Bill Madonna figures his whole golf career began because a couple of Baltimoreans got him interested in teaching the game.
It is a career that began 17 years ago when the Pennsylvania native opened his first golf school in Clearwater, Fla. In subsequent years, he took his schools from Puerto Rico to North Dakota, and influenced a lot of golfers in between.
"When I was just getting started as a golf professional 20 years ago, I would have killed for a day with Bill Strausbaugh or Irv Schloss," says Madonna, now entrenched with a school at Wakefield Valley Golf Club in Westminster. He hung out with teachers, specialized as a teacher, and at one time was a teaching consultant for the National Golf Foundation.
At Wakefield, head professional Bill Horney had a 27-hole golf course and a clubhouse under construction, and he wanted to add a full-time teaching program.
"I simply did not have the time to devote to teaching that I would have liked or that I wanted my members to have," Horney said. "Bill Strausbaugh put me in touch with Bill Madonna, and here he is."
Strausbaugh, head professional at Columbia CC in Chevy Chase and a nationally recognized teacher of the game, calls Madonna, "a teacher's teacher and a pro's pro.
"We first met when I was at Turf Valley, and that's at least 24 years ago, and he'd come for coaching sessions. The I'd see him at teaching seminars, and he was an avid learner. He worked on the premise that 'the more I know, the better I can help someone.' "
Now, Madonna says, "as with any other teacher, the important thing is to know your subject. You don't want to be just a part-teacher."
"One thing that got me started was I heard golfers say, 'I was OK until I took a lesson.' The pros would either give them too much or suggest a traumatic change. My theory is you don't have to get worse to get better. We don't rebuild, but rather work with what the student has. We treat it as an educational process."
Madonna knows that some professionals, especially the older ones, see schools as an infringement on their lessons, but others are interested in learning more about teaching golf.
"Now, one of the things we work on is getting a group of club members to come to one of our programs and bring their pro with them," he said. "We have a structured, disciplined format, and since the pros are learning it too, they will know what to do when their members come looking for help.
"We want to complement the club pros, not be in competition with them. We are all on the same page of sheet music; now we want to get it down to being on the same note."
Madonna, who is big on supervised training aids and teaching devices, tries to make the sessions entertaining and to have his students leave being more aware about what is happening in the golf swing.
"We take away the intimidation factor by presenting a non-threatening environment," he said. "Individuals can look at their swings on video, and then we will reduce the problems to a single worst flaw and work on drills to help it. There will be overall swing improvement, and we will go on to the next problem."
Madonna also has his finger on what is perhaps the most important part of any teacher-student relationship when he says, "They know I am committed to making them a better golfer."
Defending champion Gil Morgan, former winners Greg Norman and Tom Kite, and 11 tournament champions from this season, including two-time titlist Corey Pavin, head the 156-man field for the Kemper Open, beginning Thursday at TPC-Avenel in Potomac.
The field lists 140 tour players, eight players from qualifying fields last week and eight sponsor's exemptions. Among the latter is Australian Craig Parry, who won the Italian Open last week, beating Ian Woosnam by a stroke.
Other exemptions include Maryland Open champion Bob Boyd, head professional at Woodmont CC in Rockville; Ryder Cup captain Dave Stockton, winner of the 1975 PGA Championship at Congressional CC; and tour veterans Pat McGowan, a first-round co-leader last year when he finished tied for seventh, and Gary Koch.
This week's schedule: Today -- Elkridge-Green Spring member-guest, at Elkridge Club, 7:30 a.m. Thursday-Sunday -- Kemper Open, TPC-Avenel, Potomac, 7 a.m. Thursday -- USGA Women's Public Linksqualifying, Springfield (Va.) G&CC, 8 a.m. Friday -- MAPGA pro-am, Loudoun (Va.) G&CC, 8 a.m.