OK, HERE is your starter for ten. What do European Tour players David Drysdale, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Gregory Havret, Peter Lawrie, Andy Sullivan, Anders Hansen, Jose Maria Olazabal, Shiv Kapur, Richard Sterne and James Kingston have in common?
The answer is a “half-Scottish, half-South African” swing coach whose surname is one all Dundee United, Spurs and Rangers fans might just recognise. But what is more certain is that Jamie Gough – younger brother of Richard – has, over the last seven years or so, established himself as one of the Old World circuit’s more respected instructors.
Like his older sibling, the 49-year old Gough has had a well-travelled career. After representing South Africa as a junior, he turned professional at 18 and trained under the tutelage of the late Graham Henning – brother of Harold, who twice finished third in the Open Championship – at The Wanderers club in Johannesburg. From there, he flitted to the United States, first to Illinois, then to the Seattle area.
Back in his homeland by 1990, Gough set up a chain of golf schools, eventually employing as many as 30 teachers. In 2006 he coached the South African side at the World Amateur Team Championship. Slowly but surely, however, he gravitated into the role that is now his life.
“I reckon I’ve given over 50,000 lessons in my life,” he says. “Which is a lot. I did it the right way too. I gained experience by teaching punters. I don’t think I could do the job I do now without having had the years of watching balls fly. There is plenty of technology about to help teachers these days, but you still need your eyes and ears. You have to know what to say and when to say it. And that only comes from years of actually doing it.”
Gough’s most high-profile pupil right now is the so-called “most interesting man in golf,” Jimenez. Winner of last week’s Open de Espana, the outwardly eccentric Spaniard recently won on America’s Champions Tour, only one week after tying for fourth at the Masters.
“Miguel is very much rhythm oriented,” reports Gough. “We’ve changed quite a bit in his swing since we got together at the Scottish Open last year, combining a bit of old school with new school. Our aim has been to get the plane of his swing a bit more consistent.
“His public image doesn’t quite gel with reality though. He is fun but he’s not all about fun. When he gets on the course it is a serious business. He never hits one ball in practice without full attention. Every shot has to have some accountability, whether it is a putt, or a bunker shot or a full drive. He’s a combative worker and as competitive as anyone I have ever met. He’s certainly not happy-go-lucky.
“People see all the other stuff – the cigars, the wine and the sunglasses. But he has been in the gym every day for the last year. And he has his physical trainer with him every week. He has retained his flexibility. He is very ‘rubbery.’ He has very little stiffness and is very loose for his age. It remains a fact, of course, that the ball doesn’t know how old you are.
“Miguel will make the Ryder Cup team if he continues to play as he is right now. He told me his goals when we started together. The first one was to get back in the world’s top 50 by the Masters this year. He did that. But number one on the list was the Ryder Cup.”
It is a credit to Gough that he is able to help such a diverse group of characters, all of who have distinctly different actions. He is clearly a man who teaches individuals rather than a particular method.
To me, golf is all about ball flight, controlling the ball. You have to know what a player’s tendencies are, too, but they are all different.
“A lot of what I do on a day-to-day basis is maintenance,” continues Gough. “Once we know what the player is trying to do, most of our time is spent getting him to do just that. They have to be ‘playable.’ That’s key. They have to go out and score well even as we are making changes. It’s all about reinforcing good habits.
“Look at David Drysdale. His swing may look a little different, but he is one of the best drivers and iron-players I have ever taught. He has had seasons where he has hit 75 per cent of fairways and 75 per cent of greens. That’s remarkable at this level. He squares the face so consistently. He’s a beautiful ball striker.
“They’re all different, though. Some guys prefer to draw the ball, others like to see a fade. Miguel can do both. And he can hit high and low. There’s still an element of that in the game, even with all the new technology. The great players still like to control the height of their shots more than the shape.”
Still, we’re talking about a partnership here, one that has to work under the pressure of producing winning performances. While the spotlight inevitably shines brightest on the player, the coach has to face some of the glare too.
“I’ve been hired and fired a few times,” says Gough with a smile. “And rehired. And fired again. But a big part of this job is speaking your mind. I have to be honest with players. I can’t be a ‘yes’ man. So I have to put my job on the line every week. I have to go with what I believe will make players better. But it is a fickle business.
“I have to take responsibility. The reality is that I have these guys’ livelihoods in my hands. They put a lot of trust in me. So I need to be giving them good information and at the right times. I live and die with every shot they hit. And, when they play badly, I take it on the chin, almost as much as they do.”
For all his successes (and failures) on tour over the last few years, there is one player Gough has yet to get through to. His California-based older brother – “he’s about a 14-handicapper” – is apparently not one of golf’s great pupils.
“Richard has a style all his own, but he doesn’t listen to me,” he says, this time with an even bigger smile. “I’ve tried to help him. But he just won’t take instruction from his little brother. He’s not a great golfer, but he can hit the ball. He played with Thomas Bjorn in a pro-am at Gleneagles a couple of years ago. I watched him tee-off. He hit a great drive and I could see how happy he was. I asked him later if he was nervous and he confirmed that he was. Which was surprising. He once told me that no one can feel really nervous until they have made a few bad passes in front of 90,000 people at Wembley.”
Maybe. But telling a top professional what to do minutes before tee-off is not for the faint-hearted either.