Don Sargent, Jr., PGASouthern Ohio PGA 2021 Teacher of the Year presented by GOLFTEC
Don Sargent, Jr., PGA has been around the game of golf for as long as he can remember. Growing up with an avid golfer as a father, Sargent learned early on how much practice it takes to become a good player in this game. He earned a Junior Player of the Year title in Tennessee then went on to play in college until a car accident put his golf career on hold. Sargent’s connection to the game didn’t halt throughout his recovery, but instead switched directions as he learned how to teach new golfers. Between reading books about the swing and working with legendary mentors including Mike Adams and David Ledbetter, Sargent developed into a skilled golf instructor and brought his passion for the game to Scioto Country Club in 2005. Since moving to Columbus, Sargent has given more lessons than he can count and developed a variety of games from junior golfers with goals of playing at a higher level to professionals competing on a national level and all the player types in between. In addition to teaching, Sargent hasn’t stopped learning throughout his career. His passion to learn as much about the golf swing as possible helps not only his students, but his colleagues as well. He has been a key presenter at numerous events sharing his knowledge as much as he can. Sargent has been recognized by Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and PGA of America for his dedication to teaching the game. He also has been honored with the Southern Ohio PGA Teacher of the Year award in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013.
Read below to hear Don’s thoughts on becoming a successful PGA Instructor and Golf Professional.
SOPGA: What made you passionate about teaching golf?
DS: I was a really, really good player. I was a Tennessee Junior Player of the Year then went to college to play golf and won three of my first five college events. The only thought I had on my mind was that I would play golf for a living. Then my freshman year of college, on my way home from school and I had a car wreck. I spent 13 days in a coma then two years in bed and had to reevaluate playing on Tour. At that point, I didn’t know that I wasn’t going to be able to [play], but I didn’t know if I would ever fully regain the health I used to have. The whole time of me trying to get healthy and not knowing if I could ever play on Tour but believing I still had a chance to, I studied [golf] every day. I tripled it, quadrupled it, and in that process of trying to get my game back, my mentor Bill Stine told me I needed to do something besides being in the shop. I thanked him for it because I hated being in the shop and I became a teacher.
SOPGA: Can you walk us through your path to becoming the 2021 Southern Ohio PGA Teacher of the Year?
DS: My first job was with David Ledbetter. It was a life changer to get to be around the best players in the world then; [Nick] Faldo, [David] Frost, [Nick] Price, Tom Watson and Seve [Ballesteros]. And in my search to get better, I left there and went to work for Mike Adams, who really became my golf mentor as he helped me explain what I didn’t understand at David’s. After nine or ten years with Mike, I went to work for the great Jim Flick. I was there for about two years teaching with Martin Hall and Mike Malaska and developing a very nice relationship with Mr. Nicklaus. Then I went to work for Mike McGetrick, who also was a National Teacher of the Year. I got my own first job at Oakmont, and taught there about six and a half years, and then I came here, to Scioto Country Club and it’s been 17 years.
SOPGA: Working with those great mentors, how much time did you spend learning about the golf swing and how to teach it to others before you started teaching it?
DS: Any time I went to work for any of those guys, I couldn’t give a lesson for at least six months. I sat on a bucket and made notes, wrote down every word I heard and everything I watched. And then we went into not teaching individual lessons but teaching group lessons, golf schools. So you’re teaching on the line with those guys and you learn to see what they see and you learn to use the words that they use. You learn to teach in their system. Learning and teaching their systems really helped me. They each had a different system, but Mike Adams’ system stuck with me because he taught us to teach body types and that’s really what changed my life as far as being able to be, what I would call, a really outstanding teacher.
SOPGA: What does an average day or week in your position look like?
DS: I teach six days a week. For 38 years. From 8:00 in the morning to 6:00 in the evening or more. I’ll then spend at least two more hours a day somewhere reading about or watching about or talking to somebody about our craft.
SOPGA: How do you utilize your network of PGA Teaching Professionals to continue expanding your knowledge of the game?
DS: You would be shocked how many times I pick up the phone and ask teacher X or Y, ‘I’ve got this guy and I’ve been working through this or that it’s not quite clicking. What are your thoughts on how you might go about this’. I just got back from Memphis with 19 other Top 100 teachers and we spent a lot of time discussing the swing and teaching practices. That’s the most important thing to me, being in the Top 100 teachers is the friendships and the alleys of communication that I’m able to have with those people.
SOPGA: Can you share a ‘best practice’ you utilize as a successful instructor?
DS: I learned from David [Leadbetter] to make my lessons 10 words or less. I learned from Mike Adams all of the intricacies of what is going on. And either it’s because I’m from Tennessee or the way I think in a simple way, as an athlete and as a former player, I think it helps to understand why you’re doing it and how you’re doing it. Now we’ve got to figure out how we do that and go during game time. I explain my topics fully as clearly as I can, but then I try to end every lesson in 10 words or less. I explain it and then I simplify it. And if you can’t do it, it’s either (a) you don’t have the ability, (b) you don’t understand or (c) I didn’t put it in the right words.
SOPGA: What are some of the rewards that you see in teaching a variety of students?
DS: I love for people to be happy and feel that they’re getting better. I think if you’re getting better, most of us are also having fun doing it. I had a student come out last week that I taught when they were in high school. I hadn’t seen him in about 13 years so the first 20 minutes of [our lesson] was just rehashing all the old stuff. When he walked out of this lesson, he told me that this was the best day of his week and he learned more about golf in the hour and 20 minutes that we were together than he had since the last time he saw me. When I hear somebody tell me that, that’s why I keep digging. Because when people appreciate what you do and what you do for them and you see it in their face and you see it in their scorecard, or they brag about what they do. You can’t wait to be here the next day at eight o’clock because you get to see it again.
SOPGA: How much of an impact do you think the technology has had on learning the swing throughout your career and helping teach it?
DS: I believe I’m in the luckiest age group of any teachers in the history of the game, in that when I first started teaching, I didn’t even have video cameras. The first time I saw my swing, I was 16 at the Tennessee Junior Competition Series and that was with one of those cameras that took eight sequences. I’ve gone from teaching and learning with no teaching aids, literally. And then we got the VHS video cameras that look like you hold it on your shoulder. In the end, the thing we have to remember as teachers is, the only reason we use technology is to make learning simpler and quicker for the student. Not to empower ourselves with how much we know. It lets you get your message to the student more quickly, more simply, more accurately.
The Southern Ohio PGA would like to thank GOLFTEC for their support of the Southern Ohio PGA Teacher of the Year Award. GOLFTEC is the world leader in golf instruction. Since 1995, GOLFTEC Certified Coaches have helped people play better golf at more than 200 centers worldwide. We are proud to have their support of our Section Professionals.
About the Award: This award bestows special recognition on a SOPGA Professional for excellence in golf instruction, along with overall performance. Promotion of golf, use of teaching aids, involvement in junior golf activities, teaching techniques, and articles published are some of the criteria considered for this award.