Mike Malaska of Mesa, Ariz., the 2011 PGA Teacher of the Year, is making his fourth appearance in the Southworth Senior PGA Professional National Championship. He is the lone nationally celebrated golf instructor in the 264-player field in the Championship at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and relishes the opportunity.
This 59-year-old, who prides himself on staying fit, wants to earn the respect of students as someone who practices what he preaches on the lesson tee.
“If you don’t” stay involved in the game, so that you understand the emotion and what people are going through, “you can get skewed into thinking things should work when they really don’t,” said Malaska. “I started out wanting to play, so I started playing a lot of tour events, U.S. Opens, and was a pretty good player. I got sidelined with some bad concepts and struggled for a long time. Now, to stay involved in playing is important.”
Malaska, who tied for 15th in the 2008 Championship, is the PGA director of instruction for the Nicklaus Academies Worldwide and Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club in Superstition, Ariz., as well as Las Sendas Golf Club in Mesa. This year, he won the Southwest PGA Section Championship and the Section Senior Championship.
He also is a pioneer into a standard physical fitness evaluation for all golfers that evolved into today’s model program. He was the third member of the Southwest PGA Section to be named national PGA Teacher of the Year.
“I have preached to The PGA that playing should be a big part of what we do as an organization,” said Malaska. “As far as re-certification, I think that you should have to participate in Section events. It doesn’t mean that you have to be one of the best players, but if you are going to be in the game, you need to play the game and understand and feel what it is about.”
Malaska said re-certifying as a player is more than an exercise, more than say, renewing a driver’s license.
“It is a bigger deal that that,” said Malaska. “If you are going to teach, if you are physically capable of playing, you need to go out and play. It keeps you connected with the game and whole mental side of it. You need to experience what it really takes to hit a shot when it counts.
“A lot of us get trapped into theories and methods. Your swing might look good, but can you pull it off on the golf course when it counts? I think maintaining that relationship with the game, where you are constantly refreshing your memory; to have the demons coming at you and understand how you deal with that, is important. You got to know what it is to adjust under pressure.”
A native of Salt Lake City, Malaska was an all-round standout sports performer first in basketball, baseball, swimming and skiing before concentrating on golf his junior year in high school. His interest in golf innocently began as a “business venture” while Malaska was 14-year-old, and jumped a fence with his neighborhood friend to search for golf balls at Nibley Park Golf Course. The host PGA Professional, Tom Sorenson, caught the youngsters in the midst of their ball search and in turn for ending the trespassing, offered to give them part-time jobs at the course.
“Golf saved my life,” said Malaska. “If not for that PGA Professional helping me, there’s no telling where I would have been. It might not have been all that good.”
Malaska went on to attend Weber State University, earning All-American honors in 1974. He graduated in 1976, and turned professional that year, absorbing the golf teaching precepts of such teaching professionals as Don Johnson, Ben Doyle, Joe Nichols, Tag Merritt, John Schlee, the late legendary Jim Flick and Bob Toski. From the blend of methodology of those respected instructors, Malaska inserted the fitness element that he calls “the athletic personality.”
That concept, said Malaska, is determining the makeup of the student, from how they move to the small motor skills that they possess. Malaska further explained that the descriptive, “athletic personality,” is an understanding of who you are physically and emotionally; and developing a teaching method to maximize that individual’s talent.
In 1986, Malaska teamed with physiologist Pete Egoscue of San Diego to develop “The Swing Game,” in a feature presentation in 1990 at the second PGA Teaching & Coaching Summit. The groundbreaking presentation is now part of most player development programs.
Malaska and his wife, Charlene, live in Mesa, Ariz., and are parents to daughters Jennifer, and Ashley, who graduated from Brigham Young University, having competed on scholarship on the women’s golf team. Ashley first began playing golf in her junior year in high school, and is working to get LPGA membership.
“If Ashley finds that playing tour golf is not for her, I know that she has the talent to be an instructor,” said Malaska. “She has the eye for the game.”