Holmes keeping pros sharp, but forget Seve

SIMON HOLMES, golf coach to the stars, believes former client Seve Ballesteros will never again be a major force on the professional circuits of the world.

Holmes, a disciple of David Leadbetter, the man behind much of Nick Faldo’s success, worked with the Spaniard a decade ago when he was still at the height of his powers.

He is currently visiting making regular visits to Ireland to help in the promotion of a new course and coaching complex at Arcos de la Frontera near Jerez in Southern Spain. A graduate of Wake Forest, the university in North Carolina that produced Arnold Palmer and was also attended by Ireland’s Eoghan O’Connell and Darren Clarke, Holmes had his own playing career cut short by injury.

He became a coaching assistant to Leadbetter and this in turn brought him into contact with some of golf’s greatest exponents. Many benefited from his wisdom and knowledge and Simon still helps several leading players on the various tours including Clarke, Annika Sorenstam and Suzanne Pettersson. The complex at Arcos is being developed by Landmark, the company that created the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island and Doonbeg Golf Club in Co Clare. It includes a championship class 18 hole course and a coaching academy. It is targeted at tour professionals and their coaches while the Swedish, Norwegian and English Golf Unions are booked in and Ireland’s new captain Michael Burns is sure to be interested.

“While at Wake Forest in 1986, I broke both wrists after hitting a tree stump in the British Amateur Championship and they never really recovered,” Holmes recalls. “I was taking lessons from David Leadbetter and he asked me to become his assistant. I left college in 1988 and went down to his academy at Lake Nona near Orlando in Florida. When he was going up and down the line, I was spending the rest of the day with all these top players. Faldo then said, ‘I like being with Simon, I want him out on the Tour with me’ and I coached Langer, Barry Lane, Forsbrand as well and got to learn from these amazing players.”

Leadbetter extended his number of academies to 20 in 1992. It meant he was travelling around the world all the time so Holmes decided it was time to go his own way. His reputation as a coach had preceded him and what resulted was the happiest and most successful period of his career.

“1993 was a great year for me, I coached four of the Ryder Cup team, Ballesteros, Langer, Joakim Haeggman and Lane, all by myself in my own business”, he relates. “Because I had been a reasonably good player, I understood the difficulty of playing professional golf. I like to think I’ve always left the players that I coach with a shot that will get them around the course. I feel I got good performances out of those players and they responded well.”

That can’t always have been easy given the volatile temperaments of some superstars, especially Ballesteros. Holmes admits that Seve would sometimes turn to him and say “that is stupid, I would never do that.”

“You had to be careful about what you were going to say and if you said it, you had to stick to it otherwise he’d try to stuff your words down your mouth,” he said. “What happened with him is that he lost his fitness, conditioning, strength and flexibility as he got older. He has such an extreme Latin personality and went 100% from focusing on getting the ball from A to B to 100% focusing on how to swing from the start to the finish and got lost in the middle.

“Seve is absolutely lovely or absolutely impossible. There is no middle ground. I hadn’t seen him for ages when I bumped into him in a hotel in London just after Christmas and we had a glass of champagne in the bar and he was fantastic to be with.

“But I’m certain Seve won’t come back. From 70 yards to the hole, he could still be the best in the world. But physically, his back will prevent him from playing the game. He still has the skill, the passion, the ability, but his body definitely will not allow him to execute what he has left. I was with him for two years as his sole coach. But he’s had many others. Remember Mac O’Grady, the American. While he’s a complicated guy, he’s also got a genius in there and he and Seve are probably very similar. What is the difference between being an absolute genius and being impossible? It’s the finest of lines, isn’t it? So if those two got the right chemistry at exactly the right time, they could inspire each other and Seve actually won the Benson & Hedges at St Mellion taking lessons from Mac O’Grady.”

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