My entry into the golf industry was a pure fluke. I raced BMX as a youngster. I did that from ages 14-23. I turned professional at 18 and traveled the country for 5 years. In that sport after 23 years old you are pretty much washed up. I traveled 35 weeks a year participating in sanctioned events. There was no time for college at a that point. Once I retired from BMX I went to school. I started at Mesa CC and graduated from University of Phoenix with a degree in marketing. While going to school I had a neighbor who asked me to play golf. Had never played before other than 5 times as a kid — it wasn’t cool.
We went to an executive course and I shot 44. Not great but not bad. In that round of 44 I had a few good shots. After evaluating my round I thought there might be something to this game. It came a bit natural as I had played organized hockey in Michigan from 6-17 years old. That has something to do with the hand eye coordination. So while I was going to school I went up to the local golf course — Dobson Ranch GC in Mesa, AZ to see if I could get a job picking the range in exchange to practice — yes — free range balls. They game me the opportunity. That was in 1986.
From there then rest is history. I knew I loved the sport. I got an opportunity to start teaching and I have never looked back. I love going to work every day. I feel very blessed to have accomplished what I have accomplished. But the reality of my accomplishments have only happened because I have had a lot of help along with way. All from people that know more than I do. There is the secret. From there the world was for the taking. Just depends how smart you want to work. Not how hard but smart. Took me 20 years to figure that one out also. I am currently in my 30th year as a full time teacher. I teach approximately 2200 lessons a year and have done that for the past 15 years. I am blessed because, for the most part, I can’t wait to get to work — yes — still.
MATT WARD: What’s the most rewarding aspect in teaching?
SCOTT SACKETT: The most rewarding aspect of teaching to this day is seeing that first ah-ha moment on someone’s face . It does not matter what there ability is. It happens to everyone regardless the talent. It is all relative but the ah-ha moment is what can hook a golfer for ever. The crazy thing with this game is how difficult it is but sometimes how easy it can be.
MW: Despite all the gains made in technology impacting clubs and balls — the net overall handicap for both men and women has fallen just slightly. What is not happening on the teaching side across the board and what do you see as the role of the PGA of America given this reality?
SS: I do not believe we are painting the proper path for the first time student. The thing that I have really worked on is listening to there needs and wants. Once I have that information it is very important to lay the ground work right out in front of them on what is necessary to reach the goal. The real answer for most people is — I didn’t think it would take that long. Most new people that are around golf — watching it on television — look at the sport is not being that difficult. What is unfortunate for the weekend warrior is that we are watching the best players on television playing their best. So our perspective of the sport is wow that does not really look that hard. Then we go out Sunday after watching the tournament expecting greatness and it is just not there. On the other hand — if you have the commitment from the student you can find greatness. I see it often.
MW: If someone is contemplating taking lessons — what would you advise them to do before settling in on a prospective teacher?
SS: Very simple. What is the end result you want. There are band aid teachers — that do very well and there is a place for them — and then there are teachers that can give you long term results. But not without a long term game plan. That is what I am. I am not a one lesson teacher if I have the choice. I have 95% of my students on at least a 10-hour package. Over 10 lessons you can make a difference. That is what I am all about.
MW: What person had the greatest influence on your thoughts on teaching golf?
SS: Very simple — Jim Mclean. I was fortunate enough to be Director of Schools for Jim at Doral in Miami from 1995-1997. From there I moved back to Scottsdale and opened up an academy for Jim. The most important thing that I learned from Jim is how to structure a lesson. Sounds simple. But there is an art to it and he is the master.
MW: Describe your teaching philosophy?
SS: The teaching philosophy is always a crazy question to me. We teach people not golf. You need to clearly understand the goal of the person in front of you. With the goal you need to say what needs to take place to reach the goal. No sugar coating. It is never a problem if you reach the goals early — but if you never reach the goal then you have failed. Technology has helped make this a reality. The reason I use Trackman everyday is because I do not have to guess at something that I can now physically measure. If you help a person get better they will never forget you. If you get a person worse they for sure will never forget you. Make sure the client in front of you clearly understands the time commitment to get the result they are after.
MW: What expectations should a student have of a teacher and vice versa?
SS: A students expectations should be — yes — Scott will get me better than I currently am. Otherwise there is no need to go see him. With the technology I can tap into — Trackman, V1 Golf, Bodi Trak, Focus Band along with Edufii — the use of these teaching aids when called upon can be most effective for the task at-hand. That is the expectation that I have set for the student. I set the expectations high, but that is why I can charge what I charge. I have a fair offer. And the world will pay for a fair offer every day. From my side, looking at the student, for the expectations I have on them is just be honest on a few things. How much time can you really work on your game — are you diligently doing what I am asking you to do, and if changes are necessary in equipment then let’s make the changes.
MW: On the flip side — what are the signs a relationship between teacher and student has gone as far as it can?
SS: Occasionally I will have a student feel like they are or have got all from me they can. At that point they leave find another instructor. I quite often promote that to a student if they have those thoughts. The thing with golf we are all looking for the magic. And after 30 years of teaching what I know for sure is there is no magic. I like a student to go elsewhere, I say that because quite often I get them back. Once you get them back after they have searched for the secret — and found there was no secret — just hard work, they will stay with you forever. I promote looking around because I am comfortable with my offer and it is not out there on every driving range.
MW: Golf is experiencing a tough time now as the total number of active players has dropped over the last several years and courses closing have outnumbered openings for a relatively equal length of time. What’s your take on how to get more people starting and staying in golf as a lifetime game?
SS: The problems I see is not so much that golf has gone down in numbers, as it has, but the problem that we are all facing or going to be facing is the time commitment. Life is getting busier and life is clearly getting more hectic. We’re all moving at an incredible pace each day and that is not going to change. So to keep people in the game our programs are going to have to change to adapt. 30 minute lessons instead of 1-hour, staying in touch with the student thru other forms of communication to continue his/her progress, having the best technology to give the best and fastest answers. Golf courses are going to end up going to a 12 hole game instead of 18. It is already happening. I am in Park City for 4 months in the summer and our course has a 12 hole scorecard. They also have a three hole card.
MW: Plenty of people try to apply a whole range of Band-Aid solutions to their game or for someone else they know. What are the biggest fallacies people often try to insert into the process?
SS: If you know nothing about now golf you need to know this. While working on getting a player better there is a must on the learning curve. If step A is good then step B has a chance. If B I is good then C has a chance. It sounds so simple and it actually is. That is what I do everyday on the range with every student. And I make it very clear to them that is what I am doing with them. Here is the problem. 95% of all golfers with the help of a friend or a colleague are getting some advice — likely the advice most people give is the advice they are getting for there own game or what they just saw on the Internet. Remember anyone can write anything on the Internet Just because it so on Internet does not mean it is good information. So the two things I tell people are — hitting balls every day on the range does not mean you will get better — and with golf you can get better but on the other side of the coin you can also get worse.
MW: Always wanted to know — is there any real value in the bombardment of various tips one sees in various golf magazines? Do they really serve to help understanding or do they simply confuse and frustrate players and have them rush to see people like you?
SS: One of the three greatest quotes I’ve ever heard was from world renown teacher John Jacobs. He said as long as there are golf magazines there will always be golf lessons. His point is it screws more people up then gets them better. For improvement you have to understand exactly where you are with your game and what are your issues — until you have that answer from someone that has more knowledge than yourself you will never get better — period.
Scott Sackett, GOLF Magazine Top 100 Teacher the past 14 years. Voted as one of Golf Digest’s Best Teacher in the State the past 17 years. Trackman Master Certification. Titleist Certified Club Fitter. Director of Instruction at Park Meadows CC in Park City Utah and while in Scottsdale he teaches at McCormick Ranch Golf Club.www.scottsackett.com. Photos by Kelsey Holder Photography