Manuel de la Torre, the First PGA Teacher of the Year, passes at age 94

By Bob Denney
Published on
Manuel de la Torre, the First PGA Teacher of the Year, passes at age 94

Manuel de la Torre, the first recipient of the PGA of America Teacher of the Year Award in 1986, passed away late Sunday evening in Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital, Lawliss Hospice Center in Mequon, Wisconsin, his family confirmed. He was 94.

Regarded as one of the finest golf instructors to both simplify and understand the golf swing, de la Torre’s long list of students was headed by World Golf Hall of Famer Carol Mann; Masters Champion Tommy Aaron; U.S. Women’s Open and du Maurier Classic Champion Martha Nause, and Women’s British Open Champion Sherri Steinhauer.

De la Torre was a member of the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame (2005) and PGA of America Hall of Fame (2006). From 1952 through 1996, de la Torre served as PGA Head Professional at Milwaukee Country Club.

“All of us at the PGA of America are saddened by the passing of Manuel de la Torre, our first PGA Teacher of the Year, and one of the most respected golf professionals in our Association’s history,” said PGA President Derek Sprague. “His lifelong study and understanding of the golf swing translated into transforming players from the high-handicapper to a Hall of Famer. Manuel never asked for the attention, but those students fortunate to have come under his wing walked away forever changed and inspired.”  

The son of the first Spanish golf professional, Angel de la Torre, Manuel and his mother fled wartime Spain for the United States. Angel had left Spain in May 1936, and his family began a long, dangerous and exhausting journey through their homeland by train, then by ship, before departing through France.

De la Torre was born Oct. 6, 1921, in his parents' apartment above the golf shop at the Real Club de la Puerta de Hierro in Madrid, where his father was the head golf professional. Angel was a five-time Spanish National Golf Champion. He would later become close friends with English Professional Ernest Jones, who lost his right leg while serving in World War I. Jones would ultimately present a revolutionary concept in teaching golf that became Manuel’s bedrock foundation of a 60-plus-year teaching career.

The Jones’ method of teaching the golf swing, de la Torre maintained, was so simple, so basically sound. He could not understand why more of his peers did not adopt the same principles. As a result, de la Torre became the second-generation Jones disciple, and would go on to refine and teach both golfers and instructors.

“The Ernest Jones view is a holistic view of the movement, and it coincides with the physics of motion, velocity and force,” de la Torre wrote in his book, Understanding the Golf Swing. “A great difference is that the Jones concept deals with the movement of the club in concert with these basic principles, and not with the movement of the body and its position, so important in the teachings of others.”

For Carol Mann, meeting de la Torre in 1962 became a transformative moment. While on the practice tee at Milwaukee Country Club, Mann hit a few shots and de la Torre asked, “What are you trying to do?”

Mann went into a lengthy soliloquy on her swing thoughts, to which de la Torre said that with all of that going on in her head, he wondered how she would have the time to hit a golf ball.

“It was like the heavens parted,” said Mann, who would spend 15 years under de la Torre’s tutelage. “He helped me be a winner. He gave me the architecture, the structure to put all definition into the golf swing.”

That first lesson with de la Torre ignited in Mann an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of the golf swing.

“Carol set tremendous goals and was tremendously dedicated, which is something I don’t quite see in the players today,” said de la Torre after his star pupil was named 2008 PGA First Lady of Golf. “She would work out whether it was snowing or raining. I remember we met once in Miami, working on a Monday. She hit a shot into the trees and spent the afternoon working on a shot to chip it out.”

A humble champion and teacher, de la Torre also was a premier player. He was the 1942 NCAA Championship runner-up while attending Northwestern University. Later, he was one of Wisconsin’s finest playing professionals. Among his victories spanning 34 years included five Wisconsin State Opens, five Wisconsin PGA Championships, the 1973 National Open Seniors Classic and the 1987 Wisconsin PGA Senior Championship.

Manuel de la Torre is survived by his daughter, Lynn; daughter-in-law Karie Anderson; grandson, Ryan Gill; granddaughters Carrie Gill, Jamie Gill and Stephanie Junker; and great grandchildren, Bryanna, Caleb and Addison.

A memorial for de la Torre is scheduled for May 15, at Milwaukee Country Club. Further details will be released at a later date.