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What the world No. 1s can teach you

Fred Couples, 1996 the Players Championship
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.

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