AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – We’re talking to PGA teaching professional, Gary Cressend, about the game of golf. For you amateurs out there and certainly for the professionals who are in town for the Masters Golf Tournament, Gary works with many of them on the PGA Tour.

It is exciting stuff, and we’re gonna kind of pull back the curtain and find out what Gary does when he goes out there and teaches and coaches.

BRAD: Gary, welcome to The Means Report. Thanks for being here.

GARY: Glad to be here. Thanks for having me, Brad. It’s flattering that you invited me over to talk, especially pre-Masters week. So big week coming for us in Augusta. We always look forward to it, so very exciting stuff.

No, it is exciting, and you have such a connection now to these players, to the Tour itself, and certainly at the Masters for the first time this year teaching and coaching. I think that’s just awesome. Before we get to that though, let’s sort of figure out how you got here. What’s your golf journey look like through your life? 

Well, I grew up in South Louisiana playing lots of baseball, playing football, playing basketball, playing everything. Ended up kind of sticking with baseball as a kid and played all the way through college. And then I finished playing college baseball and started falling in love with golf. Started working at Reynolds Plantation as I finished at Georgia College in Milledgeville and started playing golf and got to where I needed to compete at it and decided I wanted to get into the golf business. So I found a job at Augusta Country Club way back in 2003 working under Tommy Brannen, which was an incredible opportunity for me as he’s a Hall of Fame, Georgia Golf Hall of Fame member now, and was very lucky to have worked under him for 20 years to learn the business and how to teach and how to be a PGA professional. 

Yeah, I think one of the great things about you, Gary, is your ability to work with people of all ages. And so I’ll just start at that end of the spectrum, the young people, if you will, that you work with. And the question is, how old should a child be when a parent says, “Okay, it’s all right for you to go see if you want to learn the game of golf now”? 

I mean, I think that kids will show you their interest pretty quickly if they’re wanting to get more help. I always tell parents that, ask me, you know, when should I bring my son or daughter to have a lesson, I say, “Well, probably when they start asking you questions,” right? And so when they start asking you questions, that’s probably time for them to get the proper answers. Unfortunately, most golfers don’t really know the answers. They know what works for them sometimes, but not always. But the great thing about golf is what works for you may not work for me and what works for me may not work for you. And understanding that is hard a lot of times because we think it’s pretty simple, but it is more complicated. It’s understanding your own style, and everybody’s style is different. 

Yeah, and so I want to kind of take away the anxiety that some parents might be having right now if they do wanna send their child into this world of golf. It’s not as if you make a judgment, Gary, during that first assessment as to whether that child can play or not. Isn’t it a gradual process to try to teach them the fundamentals? 

Well, yeah, the game is very, there’s so many different parts of the game, right? And learning to play the game is way more than just making a good golf swing, right? So, you know, learning the short game, learning the longer game, learning the trouble shots, learning the mental side, learning how to deal with failure because you’re gonna struggle, everybody’s gonna have struggle, even at the highest level, you know, dealing with missed shots and things like that, and being okay with making mistakes and understanding that that’s just part of the game. So, you know, I think a lot of times you watch golf on TV and what they show is players doing really, really well. What they don’t show is the not so good stuff that happens even at the highest level. And so it creates a perception that, you know, I should have every shot on the green and in the fairway and, you know, make every eight foot putt, and that’s just not real life. 

No, and you’re right, it does create that perception. So what do you do? Let’s move from children and junior golfers to the college age people you work with and the pros that you work with. What are you doing at this point with them? It can’t be fundamentals, or is it, or are you just tweaking their game? 

You’d be surprised. It’s very, very fundamental, especially at the higher level. There’s certainly some more complex things that we work on at a higher level, but, you know, when I’m seeing guys on the road for prepping for tournaments, it’s making sure that alignment is good and that setup is solid, that some of the non-moving things are all in place, so that, you know, when they’re looking at a target, that they’re actually aiming where they’re looking and that the ball’s in the right position in their stance and things that are very basic that most people overlook. 

Why do we forget these things? Why would a Tour level player like Kevin Kisner who you’re working with now, Henrik Norlander, Greyson Sigg, several others, why would they forget ball position or club position or something that we amateurs forget all the time? 

Well, you just get lost in the shot, right? So you get very focused on the shot and you can start to, or you go play in a lot of wind, or you play in a place where you gotta hit the ball higher or lower, or you gotta curve it more one way or the other, and the ball starts to move around in the stance, the alignment starts to move a little bit as a result. And then, you know, week to week, that changes based on the turf you’re playing on. Soft turf, firm turf, you know, heavy, rough, whatever it may be, can start to create some movement in those fundamental things that you have to come back to baseline. 

So you cater your coaching to the conditions and the golf course for these guys. Let me ask you about the mental aspects of the game. You mentioned this a moment ago. What do you say to somebody to help them, pro or amateur, move on from a bad shot or a bad hole? 

Well, I think the key is that being present with each and every shot, right? So the previous shot, not bringing emotion from the previous shot into the current shot. That each shot that you hit is an opportunity to get ball closer to the hole, period. So whether the shot you hit before went offline, still the next shot is to hit the ball closer to the hole. So just staying focused on continuing to move the ball closer to the hole until it goes in. 

Let’s talk about the Masters, and we’ll see you out on the range working with Kevin Kisner. What is the key, and I know this is a really general question, but what’s the key for golfers as they approach Augusta National Golf Club? What thoughts should they have to make them play their best? Putt my best this week, drive my best this week. What is it? 

I think a lot of what I just said about the mental side of things is to be present with each shot ’cause every shot’s gonna demand a different thing from you. Especially as you get into the heat of the tournament that, you know, there’s a lot of things going on at the Masters, a lot of roars, a lot of distraction, there’s just a lot of noise that you can get lost in, but just to get in your little world and just play golf. 

What’s tougher, learning good golf habits, ’cause it is for some a tough game to learn to master. Well, nobody ever masters it. Well, what’s tougher? Learning good golf habits or breaking bad ones? 

I think learning good golf habits is probably tougher, mostly because very few have that. And so you learn from your environment and seeing players, and as a general rule, that don’t recover well from mistakes made on the golf course or poor shots and getting changing basically. I always talk to amateurs about, “Hey, you know, just because you hit a bad shot doesn’t mean you need to change your swing for the next shot, right? It doesn’t matter how good your swing is, you’re gonna hit some bad shots. And the key is to consistently approach each shot the same way and try to repeat your motion over and over again and understand that, you know, it’s not always gonna go online.” 

Can you buy a good golf game? We see so many commercials, and when we’re watching the Masters, we’ll see a ton of them. Can we upgrade our equipment and make ourselves instantly better? 

I think if you have a equipment that fits you is very important. It’s like, if I try to go play golf in your shoes, my feet aren’t gonna feel very good, right? So having equipment that fits you, having equipment that you can create a consistent feel with, that you’re able to, you know, feel that you can have the best opportunity to hit a good shot each time, especially if your clubs fit you, you’re gonna feel better about that. So yes, equipment can help for sure. That doesn’t solve all the problems. You know, there is the, you know, the old Ben Hogan go dig it out of the dirt. You know, you have stuff to go put in the time and practice and play and do the right kind of things to get yourself to where you’re improving your skills. 

Probably my last question, and it’s just to ask you about teaching and coaching in general. I know you and I had a conversation many years ago about the difference between really helping somebody through a series of lessons or putting a band aid on their game to get them through their next round or their next event. What would you recommend to somebody who truly wants to be committed to get better at golf? Is there X number of lessons or X number of months you need to work at it before you go out on the course? How prepared should we be to make a commitment in that regard? 

I think if you wanna get better at playing the game, you gotta play the game, right? So yeah, you can get on the range and practice, but that doesn’t give you what is necessary to go out and play and score, right? So I think having reasonable expectations, for instance, if you know the best score that you’ve ever made on a hole is a six, okay, then make your par a seven on that hole and go out and try to beat your best score each time you play. Getting out to try to play par golf for most players is impossible. So, you know, being aware of what your skill level is, being accepting of that to try to improve it a little bit at a time, right? Making big moves to try to improve a mountain when you really just need to walk up a little hill at a time is pretty important to just stay the course. It’s a lifelong journey, and that’s the beauty of it too. 

It sure is. It’s a wonderful game, and Gary, you make it a lot easier for a lot of people, and I appreciate you being with us today. 

Absolutely. I appreciate you having me. 

Gary Cressend, PGA teaching professional, he can change your life. Follow him on Instagram, and root for Gary and Kevin Kisner at the Masters as it gets underway.