Game Changers

PGA Champions and the Coaches Who Have Inspired Them Through the Years

By Bob Denney, PGA Historian Emeritus
Published on

As we approach the 2020 PGA Championship at Harding Park, Aug. 6-9, take a moment to study a select group of PGA Champions and their coaches of impact.  
JACK NICKLAUS, PGA
Jack Grout, Phil Rodgers and Jim Flick could all claim space on the Mount Rushmore of golf teachers.
They also share having coached golf’s all-time greatest player, Jack Nicklaus. From his youth in Columbus, Ohio, Nicklaus found his groove under the tutelage of Grout at Scioto Country Club. In the late 1970s, he worked with Rodgers, a genius short-game specialists; and in 1990, a year after Grout passed, Nicklaus—struggling in his first PGA Tour Champions event—turned to Flick. Nicklaus and Flick would go on to form a highly successful business partnership with The Nicklaus-Flick Golf Schools (1991-2003). In 1999, Golf World named Flick  one of the top 10 teachers of the 20th century.  
DAVIS LOVE III, PGA
One of the game’s greatest instructors, Davis Love Jr. guided his son until his tragic death in a 1988 plane crash. The elder Love drew upon his own experience learning from Harvey Penick, the former University of Texas legend. Love Jr. would occasionally send his son to meet with Penick, who would help solidify points in young Love’s game.
Jack Lumpkin, who was best friends with Love’s father, started tuning Davis’ game in the late 1980s. “It's basically a classic swing," says Lumpkin, the 1995 PGA Teacher of the Year. "It has the stuff that all the great players did in the past: grace, power, speed, stability, repeatability. The difference is that Davis is 6-foot-3, with long levers, so the scale is bigger. I think the best word to describe that swing is still 'majestic.' " In 1997, Davis Love III won the PGA Championship at Winged Foot Golf Club. The Sunday rain stopped just ahead of Love’s march to the 18th green. With thoughts of his late father and his eyes welling with tears, a brilliant rainbow framed the sky.
DAVE MARR, PGA
Dave Marr Jr., the son of PGA Professional Dave Marr Sr., was raised with the foundation of manners and a solid work ethic. Dave Sr. shaped his son toward a career as a hard-working club professional rather than as a player. When Dave Sr. died in 1948, the 14-year-old was looked after by the Houston golf community, particularly PGA Professional Robie Williams. Dave, Jr. eventually found his way to Claude Harmon, working as his assistant at Winged Foot and Seminole Golf Club, what would later become known as “Harmon Tech.” 
“Three club professionals shaped Dave Marr’s championship legacy,” says his son, David Marr III. “Dave Marr Sr. taught his son the value of hard work and responsibility. Robie Williams taught the fatherless boy about kindness and empathy. Claude Harmon provided the finishing school for a champion. Without Harmon, Dave Marr Jr. would have had a fine career as a club professional but his name would not be immortalized on the Wanamaker Trophy (1965) and the greatest Ryder Cup team ever assembled (1981) would have had someone else at the helm. And a generation of golfers would have missed 27 years of wit and wisdom from one of the greatest analysts in televised golf.”
TIGER WOODS, PGA
Tiger Woods’ remarkable journey in golf began with his father, Earl Woods, and included coaching input from PGA Professionals Rudy Duran, John Anselmo, Hank Haney and Sean Foley. When Kultida Woods brought her 4-year-old son to Heartwell Golf Park in Long Beach, California, Duran was behind the counter. “Tida” asked Duran to give her son lessons and access to the course. Young Tiger, says Duran, helped him learn that playing golf is more about how to use a swing than learning a specific swing. “Having great sculpting tools doesn’t make you a Michelangelo,” says Duran, who guided Tiger for six years,  including teaching him to use his swing to move the ball to the target. From age 10-17, Woods was under the eye of John Anselmo at Meadowlark Golf Club in Huntington Beach, California, who coached him to the brink of greatness.
Woods went on to spend 11 years with Butch Harmon (1993-2004), then with Hank Haney (2004-10), and Foley (2010-14). From 2014-17, Chris Como became Woods’ “swing consultant.”
RICH BEEM, PGA
PGA Professional Larry Beem, a New Mexico State University golfer from 1962-64 and the Aggies’ first All-American, coached at NMSU from 1998-2004. He also was his son’s first and major influence in the golf swing. Young Rich Beem enjoyed his father’s creativity: Their first lesson centered on keeping the elbows close together during the swing, which enabled Rich to find more fairways. Larry (1990) and Rich (2002) became the first father-son duo inducted into the US Bank/NM State Athletic Hall of Fame.
PGA Professionals Bill Eschenbrenner and Cameron Doan, both of El Paso Country Club, elevated Rich’s game to greater heights. Doan  reiterated many of Larry Beem’s points—assisting Rich on the path to winning the 2002 PGA Championship. Eschenbrenner followed Doan’s lead and provided positive feedback on the road. Says Beem, “Bill, Cameron and my dad knew what made me tick and what I needed to hear to make me a better player.”
PHIL MICKELSON, PGA
Phil Mickelson was 14 when he began working with PGA Professional Dean Reinmuth, who was teaching at a Golf Digest School in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Mickelson qualified for the San Diego and Los Angeles Opens as a junior and won 16 San Diego junior events and 12 American Junior Golf Association events. Under Reinmuth’s tutelage, Mickelson won the 1990 U.S. Amateur, three NCAA Championships (1989, ’90, ’92) and nine PGA TOUR events, including the 1991 Northern Telecom Open, the last event won by an amateur. In 1995, Mickelson earned a 1995 U.S. Ryder Cup berth where he finished 3-0-0.
Over the next two decades, Mickelson worked with PGA Professional Rick Smith and Butch Harmon (2007-15). Harmon was Mickelson’s swing coach during a period that included capturing the 2007 Players Championship, the 2010 Masters and the 2013 Open Championship.  
The Smith-Mickelson connection (1997-2017) resulted in three majors and 30 victories overall on the PGA TOUR. Smith worked with Mickelson to fade the ball off the tee when required. “Phil’s swing improved at the highest level,” says Smith. “The secret sauce was working on all aspects of the game and always kept him in check from a swing standpoint and any technical aspects of putting.”
KEEGAN BRADLEY, PGA
Keegan Bradley’s golf career began with his father, PGA Professional Mark Bradley, who instilled fundamentals and a love of the game. “I was very careful to be positive 100 percent of the time,” says Mark. “As a PGA Professional, I gave my son access to golf by bringing him to work with me every day. That’s all he ever wanted to do in the summer months back in Vermont.” Bradley’s game improved as a member of the St. John’s University golf 
team, where he was guided by PGA Professional and former Red Storm Coach Frank Darby,  who now coaches at Manhattan College.
Jim McLean, the 1994 PGA Teacher of the Year and this year’s PGA Professional Development Award recipient, spent five seasons (2009-2013) coaching Bradley. Their relationship yielded three victories, a PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year honor and a dramatic 2011 PGA Championship triumph at Atlanta Athletic Club. Bradley became the first major champion to use the “belly putter” and the third player in nearly a century to win a major in his debut. 
Following McLean, Bradley began working with PGA of Great Britain & Ireland Member Darren May, the founder of Every Ball Counts in West Palm Beach, Florida. Under May’s tutelage, Bradley began a career resurgence that resulted in him winning the 2018 BMW Championship.
 JUSTIN THOMAS, PGA
Justin Thomas is a third-generation PGA Professional with a niche in golf history. It began with the influence and love of his grandfather, Paul, who served 26 years as PGA Head Professional at Zanesville (Ohio) Country Club. The family thread continued with Justin’s father, Mike Thomas, his lifelong coach and a PGA Master Professional at Harmony Landing Country Club in Goshen, Kentucky. Thomas’s victory in the 2017 PGA at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, made him the ninth son of a PGA Professional to capture the Wanamaker Trophy. Paul Thomas competed in the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont; Mike played collegiately at Morehead State University and spent time on the mini-tours. “I always tried to approach Justin as my friend and not my son, unless, of course, it was a parenting moment,” said Mike. “Being around courses so long, I saw it done wrong so many times. I wasn’t going to do the same. Our approach has always been the same since junior golf, and that’s fundamentals. The only addition has been the many drills and teaching tools we have been exposed to along the way, which we now use to take benefit.”
BROOKS KOEPKA, PGA
PGA Professional Warren Bottke began working with Brooks Koepka when he was almost 12 years old. They remained together as coach and student until Brooks turned 18. Bottke said that he was “always intrigued with Brooks’ work ethic and desire to be good! He was always a quiet boy and was very pleasant to be around.” Bottke said Koepka’s victories in an AJGA event and the 2006 Class 1A Florida High School State Championship are  the moments that defined his emerging talent and competitive spirit. “He was always grateful to me for the help and foundation I gave him early in his life and career,” said Bottke. Koepka won the 2017 and ’18 U.S. Open, the 2018 and ’19 PGA and the 2018 and ‘19 PGA of America Player of the Year.
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