Spectators didn’t just lap up Zach Johnson’s thrilling Open victory at St Andrews but also the week long free coaching sessions delivered by the team of PGA pros at the R&A Swing Zone.
Heather Gaunt, Scotland’s PGA Coach Education and Development Manager, who oversaw the smooth running of the six indoor bays, three outdoor nets and a Huxley putting green, hailed it as another rousing success.
In total 22 PGA coaches from across the UK gave upwards of 3,000 free 15 minutes in the tented village from beginners right through to elite level and plus handicapper players.
Several of the pros also rearranged commitments to staff the Swing Zone on the Monday following the extension of play due to the weather disruptions on Friday and Saturday.
One standout moment came when a dad brought his young lad for his first lesson and was allocated Peter Ball – the coach at Balborough Links in Derbyshire and the man who helped coach one of the Open stars, Danny Willett as a youngster.
‘Not ‘the’ Peter Ball’, said the father who it transpired had himself been given his first taste of golf with Ball many years previously.
“One of the best things has been the feedback we have had from the people who’ve had a coaching session,” said Gaunt. “People have actually taken the time to come back and say how great an experience they’d had in the 15 minute sessions.
“We even had one lady who after her lesson played in a Stableford and won, which she put down to the advice she’d been given so it’s been really nice to have people come back and praise the pros.
“As usual we’ve had people from all over the world, some didn’t even speak English, so it’s been quite challenge for the pros but they’ve all risen to the challenge. Golf still needs to get more women and girls playing and this week was the perfect opportunity for them to have a go.
“Another highlight was a young chap who had a session with one of the coaches, Geraint Dixon, last year. At that time he was playing off 28 and Geraint set him the challenge of getting down to 18 for this time round. The young man was pleased as punch to come back and see Geraint to tell him that he was now playing off 18 and that he’d been listening to what he’d been told and was working hard all year.”
Among the coaches dishing out expert insight was Chartham Park’s James Morrow – working at the Swing Zone for a fourth time.
“The Open is wonderful and you never know who you are going to get to coach. I had four people who’d never picked up a club before but they went away inspired and are going to start playing so that was great,” he said. “It’s quite mentally challenging because you are putting a different hat on every 15 minutes in terms of your coaching but it’s always a great learning opportunity particularly meeting and hearing from the other pros how they approach the game.”
Paul Lawrie, the 1999 Open champion who was also among the challengers this time at St Andrews, took time out to salute fellow PGA pros, with a couple of supportive tweets, hashtagged #growthegame
The full list of coaches who deserve praise for helping the 144th Open Championship go with a swing are: Pete Ball (Balborough Links), Alan Bradshaw (Bootle), James Crawford (West Sussex), Jamie Cundy (Dudley), Lee Day (Holme Hall), Geraint Dixon (Bedfordshire), Garry Forrester (St Andrews), Tom Gibbs (Three Hammers), Martin Goldie (Bishopbriggs), Denise Hastings (Denise Hastings Golf School), Sam Johnson (Fulford Heath), Ben Jones (Garon Park), Graham Mackay (Melville), Allan Martin (Buchanan Castle), James Morrow (Chartham Park), John Mulgrew (Airdrie), Julie Otto (Elie), Steve Scott- Bowen (The Bristol), Andrew Simmonds (South Buckinghamshire Academy), Mark Taylor (Alvaston), Darren Turner (Ingrebourne) and Ron Wallace.
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