The Greatest Golfer, Jack or Tiger?

Round 2

by Tadhg Harrington

29th October 2019

“The first installment of this article appeared earlier this year just before Tiger Woods won his 15th Major Championship at the Masters. In light of recent events in Japan where he equaled the all-time record of 82 wins on the PGA Tour, it would be hard to argue that he is not the best player that has ever lived. When you consider the circumstances it would be nigh on impossible.

 

 

Cultivating the DNA of a professional golfer.

Rebecca Coakley was born in 1981 in Adelaide, Australia to Jane and John Coakley and had one sister, Emily. John hailed from Carlow in Ireland while Jane was born in Kenya and they met on a blind date while both were working in Australia. They returned to Ireland for a brief period after Rebecca was born but she spent most of her formative years living in Australia. The family upbringing was typical of the environmental circumstances seen regularly that produce sporting proteges. She tagged along from age four with her father when he went playing golf under the guise of caddying but admits she was hooked when he let her hit shots on the course. She was surrounded by golf and sport in general from an early age (she also excelled at basketball) and flourished to such an extent that at the tender age of twelve she started to concentrate full time on golf. She remembers receiving her first handicap of 35 around this time but within three years was down to scratch. She first played for the Australian junior team at age sixteen, had full representative honors at nineteen and was ranked the number one amateur player in Australia. The girl was an absolute birdie machine as witnessed by trips back to Ireland for holidays. In 2000, she won the Curragh scratch cup, nothing unusual in that I hear you say, except for the eye-watering scores of a nine under par 63 followed by a 65 to rout the field by fifteen shots. She continued like a scene from “Vikings” to carve up the opposition in Ireland winning the 2000 Irish Ladies Stroke Play Championship and the 2001 Lancome Irish Ladies Close Championship. She eventually signed up for the pro leagues off an incredible plus five handicap. 

The now 37 years old vividly remembers her parents returning back home to Ireland in 2002 as she headed the opposite way to Japan to compete at their tour school and a life on the road. She had made friends in her teens with a number of Japanese players who competed on the Australian amateur circuit but it was still quite the stretch to head off to a completely different culture at such a young age. It’s not exactly touring Europe with your friends on inter-rail! In her first big tournament of note, the 2002 Australian Women’s Open, she finished 5th, earning close to eleven thousand euros and thought she was set for a life of fame and fortune. Later that year, in December, she gained a conditional Japanese Tour Card and returned to Japan as per her original plan but was qualified through her 5th place finish to compete in more lucrative tournaments in Australia. She didn’t know this and as she recollects now, no one was in a hurry to tell her. She spent 2003 working at a local country club in Japan to supplement her practice time. She found the Japanese to be very structured with a particular way of doing everything which suited her as she buckled down to a life of play, practice, work, and bed. But this is where she looks back now and realizes she had no clue as to how to move forward from here as she didn’t have a manager of any sort or a back up team to help her. She was flying her own kite. 

Back in Japan, she continued to learn her craft, playing and practicing, the highlight of the year being a 30th place finish in the Japanese Open which had a very strong field and would have the equivalent prize money of an LPGA tour event. Disappointment followed as she failed to retain her Tour Card in December of 2003 so she headed back to Australia to gain valuable playing time. She also played in Sweden that year (2004) which was expensive but she felt it was worth it to keep tournament sharp as opportunities to play at that level were scarce. It proved to be a wise decision as she secured her European Tour card in Italy that year with a 28th place finish.  She concentrated on the Ladies European Tour from 2005 onwards and was rewarded with plenty of top ten finishes but a win alluded her. She was consistently in the top thirty of the Order of Merit but was still flying solo and this she feels held her back. Her professional low round came in the Swiss Open in 2008 where she shot a nine-under-par 63 and finished 11th. But her proudest golf moment came in 2007 when with bittersweet irony, she represented Ireland in the Women’s World Cup in Sun City. Her dual citizenship gave her the chance to team up with Hazel Kavanagh and she finally fulfilled a life long ambition to play for Ireland. This is a glimpse into the world of a touring professional where consistency is no longer king, better to win one big tournament and miss nine cuts that finish top ten in all those events. There is no more moving day on a Saturday, it’s the first tee on a Thursday and a sprint to the finishing line. Rebecca admits she was programmed from an early age to swing smoothly and not take risks. This will assuredly bring you a stellar amateur career but won’t cut the mustard at a professional level. 

New South Wales Open, February 2008.

The year 2008 dawned and who was to know what lay ahead for Rebecca? It is still a mystery why players get the so-called yips, but for Rebecca, it also transcended into her iron play to such an extent that she literally couldn’t get an iron shot off the ground. If the ball had some grass under it, not too bad! But if it was a tight lie, Nightmare on Elm Street stuff. To her credit, but also alluding to the madness that is tournament golf, she rates keeping her tour card that year as one of the highlights of her professional career. She started to aim at the semi-rough to avoid tight lies and never chipped anything. Ever. Imagine trying to retain your tour card while aiming away from the fairway? This story embodies what most professionals who don’t make it (which is the majority!) go through every week, the sheer grind of trying to pluck some ray of light, some glimmer of hope, from what is quite frankly, for most, a hopeless cause. Deep down she knew, without help, she was marking time; her inconsistent chipping was a death knell to her Tour dreams. This is the quixotic nature of golfers in general, extremely idealistic; unrealistic and impractical.

One door closes, another door opens…

It was while searching for answers to her short game woes that she came in contact with Roddy Carr, he of the legendary Irish family, the Carrs. Roddy was running the Solheim Cup and with no Irish player on board, he took a keen interest in helping Rebecca. The first thing he suggested and guided her towards was creating a team around her to help her going forward. To this day it is something she would recommend any aspiring young professional to put on their list of first things to do! She brought on board, Jamie Edwards, a sports phycologist, who helped her with her iron play, Orlaith Buckley, a physiotherapist (also TPI qualified), Jussi Pitkanin for short game, Johnny Young for her long game, and a new caddy in Caolan Baron. She enjoyed some of her best years on tour in 2009 and 2010 after these changes. Another plus to creating a team around her was meeting biomechanist, Ryan Lumsden, around 2009. One door closes, and another opens! He was a massive influence on her in terms of how she thought about the game. Her love affair with biomechanics remains to this day, for someone that spent years guessing on Tour it was a welcome relief to know why things happen. They say, everything happens for a reason, and those dreaded yips led Rebecca to me. She contacted the Harrington Golf Academy in 2015 with a view to a teaching role as she knew we taught movement and motor patterns for golf, gleaned from the Titleist Performance Institute in California, USA.  I have a strictly biomechanical view of the golf swing which I then try to convey to the client in images and feelings. My expertise was also in short game strategies so after the plethora of swing coaches she had been through; she felt this was a fresh approach. It was this initial meeting that convinced her that teaching golf swing was a waste of time; she had spent years trying to perfect her golf swing while never knowing why things broke down. Her time spent with Ryan Lumsden had also convinced her that how the body moves throughout a golf swing or any sporting activity is paramount to success, so the Harrington Golf Academy was the perfect fit. 

What happened to the yips?

What happened to the yips I hear you say? Gone, but not forgotten, she was astonished that anyone could fix her but therein lies the secret, I haven’t fixed Rebecca or any other client with the yips, it is not, in my experience, possible, the scarring is too deep. I just change the motor pattern. Imagine riding a bicycle and then we teach you how to ride it backward? That’s building a new motor pattern. It is so different from the original pattern that whatever was broken stays with the original pattern. She hasn’t had a yip since but the “how to yip” folder still very much exists in her psyche. But sure it’s easy when you are not under pressure, I hear you say, (and I would agree). I was to meet Rebecca one day but got delayed, and she happened to be playing golf with my brother Padraig and Dr. Bob Rotella, yes the sports psychologist, and as fate would dictate, she missed the first green with her approach shot and had a tricky chip, off that dreaded bare lie. She later admitted palpitations and thoughts of Australia in 2008 but played a beautiful chip and never missed another shot. It’s just a different motor pattern.

A happy ending to her story (so far!) she is now teaching away full time in her own Harrington Golf Academy indoor facility on the Southside of the city. She is also heavily involved in charity work for Cystic Fibrosis in Ireland and runs a golf event for them every year! But most importantly we have become firm friends for life. 

Life twists and turns but they say everything happens for a reason.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read! It is appreciated. Follow our Ryder Cup Captain at our dedicated Ryder Cup page and over at his website. Finally, don't forget to sign up below for my FREE monthly digital magazine (February issue out shortly!) plus a Kindle book for Xmas and a chance to win a dozen Titleist Pro V1's each & every month.
Tadhg

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