Wednesday, July 27, 2011

20 Questions With Don Parsons

This edition of 20 Questions especially useful because our subject is not only an outstanding instructor, but was also an elite level amateur golfer back in the days of covered wagon, the gutty and sand tees ;-)
He also provides some interesting insights into golf fitness, technology, and and junior golf.

 Don Parsons is the owner and DOI at The Studio at Twin Lakes in Santa Barbara, California.

In my opinion he has created the standard for golfer development. When I opened his website gallery page, I just said, "Really?" He has created  what I have always wanted- an indoor facility with the technology and resources to make people drop their jaw and say- "WOW!" It has everything, putting lab, club fitting equipment, 3-D motion capture, and a golf specific fitness center. He is a Level 3 TPI professional as well as a Level 2 certified bio-mechanisist.

The 4-Time Northern California PGA TOY and the 2003 Southern California TOY, has touched every base on his way to his current heights in the business. After realizing that he wasn't quite talented enough to QB the Dallas Cowboys, the native of Fort Worth, Texas and his father moved back to California where his folks purchased a 9 hole executive course. After watching David Graham win the US Open the last time it was played at Merion, he decided to go to the golf course instead of surfing. After watching a local high school kid shoot 72 that day he was hooked and played 45 holes a day for the rest of the summer. In three months he went from shooting 120 to 81. 

Don played collegiately for the Gauchos of UC-Santa Barbara where they climbed to number 18 in the country. As a senior he qualified individually for the NCAA tournament. In 1988 he won the California State Am at Pebble Beach. Can you imagine having that experience and memory to carry around in your hip pocket for the rest of your life? He competed in all the major amateur events including the US Am, Sunnehanna, Porter Cup, Pacific Coast Am, and the Rice Planters. He made this very telling comment to, " If I could continue to coach, I would regain my amateur status in a heartbeat to compete in the amateur events, I loved the competition and camaraderie of it all."

After college he turned pro and realized just how brutal living on the road was going to be. In fact, he had to WD from his first pro event because he had a car accident on the way to his final practice round. He still feels the effects of the accident in his neck to this day.

In his first pro start he was a shot off the lead and went out in the last group with two guys named Tom that he had never heard of. One of the Tom's shot 64 and illuminated the reality that their were guys that he had never even heard of going very low routinely.  One of the Tom's was Tom Silva. The other? Tom Lehman, eventually won the British Open.

By 1990 Don had come to the realization that professional golf was not for him. His aching back made the decision to get a day gig a lot easier. He took a job at a 9 hole course in Santa Barbara which he is part owner of to this day. He was elected into membership of the PGA in 1992 and became a full time teaching professional. He has always been somewhat of a tech nerd and builds custom speaker cabinets. He built his first video cart for the range in 1992 using dry erase markers to draw lines on the monitor.

He has produced over 60 collegiate golfers. This past year producing in his opinion the best crop with four players ranked in the top 50 in the US. The four have gone to play collegiately at Stanford, Northwestern, Norte Dame, and UC Davis.  Of those four, one was honorable mention All-American, and two others Big West and Big East Freshmen of The Year. He has two players that have won the California State Am. His long time friend and student John Pate has played in 16 US Amateurs and 12 Mid-Ams.


1. What is the big difference between the games of the elite amateur and the tour professional?

From a statistics standpoint I would say it is normally wedge play and putting. There are a lot of elite amateurs that are fantastic ball strikers 

2. Video or launch monitor?
I use video because it is a medium that most players are accustomed to. I would love to get hold of a Trackman someday.

3. 3D or launch monitor?
3D it is what I am used to and what I own. Plus, I believe that the motion of the body controls the movement of the club.

4. Roger Staubach or Troy Aikman?
Roger Staubach. Aikman took my dream job.

5. You  have one of the most impressive arrays of technology for just a relatively small facility. Is there anything you don’t have or wish you had?
Since I pay for all of my technology, I have had to compromise to a degree. I would love a Trackman, an AMM 6 sensor, and some force plates.

6. What is around the corner in regards to teaching technology?
I think it is a matter of time before we have really convenient and portable 3D technology. Sensors woven into clothing that would give us some really great 3D info.

7. Mike Bender told us a story about how when he was on tour in the late 70’s and was getting pretty bored and lonely out on the road, and one of the other guys on tour told him the place to be was up stairs in Mac O’Grady’s room. He went up there and Mac had an early VHS recorder on one of those big Sony VCR’s recording swings while hitting into the mattress they had taken off the frame and leaned on the wall. He said that that was the possibly the beginning of in depth video analysis and pop instruction out on tour. He said that anytime Mac conducted one of his clandestine clinics it was like AREA 51 that required a secret password to get in LOL. Do you think Mac still has a secret or it the cat out the bag?
Lol, I used to hit balls into the mattresses when I was playing the mini tours.  I have never met Mac and can’t really comment on what he knows or doesn’t or where he keeps his cat.

8. You mention in your bio that you built your own rig and used dry erase markers on the monitor screen. What were your primary teaching points back in the day and what lines did you draw?
Slide and sway lines, swing plane lines, and the dreaded circle around the head.

9. How has your teaching evolved over the last 30 years? 
The biggest change to my teaching happened when I met an athletic trainer named Kevin Brown in 1999.  Working as a team to address our players’ needs really changed our effectiveness and allowed our whole to be greater than the sum of our parts.  I understood for years the effect that club fitting had on performance this was just the next step in the process. Finally, what this technology and team work has done for me is help me return to what made me a good teacher early on and that is coaching my players to become better players: teaching them to hit shots, to manage the course, to PLAY the game. But, I am doing this with better prepared athletes who possess more tools to pull it all together.

10. I  taught for nearly 15 years before I gave my first video lesson, then I took a job with a popular indoor teaching franchise. I learned more  about the golf swing in those 2 years than I did in the first  15, but I turned into a teacher of the golf swing instead of a teacher of the game of golf, thank God I got fired! LOL What is the balance that young teachers need to have to not get too focused on the golf swing and ensure that they develop well rounded golfers?
Remember that the swing is just one of many tools that are needed to play the game. Having a good tool box full of tools allows your players to get the job done in a variety of ways. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

11. In the northern locales, where we teach hitting into a net 18 feet in front of the player and in domes, I see players that won’t take lessons and just beat ball after ball and have no clue what the ball is doing. Once spring arrives they can’t take a divot and barely get the ball airborne. What’s the answer to keep this from happening?
This goes right back to #10. Why on earth would you work hard on ball striking into a net? There are other skills players can be honed during the off season: mobility, stability, strength, speed, putting. Work on new movement patterns, learn about your mental game, take lessons on concentration and focus. I talk to my players about making the most of their time with the assets they have. I would not recommend spending a lot of time hitting into a net, or practicing putting on a punched green. There has to be better things to do with your time.

12. In my teaching there are 8 areas of the game, please prioritize these areas in regards to importance to scoring:
Putting-Driving-Ball Striking-Wedge Game- Chipping and Pitching inside 50 yards-Specialty Shots ( fairway bunkers, greenside bunkers, trouble shots, recovery shots) Ball Striking-Game and Course Management
Chipping and pitching inside 50 yards
Game management
Course management 
Wedge game
Ball Striking
Specialty shots

13.The only area that players can control 100% is Game and Course management. I have all my new students prioritize these areas before we start any lesson program , and not one student has ever made it Number 1. Wouldn’t the one thing you can control 100% at least be in the top three?
Most players  think they already do a good job of managing their games and the course, but also lack the knowledge of how to improve it. Unless they can play with great players or teachers and learn these things it is really about the school of hard knocks. 
14. I’m a big believer  in playing lessons. I try to make them affordable but it’s tough for a lot of teachers  because most teachers don’t have a facility that will allow them.  How can those teachers fill that void in their teaching programs.
Playing lessons are valuable on two levels; as an evaluation tool to decide what is important and for the ability to teach people how to play. Stats are a good way to assess and evaluate performance. I have been to tournaments to watch my competitive players play under tournament conditions which is illuminating to say the least. Finally, make a deal with a local golf course to allow you to play with 3 players at a time. Money is tight, many courses will encourage the incremental revenue.

15. You have had huge success with your juniors. How fulfilling is it to see those kids grow and mature into elite players and more importantly human beings and citizens?
Watching my players excel is hugely gratifying and I have developed long standing relationships with many of them that have spanned the 20 years I have been a full time instructor. In fact, my senior instructor Chad Beuoy started taking lessons from me 18 years ago when he was 13. Cash was tight for him back then so he trenched my yard for a sprinkler system in exchange for lessons. I have always admired his work ethic.

16. What is the ideal age to get a youngster started in the game?
As soon as they show a love for the game.

17. Coach or Teacher? What’s the difference?
I prefer coach because I feel like I am helping them to discover what works for them. I help them to see a trail that they must blaze. They do the hard work and determine their level of success.  

18. OK, here is a touchy subject. Two part Question- A. In your opinion, what  % of swing faults  are physical causations?   B. I’m a certified TPI Fitness Professional, I’ve done a great deal of physical screens since I was certified in September of 2009 and I’m not convinced that most golf pro’s are qualified to just go through the certification process and be cut loose to perform  screen’s without the sophisticated technology that something like K-Vest or AMM provides. Yet, in the eyes of TPI I am? What say ye?
I would say that at least 50% of swing issues have a physical component. The swing and every other movement pattern will follow the path of least resistance.  There is so much information out there about how to swing that most people know what they are trying to do. Whether they should be trying to do what they are trying is another question. I would say that if a player comes to you and says, “I’m coming over the top, I know what to do and just can’t stop.” There is probably a physical component to it.
I say you will be much better at it in six months than you are now and that you are  much better now than you were two years ago. I was level 3 certified in 2007 and worked with my trainer/therapist closely for 11 years and I am getting better every day. I love  technology and think that 3D is an incredibly powerful tool, but in the end we are the people who are doing the coaching. The more tools we can use to evaluate the better. I think where golf professionals fail is when they try to become fitness trainers because they took a TPI seminar. That is not what it was meant to teach you. 

19. A high % of average golfers early extend the spine through and just prior to impact, yet I’ve tested those same golfers and they can perform a full deep squat. On the other hand, I have seen elite players that can’t come close to performing a full deep squat, yet they can get their hips 50+ degrees at impact without early extending the spine and have no problem keep their trail foot on the ground with that trail knee moving toward the lead knee with ease. Can you explain this to me like I’m a 5 year old. LOL
I cannot. Early extension (the linear movement of the pelvis towards the ball before impact) continues to elude me as far as being a movement pattern that I have success changing while maintaining tournament performance with my players.  If I can get players controlling the pelvic movements of rotation, tilt, and side bend within the parameters we establish, and they can accelerate their torso efficiently, I find they hit the ball well and minimize early extension. Just because someone has a swing “fault” doesn’t mean it warrants fixing if there is something else that will be more effective use of time with regards to lowering score.

      20. Zeppelin or Stones?
Black Sabbath!
Bonus Question:
Klipsch or JBL?
Neither I make my own :-)

Thanks to Don for taking the time to participate.

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