GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The Carolinas Section of the PGA (CPGA) began in 1923 when a trio of assistant golf professionals gathered at Greensboro Country Club and initiated a rich tradition. Today, the CPGA is dedicated to nurturing and improving the quality of the game for thousands of golfers.
As the very pulse of the endeavor, a PGA Professional's most vital influence is often at the introductory level — although many go on to support players at the game's more advanced platforms. They do so as instructors, coaches and even lifetime friends to golf professionals who don't make a living teaching the game, but instead draw a paycheck playing it competitively.
Heading into the 2014 season, here are a few insights from four PGA professionals based in the Carolinas who are currently helping hone the games of the world's best players.
Core Values: Ted Kiegiel and Webb Simpson
Back in the late 1980s and early '90s while he was first Assistant Professional at Georgia's famed Augusta National Golf Club, Ted Kiegiel, PGA had the opportunity to play alongside — or simply watch — many of the top players in the world.
Of all the greats he witnessed in and around the host site of The Masters, it may have been legendary Spaniard Severiano "Seve" Ballesteros who made the biggest impression on Kiegiel.
"For three separate years I saw Seve practice," says Kiegiel. "I learned a lot of my short game skills from Seve. He was by far the most incredible short-game player I have ever seen."
Skip ahead a few years to 1994 soon after Kiegiel had moved to Raleigh, N.C., where he became the Director of Golf at Carolina Country Club. There, he started a fateful association with slightly built, 9-year-old member of the club who seemed to be benefitting from an inordinate amount of time spent around the short-game area.
"One day with Webb on the practice green, I noticed him starting to do some of the things that only Seve could do. It was phenomenal in what he could do [around the green]."
Fast forward again another decade or so and the now "man" he speaks of — Webb Simpson — had already garnered All-American honors at Wake Forest University and earned his PGA Tour card on his first try in 2008. Still, he was in need of another boost in the way of longer drives off the tee. By the time 2011 had arrived, Simpson's long game had become much sharper, "thanks to work with his instructor Ted Kiegiel." Armed with the entire package, Simpson propelled himself to victory in the 2012 U.S. Open Championship and climbed to the ranks of Top-5 in the world.
"Now that his swing shape — one that functions really well under pressure — is where it's at, that's a recipe for success," Kiegiel adds. " From there, learn to manage your game well and you will have a really long and successful career."
According to Kiegiel, who works with several other professionals participating on developmental tours in addition to Simpson, the U.S. Open champ's rise to greatest began in those formative hours he spent toiling around the short-game area.
"His short game is in the top five percent of the game today," says Kiegiel, whose long-time coaching relationship with Simpson — who resides with his wife and two children in Charlotte — is now going on 20 years.
"For Webb, length was not an asset at first. As a result, he became very crafty with his short game. Of course Webb could always drive the ball, but he learned the game from the green back to the tee," Kiegiel says. "Consequently, each time he moved to another level it became easier for him to dominate golf courses. A couple of us recently were reflecting on Webb's first five years on Tour. Winning four times including a major we thought, wow, that [if we had known going in] would be exceptional. He's certainly accomplished a lot."
Though Simpson came naturally to the game, both he and Kiegiel were fortunate to have found each other to help fuel that development.
"From day one, everything trended in an upward direction," Kiegiel continues. "It was something he desired. Having played myself [with a career low round of 65 fired at Augusta National] and having worked at some great places [including The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.] and seen so many great players, I knew what it was going to have to take for him to play at the top level. With his competitiveness and his skill set, it was just a matter of time."
Still, Kiegiel is a firm believer in setting up a group of knowledgeable people when attempting to improve the skill set of a player with world-class aspirations on his or her mind. With so many developing talents trying to incrementally work their way up through the multiple tiers en route to the PGA and LPGA Tours, his advice to such players would be to develop a core team at some point in the process.
"No. 1, you have to have a game plan," Kiegiel stresses. "You also have to have a golf coach, a wellness coach and you need to address the golf management side of the game. I can't emphasize how important confidence is when playing on that stage. Confidence is one of those intangibles you have to have. Every tier you increase, the pressure magnifies. You have to be able to nurture everything and be very, very confident."
And that's where the team concept comes in.
"You need to be able to put a team together to accomplish whatever your goals are. Try to give the player a chance. There needs to be access to a golf course, instruction and of course wellness. Once those things are in place, well, that player now is really equipped to make a run at this. The core team that surrounds Webb … we are all advocates for him reaching his full potential."
Of course, having grown up in the heart of Tobacco Road on the grounds of Carolina Country Club in Raleigh certainly helped the current state of Simpson's affairs.
"Being in the Carolinas is a huge asset," Kiegiel says. "Our winters are relatively mild. Sure you see four seasons, but largely we are a 12-month operation here. And the fact is, if you don't have access to it [a year-round program], there are other players out there who will outwork you. (Carolina County Club) has just been wonderful for me. It's been a long-term commitment. It's been an asset and a perfect situation for myself and the club."
And as for the Raleigh area as a backdrop?
"Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill was voted as being one of the best places in the country to live," he adds. "You have access to the shore, the mountains and all kind of sports. You are in the heart of ACC country, you have a large airport, the restaurants are great, there's just so much going for it. I can't say enough great things about Raleigh."
And the golf world can't say enough great things about Kiegiel's No. 1 product and the pride of Carolina Country Club.
"Look, I've been fortunate for a lot of years to have a front-row seat to this," Kiegiel concludes. "It's been an incredible ride for me too."
Precision at the Top: Robert Linville and Mike Goodes
Robert Linville, PGA has taught players on all three of the top U.S. professional golf tours — the PGA, LPGA and Champions Tours — during his career. Though he claims that this is not where his main focus is at nowadays, the Director of Instruction/Owner of the Precision Golf School in Greensboro, N.C., still manages to brush the spotlight.
In fact, it is Linville's ongoing coach/friend relationship with Mike Goodes — currently playing on the PGA Champions Tour — that may be his most special partnership.
"I've taught Mike for years," Linville says. "He was just a life-long amateur player and business owner. He took a lot of time off at one point and then got back into playing in the early '90s. He was just looking for somebody to work with and so we got together. We've been together ever since. It's worked out pretty well."
To say the least. At the age of 49, with Linville's help, Goodes had his best-ever year as an amateur. The UNC-Chapel Hill grad — where he never hit a competitive shot for the golf team —won three of the four majors in his PGA Section that historic year including his second State Amateur title.
That momentum at the amateur level set Goodes up to qualify for the Champions Tour — he finished fifth at the 2007 Champions Tour Q-School — after he turned 50.
He finished 29th on the money list in 2008 and — just scraping in — earned his tour card for 2009. He won his first Champions Tour event in 2009 and he was on his way. "He has been able to stay out there now for seven years; it been just an incredible feat to stay in the top 30," Linville says. "To go from no status to being able to stay out there for so long has really been remarkable."
Goodes is a homegrown Carolina product. He grew up in Reidsville not far from Greensboro and Bryan Park Golf & Conference Center, a main hub for Linville's Precision Golf School. The pair's get-together has been a match made in golf heaven.
"It's not just about the golf swing," Linville says. "It's about the whole game. Of course we do work on the swing, but it becomes as much coaching — sometimes — as it does teaching. You have to know when to work hard on something and when to back off of something. Over time, we've been able to work on the whole game and learned how to move on from our plan. You have to have that understanding."
Having worked with so many talented players like Goodes — he also works with talented North Carolina amateur Scott Harvey — Linville is more than qualified to offer advice to anyone who gets the rare opportunity to work with an elite golfer.
"First of all, you have to develop a plan together," Linville adds. "You are creating a true player-coach relationship, and both parties have to be involved in the overall plan. You have to enjoy spending time together because you're going to spend a considerable amount of time working together to accomplish the goals. It takes a little while to build high levels of trust, but once that happens, then you have a great chance of seeing long-term success."
So it is the process that should be cherished.
"It's always exciting working with world-class players," Linville says.
Short Sided: David Orr and Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan
David Orr, PGA likes being in the heart of golf-teaching nirvana.
Of course, that means the Carolinas — Buies Creek, N.C., to be exact.
As the Director of Instruction for Campbell University's PGA Golf Management Program, Orr is ideally positioned to fulfill a quest that has taken him from Pulaski, N.Y. — where as kid he would ride his bike to the local muni with his golf bag on his back — to this past year's four "Majors of Golf," where he monitored the short-game and putting proficiency of the world's fifth-ranked player, Justin Rose.
"I think the Carolinas are perfectly situated for teaching since most of the big [PGA Tour] tournaments are on the East Coast," Orr says. "It's really good to be located in the Carolina section. You've got great golf courses, great weather, great instructors and Pinehurst [America's 'Home of Golf'] is never that far away. It's not only the largest [PGA] region, it is the best."
What makes Orr's situation even more ideal is the short game/putting niche he has carved out for himself, particularly in monitoring golfers at the world-class level. Among his current clients are Rose and Hunter Mahan, two of the top guns in the golf world today.
How Orr got to this point was by way of a playing career first at Bridgewater College in Virginia to toiling on mini tours across the South. Some 23 years ago he figured out his destiny.
"I had been playing on mini tours long enough to realize I could make more money teaching the game than I ever would playing it," he said.
While teaching the full swing, he steadily became infatuated with the short-game aspect of the endeavor. And that's how players like Rose and Mahan — who both regularly seek out Sean Foley for full-swing guidance — ended up on Orr's doorstep.
"Because I do a lot of research on putting, it got me involved in teaching putting and specializing in it," he added. "Justin called me the week before the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic Club [in San Francisco, Calif.]. He had heard of me through Sean. I had also met him during a practice round at the Wells Fargo Championship [in Charlotte]."
In the year and a half that the two have been together, Rose has risen from the No. 10 ranked player in the world to his current No. 5 spot. Oh, he also won the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion in Ardmore, Penn., along the way.
Working with such high-profile players can be a two-way street in terms of education.
"I've learned more in the past year and a half than in my entire 23 years of teaching and coaching," Orr says. "There's a huge difference between teaching and coaching players at a world-class level. It's not as easy at it appears. When things are going good, it's great. When they aren't, well…
"At the highest level, all of the players are really good at short game and putting. There's not a big separation at the world-class level [as there is at the lower levels]. We don't deal in strokes; we deal in quarter strokes and half strokes. That's because the difference between winning and falling out of the Top 10 is so minute — sometimes only a stroke or two across four days."
According to Orr, putting is a matter of sharpening skills — reading greens, developing touch, working on the stroke. Putting involves improving a player's skill set. He also spends time with Rose in particular mapping greens, walking them and taking notes.
But the approach and how you get to where you want to go depends on the individual.
"Justin likes to hit a lot of different shots, [involve] a lot of creativity," he says. "A lot of people don't realize how good Justin's short game is. He's got a lot of tools in the box. With Hunter [and short shots around the green] we try to keep it a little simpler. We try to have him stay with the more basic shots. His mechanics have improved a lot though. And Hunter has always had one of the best putting strokes on the PGA Tour."
Though Orr works with a lot of players at all levels (not just in the short game but in all aspects of the swing), these two are his really high-profile ones. But he knows his window of opportunity to impart wisdom in a niche area is not nearly as large as the one available to overall swing analysts.
"The shelf life of a short-game instructor is short-lived as compared to the full swing instructor's role," he says.
No matter what the future holds, Orr says he wouldn't give up a minute of what he's been through since that fateful day before the 2012 U.S. Open in California.
"It's been a great experience," Orr says. "Not only are these two great golfers but they are great human beings as well. Of course, it's not as easy as it would appear on the outside. That was the biggest shock to me."
The Player-Coach: Charles Frost and Ben Martin, Russell Henley
Like the world-class golfers he coaches, Charles Frost, PGA can still claim to be a young gun in his own right.
It wasn't that long ago — the late 1990s in fact — that Frost was placing high or winning college tournaments while competing in Atlanta, Ga., for the Emory University golf team.
Though he still competes at a high level — Frost won the North Carolina Open in 2012 and was runner-up at last year's PGA Assistant Championship — his primary emphasis today is giving back to the game loves. He does so by helping others with their pastimes or playing careers.
Frost was born and grew up in Gainesville, Ga. After college, he landed at the Sea Island golf resort in his home state, then moved on to Quail Hollow Country Club in Charlotte, N.C., following current Quail Hollow head professional Scott Davenport for whom Frost previously worked at Sea Island.
As a teacher in his 30s, the use of modern technology comes natural to Frost and sending text messages, emails — even videos — back and forth to players traveling the globe are all a part of the process.
Fortunately for Frost, Quail Hollow Country Club's teaching pro for the past seven years, he can minimize the latter portion of that equation and mainly focus on keeping the lines of communication open with his top players.
"Technology is a huge part of the teaching business now and especially when teaching players who travel the world. It is very easy to send video back and forth across email that was not available a few years ago," Frost says. "Ben and Russell are more feel players so we talk more about what they are feeling rather than sending videos."
By Ben and Russell, Frost is referring to PGA Tour pros Ben Martin and Russell Henley — his two highest-ranking partners in terms of professional golf status. Martin, a 2009 Clemson University grad, was ranked 156th in the world and Henley, a 2011 University of Georgia grad, was ranked 86th at the end of 2013.
Frost says that working with two tour professionals is not as tricky as one might think.
"Balancing time between them is not that difficult," he says. "Both Ben and Russell are very respectful of the job that I am doing and they understand what the time constraints are. I tend to spend more time with Russell only because he asks for more time than Ben."
The frequency of sessions, therefore, is based more on personal needs.
"I try to see Russell every three weeks and Ben more on an as needed basis," Frost says. " I do travel to events with them. I went to seven PGA Tour events last year."
And so it goes with the Carolinas PGA teaching pro who must balance a relationship with members of his club, maintain his own game, and meet the demands of travel and the lure of the world-class golfer (or in his case, golfers).
And that's where being young and technologically savvy can pay big dividends.
"We stay connected," Frost says.
About the Carolinas PGA Section
Since its inception in 1923, the Carolinas PGA Section has been committed to nurturing and improving the quality of the game for the thousands of golfers using its member facilities. Now the largest of the PGA's 41 sections, the Carolinas PGA Section of the Professional Golfers' Association boasts nearly 1,900 professional members and represents more than 800 golf facilities within North and South Carolina as well as portions of southern Virginia. PGA Professionals are responsible for conducting a variety of golf-related functions which include human resource management, golf shop merchandising, golf instruction, tournament operations, junior golf programs, growth of the game initiatives, golf club repair, administering the rules, public relations, and much more. www.Carolinas.PGA.com
Martin Armes, 919-608-7260, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brad King, 336-306-9219, email@example.com