They fill ranges at tour events every week, standing behind and beside players, arms folded, gazes fixed: movie stars on golf’s red carpet.
Celebrity instructors, those teachers whose names fill the pages of golf magazines and whose comments about this swing or that spark grill room discussions around the country, are far more famous than most of their students. Even tour pros sometimes take a backseat to their teachers. More fans knew Butch Harmon than recognized Nick Watney a few years ago, and David Leadbetter, with his ubiquitous straw hat, still signs more autographs than most of the players in the field any given week.
That is not the case for PGA Professional Susie Meyers, a former LPGA Tour player who grew up in Phoenix and now teaches out of Ventana Canyon Golf and Racquet Club in Tucson. She prefers to stay low-key and out of the spotlight, even when one of her students wins the Honda Classic in impressive fashion.
“Michael (Thompson) started working with me at age 14 when he was a 3 handicap,” Meyers said. “I’m the only coach he’s ever had other than his college coach.”
It would be perfectly understandable for Meyers to shout that fact from every rooftop, especially after Thompson’s win. The PGA of America has 1,023 female members but very few teach PGA Tour players, and even fewer can claim to have a tour winner as a lifelong student.
But that is not her style; never has been, and never will be.
“My job as an instructor is to be the least important part of the process,” Meyers said. “When Michael does something like what he did at the Honda, I want him to 100 percent believe that he did it all himself and I had nothing to do with it. That is what a coach is supposed to do. Your job as a coach is to make your player self-reliant.”
Her approach in that process differs from many, but so does her background. After a college career at Arizona, several years in the minors and three seasons on the LPGA Tour, Meyers began teaching at Ridgeway Country Club in Westchester, N.Y. Then she joined Jim McLean as an instructor. Later, she moved to Hank Haney’s staff.
“That was when I realized that I did not learn the game the way I was teaching it,” she said. “And I realized that anyone can diagnose a golf swing. It’s finding out what someone wants to accomplish and focusing on the positive that’s crucial to learning. It’s far more important that a person learns how to trust themselves, and that means not focusing what they’re doing wrong but what they’re doing right and what they want to do better.”
Rather than overhaul the swing using high-tech gadgetry, Meyers avoids cameras and stays away from anything that could be interpreted as “negative change.”
“We don’t ever talk about overhauling or fixing. We talk about developing,” she said. “I never tell Michael what he’s doing wrong. We talk about what he wants to accomplish, what he wants to do, and I tell him that if he focuses on that, the negative things will fall away.”
There was no negativity in Thompson’s performance at PGA National. Any other player in search of his first tour win might have let the odd gremlin creep into his mind after missing a couple of greens on the back nine, but Thompson kept his composure and stuck to his game -- a game he and Meyers have worked on for the past 14 years.
“I’ll almost always teach him one new short-game shot every time I see him,” Meyers said. “At the U.S. Open last year, I taught him one new shot and he used it the entire week. He keeps developing these shots and working on them until he sees every short-game shot and can execute them without thinking about how he does it. That is the beauty of having him own the shots. He just looks at the target and the situation and the body responds.
“That is really how we do everything in life. We look and our body responds. When we drive a car, we have no conscious thought about turning the steering wheel or pressing the pedals: we simply look at where we want to go. Michael is able now to look at a shot and his body knows how to do it.”
He knows it well enough that Meyers won’t be making many appearances on tour ranges this season. She doesn’t need the ego boost and her student doesn’t need her standing guard over every shot.
It’s a different and refreshing philosophy, especially for a tour coach. Some might even call it the perfect woman’s touch.