Hi again, well what a treat! To be involved in a major championship, at an iconic course like Muirfield in perfect weather – an experience and a half! I’d been a spectator at the Open in 2002 at the same venue and I’d encountered a very fair and challenging course. Universally it’s respected as being a course that produces a great champion with lots of drama. So as I made the short trip out from Edinburgh to Gullane, I was really looking forward to helping Gareth Maybin prepare for what would be his third major. I was staying out in North Berwick with Ryan (caddies for Danny Willet), Jan (caddies for Jeev Milka Singh) and Colin (caddies for Ernie Els). I was in good company and Gareth was coming off his best finish in 18 months, T5th at the Scottish Open, so I was preparing for a very fast golf course and for a few days of farther ‘maintenance’ which would begin after lunch on the first day.
So with a little time to spare, I made my way to the range and I decided for once to have a look from the stands that overlook the practice ground, exactly where I would have been in the days before I started to coach behind the ropes. It was a lovely vantage point to enjoy the sun and get an overview of what was happening. There is so much going on at the Open – it’s a little bit of a circus to be honest! Even on Monday morning, there were lots of players, caddies, coaches, managers, equipment reps, media, guests….it was like the PGA at Wentworth on a Wednesday. But it was exciting to watch all the top players in the world flush shots off crisp links turf against a blue sky!
Not only is the Open a great thrill to be in anyway part of, but it’s a wonderful opportunity to meet other coaches and ‘player support personnel’ that I wouldn’t ordinarily encounter. During the three days I managed to chat with Ian Rae (SGU National coach), Kevin Duffy (Golf fitness coach), Justin Parsons & Claude Harmon (Butch Harmon School of Golf) and Graham Walker (EGU Coach), Gavin Levenson (fomer tour winner & coach) as well as the usual suspects. I love being in this environment as I’m surrounded by those I respect and can learn from. It’s the same for anyone who wants to improve at what they do – the environment you place yourself will influence your success.
I can honestly say I get as many of my ideas from watching the likes of Butch Harmon, Sean Foley or David Leadbetter coach, as I do from any formal training. I really enjoy studying the coaches body language, their use of technology (or not as the case may be) and how they communicate their messages to the players. Again, if any aspiring young coach did this, they would discover as I did that the recognised coaches aren’t imparting any ‘magic’ information. Refreshingly, they are discussing basics and very simple principles. In my opinion, these ‘world class’ teachers have the experience and ability to know which pieces of simple information to share, with whom and crucially, when. I know that as I have gotten more experience, my messages have become simpler. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve even confused myself at times in the past as I was learning about how to coach the game!!
Gareth arrived on time as ever and it was down to business. We focused our afternoon on continuing the same threads as from last week – farther understanding of how best to utilise the ‘low ball’ which looked like a necessity at Muirfield, and polishing the specific short games shots required. After an hour on a very busy range and some light work in the bunkers & chipping area, it was off to have a look around the front 9. Much to my pleasure, Gareth was joined by Richard Sterne and Charl Schwartzel.
So, as you can imagine in between helping Gareth’s preparation I had a good look at the two South Africans’ games. And it was impressive! Sterne makes ball striking look easy and seems to have an ideal physical frame for golf. I remember Jamie Gough (Sterne’s coach) telling me once that Richard has swung the club that well for as long as he can remember…..lucky boy! Charl’s game up until the green at least, is Rolls Royce stuff. It made this impression upon me the first time I saw him in 2002 as a young man during an amateur stroke play tournament at Royal Durban, and since then he has maintained the technique, but added strength and experience. Right from the tempo of his pre shot routine, he just makes golf look athletic & correct. Watching Gareth match them shot for shot was also satisfying, as it reminded me of all the good work he’s done in the last year.
From chatting to the lads back at the house in North Berwick, Open week can be a long one with players both having unusually late or early tee times, and them wanting to be ultra prepared for such a big week. So that made me feel a bit better when I returned at 7.30pm! Colin Byrne, Ernie’s ‘looper’, actually commented how hard Ernie works and the full days of preparation he always puts in. I’ve seen Darren Clarke do exactly the same, evidence once again that there are no short cuts to the top in elite sports.
As much as I enjoyed Monday, Tuesday proved to be even better. It started early again as I was at the course at 8.30 to hopefully catch Tiger’s range session and as luck would have it, I did. Quite honestly, to sit and watch the man himself conduct his full session in glorious sunshine from links turf, the week of a major is an absolute privilege. If I start describing it, I won’t do it justice. I’ll only comment that if you consider yourself a student of the game, it’s a box you have to tick. Unfortunately, I never got to witness Hogan and although I watched Nicklaus twice, he was past his best. But I can’t imagine a golfer having more grace, athleticism or focus. Enough said.
Day two started with a surprise call from the PGA press officer who was interested in writing an article for their ebulletin. Generally he was interested in the work I had done with Chris Selfridge and the two Gareths. It’s amazing what can be achieved when motivated people ‘team’ together and execute the agreed plans. Tuesday for Gareth and I was a fuller version of Monday with a peaceful range session followed by some sharpening of the wedges around the short game area. I was keen for Gareth to develop his bunker play, so in cases like this I treat the mind a bit like soil – plant the idea, tend to it over time and let the new concepts grow. I can tell you, I didn’t stumble upon that process over night! There’s no substitute for experience in this job.
Gareth was joined by major winners Justin Leonard, Jim Furyk and Amateur Champion Garrick Porteous during practice. Another great opportunity to learn from guys who can honestly say ‘been there, done that’. I managed a few beneficial conversations with Jim and Justin, and what I took from it was a better understanding of the qualities needed to really ‘play’ the game effectively, not just swing the club. Jim Furyk was really adamant that although good technique is important, you can never sacrifice your ability to score in order to build a motion that ‘looks good’. Substance has to win over style. And Justin Leonard was kind enough to share his thoughts on the different types of coaches he has worked i.e. ‘feel and technical’ as he described it. My lasting impression of the two Americans is the professionalism they have. I’m forever talking to emerging players about getting the most out of their talent by applying themselves correctly. These guys embody it.
What a good experience the Open was proving to be. Wednesday was unusually quiet for me as Gareth was practising late and keen to conserve energy as he had a very late time on Thursday. So after another thorough check on the range Wednesday afternoon, I left him to play his final practice 9 holes. For once I had a leisurely journey to the airport before any of the crowds would be heading back towards the city. The drive back towards Edinburgh, after a brief stop in North Berwick gave a chance to reflect on a really cool few days and wetted my appetite to do it again sometime!
Thanks for reading, my next entry is probably going to be August from the Scottish PGA at Gleneagles.