Teaching pros show right stuff in matches

November 9, 2010 

Tom Staskus and Kevin Bishop are best known in the region as teachers of the game of golf. But they can play a little, too.

Staskus is head of instruction for The First Tee of Olympia junior golf program and has a steady clientele of adult students. Bishop is golf coach at Saint Martin’s University and local director of The First Tee.

Both of them could have said to their students recently, “This is how you do it.”

Staskus shot a 4-under 68 on Nov. 2 in the rain-shortened 2010 Club Car Chapter Senior Championship at Meridian Valley Country Club in Kent. That was good for a tie for the lead and a spot in a four-way playoff, eventually won by Jim Pike of Sahalee.

In October, Staskus earned the maximum three points at the Hagen Cup Matches, winning in two team matches and a singles match, to help lead the Western Washington pros to a victory over Oregon at Stone Creek Golf Club in Oregon City.

Jerry Johnson (The Olympian, July 27 and Aug. 3), another local First Tee instructor, also earned three points for Western Washington in the Hagen Cup competition.

Staskus picked up two wins and a tie, good for 21/2 points, to help the South team win the annual North-South Cup matches at Seattle’s Sand Point Country Club.

Over the three events, Staskus played 54 consecutive holes without a bogey.

Bishop won five consecutive matches to win his third Washington PGA Senior Match Play championship in September, concluding with a 4-and-3 victory in the final over Louie Runge at Indian Summer Golf and Country Club.

Bishop was also on two victorious teams in the Hagen Cup Matches to contribute two points toward Western Washington’s win.

The match-play final was a rubber match for Runge and Bishop, who both grew up in Raymond, where Runge’s father ran Willapa Harbor Golf Course.

Bishop beat Runge in the 2006 match-play final, and Runge defeated Bishop in 2007.

The match-play format seems to suit Bishop, who wears so many hats that when he plays it has to be well-used time.In earlier rounds, his matches were at Tacoma Golf and Country Club and Oakbrook Golf and Country Club in Lakewood, Everett Country Club and Fircrest Golf Club in suburban Tacoma.

“I tell myself I’m not going to drive someplace and lose,” Bishop said.

TEACHER’S CORNER

Staskus is first up today in what will be a periodic feature in this space – Teacher’s Corner.

“There’s always a cause and effect,” says Staskus, 51, a Professional Golfers’ Association member since 1998.

What he means is there are no accidents – every bad shot is bad for a reason.

“Wherever the ball goes, that’s where the club is traveling,” he says.

Many inexperienced golfers are off-balance right from the setup – aiming way left or way right.

Staskus tries to adjust not just for aim but for how upright a player should be, based on height and build.

Staskus also works to change the thought pattern of “hitting” the golf ball. What he wants students to find is the feel of swinging the golf club in concert with the body.

Staskus’ own playing experience (he took up the game at age 12) can be instructive for his students (see start of column).

“There are three mantras I live by,” he said.

One: When setting up to the ball, he reminds himself he doesn’t have to swing hard to make the ball jump off the club face.

Two: Watch the club hit the ball. “If I see the divot after the ball, I know I stayed down on it.”

Three: Finish. “When I don’t finish, I hold on too tight,” he said. “I’m hitting with my hands and arms, not swinging with my body, which probably means I won’t finish my swing in balance.”

THE FIVE-MINUTE FIX

For Staskus, the key is balance. When seeing a student for the first time, if he had only five minutes for the lesson, he would work on club path and ball direction, and it starts with balance.

The only way to get the club on the right path, he said, and thus send the ball in the right direction, is to eliminate excess movements, any one of which can throw off the path.

To teach this lesson, Staskus might have a student hit golf balls from a feet-together stance.

Lacking the leverage of a wider stance, a player with his feet together is forced to concentrate on staying still, and thus stay in balance, even to get the club on the ball.

Olympia freelance writer Bart Potter can be reached at greygoatee06@comcast.net

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