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Lessons In Learning Golf: Bill Strausbaugh

Bill Strausbaugh was one of the best golf coaches you may not have heard of.

Strausbaugh had a unique way of getting the most out of his players. At the time of my first lesson he was well into his 70s and near the end of his career. I had a terrible issue where I’d swing the club head way inside on the takeaway and then loop over the top with a steep angle of attack into the back of the ball. The result was deep divots, toe hits and ugly fades that were killing my enjoyment of the game.

To remedy that, Strausbaugh had me focus solely on my “waggle,” the tiny movement of the club head back and forth prior to hitting a shot. He directed me to shift the movement from a “side to side” motion to a “looping” action which swung the head on the opposite path of my current swing. With a 7-iron and the ball teed to medium height, I was trained to rehearse my new waggle twice, followed by a strike no more than 40 yards down the practice tee. I repeated the exercise for the better part of an hour.

With a 7-iron and the ball teed to medium height, I was trained to rehearse my new waggle twice, followed by a strike no more than 40 yards down the practice tee.

As a junior golfer it was mentally challenging to hit such tiny shots for so long. All I wanted to do was hit drivers, but my mentor was firmly in control of the learning environment, not allowing any signs of my impatience to derail our session. It wasn’t long before my contact and flight had dramatically improved. Gone were the deep divots, as each ball fell gently to the left with perfect center face contact.

Following the lesson we made our way to the gazebo which rested below a massive oak tree at the edge of the tee. Strausbaugh was a true friend and mentor. He would often engage his students in conversation not only about their games, but also how things were going with life off the course. Hundreds of acorns from the big tree were scattered about the turf. Strausbaugh gathered up a few as we took a seat to relax and reflect on our time together. To conclude our lesson, he asked me this simple question: “Do you know why I had you hitting so many little shots working only on your waggle?” I had never thought to ask why. He was so respected I blindly trusted his direction. All I knew was that I had improved. After answering that I had no idea, he held one of the tiny acorns before my eyes. “I know you wanted to hammer a bunch of shots out there today,” he said. “But the thing I always want you to remember is that from little acorns … come big oak trees.”

He turned his gaze upward at the massive tree towering above us. He had made his point. I now understood my tiny swing was the foundation that would provide the opportunity for me to grow into the player I wanted to be. If I couldn’t execute small movements at a pedestrian pace, there was no way I’d be able to do it correctly trying to hit a booming tee ball at full speed.

To this day I share that story with many of my students as a reminder of the process one must go through in order to build a swing for a lifetime. The lesson: Remember when you do the little things big, the big things take care of themselves.