PGA of Great Britain & Ireland Professional, Lee Scarbrow, is no stranger to teaching at all levels of the game.
Whilst having been Head Professional at John O’ Gaunt Golf Club in Bedfordshire, United Kingdom, since 2001, Lee has amassed a long list of pupils that have been successful throughout the amateur and professional games in his indoor teaching facility, including LET Professional and Solheim Cup player, Charley Hull, and Ryder Cup and European Tour star, Ian Poulter
But Lee is no stranger to teaching your average golf club member as well, and his work in the development of junior programmes in the UK added to the reasoning behind his recognition in 2013 with the PGAs of Europe’s highest coaching accolade, the John Jacobs Teaching and Coaching Award.
IGPN recently caught up with Scarbrow to find out more about he manages his coaching style and activities between those at the top-level of the game and those amateurs who are there to get the most enjoyment and fun out of their games.
Your first ‘top’ player was Ian Poulter – how did you start working with him and what was it that made him different to others?
I first start working with Ian when he came to work for me as an Assistant. He had an unbelievable desire to achieve his goals, which made him both easy and hard to work with…!
The thing that made Ian stand out was his belief in his own self and that nothing was going to stop him. His self-belief needed to be maintained when coaching him, so I would suggest things I was working with on other players to him. When he used these ideas in his own swing they where now his ideas and as such became something he wanted to work on.
It was a little sneaky but it was the best way to help him achieve. What was great was watching Ian attain his goals and finish rookie of the year on the European tour, something I am so proud we achieved.
Later on you have worked with another more recent figurehead of the women’s game, Charley Hull – did you see the same characteristics in Charley as you did with Ian?
I first met Charley when she was nine and her first words to me were that she wanted to become world number one! She then would visit once or twice a year until she was fourteen when she came to me full time to be her swing coach.
Charley had got her swing in a bit of a mess and we set about making it more solid and reliable without taking a step back. In the first year she won the Scottish and Welsh National Championships and then a couple of other major amateur tournaments.
What set Charley apart was her unquenchable thirst for practice, getting her to slow down and practice with class and thought was the tough bit.
We did a great job and winning rookie of the year and becoming number one in Europe are great achievements that can’t be taken away.
What are the key differences that set the Poulters and the Hulls of the world apart from the rest?
Both of these two had an unreal desire to achieve, channelled in different ways yes, but both were not going to fail in their goals and I am honoured to have helped them along the way. They are the names that would stand out on my resume but I am lucky to have a lot of great players working hard to rise to both Charley and Ian’s level.
As a coach you are always pushing and trying to find ways to help your players improve not just their technical golf swing but their overall performance. Sometimes you need to push them to do things they may not like, but you have to believe in what you are doing and find the best way to get the most out of the player you’re working with.
What differences do the players at that level have to perhaps the elite amateurs you work with?
The gap between tour players and elite amateur players is closer than ever, most of the top amateurs are working the way tour pros do as this tends to be their long-term goal.
As a coach I am always just trying to get the most out of my player whether they are a tour winner or complete beginner. As a coach my attitude stays the same to make the person before me the best they can be whatever level that takes us to.
Elite pros are likely to be travelling around more, how do you manage the coach-player relationship at distance and across a season?
Working with tour players as a Club Pro is tricky as it is not possible to travel to all events, but with all modern media tools it is easy to video golf swings and send them to be analysed as well as keep in touch in general these days really.
Personally I would like my player to be clear in what they are working on and try to get their minds more in play mode rather than trapped in technique, but, as always, it is totally down to the individual and what works best for them.
What do you think makes for a successful coach-player relationship both for beginners and then for elite players?
A player coach relationship has to start with communication as if either person is not understanding what is required confusion will reign. This is the basic for all coaching regardless of the ability of the student.
Do you have a different mindset for coaching beginners as you do for elite players?
As I said before, I would treat both a beginner or tour winner the same and just try to get the best from that person. But how I would do that or go about achieving that would vary as you would expect based on the time they can give me and the individual requirements, characteristics and ultimately level of their game.
But then when working with top players you become more and more aware of the small margins to success. Building swings and players to be winners is more than just swing the club like this – it’s a total holistic approach and finding how to make them perform their best is like putting together a puzzle and has great rewards.
It can be hard work but you can only give your best and working with these players makes you question yourself and the swing so much that it forces you to improve your own knowledge and keep questioning whether there is more you could do. This helps with all lessons as you become more aware of how different types of people work so helping becomes easier.
Find out more about Lee and John O’Gaunt Golf Club here: www.johnogauntgolfclub.co.uk.