I visited the Charlotte, NC GOLFTEC location to have my swing evaluated by Coach Nic Ondriska. It was a humbling but rewarding experience as I believe Nic cured me of a nasty swing flaw. Prior to the evaluation, Nic and I had the following delightful golf conversation. [NOTE: “Before and after” videos are included at this interview’s conclusion.]
Golf Conversations: How long have you been at GOLFTEC?
Nic Ondriska: Going on 8 years.
GC: And prior to GOLFTEC?
NO: As a kid, I learned the game backwards. I learned chipping and putting first. I played a small nine-hole golf course with no driving range.
GC: Where was this?
NO: Upstate NY in Gloversville. I would chip and putt a couple of nights a week. I started playing golf when I was twelve. The first nine holes of golf I played, I shot 46. And nobody could believe that was my first time playing.
GC: You’re the reason why I hate guys like you!
NO: I thought, “This is pretty easy…”
GC: “This is pretty easy.”
NO: Coming from a baseball background, I also played football and hockey … it was a nice, easy transition because I was a decent athlete.
GC: You had that eye-hand coordination thing going.
GC: I think I’ve heard enough.
What did you use for clubs?
NO: My grandparents played golf. I’d borrow some of their clubs. And the club pro would let me use clubs. The more fun thing for me was going through the woods finding golf balls.
GC: And selling them?
GC: What was the name of the course in Gloversville?
NO: Kingsboro Golf Club.
GC: Is it still there?
NO: Yep. Still a nine-hole golf course. The restaurant probably makes more money than the golf course does. It’s there for the five months a year that the course is open.
GC: What’s interesting is that you were content with just putting and chipping. Most kids – and adults – want to wallop the driver.
NO: I couldn’t do that. There was no driving range and golf costs money. Chipping and putting was free. I’d deliver my newspaper route and then go chip and putt for an hour or two. This was when you could ride your bike three miles crosstown and it wasn’t a big deal. Now you can’t ride your bike 30 yards down the street. It was different in upstate NY; it’s still probably ten years behind the times.
GC: They’re still using Betamaxes up there?
How did you progress from chipping and putting?
NO: I played high school golf; I was pretty successful with that. I ended up going to college to play golf and got into a Professional Golf Management program at SUNY Delhi near Oneonta, NY. I did internships at different clubs. Christmas break my sophomore year, I was looking out the window and saw two feet of snow outside. I said, “I can’t do this anymore.”
GC: I always say that after my first tee shot.
What year did you have this revelation?
NO: 2003, 2004. I thought if I wanted to be serious about golf, I need to get in an area where golf is a little more realistic. So I started looking at colleges and found Queens University here in Charlotte. They had a Professional Golf Management program and a golf team. Six months later, I was here.
I got a job first. I worked at Tega Cay Golf Club in South Carolina as a shop assistant. Then I got an assistant professional job at Cramer Mountain Country Club. The head pro was let go and I was able to move up. At 21 years old, I was a head golf professional.
GC: That’s impressive for such a young fellow.
NO: It was a lot of work, which required me to switch my classes to night classes.
GC: Any interesting members at Cramer?
NO: Bud Penley, the Clemson golf coach, was a member there. Don Trahan was there a lot, which meant his son, D.J. Trahan, was there quite a bit. He played on the PGA Tour. A lot of the Clemson contingent would come up, including Jonathan Byrd and Lucas Glover. I got to play a little bit of golf with them.
GC: Doc Redman goes to Clemson, the guy who won this year’s US Amateur.
NO: Yes. It was a fun membership. A lot of the guys were working-class guys.
GC: Not the blue-blood guys like me!
NO: It was more of the down-to-earth guys. The guys with Miller Lite tattoos on their arms.
GC: I have a Stella Artois tattoo on my calf.
How long were you at Cramer?
NO: Two and a half years. I had a group of members that sponsored me to play professionally.
GC: Whoa! You must have been a damn good player.
NO: Yeah, I got to be pretty good. The members said, “Hey, you shoot 66 every time you tee it up with us, we’ve got to do something.”
NO: That’s not too bad, right?
GC: Can I … touch you?
Just rub your arm a little?
NO: And that turned into a totally different chapter. Learning how to be a professional golfer. Learning how to travel – coming from a small town in the middle of nowhere and then traveling all up and down the East coast playing in tournaments.
GC: Which tours were you playing?
NO: I played the Tar Heel Tour, which turned into the eGolf Tour, the Hooters Tour, played some on the Nationwide Tour before it was Web.com. I played a lot of the other smaller tours – Carolinas Pro Golf Tour, the Grand Strand Tour.
It was a roller coaster – the ups and downs, the good weeks, the bad weeks. Going through that was fun, challenging, mentally exhausting.
GC: Were you taking towels from the hotels you stayed at?
NO: Of course! Every one of them!
I’ve got so much soap and towels, you wouldn’t believe it.
GC: It’s a nice feature here at GOLFTEC: with every lesson with Nic, you get a little shampoo bottle.
“Madam, you’re coming over the top. Would you like a sewing kit?”
How long were you playing the mini-tours?
NO: Almost four years.
GC: That’s a long time.
NO: I ended up getting hurt; I tore ligaments in my left hand. The doctor wanted to put a titanium anchor in my wrist. I was going to lose almost 50% of the mobility in my hand. That didn’t really jive well with playing golf. So I opted to have it scoped, cleaned, and immobilized in a cast for a year. The hope was that maybe it might heal on its own. Unfortunately, it didn’t heal enough to allow me to play professional golf. I had to start doing something else.
GC: Had you been married at this point?
NO: No, I was still single. But I had a dog.
GC: The dog traveled with you?
GC: What was the dog doing while you were playing in a tournament?
NO: Hanging out in the hotel.
GC: Pulling down towels from the towel rack.
What was the dog’s name?
GC: Is he still with us?
NO: He isn’t. He passed away this year.
GC: I’m sorry for your loss. Good boy, Hogan — rest in peace. So you couldn’t take him to the golf course?
NO: No, but when I was at Cramer, he was there all the time chasing the geese. He was the shop dog.
GC: But I digress. You were about to make a life decision.
NO: Yup. I said, “Gotta get a real job.” Being a professional golfer was probably the hardest job I’ll ever have. The lifestyle, the work it takes to be at that level, most people will never understand that.
GC: And not making any money. That’s the hard part.
GC: Kind of like what I’m doing with this website.
NO: Seventy hour weeks, beating your head against the wall, and getting very small rewards out of it. But that’s the life, that’s the journey.
GC: The game is so damn frustrating for the recreational player. I can’t imagine what it’s like to miss a putt, miss the cut, and not make a dime.
NO: It’s a tough life. It was fun but I don’t necessarily want to do it again. I know what it takes – the time, the commitment. For me, now, with a wife and children, I don’t want to be away from them.
GC: What was the next step after resigning from the tours?
NO: I had worked high-end country clubs, I had worked at a pretty good resort club. Playing and teaching were my passion, so I wanted to follow that route. Not necessarily folding shirts and booking tee times.
GC: It’s not just folding shirts. Sometimes you’re also folding sweaters.
NO: Yes, stacking the golf gloves properly. Making sure the mediums are with the mediums and the larges are with the larges.
GC: That’s right. You’re right.
NO: This was when GOLFTEC was opening a franchise in Naples, FL. I applied for the job and got it.
GC: What year was this?
NO: 2010. The teaching side of it, the technology side of it seemed really cool. At the time, I didn’t think I’d be sitting here today, but I didn’t realize how cool GOLFTEC was when I started. And how spoiled it makes us as coaches because of how great our technology is. It makes it so much easier to help you…
GC: I don’t need any help…
… but for the average person, I understand what you mean.
NO: Uh, I’ve seen your swing. You might need a little T.L.C.
NO: The golf swing is 1.2 seconds. I don’t care how trained your eye is — it’s hard to see everything that’s going on. Not only is it hard for me to see it as a professional, it’s hard for me to translate it to you as a student. As we all know, feel isn’t real. So it helps to be able to show you what the problem is.
GC: I think it’s also difficult for people to understand the golf instruction lingo that’s thrown around.
NO: Yes. We as golf professionals have done this to ourselves. What’s the difference between “plane” and “path?” “Open” or “closed?” When is it “open,” why is “closed?” It’s so confusing.
GC: Pronate vs. Supinate, Bowed vs. Cupped, Lateral Hazard vs. Water Hazard. Large Bucket of Range Balls vs. Small Bucket…
NO: Yes, it’s extremely confusing. It confuses a lot of people. That’s where we come in.
GC: I’m assuming you had your theory of golf instruction, but GOLFTEC had its own way of doing things. Did GOLFTEC train you on how they wanted you to teach?
NO: Yes. I started as a “coach.” We’re more than a teaching pro. We’re certified personal coaches. We go through pretty rigorous training. When I started, we would go out to headquarters in Denver for two weeks. Now, new coaches go to Denver for a week, they come back for a month, and then go to Denver for another week. We’ve got a great staff out there – a couple of guys are Top-100 Instructors.
They train us to use the technology to our advantage. We’ve got the best technology there is to offer. It’s up to the coaches – the teaching pros that we hire – to use our software. They use the motion measurement data to help people understand why the ball tends to go left or right. Why that contact tends to be a little bit heavy with your irons.
GC: Have you found that — in the beginning — some of the coaches don’t necessarily agree with GOLFTEC’s method?
NO: Initially, until they understand what it is.
GC: And if they still don’t understand or like it, they leave.
NO: Exactly. But I tell everybody, it’s not a philosophy. It’s not “you must do one thing.” It’s not a system. It’s basic fundamentals. We’ve got data to back it up. We’ve tested the average golfer; we’ve tested the pros. We’ve got our SwingTRU study that was in Golf Digest. It broke down the data that we compiled from our students showing what a 70s golfer, 80s golfer, 90s golfer, 100s golfer does in their body motion. Whether it’s talking about inches in sway, or turns or tilts and bends in their body, we know exactly what it is. And you’ll see the big variances from what the tour players do versus what the 30-handicapper does.
Our job as coaches is to take the student from that 30-handicap to the 20-handicap … whatever the goals are.
GC: So there’s none of that X-Factor, Stack-and-Tilt, Use-The-Big-Muscles lingo?
NO: Everyone’s body is different, right? Therefore, everybody’s going to swing the club a little bit differently. If I’ve got a guy who’s 74, he’s probably not going to move like a 24-year old.
GC: Page 16 of a particular golf magazine says “restrict your hip turn.” Page 42 says you need a big hip turn like Bobby Jones. What is the average golfer – who doesn’t take any lessons – supposed to make of this? He goes to the driving range with the magazine’s tips floating around in his brain. He restricts his hip turn; that doesn’t work. Then he tries a full hip turn and that doesn’t work. You’ve got millions of golfers who are reading this stuff and getting frustrated.
This is why I think a facility like GOLFTEC is important. You do away with a lot of the jargon and the “tips.” You can demonstrate what’s going on with a golfer’s swing in slow-motion video. You can feel relaxed here. You don’t have people on either side of you hitting golf balls. This was a great idea. Who were the guys who started GOLFTEC?
NO: Two guys, an engineer and a golf pro who put their heads together: Joe Assell and Mike Clinton.
GC: I think it was very smart.
NO: It’s proven. We started in ’96 with one center. Now we have almost 200 worldwide. Almost 20 in Canada. Japan and Korea are going crazy right now with expansion.
GC: I hope you’re talking about South Korea.
If GOLFTEC opened a store in North Korea, would you go?
GC: Not the guy who’s the leader now, but his father, many years ago said he had a hole-in-one on every hole.
I’d like to take some lessons with his teacher!
Nic, I played golf yesterday and shot an 84.
NO: I thought you told me it was an 81.
GC: I had a seven on the last hole. It could have been an 81. But seriously, I think I found something at the range that is really gonna work!
So let’s do that swing evaluation. Strap me up!
Sept. 28, 2017 GOLFTEC Swing Evaluation
The following video is similar to what a GOLFTEC customer would view at home on the GOLFTEC website after having his or her swing evaluated. Included on the website are specific video drills that address the swing issues revealed in the evaluation.
GOLFTEC Swing Evaluation Highlights
During the 1-hour swing evaluation session, Coach Nic Ondriska videotaped my swing and then detailed the flaws that he observed. Videographer Bob Cooper was on hand to capture the action, which has been edited to the 17-minute length shown here:
Oct. 13, 2017 Update
Two weeks after my Sept. 28th swing evaluation, I returned to GOLFTEC to have my swing videotaped and analyzed by Nic Ondriska. I had done some of the recommended drills at home and thought and felt that I wasn’t swaying anymore. WRONG! I was still swaying! In the ensuing hour — the highlights of which are shown in the video below — Nic got “hands on” and demonstrated how to perform the anti-sway drills. After a few minutes of coaching, I got the hang of it and was able to “stay the sway.”