Golf coach's best tip: Wear a hat

Teaching professional Allan Renz poses near the full

Teaching professional Allan Renz poses near the full swing simulator at the Pier 59 Golf Club at Chelsea Piers. (July 23, 2007) (Credit: David L. Pokress)

Mark Herrmann

Newsday columnist Mark Herrmann Mark Herrmann

Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988,

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Dozens of times each week, Allan Renz of Long Beach, an award-winning golf teacher at Chelsea Piers, helps a golfer with his or her stance, grip, posture and swing. He believes the results show that he helps them.

On top of that, he thinks the most valuable advice he gives comes when he tells each student to put on a hat and sun block.

"And I tell them every day," said the instructor, who has been named one of America's top 50 teachers by Golf Range magazine.

Renz is just glad he is around to offer the extra tip. Every three months, he goes to Sloan-Kettering to make sure he is doing OK, two years after his surgery for metastatic melanoma. So far, so good.

"Two years clean does not mean you're cured, but it is sort of a big number,'' Renz said. "The recurrence rate goes down."

He isn't sure where he came down with his case of skin cancer -- "I used to be a lifeguard, I was a sun bunny," he said -- but he is determined to make sure his students stay healthy. "All it takes is one bad sunburn to send you on your way."

Of course, being out in the sun is not only unavoidable in golf, it is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game. That does not have to change. You just have to play a little defense.

"That means, a) cover up, and b) put on sunscreen and wear a hat," Renz said. He added that every golfer should visit a dermatologist, just to get a baseline reading.

The American Academy of Dermatology reports that more than 2 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, but indicates that the condition is "easily preventable" and, when diagnosed early, has a high cure rate. The academy is targeting golfers with a public service announcement and with content at spotskincancer.org.

Rory Sabbatini, a six-time winner on the PGA Tour, took special pride in winning the Honda Classic last year, only a few months after surgery to remove a squamous cell carcinoma on his face. At the time, he said, "It was serious enough that it scared me pretty well." He wears a wide-brimmed hat and is sponsored by a sunblock company.

Renz tells similar cautionary tales after having taken interesting career turns. He left a good job on Wall Street after 15 years and got into golf on a whim. He did odds and ends at Lido Beach Golf Club and bought a driving range in Florida. Through contacts with an equipment company, he established a relationship with Chelsea Piers and got a teaching position.

On the train to work one day, he felt a pop in his shoulder. One of his golf students, an orthopedic surgeon, examined his arm and felt a huge mass. "He told me, 'You've got to see a surgeon. Tomorrow,' " Renz said.

He reflects on what a club pro once told him about working in golf: Everyone who comes through the door would trade places with you in a minute. So he always has been happy to have his job. These days he is exceptionally happy that he is still here to do it.