Recently recognized by Golf Digest as one of “The Best Teachers by State (2017-2018)” in New Jersey, Kaster has also received honorable mention as one of the Top 50 U.S. Kids Teachers for 2015 and 2016. Locally, nominated in 2016 and 2017 for the New Jersey PGA Youth Development Award. At the Forsgate Golf Academy, Kaster creates custom group and private coaching programs for adult and junior students to help them improve quickly. He uses the latest technology to coach a large number of junior golfers, several of whom are the best in their age groups in New York and New Jersey. Twelve of his students have earned spots in the U.S. Kids Golf World Championships.
THE KASTER STORY —
I was a big baseball player growing up and just before my 13th birthday I found a Lawson Little 7-iron on a baseball field near our house in Chicago. There were some balls nearby and I started trying to hit them around the park. I got hooked quickly and did that for several weeks until an older gentleman who was walking by one day said I had a good swing and that I should take a golf lesson. So for my 14th birthday I asked my parents for a lesson. We lives on the South Side — my father was a professor at the University of Chicago at the time — so the only course or driving range near by was Jackson Park, an 18-hole facility that is now part of Tiger Woods‘ redevelopment project. I scheduled a lesson the pro, Emanuel Worley, and it was one of the coolest experiences I had ever had.
At the end of the lesson, he told me I had talent and asked when I could come back. I knew my parents wouldn’t bank roll a lot of lessons so Manny — as I would come to call him — said we’d work something out. I essentially became his apprentice over the next four years until I went to college. He taught me how to re-grip clubs and I picked balls on his range and caddied for him. He helped me with my game, with golf clubs, and gave me playing privileges at Jackson Park. I broke 70 in a qualifier for the City Match-Play Championship just before my 16th birthday. Manny’s support really was priceless.
He was one of the best African American players in the country at the time – he had made it to U.S. Open Sectionals and had gone to the final stage of qualifying school for the PGA Tour. He kind of bridged the gap between Calvin Pete and Tiger Woods. Tiger and his father Earl used to come to Jackson Park and do exhibitions when he was invited to play in the Western Open. Being around that had a big impact on me – I caddied for Manny in qualifiers and got to be part of the golf universe under the wing of a very good player and teacher. Everyone in the Midwest knew who Manny was and showed him respect, and that made a big impression on me. By the time I was a senior in high school I knew I wanted to try to play on Tour.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion for you?
Primarily, it’s to get the best results for my students I can and help them have fun playing golf. I’m self-critical so I sometimes think about how I could have done a better job in a lesson to help a player learn what I wanted them to learn, or how I can take a concept we made some progress with and carry it over in our next session. I coach several talented juniors now and I take my responsibility for their development very seriously. I’m always trying to learn as much as I can in the free time I have – whether it’s going back and reading old favorite books or attending coaching certification programs.
I have seen information that despite the gains from technology in equipment the average handicap for men and women has only come down about 1 1/2 shots over the last 10 years. Your comments?
I think there are a few things at play. First, most golfers don’t keep handicaps so that might not be an accurate measure of golf improvement. But, golf courses have gotten longer and more difficult while the equipment has improved. Golf industry data says that at most 15% of golfers take lessons. Golf instruction has gotten a lot better, now that we have things like K-Vest and Doppler Radar, to the point that I feel like I can pretty much guarantee results with a 3-month commitment and willingness to work on all aspects of the game. But, a player must work at it with some persistence over time to see change. The myth of big, fast gains with just one magical swing thought is still out there and it prevents a lot of people from understanding that meaningful improvement in golf is a longer, multifaceted process.
How should a golfer shop for a teacher?
References from friends can be helpful. You can also check Golf Digest Best Teachers by State list or a geographic search on GolfMDs.com – both are good ways to start to find well-regarded teachers in your area. Then I would look at their website and social media profiles like Instagram and Twitter to see if their style and personality suits what you are looking for. Ultimately, you’re not going to know if it’s a good fit until you meet the coach and see how their communication meshes with your personality.
What are the signs a student / teacher relationship is working well?
When the player is seeing results and buys into the process the coach is prescribing. It helps when there is a level of personal connection.
What are the signs when it’s not?
When the inverse of what I just said is present.
Describe your teaching style? Is it elastic or primarily method based?
I would say it’s very elastic. I’ve studied a lot of the methods and as I said before I’ve done many teaching and coaching certifications. In a first lesson, I’m trying to identify the biggest priority for a golfer’s improvement as quickly as I can. Then the goal is to help them focus on a couple of simple ideas for the remainder of the session that will improve their performance. That may involve using a 3D system like K-vest to correct a mechanical issue or it may be skill-based exercises or games. Everyone’s body, athletic and occupational backgrounds are different, so my job is to take the information I have and help that unique individual shoot lower scores.
A number of leading golf organizations — USGA, PGA of America, LPGA, R&A — are pushing for more people to take up golf as their recreational outlet — especially among Millennials, women and minorities. What would you advise they be doing to accomplish that?
One of the reasons golf is not growing at the rate that everyone hoped is that our developmental systems have been lacking for a long time compared with other sports. If we engaged kids when they were younger and were able to make golf something they were at least aware of, we wouldn’t have to play catch up as much when they are adults. The Titleist Performance institute did a study of a local group of juniors – about 100 kids – and asked them if they could do any 5 activities one day each after school, not including video games, which would they choose. Not a single kid even mentioned golf. They chose group activities like soccer, ballet, and karate where they could be with their friends and have fun. Golf’s governing bodies would do well to start by subsidizing more golf in school programs and helping PGA and LPGA professionals with a business model that would allow them to run these programs as part of their overall operation. This would be a big undertaking, but it would be well worth it because the game offers so much more than other sports in terms of values and how it develops solid young people.
Golf courses also need to be more open and inviting in general. There is a culture of exclusivity in golf that makes it somewhat unwelcoming. In our programs at Forsgate, girls and boys participate in roughly equal numbers and we probably have more kids from African American, Chinese, Indian, and Korean backgrounds than Caucasians. I do my best to create a welcoming and fun environment and I think as an industry we must be more inclusive and remove as many of the hurdles as we can for new players of all backgrounds.
Various golf alternatives such as Top Golf, Foot Golf, Frisbee Golf and others of this type have come forward in recent years. Can they be effective in bringing those people into mainline golf or is the jury still out on that?
The jury is still out on Foot Golf. I have never met a student who played Frisbee Golf and then came for a lesson because they wanted to learn the real thing. Top Golf is interesting – a friend of mine said it’s like a night club with golf adjacent. It seems like we might see more new golfers who get started there but the difference between the real game and Top Golf is significant.
You can change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
I love pretty much everything about the game, but divots in the fairway that don’t have grass growing in them should be treated as ground under repair under the rules.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
An old friend’s father once told me never to give up on something you’re truly talented at. That has always stayed with me.