All the attention that has been focused on swing coach Sean Foley since he started to work with Tiger Woods could make followers of the game in Canada think he’s the only native son, or daughter, for that matter, who knows how to teach. That’s so far from the truth that it deserves a response. Canada has always had excellent instructors.
Foley acknowledged that fact himself, a few days after he became embroiled in a controversy that PGA Tour player Charlie Wi ignited after sharing the halfway lead at the BMW Championship in Lemont, Ill. Wi has upgraded his game by working with Stack and Tilt coaches Andy Plummer and Mike Bennett. He referred to Foley without using his name, saying, “Whoever Tiger is working with, you know, he’s got Andy and Mike’s DVD, his book, and he always calls them asking them questions.”
Foley said he’s learned from many instructors, and that Plummer and Bennett helped him articulate what he knew instinctively. He also said that Mark Evershed, a popular swing coach based in the Niagara region of Ontario, helped him systematize his teaching.
The late and much-respected professional and instructor Ben Kern also influenced Foley, as he did many teachers. Kern was the long-time head professional at the National Golf Club of Canada in Woodbridge, Ont., and then the Devil’s Pulpit in Caledon, Ont. Kern worked closely with the late George Knudson, who had his own golf school in Buttonville, Ont.
The list of esteemed coaches stretches across Canada. Doug Hastie, a former teacher of the year in British Columbia, learned under Knudson and Kern at the National. He continues to coach golfers of all levels at the Musqueam Golf and Learning Academy in Vancouver. Muncie Booth, the director of golf at McLeery Golf Club in Vancouver, has long been one of the most esteemed instructors in western Canada.
Then there was the late Jack McLaughlin, an advocate of introducing kids as young as four years old to the game. He started a program called “Junior-Junior” at Toronto’s Bayview Golf and Country Club, and took it to Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club in Vancouver in the mid-70s. McLaughlin was a major influence in the career of Lorie Kane, a four-time LPGA Tour winner from Charlottetown, P.E.I. Kane now works with Foley, who acknowledges McLaughlin’s influence on him.
Thinking of all these instructors who have given so much to the game in Canada, one is reminded of something the late Jack Grout once said. Grout, who passed away in 1989, was Jack Nicklaus’ only instructor. He was the head pro at Scioto Country Club in Ohio when Nicklaus, then 10 years old, started to participate in junior clinics.
Grout always said that it was his great good fortune to meet young Jackie Nicklaus, and that he should in no way be singled out as a tremendous instructor any more than other teachers should.
“I was lucky in that Jack walked into the shop when he was a youngster,” Grout said, acknowledging that Nicklaus was preternaturally gifted. But there are teachers all over the country who didn’t have somebody such as a young Nicklaus at their clubs, as Grout pointed out.
“The teachers who work in shops at backwoods courses and who help players improve, they deserve lots of credit,” Grout frequently said, or words to this effect.
These teachers help golfers improve and enjoy the game. The same is true of Canadian teachers, or, as they are now called, swing coaches. Evershed, Hastie and somebody like Shawn Clement, an innovative instructor in Richmond Hill, Ont., who was recently featured on Golf Channel, deserve recognition. Their work also stands on the shoulders of instructors who came before them.
One such early instructor in Canada was George Cumming. He was the head professional at the Toronto Golf Club from 1900-1950, and wrote a book whose title couldn’t be more authentic. Cumming, who won the 1905 Canadian Open, titled his book “It Goes as You Hit It.” He trained a variety of future Canadian Open winners, and his book remains a simple guide to playing golf simply – a valuable resource, that is, in a world of complicated teaching.
Another George, Clifton, that is, was also a highly regarded Canadian teacher whose instruction has endured. Clifton worked at many clubs in and around Toronto and pioneered the use of the swing sequence camera. His sequences of Canadian legend Moe Norman are peerless.
Maybe this means golf is like any other subject of inquiry. Knowledge proceeds and develops on the backs of people who came before. Sure, there’s a bit of a turf war now on the PGA Tour, especially since Wi suggested Foley isn’t giving Plummer and Bennett enough credit. But Foley himself said that he learned from Canadians Kern, Evershed and McLaughlin, and from Butch Harmon and David Leadbetter.
One thing is certain, then: Foley is at this moment the most well-known Canadian swing coach. But he’s not the only top-notch swing coach, or teacher, or instructor, whatever word or words you want to use. He knows that, and Canadians know that.