Sometimes the Universe aligns in a particular way and propels you in a new direction. So it has been with me and golf. Friends applying positive peer pressure, a membership special at Canaan Country Club in Canaan, CT, and the discovery of a brand-new unboxed set of golf clubs. They had lain dormant in our garage attic for over a decade – a forgotten gift from my husband during the fog of child rearing.
I heeded the Universe’s call and found myself embarking, in my middle years and despite deep trepidation, on learning the game of golf in the company of my beginner friends. Enter Canaan Country Club and Golf Professional Kay McMahon, founder of eduKaytion Golf based in New Lebanon, NY.
The Kay Way
Kay is an accomplished golfer, but more importantly for our group, she’s a dynamic and effective teacher. Highlights from her career include over 30 years of teaching experience in various settings and Class A membership in the LPGA and PGA of America. She is a member of the LPGA Professionals Hall of Fame, a 2020 LPGA Top 20 Instructors-Elite, LPGA National Teacher of the Year, and one of Golf Digest’s 50 Best Teachers in America.
Although she coaches everyone from children on up, she’s especially sensitive to the needs of women students, having worked and played in a sport that remains male dominated.
Over her long teaching career, she developed the Golf 8.5 approach, which comprises 4 pre-swing and 4.5 in-swing steps. At its pedagogical core, Golf 8.5 is about the “why,” and for Kay, when students understand the why of the swing, they will more quickly grasp what they need to do.
Kay’s 8.5 approach employs “chunking.” By this, she means deconstructing the most fundamental element of the game – the swing. In our lessons, she counsels that while the clubs we use will vary, the swing remains the same.
In breaking down the swing into easily digested pre-swing and in-swing actions, she provides the basic no-fault recipe for success – no fuss, no muss. She comments, “The swing takes less than 1.2 seconds. I want to declutter what students need to do before and during the swing. I simplify it so they can focus on what’s important, and forget the hodgepodge of advice they may hear about elbows, wrists, and weight transfer.”
Kay offers differentiated instruction in our lesson, often relating golf to other parts of life to drive a point home. She wants to know what each person’s objectives are for our time together so she can provide feedback and goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound).
Her ideal student wants to learn and possesses a growth mindset that is open to new approaches – and who is willing to forget previous unhelpful golfing advice. She wants beginner students to be patient with themselves and not engage in trash talk about their efforts. “I’d like students to talk to themselves like they’d talk to a friend – supportive and encouraging.”
She continues, “The industry says golf is difficult, but the swing is simple and often overtaught. I based my 8.5 approach upon years of observation and empirical evidence.”
Laws of physics
Kay begins instruction with the laws of physics regarding ball flight. “These are the absolutes of what the ball and club can do. When students understand what the ball will do when hit by the club, they will know how to create desirable shots and self-correct the ones that go off course.”
Consider golf another reason why physics and geometry are useful after high school. The club’s direction, angle, speed, and squareness of contact will directly impact the ball’s direction, spin, trajectory, and distance. Knowing how these elements interplay allows students to understand their shots.
Setting up for success: GCAP
GCAP is Kay’s acronym for the fundamental four pre-swing steps that are non-negotiable and sequential. These are:
• Grip: hold the club more in the fingers with the club in the air at waist height
• Clubhead: step in with the back foot and set the club down on the ground as it is designed
• Alignment: set your foot line perpendicular to the leading edge of the clubface
• Posture: happens automatically – magic!
Posture’s position in last place is deliberate. It’s where Golf 8.5 differentiates itself from traditional approaches. “Many students are taught posture first. This leads to fixing and adjusting and lots of tips that confuse students. When you set up the shot using GCAP, posture naturally follows. We all learned to stand up as toddlers. The rest our mothers did by telling us to stand up straight.”
GCAP is formulaic and becomes your pre-shot routine from the putter to the driver, thus setting up the golfer for an effective swing.
Getting in the swing of it
The golf swing encompasses the next 4.5 steps. Kay’s focus on the club lessens our focus on the ball, buckets of which are nowhere in sight during our lesson. Not letting us near a ball is by design. She emphasizes that it’s not the ball you need to be concerned with. It’s the tool you’re using – the club. The ball is inert until it’s acted upon by the club’s outside force. If she had her way, the ball wouldn’t enter the lesson until the swing was understood and perfected.
In our lesson, her approach was working. We were getting the swing, understanding the arc path of the club, where to start and stop our truncated swing from waist height to waist height, and feeling good.
Yeah, great. But we want to hit something. “That’s the problem,” she advises. “When the ball is involved, you’re focused on hitting it. You’re not focused on the swing.”
With our relentless pressure, she gave us what we wanted: the small, white, dimpled orb. Suddenly we were swinging every which way but the correct one. Lesson learned – forget the ball, remember the club. That sage advice for Danny from Caddyshack is wrong. It’s not that Danny should be the ball. Danny should be the club.
Will you be my friend?
When learning golf Kay advises the buddy system. This is someone who stands out of the club’s reach for the pre-swing and in-swing and offers “Yes” or “No” feedback. This allows the golfer to reflect and process what they’ve done. The golfer can then self-correct if necessary. In turn, the observer becomes more discerning about her own swing.
Observation helps both people become more self-aware. This self-awareness is not judgment and negative self-talk. Instead, it’s a learning tool for self-correcting.
By taking the swing slowly, we learned that it is the sum of the parts, and only when the pre-swing and in-swing are broken down into chunkable pieces can it be repeated and reassembled into a fluid whole. It’s then that we can add the ball and speed.
Permission slip from the teacher
For a beginner, the rarefied world of golf might frown on accommodations that seem sacrilegious but make the game fun for a beginner. Kay has a response to that, “It’s ‘OKay’. Unless you’re playing in a real competition, make it enjoyable. Have fun. It’s a game.” Here are some of her “OKay” rules for beginners:
• Tee off at 150 yards
• Put every ball on a tee
• Roll the ball, so it lies on a more elevated tuft of grass
• Play nine holes and start on the second hole. Play only the evens and walk the odd.
• Move the golf ball five giant steps from anything you don’t like
• Forget the club’s pars, set your own
Know your pro
As an absolute beginner, golf isn’t a game I could just start playing. Lessons are critical for me since I don’t know the first thing about the game. When selecting a professional, Kay recommends observing them and asking them about their teaching style. Talk to students. Ask them what they learned and if they had fun. Look for LPGA/PGA-credentialed instructors. And remember, a good golfer doesn’t necessarily mean a good teacher.
A comfortable club for beginners
There’s another kind of club that can be challenging for beginners: the golf club they play at. For me and my friends, the Canaan Country Club in Canaan, CT, under the new ownership of Joe Quattrocchi, is just right. It’s friendly and pleasant with a relaxed dress code. There are nine holes not riddled with hazards, so you can feel accomplished and build confidence.
For Quattrocchi, who also owns Wheels of Time, a vintage auto restoration company in Pine Plains, NY, the Canaan Country Club represented an opportunity. “I’m all about restoration and bringing things back to their original beauty. I saw the potential of Canaan Country Club in that way, and we’ve made a lot of progress. Bringing on Kay to provide instruction has been a great decision.”
Over the past year, he’s made the course more “interesting” and upgraded the drainage on the course to keep it playable in all weather. He’s also created a retail shop to supply golfers with what they need on the course.
Inside the clubhouse, you’ll find The Belted Cow Farmhouse Tavern with a menu to please everyone. A horseshoe-shaped bar is ringed with tables for a post-golf refreshment, relaxation, and dining. Adjoining the bar is a dining room and beyond that is a rec room with a pool table and darts. On weekends there are bands and karaoke nights with singers to prove that Canaan’s got talent.
A good walk not spoiled
As I’m discovering, golf is a game of taking the long view. My aspirations are humble – enjoy taking up a new pursuit, move my mind and body in new ways, spend time with friends, learn how to swing properly, and celebrate small victories with a cold beverage. If I meet those goals thanks to Kay and the Canaan Country Club, I’ll be hitting par every time.
For more information about Kay McMahon and lessons, visit www.eduKaytiongolf.com. For more information about Canaan Country Club and to take advantage of its 90th-anniversary membership special of two years for $298, visit www.canaancountryclub.com.