NAPLES, Fla. – You may not know who Joe Hallett is, but you should.
His player has a chance to complete one of the more remarkable sweeps in the history of women’s golf this week.
His player could win the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Race to the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking this week.
With a strong performance at the CME Group Tour Championship, she could walk away with $1.5 million, the biggest payday in the history of women’s golf.
Who is Joe Hallett? He’s Stacy Lewis’ swing coach. He has been for five years, through her rise to prominence as the best American in the game and then the best player in the world, with her ascension to Rolex No. 1, a spot she’s trying to take back from Inbee Park this week.
Hallett doesn’t enjoy the star status today’s big-name swing coaches do. He doesn’t have the profile Butch Harmon, David Leadbetter, Sean Foley and Jim McLean do, but Lewis will tell you he has been an important part of her emergence as a star.
“Joe has been unbelievable,” Lewis said. “He’s like family to me.”
Hallett, 50, will tell you he’s thankful fate put him in Lewis’ path. It might seem like pure chance that brought them together at a PGA “Get Golf Ready” clinic in 2009, but Hallett knows better. He’s amazed at how golf has steered him into his chosen craft, and he’s amazed at who it has steered into his path.
Born in Buffalo, raised in South Florida, Hallett grew up off the fourth hole at the historic Biltmore Golf Course in Coral Gables, Fla. His parents were friends with Bob Toski, which got him lessons with the Hall of Fame teacher when Joe was 13 years old.
“I’ll never forget that first lesson,” Hallett said. “I was excited for the chance to meet him, and I hit a lot of golf balls getting ready for the lesson. So, the first thing Bob does when we meet is look at my clubs, and they’re a mess. He pulls a club out of my bag and says, `Son, today’s lesson is about how important it is to keep your clubs clean. Now go clean your clubs.’ And then he turns and walks away to go have lunch. That was the end of the lesson.
“To this day, I’m a fanatic about keeping my clubs clean.”
Hallett grew to love Toski, and he would learn a lot from him.
Joe’s father, Ed, was a car dealer, but he loved golf. He was friends with Jerry Heard and Homero Blancas. Heard won five PGA Tour titles. Blancas won four, was the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year in ’65 and once shot 55 in a college tournament. They arranged for Joe to work with famed instructor Jimmy Ballard when Joe was a teenager.
Fate kept delivering gifts like that.
After Joe’s father died, his mother moved to Lake Nona in Orlando, where cosmic forces would steer Joe directly into the path of another influential figure in the game.
Joe, who played at Furman University, was trying to make his way into the pro game through mini-tours in Central Florida. He called his mother, Joanne, to see how the move to Lake Nona was going, and she started telling him about the nice family she just met in the house next door to hers.
“You might know who he is,” Joe’s mother said. “I can’t remember his name right now, but he’s in golf. Tall man, with an accent, English or Australian or something. He teaches. He’s always wearing this straw hat.”
Hallett and Lewis at the 2013 PGA teaching and Coaching Summit (Getty)
Joe couldn’t believe it.
“Um, David Leadbetter?” Joe said.
“Yeah, that’s him,” his mother said.
So Hallett got to know Leadbetter and was able to pick his brain.
Even as he struggled trying to make it to the PGA Tour, Hallett never seriously considered teaching. He didn’t believe his personality was suited for it. He thought he was way too impatient to teach.
“I once got five clubs stuck in a tree,” Hallett says today. “I threw my putter up there and got the other clubs stuck trying to get it out.”
Still, there were influential figures in Hallett’s life who saw a natural-born teacher. Hallett used to play at Ocala Municipal in Florida, where the pros there, Joe Lopez Jr. and Joe Moses, encouraged him to join them and take up teaching.
“Basically, they said, `We’ve cleared a spot for you in the office, now go get started,’” Hallett said.
So, at 25, that’s what he did. He started teaching, and fate would keep steering opportunity in his path. After establishing himself, and setting up an academy at Black Bear Golf Club in Mount Dora, Fla., Hallett met a teacher named Charlie Yoo, who was looking for a place to bring his juniors. One of those juniors was named Inbee Park.
Hallett began working with Park there, and he didn’t just become her teacher. He became her caddie, toting her clubs to junior events and then when she joined the Symetra Tour as a pro. He even caddied the first few events of Park’s LPGA career.
While Hallett’s teaching career took a nice turn when he was hired as the director of instruction at the PGA Learning and Performance Center in Port St. Lucie, Fla., cosmic forces steered him back to the LPGA. The PGA flew Lewis in to a clinic Hallett was leading there in ‘09. Hallett had no idea that Lewis would soon be looking for a full-time coach who would be available to her at tour events. She was impressed with Hallett, and a couple months later asked if he could work with her.
Of course, being the thorough personality she is, Lewis wrote a detailed letter to Hallett asking for help.
“She was very specific,” said Dale Lewis, Stacy’s father. “She wrote `This is how I like to play. I generally like to hit it straight, and I hit it left to right, but I want to be able to hit it both ways. I’m looking for somebody to help me get better, not somebody to overhaul my swing. I just want somebody to help me refine it.”
Lewis found the perfect coach for that.
While Hallett learned a lot from Toski, Ballard and Leadbetter, he doesn’t teach a method. He doesn’t believe in that. He’s a big believer in evaluating a player’s strengths and shaping a plan from there. He adapts and refines and improves, he doesn’t overhaul. His other clients include Angela Stanford, Brooke Pancake, Marina Alex and Sandra Changkicha.
“If they’re out on tour, they didn’t get there doing everything wrong,” Hallett said. “When I start working with somebody, I want to know what they’re working on, what their keys are and what their strengths are. I want to make their strengths better and get rid of the stuff that’s a waste of their time and energy.”
Hallett doesn’t believe chance led Lewis to him.
“It was a blessing,” said Hallett, who today is the director of instruction at Vanderbilt Legends Club in Nashville, Tenn. “I owe a lot to the man upstairs for putting all the stars in the right place, at the right time, because I literally had just got hired by the PGA for that position. In fact, I actually started working a week early when they asked me to come down for that Get Golf Ready program.”
Lewis was a rookie when she first met Hallett. She brought him aboard for her second season.
“I was lost my rookie year,” Lewis said. “I didn’t know how to get better. I didn’t know what I needed to do to get to the next level.
“Joe had a plan. He had a plan for what I needed to work on. I needed to get my body stronger. I needed to get my golf swing in a better position at the top. There was kind of a list of things we went through. He was in for the long haul. I didn’t want a quick fix.”
Lewis takes pride in her team, from agents, caddie and coach. Hallett loves being part of that.
“I’m just a cog in a good team,” Hallett said.