10 of the Best Golf Coaches
A GOOD golf coach is worth his weight in gold. Many of today’s top players will not swing a club without first consulting their gurus. And many of them have become household names, able to command vast sums of money for their services. Here we look at 10 of the very best, starting with the four men who have worked with 15-time major champion Tiger Woods.
Who hasn’t Butch coached? His most famous pupil was Tiger Woods, with whom he started working when Woods was still a teenager. Obviously, Woods had plenty of natural gifts but it was Butch who ironed out the early kinks. There are many who remain baffled as to why on earth Tiger decided to leave him after winning eight majors together. Butch has also worked with Greg Norman, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson, although he has admitted that Mickelson frustrated him more than all his other pupils put together because he would apparently listen to his coach and then head out on the course and do it all his own way.
When Woods left Harmon, he sought out Haney, under whose tutelage he won six majors from 2004 through to 2008. They parted company in 2010. Haney says: "My philosophy as a teacher is to teach my students to become their own best teacher by getting them to understand the flight of the golf ball and how it relates to the swing, with emphasis on swinging the golf club on their own correct swing plane.”
Foley worked with Woods from 2010 until 2014. He had more success with Englishman Justin Rose, with whom he worked for 10 years from 2009. Foley is famous for his scientific approach to coaching, which doesn’t work for everybody - and certainly not for Woods. Rose said: "Sean does not look at me as a golfer. He looks at me as an athlete and from a biomechanical point of view. He is not necessarily wrapped up in what makes a swing pretty. He wants what works for me from a scientific point of view. This is not necessarily the position that everyone strives for, but that is what I like about Sean."
Como was relatively unknown but that all changed in 2014 when Woods decided to employ him as his fourth swing coach. Como has a reputation within the sport as a deep thinker about the golf swing. He also knows a thing or two about injuries, and what can be done with the swing to overcome pain and ease stresses and strains, so he was a natural fit for Woods at a time when the American was trying to put his battered body back together again.
Kostis is perhaps best known for his work with the microphone but he is also a highly respected teacher who counts Paul Casey and Bernhard Langer among his pupils. He also has another claim to fame - he taught Kevin Costner to play golf for the film Tin Cup. And Costner is now a golf addict.
For a time known for his forthright views on Twitter, Pugh is a respected golf commentator and coach. He has worked with a number of high-profile players, but his most famous pupil is Francesco Molinari, whom he helped to transform from average European Tour player to world-class performer.
Leadbetter does not do “simple” but there is no doubting his credentials. He is the man who was responsible for rebuilding Nick Faldo’s golf swing. Faldo had enjoyed a decent start to his playing career but knew that he didn’t have the game to win majors, so he sought out Leadbetter, a little-known coach at the time. And together they rebuilt him and turned him into a six-time major champion. Leadbetter has also worked with a number of the top women players, most notably Michelle Wie.
In 1961, Pelz joined NASA, working at the Goddard Space Flight Centre doing research on the upper atmospheres of Earth and other planets in the solar system. Pelz became a senior scientist with responsibilities for several satellite programmes, but golf was his real passion and he turned himself into arguably the best short-game coach on the planet. His Short Game Bible, published in 1999, is a bestseller. One of his most memorable moments came while filming a Golf Channel segment at Whistling Straits, on the eve of the 2004 PGA Championship. In the course of a demonstration, Pelz holed a 206-foot putt. He has worked with Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Tom Kite, Payne Stewart, Lee Janzen, Colin Montgomerie, Mike Weir, Steve Elkington. When it comes to the short game, nobody comes close to Pelz.
Grout’s most famous pupil was a fellow by the name of Jack Nicklaus. Most coaches would have discouraged the young Nicklaus from his flying right elbow and his habit of lifting his left heel on his backswing. Not Grout. “He would give you the bare bones of a basic, then encourage you to figure out the details for yourself,” Nicklaus wrote in his book, My Story. “He did that, first, so that you would use what came most naturally to you in learning and mastering the fundamental and, second, so that you would learn and remember the cause-and-effect factors through feel, not words. Rather than direct, he would suggest and guide. Jack always wanted you to do it your way, the most natural way you could, which made him the polar opposite of all those pros who want you to do it their way, or to adopt some ‘method’ they believe they've invented for the salvation of golfers everywhere.”
Cowen is one of the most highly respected coaches on the planet - and is much in demand. Noted for his straightforward approach to the golf swing, his cast list reads like a Who’s Who of golf - he has worked with Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell. Before the pandemic, he reckoned that he normally clocks up 250,000 air miles a year. He doesn’t charge his players, instead receiving a percentage of a player's winnings, depending on their results. He does pretty well, thank you very much! He has three academies - two in Dubai and one in, erm, Rotherham!
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