Maybe it is the influence of people like Ryan French with his excellent work with The Fire Pit Collective but there are so many exciting and dynamic stories of how golf is good and how it can provide such a healthy and positive influence on people. I am truly privileged to share my conversation with Veteran, Golf Instructor and Golf Enthusiast Jayson Nickol. His passion for the game is as genuine as his character.
- You are a Veteran who’s served in the Canadian military and now you’re an elite golf coach. Outline the journey for us and why did you choose golf?
I began playing golf as a kid during summers with my grandparents. My grandpa played and when I was young, I’d be a 4th in their group whenever there was a spot available. I completely fell in love with the game. I never played competitively growing up though.
Out of High School, I joined the military, went overseas and was injured. Golf was the only sport I could play, on crutches mind you. For me it was relaxing and therapeutic. I began to take lessons but struggled as it was tough to address my injuries. Still, my love of the game had not changed.
About 2 and a half years ago I had a chance to learn from Shauheen Nakhjavani. I became curious how he taught people. I was absolutely fascinated. From that point on, I was committed to golf instruction and how to teach people the game, especially those needing accommodations to play. I began teaching and gravitated to veterans and first responders, though I enjoyed teaching anyone.
When Covid took off, I moved to online lessons and really enjoyed that space to engage and teach the game.
- I understand you focus extensively on online instruction and have offered over 1500 lessons this past year. What is it about online instruction that works so well for you and your students?
Many people feel a lot of pressure when they get a lesson in person. Online, there is less pressure. The chance to simply video your swing makes it more comfortable for people I work with. Also, it really helps them to work within their swing. My instruction approach is not methodology-focused, it is not prescriptive. I focus on their ball flight, where their misses are, and I am mindful of injuries or limitations they may have in their swing. Body make up can vary and this can impact how the club moves. I don’t see how one size fits all could ever work. I simply work within the students’ swing and take a more fluid approach to engaging them on how to improve.
Online also allows for anytime access, which people really appreciate. Lastly, I really enjoy seeing videos of my students doing drills, the feedback for me as an instructor is important.
2a. It sounds like you’re a real student of instruction.
Absolutely. I am seeking my PGA of America A Classification. I already have my TPI Level 1 which focuses on movement and constraints. Also, I have Groundforce Level 1. I took this from Steve Furlonger who is the godfather of Groundforce. There is always chances to learn more and I am really focused on body movement as it relates to the golf swing.
- You’ve shared that enjoying the game is important to you. Why is that and is this something you convey as important for your students?
My number one goal for my students is to enjoy the game more. Even is there is a round where someone does not score as well as they would like, I want to work with them to improve and always enjoy the game. For me, this goes back to my grandfather and his love for the game.
- Are you aware of other Veterans who use golf in their transition to civilian life and, if needed, in their recovery from duty? Is there more that can be done through golf to support Veterans?
For sure. I was fortunate to play in the Invictus Games (won a bronze medal). I was one of 10 Canadian golfers and that alone was really helpful for me in my transition to civilian life. I have also gotten involved in a golf charity tournament, Solider On, which helps healing through sport. It is a full day with instruction, lunch, a round of golf and dinner. One fellow Invictus player, he never left his basement but his buddies were like, ‘try it, just try the game once’. On the 14th hole he hit his first real good shot and he was hooked. That really got me, I can appreciate what the game of golf can do for veterans.
- What are your goals as a golf coach? Where would you see yourself 5 years from now?
I have recently worked on a 3-year plan. In the first year I want to focus on building my knowledge of the golf swing and improve my coaching. This will always be ongoing, of course. Also, I’d like to focus on getting better at instruction, ideally shadowing another really established coach. At year 3, I’d like to have expanded the scope, skills and technology to help my students improve. Golf is a game of feel versus real and online instruction and engagement can really help show players what is needed to help them reach their goals. For years 3 to 5, ideally, I’d like to be working to support a mini tour/ Canadian tour professional and strengthen my ongoing planning and practice as a golf instructor.
- Are you able to play regularly? People working within the industry, interestingly enough, often lament they don’t have enough time to play. I know you also help consult on indoor golf studios.
Last year wasn’t the best for many reasons. Ideally, I like to mix and maintain my passion for the game by playing regularly, and I would love to play some competitive golf too.
36 A Day – What about playing lessons?
Absolutely. I do focus with online instruction, I find the feedback cycle to be ongoing and really constructive. But In person has value and works for many, usually late in the day I will do playing lessons and the key for me is to not over coach. I keep round comments brief and try to focus more on tendencies I see throughout our play and talk about it later in the round. I also seek to be as clear as possible. People learn different ways, some are technical, some more external/ feel based. I had one student who asked for the full scope of what he needs him to achieve his goals to improve i told him i would rather work along a path and not tell him everything all at once but he insisted so I told him, next lesson I could see he was over thinking everything and couldnt focus on the task, was a learning experience for me to be able to just say no this is the path and we will get there together. I like to focus on one item at a time. And while I provided this feedback, we both realized this was not helpful so we focused on one item a time. This also allowed him to enjoy the process more too, which is important.
- Share a student success story and how does the success of your students impact you as a coach?
I had an online student who came to me close to quitting the game. He was convinced he had the area of his swing he needed to focus on. We watched the video and chatted, and in fact it was really the opposite that was needed. His feedback was instant and positive, he felt free to swing to his capabilities more. He dropped 9 strokes off his index but more importantly he felt a stronger love for the game than ever before. He was excited he was beating his buddies every week but I was more proud he found himself loving the game again.
- I am putting you at the table with global leaders in the game – USGA, the R&A, and others – what message do you have for them and what is one thing you would like to see changed in the game.
That is a tough one. I feel golf overall is in a good space – rounds played, industry growth, club sales – especially since Covid. I do feel some bucket list courses have gotten too expensive for average players. I’d like to explore greater access for all. I’d like to see more par 3 courses, this could help engage players whether they are new to the game or highly skilled. One of my more enjoyable rounds was a par 3 course I had booked. Of course, I thought I had booked a full size course but the starter told me this course was worth experiencing. And he was right. We finished 18 holes in under 2 hours, the course was beautiful, hole lengths varied considerably and we had fun chasing the elusive hole in one. More courses like this would help people enjoy the game more. Also, I’d really like to see loops or 3 or 6 holes instead of always 9 or 18. Keeping the game accessible and fun will help it thrive.
- Last question – dream foursome on the course that tops your bucket list. Where are you playing and who’s in your foursome?
My foursome is a fivesome – my grandpa who has passed away, my Dad, who enjoys the game but not as much as me and my grandpa, and my two kids, my son and daughter. Give us the chance to play anywhere and it would Augusta at their par 3 course as well as their full-size course. That would be really special.
Jayson can be reached via his website – https://www.nickolgolf.com/ and on Twitter at @JaysonNickol
I want to thank Jayson for meeting with me and sharing so freely. I wish him continued success on his golf journey.