When asked why she ended a seven-year competitive playing career that spanned five tours and as many continents in order to become a golf instructor, Kellie Stenzel says, "I found that I could teach well every day, but I couldn't play well every day."
Stenzel is the author of three instructional books, The Women's Guide to Golf (2000), The Women's Guide to Consistent Golf (2002), and The Women's Guide to Lower Scores (2004; Thomas Dunn Books/ St. Martin's Press). The sort of measured pragmatism evidenced in her career path is exactly what would be expected from a PGA class-A teaching professional who specializes in bringing beginners into the game.
Early on, Stenzel noticed that there was practically no help for beginners, especially for women. This instructional gap prompted her to write the first of the tree books.
Stenzel acknowledges that golf is not easy, nor is it something with which most people experience immediate success. Her father taught her, "If you're going to miss it, miss it straight," and this same sort of common-sense approach characterizes her instruction today.
Stenzel stresses keeping things simple, at least at first. She describes her teaching philosophy in three words as: "grip, posture, momentum." When asked what she thought the single biggest mistake that golf instructors make is, Stenzel says, "I think there's far too much information given. It's hard to change more than two or three things."
Another pet peeve is "band-aids." "Rather than fixing the grip or posture, [you see students come in] trying to band-aid a fundamental problem," she said. "I hate to see students come to me with compensations they've learned and that don't work under pressure. And I hate to see a bad set-up."
Stenzel uses video analysis in only about 10 percent of her teaching. "I think that students generally get [what I'm trying to teach them] without it," she explains. "If they don't, then the video is useful." She thinks that video is generally even less helpful for women students. "[They] get so stuck on what their clothes or their [figures] look like on film," she says, "it just distracts them."
Stenzel has been instructing for 14 years. She spends her winters at Palm Beach Gardens in Florida, and her summers at Atlantic Golf Club on Long Island. Her clientele breaks down evenly between women and men.
In her experience, the biggest difference between teaching men and teaching women is their willingness to accept instruction. "Women are better listeners," she says. "Women want to know they're doing things the right way the first time." Men, on the other hand, "say ‘Give me the club and let me see what I can do,'" preferring to figure out the problems as they go along.
"I think men can get away with that more," said Stenzel, "because they're stronger and can muscle the ball."
Women represent one of the few demographic groups in golf that is actually increasing. When asked why she thinks this might be, Stenzel credits increased accessibility to the game. "Today there are magazines, instructors, equipment companies, and courses all [catering to] women," she said. "Golf has become more acceptable, and it's so all-encompassing [when you're on the course] that it allows women to get away and have time just for themselves."
The recent high-profile forays by women onto the PGA tour and the flamboyance of some of today's women golfers are also having an effect, according to Stenzel. When asked for her opinion of Annika Sorenstam competing at Colonial last year and Michelle Wie at the Sony Open this year, Stenzel says, "I like it. If their games are good enough to be there, they should be there." She adds that distance is no longer such a factor. "I thought it would be hard for [Annika] to keep up…but it was almost a non-issue. I think there will be a woman good enough [to compete on the PGA Tour] someday, and why not?"
Regarding the special exemption extended to Michelle Wie at this year's U.S. Women's Open, Stenzel was similarly supportive: "I think [it] was good for [the publicity it generated for the event]. I know some of the players weren't happy, but it brought in more fans and got more attention. Wie is definitely a personality, and she attracts fans."
As for the survival of the LPGA Tour, many players on which do not have corporate sponsors (including at the time she won this year's Open, Meg Mallon), Stenzel stresses that "Personality is key." Regarding the influx of Asian, particularly Korean, players on the LPGA Tour, whom some critics have suggested lack the fan-appeal needed to keep revenues up, Stenzel defends their presence: "If they play well enough to be there, then they should be there." But she does acknowledge the role of public relations in marketing the LPGA: "I think the Tour is responsible for helping them [relate] to the fans."
"In my bag at present is a lot of Ping: the new Ping GL irons and fairway woods, a Ping driver and a really old Ping beryllium sand wedge and putter."
Stenzel's career low competitive round of 69 came in 1988 in the Women's French Open.
Her favorite courses are "the ones with beautiful scenery. Some of my favorites are: Pebble Beach, Ballybunion in Ireland, Maidstone in East Hampton, and The Wild Coast Course in South Africa - there is a par-3 there where you tee off over a water fall. Amazing. I like the courses that are on the water and have a natural look."
Kellie Stenzel will be a regular contributor to GolfInstruction.com, specializing in tips for women golfers and beginners of all (or at least the main two) genders.
July 12, 2004
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