I have been very fortunate as a player and as a coach to spend quality time with and become friends of many of the world’s leading coaches and also play alongside many of the best ever players.
I represented England when I was 16 years old and received coaching from the legendary John Jacobs, who has been regarded as one of the world’s leading coaches for decades. John’s wisdom was held in such high esteem that Jack Nicklaus often sort his advice and knowledge. I have met up with John (feel I should call him Mr Jacobs) on many occasions through the years and always had some questions ready for him, especially with regard to how Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson practiced, as he knew them very well. A few years ago I contacted him to ask if there was an opportunity to spend some more time with him as he was getting close to 90! We spent virtually a whole day together at the Forest of Arden, over a bottle of wine at lunchtime even more stories and memories were unearthed, as well as some coaching gems and secret nuggets that I can pass on to you!
John’s hero and biggest influence on him was Henry Cotton, Britain’s second most successful player to Nick Faldo with 3 British Opens. As luck would have it being the European Tour’s `Rookie of the Year’ in 1981, my prise was to spend a week with Mr Cotton and be coached by him at Penina in Portugal. He worked me hard, on the course by 6.30am and finishing when it was dark, cherishing every minute of it. We played 9 holes every afternoon, had lunch and dinner together and had time for a couple of hours tuition early evening. He must have been suitably impressed as he invited me to stay another week with him, which of course I accepted. Henry Cotton was regarded by John Jacobs as the second best ball striker behind Ben Hogan! I was the last `Rookie’ to work with him.
In 2004 I was one of only 20 European coaches, along with Pete Cowen, to be invited to a coaching `think tank’. This was sponsored by Red Bull, held for 3 days at Celtic Manor and run by Butch Harmon along with his three brothers (also very highly ranked coaches) Craig, Bill and Dick. Butch is a heck of a talker, I sat on the front row and asked him every question under the sun about Tiger Woods, how he trained him and other great players he worked with, what drills and techniques he used etc. We had dinner together each evening over a couple of glasses of wine, I was coaching Nick Faldo at the time and he was very intrigued to find out how I managed to get such outstanding results with him so quickly and what he was like to work with! Ironically again, one of Butch’s biggest influences on his coaching style was John Jacobs.
I attended a one day seminar of Jim Hardy’s `Plane Truth’. Jim made a lot of sense and is ranked as the 7th best coach in America, once again admitting to being strongly influenced by John Jacobs’ style of coaching. However being tied down and restricted to one teaching philosophy is not my belief.
Several years ago I met up with Rudy Duran, Tiger Woods’s first coach from age 4 to 10. Golf International (who I currently write for) had set up a day in Bristol, as he was over from America promoting junior golf for a week and his coaching academies. Rudy’s style is not so much technical but more `playing the game’. Like most coaches he was generous with his time, and I got every question I wanted to ask about a young Tiger answered!
In the late 1990’s I was involved quite a bit with the media. Commentating for BBC, BBC Five Live, Talk Sport and Sky. Certainly some memorable and educational moments came particularly when commentating on the fairway just yards from Tiger in his prime. It was at times surreal watching every shot at virtually arm’s length for 4 rounds when at his winning best, being able to watch his full warm up and post round warm down and then interview him. I witnessed one or two things he did that raised the bar of what had been thought possible.
It has also been intriguing to have coached Rory McIlroy within `Team Faldo’ and particularly witness his dramatic gains physically. Going from a small frame, a touch dumpy and not strong in the gym to the specimen he is now! And of course quite possibly could become one of or the best player of all time!
As a player I had played in practice rounds and in the same group as Nick Faldo but certainly did not know him well. Again ironically, years down the line I did get the chance to understand his game and philosophies really well, having been asked by him to work with him from 2002. This period in my golfing life was a very special one. I not only shared his knowledge of all his strategies and practices but also the people he knew. Going to the Majors with him was a privilege, which lead to doors opening such as having afternoon tea with Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer in the player’s locker at Augusta. Amongst others I got to know very well Craig Farnsworth a leading eye specialist who is also a putting guru and worked with just about every leading player on the PGA Tour. Nick played practice rounds with Ben Crenshaw and Brad Faxon, two of the best putters ever, again I was able to ask them searching questions as to how they ACTUALLY became great putters and how they practiced. I learnt a lot from Sir Nick Faldo, not so much technique but how one of the best players ever thinks, analyses, practices, trains, course strategy, nutrition, stretches and a thousand things more! Certainly `hitting a shape’ with virtually every shot was a lesson learnt for me.
Another `player’ influence was definitely Seve Ballesteros. I partnered him a couple of times, but on numerous other occasions walked with his group having finished my round. On one hand for sheer entertainment and the other to witness how he could make and force a score when playing on a `D’ game tee to green. Sadly, having worked with him at the twilight of his career it was astonishing to find him so `lost’ and confused with his swing technique and pretty much all the `natural’ flair sapped from him. Going from one of the most prolific `shapers’ of the golf ball virtually at will, to so involved and obsessed in technique he had seemingly lost and forgotten his ability to `play’ the game!
Over the past 10 years or so I have used the skills of Mark Bull, a bio mechanist and 3D analysis specialist. With the help of his equipment he and the coach can easily identify just how a player moves in skeleton form. You can identify more easily where there are weaknesses, restrictions, injuries, miss function and malfunction. Also with force plates you can see exactly where the weight is in a players feet and by how much, making it crystal clear as to where potential upgrading of movement can be improved for maximum performance. In my mind I often view players in skeleton form, and in some cases where injury is involved get x-rays taken so we know exactly what we are dealing with and what is possible movement wise with that player!
Putting: – I have been very fortunate to be able to spend time on the practice green and on the course with some of the best putters in history, Ballesteros, Olazabel, Crenshaw and Faxon to name a few. Also working closely with specialised putting coaches when working with the National Teams has been helpful, Paul Hurrion, Phil Kenyan and Craig Farnsworth.
Chipping: – Again, speaking to, playing with and coaching Seve and Olle were just about as good as it gets around the green. It has been a privilege to actually know what their feels and thoughts were rather guessing or what is written in articles.
I like to thank my wife Suzy, who has also influenced me (past Hampshire County player), she has helped me keep technique and the approach to golf simple and uncomplicated.
Perhaps lastly but perhaps could be firstly, has been my own play. Whilst I competed on the European Tour for 12 years I never really understood my game and was often fighting against a hook that could rear its ugly head under pressure! As the saying goes, “if I only knew then what I do now”! I love to help and guide professional players to ensure they keep things simple and effective. Also that they know and understand their game well enough to maintain and self-right it themselves when I am not there. Thus stress free and confident, are able to play at a consistently high level throughout the season and make a good living!
Perhaps my biggest asset is my inventive mind. I am always searching and often finding better and more efficient ways to score lower. My philosophy and belief is that if you can improve every time you practice and learn something every time you play you will reach your potential.