Owen McClain - Moses Lake Golf Club
The Lesson Lounge is a home based practice area where students can get the information they need from a reputable PGA instructor, in a relaxed environment where they only pay for the instruction, not the hidden costs connected with a full golf course operation. Full swing, short game, or putting, golfers can improve their game at The Lesson Lounge without emptying their wallet.
How old were you when you got started in golf and what eventually pulled you into becoming a golf professional?
My first golfing experiences were in the neighborhood vacant lot that served as our multi-sports facility. We played football, baseball, army, and had a three hole golf course for plastic golf balls using coffee cans for cups. My father would let me come along and caddie once in awhile and my first real round of golf, at age 10, was at a nine hole course near Seattle where we lived. I was a terror–I’d been set up for failure! You see, on one of those caddie experiences, my dad let me play a short par three. A skulled tee shot, a second shot that somehow rolled onto the green, and sinking a 30 foot putt for par most definitely gave me the wrong idea. Making a bogey on the first hole of that round only furthered the illusion which soon would be shattered. Anyway, I became attached to the game as junior, and golf professionals were my role models. Life happens, and my golf career did not begin until after I’d completed a 25 year career with the Kirkland Fire Department, but I’m now nearly twenty years into “career B”.
How do you stay current with the latest developments in teaching methods?
Through social media postings and PGA classes/periodicals there is a lot of information about teaching, as well as timeless publications on the subject. What is amazing is the number of different subjects involved, from physiology, pedagogy, and technology, to mechanics and more. But I find that many “methods” being put forth are more “fishing lures” than sound methods….designed to catch fishermen instead of fish! I’d say one of the most overlooked ways to learn to teach is to observe other teachers.
What are 2 trends in golf that you’re excited about?
The emphasis on physiology and conditioning will help a lot of players in the future. I think that more and more we are recognizing that every body is unique and moves in different ways, with different capabilities. And the body will always gravitate toward the most efficient way for it to swing the club, which can be very ineffective if they are asking the body to move in ways it will not . So as teachers, we are working increasingly with that instead of attempting to force movements a player may not be able to maintain. Another trend in the game which will make it more fun is the acknowledgment that players are using the wrong set of tees, playing too long of a course for their skill level. More variety with the shorter sets of tees will make the game more fun with more appropriate shots asked of a player.
What sets you apart from other golf professionals?
My approach is to teach grip, starting position, and finishing position first, which in observing other teachers is a bit unique. This applies to full swing and short game. These are what George Knutsen referred to as “static” fundamentals, so they are easy for the student to execute. We prioritize the finishing position over backswing, transition, etc., because if one is focused on landing at the right place, the preceding movements WANT to be in the correct positions. It’s like a house with a good, level foundation–the walls WANT to go up plumb. In addition, those positions tend to be correct for that player’s physiological capabilities. All we do then is place the student’s natural swinging motion that they would use for any other activity onto that framework, and 90 percent of our work is done.
What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?
I am presently working on the transition from working out of a golf course to teaching out of my home, where we have a hitting cage and putting green, and can play shots from about 45 yards and in. While one would think it has limitations, they are few, because my assessment techniques and experience have gotten pretty good at connecting what the student tells me their ball flight issues are, and what I see. It is also much easier to use video in this setting. There are fewer distractions, and costs are much less.
What has been your most challenging experience with a student and how did you handle it? How did you overcome it?
I had an autistic young man with absolutely zero athletic or physical activity in his life who was completely uncoordinated with the golf club in his hands. But in our discussion, I pushed him until I learned that he could crack a whip. This gave me something I could work with to help him apply something he already knew to the golf swing, and immediately he began smacking that ball and the grin on his face told the whole story. I am constantly trying to find things people already know how to do and relating that to the golf swing, because people ALWAYS filter what they are told through what they have experienced. I once had a competitive skier whose experiences worked against him. He would not lead the downswing with his lower body despite several drills and explanations because in skiing, this was “separation”, which causes falls. Once we both recognized the filter, we made progress.
Any advice for someone considering pursuing a career as a golf teaching professional?
If one is interested in this career, count the cost. To get the experience needed and land in a tenable spot, relocation flexibility is a must. For me, my golf career began later in life and I did not have this flexibility, so my teaching career has been in a small market area with limited potential. It’s been a good experience, but in a small market area making a career from teaching is a low percentage proposition. Fortunately, I’ve had a previous career that my financial situation rests soundly upon.
Anything else you’d like to comment on while we have you?
An all too common mistake is the reluctance of golfers to invest in coaching. What sport do participants play without a coach? And a coach who is familiar with your game can correct “swing errors” that are not even “swing errors”, just personal idiosyncrasies that for some reason have changed, upsetting ball striking. Assigning even two or three lessons per season out of one’s golf budget would greatly improve the enjoyment of the game. Spending hundreds or thousands to attend a famous golf academy is not a good substitute for coaching, nor will books/videos accomplish what coaching will.