Golf coach Tony’s keeping his eye on the ball at Chichester

Tony Westwood in action at Chichester Golf Academy  Picture by Colin Channon
Tony Westwood in action at Chichester Golf Academy Picture by Colin Channon

One of the most experienced coaches in the country has set up a golf academy in Chichester.

Tony Westwood had the distinction of becoming the first British PGA professional to work in the Ukraine, and followed that by coaching in Portugal.

But now he’s back in West Sussex, setting up an academy at Chichester Golf Club – and bringing his unique style of teaching to local players. While other coaches focus on creating the perfect swing, Westwood relies on watching the ball. He says: “The first coaching book on golf was written around the 1850s, and during that time the focus has always been on creating what’s seen as a perfect swing.

“Is this really helping the golfer understand what he needs to do to improve?

“I see it rather differently. I want players to look at what the ball does when they hit it and understand why the ball reacts that way. If a ball goes in one direction, what part of the ball did they hit to make it do that? What part of the ball do they need to hit to make it travel in the direction they want?

“I’ve seen people who have a very good swing, but the ball doesn’t go exactly where they want it to. To ask them to change their backswing by a few millimetres is, frankly, quite ridiculous. How will they feel how to do that?

“I can swing a club and hit a ball quite straight. Many people will be able to swing a club and hit the ball straight. So we must be doing something similar without having exactly the same swing. We all walk, but we don’t all walk the same way. Yet it’s all classed as walking.

“If you can understand what the ball is telling you, you’re on the way to knowing what to do to get better. By seeing where the ball travels, you can understand what part of the ball you hit to send it there, and then work on a swing path that gets you to hit the ball where you want to hit it, and what you need to do differently.”

It’s a different way of teaching – but it gets results.

Westwood says: “This way of teaching is gathering pace. For people who have had lessons before, we’re asking them to learn things a little differently. They come to us with a little baggage and we ask them to put that baggage to one side for a while and to enjoy learning with us.

“Every time a player hits a ball, they learn something – whether they are hitting the ball on the range, on the course or on a putting green.”

Westwood’s whole life has been geared towards golf.

He says: “I started playing when I was four, in the north-west. I got hooked at the idea of swinging this big stick. By the time I was eight, I wanted to have a career in golf.

“I came from a shipbuilding, working-class background, and I was expected to do the same. I did go into shipbuilding when I left school at 16, but I also joined the local golf club and always harboured dreams of becoming a professional golfer.

“By the time was 18 or 19, my handicap was five or six - I was self-taught and had never had a lesson – and people had heard what I wanted to do. When I got down to a handicap of four, I was introduced to Bruce Whipham, a golf pro, who was looking for an assistant. So, aged 20, I handed in my notice at the shipyard and became a golfer.

“I worked for Bruce and did the PGA training, and later followed him to another course in Leicester. But I always wanted to play tournament golf for a living, not sell Mars bars in a pro shop, and found sponsors and played in Leicester and the midlands. But I was never able to make that step up when it came to qualifying for the European tour.

“In 1992 I became head pro at Melton Mowbray and really began the coaching part of my career. I was working with the Leicestershire junior team and had lots of success. But in 1996 my first wife was killed in a car accident. I lost the plot for a few years and tried to resume a playing career, but was never mentally able to cope with that.

“In 2000 the PGA launched an art and science of coaching course at the Belfry where I met Kendall McWade, who had a company called Instinctive Golf.

“His coaching ideas matched mine, which was more about the natural instinct of throwing, kicking or hitting a ball rather than instruction and task-related learning, and I met others who had a company called Train Brain, working on neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).

“It helped me appreciate and understand why I hadn’t achieved the things I thought I could achieve, and also how I could help my students and develop their abilities.

“I embarked fully on my coaching career, studied the fields of personal development, accelerated learning and hypnosis, and qualified as a master sports practitioner in NLP. I learned how the conscious mind communicates and how an individual can switch on and off to learning.”

“In 2004 I joined the Cranfield Academy, Rustington, understanding Scott Cranfield’s theories and principles, many of which matched my own, but I felt there was more I could give. In 2005 I set up my own academy and helped people develop their skills.

“In 2008 I got the opportunity to work in Kiev in the Ukraine and set up an academy there. The task of bringing golf to the Ukraine was a challenge – there were only 80 registered golfers there – and with me not speaking Russian and them not speaking English, I had to simplify my approach so they could understand what I was trying to teach them.

“We later moved to the Algarve in Portugal and I developed my skills and later became head professional at the Beloura resort close to Lisbon. It was a fantastic experience – my Portuguese is better than my Russian but still not that good, so I had again to find ways to connect with the local people. The results were fantastic – the academy grew from 70-80 members to more than 300.

“In March 2011 we moved back to the UK and I spoke to Richard and Sally Haygarth – they own Hill Barn in Worthing, where I had worked before going overseas - and I started full-time in Chichester in November.

“Things are going every well. We ask people to come along, have fun and learn. It’s about exploration and discovery and helping people play closer to their true potential.”

Lessons with Tony Westwood start at £30. To learn more, call him on 07554 657245 or go to www.chichestergolf.com

COLIN CHANNON