The first year that Golf Digest published a list of the "Best Young Teachers in America," Abby Welch's name was right there. She's been on the list four times total. Meanwhile in 2016, Marc Lapointe is making his first appearance on the prestigious rankings of the nation's top golf instructors under age 40.
Welch, lead instructor at the Tommy Cuthbert Golf Learning Center at Kiawah Island Resort since 2005, and Lapointe, who has run his eponymous Marc Lepointe Golf at Fort Mill Golf Club since 2015, join Meredith Kirk of the Dustin Johnson Golf School at TPC Myrtle Beach in the lineup of the best 100 in America.
They are enthusiastic teachers who work well with all ages and genders of players. And all say they are beneficiaries of golf's desire to attract more new players to the game, plus their youthful approaches to using technology to teach a complicated and often frustrating game.
Welch, 37, a former University of South Carolina player and team captain, is a typical 30-something tech-head. "I love my iPad," she says. "I can take pictures, compare your swing to others, because seeing yourself (swinging a club) sometimes makes more sense, or seeing what a PGA Tour or LPGA player does."
Lapointe, a Montreal native and former Coker College player who worked 12 years in Charlotte with the Dana Rader School before moving to nearby Fort Mill, agrees that younger instructors are "more used to (technology), as well as using social media to our advantage" in attracting students. "And we connect well with a younger generation, most of whom use technology in everything."
Kirk, who joined the staff of DJGS director Allen Terrell in January 2016 after six years at Myrtle Beach's Blackmoor Golf Course, says the school's state-of-the-art equipment was a draw for her. "The technology we have at the school is amazing," she told the Myrtle Beach Sun News. "It's top of the line and you can't beat it."
Welch says digital video can overcome even a stubborn student. "You tell some what they're doing and they say, ‘I'm not doing that,'" she says with a laugh, "and you put up the video, and they say, ‘Oh, sorry.'"
Lapointe, 38, says his FlightScope ball-flight system, similar to TrackMan devices used on the PGA Tour, is "a great tool in instruction. It's 3-dimensional and state of the art. Video is helpful, but not as precise as this - and the next thing will be 4-D, with motion sensors on your body. Each year, it's something better."
But young instructors are more than just techies and geeks. Welch says, for example, that being female is often a plus when teaching women and youngsters. "We want more people, especially more women and kids, playing, and we can make it more accessible," she says. "Our bodies are different from men's, and understanding that as a teacher is vital."
One method Welch uses with beginning players of whatever age or gender is "teaching backwards, from green to tee," she says. "If you put them on the driving range, (the full swing) is complicated and scary for beginners. So we get them to chip and putt, making good shots, and then going bigger makes more sense to them."
All three offer instruction for one-time visitors as well as long-term students, though Welch and Kirk, working in a resort area, get more students seeking a quick fix. Lapointe says he sees both, too.
"You get the guy coming in a week before a golf trip, and you've got to help them," he says. "The ideal students, though, don't need a band-aid fix. That's especially true with juniors, who are the perfect group for long-term instruction," notably his 16-week program where, he says, "they make great progress."
Welch is more likely to see a student once, "though we do get repeat business when they come back to the resort," she says. "You also get wives who, after their husbands have played four days in a row, want to join them. A lot of it is making it simple for them to understand and succeed, and the easiest fix is the short game - playing from 100 yards in three shots or fewer."
Hourly instructions range from $100 (Kirk) and $110 (Lapointe) to $160 (Welch), so customers must believe they can deliver results. It doesn't hurt students' confidence, Welch says, to see that Golf Digest Top 100 award.
"I have mine (hanging) on the wall," she says, laughing. "It pushes business up and looks good on your card or when they call." Welch has won other awards, including from US Kids Golf, and benefited from articles in Southern Living. She also volunteers with Charleston's First Tee program.
Lapointe is new to Golf Digest's national awards, though he earned the magazine's Best in North Carolina honors. "You use it a little, so you can do more teaching and less promotion," he says.
Kirk, ranked third among South Carolina instructors in 2015, also was on the Golf Digest national list that year, and earned one of seven "Innovators" awards from Golf Magazine for creating Myrtle Beach's Junior Golf Exchange, providing kids with equipment and fitting at no cost.
All share a sentiment expressed by Welch. "I enjoy what I do, and being recognized for it," she says.
Want to book a lesson?
Meredith Kirk, Dustin Johnson Golf School, TPCMyrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet
843.685.1519; Book Here
Mark Lapointe, Marc Lapointe Golf at Fort Mill Golf Club, Fort Mill
704.906.4742; Book Here
Abby Welch, Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Kiawah Island
843.266.4030; Book Here