Ramsay McMaster Education Scholarship winner Gavin Campbell knows the benefits of hard work – and the joyous feeling of helping his clients achieve their best.
At 15 years of age, well past what might be considered the ‘industry norm’, Gavin Campbell quite literally stumbled into golf for the first time.
“Like most kids back then I was always outdoors. I had mates who played golf so I’d walk with them through the bush of the old Pines, which is now known as the Peninsula Link, to the Centenary Park golf course,” he says. And that’s where it all began.
Campbell had plenty of talent, especially for a relative latecomer, but in his 20s he took an extended break from playing. It may have appeared a defining moment where a young man had reconciled that a lifetime in golf was not the path for him, but it turned out to be nothing more than a dogleg in the fairway to success for Campbell.
He made a serious return upon hitting 30 and has hardly looked back. Now 38, Campbell is relishing his role in the game more than ever. He can still be found at Centenary Park, only now he walks into the clubhouse as the Head Teaching Professional. He became a PGA Member in 2006 but says it feels like yesterday.
“There’s no such thing as Mondayitis when you’re the boss. But I absolutely love going to work. This is where I started as a kid and the people I work with are fantastic.
“I really enjoy it. It gives me a huge buzz seeing how people can play following lessons compared to when they started. When students show improvement, coaching golf is the best job in the world and it feels so easy.”
Speaking of improvement, Campbell is overseeing the rapid development of some bright young Australian stars of the future such as Josh Gardner, a 14-year-old playing off a handicap of five. Two years ago when Gardner turned up for lessons with Campbell he was playing off 27.
“That gives me a lot of satisfaction,” says Campbell. Josh shot 2-over on the weekend which was the best round he’s played. There’s no barrier for him, every week he just seems to get better and better. He wants to be a Pro and he’s doing all the right things.”
Campbell, soon to be a father for the first time, has mostly signed off on personal ambitions as a player, instead preferring to concentrate on guiding pupils with potential like Gardner and helping less-credentialed novices stay interested in learning golf.
“I played the Australian Open back in 2011 which was an amazing experience and definitely a career highlight, but I’ve probably put the serious playing days behind me now,” he says.
“To compete against the guys now you’ve got to be practising a lot. Golf has gone to a new level with all these young guys coming up through the ranks, and even the older guys are shooting great numbers. Teaching offers a steady income, whereas a player can shoot 1-under and not get paid. Plus it helps that I’ve got a real passion for coaching.”
Campbell was recently awarded the Ramsay McMaster Education Scholarship, named after the man recognised as one of the world’s leading authorities on golf-specific training. McMaster sadly passed away in December 2011 following more than 20 years working with thousands of golfers worldwide to better prepare their bodies for golf.
“I was very fortunate to work a little bit with Ramsay when he was with us and his passion for the industry was unbelievable,” Campbell says. “I’m chuffed to be the first name on the scholarship, because Ramsay McMaster was such a pioneer for all golfers. Michael Sim wouldn’t be playing golf if it wasn’t for Ramsay and there are a lot of other guys like Matt Griffin (recent winner of the Victorian Open) who worked with him in the past and respect him immensely. He definitely paved the way for us.
“The scholarship will also help me financially to upgrade to the type of equipment and teaching aids I want in order to provide a better service,” he says. “The junior program here at Centenary Park is really strong so this is a significant boost to supporting that.
“Learning golf should never be boring; it always has to be fresh and interesting to keep kids excited. There are many fingers in the same pie telling students to stand here, do that, grip this way – I believe in mixing it up with more activities and more focus on motor skills, not just hitting golf balls.”
A relaxed attitude to coaching makes the experience less intimidating for students, according to Campbell.
“People say they feel comfortable around me and they understand my lingo. I try to avoid golf jargon and the fancy words that even I don’t understand sometimes,” he laughs.
“I keep it simple and effective, and try to make it enjoyable. That’s how I convey my message to customers and the feedback I receive is very encouraging. About 90 per cent of people come back for more lessons.”
How important is effective communication between coach and player?
“Sometimes you talk to a player and they don’t respond, while other times you get the guy who has read every golf magazine and thinks he knows more about the game than you do. That’s when you have to put your other hat on and be a good listener to work out the best plan. Feel is not always real – you might have to try something different to what you felt was required for that person originally.”
Video is also crucial for both the coach and the player to see the changes for themselves, Campbell says. “You have to show people how their swing looks before and after. I use FlightScope and V1, which is my Bible. I use it every lesson.
“The technology helps people understand the cause and effect. When someone has a lesson we’ve got a 70-inch split screen where they can watch themselves. Reaching the right result is all about body awareness; not just feeling it, but seeing it.”
Campbell’s philosophy is “Do Less, Repeat More”, a concept targeting minimal movement in the golf swing that can be achieved over and over again.
“A lot of older men, ladies and kids come along swaying onto the back foot and transferring their weight too much,” he says.
“If you’re standing there not actually doing much, the ball is not going to move around as much in the air. A darts player doesn’t sway right back and then sway right through it; he just stands there and moves his arms. It’s a very minimalist approach and that’s what I like in a golf swing. Do less with the body and the ball will do more for you.
“For Professionals all the pressure is going down to the feet, they’re coiling around the thigh and pulling their arms through. I believe in the Right Sided Swing philosophy under the Gary Edwin umbrella of coaching,” he says.
“The average fairway’s 50 metres wide and a golf ball’s an inch wide, so it shouldn’t actually be that hard to get it on the fairway, should it?” he adds wryly.
Campbell also feels strongly about the importance of looking after the whole body, inside and out. “I’m a big advocate of nutrition in golf. I’m a vegetarian so I’m right into eating properly and staying hydrated. I also put strength training in that category.
“There’s a gentleman I work with, Matt Chaplin, who I believe is the best in the business at golf-specific conditioning. He’s got about a dozen players on tour, male and female, and his motto is ‘HWP’ – hard work pays.”
While Campbell is ticking most boxes when it comes to being a PGA Member, he admits he would like to improve the way he markets himself as a coach. ”I find it hard to go out and tell everyone how good I am. It doesn’t come naturally to me. And from a technical perspective I’d like to notice things in a swing quicker, which comes with continued experience.”
Does he ever watch a player’s swing and wonder how he’s going to fix it?
“It can be difficult sometimes, that’s the belly of the beast with coaching. In that situation I think you need to take an alternative approach by comparing things to what the person already knows. If they’re a builder say, ‘imagine you’re sledge-hammering a wall’, or if they’re a tennis player with a heavy slice say, ‘try to make it feel like you’re hitting a topspin forehand’. Relating golf to other sports can be productive,” Campbell says.
“The hardest people to teach actually make you a better coach. Taking the average punter and helping them hit the ball, that’s much tougher than coaching a Professional who consistently hits it 200 metres.”
As for his own swing, Campbell says he’s just like any crazy golfer with the right tools available.
“I put myself on the screen nearly every day looking for perfection. I see things I want to fix, but mostly I go to my coach Brad Lamb and he tells me what to work on. I like having another set of eyes on my swing. I also work a lot with Pete Kravitz through Skype. We help with each other’s students as well so that’s a good network to have in the game.”
When it comes to the pursuit of that perfect swing, Campbell tends to focus on ball flight and ball striking. “There are players who look like they swing well, but it’s the outcome that really matters.”
He respects the actions of Steve Stricker, Ben Hogan, Peter Thomson and Jason Dufner to name a few – top-class inspiration for a coach who graduated late with honours.
By KALON HUETT