What the world No. 1s can teach you

What the world No. 1s can teach you

fred-couples-players_299x436_1.jpg
Fred Couples was ranked No. 1 for 16 weeks in 1992.
AP Photo/Hans Deryk

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

FRED COUPLES
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.

GREG NORMAN
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.

LUKE DONALD
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.

MARTIN KAYMER
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.

IAN WOOSNAM
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.

BERNHARD LANGER
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.

TIGER WOODS
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.

DAVID DUVAL
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.

VIJAY SINGH
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 simply…free. The lesson: Fear? What fear?
Let it rip. Make it your mantra for golf and for life.

ERNIE ELS
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.

NICK PRICE
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.

SEVE BALLESTEROS
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.

NICK FALDO
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.

TOM LEHMAN
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.”

LEE WESTWOOD
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.


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