Interview with Kevin Rhoads from The Country Club

August 2, 2010

Kevin Rhoads is a PGA Certified Golf Instructor and he also serves as a Titleist Advisory Board member. In addition to being a teaching professional at The Country Club of Brookline in Chestnut Hill, Massachussetts, he is the Head Coach of the Harvard University womens golf team. Kevin is a member of Golf Digests "Top 40 Teachers Under 40". Kevin's family roots run deep in the golf business and he has been very kind to lend us his insights into his side of the golf profession. Hopefully you can take a thing or two and learn from him.

We think it’s important for young assistants to hear the perspectives of other professionals. Describe your background in the golf business and why you got into it.

I agree that it is important for young professionals to get as much information as possible when they are getting into the golf business - or any business for that matter. To go in with your eyes open means that hopefully you are going into the business for the right reasons, instead of because of misconceptions.

I was very lucky in that regard, because I come from a family of golf professionals. My dad played the PGA Tour for 7 years and then has been the head professional at the San Francisco Golf Club for 34 years. My uncle was PGA head professional at Riviera CC for 10 years and some other great places. My 2 brothers are PGA professionals, and my cousin plays the tour. So I knew quite a bit about the business before I decided to go into the business. That said, you never really know about something until you experience it for yourself.

I played in college at UCLA, going from a walk-on to a scholarship player. I then pursued a playing career for 5 years after that. That time was incredibly important for me as a teacher, because I understood what having a goal was, and what it took to see improvement. I also understood the dynamic of different things working for different people.

When I stopped playing I took a hard look at whether I wanted to go into golf or go in another direction. Luckily for me, I loved teaching, so I felt I could use any experience and expertise I had earned to help other people.

What did you do in your early years as a teaching professional to set yourself up for your current success and future success?

In my formative years, especially my dad and I, but also my brothers and I, discussed the game of golf, golf information, and golf instruction at length. My dad gave me a framework in which to process information, so that I understood that there were many different ways to play successful golf, as long as components within each of a student's areas of their game added up as a repeating, functional system. My dad's information was based on his personal observation of many of the best players in the world, and how they did some things similarly, and how they did other things differently.

After I finished playing full time, I had an amazing opportunity to go work for one of the best and most knowledgeable teachers in the country in Rick Martino. This gave me an opportunity to expand my knowledge in a number of different directions. I learned a great deal about biomechanics, about teaching methods, about technology, about learning in general, and about working with all types of students To have those opportunities in addition to the knowledge base that I had received from my dad and my own experiences was hugely invaluable.

In my second year as the teaching professional at The Country Club, I also was asked to be the head coach of the Harvard University Women's golf team. This experience has enhanced my coaching and teaching experience in numerous ways. Working with a highly proficient and motivated yet very time-constrained set of students has taught me a great deal about being efficient, asking the right things for the right reasons, the power of self-discipline, and managing people.

I believe that the answer on how to set yourself up for future success is to never stop trying to improve. Whether it is teaching information, education about how the body works, learning how people learn, staying up with technology, continuing to improve communication, organization, and business practices, working to improve exposure, we need to continue to improve - or else we get passed by others who are working harder. New information needs to be processed and filtered through previously held beliefs - it cannot be automatically passed on to every student or else the student never gets the continuity of message that allows for long-term improvement.

What are some aspects of your teaching business that if you didn't do them well, it would be detrimental to your business?

For me, personal attention to detail is probably the most important aspect of my business. Most important are the lessons themselves. In keeping a very busy teaching and coaching schedule, I need to be very consistent in the quality of product I present to each and every student. This means being prepared each and every day in terms of being rested, being on time, and giving every bit of concentration and creativity that I can in every lesson that I give. I need to pace myself throughout each season so that I can give the best lessons I can not just for a day, a week, or a month, but all the time. So I need to listen to my body, get rest, stay enthusiastic, and work to do my best.

I need to constantly communicate with students themselves in person, prompt responses to emails, phone calls, and video lessons. I need to communicate with our staff at The Country Club to make sure that the operation and I are on the same page, and that morale is strong within the team.

I need to keep up my own game and continue to compete whenever possible. If I forget what it's like to work on my own game, I cannot adequately demonstrate skills or play well enough in competition to keep credibility with my students. But equally importantly, I cannot properly empathize or relate to my students in the way that I once could if I am not still in the same process (in some form) that they are. Forgetting what that feels like would be bad for their games and bad for my teaching business.

In most circumstances, assistant professionals wear all of the hats (tournament operations, merchandising, personnel leadership and management, etc.), some times instruction can get lost in the whirlwind of it all. Considering all of this, how do you think assistant professionals can be better teachers and take steps to really know the craft and teach the game well?

At The Country Club, our head professional Brendan Walsh constantly encourages our younger professional staff members and our interns to observe lessons. Whenever they can, and whenever my students feel comfortable, I always allow staff to observe my lessons. This gives them a chance to hear a variety of information and see a variety of students. Whenever possible, I also spend time at the end of days where staff members observed lessons to "debrief" on the observed lessons. I want to answer questions from the staff members and explain my thinking on why I said or did not say certain things, or when I chose to say them. Otherwise, they may come to incorrect conclusions on the purpose or content of the information given to a student in the lesson.

We also do intern education seminars each week where we discuss different topics throughout the golf operation. Throughout a given season, I'll give 3 or 4 that are based on teaching specifically. I also offer to work directly and individually with any staff member on their own games or on teaching information. I will work with various staff members every week or two to give them some of the individual attention that I received in my formative years.

What are the overarching principles you stand by as a teaching professional and would like other teachers/assistants to stand by?
  • Always remember that it is always about the student, not about the instructor. 
  • "Try to simplify as much as possible - but don't oversimplify." Albert Einstein
  • Understand theory and cause and effect, but also be flexible in allowing students to do what works for them. 
  • "Be more interested in what's right rather than who is right." - John Wooden
  • Be respectful to other teachers that your students work with. Try to be complimentary towards all, while still getting your own point across. 
  • Always keep learning.
If a young apprentice comes to you and says, "I want to be the best teaching professional I can be", what would you tell him/her and how to get there?

Observe as many of the great teachers as possible - even if you have to pay to take lessons or watch lessons. Take note of all the differences in styles and information, and also what's similar between them. I believe that there are more similarities out there than differences in information, but most people try to highlight the differences. The best teachers are all different, however, in that they've all developed their own styles, methods, and justifications for things. They all have a million tools for helping students improve.

If you can, work under a Top 50 or Top 100 Teacher. Learn all you can not only about golf information, but also about the business and how it works. It's not easy to have a successful teaching business.

Teach whenever you can - you need practice to know what to work on and in what sequence, and when to introduce different pieces of information. You need practice explaining or demonstrating things to people. Information always sounds good when a talented instructor is saying something, and it always seems like you knew the information that they were choosing to convey. But when you are forced to do it yourself, you need practice to make it sound as accessible and welcome to your student as it does in your head.

Work on continuing to assess and develop your strengths, and also your weaknesses. Again, continue to work on your game. Students listen to good players, even if that doesn't mean they are good teachers. When you have an attractive golf game, that is a good way to open the door to have people consider your instruction. Then you need to have the tools and information to keep them interested and improving.

Who have been your mentors and what have you learned from them?

I've been incredibly lucky to have 4 professional mentors. I strive to emulate and borrow from each of them, though I still have a long way to go.

My largest professional mentor has been my dad. From him I have learned more than I can say about setting an example each and every day, communicating with people, how to process, interpret, and organize information, how to play the game, how to think correctly as a player, as a teacher and golf professional, how to be consistently great over a long period of time, the different styles and methods of the great players and how they work, and how to be a great person - full of integrity, fairness, honesty, resiliency, enthusiasm, and a kind and positive word.

From Rick Martino I have learned a great deal about teaching different people, the body, the golf swing, biomechanics, technology, relationships with other teachers, and the business of teaching. He gave me the opportunity to learn from one of the best (him) very early in my career, and I'm at The Country Club because of he and Brendan Walsh. I am indebted to him.

From Brendan Walsh I have learned more about organization, personal accountability, the ability to balance being an exceptional golf professional, mentor and family man. He runs a golf operation as well as anyone, anywhere. He is a great teacher. He always has time for every member and remembers everyone - even if he's only met them once. He has enormous personal integrity, and always plays by the rules. He also trains his staff and cares about each one's personal development more than any golf professional I have seen. And he is always working to be better - in every part of his life. He embodies continual improvement.

From Fred Schernecker (my oversee at Harvard), I have learned that if you are organized, if you prioritize correctly, and if you put in full effort all the time that you can handle an enormous workload - both details and volume. From both he and Brendan Walsh, I have learned that it's important to know your goals and the goals of the people you manage. If you give people the right tools and help motivate them, they can and will achieve those goals. And most people can handle more than they think if they have adequate support and tools - they just need self-discipline and good examples.

Do you have any books you could recommend aspiring teaching professionals to read?

I've learned a great deal from reading. If you do read, however, if at all possible you need people with whom to discuss what you've read. Books don't allow for any feedback or discussion, and you need to make sure that you are coming to correct conclusions on things. All books have areas that we can misinterpret, and if we pass poor information onto our students it's our fault.

Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons – The Modern Fundamentals of Golf
Jim Hardy’s The Plane Truth for Golfers
Percy Boomer’s On Learning Golf
Tiger Woods’ How I Play Golf
Ernest Jones’ Swing The Clubhead
Bobby Jones’ Bobby Jones On Golf
Harry Vardon’s The Gist of Golf
Annika Sorenstam’s Golf Annika’s Way
Homer Kelley’s The Golfing Machine
Bobby Clampett’s The Impact Zone
David Leadbetter’s The Fundamentals of Hogan
Alastair Cochran and John Stobbs’ Search for the Perfect Golf Swing
Nick Bradley’s The 7 Laws of the Golf Swing
Pia Nilsson & Lynn Marriott’s Every Shot Must Have a Purpose and The Game Before the Game
Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book
Dr. Bob Rotella’s Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect
Fred Shoemaker’s Extraordinary Golf and Extraordinary Putting
George Leonard’s Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long Term Fulfillment
Steve Williams’ Golf At The Top

In your experiences as a teaching professional, I'm sure you have seen and worked with your fair share of teaching professionals. What sets the great ones apart from others?

They provide a consistently top-notch product. They are able to pull from a huge vault of information, but are then able to narrow down and present that information in small, manageable chunks in the way that best suits each student's needs, communication and learning style. Through information, playing or teaching history, personality, or presentation style, they motivate people to want to work on what they need to work on, and they help them better understand how to do that.  They achieve results; they make people better - usually not just as golfers, but as human beings as well. Golf gives students the opportunity to learn so much about themselves, and the best teachers help people learn more.