"Planning and usage of time is very, very important," says the coach of some of the world's best golfers.
Raise Your Game: Why golf?
Jeremy Bennett: It's a game where you can compete as a youngster against the best players in the world, because you have a handicap system. You can go and play on the same golf courses as your heroes on the TV, like Tiger Woods, when you're only eight years of age. It's quite a unique sport in that way, and you can just keep growing with it.
RYG: Can anyone play golf?
JB: Absolutely. A while ago I presented a programme following a British amputees' competition. There were players who had one leg or one arm playing off a four handicap. It was absolutely incredible. It's a game for anybody.
Golf teaches you a way of life. Anybody who's played a bit of golf realises it's more than a game. If you're on your own, you swing at the ball and it moves, you've got to call a shot penalty yourself. It's such an honest game, and it really brings out a person's true character. You can really see someone's true colours out on the golf course - how they react to pressure situations.
RYG: How do you get started?
- Coached Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Seve Ballesteros and Paul Casey.
- PGA European Rookie of the Year (1981)
JB: First of all you need to be inspired. That can come from watching the TV, just sitting there and thinking 'I'd love to have a go at that.' I think your first initiation to the game is very important. When I'm taking youngsters or beginners out for the first time I don't like doing it in the winter. If it's cold and raining I don't take them out because it could put them off. In the summer, you've got the sun on your back and it's easier to get off to a good start.
As soon as you start striking the ball well, and seeing an improvement, then you've got the motivation to continue to improve. You might be a brilliant athlete if you go to the range and try to hit a ball without any tuition, but it's unlikely that you'll be successful. Then you might think 'This is not for me, I can't play.' In reality, if you get the right kind of help, you could be a very good player.
RYG: People think of golf as an expensive sport, is there a cheap way to get started?
JB: It's more accessible than it used to be. There are a lot more 'pay and play' courses than there used to be. Some of them are the best golf courses in the world, like Pebble Beach in America, where they have the US Open.
There are lots of driving ranges where you can get started. You can get some group lessons with a pro to start with to help keep the price down. Also, the price of equipment has come down a lot recently.
RYG: What can golf do for you?
JB: Some youngsters I've coached have had a few problems at school. They might have been bullied, or got into a bit of trouble themselves. Golf has taught them discipline, but in a nice way. Their parents have come up to me and said 'Thanks for that, his golf is great, but more importantly, he/she is turning out to be a good person now.'
RYG: What can golf do for people in terms of their fitness?
JB: If you play a full round of golf you can be walking four or five miles. Players at a national and club level need to be aware of the fuel that they're putting in their bodies. If they don't they'll get tired during the round. You can have a great Formula 1 car, but if it hasn't got enough petrol it runs out.
Flexibility is also important when you're playing golf. Even at a junior level we start off with some stretching exercises and talk to the players about aerobic exercises.
RYG: How important is etiquette when you're playing golf?
JB: I think it's very important. If you're playing match-play you could put the other person off if you really wanted to, but it wouldn't go down very well. You've got to learn to take care of your own business, and be honest, because there's no cheating in the game.
When I played on the European Tour, if you were caught cheating, it would be worse than going to prison. It's the lowest of the low to be caught cheating in golf. It's all about doing the right thing. You learn that in golf.
RYG: Is there a way to practise golf safely, outside of the driving range and golf course environment?
JB: Absolutely. You don't need a golf club to practise your swing. I encourage players to have a cut down club. That way you can practise your swing inside your house without worrying about hitting the ceiling.
You can practise in the garden with light-weight plastic golf balls. People used to laugh at those, but Tiger Woods does a lot of work with them, because they focus more on your technique.
RYG: You've worked with some of the biggest names in the game, how do you go about coaching top professionals?
JB: The first thing I get them to do is assess where they are. It doesn't matter if someone's at the beginning of their career, in the middle and having a bit of a crisis, or in the middle of it and wanting to get better. You need to be able to see where they are with their game, what can be improved, and how you're going to go about doing that.
If the player's getting older, they may need to re-check their motivation and their desire. They need to know where they want to go. Once they've got that and put it down on paper, you can get a bit of a plan going.
Having a plan is extremely important for players at any level. Whatever you're doing, you need to ask yourself 'What am I going to do?' Then you need to find out how you go about implementing that plan, and you may need to re-assess it in the future.
You just try and get the best results out of every player. Every player's different so you've got to let the player be true to themselves.
RYG: Is it important to set yourself small goals in order to be successful?
JB: Absolutely. A daily goal is much more important than a long term objective. I like players to have a weekly diary. Then they can write out what time they've got available, and how they're going to use it.
Planning and usage of time is very, very important. What you're doing right now is the only thing that really matters. Even a practice shot, is the most important shot in the world because it's the only one you've got your attention on.
You need to use your time well. Be productive with the time you have available. I give my players a practice sheet to fill out before they go out. I get them to write down what they plan to achieve, how they plan to achieve it, and how they intend to assess their success afterwards.
I try to liken it to going to court. If you went to court after a practice session, would you have any evidence that you've improved? Set yourself a target. If you do that, you'll improve every time you practise. You'll end up being a very good player.
RYG: What's the difference between a good and a great golfer?
JB: It's desire to get to the top. In any sport there are ups and downs. The best golfers have taken their knocks, but it's how they respond to them that counts. A very good player will get to a certain level and lose their desire, or say 'Well, that's it for me.'
Tiger Woods puts in a huge amount of effort in terms of physical training. Nick Faldo put in a massive amount of practice but he never considered that work. He'd say 'How much fun can you have? I'm out there on a beautiful sunny day, playing the game I love, this is the best job in the world.'
RYG: What have been the highlights of your golfing career?
JB: I played on the Tour for 12 years. I won in Africa and the Caribbean, but never on the European Tour. I was named 'Rookie of the Year' back in 1981. I had three rounds of 61 in one year which was nice.
I'm a better coach than I was a player. I coached one player who went from 19 handicap to four in a year and a half. When I started with him he was 20 stone in weight, and only played once a week, so that was good.
I enjoyed success with Nick Faldo, near the end of his career. We had the best results for nine years in a Major and on the European Tour, so that was good fun.
I've also done some work with young, female golfers from Wales. The team's starting to do well, Breanne Loucks had a couple of fantastic results in Africa recently, when she won the stroke play and the match play. In the Nations Cup 2008, the ladies came second, which was a cracking result.
I think Breanne Loucks is going to be very influential. She's a very exciting player and a very bubbly person. I can see her being in the top 20 in the World in the next three years.
RYG: What advice would you give to youngsters wanting to get started in the game?
JB: Go and see your local pro. Go along to your local club and see if you can get involved in their junior programme. Go and find out who the best person in the region is at teaching youngsters.
RYG: What advice would you give to someone wanting to be the next Tiger Woods?
JB: Be proactive with your game rather than reactive. A lot of people just go for tuition when things aren't going very well. It should be a continuous drip feed of instruction.
If you want to get to the top, seek out the best coach you can, and find someone to help out with the physical and mental side of things. They all need to be developed at the same time.
It's amazing what you can do when you set yourself goals.
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