Sunday was a big day for dinner in Scotland and my father was out playing golf with his brother-in-law – and he was late. So I was sent up to see what’s going on. I found them on the 17th at Routenburn. His brother-in-law had hit a brand-new Dunlop 65 into the rough and they were looking for it. I spotted it straight away and he said “you’ve got an eye for this game”. So I had a swish with a cleek, which was basically a 1-iron, and with the first shot I nailed it. I’ve been searching for that feeling ever since.
From there I was hooked. I played non-stop, all day, all evening. I started playing when I was 16 and was off scratch just after I was 18. That was as good as I got though; in those days clubs didn’t have an assistant pro who just worked in the shop and gave lessons. You were working on the greens during the day and then working in the shop for my old boss Jock McKellar in the evening. I had no time to get better at golf.
Even if my golf wasn’t improving, I was still fascinated with the swing. I studied all the top players. I saw Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and the greatest player of all time, Ben Hogan. Hogan was definitely the best who ever lived; anyone who saw him and saw Jack and saw Tiger will tell you the same. His ball striking was incredible, he had the ball on a string.
I remember down at Wentworth, the guy who was running Mizuno at the time said he had followed Hogan and wondered if he was as good as everyone said because on one hole he’d be up the right, on the next he was up the left and then on another one he was up the middle. It was only near the end he realised he was hitting it there intentionally – to give himself the best angle in.
I had talked about how good Hogan was a lot, so my wife Jean told me to write to him. I wrote that it was my life’s ambition to meet him. At that time I was coach to the Scottish team. A letter arrived back and I was at a tournament. I left immediately. It said he would like to meet me, too. I was booked on the next plane to America. Everyone says he was a lovely man, a gentleman, and they are right. He couldn’t have been nicer to me when I went out to Shady Oaks. We went out on the range and hit balls and he gave me advice on my game. He didn’t hit balls as his legs were weak by then. And Hogan preached that you had to use your legs in the swing; the game is played from the ground up.
Everything changes, but there’s nothing new. I remember this belly wedge came out and I was speaking to Lee Trevino. He said: “I was using one of them when I was at school.” And I can remember seeing a guy from up the road in Gourock with a metal-headed driver… that must be over 50 years ago.
Everyone needs to work at their game. There’s no such thing as a natural player. People have more aptitude than others, but that’s all. Golf is very unnatural. Hogan once told me “do the opposite of what you feel like doing and you’ll get the perfect golf swing”. I had to think about that one for a while before I worked it out.
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In golf, like any sport, you’ve got to work with what a man has got, not what he hasn’t got. You could never have made Bobby Locke into a fader, for example. And you never make this game easy, you just make it easier. As Hogan said to me: “Bob, you never get this game, you always need to work at it.”
I used to say to Jean “I wish I could get a talented young guy who wanted to really work”. Anyway, the first time Padraig came to the house we went off to the range at 8.30 in the morning and we didn’t get back until 6 that night. Jean said to me when I walked in the door “I think you’ve found your man”. She was right. But hard work alone won’t make you a champion, you need ability, too. Having said that, Hogan once said to me he could take any man off the street and make him into a scratch golfer.
It’s not just Tour pros who have come to be taught by me in Largs. Sean Connery came down many times to see me. He could have been a scratch golfer if he had started the game earlier – no question about that. He had a lot of talent and was fascinated by the mechanics of the swing.
Tiger was at least as good a pitcher and bunker player as anyone I’ve seen and he was definitely the best putter ever. And as Harvey Penick said “a good putter is a match for anybody”. He’s got the determination and dedication to get back to where he was, but maybe he has changed his swing too much.
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When you get to your mid 30s you don’t want to be tampering with your swing, you need to have found it by then. Yet when he was winning at Pebble Beach by 15 shots his swing was absolutely perfect.
It makes me very proud to have the practice facility in Largs now called the Bob Torrance School of Golf. I’ve taught there for over 20 years and to have it take my name is special. It’s a great facility with four holes you can play, the range, an artificial putting surface and a large practice putting green. It’s always open and the pros have lots of great deals on lessons. Plus, it has fantastic views across the Firth of Clyde to the Isles of Bute and over to the mountains of Arran. Magic.
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