You don't have to snoop for long around Bob Toski's Boca Raton, Fla., home to realize that the 87-year-old teaching icon has really lived. A samurai sword rests in a sheath in the foyer, a vestige of the years Toski spread his gospel in Japan. Framed photos of Toski at the 1954 U.S. Open at Baltusrol and on the first tee at the 1955 Masters with his dear friend Sam Snead adorn the hallway. On a kitchen wall, another treasured snapshot: of Toski's late wife, Lynn, an amber bombshell. "She was a model," Toski says, beaming. And look! There's Hogan, one of Toski's two cats, named for the ball-beating legend Toski idolized and eventually befriended. (Well, sort of. More on that later.
And, of course, there's Toski himself, a 5'7" firecracker, bursting with stories and learnings and an apparent immunity to the ravages of aging. "I don't give a f--- how old I am," he barks. "God gave me energy, he gave me a mind, he gave me a body and said, 'Use the thing. Use it till it wears itself out and then I'll take you up to heaven and put you on my throne.' " Colorful, confident and unabashedly candid -- that's Toski. Here's more from the five-time PGA Tour winner and Hall of Fame instructor, including why teaching is an art, who he admires, and how he handled the cheating allegations that rocked his senior tour career.
FIX-IT WEEK ON GOLF.COM:
You like to say you're the best 87-year-old golfer in the world. If we went out and played today, what would you shoot?
Well, I shot 75 last week -- how is that? When you turn 87, go shoot 75 and then talk to me. You'll say, "That is fantastic!"
Who's the second-best 87-year-old golfer in the world?
I don't know, and I don't care. But if someone wants to play me for some money, let's start a little $15,000 Nassau. I can afford to gamble $15K...$30K...$40K! That's what all these great [golf-loving] athletes do. They have big egos and they think they can play.
If a 15-handicapper challenged you to a money match, how many strokes would you give him?
You won't get me into that deal, 'cause every handicapper I play with is a cheater. I have been hustled before and seen so many people lie about their handicaps. If you're a legitimate 15, then I'd give you 15 shots, and we'll both play from our respective normal tees.
How far can you hit it on a good day?
About 250. I can carry it probably 230 and if I can get some run, I'm fine. I try to put topspin on the ball. I hook it, which is something I never used to do. I have a two-degree closed driver. The minute I see that closed face, I know I can hook it. As I always say, an ounce of touch is worth a ton of brawn, and if you don't find it, you'll be there till dawn.
This is our inaugural Fix-It Issue, so tell us: What's the biggest fix needed in golf instruction today?
You can't teach golf the way they're teaching it these days. Everybody says that the body controls the swing. The body doesn't even touch the club -- how can it control the swing? The swing starts in the hands. The minute you hold a club in your hand, you feel like you have control of something.
So control and precision have taken a backseat to the power game?
Exactly. Today's players don't know where they're aiming and swinging. They're swinging so fast that they can't square the clubface. They are one-dimensional: Bomb it, find it, hit a wedge, make the putt. Teaching players to become three-dimensional is a lost art. Players can't curve the ball anymore. They aren't shotmakers.
You've influenced countless golfers. Who influenced you?
Seymour Dunn [the noted designer and author] would be up there. I didn't realize what a great teacher he was until I read Golf Fundamentals. The book was so sound and sensible that I made it almost my bible. But I've read every book that [Jack] Nicklaus has written and [Ben] Hogan wrote. You name it -- I've got a whole library. In the present day, I've admired Hank Haney, Butch [Harmon] and Eddie Merrins, who I've always thought was an underrated teacher. All these guys teach fundamentals, not something that's off the wall.
You've taught some great players -- Tom Kite, Judy Rankin -- but your best rags-to-riches story might be Birdie Kim, who came out of nowhere to win the 2005 U.S. Women's Open.
She had one of the best swings I've ever seen. I needed to teach her how to score. I told her, "We're going to play every day, and you can't beat me." And I'd beat her. I'd shoot 69 and she would shoot 71. I'd shoot 70 and she would shoot 72. But all along I was giving her playing lessons: how to hit bunker shots, read greens. She was getting better, but she wasn't getting the ball home. I told her, "Birdie, if you can beat me, I'll give you $20." All of a sudden, I shoot 70, she shoots 69!
Right, and I had pissed her off. You can't beat me? I'm over the hill! I aggravate my students so they play better. It's called tough love. I finally told her, "You'll have to beat me for pride tomorrow." And she did. I knew then she was ready.
She was. At the Open, she holed out from a bunker on the 72nd hole to win by one. What ever happened to her?
After she won, she gave my wife and I two watches. They were knockoffs, fakes. I hardly ever saw her again after the Open. I told her, "I'm your best friend; I made you a champion! Your first victory was a major. You need to stick with me." But [she] left me. Now check her career. She plays on some satellite tour [the Symetra Tour, the LPGA's development circuit]. How can someone with a great swing, fundamentally a 10, lose it? She's naive. That's the story of Birdie Kim. She could have been a great player.
Another of your students, Ken Duke, finally won his first PGA Tour event earlier this year, at 43, beating Chris Stroud in a playoff at the Travelers. Were you watching from home?
I was at the club [Sherbrooke G&CC in Lake Worth, Fla., where Toski teaches] standing around with all the members. On the 72nd hole, when the kid [Stroud] knocked his ball over the green, everybody came up and patted me on the shoulder. I told them he still had a shot of holing out the chip shot and not to celebrate early. Sure enough, he holed it. Everyone was stunned. I stood up and said, "It ain't over till the fat lady sings, folks!" That's why they call me "The God-father." I bust ass. Then they asked me, "So now what do you think?" And I said, "Ken loves one-on-one. He's a competitor and has fortitude coming out of his ass. He'll beat this kid." Ken put his approach on the second playoff to two or three feet. I knew he could yip from that distance, but he didn't. He made it and won.
If you were to seek out one player to work with, who would it be?
Well, I'm not one to approach players. If you're sick, you go to the doctor; the doctor doesn't seek out patients. But I'd love to work with Michelle Wie. That girl can play! She has dynamic talent like you can't believe.
So what's wrong with her? She hasn't won since 2010.
Potential energy has to be turned into kinetic energy. Lightning has great kinetic energy, but it doesn't know where it will strike. My job is to take potential energy, make it into kinetic energy, and teach you how to strike and know where to strike.
Of all the players you've come across, who would you say has accomplished the most with the least raw talent?
Bob Rosburg. He had the worst grip you'd ever seen, like he was grabbing a baseball bat. You've never seen anyone hold a club like that, and yet he won a PGA Championship. He had a swing that really looked like a good 15-handicapper's. He didn't hit it very far, he didn't hit it very hard, he hit those squirrely shanks, but he knew how to control the ball. He could chip and putt with the best of them.