By: Dave Hill, WGCA contributing writer
As the end of the 2015 campaign on the main professional tours is coming to an end, I got to thinking. Here I am as a Master Golf Teaching Professional in the USGTF and a 25-year PGA member with over 27 000 hours of lessons and coaching behind me, and my, how the game keeps confounding us. As Jack Nicklaus once stated, we never stop learning in golf.
Harry Vardon, and in particular Bobby Jones, were by no means short hitters. Neither were Sam Snead or Ben Hogan. Of course, there was Arnold Palmer, only to be surpassed by Nicklaus’ prodigious length. Then came Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Tiger Woods, and now Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Jason Day, who led and are leading the way during their times of glory. In the women’s game, we had Babe Zaharias, Mickey Wright, Laura Davies, Annika Sorenstam, Michele Wie, Yani Tseng, and finally Lexi Thompson.
One could easily surmise the longest hitters in the game have most often dominated, or have they? Based on the aforementioned list of players, this is what one would believe. This is what we are training our young athletes to believe. Tiger painted the picture for us all that golf is a sport, hence training for it is paramount. In time, Tiger took on the look of a linebacker or tight end and dominated the game for a period like no other. We must train in order to create power and speed if we are to compete at the highest level. This is the message being transmitted to our young up and coming talented junior golfers. Hmmm?
Don’t get me wrong. Hitting the ball a long way is important, and length off the tee (when in play) leads the way in the “strokes gained” statistic on tour. However, upon further research and reflection into this obsession with power, is this what really makes great golfers so great? Perhaps for some, yes, as statistics don’t lie. However, in the world of coaching competitive players, we witness some attributes among champions that in many cases cannot be measured, and of course some that can.
Why were certain players throughout history able to compete with and often beat the giants of the game? Francis Ouimet, Gene Sarazen, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Nancy Lopez, Nick Faldo, and now Lydia Ko, Inbee Park, Jordan Spieth, and even Zach Johnson have had great success. Are they outliers? Perhaps in specific areas of the game, yes. However, they are talented and developed a steadfast belief in themselves and their athletic prowess despite the fact none were/are long bombers.
This is the first lesson in coaching and the commitment it takes to the process of developing a high level competitive player. It starts with recognizing talent and passion. One can never judge too early who will make it out there or not based on how long they can hit the ball. There is a golden age to develop fundamental speed, which at a later age can be enhanced with a specific training regimen. This, however, is but a small piece of the pie. Ultimately, it is the one intrinsic element that it is difficult to measure, but as a coach, it is an imperative responsibility to convey in a manner that relieves any of our young athletes of pressure. It is never too young to start, but more importantly, the message must be perpetuated…the message of belief.