Hale’s Right… Fire the Gurus

In the June 2010 Golf Magazine, Hale Irwin, 3 time U.S. Open champion, makes some pointed comments towards some PGA players’ approaches to the game of golf:

Golf Magazine (GM): What’s your take on today’s younger players?

Hale Irwin (HI): I see these kids with a coach and a guru and a guru for the guru.  A whole entourage.  I just don’t get it, and I don’t want to get it.  Young players won’t last long doing things this way.

GM: Why? What are they missing out on?

HI: Who he or she really is.  t’s instinctive.  If I gave you a stick and said, “Go hit that rock,” your swing would be instinct.  But if a guru hand-feeds you the swing, well what happens at crunch time?  You return to instinct-to your marrow, your blood- and your swing is confused.

GM: You once told a reporter, “A sports psychologist doesn’t know what to tell you on the 18th tee.”  If young Hale Irwin had had an entourage- complete with swing coach and nutritionist- would he have won those three U.S. Opens?

HI: Yes

GM: Really?

HI: Absolutely.  Because he would have fired them all the first day.

At risk of costing myself future clients and alienating members of my own profession, I must say that I agree with Irwin.  Firing the gurus may be the best thing a professional athlete can do.  Not because they are not wise in their areas of expertise, but simply because they can inadvertently dis-empower the player and rob him of confidence when it matters.  The best preparation in the world is only as good as the athlete that directs his preparation and makes the knowledge his own.  The official term for this concept is “self-regulation.”  A wise player seeks out consultation and coaching from the best swing coaches and sport scientists he can find, but does not use any as a crutch at the end of the day.

I always find it quite odd when observing the practice area of major golf tournaments.  The sport psychologist wandering up and down the driving range.  He should be behind the ropes and behind the scenes.  The strength coach standing on the putting green.  He should be in the fitness trailer readying players or watching golf on t.v.  I can appreciate a swing coach giving a few small tips at this time.  I must still however question it’s necessity or helpfulness.  Cramming for an exam rarely helps and besides when the ball is play, it is just the caddie and the player problem-solving and competing.

There is a time when a player must let go of the gurus and the gurus need to let go of the player.  Only when this happens does true confidence arise and the greatest achievements are made possible.

I agree with Irwin, beware when a guru “hand-feeds” you a swing, a swing thought, or whatnot, you will only end up with a confused swing.  I do like my job however, so please do not fire the gurus, just use them wisely and be the leader of your development as a player.

For full Hale Irwin interview see Golf Magazine, June 2010, “Hale Irwin: American Idol” pp. 98.


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