Whether you’re a weekend golfer or a more serious player, golf is usually won with the short game and is usually the most frustrating aspect. But the man who has become one of the leading golf instructors in the country with his proven method for mastering the short game, lives and works right in West Omaha, teaching his techniques every day to kids, amateurs and tour pros.
James Sieckmann grew up in Omaha in a golfing family. His older brother, Tom Sieckmann, played professional golf for 17 with nine victories, including the 1988 Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic on the PGA Tour. James accompanied his brother on many occasions, gaining inside access to some of the top players at the time, such as Seve Ballesteros and Tom Pernice, Jr. James competed professionally as well for several years, but he wasn’t as successful and decided to coach full-time instead.
Although he stopped playing professional golf, James started studying the players who were winning, watching countless hours of video and analyzing their swings. What he discovered was that everything conventional instruction taught was all wrong. “We’d all been working with bad information, which is frustrating,” James said. After accepting a position from long-time friend Steve Shanahan to be the director of Shadow Ridge Country Club’s golf academy, James began teaching his Finesse Wedge System to members while helping a few pros on tour.
Over the years James quietly established a successful career in Omaha. He and his wife of 23 years, Michele, and their two children, made Omaha their permanent home, living in the Shadow Ridge subdivision. He continued to teach his methods, and one day was approached by Dr. Greg Rose of the Titleist Performance Institute to work with tour players Ben Crane, Charley Hoffman, and LGPA pro I.K. Kim. As a result of working together, the institute’s motion-capture technology verified that James’ methods were, in fact, a better technique.
Teaching his method became second nature as James worked with more than 80 PGA and LGPA Tour players. He said some of the highlights include Nick Watney, who won four times in the two years James worked with him; Duffy Waldorf, who also won under James tutelage; and he gave a lesson to Arnold Palmer that “went awesome.” But he never considered putting his teachings into book form until Golf Magazine wrote an article about it in 2013. Gotham Books, a part of Penguin Group, saw the article and contacted James, which resulted in publishing Your Short Game Solution in 2015. “It was a chance to finally share my information, which was unique and different from anything else out there,” James said.
He travels about 150 days per year, but current Tour players worldwide and individuals, such as from Fortune 500 companies, fly to Omaha for lessons with James. But he still makes time every summer to run Shadow Ridge’s junior golf program, where he teaches his methods to 175 kids during an eight-week program. “He’s an invaluable part of Shadow Ridge,” said Justin Shanahan, the club’s General Manager and James’ family friend. “He’s extremely loyal and has been part of the Shadow Ridge family since it opened in 1994.”
James has his own office in a small building right next to the short game practice facility, which is ranked among the top 50 in the country. “James is extremely humble, and people don’t often realize the caliber of instructor that he is,” Justin said. “To have a Top 30 ranked instructor at a Top 50 ranked facility all right here in Omaha is pretty special. No other instructor comes close to him in the Midwest.” In fact, this fall James will be inducted into the Nebraska Golf Hall of Fame.
James is grateful that the Shanahan family put their trust in him to build his own academy from scratch and teach his own methods. “One of the main reasons I originally moved back to Omaha was to have the opportunity to work with my life-long friend, Steve Shanahan,” James said. “And the way they’ve designed the club property is impressive, with more than 8,000 trees, homes situated up high and the course down low—Shadow Ridge is a hidden gem.”
James doesn’t have much time to play a round of golf on his own, but he said he’d rather spend his downtime with his family. However, as part of Titleist’s advisory board, he is able to demo all the newest products, which continue to improve as technology evolves. “Golf is a traditional game and had been taught a certain way for a long time,” he explained. “We’re smarter than we used to be, partly due to technology and partly due to study.” Thanks to James’ dedication, he changed the way golf’s short game is taught and has made it accessible to everyone, creating a name for himself, for Shadow Ridge Country Club, and for Omaha.