
CK: The skills-test score. If they started with a score of 50, a 75% improvement would be … uh …
GC: My readers are very smart; let them do the math.
GC: When did you leave the Academy of the South?
GC: What was the next move?
CK: Then I went to a local private club called Tuscawilla Country Club in north Orlando. I convinced them to let me be the Director of Instruction for zero guarantee and zero benefits.
GC: You made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.
CK: I wanted it that way because I wanted to prove that skill-based instruction worked. So I had a good solid business going there for two years. Then my big break was getting the job as Director of Instruction at the Academy at PGA National. I would say it was one of the top-ten jobs in teaching. I was there for two years. We did well in that we were following 9/11.
GC: Were you happy with the way your skills-based teaching method worked? Were you seeing results?
CK: Yes. We were seeing results. My good friend Dr. Rick Jensen was the sports psychologist there; Randy Myers was the fitness expert.
But two years into it, the owner decided to farm it out to a management company. Then I became the teaching professional at Nantucket Golf Club in the summer of ’04 and ’05.
And in ’05, one of my former students called me and said the position at Reynolds Plantation was going to open up. They were going to let the contract with Pelz short game schools run out; they wanted an in-house golf academy which became Reynolds Golf Academy.
So I’ve been here a little over six years. We have established a steady golf school clientele. We’ve got programs for the membership here. Clinics and private lessons for the hotel guests.
GC: Is it just you or do you have other guys working with you?
CK: You saw Rob Bowser up there on the range in the orange shirt. He’s my lead instructor.
GC: Do you guys wear the same color shirt each day?
CK: We do.
GC: Because yesterday you were both wearing purple.
CK: Yes, we had purple on yesterday, sure did.
GC: So if I was wearing an orange shirt today, I could go out and give a lesson to somebody?
CK: That’s the qualification. If you can wear the correct shirt, you get to teach here.
GC: I could teach! “Honey, you’re not pronating!”
CK: We don’t use the word “pronation” here. But we do know what it means!
GC: When you give lessons, do you have students sign up for a series of lessons?
CK: Yes. In that book, “You’re Not Lifting Your Head,” I talk about how important it is to be in a series of lessons and how one lesson was not going to create a habit.
GC: I agree with you.
CK: When I was at Tuscawilla, I would not give one lesson.
GC: Well, excuse me!
CK: But what I would say to them is this: “You can come for an introductory lesson, a free lesson. And if you like what happens, I’m going to sign you up for a series.”
GC: Good for you! I like that, Charlie.
CK: But when you teach at a resort like Reynolds Plantation, you cannot help but give one-time lessons. So I make sure I give them some educational stuff to leave with. They have my book, access to our web site that has plenty of information, they have the ability to sign up for our online golf school which takes them through a step-by-step program.
GC: Tell me about the books you’ve written.
CK: I’ve written three books: “You’re Not Lifting Your Head;” I wrote a book on the short game with Rob Akins called “Golf’s Red Zone Challenge;” and then I wrote an e-book called “New Rules of Golf Instruction.”
The whole premise of that book is that there are nine areas where we as teachers need to be good. Most of us have been focused on one area our whole teaching life: the full swing.
But we need to be teaching the short game and inspiring people to work on their short game. We need to understand the mental game. We need to teach people how to practice. We need to understand the role of club fitting. We’ve got to do correct video analysis. And we’ve got to be good communicators.
GC: Charlie, I’m reading you loud-and-clear. And I like what I’m hearing. I wish I could have stayed here a few more days – it’s a fabulous facility you have here.
CK: Thank you.
GC: So what’s tomorrow’s shirt color?
Links to Charlie King’s Books: