D-C graduate helps fledgling golfers learn the mechanics
By Brian Miller For Sun-Times Media June 20, 2011 10:05PM
Cantigny Golf Club teaching professional Greg Baresel checks the form of students as they work on their short games. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 29, 2011 12:55AM
How do you hit a golf ball, hit it straight, hit it far and keep from raising your heart rate to near nuclear levels from anger and disgust?
It’s a conundrum every casual and experienced golfer has faced at one point or another.
PGA teaching professional Greg Baresel confronts this dilemma on a daily basis.
The Dundee-Crown graduate — a stellar golfer, football and baseball player for the Chargers during his time in Carpentersville — travels around Chicagoland trying to help those struggling with that damned little, white ball.
“In high school, I only saw myself playing football for four years. With golf, I could play it the rest of my life,” said Baresel, 26, who went to Elgin Community College on a golf scholarship. “It turned into a career for me. Now, I have fun and talk golf all day long with people and I get to make them better at the sport they’re playing.”
From Marengo Ridge Golf Club to the AthletiCo Golf Performance Center in Oak Brook to Cantigny Golf Course in Wheaton, Baresel employs corrective video technology and stroke mechanics to help all ages.
“It’s better to use the technology than not use it,” Baresel said. “You can see your mistakes and correct it. Especially the kids, they love to be able to see themselves on video and then see how their swing compares to their favorite golfer. They may not understand all the technical aspects, but they better understand their mistakes with the visual component.”
Understanding a golf swing and even fixing problems with one is being attacked at an earlier age than ever before.
Most golf courses have a junior golf program of some sort. Cantigny’s new Junior Golf Development Program has the backing of the PGA with its TOUR Academy Junior Golf Camp, which is running through the summer and methodically teaches all the principles of golf from age 5 up to 18.
PGA Director of Instruction Connie DeMattia, a former competitor on the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour, has seen it all as a top player and one of the best teachers in the state of Illinois.
He has mentored former Neuqua Valley star Dan Stringfellow, now at Auburn, and Waubonsie Valley standout Thomas O’Bryan, who is taking his talents to Wisconsin after winning the Class 3A state championship last fall.
“Twenty years ago there were probably 1,500 so-called golf teachers in the whole United States. Now you have about 7,000,” said DeMattia, speaking to the growth of golf as a whole. “There are more resources and information now. Technology has changed drastically. The golf ball goes farther and straighter. Equipment is more conforming.”
That area alone is dramatically influencing younger golfers, in addition to the focused instruction.
“When I learned how to play, it was with my dad’s old set of blades that he cut down,” DeMattia said. “Now, every manufacturer is creating a junior set and junior equipment, and not just one set but different sizes. So kids are actually learning on equipment that fits them versus equipment that’s just cut down.”
In this modern era learning environment, club weight becomes a part of the conversation. That’s more of the equipment side. Golf is also growing with a younger population because of governing bodies such as the Illinois Junior Golf Association.
“None of that stuff was there 20 years ago,” DeMattia said. “When I was a junior, you basically just went to the course and played with your buddies. There was no real competition until you had high school season. Now these kids can play all winter long and so many different levels that good or bad, kids have access to learning how to play well.”
There was a big emphasis on underprivileged, inner city kids learning to play golf when Tiger Woods was in the prime of his championship run.
Woods’ foundation along with others made a push and increased exposure of golf like never before, but the longevity of the PGA Tour will still be based on economic climate and advertisers willingness to throw down huge dollars on tournaments.
That’s where junior golf programs really change the future of the sport: there’s a new Tiger Woods being developed somewhere, and even likely, more than one.
It still all starts with the teaching and is an area where Cantigny and its already existing golf academy has been pushing the lengths to which a young golfer can grow.
“We’ve taken the basic Level 1 class and we’ve turned it into a development program,” DeMattia said. “So you still have a class that orients them into safety and some behavior stuff, then you incorporate Level 2, which involves some pitching, but once you start Level 3 out here, it’s all about skill development. I modeled it after the martial arts where there’s different tiers and you actually have to understand the different concepts and perform the skills to move up to the next level.”
Skill and fun are balanced in the program, but who isn’t having fun when they are playing well? It doesn’t matter the age.
“People still want to play. People still want to get outside and do something fun,” Baresel said. “It has been a little bit of a struggle for our industry, but we’re still making it happen. People still want to play golf. The PGA does good things with the Play Golf America campaign that they do and getting people involved. I feel like the golf industry is picking up.”
While most every child has aspirations of becoming a professional athlete, the PGA is using Junior Golf and its instructors to raise awareness for the plethora of other options should a tour card not be on the horizon.
“There’s a wide range of positions available in the golf industry,” Baresel said. “You can work at golf course. You can be an assistant golf pro and work your way up to a head golf pro. You can be a teaching pro like myself and just give golf lessons. You can be a sales rep for a club manufacturer. You can work in customer service, research and development. There’s just a wide range of career paths to follow in golf, which is what makes it unique.”