Graham Walker: Tommy Fleetwood's short-game coach

Graham Walker: Tommy Fleetwood's short-game coach

12/06/2024

Renowned PGA Master Professional, Graham Walker, has played a pivotal role in the surge of success for 7-time DP World Tour Winner, Tommy Fleetwood. Based at The Oaks in Yorkshire since 2004, Walker has worked with some of the highest level golfers in European golf and has specialised in short-game development to aid Fleetwood and the like to reach the top of their game.

Here, Walker shares some of his most valuable advice, as well as his experience working with the current world number 12. 

On Tommy:

Somebody like Tommy - he wants to know how good he's doing at something. When he first came to me, he wasn't as good as he wanted to be. Since then he’s flourished and the stats show it. I think he was number one around the greens on the PGA Tour a couple of years back. When I first started working with him he didn't have that many shots and he couldn't control the ball that well in his short-game. We’d worked together a bit with England years before and it was the same thing - he didn't have a lot of variety. I felt he needed more shots so one of the first things we did was create what we call ‘Tommy's 20’ so that he had that variety of high, low etc, and we’d work on having shots for every type of situation and lie.

Somebody once said that coaching is having other people’s fun and I’ve had a lot of fun coaching him over the last few years. It’s very pleasing that somebody like him can take on the skills we’ve been working on and taking ownership of it.

On Challenges:

We nearly always have some sort of challenge within a session. For example we drop a ball every 10 yards, 10 to 100 yards, off the fairway and out of rough. His proximity to hole records are incredible. So 10 shots, 10 to 100 he had 52.75 feet to hole total. In a nine-shot challenge - three fairway, three semi, three rough, it was 22.5 feet total. We did that one at the Ryder Cup in Paris out on the course – about 15 shots. He averaged 3.33 feet from the fairway, 3.8 something from the rough, 4.25 from bunkers. He asked me what I thought of that… I said I don’t think you'll get beat this week. The challenges are great because it allows you to constantly be able to monitor and measure things. Tommy’s that sort of individual - he's not afraid of work. He's not afraid of, 'Oh, that wasn't great today', or 'that was brilliant today'. And we have a little thing - the work never stops. And if you look on my phone, it'll be on the end of a number of messages; “The work never stops”. So it's the work that goes into it that gives you the results.

On the short-game little black book:

Here’s the last Ryder Cup one. [shows drawing and notes in the book]. I'm no Picasso, by the way, but I do this every golf tournament that we go to. That's the Marco Simone practice short-game area. And these are the shots. And they're the numbers of where he could hit the shots. And they're the flights and they're all the distances. So if you want to be a great short-game player at your own golf club, draw out a green that you practice on or around. The reason that I add the numbers is so that if he asks a question, I know exactly where to go to set up that practice.

At the Oaks I know exactly where to go to - it's my playground. So I know where all the rough shots are and I know where the best bunker shots are. And we create all of those things and log all the shots. On one day we've hit maybe 80, we’ve done some putts as well. On another session it might be 100 shots over a few days that we've done challenges for, and I've recorded them, then I've put them in the app and we can see who's got the records - different players have got records for different challenges.

Tommy’s now set a new world record for what we call a ladder drill. This is where you hit a shot 50 yards and you hit one 60, then you hit one 40, then you hit 175, 85, 65, then 100, 110, 90, then 125, 135, 115, 150, 160, 140. We put the results in the app and is calculates a score vs par. He was 16.5 under par and was 28.8 yards total difference for 15 shots. I teach one or two other pros and no one's got anywhere near 30 for that, never mind broken 30. And with a couple of shots to go he knew it was going to be very close to break 30 and with one to within 0.8 yards of 140. There was a lot of noise and things happening around him but he just got into this little cocoon and nailed it. It takes a special type of player to have that level of concentration.

On short-game and full swing:

I started with Tommy in maybe 2015/16. He was coached at the time by Alan Thompson (left) and the two of us have worked together with lots of different players over the years. There were lots of times the advice crosses over between long-game and short-game so I was always pretty confident that I wasn't corrupting anything. When Tommo retired, I did the whole lot for about a year but now with Butch on long game I just focus on his short-game.

Tommy and I we were talking recently about some of the stuff he’d been doing with Butch Harmon (right) – and my feeling is that if the advice is good, there shouldn't be any sort of conflict between short and long-game, the movements are so similar. I often used to say that the long-game is an extension of the short-game. So if the advice is good, there shouldn't be any conflict. That’s certainly the case now. He’s been seeing Butch now for a year or so, we've continued on doing short-game and wedge play. We’ve also done some zonal work and some distance control work. I keep a record of that in the book and on the app too.

On interaction & cooperation with other coaches:

With the coaches that Tommy has, if any of us want to say anything we can. There's not a whole lot of correspondence, but when needed it happens. A friend of mine says the Chief has many Indians. Well Tommy is the Chief and we are the Indians. And I would say that to young players now, surround yourself with good people. I'm not always saying that I’m the best coach or anything, but if you are surrounded with good people first, then you can build a coaching structure around them.

Within what we do, there's nobody taking chunks out of each other, we all observe Tommy’s game and share what we see. If Phil Kenyon (PGA Master Professional, Tommy’s putting coach) (centre) saw Tommy wasn't short gaming it well, or pitching it well, he says. And Butch too. We're all able to say what we think and Tommy likes to listen to the experience of good coaches. He gives you the time, he listens, he works at it, and he appraises and asks other questions.

On getting it up and down:

He’s now a very accomplished bunker player. He has knowledge now of how to hit bunker shots and he imparts that knowledge every time he hits a bunker shot. I talk about being world-class with loft and how you put loft onto the club. At my academy at The Oaks we have what I call ‘the Africa design’ - a mountain with a bunker at the top of it and some rough, some fairways. World-class with loft is being able to hit the ball six feet up over a six feet high lip and bring it down within six feet of the pin. Off a fairway, out of rough and a bunker. So the lads built a six foot lip on the bunker. We went six feet away from the six foot lip and started to hit bunker shots and try and bring them down within six feet. I talk about creating the opportunity to coach. I didn’t think Tommy was going to be able to do that as well as I wanted him to do that. We have another drill, walking back every six feet. Then from a bunker, maybe up to 15 or 20 yards, landing the ball as close the lip as you possibly could from every one of those shots.

When he finished second in the Race to Dubai against Jon Rahm a few years back he hit a lovely little chip off the fairway at the last. He said that was one of his favourite shots of the year. I think the commentator was saying if he hits it within 10 foot it will be a great shot. He knew he had that shot and he hit it stiff. I said to him afterwards, “what were you thinking there?” He said: “I could have lived with myself if I had duffed it.” I’ve got goosebumps now recalling that. What a great attitude to have. Paul Waring, who I’ve taught for a long time, had a chance to win the Dunhill Links a few years ago. He went for the pin at 17 and knocked it in the Road Hole bunker. He’s three foot away from the lip. He puts his club there to make sure he’s got three feet, because we’ve also practised three feet away from a six foot lip and bringing it down in three feet. He measured it and I thought “he thinks he’s got this.” I try to instil that belief into all of them.

On making mistakes:

You are only really going to learn if you try to stretch yourself a little bit. It requires error. Errorless learning is limited. If you don’t make mistakes, or are not prepared to have a go, you will never learn. I say this as much to good players as I do to 10 handicappers. If you are not prepared to have a go at it today, when will you be prepared to have a go at it? The answer to the question most of the time is they never do. I was at The Honda with Tommy a few years ago and we had just started talking about hitting this bunker shot with a wide open face from tight sand, which there was that week. A short-sided, lofted shot. Putting the club closer to the ball to create more spin. During the week he hits it short-side on a long par 4. I stood behind him and I thought, he’s only going to go and have a go at this right now. He knocks it out to about three or four feet and rolls the putt in. He misses the next green just up the left side, knocks it out to a few feet and makes up and down. You’ve got to inspire them to have that sort of confidence to go and have a go at stuff as soon as they’ve learned it. You’ve got to set up practice in the right way that they feel that when they go on the golf course they can actually take on these shots. So my mantra is if you won’t have a go at it today, when will you have a go at it?

Related

Our Partners

  • Air IT
  • Banyan Tree
  • The Belfry
  • Coca-Cola
  • EVC
  • FootJoy
  • Gleneagles
  • PING
  • St. James's Place
  • Therabody
  • Titleist