Imagine that the world capitals of golf are Augusta National, Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, Royal Melbourne and Omaha.
Omaha, you say? That’s Nebraska, pardner.
In 2004, insurance executive Mike McCoy jumped in his car, embarking on a personal crusade from his home in West Des Moines, Iowa, to Omaha. In the years that followed, he would become intimately familiar with the two-hour drive on I-80. Oh, by the way, he also would win the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship.
McCoy’s mission was to fine-tune his golf swing with help from instructor Tom Sieckmann, a former PGA Tour winner who successfully made the tricky transition from player to teacher. The soft-spoken Sieckmann is an Omaha product through and through, which means speaking the truth with his students and focusing on their ability to repeat fundamental movements in the golf swing. No embellishments here. No shortcuts allowed.
After nine years and dozens and dozens of trips to Nebraska, McCoy was able to slay many of the dragons that inhabit the path to consistent golf. In 2013, when the 50-year-old McCoy won the U.S. Mid-Am, he could have been called Mr. Birdie. He was relentless in the final and scored an 8-and-6 victory over Bill Williamson of Cincinnati. This made him the second-oldest Mid-Am champion (behind Randal Lewis, 54 at the time of his victory).
Fast forward to 2018, when a man named Sieckmann was named the PGA of America’s Teacher of the Year. No, the recipient was not Tom Sieckmann. It was his brother, James Sieckmann, widely considered one of golf’s best short-game instructors.
For the record, Tom is 64 and James is 54. In this family, though, age holds no credence. Coaching, not teaching, is a much more accurate description of what they do. Through the years, they have learned to guide their students through the intimidations and trepidations that are felt on the golf course by real-life human beings.
There is a teaching trend in modern golf, for example, that asks players to turn their shoulders as much as possible – often without receiving proper coaching. The reality is that a faulty shoulder turn or hip turn can wreck a well-intentioned swing.
James has a stable of students that includes many tour players and serious collegiate and amateur competitors. Tom’s students are a more diverse group, some as dedicated as McCoy and others more recreational in their approach to golf.
Sometimes, in special cases, the two brothers work together. This is what happened with McCoy. What’s better than one Sieckmann? Two Sieckmanns, of course. It seems that McCoy’s life is constantly intertwined with the Sieckmanns.
In 2017, McCoy broke his left foot while taking an awkward step off a walking path. What followed was worthy of a soap opera. McCoy was wandering around in a stabilization boot, planning a return to golf glory. Meanwhile, he ended up with a high-tech version of the chip yips.
Enter both Sieckmanns. “Tom took me to see James,” McCoy explained. “If you’re struggling with your short game, you might as well visit the best short-game guy in the world.”
Gene Elliott watched all this with curiosity. Elliott and McCoy are best friends and have dominated Iowa amateur golf in recent years, McCoy winning six Iowa Amateur titles and Elliott winning six Iowa Senior Amateur crowns (three at medal play and three at match play).
“When Mike struggled, it didn’t make sense,” Elliott said, “I figured it had something to do with his balance. Anyway, he got it all back. I knew he would. Mike’s always had the greatest short game in the world. And he’s the best putter I’ve ever seen, bar none. It took some time for him to get over that broken foot, but he’s a fighter.”
“What he has, what he gives to his students, it comes from the heart. That’s the essence of Tom.” — Dave Pelz on Tom Sieckmann
Credit the coaching skill of James Sieckmann and the stubborn persistence of Mike McCoy. In the final analysis, here is McCoy’s honest reflection on his 2018 recovery year: “I wasn’t really pleased with my play in 2018. I didn’t come back (from the broken foot) as the same guy I was. I would say right now I’m about 95 percent. I feel very motivated for 2019.”
Iowa native and senior amateur Roy Carver Jr. shrugged his shoulders, as if McCoy and Elliott are supposed to win everything. “Close your eyes and they’ll go flying right past you,” Carver said.
As a team, McCoy and Elliott have qualified for the 2019 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, to be played in May at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. The combined ages of the two Iowans is 113, while many of the other teams in the championship have combined ages between 50 and 60.
“There isn’t anybody in golf who works harder than Mike McCoy,” Elliott said. “I’ve got to give him credit. He’s always pushing. He’s kept me going for the last five years or so.”
Along the way, it was Tom Sieckmann who persuaded McCoy to give up his lifelong pattern of hitting a draw and concentrate on straighter shots. “After that,” Elliott observed, “he became a very consistent ball striker with this uncanny ability to make putts. That’s how he became such a dominant mid-amateur.”
James Sieckmann is praised by his brother. No brotherly feuds here. “My brother is a phenomenal instructor,” said Tom Sieckmann. “I really admire what he has done.”
Meanwhile, instructor Dave Pelz identified himself as a huge Tom Sieckmann fan. “What he has, what he gives to his students, it comes from the heart,” Pelz said. “That’s the essence of Tom. He absolutely cares about other people’s games. He just cares about everybody.”
As demonstrated by McCoy, sometimes James and Tom Sieckmann can be collaborators. Both love working with senior amateurs. “I have a ton of senior amateur clients,” James said. “They come from all over the place. The way they learned the game, they had to be shotmakers. it’s fun being around them. I feel that senior ams are really savvy.”
James, who travels extensively, is based in Omaha during the golf season. In the winter, he lives in the Scottsdale, Ariz., area.
Tom, meanwhile, spends all year in Omaha. After leaving the PGA Tour, he worked 10 years for Pelz, then ultimately started his own academy. The biggest compliment to the elder Sieckmann brother came when Omaha Country Club decided to purchase his instruction business and moved it to the OCC complex.
Senior amateur Mike Root is a student of Tom Sieckmann. “He recognizes everybody’s individual swing,” Root reaffirmed. “It’s not one swing fits all. He’s been a phenomenal mentor to me. I just keep on learning.”
Root has qualified for two U.S. Senior Amateur Championships. In 2017, at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis, Tom Sieckmann traveled to the event to advise his pupil. “Now there’s somebody who cares,” Root said.
OCC, renovated by storied architect Perry Maxwell in 1951, is one of America’s most intriguing golf courses. People who haven’t been to Omaha have visions of a flat piece of ground in the Midwest. Guess again. The hills and elevations of the course are quite amazing and totally unexpected.
The 2013 U.S. Senior Open, won by Kenny Perry, was played at Omaha Country Club. Corporate hospitality sales totaled a record $5.6 million, and ticket sales exceeded $2 million for just the third time. The USGA wasted no time in announcing the Senior Open’s return to OCC in 2021. This 8-year gap ties the Senior Open record for quickest return to a tournament site (along with Saucon Valley Country Club, Bethlehem, Pa., and the Inverness Club of Toledo, Ohio).
There is something very special about Omaha. The downtown skyline is spectacular. Half a million people live in the city. Because Nebraska is a sports-mad state, collegiate athletic events (both women and men) are constantly being held.
Financier Warren Buffett lives in Omaha. He was a member of his high school golf team and still plays occasionally.
Former PGA education director Gary Wiren lived in Omaha as a boy. The fervor surrounding golf in Omaha is something to behold. Wiren once qualified for the U.S. Senior Open and played without a caddie. To the cheers of the crowd, he carried his own bag.
Johnny Goodman, the last amateur to win the U.S. Open, lived in Omaha. Goodman’s feat occurred in 1933 at North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Ill. He also captured the 1937 U.S. Amateur at Alderwood Country Club in Portland, Ore., a course that no longer exists.
How many amateurs have won the U.S. Open? Only five: Francis Ouimet, Jerome Travers, Chick Evans, Bobby Jones and Johnny Goodman.
Fancy this: Golf in Omaha is affordable. Senior golfers who are 60 or older can play the municipal Elmwood Golf Club for $16 (walking, any day of the week).
Randy Jensen, eight-time winner of the National Hickory Championship and champion of countless other events that call for hickory shafts, is an Omaha resident.
McCoy, as his amateur career flourished, always dreamed of making the Walker Cup team. With help from Tom Sieckmann, he made it at 52.
Now he can dream of becoming the Walker Cup captain. Consider the similarities of McCoy and John (Spider) Miller. Both won the U.S. Mid-Amateur. Both are friendly, astute, well-rounded golfers. Miller was the U.S. Walker Cup captain. McCoy should be the same. It’s only fitting for a guy who appreciates Omaha.
There’s another way to look at this: For any American who can’t swing the trip to Royal Melbourne, there’s always Omaha Country Club. It’s that good.
James Sieckmann (right) caddied for brother Tom (middle, with wife Deb) in the 1991 Masters. Photo courtesy Tom Sieckmann
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