Rickie Fowler is “old school” with his swing because the man who taught him to play was “old school.”
Barry McDonnell, who died at 75 last week from complications of a heart attack, began teaching Fowler when Rickie was a tyke at Murrieta Valley Golf Range in Murrieta, Calif. McDonnell was a third generation club professional/teacher. He was taught to play by his grandfather, who came over from Scotland and was the golf professional at New Bedford (Mass.) Golf Club for 60 years. McDonnell began caddying at that club when he was 10.
In honor of McDonnell’s memory, here are some highlights of conversations I’ve had with McDonnell over the last couple years:
On Fowler’s flat, looping swing: “He swung his dad’s driver when he was little [and never played with a cut-down driver or junior club]. That’s how he worked that little figure-eight into his swing. That gave him a lot of strength in his hands and forearms. He got a lot of speed doing that.”
On his method with Fowler and kids: “I don’t try to make them all look alike. Golf is more an art form than a science. I let kids find their own personality in their swings. I just try to get the fundamentals in there, but I don’t try to make them all look alike. If the club is coming from the inside, and they get square to the ball, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a good swing.”
On how he avoided being overly technical in working with Fowler’s swing: “We used to work on shots all the time. We were always working on trying shots instead of just hitting balls. Little kids don’t get bored that way.”
On the central themes he tried to teach all his juniors: “I try to get them to believe in themselves, and not to play with a lot of thought. Just concentrate on your target. Your target may be 20 feet left, or 20 feet right, or dead at the pin.”