Golf Australia National Coach - Queensland Tony Meyer talks with Jayde Panos.
Adam Scott hardly hit a single Titleist ball at The Lakes in December without an army of still photographers and prying television cameras upon him, not to mention the fans, of which he has many. As a world top 10 player and former Emirates Australian Open champion, this is a guarantee.
The same applied to Geoff Ogilvy, winner of that tournament at The Lakes three years ago, and Australia’s most recent major champion as the 2006 US Open victor. Ditto for Tom Watson, the veteran American who ranks as one of the game’s all-time greats, a sweet-swinging, genial superstar who engages with young and old alike.
But there is another level of players stepping out with high hopes. Some of Australia’s best young amateurs found their way into the field in Sydney aiming to win the coveted Silver Medal for top amateur which Queensland's Cameron Smith went on to win in the extraordinary conditions.
The same situation will apply at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open at Royal Canberra early next year.
They have come through Golf Australia’s high performance unit, and they are hungry. They have been groomed and shaped for this moment, and beyond. They include the likes of teenagers Cameron Smith and recently turned professionals Jake Higginbottom, and 22-year-old Daniel Nisbet, players who have benefited from Golf Australia’s high performance unit.
High Performance Director Brad James has run the unit for Golf Australia since 2010. Having spent 17 years in the United States college system as coach and golf director at the University of Minnesota, James returned to his home country with an ambition to create the next cluster of outstanding young golfers. Like his players, he is hungry.
James preaches a holistic approach. He loathes the idea that a coach is merely there to watch a player hitting balls on the range. In James’ world, this is merely part of a story that includes fitness, strategy and psychology.
“The culture is there,’’ he said. “We have the talent. We have to take that talent, nurture it and take them to the next level.’’
One of his demands is for players to aim high; so that they do not apply limits on what they can achieve. “One of the culture changes here is trying to produce players who are world class, top 50 in the world and major champions. Sometimes they can get so caught up in the fact they’re Australian champions or Australian juniors, they forget there’s a whole world out there and sometimes they do have to make improvement, technically, physically, emotionally, strategically."
“Everyone else out there is improving at the elite level. If you don’t improve, you’re getting further behind. And it’s not just the player. It’s the family, the key stakeholders around that player.’’
Jack Newton, one of Australia’s greatest-ever players, has said that Australia is producing too many players with great golf swings but a weakness in scoring. It is a fact that some of the best ball-strikers on the professional tours are antipodean. Newton’s argument is that coaches need to focus more on short game, the money game.
It is a school of thought that James sympathises with. “I would agree 100 percent,’’ he said. “Australia is producing great golf swings but not a lot of great players.
“I’ll give you a great example. We were at the British Amateur this year, and it was howling with wind. On the range, the wind was into you and left-to-right, which for the right-handed golfer is a horrendous wind to play in. Every single one of our boys were hitting in that for over an hour, and every other country was practising their short game.
“What we’ve got to do is get better facilities. But we’ve got to get the coaches and players ammunition to say ‘ok, here’s an area that’s lacking’. That’s where stats programs and things like that can play a role. It’s providing ammunition for them to say ‘here’s an area you’re weak in’. Hopefully they start working on that area.’’
The facilities issue is his biggest concern. James looks around and sees great golf courses in Australia, but training facilities that do not match up to the slick venues he sees overseas, particularly in America. He points to the type of facilities at Stanford University as an example, with different different grasses to chip off, different sand in the bunkers, different putting surfaces. “It’s a whole different level that Australia hasn’t been exposed to yet. We need to get a better grasp of what else is out there.”
This is an extract from a feature which first appeared in the 2012 Emirates Australian Open Official Program