Rick Flagler - Five Ponds Golf Club/Flagler Golf Academy
I am located at Five Ponds Golf Club in Warminster PA and it is run by Spirit Golf Management. I may be biased but Five Ponds is by far one of the best Public Courses in the Philadelphia area. Spirit Golf Management is owned and operated by PGA Professionals, so they get it. It has a full driving range, huge practice putting green a very nice short game area and the playing conditions are excellent. It offers more than some Private Clubs in our area.
This is my 3rd season being located at Five Ponds and the Management and Staff have been exceptionally accommodating to me and what I need to be a successful Teaching Professional.
How old were you when you got started in golf and what eventually pulled you into becoming a golf professional?
My path is probably different than most PGA Professionals. I did not start playing golf until I was 23 years old. I played multiple sports in High School and then played small College Baseball. After graduating college I still had the urge to play sports. It had been such a big part of my life growing up. I gravitated to golf because I could practice and play on my own schedule. Then I got hooked, my wife might say obsessed.
After playing for years and getting pretty decent at the game I decided to change careers. I was tired of sitting behind a desk, and with the support of my wife, I got into the PGA Program. When I decided to become a PGA Professional I knew right away what my career choice was going to be. I did not want to be a Head Professional, I wanted to be a Teaching Professional. I was fascinated with trying to understand the swing and the cause and affect concept of why certain things happened during the swing.
How do you stay current with the latest developments in teaching methods?
The Philadelphia Section does a great job of providing Teaching Seminars during the off season. Whether it is top Instructors from our Section or top 100 Instructors from across the country. I try and attend multiple Seminars every off season.
I also read multiple golf publications, watch Instructional based shows and virtual seminars as well.
What are 2 trends in golf that you’re excited about?
I know the USGA is up in arms about distance, but I think it is great. They fail to recognize that Golf Professional, especially Tour Professionals are athletes now and are training to be able to create more club head speed. This is for both men’s and women’s Tours. Working your tail off to become more proficient in what you do should not be penalized.
I also think the Technology in golf, if utilized properly, is great. It may be overwhelming for a high handicaps or beginner, but it can be greatly beneficial when trying to fine tune and experienced player. However when the data gets quantified and we can see averages that are coming out from both men’s and women’s Tours I believe we can use that data to help confirm what we are trying to Teach our high handicap and beginning golfers.
Do you specialize in teaching any facets of the game?
Because of the facility that I am at I have the ability to Teach all facets of the game which is great. However, I would say 85 to 90 percent of my time is spent Teaching the full swing.
There are a few things that I focus on. We have the staples, grip, stance, posture and alignment, these are a given. From there I believe the swing should be an athletic motion. Most people have played other sports at some point in time, trying to find the similarities between golf and the sport they played helps to speed up the learning curve. From this point we work the sequencing of the swing, what has to happen and at what time during the swing.
I also like to focus on Impact. Position of the body at impact and how the club should be interacting with the ball and the ground. It is amazing how many people believe you are supposed to try and lift the ball off of the ground instead of compressing it.
What sets you apart from other golf professionals?
I have been told numerous times that I have a ton of patience and I explain things in away that is easier for them to understand. Obviously I take that as a compliment. Not playing as a child, I just remember how hard it was to get good at this game. In the beginning I could not afford to practice, play and get lessons. So coming from a sports background I practiced and played thinking I could figure it out. I remember going down that rabbit hole, reading all the magazines and books that I could get my hands on. Going to the range with swing thoughts from 20 different instructors, it was chaos. It is much like that today with everyone going on YouTube. The information is and was great, but I had no idea how to dissect. There was no one there to ask questions to, no follow up. In hindsight I should have just gotten lessons and practiced in the beginning.
So when I have a student come to me and start talking about what they saw on You Tube and how confused they are, I have empathy for them. From there it is my goal to help to answer their questions and breakdown the confusion.
What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?
I invested in a Teaching Studio a couple of years ago. When I moved to Five Ponds the only one draw back was that they do not have any covered area. The previous facility I was at had a Teaching Studio, it was the primary reason I went there. It allowed me the ability to Teach almost year, except on the coldest of days. Once it closed I knew I still had to find away to Teach during the off season.
My first winter went better than I expected and the second season was going even better until COVID hit. Then everything shut down for a couple of months.
I have no idea when this COVID pandemic is going to break, but once it does I am hoping I can continue to grow my off season lessons.
What has been your most challenging experience with a student and how did you handle it? How did you overcome it?
I would have to say that my most challenging experience has also been my most gratifying experience. I am the co-chair/co-lead instructor for PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) Philadelphia. It is a national program by the PGA and my previous facility was the first to host it.
It is a program for our Military Veterans and Wounded Military Veterans. Whether it is trying to help out Veterans with prosthetics or PTSD, finding ways to help these heroes swing a club and play this great game of golf has been challenging and gratifying all at the same time.
Do you actively play competitive golf? Any recent bragworthy performances you’d like to share?
I played more competitive golf before I got in the business. I will play a few tournaments a year, but in season I Teach 7 days a week. It is very difficult to keep an active Tournament schedule when Teaching everyday. Even when I was at a Private Club, it was one of the few that actually stayed open everyday.
Working everyday was just a decision I made to help support my family, trust me I love what I do, so I do not necessarily feel like I am missing out on anything.
Is there a highlight from your career in golf that stands out above the rest?
I am not sure that I can say just one. I am very proud of the fact that once obtaining my PGA Membership I continued my education and became a Certified PGA Instructor. Not everyone can say that.
I also got to go to the PGA Championship last year at Bethpage with a Team from our PGA HOPE program and play against other teams from around the country. We got to do it on the Monday of PGA Championship week. It was a great honor.
Playing wise I have a double eagle/albatross, I holed out my second shot on a par 5. Unfortunately I don’t have any hole in ones, but I at least get to hang my hat on that double eagle.
Any advice for someone considering pursuing a career as a golf teaching professional?
I have been very fortunate to be around and work for some of the top Teachers in our section, in our state and also a Top 100 instructor. In the beginning acquire knowledge. Go to seminars, do research, see if top Instructors in your section will allow you to watch them give a lesson. If you can meet with them on their schedule, some of the top Instructors can be very generous with their time and knowledge.
From there you need to formulate your own philosophy and style. You don’t necessarily need to copy someone else’s style, you need to be genuine to who you are.
However, I really do believe you need to have your own philosophy. You need to have a concept of the golf swing, this will allow you to help someone right away. From there you need to evaluate your student and see what they can and can’t do. If they have a disability how do you work around it or with it.
I love going to seminars to acquire more knowledge, but I also will pick and choose what information I deem usable.
The last thing you want is to constantly be changing you message to your students. Just because you went to a Stack & Tilt seminar or read a book about about a single plane or two plane swing are you going to change everything you do. I hope not.
I also believe you need to be able to Teach without Technology. You need to be able to train your eyes. Trust me I love some of the Technology and the data it can give you. But if your in a playing lesson with a student and don’t have your Tech all set up, how are you going to help them if you haven’t established a good philosophy and a well trained eye.