An Interview with Bandon Teaching Pro, Grant Rogers

Grant Rogers thinks we worry too much.

“People have to take it easier on themselves,” says Rogers, the Director of Instruction at Bandon Dunes Resort, his home base since 2000 when there was just one golf course on the property. “My little group yesterday, they were struggling a bit, and I told them, ‘Repeat after me: THIS IS NOT MY FAULT.’  When they hit the golf ball, it’s going to go on this little journey, and it’s really not their fault at that point. It’s going to just do whatever it’s going to do.”

Josh Lesnik, president of KemperLesnik and Kemper Sports and a former general manager at Bandon, watched as his kids took lessons from Rogers. “He’d take them out to Shorty’s [the par-3 course at the practice center] and they’d play a hole, then they might build a sand castle. They’d hit a few shots, then go look for frogs and turtles, and every lesson ended with a root-beer float.”

The pro’s approach to the elder Lesnik could be equally surprising. “One time, I was having trouble hitting my driver, and I asked if I could come for a lesson. He said ‘sure,’ I got there, he said ‘Okay, let’s see what you’re doing.’ I teed it up, and I hit a really good one.  He said, ‘That’s perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing. Lesson’s over.’  And I went out and played great golf for the next month or so.”

At Bandon, the instructional program has been built around Rogers and his love of links golf. He and the staff have devised a curriculum for players new to the links game, and he relishes opening their minds to the possibilities. “I try to get people a little more interested in golf design—thinking that the golf hole is actually the defense, like the architects are defending par. Then it’s up to [the player] to be the quarterback and to plan an offense against their defense.”

In the winds on the Oregon coast, golfers who usually fly the ball into the green may well find their ball blown into a bunker. But that’s okay, too: “I can’t stand playing golf without being in bunkers. It’s fun to get out of bunkers, so you need to get in ‘em.”

He carries two putters and selects one of them, a stock Odyssey 550 that’s become more lofted through frequent full-swing use, for shots up to 200 yards or so. He smacks the ball under the wind, knowing he’ll get the roll he wants from the firm ground and the familiar contours. “A lot of times I look in the bag, and it’s kind of looking right at me, and I’m thinking, ‘Your turn to hit a shot.’ It kind of comes flying out of the bag.” 

Rogers is constantly surprised that golfers don’t take more pleasure in their good shots.  “Sometimes people are really funny. I’m trying to train them to never criticize a ball that goes on the green no matter what. It could be worse. It could be somewhere else, right?  Even Tour players—they’re shaking their heads when they hit it 15 feet from the hole. That doesn’t help their putting, you know?”

He reminds golfers, “Somebody in your group is going to have the most fun today. Why shouldn’t it be you?”

Before dismissing him as a kind of zen Pollyanna, consider the delight he takes in recounting a match he played under an unusual proviso. “On the very first hole [his opponent] had about a 2 1/2-foot putt, and he looked at me and kinda put his arms up and said, ‘It’s only 2 1/2 feet. You want me to putt that ball?’  And I said, ‘Yeah, I’d like to watch you putt. Why?’ And he said, ‘Oh, well, you know, I thought—okay, fine.’  So he goes up there and knocks it right in the hole.

“On the way to the next tee I wandered up to him and I said, ‘I’d like to avoid situations like the one we just had on the first green. I felt a little uncomfortable, and I want to make it a fun day of golf with you, so if you think you can make it, just pick it up. I’ll give it to you.’ He just looked at me. And the best part is, after that, he would agonize over whether he should pick up a 3 1/2-footer or not. He’d look at me, and I’d say, ‘I can’t decide this, it’s up to you.’ And I knew that if he left it there, it meant he thought he couldn’t make it, and he missed every one of those. I had invented something there that totally worked for me. It was really cool.”

His match-play advice for Lesnik was more direct: Fill a clear plastic bag with peanut M&Ms, and around the 14th or 15th hole, when you’re both starting to drag a little, take out the bag and eat a couple of them with obvious enjoyment; it will drive your opponent crazy when you don’t offer him one.

But his most memorable advice might be a reminder he gave his daughter when she got frustrated after hitting a shot that wasn’t perfect. He told her, “Go easier on yourself. It’s not like having a bad day skydiving.”

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