by David Gould, Staff Editor
His website URL is zachoncourse.com, so you know right away that Proponent Group member Zach Theut is heavy into teaching along the fairways and greens, not just on the practice range. Theut (pronounced “toyt”) has been coaching on his own for six years now, having studied his craft under Dave Kendall, Donald Crowley, Charlie Vandenberg and the Vision54 innovators, Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson. The V54 duo preaches on-course coaching about as emphatically as anyone.
“Lynn and Pia were big influences on me and it was Dave Kendall who gave me an opportunity to put a major focus on the playing-lesson approach,” says Theut, a PGM graduate of Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. “I would teach alongside Dave and then entice as many students as possible to come out to Washtenaw Golf Club, where Dave had a standing arrangement. The great majority said yes.”
As he’s gone along, Zach has set up his own on-course teaching deals with public courses, buying six-hole slots at very attractive prices and passing those modest fees onto his students—many of whom he will teach in groups of two or three on the golf course.
“In the beginning I was 50-50 between the lesson tee and the golf course, as my coaching environment,” says Theut. “I’m still at about the same ratio, because that’s the nature of the business and it aligns with customer expectations. But my students are being presented with a clear alternative, and they respond very positively.”
Coaching on the range has a simplicity factor that will always recommend it, but you can get used to leaning hard toward the on-course work. “It requires more organizing and arranging, but as you build relationships with the head pros and the operations staffs, things get pretty smooth,” says Theut. “It’s very common for me to be on the course with three students, paying $125 per person, so financially it works well. Other than when I’ve been shadowing, I’ve never done those nine-hour days standing on one spot, eating PB&J’s on a five-minute lunch break.”
Zach has noticed that younger coaches as they work to grow their reputations end up with many more players who “don’t know what is up with their game” and will tell him “they need all this preparation and practice before they can even go out on the course.” One of the greatest services a player like that can receive is a guided tour of the fairways that shows them they can navigate a round reasonably well and have the actual experience of golf.
There’s a clear overlap between Theut’s philosophy and that of Proponent member Andy Hilts, in his consulting work with academies about how to guide confused new students into long-term coaching programs. Both believe that getting players on the course very early paves the straightest road to shame-avoidance and just plain comfort during a round of golf. And they share the belief that golfers with terrible, score-ballooning short games will routinely tell coaches they chip and putt “pretty well” because their failed short shots don’t make them want to crawl in a hole the way miserable results off a full swing do.
“People want to get around the course enjoyably and not embarrass themselves,” Theut says. “Out on the course, you can see that maybe they’re able to steer their fade to a decent position, but then they struggle inside 100 yards and it’s really the shorter shots that are causing them to spiral downward. On the lesson tee you wouldn’t know that, so there’s a return on their investment with this approach that you can explain to them pretty easily.”