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Dale Ketola grew up in Greenwood, S.C. His earliest golf memories are of hitting balls in the large backyard of his parents’ home.
“Once my parents determined that my brother and I had an active and continuing interest in playing the game, they got us a junior membership that allowed us to play golf from morning until night at several courses,” Ketola said last week as we chatted on the range at Farmstead.
“My mother dropped us off in the morning on her way to work and picked us up on her way home that night. We played and played the course. We hit practice balls. We putted. I learned to love the game, but never had a lesson until I was 18 years old.”
For an athletic young man, hitting hundreds of golf balls will lead to a decent swing and an ability to score well in competition. Ketola played well enough on his high school team to get a full scholarship to Coastal Carolina University.
As Ketola progressed through college and the process of becoming a PGA golf professional, he took lessons and found mentors who honed his swing and deepened his interest in the teaching profession.
Ketola worked with Andrew Rice, the head teaching pro at Berkeley Hall Golf Course in Bluffton, S.C. Rice is originally from South Africa and played in tour events with Ernie Els and Retief Goosen. Rice also worked at the David Ledbetter Junior Golf academy in Florida before he started his own golf school.
Another teacher and mentor was Dr. Jim Suttie, who was named The 2000 PGA National Teacher of the Year, made the list of Golf Digest’s Best 50 Teachers and Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers.
“Working with men like that helped me become interested in the mechanics of the swing and the teaching of the game,” Ketola said.
After working at several teaching facilities in the Grand Strand area (including Bay Tree, Pawley’s Plantation and the Greg Norman School), Ketola started his own golf academy.
“I called it Potential Golf, because I believe that every golfer, no matter their ability, has yet to reach their potential,” he said. “I’ve been here at Farmstead for over a year now and I love what I do.”
As we talked about golf, I shared my “worst golf lesson” experience. I was a beginning golfer in my mid-30s and I took a one-hour lesson from our club pro in New Jersey. This pro gave me 87 swing thoughts that day. Everything from grip to backswing, hinging at the top, shifting my weight, cocking my wrists, bending at the waist, reaching for the ball, bringing the club back slowly, then at the top of the backswing, he told me to drop my hands straight down and swing up and out at the ball.
Needless to say, I was so confused after that lesson I could barely grip the club or bring the club back. I whiffed, I shanked, I topped and swore I’d never take another lesson.
Ketola chuckled at my remembrance and said, “I build the golf swing in small, baby steps. No one can concentrate on 12 things at once. Less is more and when I give a lesson, I try not to talk too much. I listen and I watch and I make small suggestions.”
When Ketola gets a new student, he first talks to them to get an assessment of where the student is and where he or she wants to go.
“What are your goals? Why are you here? It’s important for me to know, but also important for the student to have a clear feeling of where they want to go,” he said.
After the initial assessment, Ketola uses state-of-the-art recording and monitoring equipment to track his student’s swing and the trajectory of the golf balls they hit. He uses V1 Pro Software video swing analysis and FlightScope 3D tracking technology.
“Basically, it’s like Doppler radar. Having these tools on an outdoor driving range is perfect. We are not working in a cage and both the student and I can see the balls as they are hit. In addition, we also track the distance, elevation and curve of the golf ball on the computer recorder. We can track the impact of the swing and the angle of the clubface. After I work with the student on the range, we go back to my office and watch everything on a screen and discuss what he learned in the lesson.”
The video is then emailed to the student so he can review it and work on his own.
“I recommend a series of lessons, but not too close together. Practice and play time between lessons will help the golfer to learn and implement his new swing,” Ketola said. “Ideally, there should be about 10 days to two weeks between lessons.”
In addition to teaching the game, Ketola is also a club fitter for TaylorMade.
“Sometimes, there’s not at lot wrong with a swing, but new clubs will help the ball go straighter or longer or both,” Ketola said. “Sometimes as folks get older, they lose distance and that becomes a concern.”
As Ketola talked, he took a golf ball from a bucket and kicked it 10 yards in front of us.
“There,” he said. “Golfers worry because they have lost 10 yards on their drive. That’s 10 yards. Do you think that will make a real difference on a 385-yard par-4? Golfers can stay competitive as they get older by concentrating on their short game. If you can take strokes off your putting and learn to chip the ball up close to the pin, that will take more strokes off your score than hitting a driver 10 yards farther.”
Ketola says he loves to work with students on the short game. “That’s where the golfer can see real progress in their scores. Plus, it’s something you can do in your backyard. You can even putt inside your house.”
Ketola encourages his students to “practice with a purpose.”
“Don’t just go to the range and hit buckets of balls without a specific target. Same goes for chipping. Aim at a target and see how many balls you can get to that point. Golf is like life, if you aim at nothing, you get nothing.”
I spoke with Tom Buzinski, who had just finished a series of lessons with Ketola and had also purchased new TaylorMade golf clubs from him.
“My wife had signed up for a series of lessons but then she injured her knee in a skiing accident,” he said. “She couldn’t finish the series, so I agreed to take over. I learned a lot from Dale and got new clubs too.”
Ketola also is writing a golf instruction book.
“The book is all about keeping it simple, about keeping just a few basic thoughts in your head while you play or practice. I’m thinking of calling it ‘Detox Your Swing’ or ‘Caveman Golf.’ ”
So dear readers, as we head into the cooler months, use this time to work on your game. Find a teaching pro you like and sign up for some lessons. Go to the practice tee or just walk a few holes late in the afternoon and groove your swing.
For more information on Ketola’s golf academy, go to www.potentialgolf.com.
Golf Gab groaners
“Golf is 90 percent inspiration and 10 percent perspiration.” (Johnny Miller)
“Golf is a good walk spoiled.” (Mark Twain)
“I’d like to see the fairways more narrow. Then everybody would have to play from the rough, not just me.” (Seve Ballesteros)
From “A Round of Golf Jokes.”