Learning from one of Canada’s Top Instructors with Jason Helman

Learning from one of Canada's Top Instructors with Jason HelmanThis guy lives up north… way north. He lives in Canada. He is actually one of the top instructors in Canada, and is just killing it with his social media efforts. He had a great 2011, and is ready to start 2012 on the right foot. He is the Director of Instruction at Wyndance Golf Club, and is a member of the PGA of Canada. Oh yeah, and he was the 2010 PGA of Canada and PGA of Ontario Teacher of the Year. He is also a PGA and the LPGA instructor and truly understands what it takes to raise the bar for his students. From lessons, clinics and camps, this guy is always available to help you get better at the game. I look up to this guy on so many levels… it is my absolute pleasure to introduce you to Jason Helman.

I’m starting to get the hang of these PGA professional interviews. There is so much I want to know about Jason Helman. Where do we begin… well, let’s start with your career of choice? What made you want to get into golf?

Well, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do after graduating high school but in 1991 I tripped across an advertisement in Golf Digest for the San Diego Golf Academy, now the Golf Academy of America offering a degree program.  I was already working at a resort that owned a course and I was helping manage the day-to-day operations so, I figured I would turn pro. The program and education I received was phenomenal. I still have many of those relationships today.

You are all over Twitter. Did you enjoy 7 Nights At The Twitter Academy?

I’m very active with social media; I really enjoy Twitter. It has led me to some amazing people in the golf industry such as John Graham and Jason Sutton to name a couple… and the rest of the 7 Nights At The Twitter Academy team.

The Project – “7 Nights At The Twitter Academy” that I developed and put together involved an entire team of people. Rob McGill, Sara Dickson, Jason Sutton, Andrew Marr, Kirk Oguri and Dennis Sales. I came up with the idea after hearing an ad for the Golf Channel’s preview and thought to myself why don’t we do this on Twitter? So, I recruited 7 Coaches from across North America, put a few movie trailers together for the show, sent them the agenda and we were off producing and tweeting about it.  It wasn’t really to rival the Golf Channel; they have a slightly larger budget than us but it was a huge success. We managed 1,719 video views in total for the first week by just posting the unlisted videos on Twitter. In the second week, we blew the videos up on our blogs and Facebook pages and the views tallied up to 2,485. This was kind of a social media experiment as well, to see just how and what works best to get our message out to our clients, golfers and fellow professionals. The videos will be public very soon.

You said “take the “hit” out of the chip” in your video from 7 Nights At The Academy. Past watching the video, what exactly does taking the “hit” out of chip do?

Over the past 19 years I continuously see people trying to make a full golf swing within their short game in an abbreviated, often, inconsistent tempo. They get to the top of a back swing, then they realize they’ve gone too far back, slow down as a reaction then speed up at the bottom. Instinctively, they use their hands and wrists as leverage, to gain speed after they’ve slowed down which turns into more of a “hitting” movement as the majority of the rest of the body has ceased to engage, or essentially stops. If I can get players to use their body parts in the correct sequence they will be able to achieve more solid shots versus this type of segmented motion.

Wait a second… you were the 2010 PGA of Canada Teacher of the Year? That’s pretty sweet. Did winning that affect your lessons at all? How did they deliver the news?

Yes, I was much busier this year and I have a lot of new customers. I got a phone call on a Monday night in February. I was grocery shopping and I almost didn’t answer the call as it was only a 5 digit number that showed up on my mobile, so I thought it was a telemarketer, but, luckily, I picked it up anyway, on the other end was the PGA of Canada President, Glenn Cundari. He was happy to advise me that I had won the coveted award. We had a brief chat, I thanked him and the selection panel and had to sit on it for 7 days until they released their press release which actually gave me time to do my own as well, then of course straight to the social media platforms. I was allowed to tell a few people so of course I called my parents up and texted a few close friends immediately.

By the way, I like that belt buckle.

Thanks; gotta represent. Callaway has been great to me.

Not too many left-handed players out there. Is it weird hitting from the other side of the ball? (I’m right handed… if you couldn’t tell!)

Actually, in Canada this isn’t as much of a rarity as it is in the USA. Our past time is hockey and the majority of players are left-handed and the motion or movement simply carries forward into golf for the most part; it’s in our DNA. But golf is booming here. I read an article this summer that stated more people in Canada play golf than they do hockey. 7 out of 10 times I get the old joke, “Oh you stand on the wrong side of the ball.” So, whenever someone let’s me know that I’m on the wrong side of the ball. I’m quick to call them out and ask them how many right-handed Masters champions from Canada are there? “Pardon,” did you say, “None. I think it is you that is on the wrong side of the ball,” with a small chuckle and grin. Although, I find it way easier to teach right-handers as I can stand opposite them and they can mirror me. I have a great title for my book that will hopefully be finished soon that will touch a little on this issue.

Callaway hat… Callaway shirt. Let me guess… they sponsor you?

Callaway has been very supportive. I’ve been with them for the last 5 years. Thanks to Scott, Preben, Tally and Barry. I hope I can do more with them. I would love to do a series of instructional videos in the future. Cross your fingers.

Where are you originally from?

I was born in Ottawa and then we moved to a very small town called Westport where I grew up. Population 700 at the time.

Tell me a little bit more about Tip It Up Golf Talk Radio.

I did a few radio shows as a golf insider but found it starting to get tough to stay in the media spotlight, so I figured I’d start my own radio show. It’s fun and I do it all from my home office, wait, I mean in a big radio studio. (Laughs.) I defer and bow to the power of my Mac. I choose the people I want to interview. All the shows are pre-recorded a couple of days ahead, so they’re “live to air”. I have a lengthy list of contacts and respected people within the industry and try to align myself with people that are willing to reciprocate in building our brands or businesses together. I’m going to start uploading them to iTunes very soon.

I would love to be on that show! Anyway, I’m looking through your blogroll… there are some pretty great blogs on there. I LOVE  John Graham’s blog. Do you read all of those on a regular basis?

I’m happy to give some blogroll love. If you’re listed on my blogroll it’s a huge sign of respect, admiration or in some cases reciprocation. John is a great guy. I’m happy to call him more than just my colleague; he’s my friend, and we did an AimPoint Technologies clinic together this year. It was the first one ever to be scheduled in the Toronto area. I try and read as much as possible, but as you know, “content is king”, so I’m fairly busy with my own projects trying to keep up with the Jones’ so to speak or the Graham’s and Guru’s in this case (wink, wink!)

Starting with your driver, what’s in your bag? I even want to know what golf ball you play!

Well, of course you’re going to see a little Callaway represented here:

  • Driver – Callaway RAZR Hawk 9.5 Tour (with an Accra M5 S3 Dymatch (75g) shaft)
  •  3W – RAZR Hawk Tour (with an Accra Accra M5 S3 Dymatch (85g) shaft)
  • 2H – Diablo hybrid (18 degree) (with an Accra Accra M5 S3 Dymatch (95g) shaft)
  • 3 iron – RAZR X Forged Cavity – KBS – Xflex
  • 4 – PW – RAZR X Tour Prototype – KBS Xflex
  • SW (56) – 10 bounce & LW (60) 8 bounce – Jaws X-Series – KBS Hi-Rev shafts
  • Putter(s) – Odyssey Black Series #1 Wide or #2
  • Ball – Callaway Tour iS

What’s your favorite golf course? You are NOT allowed to say Wyndance G.C.

Well, that’s good this opens it up to North America. I was narrowed down to Canada on the Morning Drive when Erik light heatedly jumped on me for picking my own course. It really is a tremendous test and property that Mr. Greg Norman sculpted together. Okay, I will have to go with the Olympic Club in San Francisco. A friend of mine was an assistant there and I was fortunate to play both courses. The Cliffs course is probably the most fun par 3 course that I’ve played in the world. I actually had so much fun I played it again… picture perfect ocean views, double tees and double greens; it was a cool experience.

If you meant in Canada, I will go with Bigwin Island Golf Club, a Doug Carrick design fun to play and from a picturesque standpoint it’s amazing. The National Golf Club of Canada for the tougher test of golf; it’s been ranked #1 for I don’t know how many years.

Speaking of Wyndance, do you get to play a lot of golf being the Director of Instruction?

It depends. As you know it’s a short window here in Canada to earn revenue. I try and play in as many men’s nights at the club as possible. I look at that day as my day off. I guess I probably play about 20 full rounds a year with some late evening 9 hole rounds here and there. For the most part I spend the majority of my time coaching.

Let’s say I wanted to book a lesson with you. What’s that first lesson like?

Well, I would let you know that I don’t teach “lessons”, I provide “coaching sessions”. This concept or paradigm shift has to change for golfers. People need to understand that taking a “lesson” really isn’t going to make much of a difference in their game.  I’m trying to get golfers to comprehend that they should be adopting a coaching model.  I recently wrote a practice article that will be out this season that discusses a similar comparison to this concept. I will not be offering a single session option this year within my academy.

As for your first coaching session, firstly there’s an intake form for you to fill out and then we do a short interview with a series of questions pertaining to how long you’ve played, short term goals, self correction attempts, pertinent injuries, and other questions that I routinely go through to interact and engage with the student. We then move onto a short athletic screening followed by the student showing me their current talent level.  I usually have them hit six shots.  After that I have a pretty good idea of what direction I want to go with the student. Depending on what we’re doing I will sometimes have a fun little match against them at the end of the session.

 You are all over the place… you were recently on Golf Channels hit show the “Morning Drive”. I LOVE those guys. What was that experience like? (I feel like I’m interviewing a celebrity here!)

I graduated from the Golf Academy of America and came down to speak for about 6 hours to 6 individual classes. We parlayed it into a couple of other visits to ESPN Radio and the “Morning Drive” was certainly a highlight of 2011 without question. The people at the Golf Channel were awesome! I was kind of nervous, but simply tried to think that I was just sitting down with the guys talking golf.  I’ve been on TV before but they advised me I was giving a tip about an hour before the show when I was sitting in the green room. The studio is very small; it’s definitely not super safe to swing a club. So, with the “safety first” mentality, I decided on a short game bump and run shot so we didn’t take out a flat screen.  Everyone was very friendly and accommodating they made me feel just like I was part of their team and wow did 6 minutes go by fast… seemed like 30 seconds. I hope I get to do it again. We’ll see.  I’m working on that celebrity status. One of my goals in life or golf is to leave a long lasting memory on the sport and be one of the most prominent teachers to ever come out of Canada. It’s a process but I will get there.

What’s the Digital Golf Coach?

This is a new piece of equipment that I’m going to start training my athletes with. It can do a variety of things that I know will assist players in developing skills faster. It helps with developing putting feel as well as sequence or pattern training in the swing. You can use it to train with specific clubs, positions and/or swing techniques, and practice rhythm and tempo with the metronome functionality or play a practice round with it to capture the data and come up with real raw data of what you do during a round versus what you accomplish on the range range. It also has the ability to upload the data to a digital web portal for the coach to analyze the information even if he/she wasn’t present during your practice. Through the use of more advanced software on the portal, the golfer can see his or her swing through 3D animations. No doubt, It has a cool factor but the information it provides the golfer will far outweigh that in results.

You are a member of the Golf Business Network. How has being affiliated with those guys helped you grow as an instructor?

The Golf Business Network is an organization that specifically identifies the necessities required for specific categories of the golf industry and they provide valuable information and seminars that help members of those specific categories grow or develop their business model.

Will we see you at the 2012 PGA Merchandise Show?

You bet! I will also be there for the #tweetup #2012!

You look good in green… nearly all of your magazine covers you’re wearing a green shirt!

Thanks… I’m not even Irish! (Laughs.) I’m of Scottish/German heritage. It wasn’t really feasible for me to fly down to Florida for the last cover so we got approval from a previous shoot to use those photos. I have a running joke with one of the girls (Sarah) that I used to work with at the club that I wore it just for her because she likes lime green shirts on me too. I sent her a couple of signed copies just for fun. I guess I’ll have to do another photo shoot with some new headshots.

You have a degree in Professional Golf Management. Where did you go to school? Did you play golf in college?

I had originally been accepted to a couple of universities here in Canada to play football and go through to be a school teacher. I was a quarterback but certainly had the foresight to see what the future might offer given my size, 5’9, 185, quick with a good arm but also a realist. I was more the Doug Flutie style but I could see the forest through the trees. So, I took a year off and figure out what I wanted to do in life. I saw an ad in Golf Digest as mentioned above and I chose to attend The Golf Academy of America and choose golf as my passion to follow.  It was a great experience and if anyone wants to get into the golf business I would recommend they enroll in this program. I learned and gained so much from the instructors and coaches at this college. Brad Turner, Charlie King, and the late Coach Conrad Rehling were all mentors to me in a variety of facets that relate to the industry.

What does being a class “A” member mean?

In my opinion, becoming a Class “A” Member of the alliance of PGA’s certainly proves that you were willing to complete a program and achieve a higher education in industry knowledge. An apprentice in any trade always strives to complete the set program, it provides the ability to earn more money, earn higher job positions, gain a certain amount of respect and support within your industry as a member of the organization. Here in the PGA of Canada we have candidates for Membership and Assistants, once you earn your Class “A” certification you become an official member of the association.

There are a LOT of great PGA teaching professionals out there. Putting the top 100 list aside, who is the best teacher in the world?

That’s kind of a loaded question. There are a number of them that are great marketers and brand builders. I don’t really favorite one teacher over another. I think the best teacher in the world is the one that can communicate, bond, build relationships, develop and present clear concise concepts and information to their students in a fun, creative learning environment so that we can continue to grow the game and our students continue to love the game.

What does it take to hold PGA TOUR credentials? Do you have to apply for that every year?

The tour sends them to you every year but you have to have a player on the PGA, Nationwide or Champions Tour that you work with. Yes, your player applies for them every year and signs off on the paper work to the tour headquarters and they issue your new one.

Speaking the TOUR, what player(s) have you worked with on TOUR? Do you follow them to events or just coach from home?

I’ve worked with several players over the years. Tyler Martin, Bryn Parry, Keith Nolan, Sara Brown, Alana Johnson, Seema Sadekar, Stacey Bieber and Rebecca Lee Bentham to name a few. And it depends… I’ve traveled regionally if their close by the area or they’ve flown me to events such as US Open Sectionals or other big events. I also Skype with them, usually just to share lots of positive thoughts and re-assurance as well as Facebook, Twitter or the old school text message. But, nothing is better than being there for the hands on experience if it’s cost feasible.

Calling text messaging old school… I love it! You are all over social media outlets… you even blog. In your opinion, how has that changed the way your business operates? How has the Internet changed the face of the golf industry?

Well, if you’re not participating in the social media arena in this day and age, you’re in the dark ages. I’ve set aside time every Monday morning during the season to accomplish or keep up with this side of the marketing/communication or attend to new business. As for changing the industry, there’s a lot more information out there for golf that’s for sure and if you’re not one of the people presenting or engaging the very people that are seeking the information I’m afraid you’re going to be left behind.  The customer will simply seek out other information providers and your potential client may have just clicked on your competitor’s site.

I know you have a Swinkey… what color? Mine’s pink!

Mine is tile wrapped with my company logo. Are you surprised? I didn’t think so. (Laughs.)

Do you listen to music when you practice?

I don’t listen to music when I practice. One would have to have enough time to actually practice for me to do that. My “to do” list is way too long. I probably had 2 quality practice sessions last season where I actually had the opportunity to focus.

What’s a lesson (coaching session) with you cost? Do you set your prices, or does the facility? 

As mentioned earlier, I won’t be offering any lessons. If someone wants a single it will probably be something like $250/hour for a couple of reasons. One, I’m not interested in teaching one off band aid sessions and it’s my objective to steer people to a learning/coaching model. My coaching plans will be 3 Month, 6 Month or 12 Month plans. I set my own pricing according to the other facilities within the current model of the club and other pros in the area. You get what you pay for in this world.

Do you do playing lessons?

Yes, more and more people are finally finding that these are more beneficial than range practice. I find myself coaching more on the course than on the range every year. This is where the game is played and this is where people should learn after they have developed some of the skill sets we worked on or patterned.

You are a pretty active member of the Business of Golf Instruction on Facebook. Have you learned anything in the group? What value do you see in sharing all of that information?

I really like that group. Most of the people that participate are friendly and willing to share their ideas. I try and help as much as possible where I can in expressing some of my experiences over the years and hopefully some of the group members can benefit from that knowledge. I have learned a few things and tried to incorporate some of those ideas into my business in order to grow my customer base as different things work better for certain demographics.

What’s next for Jason Helman… what does 2012 have in store for you, your golf game, and for Jason Helman Golf?

Well, 2012 got off to a good start. I was named to the Top 50 US Kids Instructor Honorable Mention worldwide list and while this is certainly an achievement being one of the few Canadians named to this list, I’m still striving for the top. So, one of the goals for next year will be to move up a list to the US Kids Top 50 Teacher List. I have a number of things/goals to accomplish for 2012, setting up a school in the USA and China, finish and launch my book, do another episode of “7 Nights At The Twitter Academy”, attain a couple of more tour players, attend a couple of trade shows, booking some corporate outings, the PGA of Canada Coach of the Year award is on my radar, try and line up some speaking engagements for social media and instructor business development.

I will shut up now… but I could talk to you all day buddy! Thank you so much for taking part in this. That was a lot of fun. In all of the interviews that I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.

I’m sure we’ll have lots of time to chat at the tweet up and PGA Merchandise Show. I had a great time and thank you for the support. If any other professionals would like to partner up with a clinic or school I’d be happy to join forces. Having said that if any fellow professionals require any opinions or assistance I have an open door, open contact policy, feel free to drop me a line. #howgolfprosroll

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