An individual’s golf swing can be as unique as his fingerprint. There are a wide variety of approaches to developing a TOUR quality golf swing. Some guys “do it themselves.” Some guys go to their local pro and stay with him through much of their career. And some guys work with a well known swing guru early on and ride that wisdom right onto the PGA TOUR.
This week let’s look back on some history of golf instruction and golf coaches through the years.
In the ‘20’s Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen seemed to dominate. Only Bobby had had much instruction and that was early on in his career by Stewart Maiden, the Golf Professional at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. Sir Walter and The Squire built their swings themselves.
The headline grabbers in the ‘30’s & the “40’s were the Great Triumvirate – Nelson, Hogan & Snead. They learned to play the game as caddies after hours. For their entire careers they built their swing and honed their games themselves. They themselves often said: “I dug it out of the dirt.” This meant they spent countless hours hitting practice shots and learning how to hit great golf shots. Ben practiced religiously. Byron and Sam preferred to just play golf.
The ‘50’s & ‘60’s led to the next big three – Palmer, Player & Nicklaus. These three had very different approaches to honing their swings. Arnold Palmer had his dad, Deacon Palmer, looking at his swing until his death. His first instructions to Arnold were simple: “hit it hard, boy, go find it and hit it hard again.” Jack Nicklaus, on the other hand, used to go to Jack Grout every year before the season began for a “check up”. Nicklaus used this approach almost until Grout’s death in ‘80’s. It is hard to find who taught Gary Player early in his golfing life but my bet is he learned it himself since his father, Harry Player, took out a loan to purchase a set of golf clubs for Gary in 1949 so he could begin playing golf.
The world is much different today. It now the era of the celebrity swing coach. Getting hired is news and, as Hank Haney learned, getting fired is news too.
- Tiger worked with Butch Harmon from an early age before he switched to himself, then to Hank Haney and finally to Sean Foley.
- Sean Foley works with Justin Rose & Hunter Mahan as well as Tiger. Last year he didn’t have time to add Luke Donald so he sent him to Chuck Cook.
- Chuck Cook works out of Austin and Dallas National. He is the one who re-made Jason Dufner’s game. Over the years Chuck worked with Payne Stewart, Tom Kite, Corey Pavin and Mark Brooks. If you do the math that is seven major championship wins.
- Phil Mickelson worked with Dean Reinmuth early on before going to Rick Smith and, eventually, Butch Harmon. Phil also works on his short game with Dave Pelz.
- Ricky Fowler is now working with Butch Harmon but he started out with Barry McDonnell at age 7 and stayed with him until Barry’s death in 2011. Barry taught out of Murrieta Valley Golf Range, a 15 acre practice complex in California.
- Adam Scott worked with Butch Harmon for many years. In 2009 his game was in disarray and he had fallen out of the Top 50 in World Ranking so he switched to Brad Malone. Brad is married to Adam’s sister, Casie.
One possible exception to this celebrity swing coach phenomenon is local golf teacher Randy Smith. He works out of Royal Oaks CC and teaches members, juniors, amateurs and a few PGA TOUR pro’s. Randy mentored a number of players from a very early age most notably Justin Leonard, Hunter Mahan, Harrison Frazer, Colt Knost, Martin Flores and Paul Haley. A bit later in their playing careers he added Ryan Palmer, Martin Laird, Scott Verplank, John Rollins & Gary Woodland. Although a couple of these guys have moved on most are still with Randy.
Randy also works with a young junior, Scottie Scheffler, who won the USGA Junior Championship in 2013. Scottie will play in this year’s HP Bryon Nelson Championship on a Sponsor’s Exemption.
Some people say that the swing coach also has to be a mental coach. They need to coach the player into believing in themselves and trusting their swing. Ultimately they must see themselves winning. Most swing instructors have some last minute words of wisdom to impart on their players before they go out to play. I think the best advice a teacher ever gave his young pupil were the parting comments from Deacon Palmer to his son, Arnold, when he set out to play professional golf in 1954. It was just this:
“Don’t worry, son, if you can’t handle it out there, you can always come home.”
Well said, Dad.
Salesmanship Club of Dallas