The GURU: Teaching & Coaching Golf with Jason Sutton

The GURU: Teaching & Coaching Golf with Jason SuttonWhen I first got the idea to write interviews with PGA teaching professionals, I never realized how many of these guys I was already friends with. Sometimes, when I interview a band, I need to work hard just to get a finger on the pulse of their main points of contact. So far (granted, this is only my second one) getting in touch with these golf guys hasn’t been a challenge. I actually have so many of these guys lined up I don’t know who to work with next! Anyway, the guy that I am sitting with today needs to introduction. He is the GURU of golf! That’s right, you heard me. This guy has branded himself as a guru and does a pretty good job living up to the expectations. He used to work at the Dana Rader Golf Schools, but recently took a job as the Director of Instruction at the Carmel Country Club in Charlotte, North Carolina. Jason is a good friend, and is always a text message (or a direct message) away. It is my absolute pleasure to be sitting down with a guru… Mr. Jason Sutton.

This has been a big year for you. You recently changed jobs. Tell me about your new job at the Carmel CC.

Yes, it has been a big year. I am now the Director of Instruction at Carmel CC. I am so excited for the opportunity to share my passion for helping people and create my own programs and schools for the membership to enjoy. They are so hungry for the opportunity to learn and enjoy the game. We have 1,350 members, 2 great golf courses and it is a very active membership. I have a dual bay learning center that I am looking forward to upgrading and putting my personal touch on which is very cool. The membership is dedicated to making the golf academy the best it can be and I am looking forward to seeing what I can do with it. It is a blank canvas right now. I am in charge of all the instruction, training of the staff and they are allowing me to be creative with the programs and new technology that I am bringing which is new and exciting for the club. I have been working and preparing for a job like this my entire career and I love it so far.

What were you doing before you came to Carmel CC?

I started out as an assistant professional at a couple of clubs in West Virginia learning the business. I moved to Charlotte in 1997 and was the Head Golf Professional at the NorthStone Club for 3 years. I quickly figured out that my passion was in teaching and coaching and not running the shop or merchandising. I started to pursue my passion for teaching when I joined the Dana Rader Golf Schools where I worked for 12 years. The ability to give a ton of lessons and learn from one of the best (Ms. Rader) was a huge step for me and my career.

Are you working more or less? I bet the lessons are more intimate at a country club.

Although I have more control over my schedule and can work whatever hours that I want, I am probably working more right now than I did before because I am new and that there is so much more that I have to do off of the lesson tee. I spend a lot of time creating schedules for schools and groups, coming up with different programs and just getting to know the members better. The big thing that I wanted to do was to be available for the members and show them that I care about them and their golf game. I have spent a lot of time at different club functions such as member guest and ladies golf luncheons meeting as many people as possible. Walking the practice tee introducing myself and giving out free advice when asked has been a big help. They seem to really appreciate it as the feedback has been very positive.

What’s the first lesson like for you? Walk me through the first hour with you.

Great question. The first 10 minutes I interview the student. I try to ask open ended questions in order to gain as much information that I can because that will steer me in the direction that I need to go with the individual. For example, what is your handicap? Do you have any physical limitations, medical history, etc.? What is your big miss or the shot that you want to get rid of? What ball flight do you desire? And most important, WHAT IS YOUR GOAL? I see too many teachers moving in the direction that the teacher wants to go instead of what the  student needs. This also lets the student know that I care about their aspirations and it gets them relaxed and comfortable being there. It is nerve racking for them to hit balls in front of a coach so I want them to feel comfortable with me.

Next I would video your swing or short game shot, putt, etc. and we would sit down and go through what I see and start to organize a plan of attack for the changes that I think we need to make that match your goal for the lesson. This is a critical stage because I don’t try to point out everything I see, just the vital few that I want to work on and I make sure I explain WHY we are making these changes so they make sense to the student. Then we go to work. I am a very hands on teacher. I like to manipulate the student into positions so that they feel the correct move or position. I think that this is a lost art with coaches and I think it is why I am able to get quick results. It allows me to get into the students learning style quicker as they see it on the video and feel it as I move them. Just telling them does very little as far as changing motor patterns. This also allows the student to give me constant feedback on their perception of what they feel. I can then use their words instead of just how I would describe the change. More of a student centered approach. I then give constant feedback on just the area that we are working on to keep them on task. I will subscribe a drill to work on and then finish up by sending the student their before and after video with voice over reiterating what we covered in the lesson. Allow them to ask questions to make sure there is no confusion and give them a glimpse of how the next few lessons will go. I.E. short game, putting on course. Serious students want a plan and it’s my job to give it to them. I can guarantee you will leave hitting the ball better and have a clear idea of what is going on when you don’t.

Are golfers that are not members at Carmel CC allowed to get lessons with you?

Yes. I can work with non-members. A lot of my students have followed me from my previous job, which has been nice. I have some mini-tour players and elite juniors that have been out to see me. My first priority is taking care of the members but it is nice to be able to fill in the gaps with some regulars that you have worked with for several years.

That golf course is gorgeous, by the way. Speaking of pretty golf courses, what’s the best course you have ever played? What did you shoot?

Wow, tough question. There are many on my list that I haven’t played. As for the ones I have played, my favorite is a tossup between Charlotte Country Club and Carmel South here at the Carmel CC. I am a traditionalist when it comes to courses. I don’t like the tricked up venues just the places that reward good golf. Honorable mention would be Grandfather Golf & Country Club, Diamond Creek and Quail Hollow Club. I think 69  is my low at Charlotte CC but I haven’t played it that often. I have only played the redesigned Carmel South once and it is spectacular. Career low is 65 back when I used to play a little more.

This is something I want to learn more about with the PGA teaching pros that I talk to. In your opinion, what’s the difference between teaching and coaching?

Great question. It is very much like the difference between blocked practice and random practice. This is  how I guide a student through the learning process. Teaching is helping the student make physical changes to their pattern (a swing change) which is very much a conscious part of the learning process. You have to think about the changes because they are new and not habitual. Coaching is more to do with helping them get the changes to the golf course (unconscious). Situational training: pre-shot routine, course management, helping them develop practice habits that match the way they play. Most teachers and students get stuck in blocked (mechanical) practice and never learn how to play the game. Great coaches also know how to motivate. When to be tough on their players and when to encourage. It is an acquired skill.  Expert coaches understand how to teach both. This is an area that I have tried to improve in and have seen better results especially in my tournament players.

You are a great writer. I have been following your blog for ages. When you sit down to write a new blog post, do you already know what you want to write about? Where does your motivation come from for a new post?

Thank you for the compliment. I enjoy writing and sharing. I usually get my ideas as I am on the lesson tee. When I am working with a student it usually just hits me and it eats at me until I write about it or shoot a video about it. I don’t plan very well like most bloggers which is why I tend to be streaky with my writing. I once wrote 20 blogs in 20 days (“20 days with the Guru”) just to get some momentum and to see if I could write something meaningful for that many days. I also get ideas from other coaches and blogs that I follow.

You know me and Tiger go way back… do you think he will break Jack’s record?

You are the biggest Tiger fan I have ever met, that’s for sure. I know he has had his struggles but I believe if he can stay healthy into his late 40s that he will break the record. He is starting to show signs of improvement especially in the Presidents Cup. If he would come and take a putting lesson from me I think he would for sure; just kidding. He is just too talented not to win at least 5 more.

You recently had a day with John Graham. Tell me more about that experience and what you learned from using the Aim Point Technologies.

John is great. One of the smartest coaches out there and he has really embraced AimPoint Technologies and taken it to another level. AimPoint is a green reading system that allows you to make a few calculations, look at a chart and figure out exactly how much your putt will break. Mark Sweeney is a genius for coming up with it and I am honored to be getting certified to teach the system. John did my training and I will be officially certified in the spring. As for what I learned… it is not as difficult as I thought it would be and it doesn’t take as much time to do once you develop a few basic skills and practice. Spending time with John is always great as we are able to share ideas about coaching. He keeps me on my toes and I am so much better because of the time that we spend together.

Starting with the driver and working your way through the rest of the bag, including the golf ball, what’s in your bag?

I am a Titleist Staff Member.

  • Driver – 910D3 10.5 with a Diamana white board stiff shaft
  • 3W – 910 Fd 15 degree
  • Hybrid – 910h 17 degree
  • Irons – CB forged 4 – pw
  • Wedges – Vokey (50, 56 and 60 degree SM4 series)
  • Putter – Coutour Bolt custom putter (33.25 length/365g head)
  • Golf Ball – Pro V1x (with Guru on the side)

You have seen a ton of success with Twitter. I have the mentality “don’t think, just tweet”. You seem to have the same sort of thought process. I love it! Outside of Twitter, are there any other social media sites that you have seen success in?

Thanks; yes I am a random tweeter… very similar to my blogging style. I use what I call the “four corners of social media”. Facebook, Twitter, WordPress and YouTube.

YouTube has been my biggest success coupled with my blog. 2 years ago, I created my own TV show called “Guru TV” which has been very popular among my students and even across the world. I picked up a lot of business because of someone checking out my videos or reading my blog. That has been very flattering. I probably spend more time on Twitter talking to other coaches and sharing information. I use Facebook to promote my blog and videos, but YouTube seems to be the most popular. So many golfers are spending time on the computer looking for free tips so I have no problem providing them with good information. It gives them some insight into what I am like and makes me more real and accessible. I try to convey that the videos are just ideas; you have to actually see me in person to get the good stuff. Social media has changed the game, that’s for sure. Students want you to be available and I have no problem with that. To be successful you have to be there and I want to be where the people are.

I know you like wine. What’s your favorite wine?

I enjoy trying different wines but I always tend to go back to a few of my favorites. I like Italian wines such as Monte Antico. French wine… anything Cotes du Rhone region is solid. My favorite right now is Louis M. Martini cab Napa Valley 2008 and Bridgeman Cab (Washington).

You are a D-Plane certified instructor. What does that mean? I am not sure I have seen that before.

That is a certification that Rich Hunt ( came up with for instructors that understand D-Plane and that use the principles in their teaching. D-Plane (descriptive plane) is simply  3D ball flight. It’s what happens when the ball and clubface collide. Understanding correctly what creates ball flight is imperative for any instructor. It has allowed me to make the correct changes in the right order much faster than ever before. TrackMan and launch monitors have allowed us to confirm these ideas much more accurately so there is much less guessing for the teacher. It is currently the only list that I am on so I think it is pretty cool.

Do you do playing lessons?

Yes, as much as I can. I think it is helpful for me as a coach to see how my students play on the course because we don’t always get the entire picture of the their games on the practice tee. It is also a place where I can help them with their mental games and course management. I like to include at least 2 hours out of 8 lessons on course if possible.

What’s The Guru Project?

The Guru Project was an idea that I had to try to help a certain golfer that lived far away and couldn’t come and see me. I had him shoot video of each are of his game and I basically gave him a virtual lesson. I sent video of me demonstrating what I wanted him to work on with drills and such. Kind of a Haney project, over the internet. It went pretty well as he improved. Still not as good as the real thing, but it was fun. I need to do another one.

Golf pros are always teaching… but I bet you are always learning too. I am sure you have had some golf lessons in your life. What teaching pros have you worked with in the past?

I think taking lessons is a great way to learn. It helps me to be in the shoes of my students and reminds me of how hard this game really is and how hard it is to make a swing change. I haven’t taken as many lessons as I would have liked but I have observed tons of top teachers giving lessons. I have worked with Todd Sones and Mike Shannon on putting. I have worked with Kevin Sprecher, Jason Carbone, and Dana Rader… of course. Jim McLean, Charlie King, Chuck Evans, Jim Hardy, Chuck Cook, and Martin Hall have had a tremendous influence on me. There are so many more that I didn’t mention but I have either spent time with, watched them present or watched video of them teaching. Then of course there are my guys on Twitter. John Graham (@JohnGrahamGolf), Jason Helman (@jasonhelmangolf), John Dochety (@johndochety), Dennis Sales (@DennisSalesGolf), Sara Dickson (@Sara_PGA) and Rob McGill (@GolfProRob). Just too many to list. I have learned so much from all of these guys and continue to do so.

You have been nominated three times for the Top 100 teacher list by Golf Magazine. What’s holding you back? Why aren’t you on that list?

Good question. I wish I knew. I feel like that I am talented enough to be on that list and should be on it, but I guess it just isn’t my time yet. There are so many teachers that could be on there that aren’t. The feedback I have received from the magazine is that I need to write a book which I am in the process of doing and the fact that I haven’t won teacher of the year in my section, which I have been nominated 6 or or so times (lost count)… so I can understand that. I just keep trying to improve my skills and help my students and the lists will take care of themselves. If it is meant to be it will happen but I don’t think it defines my career, although it would be nice to be recognized.

I know there are 100 guys on that list, but in your honest opinion, from what you know about the game of golf, who is the best teacher in the world and why?

Wow, tough question. I think there are too many variables to figure out who is the best, because the playing field is not level. We are all teaching different students. It is tough to track who is getting better and who is not. Are the best teachers the ones with the high profile tour players, I don’t necessarily think so. There is probably some guy in parts unknown who doesn’t care about or even knows about the top 100 list who is getting incredible results from his players. My philosophy is if your students are getting better, you are a great teacher. If they are not, you need to change what you are doing. So if I had to pick one guy  it would be…? Why not the Guru? I don’t know, too tough to call.

Did you play high school and college golf?

Yes. I started playing when I was 12. I played in high school and then went on to play at Glenville State College in West Virginia.

I am not familiar with the Tarheel Tour. Is that a North Carolina thing?

It is. Probably the fastest growing mini-tour. It is right up there with the Hooters Tour as far as talent. There are PGA tour winners playing out there such as Tad Fujikawa, Erik Axley. Tommy Gainey played out there before getting his card. Great breeding ground for young aspiring tour players.

You know, it’s pretty neat to open a golf magazine and see your face there attributed to an article. What magazines do you write for, and how do you land a gig like that? That’s pretty cool!

For the past 3 years I have written full time for Golf Illustrated which has been very cool. I do a big article a year and write a bi-monthly column as well. I have written for other small mags and websites as well, like PubLinks Magazine, Metrolina Golf, The Turn Magazine, and Trying to break into the bigger ones so if you have any connections help a brother out.

Are you playing a lot of golf these days?

I play mostly with my 10 year old son, who has really started to enjoy the game. That has been a blast. I don’t play as many section events as I used to because of my busy teaching schedule, but I miss that part of the business. I love to compete so hopefully with my new position I can play a few more tournaments. We will see.

Will I see you in Orlando at the 2012 PGA Merchandise Show?

Absolutely. I use the PGA Merchandise Show mostly to network, catch up with other pros and see the latest and greatest training aids. Of course I can’t miss the annual “tweetup”. That’s where we first met. I also am getting ready to join the Golf Business Network, so I look forward to the educational opportunities that will bring at the PGA Show.

You do a lot of speaking engagements. Do you get nervous before you get up there to talk? You are an expert in this (or a guru I should say), so I would imagine it comes naturally.

I am glad you asked that because although I consider myself a decent speaker, it wasn’t always that way. I consider myself a trained extrovert, which means that I have worked extremely hard on my presentation skills. I use to be so backward and shy that you wouldn’t believe it. My wife likes to tell the story of when I wouldn’t even order food at the drive through at McDonald’s because I was so shy. But I knew that to reach my goals as a top teacher that I had to improve in that area so I took classes from places like Toastmasters International. I practiced in the mirror. I videotaped myself teaching and giving presentations (which I highly recommend) until I started to improve. I have a long way to go but no I was not a natural. I still get nervous, but I enjoy it now because it is such a part of my job. The best advice I can give anyone is to practice and prepare. You are only nervous if you are not prepared or not comfortable with the material you are presenting.

I see you have a ton of blogs in your blogroll. Do you read all of those? (I really like John Graham’s blog.) I try to keep up with most of them but mostly I just want to help others get exposure to their stuff.

Yeah, John’s blog is high on my list. His is packed with tons of great info.

Are you TPI certified?

I am not. I have been to enough seminars and worked with certified trainers to effectively screen my students, which I feel is important. I send my students to a certified TPI fitness trainer because he has more time to work with their bodies. I just give him feedback on what I need them to do and he helps their bodies do it. I used to think I could make my students do anything but if there are weak links physically, they can’t make the change. Great stuff for sure.

I know you just got started at the Carmel CC, but what’s next for you? What’s the immediate future hold for Jason Sutton?

Good question. I am so blessed to be at Carmel. I could definitely see myself finishing my career there, but you never know. I just want to keep getting better and improving. I want to get more involved in the education of young teachers whether it’s in the PGA or some other realm because I really enjoy the mentoring process and giving back. I want to finish my book and I would love to travel all over the world and teach. In the meantime, I am just focusing on helping the student in front of me get better.

Jason, it’s been so much fun talking with you. You are an inspiration, and a great friend. I appreciate the time! In all of the interviews that I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.

My goal is to leave a legacy so that my family will be proud of all of the hard work that I have put in over the years. I don’t want to ever get complacent in my work or my life but always strive to get better. My goal is to be in as many testimonies as possible because that would mean that I might have helped someone reach their goals just like all of the people that helped me along the way. Ricky, thanks so much for allowing me to share my story. You are the best and keep up the great work.

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