As soon as I saw the Challenge Tour schedule for 2013 I had always planned to travel across and watch Gareth Shaw compete in Aviemore, Scotland. The only other opportunity of watching him perform close to home this year would be in The ‘Northern Ireland Open Challenge’ at Galgorm later on in the summer and I didn’t want to wait that long incase there was something to be learned now that could help his progress. Myself and the rest of Gareth’s team always felt that this was going to a crucial year and I wanted to leave ‘no stone unturned’ at my end. So as luck would have it, the early flights and the friendly tee times enabled me to watch him compete in decent wether, on a championship course for 36 holes – priceless! It also gave me a chance to catch up with all the other Irish lads out there who are all trying to make to the ‘big show’ of the European Tour.
I had attended a few Challenge Tour events in the past as both player and coach, but I must say the standards have certainly gone up in the last few years as more and more continental and even American players venture over and play what is becoming a very strong independent tour. Evidence of this was when I first checked the scores on Thursday morning and the leader board had ‘red’ all over it with birdies galore. As I waited for Gareth to tee off, I spent some time casting my eye over some of the other hopefuls on the practice round and it struck me that I was looking at some ‘famous names’ that I had grown up competing against and who once had really stood out as top amateurs and even tour winners. I admired their diligence, but I couldn’t help thinking – how many truly believe they will move on and how many don’t fancy the idea of a ‘real’ job after playing golf for 15 years! I know I had found it hard to give up the idea of thinking of myself as a ‘player’ and a lot of these guys had been at it a lot longer than me and some had been a lot better that me!
So Gareth’s round began with plenty of the aforementioned birdies, a few missed opportunities followed and at the end of the first round he signed for 68 – a decent start. Much more importantly for me, the day was rich in observation and information that I could use to formulate the plans ahead. So as we quietly headed off to dinner, we were joined by fellow player Colm Moriarty and Gareth’s putting coach, Graeme Leslie. I felt the journey over to Edinburgh and the 3 hour drive into the Highlands had been well worth it as I had confirmed a few of my feelings about how Gareth could improve and also spotted a couple of ‘performance factors’ that needed addressed.
Friday’s early morning second round meant I could observe the entire ‘warm up’, body language, tactics, routines and plenty more. It really is a must for a coach to watch their players’ compete and it’s something I remember Darren Clarke advising me to do when I got the chance to chat to him once about tournament coaching. It gives you so much evidence to base decisions on and crucially it lets you see into the competitors natural environment. One thing I have learned over the last number of years in high performance coaching is that as valuable as swing rooms, slow motion video and bio mechanical analysis are…..tournaments are won on the course. This means effective shots, correct decisions, dealing with the elements – scoring as low as possible basically!
So Gareth pieced together a professional 69 in the second round and over lunch the two of us listened to Graeme’s feedback on the putting performance which was valuable information for the rest of the year. Gareth and I did a thorough maintenance session on the range on the same themes that we have developing consistently since his good play began at the start of 2012. We finished off with some fun chipping games on the short game area as we had noticed that a few of his chips didn’t quite have the necessary speed control. All in all we both parted company in good spirits as his opening 137 total meant 8/9 cuts made this year and he had just received his invite through for next week’s Irish Open which was exciting!
I made me way down to the range just before I left to meet a player about some future coaching, and as I watched him hit some shots I became aware of the amount of players who are either coaching themselves or each other in many cases! Michael Hoey always told about this from his experience on Challenge Tour, but it wasn’t until I saw it that it really brought it home. In my experience, I haven’t met one current player with the technical knowledge necessary to coach an elite player effectively. Yes, some of them have a tremendous amount of information and they can add tips or short term feelings that worked for them at a time, but to sit down and assess where a player is and create an improvement plan? That’s a coach’s role in my opinion. They are the professionals trained in their respective field and they are the ones with the thousands of hours of experience of dealing with similar issues. But then again, I would say that!!
Thanks for reading and check out my next entry from Carton House and an exciting Irish Open,