Ponce de Leon and golfers have something in common: the never-ending search for something that doesn’t exist. While Ponce de Leon hacked in vain through the deepest jungles seeking the Fountain of Youth, golfers throughout the years have employed innumerable devices and gurus in their quixotic quest for the perfect swing. Ponce de Leon’s quest is over; you, golfer, are condemned to continue yours.
The good news is that we have assembled a list of ten of the best teachers in the world. And while there are no women on the list-instruction is still a field whose zenith is occupied by men–many of these men, particularly Chuck Cook, Hank Haney and Peter Kostis, have enjoyed much success with women players.
But regardless of their gender, this is a group of shamans who–through their knowledge of the game, their ability to communicate, their unique perspective and their one-on-one attention–can help you attain a shimmering glimpse of that perfect stroke and its attendant bliss.
JIMMY BALLARD, 55, Key Largo, Florida.
Background: Taught by Sam Byrd, Babe Ruth’s former roommate with the Yankees and then a Tour notable, that the baseball swing and the golf swing are the same, just on different planes.
Students: Ballard has worked with more than 300 Tour players, including Curtis Strange, Seve Ballesteros, and Hal Sutton. Teaching style: Warm and affable. “We have a saying: `The dog Swings the tail and the body swings the arm,'” Ballard says, adding, “I teach a connected. golf swing and I teach it as an athletic move”
Advice: Get behind the ball and don’t worry about keeping your left arm stiff.
Most memorable moment: When Hal Sutton won the PGA in 1983–Ballard’s first major tournament win as a coach.
CHUCK COOK, 53, Spicewood, Texas.
Background: After doing a tour in Vietnam, Cook played amateur golf and attended graduate school before turning to teaching full-time at 27. He then went on to become a head instructor at the famed Golf Digest Schools, and later started the Academy of Golf in Austin, the school that helped launch the careers of short-game wizard Dave Pelz and sports psychologist Richard Coop. Named 1996 PGA Teacher of the Year.
Students: Tom Kite, Corey Pavin, and Payne Stewart, among others. Teaching style: Cook looks for a pupil’s natural style and then works to find the fundamentals to match. “My feeling IS that it’s really important to get immediate results; you should hit a lot of shots better during the lesson”
Advice: “You get out of golf what you put into it. Find a teacher you’re compatible with, one who can show you improvement within three lessons”
Most memorable moment: Seeing Corey Pavin hit a beautiful 4-wood at the 18th hole of the 1995 US. Open; the two had worked on the shot a week earlier.
JIM FLICK, 68, Scottsdale, Arizona.
Background: One of the old-school luminaries. After morning With Arnold Palmer at Wake Forest, Flick was a club pro for twenty-two years before setting up first the Golf Digest and then the Nicklaus/Flick schools.
Students: He has worked with more than 100 Tour players, including Tom Lehman. Named PGA Teacher of the Year in 1988.
Teaching style: Likes to watch people on the course to see how they approach the game. “Most people work golf,” Hick says. “I try to get people to play golf. I try to teach them to feel, to help them, through their grip pressure, to become aware of where and how the club is swinging.”
Advice: Don’t pay attention to the tip or technique that supposedly turned around the game of a Tour player-you’re not at that level. Follow the tips that work for you.
Most memorable moment: Watching pupil Tom Lehman play his 5-iron 194 yards out of the rough onto the green at the 18th hole during the 1995 Ryder Cup.
HANK HANEY, 42, McKinney, Texas.
Background: The career of this lifelong teacher took off in 1984 after his student Mark O’Meara finished second on the Tour money list. Six years ago, he built the Hank Haney Golf Ranch near Dallas to house his own school. Named PGA Teacher of the Year in 1993.
Students: More than 100 Tour pros have sought out Haney for advice, including O’Meara and LPGA stars Emily Klein and Kelli Kuehne. Teaching style: Relaxed, friendly and curious, Haney is known for teaching the correct “swing plane,” or the angle your club takes on the backswing and the downswing.
Advice: “Develop a good understanding of the golf swing so you can become your own best teacher and understand the flight of the golf ball.”
Most memorable moment: “When I met Mark O’Meara on the practice tee at a PGA event in North Carolina and started helping him right then and there.”
BUTCH HARMON, 55, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Background: This former Tour player is the son of Claude Harmon, a renowned teacher, and winner of the 1948 Masters. After winning the British Columbia Open in 1971, Harmon devoted his life to teaching one of his first jobs was a two-year stint as the personal golf instructor of King Hassan II of Morocco. Named Teacher of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 1995.
Students: Best known as Tiger Woods’ guru, but has also worked with Greg Norman, Davis Love III, and Raymond Floyd.
Teaching style: Sticks to the fundamentals. He likes to keep his teaching as simple as possible so students are able to understand his message. Lessons focus on all aspects of the game, including the mental approach and fitness.
Advice: Stick to the basics and practice with a purpose.
Most memorable moment: Seeing Tiger Woods win The Masters and Davis Love III take the PGA Championship-both in 1997.
PETER KOSTIS, 50, Scottsdale, Arizona.
Background: This former chemical engineer studied under Bob Toski and Jim Flick before setting up his own school With Gary McCord. Though he has given thousands of lessons, Kostis is perhaps best known for his commentary on the CBS and USA network broadcasts of Tour events.
Students: He has worked with such luminaries as Tom Kite and Mark Calcavecchia, but Kostis also devotes time to teaching kids and promising younger players at a reduced rate.
Teaching style: He focuses on the full swing and fundamentals as well as the short game and expects his students to come away from lessons having learned something about themselves, physically or intellectually.
Advice: “You don’t see many signs out there on the road telling you to speed up. Don’t swing for the fences.”
Most memorable moment: Helping Calcavecchia advance from mini-tour player to 1989 British Open champion.
DAVID LEADBETTER, 46, Orlando, Florida.
Background: Though he has been teaching for only fifteen years, this English transplant is considered the best teacher in the world. The “king of swing” was also the first to turn himself into a marketing force and now runs eighteen David Leadbetter Golf Academies around the globe.
Students: Greg Norman credits the lanky Brit for taking his game to “another level.” Nick Faldo, Nick Price, and Ernie Els are also disciples.
Teaching style: Leadbetter is known for clearly communicating all aspects of technique and for his ability to teach “feel”
Advice: “Most amateurs would improve their games significantly by learning to adopt a proper posture and place their hands correctly in the grip of the club. This is the area of the swing that every player can get right.”
Most memorable moment: Watching Nick Faldo, who had been written off as a player, win the 1987 British Open after working with him for two years.
RICK SMITH, 40, Gaylord, Michigan.
Background: A former amateur tour player, Smith found himself helping other professionals at tournaments and developing an interest in nonplaying aspects of the game. He met Lee Janzen when Janzen was 15 and guided the rising star to his U.S. Open victory in 1993. Smith now designs courses, writes books and produces Videos in addition to running the Rick Smith Golf Academy.
Students: David Duval, Vijay Singh, and Phil Mickelson.
Teaching style: Direct and simple, Smith is known as a communicator. “I don’t speak one language,” he says. “I speak many languages to many individuals.”
Advice: It depends on the individual, but developing a sense of “feel” is essential to his teaching.
BOB TOSKI, 71, Coconut Creek, Florida.
Background: One of the grand old men of golf. instruction, Toski helped start the famed Golf Digest Schools in the ’70s with Dick Altman; later joined by Davis Love Sr. and Jim Flick. He was the leading money winner on the Pro Tour in 1954.
Students: Toski has taught innumerable Tour pros but still works with mostly high- and medium-handicap players.
Teaching style: In your face, aggressive. “I’m not a bedside-manner teacher,” he says.
Advice: “There are no secrets and no gimmicks,” Toski says, just the six P’s: Peace of Mind, Preparation, Position, Posture, Path, and Pace. “Start with the putter. Success is built on watching the ball go into the hole.”
Most memorable moment: “Watching Tom Kite win the U.S. Open in 1992. I worked with him for six years.” Favorite course: Cypress Point, California. Cost: $150 per hour.