Mike Walker is a key cog in a wheel. A wheel of majors, tournament wins, Ryder Cups and golf of another level.
The PGA of Great Britain & Ireland Professional is an established part of the coaching tour de force from the Peter Cowen Golf Academy, having worked with, and influenced, over 40 European Tour players across the last decade.
Much like many coaches, Walker started his golf career on the playing side but, having left the game, it was only when he actively sought out his old coach, Peter Cowen, to help him out of his then office job in London that he got fully into golf coaching.
“When I look back now to my younger years, possibly to my detriment, I was almost more interested in coaching and practicing than playing because I used to get very nervous,” says Walker.
“I was bored in an office job in London and I contacted Pete who was my coach before I gave up golf and it was he who said well you could teach, in his words, standing on your head. I was just really interested in coaching, and I couldn’t wait to get to work every day.”
“I think it’s a shame that a lot of coaches keep their cards to their chest because I’ve found that just by having conversations you learn different things from everybody…”
Walker was placed as the Padawan Apprentice to a Jedi Master in Cowen, whose coaching pedigree speaks for itself when you see the list of players he has worked with. His exposure to Cowen’s working environment enabled him to absorb much of his knowledge whilst also being given the freedom to establish his own philosophy and opinions.
“I am extremely privileged with the fact that I have had ‘on-tap’ access to one of the best coaches in the world. All the questions that would make you scratch your head; you could get answers or Pete’s opinion of that answer.
“I think it’s a shame in the golf industry that a lot of coaches keep their cards to their chest because I’ve found that, whether it’s Pete or other coaches, just by having conversations with them you learn different things from everybody.”
“I wouldn’t be doing what I did last year if it wasn’t for Pete – it’s that simple. I owe him a lot.”
Clearly even a slight dipping of the toe into the mind of Walker shows how much Cowen, and other coaches, have influenced him:
“Without Pete then I wouldn’t have received any awards if it wasn’t for him – I wouldn’t be doing what I did last year if it wasn’t for him – it’s that simple. So I owe him a lot.
“What I most enjoy is talking technique and hitting balls with Pete and comparing ideas, what some players do that he’s worked with, what other players do that I’ve worked with – it’s just constantly stimulating your interest so it’s a fortunate position to be in.
“Other coaches that you travel with – for example Phil Kenyon, the putting coach – I talk to him a lot about coaching because it transcends into other areas, not just technique. Managing people, looking at statistics or score reports – it’s a myriad of things that you’re actually doing. I wish people would have more open conversations or forums because I think it helps everybody ultimately.”
“What I’ve found is that if you’ve got a pupil you were on the same wave-length as then it’s gratifying whether they’re just starting or whether they’re playing for a living…”
The professionals covered by the Cowen/Walker partnership reads more like a football squad than a roster of individuals, and the multinational, multi-tour group mean that it can be non-stop for Walker throughout the season, travelling to various tour events and making sure he is available to his students.
“Coaching tour players around the world is a bit of a double-edged sword – I don’t like the travel, and I don’t know many people who do, but the places that you go the other side are more than worth it…you get unbelievable experiences.
“Being on tour might test you a little more, but it’s all contextual and rolls along the way. I would have been just as nervous doing my first lesson to a group as teaching on a large stage like the Ryder Cup or something like that because it’s new at the end of the day. I guess the more you do it the less nervous you get.
“What I’ve found is that at any level, if you’ve got a pupil that you were on the same wave-length as and you get on with then it’s really gratifying whether they’re just starting or whether they’re playing for a living. It can be gratifying coaching at whatever level – a beginner to a 12 handicap just as much as coaching somebody to win his or her first tournament.
“It’s especially gratifying with someone like Matt Fitzpatrick who you’ve coached from being a kid. When he won the US Amateur that personally was one of the most satisfying moments because you’d seen him as a 13 year old kid coming to the driving range and then you’ve taken him all the way up to walking on the first tee at the Ryder Cup with him.”
“The fundamentally important thing is to know your topic absolutely inside-out whatever level you’re at…”
Much of Walker’s success is attributed to the help of his fellow coaches. This culture of sharing and advice is evident in his own views on how PGA Professionals can advance themselves as
coaches and it doesn’t take much to get him enthused and impassioned about his area of expertise.
“Some people are extremely good at coaching juniors, others at coaching your bog-standard player, and other people would be more interested in elite coaching…I think you need to identify what you prefer early on.
“But irrespective of any of those avenues, you need to know your subject inside out because all of the best people I’ve come across – not just in golf but in different industries – they make complex subjects appear simple, and to be able to make it simple you need to know as much as possible.
“The fundamentally important thing is to know your topic absolutely inside-out whatever level you’re at – then pick your route and try as hard as you can.”
Earlier this year Walker was awarded the John Jacobs Award for Teaching & Coaching at the PGAs of Europe’s Annual Congress Gala Awards in recognition of his position as a leading light in the profession.
“I felt very humbled and very proud – especially with John Jacobs linked to my roots at Hallamshire and Lindrick Golf Clubs at different stages. Matt Fitzpatrick, originates from Hallamshire, and my first proper golf lesson was at Lindrick with Pete so it seems quite fitting.
“I am extremely honoured to be associated with such a household name, especially with his recent passing. I know it’s a cliché but everybody values being acknowledged by their peers…if things like this happen then it gives you a boost of confidence and it’s really satisfying.”