Hi, it’s that time of the year again for cooler evenings, links golf and the Anstruther Fish Bar! This would be a tournament with a twist for me as logistically it would prove challenging with two players (Michael Hoey and Gareth Maybin) and three courses (The Old Course, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie). Also along for company this week was the JFGA’s newest instructor – Phil Moore. I thought it would be a good learning experience for Phil to meet and observe some of the best coaches in the world and also to get a feel of coaching at this level.
Kingsbarns was our first port of call with Gareth Maybin on Tuesday morning and on arrival we pleasantly found a lovely day and a pretty empty golf course. Gareth quickly filled me in on the last two tournaments in Holland and Italy as Phil watched Pete Cowen work with Louis and Charl. After we had our initial chat we worked on some wedges and agreed that this was an area we both wanted to improve in the ‘off season’. We began by ‘lasering’ some markers on the range and setting challenges for Gareth to accomplish. I have found it really interesting to set a player tasks like these and simply let them get on with it and just observe their process. Anytime I have watched a player compete, it’s much easier to detect their tendencies, especially when the pressure mounts and also to make them aware of patterns in their shots. They can’t argue with evidence in front of their face, although I have met a few who try! We also spent a little time around the greens adjusting to the tight links turf and heavier sand, then we all set out for the course.
We both felt that he was close to playing really well, and like an unfinished jigsaw – all the pieces just hadn’t fallen into place yet. In Holland I had seen with my own eyes that it was a few putts slipping by that hurt and last week in Italy it had been great driving going un rewarded with average chipping and some slack bunker play. At times like this, I watch what the actual swing and crucially the flight of the ball is telling me on the course and I also run the information from the the last few weeks through my mind. All this enables us to form a ‘practice plan’ both for the next few days and next week when Gareth returns home before Portugal.
It was a lovely day to stroll around Kingsbarns and Gareth was sharp in the games we played so everyone was pretty happy. But I just wanted to spend an extra half hour going over the basics as we had noticed that the poor shot was starting too far right of its intended target and I convinced him that a couple of good quality basics sessions would sort it out. So we headed for the range and went through the now customary 30 minutes of checks and drills. Within no time we had made inroads into getting the ball started on line and reset the grip and ball position back to where they have worked best in the past. As Phil and I made our first journey over towards the Old Course to meet Michael, I was satisfied with our afternoons work – a good feeling if your a coach.
I found Michael in good spirits and his ‘trusted bagman’ Gerry happily informed me that they had done some really constructive work the previous week on the wedge play in Italy. So it was just a matter of watching Michael flush some drives down the range, check what we had been working on previously and answer a few of his questions. I wish every session on the range was as stress free and as simple. We agreed to meet the next morning at Kingsbarns again so we could cement what they had been working on and take it onto the golf course. As the early evening approached, it was left to myself and Phil to indulge in the culinary highlight of the year – The Anstruther Fish Bar. Phil wasn’t disappointed!
Over dinner it was interesting to hear Phil’s take on the day. As it was with me at the start, he couldn’t believe how simple it could be to work with the best players in Europe and the talent they have to hit the ball. I told him that I agreed but a skill you must develop to coach these type of players is knowing what information to tell them, in what detail and when. So it might appear that they are being given very simple instruction, but behind those instructions is a lot of thought as to the success of previous sessions, learning styles and at what stage of the week we are at. I’m sure Phil someday will appreciate exactly what I mean.
Gone were the friendly light clouds of Tuesday as we were greeted by winds and rain on Wednesday morning. The inclement weather delayed the start to our day and we eventually headed out to the back nine for a sample of what the weather could do in this part of the world. I reminded Michael that in 1992, Faldo played five holes on the preceding Sunday of the Open in a gale at Muirfield and he attributed the win to that preparation. Luckily the rain stopped after four holes and I was better able to judge the golf swing and ball flight. All seemed in place, but just as yesterday with Gareth I wanted to invest some time on the range on getting total clarity of his process and wedges. After a quick lunch (every lunch is invariably quick with Phil and I) we reconvened again on the more sheltered practice ground at Kingsbarns and devised a improvised feedback tool for Michael to practice with – his putting mirror. This would be ideal as he carries it everywhere anyway and it would give instant feedback on his shoulder alignment, one area that Justin Parsons and I know is a real lynchpin to him being competitive.
Michael put in a lovely session in the early afternoon on his fundamentals, distances wedges (which have really improved with ideas built on the work Justin started) and putting. It was interesting to hear him chat with Gerry about his keys to success in 2011 when he won this tournament. He said that he chipped and putted lovely….shocking! Reminds you what’s really important in this game. Again, I felt really happy with he progress he is making and anything I have been involved with helping him do.
Next up was another short but thorough session with Gareth, just retracing exactly what he did the day before. We aren’t reinventing the wheel as the saying goes, so I was keen to let him take the lead and judge where his confidence and understanding was of what he’s trying to do. I was refreshed to see that he was spot on with his ideas. We finished off with the customary challenge in the bunkers and having a little fun with the deep faces of links traps. As Gareth attempted to take my hard earned money, I couldn’t help but notice Joost Luiten in the background going through his own practice session. I observed that he played about half his shots from standard lies ie level stance and not too close to the lip of the trap; and about half his shots in real ‘funky’ lies ie ball below feet, underneath the lip, plugged etc. This is really professional practice as far as I’m concerned because you are making practice ‘game like’ and making it unpredictable. If there’s one thing a competitive golfer needs is the ability to solve problems, and that’s exactly what the Austrian and Dutch Open champ was developing.
Both Phil and I reflected the next day on the coaching that had taken place as we played Leven and Lundin Links. I won’t tell you who won (but it wasn’t Phil!!) but I will say that they are two friendly courses and a lovely place to spend the day before we headed back home.
In the event itself Michael shot 68, 66, 67, 73 (-14) for 26th and Gareth’s 72, 65, 71 (-8) unbelievably wasn’t good enough to make the cut! Once again evidence to show the rising standards of the professional game.
The next event I’m attending with the two lads is in Portugal in two weeks, so check out my diary from there if you are interested.
Thanks for reading,