A Brief Personal History

200 160 Van Phillips

Wow this could take a while!

After going to work with my father one Saturday morning, we noticed a pitch and putt golf course on the way home and decided to give it a go, I was immediately hooked! My father was a natural at everything and would beat me a lot in the beginning, but he was as also a judo expert and had taught me the skills of discipline, dedication and practice from the age of five, so with more time on my hands and a tremendous desire to improve, I quickly turned the tables!

Golf became my life and I had already decided that I would become a tournament professional by the time I was twelve. Luckily I had two incredibly supportive parents and I was given every conceivable opportunity to fulfil my dream. However my results were always the driving force behind their support and I knew I had to justify their help, so it was a two way deal, no results no golf. Of course this did not mean that every bad day resulted in my clubs being taken away, but I had to show I was somewhere near the top echelon of my peer group over any given season.

I won my club championship scratch event at 14 yrs old with a 3 under total for two rounds and I was starting to get noticed by the county and the England selectors. At 15 I won my biggest event to date by taking the British boys under 16 trophy, beating several International players along the way (it was match play), including Colin Fraser who was the current GB&I number one player. This was particularly satisfying as I had been left out of the boys home internationals that year and I felt I had a point to prove! After that, the selectors were well aware of my presence and I kept steadily improving to the point, that at 21, I had more than accumulated enough big amateur wins and high performances to be selected to represent Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup.

This was the highlight of my amateur career and it took place at Interlachen golf and country club in Minnesota USA, where Bobby Jones completed his famous grand slam. I was so nervous on the first hole that even my head was shaking! There were six thousand people watching from a huge bank that surrounded the clubhouse and first tee and it was being televised which I had never experienced before.

That was my first real insight into how to deal with real pressure and I urge you to watch my videos on this subject, as I really can say that the techniques I use will help you. I digress, back to the Walker Cup!

Seven of that team from 1993 went on to win on the European tour (me included), as well as one player who played multiple Ryder Cups and won three majors, that being Padraig Harrington of course.

During the first practice round I was paired with Harrington as the Captain ( a stern

Scotsman called George McGregor), decided to try and get players who didn’t know each other to bond. Well, I was in a state of shock after nine holes, as Harrington appeared to be incapable of striking a shot! His golf from tee to green was nothing short of shocking from a player at this level, however I had noticed an uncanny ability of his to chip and putt from just about anywhere!

It is ironic that he comfortably out performed every member of that team as a professional and is a great example of self belief, work ethic and sheer determination, as under the tutelage of the late great Bob Torrance he actually became a formidable ball striker. By the way Bob hardly used video, if at all, and launch monitors such as Trackman and Flightscope did not exist, yet he nurtured the talents of many of the top players (including his son Sam of course) in Europe over 30yrs or more. In fact I have never seen any coach ever in my 34yrs of playing and coaching help transform a complete non ball striker into one of the best, as did Torrance with Harrington.

Any way due to an incredible storm the usual format of foursomes and four balls had to be scrapped and two rounds of singles were played instead, with only one foursomes match. This was one of several unique things about this Walker Cup, unfortunately one of the other things was, it was the worst defeat by Europe in Walker Cup history!

The star player on the USA team was Justin Leonard, who was reigning U.S amateur champion, but there team was full of brilliant players in their forties like Jay Seagal, John Harris and Allan Doyle, all of whom went on to win U.S seniors professional events and several majors!

I beat Brian Gay in my first singles match and once again I had proved a point, as the Captain had previously decided to leave me out of the first day’s play, until the storm had forced everyone to play ten singles matches. Brian went on to win four PGA tour events so not a bad scalp! I lost my second match to another four time PGA tour winner, Tim Herron (affectionately known as lumpy for his somewhat non athletic appearance), who just had too much game for me on that day. Any how my singles win turned out to be 20% of the teams points total as we lost 19-5! it was still the best experience of my amateur career and I loved every minute of it!

Golf was always really tough for me, I am small at around 5’7 and weigh in at around 75kg and have never had the ability to create much power, so I had to be accurate and very strong mentally. It also did not help that in my formative years it was the David Leadbetter era and many of his decipals (one of which was coaching me) were teaching players to brace the legs, pretty much through the entire swing and to only use the upper body to hit the ball. There were buzz words like ‘cover the ball with your chest’ and the best one of all, which even to this day gets thrown around with compete abandon ‘resistance’. Now maybe if you’re over six feet tall and very strong, you might be able to generate power in this way (albeit less than you would if you used your lower half), but at my size you better use all the body parts you have if you want to hit the ball far.

Apart from anything else, all of the legends from the past had very active leg actions, including the best of them all, Jack Nicklaus, so where these theories even came from I don’t know, but I was young and a ‘good’ student, so if Nick Faldo’s coach says brace the legs, that’s what I did.

(by the way Nick is 6’4 and just about the biggest guy I’ve ever seen play top class golf).

Unfortunately as the game changed over the years and courses became wider and longer, the accurate, average distance player started to find it difficult to compete, as the long guys, who would usually hit at least one or two errant drives, which previously on tighter courses would finish unplayable, now would nearly always have a shot to the green, and this mixed with their par 5 and long par 4 advantage, has changed the game forever. Until they start letting the bushes and foliage get thick again off the fairway like it used to be, the bombers will dominate golf. That being said, the best of the best have always been long AND straight and this brings me back to technique, YOU MUST USE YOUR HIPS AND LEGS!

After turning pro at 21, I did not get my full European tour card until I was 24 and had to really grind it out on the Challenge tour and various other mini tours before I fought my way through. It is this struggle that helps me always understand the average player and their frustrations as well knowing that the great players can possibly be under achieving without knowing it, due to poor attitudes, behaviours, strategy, processes, or plain simple ineffective techniques, (usually way too complicated ideas given to them by coaches who have never broken 80, but somehow understand performance at the highest level).

I do think technology can have some positive influence in coaching, but I would totally agree with Peter Kostis, who recently suggested that coaching has become way too dependent on technology and data, when simply observing the flight of the ball with feel experimentation, has been proven, through the careers of the Legends, to work just fine!

Van Phillips
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Van Phillips

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