With Nor’easter On The Way, Make It ‘del la Torre Time’
Folks, the weather is supposed to be a real treat over the next 24-to-48 hours. Since the golf season is quickly approaching, take advantage of a couple days of down time and do something for yourself that will help you play better golf for the rest of your life. Pick up a copy of Manuel de la Torre’s ‘Understanding The Golf Swing,’ turn off your phone, turn off your computer, and lose yourself in the best golf instruction that you will ever read or watch.
Manuel, who passed away last year, was considered by his peers as one of the greatest golf instructors on the planet. He was the first PGA member to be recognized as the Teacher of the Year in 1986. He also had a long list of playing accomplishments, winning the Wisconsin State Open five times, the Wisconsin PGA Professional Championship five times, the Wisconsin State Senior Championship four times, and the National Open Seniors Classic in 1973 (which is now the U.S. Senior Open). He shot 29 on the last 9 holes during the final round of the Tucson Open in 1957.
I first met Manuel in 1994 in Palm Springs, where he was conducting a teaching seminar for the PGA of America. I had been in the golf business since 1982, and while I was an adequate teacher, I hadn’t spent much time learning how to be a teacher. I quickly learned that there was a much better way to teach people how to hit a golf ball, and how to play better golf.
I attended a couple more seminars that he conducted over the next several years, and by coincidence, ended up as the Head Professional at a course only three hours north of Milwaukee Country Club, where he had been the Head Professional since 1951. Every year I had the privilege of spending several hours with Manuel, receiving instruction on my own game, and observing him working with his students.
The teaching seminars that Manuel conducted for teachers were incredibly interesting. He had a little bit of a Spanish accent, and you really had to stay focused to hear and understand everything he was saying. He would keep everyone in the seminars involved, asking lots of questions to make sure what he was teaching was getting through. The first couple of seminars I attended, I would pray that he wouldn’t call on me. But once I was comfortable with what he was teaching, it didn’t bother me.
We’d spend the first half of the day in a classroom setting learning theory, take a break for lunch, then spend the afternoon on the driving range, where we would observe Manuel giving lessons. He would spend 25-30 minutes with a student, then we’d ask questions or he would make a point, then it was on to the next student. This went on until it got dark. Most of the time we would have to depend on the moonlight to find our cars in the parking lot.
The day would not end when the seminar was done for the day. Several of us would decide on a place to eat, and we’d spend the next several hours talking about our golf courses and discussing teaching ideas over dinner. At these gatherings, Manuel would talk about his father, Angel de la Torre, and Ernest Jones, the English golf professional that developed the swing theory Manuel was teaching us. Hearing Manuel talk about what is was like growing up with his father and Jones was fascinating, and it was not uncommon to forget about the food and engage Manuel about his past.
The golf talk was not done once we dispersed from dinner. I would spend hours and hours with Kenny Kubitz, who once worked as an assistant pro for Manuel back in the 1960’s. We’d get into some deep discussions about swing theory, his time spent as a social worker, and his experiences as a caddy on the PGA Tour. There was an incident during his time on the tour that involved his Volkswagen Beetle, a beach and the realization that a VW Bug was light enough to float. If you’ve read the book by Angelo Argea, who caddied many many years for Jack Nicklaus, there are a couple of pages devoted to that event.
I am so lucky to have met Manuel. It was by pure accident that I attended a seminar that he was teaching, and even more of an accident that I met Kenny Kubitz at that seminar. I cannot begin to imagine what my professional career would have been like had I not gone to that PGA seminar in Palm Springs. Manuel de la Torre was the consummate golf professional. He considered his position at Milwaukee Country Club as that of an employee, and didn’t think it was appropriate to be rubbing shoulder’s with the members in the bar, in spite of his fame as a player and instructor. He would eat lunch with his employees instead of with the members in the dining room. Members were addressed as ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs.’ He was always respectful of everyone, and no matter what the ability was of one of his students, he never made them feel inadequate. And he never, ever gave up on a student, nor would he allow them to give up on themselves. I cannot think of a finer gentleman, or human being, than Manuel de la Torre.
Do yourself a favor. Get his book. Get the matching DVD that came out a year after the book. Both are available on Amazon. I don’t guarantee much in life, but I will guarantee this: If you will commit to reading his book, watching his DVD, and buying into what he is teaching, you will be a better golfer.