Play School



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Don’t just play at your golf game … or even work at it—school it.


By Dave Donelson

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Golf school is not for wimps, at least not the way Jim McLean runs it. But what would you expect from a place where both Angel Cabrera and Cristie Kerr, winners of the 2007 Men’s and Women’s U.S. Opens, honed their games? I spent two days at the Jim McLean Golf School at Doral Golf Resort and Spa in Miami with Westchester and Hudson Valley Magazine Publisher Ralph A. Martinelli and his brother Rich. We all wanted to stay a month. 


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The first day of golf school is just like the first day at middle school—you’re a little nervous and desperate not to make a fool of yourself in front of the big kids. In our case, the big kids were other golfers, not to mention the biggest kid of all, Jim McLean himself, who would be conducting our session. Two instructors met us for breakfast, put us at ease by explaining what our day would be like, then took us to the school facility, which occupies a huge swath of driving range next to the Doral’s Blue Monster. 


A small army of friendly but intensely focused instructors, club fitters, and assistants met us on the tee. After a brief warm-up, we each hit a few shots in front of a video camera, then went over to the putting green to do the same. I tried to ignore the camera, but kept wondering what my swing would look like on YouTube. 


Not to worry: the video is simply one of the many high-tech (and low-tech) tools McLean uses to shape your game. After a brief group session with McLean, he met with us individually in one of four enclosed bays full of video equipment and measuring devices where we established some goals for our stay.


One of McLean’s favorite teaching techniques is to put a clip from his vast store of videos of the pros on the screen next to yours. It’s not as humiliating as you might think. When he put my follow-through next to Sergio Garcia’s, I was shocked to see how we both ended up in a similar position. If this is so, I wondered, why does his drive go 90 yards farther than mine? And how soon can I expect to receive an endorsement offer from Michelob?


McLean is big on drills he calls “grind sessions,” in which you learn what you’re supposed to do and why, then do the exercises under the watchful eyes of the instructors. With no more than two students per teacher, you get plenty of attention, and it’s almost impossible to slack off and fake it. That’s good, because learning the drills is key to taking that new swing with you to the golf course.


According to McLean, golf school doesn’t take the place of lessons from your local pro—although it should replace those swing tips from your barber. “Individual private instruction from your club pro is the cornerstone of teaching,” he says. “But going to a two- or three-day golf school means you’re away from the office, you’re away from the house, you’re on a golf odyssey. Within ten hours over two days, you can get a lot accomplished.” We worked 35 minutes each day on body movement and positioning without a club, for example.  That kind of fundamental training normally doesn’t occur in a one-on-one private lesson. 


McLean’s school is very comprehensive; the experience is sort of like checking into the Mayo Clinic for a very thorough physical exam. You have the feeling they’re looking at every pore of your body to make sure they’re all contributing to a proper golf swing. While we were doing drills, for example, club fitter Mike Amira measured the clubs in our bags and analyzed our swings on a launch monitor to evaluate our equipment. 


Like the Mayo Clinic, the Jim McLean Golf Schools aren’t inexpensive. Two-day courses at Doral start at $1,495 ($2,795 for those taught by McLean personally) and go up to six-day sessions with McLean for $5,765. Prices vary somewhat depending on the locations. Breakfast and lunch each day are included in the course taught personally by McLean (lunch only in the others), but lodging is not.


At the end of the school, we had another session in front of the video camera, then an individual wrap-up with McLean during which we watched the “before and after” videos side-by-side. I was surprised to see how much progress I’d made in just two days. As we left, we were given a bag full of personalized tools to help us carry the lessons back to the golf course. In addition to a swing analysis with pictures of our moves and an individualized set of drills, we got a CD with our videos for future reference, a binder full of notes from our lessons, and a copy of one of McLean’s books, The Eight-Step Swing.


Hopefully, all these tools will help us retain and use the things we learned (unlike, say, my college French, which disappeared the day after graduation). As McLean explains, “If we can keep people on track for just six months, they’ll drop their handicap.”


The Westchester Connection




Jim McLean is well known in Westchester and the Hudson Valley. He got his first job as a teaching pro at Westchester Country Club. His first post as a head professional was at Sunningdale. Then he moved to Quaker Ridge and finally to Sleepy Hollow. 


Today, Keith Diciani (Metropolis), Kevin Sprecher (Sleepy Hollow), Debbie Doniger (Glen Arbor), and Margaret Platt (Ridgewood) are just a few of the many local pros who teach for him during the winter season.


a jim mclean lesson



A surprising number of us make the same mistakes. Here’s a tip from Jim McLean that applies to just about every golfer with a handicap higher than two:

The best players focus on the target line before and during address, and especially during their waggle. They start behind the ball, visualize where they want it to go, then step into place only after they have a firm picture of the intended flight. Unlike most amateurs, though, the pros take their stance, then continue to look down the target line, not at the ball, while they waggle and compose themselves to swing. They turn their attention to the little dimpled devil only a split second before they take the club back. 


A high handicapper glances at the target, then crouches over the ball like a monk praying for his immortal soul. The longer he stands there, the tighter his muscles get as more and more swing thoughts slip into his poor, ball-obsessed brain. By the time he pulls the trigger, all concept of the target has been obliterated along with any chance of making a fluid, natural swing.


So take a tip from Jim McLean: don’t stare at the ball; focus on your target.  


For more information: Jim McLean Golf School, Doral Golf Resort & Spa, Miami (800) 723-6725;



Dave Donelson is working on a stronger left-hand grip, starting his downswing with his hips instead of his hands, and putting the video of Ralph Martinelli’s swing on YouTube.



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