Bob Toski is more preacher than teacher.
At 83, he still possesses a passion for the game that can turn any little patch of grass he’s standing on into a bully pulpit. You never know when a question will lead to one of his fire-and-brimstone rants at the Toski-Battersby Golf Learning Center in Coconut Creek, Fla.
Though he weighed just 118 pounds, Toski was the PGA Tour’s leading money winner in 1954. After leaving the Tour ranks, he would become one of the giants of the golf teaching business, helping establish the Golf Digest Instruction Schools and becoming the first living inductee into the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame.
With the PGA Tour stopping at Colonial Country Club this week, Toski took on topics ranging from Ben Hogan to Tiger Woods in a Quick Round:
You played the PGA Tour with Ben Hogan, what’s your favorite memory of him?
That he allowed me to watch him practice, but he never talked to me.
I probably watched him practice about 12 times, usually for about an hour. That’s about 12 hours I watched him practice, but he never talked to anybody when he was out practicing on Tour.
Did you try to talk to him?
One time, I made the mistake of standing too close to him at the Los Angeles Open. I would stand in back of him when I watched. You stand behind a player to see how they aim and where they are swinging. I took a couple steps too close. He turned, put up his hand and looked at me with those steely hawk eyes, as if to say, “Get your butt back there, boy. I can see those white shoes of yours.”
But he didn’t actually say anything to you?
I’ll never forget, afterward, we met in the locker room. He was taking his shoes off. My locker was down a few lockers. He looked over at me, and he said “You were out there long time today, Bob.” I said, “I was out there as long as you, Ben.” He says, “Yeah, did you learn anything today?” I said. “Every time I watch you, I learn something.” He says, “Good,” and he threw his shoes in his locker and walked out.
What did you learn watching Hogan practice all those times?
How well he aimed the club on the line of play, and swung on the line of play. In other words, he aimed at the target and his golf swing was from online to in, from online to in. It wasn’t inside out or outside-in. When he swung through the golf ball, his golf club would travel left so fast it looked like he shanked it.
Why was that?
He didn’t want the club face to go right and turn over because he was a duck hooker. You’ve got to understand what he was confronting. He was a hell of a hooker of the golf ball. That is what plagued him. He found a grip and a swing to get rid of the hook.
Did watching Hogan help you become a better player?
Oh yes. Hogan’s best year was 1953. My best year was ’54.
You learn by watching. How the hell do you think kids learn? Kids learn things looking at their mothers and fathers. You learn by mimicking. Now, today, they’ve got video, audio. It’s such a science now, you would think we were flying to Venus to learn how to play golf.
What did you try to mimic watching Hogan?
How well he moved. There are three motions you make in a golf swing. You swing, you turn and you shift. That’s all your body does. Those are absolutes. When you swing the golf club, you have a swinging force, a turning force and a shifting force. Hogan synchronized those three. The timing of which he did that was relatively fast, which, I think, is what Hank Haney tried to get Tiger to do, which I don’t think Tiger should have tried to do because he’s not Ben Hogan.
What do you make of Tiger’s swing these days?
Tiger’s become the world’s worst driver for a great player that I’ve ever seen. I think he was trying to do something he shouldn’t have tried to do.
The worst driver for a great player?
I thought Phil Mickelson was bad until Tiger came along.
What do you see in Tiger’s swing that makes him “the worst driver for a great player?”
I think he was a better swinger of the golf club when he was with Butch Harmon. His golf swing in college was a better swing than he has right now. Since he’s tried to make all these changes, he doesn’t deliver the club head toward the target and change direction with control like he used to. He gets in a position where he is so far inside, and he blocks everything to the right because of what he’s trying to do, which I don’t think is correct, which is only my opinion.
So what should he do now?
If he is smart enough, he would learn how to work it out by himself. He has enough information, and he’s old enough to become his own best teacher. There comes a time in life when you have to become your own best teacher.
What problem did you see changing from Harmon to Haney?
One guy wants him more upright, one wants him flatter. The golf swing can’t be standardized. You get enough different information from different teachers, you can get confused about what you want to do. You talk to enough doctors, you don’t know whether to crap or wind your watch.
You think Tiger will right his course and win more majors than Jack Nicklaus?
He has the potential to do that. It’s a matter of whether his mental psyche will be strong enough to overcome all these problems, as a competitor and as a person. He’s lost a lot of confidence in himself as a person because of what’s happened with his family.
He won’t win a major this year, that’s for sure. He can’t mentally focus and apply his concentrated effort to do what he has to do to win a major because of the problems he’s got, because of all the things he’s gone through. It’s going to take him a couple years.
But you can see him beating Nicklaus’ record?
Yes. He’s 34. He can play until he’s 50.