Ever since he was a young boy following his PGA professional father around the course, John Bierkan aspired to spend his life in the world of golf. Over the past 16 years, he’s built a reputation as a premier instructor. The director of instruction at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., Bierkan was named Teacher of the Year by the Philadelphia PGA in 2014 and 2018. Golf Digest has ranked him as one of the best young teachers in the nation every year since 2010, three times listing him among the best instructors in the state.
How quickly did you pick up the game of golf?
I’m the only one of my dad’s four kids who was nuts about golf. It’s been that way my whole life.
Did you aim for the PGA Tour?
A lot of guys who end up golf pros have aspirations to play at that level. For me, I’ve always loved being around the club and the people.
How did you land your first job as coordinator of junior events for the Golf Channel?
My dad’s club hosted the Golf Channel’s drive, chip and putt event, and I got to know the person who ran it. He liked me and told me to call him after I got out of college.
How did you get into teaching?
After my two years with the Golf Channel were up, I cold-called T.J. Tomasi, a Golf Magazine Top 100 teacher who was at a club 15 minutes from my father’s. He eventually came and taught at my dad’s club, and I got a job working with him for three summers. Then I was able to work with Jim McLean in Florida during the winter. That propelled my teaching career and helped my credibility.
How do you approach teaching such a wide variety of students, from kids to highly competitive players?
My job is to educate, motivate and inspire. When I’m working with kids, that’s what I do—not so they will play in college, but so that they will enjoy the game. I enjoy working with all segments of the golfing community.
What’s your teaching philosophy?
First and foremost, golfers should be well rounded. I’m not just going to teach them to hit six irons on the range. I want to work with them on their short games and everything. I take a holistic approach, instilling some of the techniques that world-class golfers use. I want to learn what the best golfers have in common and what they do differently. I’m looking for patterns that I can use with my students, while helping them flourish with their own golf swings.
You didn’t try to make the PGA Tour, but you still play. What levels have you reached?
I compete in the Philadelphia PGA tournaments, and this past season I was an alternate for the national club pro tournament. I’ve played in the tournament before. The top 20 finishers qualify for the PGA Championship. There are 28,000 PGA club pros, and 5,000 will try to qualify through the 41 PGA sections—320 make it. The highest finish I ever had was 75. That’s not bad.
What does it mean to be honored as a top teacher?
As the son of a PGA golf professional, I know it means a lot to my dad and family. Also, we do have a world-class PGA section in Philadelphia, with so many awesome professionals and phenomenal teachers, so to be selected Teacher of the Year means a lot and is very humbling. There are so many people who could’ve been selected. GG