Golf Digest Best Young Teacher, Erika Larkin represents the new breed of golf coaches who look beyond their home course and reach out to players of all ages and skill levels everywhere. WomensGolf.com was really delighted to catch up with Erika this week and get her advice on how to improve your game with her favorite tip and equipment recommendations. Let’s find out from Erika how to get more fun from our game as ‘confident and course-ready’ golfers.
Do you remember the day when you realized that golf would be so important in your life?
I was about 12 years old and on a family vacation down in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was the first time that we had brought our clubs with the intention of playing golf on a trip. I remember playing some beach courses and they were so different aesthetically to what I was used to seeing up north (NYC metro area). The whole experience made a big impression on me and I could see myself traveling and playing golf in the future and wanting the setting and lifestyle that golf could provide – good people, nice places and fun times.
As an instructor the game is also your job but what are the things that you still enjoy most about golf?
I love that every round of golf is different and unpredictable; there are so many variables from course conditions to the lies you get, pin positions, tee box selection not to mention what course you choose to play or what the golfer’s strengths are on any given day. It certainly keeps the game fresh, interesting and always challenging. Also as a teacher, helping people with their games is so much fun and every person is a new puzzle for me to figure out. Seeing a student improve is very rewarding!
It’s always a trade off for casual golfers between working to improve their game or just enjoying it in the company of friends. Your thoughts?
Its great fun to play a scramble, picking up your ball on a bad hole and not keeping score just for the sake of being out there with friends. But, let’s be honest, no one would complain if they played better… it makes the whole experience of being out there whether for social reasons or business or for a match, more fun. I am realistic as well on how limited free time is with people these days too, so I don’t expect people to practice like a pro would. So it comes down to goal setting and really being clear with what your expectations are for your game so you can accept the results good or bad and be happy with your golf experience instead of frustrated.
There is nothing wrong with shooting around 100 (80% of people that play this game cannot break 100!)… but when you’re out there don’t be upset if you shoot 105. If you think you should be a 90’s player and its affecting your ability to have fun and is compromising the social aspect, then it’s time to set a plan to work on your game.
Sometimes a quick setup change can make a huge difference (i.e. changing ball position or your grip). If a swing change is needed, there are lots of things a person can do at home to improve technique without spending lots of time on the range. A great idea would be to take a lesson and ask your pro for some drills and techniques that are right for you and make the most of the practice time you do have!
Everyone loves a shortcut to try before their next game. Do you have a favorite tip that always seems to help your students?
Yes – A lot of players need help with improving their fundamentals. Most people are not in the correct position at impact for good divot patterns and consistent results… so I suggest practicing smaller more controlled swings in a good impact position to teach yourself where you need to come back to the moment you strike the ball.
Stand with your weight on your lead leg (left leg for a righty golfer) and place your trail foot gently on the ground behind you with knee slightly bent. Bend forward from your hips in golf posture with a good grip and relaxed arm hang. Make some half swings and try to clip the ground consistently in the middle of your stance where the ball would be.
This should give you a sense of hitting down with good balance and promotes things like a good divot pattern, straight arms at impact and proper weight placement in the lower body. Once you’ve mastered hitting some good punch shots from this position, place your right foot back down flat but stay heavy on your left. Work your swing up higher little by little keeping the feeling of coming back to that impact drill position just before you strike the ball.
Great tip! What is your equipment advice for the average woman who plays once or twice a month.
If you’re playing 10-20 times a year, you definitely need your own set and something that fits you. If you’re buying off the rack 90% of women should be playing “ladies” clubs which means they are built lighter and shorter than a standard men’s set. There is nothing wrong with a boxed set, they are a great value, are made better now than ever before, and sometimes they offer “petite” for the shorter ladies.
If you think you have a stronger faster swing or are tall (over 5’9’’) I would consult a club fitting specialist to help you demo some clubs. You might be a candidate for a men’s senior flex/lite set, a regular flex graphite or stronger. It VERY rare for me to find a lady that should be playing steel shafts so stay away from those! The only clubs that might be a metal shaft in your set is a putter and sand wedge.
If you are new to the game, go for irons that are “forgiving” with wide soles/hybrid type clubs and a driver with a loft of 13 or more degrees. A common set makeup for my female students is: driver, 5 wood, 5 or 6 hybrid, 7 iron, 9 iron, PW, SW, putter.…you can always add more if needed!
Our last question is a big one. Erika, how do you think we can encourage more young women to play the game?
I think women getting women to play is imperative – the buddy system/mentor concept makes the introduction less intimidating and is very helpful for the newer player to get on-course experience. Joining a league or finding Get Golf Ready programs to attend are also good ways to get started. Getting our young girls/daughters into the sport early makes such a difference for their experience later in life if they should want to play. Taking a young girl or woman to a LPGA tournament so they can see live play and see the talent out there is inspiring. For girls under 13 joining a local junior golf program and signing up with a friend is a great idea. Look for facilities that have a PGA Jr League Team, it is a great and fun introduction to the sport.
Thank you so much Erika, it’s been great to catch up and you’ve given us some really wonderful advice. I’m sure that the WomensGolf.com readers will want to find out how to follow you online and even get some coaching if they are located nearby.
Thank you for the opportunity, I’ve enjoyed it. For anyone who wants to find out more, I have a very detailed website with lots of content and online booking capabilities at www.larkingolf.com and you can also follow me on Twitter. Your readers can reach me directly by phoning 703-864-9017 or emailing [email protected] In January I will be moving my teaching business to a new location at Virginia Oaks Golf Club in Gainesville,VA.