“A coach is more than physical, more than golf. A great coach is all about trust. I call Joe about a lot of things that have absolutely nothing to do with golf.”
That nugget came from LPGA Player of the Year Stacy Lewis late Tuesday afternoon at the PGA Teaching and Coaching Summit in Orlando, part of a week’s worth of events surrounding the PGA Merchandise Show. The “Joe” she was talking about was her coach Joe Hallett, who stood on stage with Stacy and talked about the bond between coach and student.
“Golf is not everything,” Lewis said. “You have to have some balance. There are a lot of times when Joe is my ‘vent line.’ I’ll call just to vent.”
And like all great coaches, Hallett is available on the other end to listen.
“You can forget about time zones when you’re coaching an elite player,” he said. “As a coach you have to be on call, and you have to know what to say and when to say it.”
There were times when Hallett videoed lessons from baggage claim at the Las Vegas airport, and times when he sent texts in the middle of the night, saying things like “two birdies a side,” little reminders to break the round into manageable bites.
But it was the genuine, close, emotional bond between the two of them that came through during their hour together on stage in front of 700 PGA members. That bond was a recurring theme throughout the two day summit.
Hall of Fame college football coach Bobby Bowden summed up the bond between a coach and his players best through a personal story, one he told with a quiver in his voice and a drop of moisture in his 83-year-old eyes.
“When I was coaching at West Virginia, one of my sons (Tommy) was playing for me, and during practice one day he got hit really hard and went down,” Bowden said. “He had blood coming out of his mouth and out of his ear and he wasn’t moving. As much as I wanted to run over there and say, ‘Hey, take care of this one, this is my boy,’ I couldn’t do it because of the message it would have sent to everyone else. They all would have thought that I cared more about my own son than I did about them.
“You see I had promised them and their families that I would treat every one of my players like I would my own sons. I would love them and coach them and teach them and do everything in my power to make them better men, because that was what they deserved. They might not all be my sons, but they were somebody’s sons. They deserved the very best I had to give them, so that’s what they got.”
Not everyone summed it up so eloquently and personally, but you got the same message from everyone there. You could see it in the eyes of Jim McLean who lit up like a proud papa when talking about Lexi Thompson and the evolution of the ten-year-old girl who first came to see him at Doral.
You could sense it in the impassioned stories Martin Hall told about his mentor Jim Flick, and all the people who walked away from the Nicklaus-Flick Golf Schools believing that they were the most important student Jim had ever taught.
And you could hear it in the words of Butch Harmon who said of his profession, “I don’t teach golf, I teach people. I teach people to play golf.”
The two day summit was designed to help instructors with their knowledge of the game and their communications skills. It was meant to give every teacher a crumb or two to take back to the lesson tee at home.
But the overarching message turned out to be much more profound.
“You gotta love ‘em,” Coach Bowden said, pumping his fist to punch each word. “That’s the most important thing of all. If you’re going to coach them, you gotta love ‘em.”
He wasn’t talking about golf, but that just might have been the greatest lesson of them all.