Gary Gilchrist is the founder and head coach of the Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy just outside Orlando, Florida. Throughout his tenure as a teaching professional, he’s coached a number of top-ranked amateurs and professionals. Notable students (past and present) include teenage phonem Michelle Wie, former No. 1 player on the LPGA Tour Yani Tseng, Peter Hanson and D.A. Points (a recent winner at the Shell Houston Open two weeks ago). He’s received a number of teaching awards from various golf organizations over the years and in 2012 he was named to GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers in America. Our interview with Gary can be seen below.
You’ve worked with a number of both male and female golfers including former No.1 ranked Yani Tseng, Michelle Wie, D.A. Points and Peter Hanson. In your professional opinion, do you think a female will ever be able to play and consistently compete on the PGA Tour?
I don’t think females will ever be able to consistently compete on the PGA Tour. I think now and again you might get one or two women that will try to qualify for an event like the U.S. Open but I think what happened with Michelle Wie was very very unique. Someone like that isn’t going to come around too often. She grew up in Hawaii and played off the men’s tees so she gained quite a bit of confidence. She was 14 years old when she came on to the scene and she really had nothing to lose. Ten years ago courses didn’t play so long and now that they are it’s making it much more difficult for players that don’t hit the ball a long ways.
On average, how many hours per day do your students (professional students) spend on golf related activities (range work, putting, weight training, ect.)?
In the offseason when they aren’t traveling from tournament to tournament, I would say a professional probably practices 3 to 4 hours a day and that’s not including any actual rounds of golf, plus they do an hour to an hour and a half of fitness three to four times a week. When I start training someone I give them a structured program with drills that they need to do everyday. Sometimes the drills are for their putting or for their full swing and it probably takes at least 3 hours to complete.
I’ve heard that the difference in skill-set between a professional golfer and a scratch golfer is about the same as the difference between a scratch golfer and a 15-handicap. Do you think there is any truth to this comparison?
That comparison is probably a bit off. I think a scratch golfer is much closer to a professional golfer than a 15-handicap is to scratch golfer. For one, scratch golfers play competitively a lot more and have a much more developed skill set. I don’t really think that comparison is even close.
You use a lot of advanced techniques to help your students (2D and 3D swing analysis) improve their game. Do you think technology has made coaching/instructing more effective than it was say 20 or 30 years ago?
I think today most coaches use a lot more video than they do 3D imaging but when the technology is more advanced, the analysis of the swing becomes much more technical. A lot of coaches used to teach based on instinct and feel. The old way of instructing was to take what the student had and make it better, which I like a lot. I don’t think completely changing someones swing like what Tiger’s been doing in recent years is a good approach. I thought that Tiger in 2000 had a much more natural swing, a lot more speed. I don’t really think he fully appreciated the way he was swinging back then. He thought he could do much better but I think if he looked at his swing now and then looked at his swing back in 2000, he probably would say “What was I thinking, that was really good”. Butch gave him a swing that was much more natural in terms of the tools he had when he was a kid growing up.
Let’s stay with Tiger. Do you think he will break Jack’s record of 18 majors and if so, do you think he’ll ever return to the dominance we saw earlier in his career?
Mentally, I think he knows that he can do it but I also think his mind is in a different place today than it was a few years ago. In order to win you have to get into a flow and Tiger can do that, but I think he’s still fighting things from within. Sean Foley is in a tough position because Tiger demands so much, but winning golf tournaments is about playing the game of golf. I think in recent years Tiger has struggled driving the golf ball. He’s gotten much better because he’s fading it more but he’s still having trouble drawing it. Back in 2000 he was able to overpower a golf course and just let his short game take care of itself. He’s still an amazing player but I don’t think he’ll reach that level of dominance ever again. Then again, you can never count Tiger out.
Your former student and PGA Tour pro, Peter Hanson, has said on numerous occasions that he can only visualize his ball going dead straight. Did this make your job easier or harder when working with him?
It didn’t make my job easier but it didn’t make it harder either. I think his ability to only visualize a straight ball flight came from a limited belief of being able to work the ball in both directions, but once we started working together I think he started to gain confidence and it made him a much better player. He’s an amazing golfer, very very talented, big strong guy, real good putter. In the past, I think his chipping has held him back the most but he’s really gotten better at that and as a result he’s become a much more complete player.
What’s your take on the proposed anchoring-ban? Do you agree or disagree with it and why?
I’ve always been against letting the putter touch your body in two places. It doesn’t even have to be anchored. The problem is that the people in charge waited way too long to address it and it’s caused a lot of controversy. So many people are using them now and it’s not good for the game of golf that they’re going to ban it. I think they should have banned it 15 years ago.
You grew up in South Africa. Was Gary Player a big influence to you as a golfer growing up?
Gary Player is a legend and he was always a huge influence but the person I admired most throughout my career has always been Seve Ballesteros.
Now that you have so many high-profile students and run a full-time golf academy, do you ever get any time to go out and play for yourself and if so, do you have a favorite golf course in the Orlando area?
I still love to play and I always try to get out and do it. I play on the weekends. I hit balls after work. There are so many great golf courses in the Orlando area but I would have to say that my favorite course is probably Isleworth.
You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to but what’s your typical scoring average for an 18-hole round?
It really depends on what tees I play from. From the far back tees with courses being so long nowadays it’s tough, but from the next set up I can generally shoot 1 or 2 over par. I was best when I was around 22 years old. I played on the South African Tour for 5 years and kept my card. Then I came to America to work on my game with David Leadbetter and I got an opportunity to work at IMG Academy as a Golf Director. A few years later I left and got a chance to work with Hank Haney and then I opened my full time academy and have been working there ever since.
For more information on Gary and his approach to the game of golf you can visit his website at the link below.