It’s the middle of October but why wait till New Year for sweeping changes? So, first, a much-needed new hairstyle and, secondly, and more importantly, the breaking news is I’m shortly going to treat myself to some new clubs. Not exactly earth shattering stuff, is it, but my current set IS 15 years old and, although relatively lightly raced over that time span, it is definitely time for an upgrade. So, before taking myself off for a club fitting at a certain place in Lincolnshire I decided it was time to visit my great friend and former coach, Lawrence Farmer, now living in glorious Somerset. I thought it’d be handy to have a bit of an MOT on my own swing and time spent with Lawrence is always a joy for lots of reasons.
We first met around 25 years ago, introduced by Trish Johnson, former Solheim Cup player and multi-tournament winner. Lawrence was coaching Trish at the time, along with a number of other players on the Ladies’ European Tour, notably, I remember, Aussie Karen Lunn, who blitzed the field at Woburn in 1993 to win the Women’s British Open by a whopping eight shots.
I had never, to that point, met anyone with such a detailed understanding of the golf swing, matched only by his desire for more and more information. His voracious appetite for reading and researching all things golf was what struck me greatly and that enquiring and searching mind is present to this day.
And when Lawrence made up his mind to do something he was unwavering in achieving his goal. One day he decided he needed to up his fitness levels, so he started training with a view to running the London marathon. The greatest obstacle to his success turned out to be when his Dandie Dinmont dog ate the microchip that Lawrence was supposed to wear on his shoe to time and track his progress during the race. Ignoring our advice that now he would have to run carrying the dog, he completed the first of his three marathons, then turned his attention to cycling and shortly afterwards completed the Land’s End to John O’Groats trip. Another goal was ticked off the list.
We spent some 90 minutes last week hitting shots and talking golf and I came away, as always, refreshed by this remarkably enthusiastic coach, encyclopaedic in his knowledge and blunt in his delivery. He never stops learning, questioning, striving and I’ve learned so much from him as regards my own coaching career. He inspires me every time.
If you told me I could never play another round of golf but I could hit balls and chat with Lawrence for 90 minutes every other week, I would be happy with that – THAT’S how much I enjoy our sessions.
On the long, wet journey back from Somerset with the tail end of hurricane Lorenzo as a companion I began to muse on other influential figures in my golfing life. First of these was a man I met when still at school. My mother had written to Peter Alliss asking him to recommend a good golf coach in the Edinburgh area as Patricia had just gone to uni there. Back came the answer: John Shade, the professional at Duddingston Golf Club. And so as a 15-year old I travelled over to the Scottish capital to spend half-terms and holidays with my big sis and I began to have lessons with JS, as we called him.
I don’t think that I realised for one minute then just how good a coach he was. Sure, I knew that he had coached his multi-initialled son Ronnie (RDBM – known as Right Down the Bloody Middle) to five consecutive Scottish Amateur Championships, four Walker Cups and four professional wins but it was only as my own knowledge grew that I appreciated him more. We worked hard together on the practice ground and boy, did we laugh! He was straight-talking with a Scottish gruffness that frightened me a little at first, but he was kindness personified, giving me lifts across the city to where Patricia lived so I wouldn’t have to clatter up and down to the top deck of the bus swaying its way down Princes Street.
They were great days but far too short. JS died in March of 1979 three months before I won my first British title. He would have been proud of that but more proud, I suspect, of helping set a gangly teenager from Northern Ireland off on a wonderful journey in the world of golf.
Sandwiched in between these two professional giants and inspirations in my golfing life was another person pivotal to my development, both as a player and person. Pat Park was the coach/manager of the Lamar University women’s golf team in the 1970s and was brave enough to recruit me, amongst others, to the Texas uni in the hope that the team would qualify for the National Finals for the first time in their history. We repaid her belief in us by finishing in the top 25 in the country, thus qualifying for the finals in Hawaii. We repeated the feat the following year as well – a tremendous achievement by a coach with limited financial resources but boundless energy, positivity and enthusiasm. She took many young, very green players under her wing and helped them produce their best with a no-nonsense attitude that encouraged a strong work ethic and team camaraderie. We are friends to this day and still in touch.
Yes, golf is great, but it’s the people in your life who make your life. I feel anybody in any walk of life who finds a mentor is very fortunate. I have been very lucky, very lucky indeed.