What the world No. 1s can teach you

Photo: AP Photo/Hans Deryk

Fred Couples was ranked No. 1 for 16 weeks in 1992.

Together they make up one of the most elite groups in sports: those who have reached No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Amazingly, only 15 players have done it since the list debuted in 1986. Some of them, such as Tiger Woods, Greg Norman and Nick Faldo, enjoyed extended stays at the top. Others, like Ian Woosnam and Tom Lehman, had shorter tenures. While every player teaches us something unique about achieving golf excellence, they all share certain traits -- a No. 1 DNA, if you will -- and most notably a work ethic that would make a coal miner blush. The Top 100 Teachers reveal what the greatest players of the last 25 years can teach you, so you can become the No. 1 golfer in your world.

Video: watch lessons from the former No. 1s

Weeks at No. 1: 16 (1992)
By Paul Marchand, Shadow Hawk G.C., Richmond, Tex.

What Made Him No. 1
Couples's run to No. 1 in 1992 actually began in 1989 with one of the biggest disappointments of his career. Fred dropped a singles match on the final hole to Christy O'Connor Jr. in that year's Ryder Cup, a loss that helped Europe retain the Cup. As U.S. Captain Ray Floyd consoled the young rookie, Fred asked, "How do I get on the next Ryder Cup team?" His motivation led to the best three-year stretch of his career, culminating in the U.S. victory in the 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah, his No. 1 ranking in March of 1992 and his Masters win soon afterward.

His No. 1 Legacy
In all the years I've known Fred (we've been friends since our playing days at the University of Houston), he has never tried to copy another player or change the feel and mechanics he developed as a kid. His swing is his own, which is one reason it held up so well under pressure. Watching him is a lesson in the art of "letting go." Fred never gets caught up by what's happening around him. He plays like a boy in a park, content and simultaneously oblivious to the pangs of pressure felt by his competitors. His image will endure for the apparent ease with which he played a difficult game.

The No. 1 Thing You Can Learn
Copy Couples's looseness. Check your grip and arms. Are they tight, or are they loose and whippy? Then rotate freely back and through while letting the clubhead swing and, as crazy as this sounds, try not to care where the ball goes. Also, stay in the moment. Once Fred hits a shot, he forgets about it. Rounds are played one shot at a time, and the more you "quiet" your mind after a shot, the more likely your outcomes will add up to a good score. If you feel yourself starting to fret over swings, take a moment and picture Fred in his prime, the boy in the park playing without a care.

Weeks at No. 1: 331 (1986-1998)
By Mike Davis, Walters Golf Academy, Las Vegas, Nev.

What Made Him No. 1
Greg Norman's passion and work ethic were second to none -- even by today's standards. He was a gym rat before anyone heard of Tiger Woods, and he logged more range time than two Vijay Singhs. The payoff was staggering physical strength and an unwavering belief in himself. He was cocky (that hat -- really, Greg?), but when you back it up with more than 90 wins, you can wear a pirate hat and an eye patch if you want.

His No. 1 Legacy
Norman never received the credit he deserved for being No. 1 for so long. When Tiger romped at the 1997 Masters -- the year after Norman blew a 6-shot lead to Nick Faldo in the final round -- everyone became so intoxicated with Woods that Greg's run sort of faded away. He was arguably the best driver of all time -- hard swing, high ball flight, little curve and eye-popping power -- and he had a knack for making putts under pressure. Norman was personable with his fans, the press, and officials. I'd love to see more of today's players copy his larger-than-life personality. Part of Norman's legacy is also his lack of majors. He should have won more, most notably the 1986 PGA Championship (he finished second to Bob Tway's miracle bunker hole out) and the 1987 Masters (second to Larry Mize's miracle pitch). As tough as those and other losses were, Greg has never played the victim or griped about his misfortune. He played the game -- and took the losses -- like a man.

The No. 1 Thing You Can Learn
Norman's "Great White Shark" persona is a lesson for anyone who wants to go low. Like the ocean predator, you pick your targets, then attack with total focus and without reservation. Watch video of young Norman hitting his driver -- he powers through the ball with such force that the shaft rebounds off his back. Full commitment, not an ounce of doubt.

Weeks at No. 1: 11 (as of 8/15/2011)
By Pat Goss, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.

What Made Him No. 1
I first worked with Luke Donald as his college coach at Northwestern University. The way he manipulates his irons is a lost art. However, his No. 1 gift is his rhythm and balance. Most players find this perfect pace with practice. Luke is lucky -- it's part of his DNA.

His No. 1 Legacy
No matter how long Luke stays atop the World Golf Ranking, he'll go down as a throwback golfer who succeeded in the modern era. In a powerobsessed age, Donald reached No. 1 without ever cracking the top 150 in driving distance.

The No. 1 Thing You Can Learn
Luke will tell you that an improved short game is the fastest route to low scores. The trick is how you improve. Luke challenges himself at practice by creating tough, uncomfortable conditions that require patience and thought. He'll hit pitches from sidehill lies or bunker shots to ridiculously tight pins. This kind of variety elevates your learning curve in ways that hitting 50 balls from one spot never could.

Weeks at No. 1: 18 (2011)
By Ed Ibarguen, Duke University G.C., Durham, N.C.

What Made Him No. 1
Simply put, Martin Kaymer does everything well. There isn't a stat category in which he lags, which is scary for a golfer his age. His secret is a fluid motion based on solid mechanics. Once he starts his swing or stroke, Kaymer stays centered over the ball while maintaining a consistent spine angle. Anyone who does this will hit the ball well consistently.

His No. 1 Legacy
At 27, Kaymer is the second-youngest player (Tiger was 21) to hit No. 1. His true legacy, however, will be supplanting Bernhard Langer as the face of German golf.

The No. 1 Thing You Can Learn
Add Kaymer's rhythm and fluidity to your swing by keeping your upper and lower body more connected -- don't allow one to outpace the other. Overusing your arms or legs produces herky-jerky movements and inconsistent shots. Feel like the weight of your lower body is propelling your upper body and the club through the ball.

Weeks at No. 1: 50 (1991-1992)
By Brady Riggs, Woodley Lakes G.C., Van Nuys, Calif.

What Made Him No. 1
You'd expect a player of Ian Woosnam's size (5' 4") to be accurate; you wouldn't expect him to be powerful. But "Woosie" certainly was, thanks to a set of piston-like forearms that crushed shots on both sides of the Atlantic during a great run in the early 1990s that saw him bag seven wins -- including the 1991 Masters -- in the span of 13 months.

His No. 1 Legacy
Woosnam's place in the pantheon of golf is secure as one of Europe's "Big 5" of the 1980s and 1990s. His competitive fire and ability to focus under pressure were regular features during his eight consecutive Ryder Cups between 1983-1997.

The No. 1 Thing You Can Learn
Woosnam always said he tried to "slog it with his right side" and power the ball by releasing his right shoulder and hip. This is a great swing thought that'll get you firing through impact and keep you from hanging back. You'll know you're doing it right if your right shoulder is closer to the target than your left in your finish.

Weeks at No. 1: 3 (1986)
By Lou Guzzi, the Lou Guzzi Golf Academy at Talamore C.C., Ambler, Pa.

What Made Him No. 1
Bernhard Langer's simple, repeatable swing allowed him to innately sense where his swing plane should be, putting the club there almost every time. In short, he was a machine, and combined with a tireless work ethic, he was tough to beat.

His No. 1 Legacy
When golf fans think of Langer, they remember his tenacity and commitment to excellence. He beat the yips several times by adapting sometimes radical putting grips. Mentally, he was as tough as titanium, and although not the strongest or most dynamic player of his era, he almost always rose to the challenge on big occasions, like the time he birdied four of the final seven holes at the 1985 Masters to overtake legends Seve Ballesteros, Ray Floyd and Curtis Strange.

The No. 1 Thing You Can Learn
Actually, Langer teaches us two things. First, keep it simple. Move your arms, club, and body in a balanced, unhurried manner. If you can copy Langer's approach, you'll improve dramatically. The second is the importance of fitness. At age 54 on the Champions Tour, Langer's body looks as taut and fit as it was in the 1980s. To play your best for life, add physical training to your regimen.

Weeks at No. 1: 623 (1997-2010)
By Mike Adams, Hamilton Farm G.C., Gladstone, N.J.

What Made Him No. 1
Tiger Woods is the most talented player I've ever seen. Between 1999 and 2007, he won 40 percent of the tournaments he entered. He's one of the longest, straightest drivers ever, an awesome iron player, and his short game is sublime. Tiger also has one of the greatest golf minds ever, along with Jack Nicklaus. He never choked. You did. He combined unparalleled physical skills with a mind stronger than a suit of armor, making him the greatest No. 1 player ever.

His No. 1 Legacy
Tiger's legacy is a work in progress. Back in the day, Butch Harmon married sound technique to Woods's mind-boggling talent. Sky-high drives, 3-wood stingers, greenside flops -- Tiger had all the shots. Unfortunately, he changed instructors and swings and has slumped the last two seasons. If Woods returns to the fundamentals that Butch instilled, he could still break Nicklaus's major record. If he doesn't, Tiger may be remembered as the athlete who fell the furthest faster than anyone in sports history.

The No. 1 Thing You Can Learn
Don't try to copy his swing. Be like Tiger at his best and find a motion that works for your body and physical capability. And know the importance of a solid short game, reliable putting stroke, and a competitive attitude. Tiger always wants to win and utterly hates to lose. So should you.

Weeks at No. 1: 15 (1999)
By Brian Manzella, Brian Manzella Golf Academy at English Turn Golf & C.C., New Orleans, La.

What Made Him No. 1
David Duval had a powerful, repetitive swing and was an exceptional ballstriker in his prime. Yet his swing was different. Unique. He had an open setup. He had a flat backswing and lifted the club with his arms. But his downswing was so rotary and his hand-eye coordination so acute that he could curve it in either direction. And let's not forget his immunity to pressure. He's the only player to shoot 59 on Tour on a Sunday (at the 1999 Bob Hope Classic).

His No. 1 Legacy
Duval didn't conform to tradition. He built his powerful swing for functionality and wasn't concerned about whether or not it looked "classic." And he was an artisan on the greens. You don't win 13 times in four years (1997- 2001) without being able to putt.

The No. 1 Thing You Can Learn
Duval didn't so much swing as, well, unwind, staying open through impact and leading with his left hip. To add a dash of Duval shotmaking to your game, try this: Take an open stance and hit some shots with half of a backswing. Feel that your belt buckle is facing the target at impact. You'll find it easier to square the clubface.

Weeks at No. 1: 32 (2004-2005)
By Krista Dunton, Berkeley Hall, Bluffton, S.C.

What Made Him No. 1
Vijay Singh had a gift: great timing. His swing wasn't textbook, but it was as reliable as a Swiss watch. Vijay let his body get ahead of his arms in the downswing, but he corrected it by letting his right hand come off the club through the hitting zone so he wouldn't hook the ball. Yes, it's a compensation, but it created lots of whip and tremendous power.

His No. 1 Legacy
In addition to his three majors, Vijay will be remembered for his work ethic. He hit endless range balls, experimented with training aids, and spent countless hours in the gym. He's the poster child for hard work paying huge dividends.

The No. 1 Thing You Can Learn
To see the essence of freewheeling confidence, watch Vijay. From the way he swung to the way he walked, he was The lesson: Fear? What fear? Let it rip. Make it your mantra for golf and for life.

Weeks at No. 1 (1997-1998)
By Bill Moretti, Academy of Golf Dynamics, Austin, Tex.

What Made Him No. 1
Ernie Els is big, strong and coordinated. These assets allow him to hit the ball a long way with minimal effort, hence the nickname "The Big Easy." In addition to his physical prowess, Els has near-perfect swing mechanics -- he's great at maintaining, from start to finish, the "triangle" formed at address by his arms and shoulders, which makes his contact solid every time. His mechanics and syrupy transition make it clear how he reached No. 1.

His No. 1 Legacy
Els's three major trophies (the 1994 and 1997 U.S. Opens and the 2002 British Open) and effortless swing are the stuff of a Hall of Famer, and he would have won more majors had he not played in the Tiger era. Still, Els is the hero of South African and international golf.

The No. 1 Thing You Can Learn
Find a swing speed that lets you finish in absolute balance. Doing this is easy if you build a move based on solid fundamentals: grip, posture, acceleration. That's how Els honed one of the sweetest swings in history.

Weeks at No. 1: 44 (1994-1995)
By Chuck Evans Gold Canyon Golf Resort, Gold Canyon, Ariz.

What Made Him No. 1
During his No. 1 tenure, Nick Price led only one stat category: total driving. His scoring secret? Keep the ball in play and find a way to get it in the hole. His rapid-fire swing emphasized contact above all. That's a great lesson for all players: Work on finding the center of the clubface first, and worry about direction later.

His No. 1 Legacy
Price combined great ballstriking with a great attitude. He loved playing. His pace of play was even faster than his mechanics. It's as though he thought, "Swing quick -- I can't wait to hit the next one!"

The No. 1 Thing You Can Learn
Copy Price's three-step process: Visualize the shot, set up, and pull the trigger. His routine is stripped of the mental clutter and extraneous thoughts that bedevil most players. Price's "ready-golf" passion will instantly help you play and score better.

Weeks at No. 1: 61 (1986-1989)
By Steve Bosdosh, the Members Club at Four Streams, Beallsville, Md.

What Made Him No. 1
He was such a wonderful, swashbuckling star that we forget Seve Ballesteros hit the ball very hard and very far, using gear that belongs in a museum. What made him great was his mind. He visualized how to hit a shot, then executed the plan using the greatest hands the game has ever seen. His bending, 245-yard 3-wood from a bunker to halve his singles match against Fuzzy Zoeller at the 1983 Ryder Cup is just one of countless jaw-dropping, "for- Seve-only" shots.

His No. 1 Legacy
Charismatic and engaging, Ballesteros played with a fire and passion rarely found among pros today. He hated to lose. And his fans loved him, because he hit it into the junk just like the rest of us. The difference between Seve and the masses is that he followed his misses with miracles.

The No. 1 Thing You Can Learn
I watched Seve practice at the Kemper Open at Avenel in the early 1990s. I was inside the ropes and could hear him speak to other players about the short game. He said, "Keep the angle in the back of the right wrist." This is great advice with short, delicate shots because it steadies the little muscles, which can jerk or yip. It's not easy developing Seve's shotmaking ability with long irons, but by following that advice, you can get his legendary touch around the greens.

Weeks at No. 1: 97 (1990-1994)
By Brian Mogg, Golden Bear Golf Club at Keene's Point, Windermere, Fla.

What Made Him No. 1
Early in his career Nick Faldo contended in majors but couldn't close the deal because his swing depended on an excessive lower-body slide and hand action. In 1985 he told his new swing guru David Leadbetter to "throw the book at me." Together they forged a repeatable swing based on body rotation, not timing in the hands. Two years later, Faldo made 18 straight pars in the final round to win the 1987 British Open, and went on to add five more majors.

His No. 1 Legacy
Nick pioneered the modern swing, which relies on big muscles rather than on the arms and hands. He and Leadbetter laid the foundation for a swing that most Tour players try to copy. At a strapping 6' 4'', Faldo also started the trend of the athlete golfer. What truly made him No. 1, however, was his obsessive drive to be the best. He wanted the greatest swing of all time, and what his peers or the media thought didn't concern him.

The No. 1 Thing You Can Learn
For all the wonderful mechanics in Faldo's swing -- especially the way he keeps his lower-body quiet, promoting control -- the No. 1 thing he can teach you is to thicken your skin when making changes or improvements to your game. Too often amateurs heed poor swing advice from friends to avoid hurting their feelings, or they worry about what their swing looks like when they're playing with a better golfer. Stay true and committed to your goals and you can be like Nick, who never paid attention to what the so-called experts said about his game.

Weeks at No. 1: 1 (1997)
By Joe Hallett, PGA Center for Learning and Performance, Port St. Lucie, Fla.

What Made Him No. 1
He was only on top of the mountain for a week, but like every No. 1 player before and after, Tom Lehman definitely earned it. He honed a swing that his body could make, combining proven basics with an intense downswing leg drive that compensated for his excessively bowed left wrist at the top. He caught it pure. At his best, nobody knocked it closer than Lehman.

His No. 1 Legacy
Hard work and sound fundamentals lead to great things, no matter what your swing looks like. Lehman is the Charlie Hustle of golf -- he worked his way to the top, and he did it with the rarest thing in a world-class athlete: humility.

The No. 1 Thing You Can Learn
Experiment with the Lehman leg drive. Moving into the ball with your legs limits the damage your upper body can do, ensuring an assertive move through impact, with the ball simply "getting in the way."

Weeks at No. 1: 22 (2010-2011)
By Jon Tattersall, Terminus Club, Atlanta, Ga.

What Made Him No. 1
Lee Westwood has the perfect golf physique. At 6 feet tall and 190 pounds, his upper body is slightly longer than his lower, a common trait among elite players. Moreover, he's worked hard to increase his strength and conditioning. Westwood's dedication to sports science is what finally propelled him to No. 1 following a long (Lee turned pro in 1993), successful career.

His No. 1 Legacy
After plummeting down the World Ranking several years ago, he rededicated himself to excellence. His plodding style suggests that Westwood is more concerned with the processes of improvement than the rewards that follow.

The No. 1 Thing You Can Learn
His swing isn't pretty -- steep shoulder turn, bent left arm at impact -- but Westwood has some dynamic moves you can use. Watch how he pushes off the ground in his downswing while "crunching" his upper body slightly closer to the ball, which sets the clubface on the perfect delivery plane. Also, try this: Hit the ball hard. Like Lee, take a mighty lash! You won't hit every shot perfectly, but this aggressive mind-set simplifies things and, honestly, is a lot more fun.

More From the Web

More Instruction

The most trusted name in sports is now the easiest way to stay informed—no matter where you are. At home, at work, or on the go, we have you covered.
check it out
This Way To…
Our one-touch menu gives you easy access to your favorite writers and sports, special sections, and more.
go deep…
Use this strip to access scores, schedules, or to lean back and enjoy our iconic photos and videos, daily live shows, and more.
then take a scroll…
We have more great content than ever.