Hello again, and thanks for checking out my diary from the recent Spanish Open. The venue this week was one of the best and most established courses in Spain – El Saler. I had heard of the course growing up as it had hosted European Tour events before and I believe it’s where Darren Clarke won the Spanish Amateur in 1990! It’s an old style mix of typically Spanish narrow par 4s and exposed holes right alongside the coast that have a ‘Baltray’ feel to them. A real gem and one I’d love to play someday.
Luckily it was an easy week in terms of travel as I could fly from Belfast to Alicante, rent a car and the hotel was only about 10 mins from the course. Although I had been in Barcelona since my last trip to the Middle East, it was great to get away from the cold spring and as it was the week after the Masters, there was a buzz in anticipation of the new season. This week was also designed for me to watch Gareth Maybin compete on the Thursday as we had both agreed it would be a good idea to check out how some of the ideas we have been developing in practice, would stand up to competitive pressure.
So after a typical very early start on Tuesday morning, the ‘Sat Nav’ duly obliged with the final leg of the trip and guided us just south of Valencia to the course. Gareth did his usual warm up of basics check and getting a feel for the swing. Also along this week was a new ‘bagman’ – Mervyn Owens. Anybody familiar with amateur golf in Ireland with know the name as Mervyn is not only a good guy but was also a really good player. So I knew Gareth was in safe hands!!
During the afternoon, we all ventured out onto the course in the company of Rhys Davies, playing the usual competitive games and having a look around for the widest landing spots, ‘run off’ areas around the greens and prevailing wind direction etc. Both the weather and the course were ideal so it wasn’t a chore at all to have a stroll around a new course, keep an eye on Gareth, watch some quality shots and have a chance to chat with Rhys along the way. It was really interesting listening to him describe the recent work he had done on his technique with legendary coach Bob Torrance. I’m always interested in the reasons behind why certain players want to make improvements to their game and also what criteria they use to judge whom is the best guide! One thing that Rhys did tell me that I have heard many times before is the importance of the ’100 yards & in’ scoring zone and how much time he dedicated to it in US college. No wonder he was ranked at the top and played in two Walker Cups.
Tuesday night finished off with a quick chat about Wednesday’s plan and the key areas to focus to best prepare for kick off on Thursday afternoon. We agreed to meet the next day around 11am to do a good session on the range, based around the consistent themes of address and shot shaping. That would then give us the afternoon to ‘dial’ in some numbers with the wedges, competitive games around the short game area and then a quality putting session to finish off a professional day.
Before I left the course on Tuesday evening I noticed that Sergio Garcia was playing very early in the ‘Pro – Am’ which would be ideal for me to see him play a few holes before meeting Gareth and Mervyn for our own day’s work. Take it from me that there is always good news and bad news with watching a Pro-Am at a European Tour event on a Wednesday – good news in this case was that there are exactly zero spectators watching one of the best ball strikers in the world……and the bad news is that the other three amateurs were not the best ball strikers in the world!! Anyway, the seven holes that I did watch reminded my why Sergio is considered by all his peers as one of the best tee to green players around. The quality of strike and sound is second to none and I would put him on a par within Rory, Westwood, Scott and Woods in that department. I also managed to get some great video footage of his routines for some of my students back at home. Well worth the 6.45am alarm.
So as our day unfolded and we stuck to the plan we had put down the night before, I could see a lot of progress from where we had been with Gareth’s game mid 2012. The address position was much more supportive of what he wanted to do with the ball and crucially he understood his missed shots and how to create the starting line and curve on the shots he wanted to hit. Progress!! One of the statements that Gareth made this year which I thought was a real step forward was the feeling he had that no matter how he had scored, he could go to the practise ground with something constructive and longterm to work on, rather than blindly searching for ‘miracle cures’. Anybody who has experienced this ‘guessing’ (as I did for years!), will know what I’m talking about.
Lunchtime gave me a chance to have a chat with some old friends I hadn’t seen for a while. I bumped into Jamie Gough who was telling me about how strict the committee is about coaching at the Masters and then into Owen Craig (Michael Hoey’s old caddy) who has just started a new partnership with Soren Hansen. Of course the Masters is an event I’d love to attend someday a a coach, but according to ‘Goughie’ there are quite a lot of rules & regulations regarding where you can go and ‘your’ player has to be with you at all times. Interesting! I also had a brief chat with Paul Casey at lunch about how so many good young players are coming into the game, especially from Asia and that the standards are rising the world over. At the top level – ‘good’ is no longer good enough, you have got to be exceptional!
So as the sunset fell on a really good day’s preparation, we agreed that we had done all we could to be ready for the 1st round. So it was left for the coach to become the spectator and the player to do what he does best – perform.
I must admit I really enjoyed Thursday’s opportunity of watching a student plot their way around the course, trusting the various elements that they have added to their game and also still ‘playing’ with their own style. It was a learning curve for me both in terms of notes made on Gareth’s game but also to see how top class players ‘course manage’ certain situations. I studied the whole day from warm up to de-brief in an effort to find areas to improve scoring and also to praise what has already improved. I have done similar with Niall Kearney (in Rome), Gareth Shaw (in France), Chris Selfridge (in Ireland) and Paul Cutler (in Spain), and each time the experience is invaluable as part of the coaching process. To see what ‘actually’ happens.
So it was only left for Gareth, Mervyn and myself to have a quick chat and some simple feedback before I left for home. The main message we all agreed on was lots of positives in the long game (14 GIR was evidence of that) but the putter was a little cold. However, judging by the scores that first day, the greens were proving difficult for all. As is the case often with a good student who already has the makings of a professional process, I said very simply ‘just keep doing the same stuff and believe that good things will happen.’
As I’m writing this after the conclusion of the tournament, I can gladly tell you that Gareth ‘toughed it out’ to make the cut and then produced a best of the day final round 67 which moved him up to 16th. Good work and overdue as he has built a professional process for himself and invested a lot of work into game.
Thanks for reading and check out my next entry,