As a Golf Digest Top 40 Best Young Teacher in America, Megan Padua is among the rising stars in golf instruction. After graduating from Penn State University in their PGA Golf Management program in 2008, Padua has taught at courses such as Belfair Plantation in Bluffton, S.C., Maidstone Club in East Hampton, N.Y., and Bonita Bay Club in Naples, FL.

One reason Padua has enjoyed so much success in the profession is because of her enthusiasm for teaching junior golf and those who are new to the game. Anyone who has picked up the game for the first time understands what daunting challenges await, but Padua has a natural gift for simplifying the process and making the game more digestible.

In this Q&A with Graff Golf's Sean Fairholm, Padua offers a few words of wisdom for those who are starting out. The focus may be on novices, but much of what she says can be applied to long-time players as well.

Sean Fairholm: Golf can be pretty intimidating for someone to start. If someone is interested in getting into the game for the first time, what are some of the first steps you recommend?

Megan Padua: My first advice is always for new golfers to seek golf instruction from a PGA or LPGA professional. When learning the game of golf, there is a whirlwind of information that can be overwhelming to the new golfer. Most of the "free advice" given are myths and create more problems than solutions. A well-educated golf professional will help navigate the pathway to have success in your golfing experience. 

SF: When we're talking about swing fundamentals, the grip is one that often doesn't come naturally to people. How do you introduce that to students? Is it okay to experiment with different grips?  

MP: The way I introduce grip is based on the biomechanics of how each individuals bodies are built. A great way to see if you're grip is correct is to hit small chips with just your right hand on the club. You may find that your hand needs to change locations in order to swing the club more efficiently.  After you learn to hit the club correctly with the right hand only on the club, change to holding the club with just the left hand only. This is a neat self-discovery drill that helps you figure out your grip position. For example, if you feel more comfortable and consistent with your left hand more underneath the club, playing with a stronger grip is probably a more natural position. You can then optimize your game around that.

SF: Even for experienced players, alignment and ball position can be tricky to get consistently right. How do you teach that and what is something all players can think about to understand the process better?  

MP: Alignment can be a problem because many golfers do not engage with the target. I recommend for my students to stand directly behind the ball first to decide which target they are going to swing to. Once the decision is made, they will cross the decision line and remain intent on the target aiming the club there first and then setting the feet second. When golfers aim their feet first, they usually end up aiming too closed to the target and try to correct it by swinging across their body. Starting with the club face first helps this. For ball position I like to use the shirt to align the ball instead of the feet. Using the feet can cause a lot of optical illusions when setting up. It may feel like the ball is in the middle of your stance, but it's not easy to see that when you are setting up over the ball. It's more reliable to place your ball position relative to the buttons on your shirt.

SF: What is the easiest way for you to demonstrate swing plane and how it affects the clubface?

MP: To demonstrate swing plane I like to use a hula hoop at a tilted angle to show a simple view of the golf swing plane. This really allows students to feel the club up against the hoop and to see how they can create depth in the backswing. It's especially helpful to gain a sense of how your body and arms are working together in unison.

SF: During the pandemic, we've seen a lot of people come back to golf after not playing for several years. If players in that category are finding they aren't making solid contact as much as they would like, what are some simple drills to help provide them with some ballstriking confidence?

MP: There are a lot of great drills to get more confidence in ball striking. I think it's important to observe feedback when practicing. You can get feedback through the sound of the club contacting the ground, the location of where it contacts the ground, the feel of the club connecting with the grass, the sound of the whoosh that the club makes, the way the ball flies in the air and the position of the finish at the end of the swing. These are all feedback tools I teach my student to read. A good drill is using baby powder on the grass to see where the club is hitting the ground. It works on low point control. 

SF: Whether you are a beginner or just getting back into golf, short game can often be forgotten. What are some of the wise decisions and types of shots those players should be focusing on around the greens?

MP: I love teaching people how to use the hybrid to putt around the green.  For players of all levels it is amazing that many don't consider the various clubs they can use in different situations. I also like to have players use a lot of visualization techniques to plan out the type of shot they are going to use. The more specific you can be about where the ball lands — picking out a small circle and then reading how the ball will release like a putt from there — sets you up for success.