68 | Sydney | Former head pro at The Australian Golf Club
▶ ▶ ▶ MY introduction to the sport doesn’t have any family history attached to it. In fact, my parents didn’t play golf. One day I just realised I could make more money caddieing at Royal Sydney than I could retrieving old golf balls out of the creek at Woollahra Golf Club next door. Soon after I took up caddieing I found an old club lying around so I started hitting balls with it and thought, Geez, I like this.
▶ ▶ ▶ One of my favourite jobs as a PGA professional was travelling all around Australia and New Guinea teaching golf for the Rothmans Sports Foundation – a forerunner to the Institute of Sport that eventually took over after Rothmans disbanded. I stopped doing that in 1985 and nobody has done such a role since, which I find hard to believe. Golf should be doing more at grassroots level.
▶ ▶ ▶ My 20 years working at The Australian Golf Club was a great experience. The club had a lot of prominent members like Kerry Packer and Richie Benaud, who I had a bit to do with along the way. I was actually asked to write something for Richie’s book (Remembering Richie) after he passed away, which was a tremendous honour. Richie was a great friend, committed golfer and a role model, always on hand to help me write letters.
▶ ▶ ▶ I think one of the highlights of my career came in 1981 when I wrote a book called An Introduction to Golf. I signed my very first copy for none other than Sir Donald Bradman. ‘The Don’ was generally the one doing all the autographing in those days so when I sat back and thought about it, that was a pretty special moment. Not many people can say they had to sign something for Bradman. I didn’t even ask for his signature in return [laughs].
▶ ▶ ▶ I played in a British Open qualifier back in 1973, back when PGA pros could go over and compete in a 36-hole qualifier. I got drawn to play the Old Course at St Andrews. That was most interesting because I was given a 3pm tee-time and I was still out there playing at eight o’clock at night. I never qualified because I was only a bit of a hacker, really.
▶ ▶ ▶ I always looked up to guys like Kel Nagle, Peter Thomson, Eric Cremin and, of course, Alex Mercer for whom I worked. When I was working at Royal Sydney, Norman von Nida, Bob Stanton and David Graham were all taught by Alex so I got opportunities to have regular hits with them. The presence of those names is what made Royal Sydney such a great training ground.
▶ ▶ ▶ Back in the old days I never considered professional golfers ‘athletes’. Today’s players are far more athletic and a lot stronger and what I really notice is they seem to hit the ball so hard, much harder than we ever did. I think it’s why back problems are so prevalent in today’s game. The younger guys of today practise harder and beat so many more balls than we did and it’s why their bodies seem to be falling apart … Tiger Woods is the perfect example, having had all those surgeries before the age of 41.
▶ ▶ ▶ I met Tiger when I was the pro at The Australian Golf Club in 1996. He was out here for the Australian Open and the whole golf world was talking about this prodigiously talented kid on tour. The manager at our club asked me to look after Tiger and take him down to the practice range, which I was happy to do. On the way down in the cart I asked him a few different questions on life and golf and he never spoke once – not one word – which I found quite odd. By the time we got to the range I couldn’t wait for Tiger to get out of the cart. He was obviously pretty young back in those days and, for whatever reason, he just didn’t know what to do or say in a social situation. But that’s not to say I haven’t loved what Tiger has done for the game since. He’s been incredible. But looking back, that was an interesting experience. A year later I flew to Augusta National and watched him win his first Masters.
▶ ▶ ▶ I’ve been to Augusta five times to watch the Masters butI’ve never played the course myself and, honestly, I wouldn’t want to. As bad as I play the game, a course as difficult and unforgiving as that wouldn’t do much for my confidence. But I love taking people there to see it in all its beauty.
▶ ▶ ▶ Alex Mercer once told me, “Whatever you tell people is probably more than they know in the first place, so just run with it!”
▶ ▶ ▶ In golf you’ve got to keep things simple. When people ask me what method I teach, I say, “I don’t teach a method. I teach people how to play golf.” There are some coaches out there who are ‘method’ coaches and try to teach everyone how to play the same way, but that obviously doesn’t work. My philosophy has always been simple: I just teach people to play golf and I do it to the best of my ability.