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Top of the class

25 Apr 17

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Trophy winners (from left): Michael Lander, Ben Wilkinson and Gareth Davies

PGA Master Professional Denis Pugh urged the latest bunch of PGA graduates to ‘be lucky’ at this year’s Graduation ceremony.

Pugh, guest of honour at the event staged at the University of Birmingham, chronicled the vicissitudes of his career as a PGA pro as he congratulated the graduates on completing the three-year PGA Foundation Degree.

In doing so, he did not sugar coat the fact in admitting he failed twice before finding his expertise as a golf pro lay as a coach; an expertise that resulted in him coaching eight times European Tour Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie for a dozen years and more than 200 different Tour pros.

Prior to that, Pugh had been a club pro after an inglorious spell playing competitively that left him £10,000 in debt. But although he was beginning the get solvent, the role did not suit him.

“It was a busy club and I really enjoyed being there up to a point,” he recalled. “Up to a point is a challenge I ask you to think about.

“How do you measure success? The first measure of success was the most basic one. How much money was in my bank account?

“But as I paid back my debts and was able to support my family, I realised there was something missing.

“When I sold a set of clubs the member seemed to act as though I was pulling his teeth out without an anaesthetic and I was making pennies.

“Then I’d take that same member on to the range for a lesson and it was if I’d given him the meaning of life and he would be happy for ever more. And I got more money for it. So I thought this coaching business is for me.

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“I was a failure as a club pro – not because I didn’t make money but because I didn’t enjoy it. And that’s something I urge you to think about.

“If you’re thinking only money, you’re not on the right track. If you’re thinking only enjoyment you’re going to be pretty poor as well. I’d basically failed twice. My third stab was successful.”

Pugh also emphasised that luck plays a part in most careers and added: “You will have your dreams and there will be times when you have to reassess them.

“If you don’t you will be very lucky or blessed. Luck is an important part – it’s not a cliché, the harder you work the luckier you get.

“The cliché is about how well trained you are and how you react when luck comes your way. You are very well trained and you will have opportunities come your way.

“Finally, I’ve had 45 years in The PGA fold and it’s been a really interesting experience from being a lowly assistant at 17 to becoming a Master Professional.

“All the good stuff that has happened in my professional career is because of that PGA crest which I earned and you have earned. So my final advice for you one and all is a saying in Essex where I grew up. Be lucky.”

Later Pugh presented Gareth Davies with his Titleist PGA Assistant of the Year award and there was a fitting synchronicity between the early years of their respective careers.

Davies, head teaching professional at Abbeydale Golf Club in Sheffield, also tried his luck on Tour before opting to become a coach.

In recognition of his achievement, he collected the Whitcombe Cox Trophy and a cheque for £3,500 from Jeremy Tomlinson, managing director Acushnet EMEA, and Pugh.

Christopher Hamilton (Wyke Green) was second and James Harper (The Wynyard) third.

Davies, 39, was Rookie of the Year in 2015 and his bank balance was given a further boost when he received a cheque for £1,500 from Golf Pride for finishing first in the equipment technology exams.

“The money will come in handy because we are moving house in a few weeks and we also have a child who will be two in June,” explained Davies, winner of the PGA Assistants’ Championship in 2015.

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Davies joined the professional ranks in 2001 after playing for England and Yorkshire and competed on the EuroPro, Sunshine and European Challenge tours - winning twice on the latter.

“I followed up with four top three places in 2006 when I finished in the top 15 which got me on to the main tour,” he recalled.

Unfortunately, his run of form ended with a back injury the following year when he lost his card.

“I’d competed in about 35 events but my form deserted me and I just played occasionally after that,” he explained.

“I’d got to the point where I needed to do something else but I wanted to stay in golf. I realised I had to do my PGA training if I wanted to coach or take whatever route I chose.”

Davies paid tribute to the sponsors and added: “Titleist is a brand that’s synonymous with excellence in golf and, with products including ProV1 balls, Vokey wedges and Scotty Cameron putters, it’s seen as the best of the best.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Matthew Johnson of Titleist on behalf of myself and all the PGA graduates and award winners today.

“The fact that Titleist and The PGA has this affiliation says a lot about how both brands are viewed in golf and how highly regarded The PGA Training Scheme is.

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“In addition to Titleist, I’d like to thank Conor Dillon from Golf Pride for sponsoring the equipment technology award and also TGI who continue to sponsor the regional awards.”

Meanwhile, Michael Lander, the year two Titleist PGA Assistant of the Year has graduated from student to golf operations manager at Myerscough College Academy in Lancashire.

The 24-year-old has also been upwardly mobile in terms of studying for his PGA foundation degree.

“I was fourth in the first season in the Titleist Assistants of the Year last time so I’m pleased to finish first on this occasion,” said Lander who won £1,000 and received the Lord Derby Trophy.

Despite his obvious aptitude for golf, the 24-year-old showed no interest in it until his family moved to a house backing on to a course in Wigan.

“I played there regularly with my brother Chris, who is off scratch and better than me! But I am still holding on to the one occasion I managed to beat him,” he reflected.

Lander, who has set his sights on graduating as a performance coach, added: “I’m interested in research and theories on the game.

“I’d love to make a name teaching junior golf because there is a more holistic way of approaching it in my opinion.

“Everything is developing well at Myerscough but eventually I’m hoping to go to the United States and join an academy where there is a lot of activity going on.

“I can hardly wait to get there and enjoy some decent weather – we’ve not been getting much of that here in the north west. But we make do at Myerscough because we’ve plenty of indoor coaching facilities.”

Just as Lander took a while to get interested in the game, Ben Wilkinson, the Titleist PGA Rookie of the Year, kept his options open before settling on golf as his number one sport.

The 23-year-old assistant professional at Royal Winchester Golf Club describes himself as “a bit of an all-rounder” until he took up golf.

At one stage in his burgeoning career he fancied his chances as goalkeeper but kicked the idea into touch because, he explained, he couldn’t use his feet properly!

“I was also keen on cricket and snooker before trying golf at the local municipal club,” recalled Wilkinson, who was presented with the Major John Bywaters Trophy and a cheque for £1,000.

“My dad Peter also became interested and we joined Royal Winchester together.”

Wilkinson has been under the tutelage of several PGA coaches including Chris Kilgannon, a senior teaching professional at Hockley Golf.

“He’s the one I’ve stuck with,” added Wilkinson who won the first pro-am he played in at Romsey Golf Club.

“I turned professional in October 2015 but did not play any events in the winter because I had a lot of studying to complete.”

It’s still early days yet as he commits himself to the three-year PGA course so he’s unsure how his career will evolve. 

“I’ve always had the attitude that so long as I’m playing I’ll be happy,” he said.

“If that means becoming a full-time player or earning some money coaching then that will be fine.”

Wilkinson, who played off one before turning pro, admitted: “I play much better as a pro than I did as an amateur worrying about my handicap going up or down!

“I feel very honoured to receive the Titleist PGA Rookie of the Year award. My goal was to aim for it and so I made sure I gave it my best shot.”  

European Tour Assistant of the Year was unable to attend. And for a very good reason.

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The winner, Elizaveta Nikulina from Left Handed Golf at Silvermere, has recently given birth and missed the ceremony. As a result, she will be presented with her prize money and Beverly Lewis Trophy at a later date.

The PGA Training Programme, encompassing the three year Foundation Degree, was founded more than 50 years ago and covers all aspects of golf including business, equipment technology and repairs, rules and tournament organisation, sports science and sports psychology.

Training and education remain an integral part of The PGA - it also runs an honours degree in association with the University of Birmingham and last year launched a new partnership with the University of Highlands and Islands in Scotland.

Once qualified, PGA Members undergo a process of continual professional development to keep them up to speed with all the latest developments in the sport and wider golf industry.

PGA chief executive Rob Maxfield added: “The PGA Graduation day is always inspirational and gives me great confidence each year the game of golf is in good hands for generations to come.

“The quality of the graduates coming through our PGA Training Programme is second to none and there’s no doubt they are starting at the beginning of their careers which could take them to almost any corner of the world.

“I congratulate each and every one of them for their hard work and effort they have put into obtaining the qualification. I wish them all success wherever the game of golf takes them.”

Matthew Johnson, Titleist brand director, said: “We are pleased to continue our support of the Titleist PGA Assistant of the Year award, recognising this as a starting point of the PGA's commitment to provide its members with a framework for lifelong learning. 

“Titleist has had a long standing commitment to PGA Professionals, we realise and endorse that they play a key role in the development and growth of the game across all levels.

“So we are delighted to support the next generation of qualified professionals, we look forward to working with them and would like wish them well with their future careers.”

 

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