Improving Impact & Lowering Scores with Sara Dickson

Improving Impact & Lowering Scores with Sara Dickson

I’ve known Sara Dickson for a long time. I can’t tell you how we met, but I am glad we did. She is a rock star on Twitter, and is one of the most passionate teaching professionals I have ever met. She is always working, and always has a smile on her face. She can seriously light up a room when she walks in. I only get to see her once a year, at the PGA Merchandise Show, but every time I see her we hug, laugh, and chat about… well, not a lot. We are so connected on Twitter, we might as well live next door to one another! Oh, and speaking of Twitter, make sure you follow her. Her handle is @Sara_PGA and she is eager to tweet you. (See what I did there? Not MEET you, but TWEET you!) Fine, I will admit it. I AM jealous she has more followers than me. But I don’t want to talk about it. This interview is a LONG time coming, and I am glad that she took the time to stop working and chat with me. We talk about all things golf, and I am so excited to introduce you to Sara Dickson, the hardest working professional in the greatest game ever played. (Oh, and I will warn you… she might use hashtags during this interview. You have been warned!)

This has been a long time coming. How have you been doing? Have you been playing a lot of golf?

Thank you for the opportunity, Ricky! I always enjoy reading these interviews and thank you for thinking of me.

Everything is great! I am back in Naples at Stonebridge Country Cub for the winter season. I’ve been playing and practicing when time allows and was happy to play in some great PGA section tournaments and open events up in the Metropolitan Section last summer.

You are originally from Rhode Island. That’s a pretty small state. How many golf courses are there in Rhode Island and have you played them all?

Surprisingly, there are a lot of golf courses in Rhode Island. I would say there are at least over 50. Amongst my favorites are Newport Country Club, Wannamoisset Country Club and Warwick Country Club. However; I’d be remiss if I did not mention a nearby executive course called Firefly in Massachusetts where I grew up hand picking the range and playing until dark for years.

Did you play golf in high school and college?

Yes, I did. In high school I was the only girl the golf team for four years. I remember I almost stopped playing golf because I was embarrassed to carry my golf bag into school. Golf wasn’t very cool at the time. Fortunately, I had a great high school coach and swing instructor in high school, both of whom helped me play at the college level. After high school, I went to Methodist University for their Professional Golf Management program. While there, I was a member of the women’s golf team that has currently won NCAA III Nationals for fifteen years in a row now. I had the opportunity to travel to two championships and have two championship rings… in a safe spot… I’m just not quite sure where they are right now!

Playing high school and college golf were a lot of fun. I also learned so much about life and became much more humble, understanding and appreciative of the success I experienced with a lot of practice but also with much more ease in other sports!

You are standing on the wrong side of the ball! Does being left handed hurt when you are trying to teach a right handed player?

If I had a dime for every time I heard that!!!

Good question though. If I had at the choice to be lefty or righty I would without a doubt remain left-handed. As a lefty, I always faced and mirrored my instructors growing up. I feel this was an asset then and helps when I teach now. Growing up reading golf instruction articles I quickly learned to reverse the terminology in my head and (this is really odd) I actually catch myself thinking “right-handed” while swinging quite often. Meaning, may be working on doing something on my right side but in my mind I say the terminology as “left.”  I think it’s because I talk right-handed most of the day because most students are right-handed. It’s safe to say I’m better at talking righty than lefty at this point!  However, most instructors are trending towards using terms like “trail” and “lead” so the language is universal for people who stand on any side of the ball.

AimPoint is all over the place right now. You are an AimPoint instructor. What is that certification process like?

It sure it! Becoming an AimPoint instructor was one of the hardest but rewarding processes.  The typical process would be to host a clinic where inventor, Mark Sweeney, comes and teaches a day of clinics while you observe. Mark then goes through individual training with you afterwards. Then, you spend a few months practicing AimPoint, working through many different putts, memorizing and rehearsing the clinic process. To complete Level 1 you then host a clinic again where Mark comes but this time you teach the clinic in front of him as well! Along with Mark, one of my biggest mentors throughout the process was John Graham.There are not numerous AimPoint instructors and we are spread out all over the country and the world. To help communicate ideas and questions we have an online group that has a lot of participation in it daily.  I really enjoy the passion in the group. A lot of the instructors are also commonly found on Twitter and include @AimPointGolf, @DennisSalesGolf, @Piiter77, @JohnGrahamGolf, @GolfGuruTV, @GolfProRob, @StanSayersGolf, @SG_GolfCoaching, @GolfEvolution, @Iacas, @GolfDonaldson, @ChrisGibsonGolf, @KillenGolf, @ConnorGolf, @AimPointHawaii, @ErrolGolf, and @ErikaLarkinPGA.

Thanks for the impressive list! It goes without saying… you are all over Twitter.

(Laughs.) Speak of the devil! Oh, just a little here and there! Yes, after three years I have a few (21,000+) tweets.

In all honestly, the educational and effective use of Twitter has been the most helpful to my teaching. It may seem unusual, but reading dialogue and conversing on Twitter has led me to an outstanding group of golf professionals and their other social media sources like YouTube, instructional blogs, and specific golf instruction Facebook group forums. The use of social media has grown massively in the last three years. There are now top 100 teachers who use Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis. Twitter was my first lead towards becoming an AimPoint instructor as well as learning about and becoming The D-Plane certified. I did not even know these topics existed until seeing them discussed through social media avenues. You’ll laugh but it all started three years ago when I got a tweet from John Graham.  John was the first person in the golf industry to tweet at me. Until then, I used social media like any other recent college graduate. At the time, I didn’t even know how to respond back to him so decided I wouldn’t talk to “strangers” and ignore his tweet. Then came the second one about a week later. This time I responded and what led from there I would have never imagined. A huge network of people (2,300+ followers on Twitter, 2,600+ friends on Facebook), information, debates, discussions, techniques and ideas arose. Behind the network is a group of people willing to help and share and mentor those who are seeking information.

I can confidently say I have learned more from being on Twitter than any other source in the last three years. Twitter lead me to people’s blogs, websites, forums, YouTube channels and Facebook pages; all of which have grown tremendously in the last few years in terms of participation. There is not a day that goes by where there are not at least ten discussions on a golf related topics just within Facebook groups alone. I have learned so much from the people who share and discuss information within the social media avenues. In my own experience, I learned about and became both AimPoint and D-Plane certified after hearing about them on Twitter. These techniques have been instrumental in my teaching and I am grateful to have simply “stumbled” or “scrolled” across them. I am really not sure what I was teaching before I started learning from those on the social media network and should probably give a lot of lesson money back!

To think it all started when I was fresh out of college and did not have have a TV or working laptop in my apartment, but did have a smartphone, is just silly. If it were not for the tweets I saw as a scrolled through my smartphone, I would have never even known about any information beyond my limited knowledge. I am continually challenged to broaden my teaching horizons through the discussions that take place on these media outlets like Twitter.

Do you consider it teaching or coaching?

I have always considered it teaching but now people are naming it coaching as well. Either way, both terms should yield the same results. When a student needs coaching, we coach. When a student needs teaching, we teach. When a student needs listening, we listen. When a student needs information, we inform. And when we don’t know, we find someone who does. The successful end result is efficiency and progress for both the student and teacher, or coach… everyone!

I am hitting an old driver… but I hit it straight. Let’s say I want to pick up ten yards. What is the easiest way for me to gain distance?

I have not seen you swing, but I hear you are a very good golfer! In that case it could be less swing related and therefore could be some part of your equipment; a little time on TrackMan would tell us if your numbers could improve.

Golf is fun. Tell me a little bit more about your teaching philosophy.

Yes! At the end of the day, I see no reason in signing up and paying to torture ourselves for four hours on the golf course. So many people do that whether they realize it or not. As I see it, my role is to promote golf as an enjoyable activity. This is the primary reason as to why I teach. I have a registered hashtag under on Twitter: #golfisfun. I have tracked the usage of this hashtag all across the globe; it is my goal that it continues to be spread, not just on Twitter but in the mind’s of golfers. My goal is help students play golf with joy. To do this, I view it my responsibility to do due diligence and gather as much information as I can to then use as simple but as comprehensive information as needed to help the individual in front of me. I view it my aspiration and responsibility to teach students effectively so they CAN play golf with joy.

Do you ever give playing lessons?

Indeed. Playing lessons are one of my favorite things to do when the course tee sheet allows. Last summer I found bringing the ladies’ clinics right onto the course to practice whatever topic we decided upon was really helpful. Often, you hear a student saying, “I can do it here but wait until we get on the course.” Just like going to the range was once intimidating for beginners, going to the course is the next mental hurdle to overcome. Playing lessons with a pro are a comforting and valuable way to get experience on the “real course.” As an instructor, playing lessons provide an opportunity to observe what topics may be the most beneficial for the student in the future as well.

What is the lowest round you ever shot?

It’s funny, I don’t really keep track of those things for quick recollection. But it would be a 68 at Stonebridge in Naples, Florida. I had five birdies on the front; could have been crazy good if not for some doubles.

There are four majors on the PGA TOUR every year. Do you have a favorite?

I do not. Each has it’s own interesting characteristic. I love the Masters, but also think the US Open is so neat in the fact that many people can attempt to qualify.

Tell me a little bit more about your affiliation with the 7 Nights at the Twitter Academy.

Jason Helman of the PGA of Canada started the idea a couple years ago; it’s brilliant! Jason gathered seven golf instructors who are found frequently on Twitter and assigned them each a different topic to present on their specific day of the week. Each specific day of the week we all tweet the individual person’s link to their YouTube video. The first year we did different topics like putting, chipping, irons, woods, sand shots, and club fitting. Last year we did all junior specific videos. The instructors that have participated in the past are Jason Helman, Jason Sutton, Rob McGill, Dennis Sales, Andrew Marr (@AndrewMarrGolf), Kirk Oguri (@KirkOguri), Megan Padua (@MeganGolfPro), and Aaron Olson (@AaronOlsonGolf). Fun fact, there are four lefties in the overall group! The Twitter Academy is one of my favorite projects and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of it.

What color is your Swinkey? Mine is pink!

Good choice! My first one was aqua… then of course the AimPoint one!

What is D-Plane?

Oh yes, one of my favorites. Some say D-Plane it too complicated to teach. However, if you’re using TrackMan, you’re using D-Plane. If your objective is to understand and improve ball flight as teacher, then it follows that you would be interested in understanding what D-Plane is and what it illustrates. There are many, many discussions, YouTube videos, and articles on the D-Plane. D-Plane was a big topic last year when the “dld vs. new” ball flight laws discussions were taking off like crazy all across the social media world and in magazines. Thanks to those efforts, I would say within the last year many, many, many people’s understanding of where the ball starts and why it curves changed dramatically… largely impart to TrackMan’s data and the resulting discussions on D-Plane all across the world. I would recommend looking into the work of James Leitz’, John Graham, and Joe Mayo if you’d like to know more about D-Plane.

Simply put, D-Plane is a 3D description of the path of the club head and the clubface. It was coined by Theodore Jogensen in the book “Physics of Golf”. It’s implications explain how and why the ball starts where it does and how and why it may curve in it’s the flight.

A side note here: one of the funniest questions I ever got was from a non-golfer; “I see you talking about D-Plane; where is the coolest place you’ve ever flown a plane?” I must say, when that question is posed, that’s the quickest you’ll ever be brought out of complete golf nerdom and back into every day thought.

This is a hot topic right now… but the belly putter. Should they be allowed? Do you think they give a player an unfair advantage?

It sure is a hot topic. I have not really gotten that into it to be honest. Either way is fine by me. I’ve seen people putt really well with and without a belly putter. The ability to accurately read a green is more important.

Have you ever been to the Masters?

Yes! One time! It was an incredible experience. Check out my blog on what I learned.

How far do you hit your driver?

I do not hit the ball extremely far… yet. 230ish now. In the fairway.

When you play with your friends, do you play to a handicap? What is your handicap?

It depends on what tees I’m playing from and who I’m with. If I play with the ladies from the forward tees then I play at scratch. The men’s group at the club gives me four strokes if I play back from their tees. I keep hoping they mean four per side!

I sometimes roll the ball if I get a bad lie. I am not playing for money or anything… but that helps me have more fun on the golf course. If we were playing 18, would you get mad if I improved my lie?

Not at all.  I see it as each individual’s choice to play / practice how they choose. Simple as that. Some people make it easier, some people make it harder… it all depends on what you’re working on and your purpose at that particular moment.

There are a lot of great instructors out there.

#truth. It’s awesome. I learn so much from people all over the world when participating on Twitter and golf instruction groups on Facebook. What’s so interesting is that three people can look at the same collection of swings and see three different pictures. To me that means there are no right or wrong answers; instead there are moves that match and moves that do not.  There are going to be pieces that help players and pieces that do not. That’s what makes golf instruction so interesting. The work of a few instructors that have really helped my understanding of the golf swing are Mike Bennett, Andy Plummer, Homer Kelley, Mac O’Grady, Chuck Evans, Ben Doyle, Lynn Blake, Bobby Clampett and people like Dr. Rotella, Lynn Marriot and Pia Nelson. I have not met all of these instructors listed but it is a goal of mine to observe a new instructor once every two months. There are many more that have provided first-hand help to me as well, and for whom I am very grateful.

What are you doing when you are not teaching or playing golf?

When’s that?!? Life as been busy since graduating from college three years ago and traveling north and south from season to season since then. During the free time I do run across I particularly enjoy being with my family and friends, tweeting (we all know this), and I have played a few seasons of intramural softball on a team made up of primarily golf pros in Naples.

You used to coach a golf team. I REALLY want to coach a high school team. What was that experience like and where would one begin a process to coaching a team like that?

Wonderful experience! The coach and a lot of students were members where I used to work in Chicago so I was able to get into coaching the team through that connection. The girls on the team got a long with each other really well. It was a lot of fun watching them make progress with their golf as well as learning about their school interests and college aspirations.

Tell me a little bit more about your time spent at Pinehurst.

The best PGM internship during college was at Pinehurst. The other counselors and I ran the junior camps. The full time teachers there created a really good learning atmosphere and that summer definitely inspired me to try to teach upon graduating.  One neat thing was playing in the North/South Am and being surrounded by many awesome courses and golf history.

How are you involved with the First Tee?

The First Tee is a great program. I volunteered in the Collier County in Florida division as a coach for a Par and Birdie level class last spring and coached an Eagle level class last fall. As someone who did not belong to a country club while growing up, I really value the opportunities and mentors that the First Tee provides to kids who are interested in golf. At the end of the day, it’s about having a fun place to golf and learn, and most importantly learn about the life skills that will apply down any avenue of the golfers choose to go. We’ve all had those people whose words (small or large) of encouragement or helping hand made a wonder of difference. It’s my hope that through the classes one more kid will make one better decision in life and maybe score one shot lower when playing golf.  If that happens, I’ll be so happy.

You are a blogger. How often do you post to your blog?

Blogging is one of my favorite pastimes. Sometimes, I post three times in a month and other times once every three months. I do not set a schedule but rather write when an idea or experience motivates me to do so.

I am Tiger’s biggest fan. Do you think he will break Jack’s record?

Time will tell!

You use them all the time… but do you have a favorite hashtag?

Do I overdo the usage of hashtags? One day someone else came up with the term, “Hashtag Queen”… not sure if this is a good or bad thing! The favorite would have to be #golfisfun. It sums it all up.

Have you ever had a hole-in-one?

A few here and there.  Four, I think. These things do not mean too much to me for some reason. One I do not count; it’s a sad, sad, story. I was playing high school golf with my friend Dave and we got to a 200 yard par 3. Dave says, “OK on this hole you should hit driver.” I go, “Not a chance, Dave, it’s a par 3.” So I proceed to smoke my 3 wood dead straight right at the pin. It lands and rolls. And ends up a few yards short of the pin. Dave goes, “I’m telling you, you need to hit driver here.” I go, “OK, Dave, this driver is going right over the green and into the woods.” I swing as hard as I possibly can. The ball takes off again dead straight at the pin and I’m thinking, yep it’s gone, it’s flying over the green into the woods. Not this time. It lands and rolls… right into the cup. We laughed until we fell down on the tee box!

Alive or dead, who is in your perfect foursome?

My younger brother Willy, my dad, and my late grandfather who built my first set of clubs. Those three guys have each helped me through a lot of challenges I encountered while playing golf.

Perhaps we can switch after 9 holes? I’d also like to play with Albert Einstein, the Dalai Lama and Jeff Dunham. The combination of intellect, philosophy and humor in that group would be priceless!

Do you ever listen to music when you are practicing or playing?

Yes! Love music. I like a wide variety; a lot of hit Christian music, some top 40, good rap (you know, the edited versions), classic rock, country, indie, you name it and I’ll listen to it at least once.

I met her for the first time at the 2012 PGA Merchandise Show. How do you know Susan Martin?

Susan and I both played on the golf team at Methodist University (Fayetteville, NC) during college. She has since turned pro and plays events on the SunCoast and Symetra tours. Fortunately, she puts up with my goofiness and let’s me caddy for her when there is an event in the area. I’m glad you two met, you hit it off right away! I’m not surprised; good people attract good people!

Are you excited to see golf being added to the Olympics?

Totally! Love anything that helps to grow the game and motivates those who aspire to play it.

What’s next for Sara Dickson?

I’ll probably go send some tweets now.

I know you are a busy person. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It was a long time coming! In all of the interviews I do, I always give the atitst the last word. Go.

Thank you kindly for the opportunity! If you need help creating a Twitter account to gain entrance… let us know!