Director of Instruction / Assistant General Manager
Ruffled Feathers Golf Club, Lemont, Ill.
Jake Thurm has always wanted to help people, which led him to earn his college degree in clinical psychology. Along the way, Thurm turned his energy toward golf, helping autistic and mentally challenged youngsters to play, as well as coaching players who have won multiple high school state championships, state open championships, earned college golf scholarships and gone on to become golf professionals.
For the past 15 years, Thurm, 38, has been a fixture at Ruffled Feathers Golf Club, helping golfers at Arcis Golf’s Pete Dye golf design in the Chicago area, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2017. A native of Downer’s Grove, Ill., Thurm is currently on the list of “best young teachers in America,” as recognized by Golf Digest magazine.
A graduate of Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., where he was an accomplished golfer – Thurm also coaches a number of PGA Tour players and has coached students on every major tour in the world. Among the pros are James Hahn, Mark Wilson, and his longtime friend Kevin Streelman, Thurm’s rival in golf matches all through high school.
THE THURM STORY —
While working on my degree in clinical psychology I interned with the Chicago board of health – working with suicide patients. I learned from that experience that I would not be able to do that for a long time, so I went back to golf, thinking I would be able to help golfers improve.
Teaching is something that you have to learn to do. The great Harvey Penick used to say, “I learned to play from players. I learned to teach from teachers.” So I got in my car and drove anywhere I could to watch lessons, or take a lesson from top teacher and watch them teach the rest of the day. I was not looking for help with my game. I’m looking for what would help other golfers with their issues.
The most important thing to me was working with the “Three Jims” – Dr. Jim Suttie, Jimmy Ballard and Jim McClean. I own the most to them for me becoming a golf coach and being able to help people – and make a living at it. Working right next to them had the greatest influence on me — and still does.
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MATT WARD: Recent studies have showed higher handicap golfers not really improving over the years even with all the gains made on the technology side for clubs and balls and that the divide with highly skilled players has only widened. Why do you think that is?
JAKE THURM: The reason people are not getting better is because of mismatched information. What most people do comes from seeing swing tips. But if you teach someone to do what Dustin Johnson is doing, it’s like throwing someone a basketball and telling them to play like Michael Jordan. That’s not going to happen.
The only way to improve is to get a complete evaluation of where you are, where you could go, and the use that information around your physical capabilities as an individual.
All information is excellent. Golf is best analyzed sport on the planet, but the worst trained. We put beginning level players in classes and tell better players to take private lessons. It’s the beginning level golfer who belongs in private lessons, and then later move on to classes.
I am invested in human expertise and development, and what we have come to learn from latest studies is that we as a golf industry have it backwards.
MW: What side of the gender aisle is more likely to seek out a golf lesson / instructor — male or female?
JT: It seems to depend on the type of lesson a golfer is looking for. For a private lesson, I see more men than women, but in group lessons it flip-flops, more women than men. Adults want private lessons, but kids are more impressionable in groups, regardless of gender. The training is very similar, but men and women are different to coach; you need to know the “art” side of delivering the message.
MW: Why do you think that is?
JT: Those things always seem to change. A few years ago, all my best players were women, whether they were tour professionals or amateurs. Now, it’s more men.
MW: If a golfer were looking to take lessons — what would be some key items on their checklist before doing so?
JT: Find an instructor who has taken somebody from where you are, to where you want to be, and hopefully done it more than once. Ask around, go online and find someone who has the reputation for helping people like you.
That first lesson, whether it’s a private lesson or group lesson, should be a job interview – and you are interviewing them. You need to be a team, like Bill Belichick and Tom Brady – a coach and a player who believe in each other. It is no different in golf. You have to have that trust. You need a team – and maybe it’s more than just a swing coach – all rolling in the right direction.
If you start taking lessons and your back starts hurting, you are probably being asked to do things you can’t do. Playing good golf does not have to hurt. Bad golf hurts, usually from improper movement. That’s why I test players before they ever swing a club, in order to know what each golfer can and can’t rotate, where they are strong and where they are weak. I know what we can do based on what the golfer is willing to do to improve.
You have to be honest. Statistics are honest. I can train you to be a better golfer, but I am not here to fix you – I’m here to guide you. I am your GPS. If you get lost, I will recalculate and get you back on the next optimum route to where you want to go. The goal always is to prolong the periods of peak play and shorten the periods of when you are lost.
MW: You now seeing teachers using a wide range of high tech features when giving lessons — what role should they play and when does such usage become redundant or overkill?
JT: Technology is awesome. I love technology. Use it in every lesson.
I can’t image going to a doctor who did not have the best technology out there. I realize it’s just golf and not saving lives. Now, just because you are using technology does not mean a player has to be technical. I tell them not to even look at the screen. That information is for me. I don’t use a word I can’t spell. I don’t speak like a scientist. That is not my job. My job is to make it understandable.
I don’t understand argument why a teacher would not want to know more. Technology is the way to alleviate as much opinion as possible. Science is never wrong — sometimes scientists are. With all the technology you have to know it inside out – before passing it out. Think about how to communicate that information. Sounding smart never makes anyone better.
MW: What are the signs a teacher / student relationship is working?
JT: It’s a performance thing. Coaching is about results. Butch Harmon is ranked No. 1 because you just can’t argue with his results. Sometimes it’s like magic. You get a player to do one little thing and like magic, it makes a huge change. You can see it in their faces. It changes their whole day.
Everybody is different. Each golfer’s personal goals are different. That is how you need to coach them. Make it work for them. If they are not going to go to the range, don’t give them stuff for the range. They could say, “I just want to play,” then OK, cool, give them things to do while they play. If that is what works for them — then it’s working.
MW: What are the signs when a teacher / student relationship is not working?
JT: Magic for one can be tragic for another. I get fired every day – by students I just never hear from again. When the results are not there – my coaching is not working. I am not afraid to send people to another golf coach, who teaches what would be better for them. That is part of helping them get to where they want to go.
MW: Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
JT: As golf coaches and teachers, it is our responsibility – especially until the depleted numbers of golfers can rebound – to present the very best of our game. That came from Darren May, who also coaches players on tour. We have to support each other as golf professionals. Be positive about how we approach what we do, and respect the other good teachers and coaches out there, too.
MW: If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
JT: Bifurcation of the rules. I don’t care what 500 millionaires do when they play the game. I am all for everyday amateur golfer. The rules should not be the same. I hear golfers say, “Isn’t it cool that we get to play the same golf courses as the tour players? But that is really not true. You may be playing the same property, but you are not playing the same golf course.
And the governing bodies are worrying about the length of a putter? I have never heard one golfer say that, “If they don’t change that putter anchoring, I am quitting the game.” But I am sure that there are a lot of golfers who anchored, but now are not, who are quitting the game. Is that good for golf? Is that really protecting the game?
MW: You are one of the country’s best teachers under the age of 40. What was your reaction when you heard the news and what does that mean for the rest of your career?
JT: Being nominated by my colleagues – I am deeply humbled. People like Jim McLean, Dr. Jim Suttie, Sean Foley, Claude Harmon III and Bill Harmon – I consider each one of them a mentor, a friend, and my big brothers. I just wanted to be like them. Every single person who nominated me, I look up to. For them to say that you’re doing something right, that, to me, is the honor.
Jake Thurm is at www.jakethurmgolf.com
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