Tony talked to former Reuters golf correspondent Tony Jimenez this week about how modern-day golfers tend to rely too much on their coaches:
“A trend I find difficult to understand these days is the way so many players allow themselves to be overly influenced by golf coaches.
Lee Trevino always used to say, ‘Show me one of these guys who can beat me and I’ll listen to him’.
That was Lee’s take on it and it’s mine too. I don’t want to make an enemy of all the teaching professionals because some of them are really good. But equally I suspect the better ones don’t try to change things. They are just trying to keep things well honed for their players.
For me, that’s the key. Keep things simple. Don’t over-complicate. Look at some of the great individualists we’ve seen down the years. People like Gay Brewer, Miller Barber, Eamonn Darcy and Jim Furyk. Can you imagine anyone teaching them? Furyk’s dad taught him, for example.
My 27-year-old son Sean is playing on the Latin America Tour. He has just left for the Dominican Republic having spent a disappointing week in Chile where he missed the cut despite making a promising start with three birdies in the first six holes.
Sean is an aspiring young pro who eventually wants to get a PGA Tour card. He’s like so many of these modern guys who get approached by a coach and they are vulnerable because obviously they are desperate to improve, desperate to get better.
He went to pieces in Chile because he started to thing about method. Sean’s a very natural ball-striker and he works well when he keeps his mind clear of too much clutter but I fear he’s listening to too many outside influences.
I never had a coach of any description during my career. I kind of stepped back each week and assessed what to take out of the previous tournament. If it was a bad week, I’d try to address my problems by myself.
I remember when Jack Nicklaus met Bobby Jones for the first time when he was about 15. Bobby told Jack that he really learned how to play golf when he stopped listening to his teacher and worked his own problems out.
Jack took that to heart and when he saw his mentor, Jack Grout, it was just about checking fundamental things at the start and at the end of each year. In between it was about Jack figuring things out for himself and it really should be that simple, that uncomplicated. A common-sense approach.
I played with Sean the other day and there’s nothing wrong with his game. I told him just to be patient, do the simple stuff and be self-sufficient. Just like Jones told Nicklaus.
It was probably Nick Faldo who started the whole thing with coaches in the 1980s. When he won The Open for the first time, he held the Claret Jug and said, ‘It was David Leadbetter who won this’.
Faldo loved to be technical and coaching worked for him but it doesn’t work for everyone. Look at Bubba Watson and John Daly. How the hell could you teach those guys anything? They just get up and rip it. They do it their own way and it’s about having the confidence to go out there and perform yourself. Not everyone needs a coach.
When Sean arrived home from Chile, it was a case of the loneliness of the long distance flyer. It’s a long way back to Florida and it was he who realised after missing the cut that he was listening to too much stuff. He started to think, ‘what the hell am I doing? Why am I changing things that don’t need to be changed?’.
I’ve always taught him to think that way but when his form slides he tends to refer to guys who pose too many questions too much of the time. Sean plays regularly with Paul Azinger and Paul has a very simple approach. He’s just like I am. Basically, Paul just tells him to play, and that’s the reality of trying to make it out on tour.
When I was in my pomp I relied on the fundamentals. I was self-taught and the best way I learned was by competing against the best players in the world week by week.
Don’t get me wrong. These modern-day coaches are great for amateurs, but not all those who are already accomplished players need that level of coaching. They just need to keep the blinkers on and do their own thing.
The late, great Irish golfer Christy O’Connor senior was another brilliant individualist. I once asked him what his theory was.
He explained that he used to stand 50 yards behind a tree in Galway and place 12 balls on the ground. He would then take out his five-iron and slice three balls round the tree, hook another three round it, play three more underneath it and finally hit three balls over it.
Christy believed if he could do all that he was ready to play golf. He also said, ‘If you ever tell anyone I’ll kill you’. He’s long gone, sadly, but that sums up the game. It’s as simple or as complicated as you want to make it.”