Northwest Influential: The Teachers

by Tony Dear

Golf in the Pacific Northwest has a rich history, full of characters, frontrunners, visionaries, boom-and-bust epics, and too-good-to-be-true (but mostly they really are true) tales.

This is the third of a series of articles, highlighting the people who have made this far corner of the continent our center of the golf universe, and have shaped the way we play the game.

Lists are dangerous things. They are inevitably incomplete, subjective, and all-too-short. So here we go……

Bill Tindall

Bill Tindall

Bill Tindall had a leg up on his contemporaries from the day he was born. His father, Bob, was the PGA head pro at Seattle’s Jackson Park and a respected instructor with three USGA national champions on the books, including future PNGA Hall-of-Famer Pat Lesser. He also coached 11-time LPGA winner Ruth Jessen.

Tindall won the Seattle City Amateur at age 15, and two years later, in 1960, became the U.S. Junior Amateur champion.

After graduating from the University of Washington where he majored in Elementary Education, Tindall taught sixth grade for two years before landing an assistant’s job at Glendale CC in Bellevue. It was here that he began his teaching career, developing his love for helping golfers become better players.

After leaving Glendale in 1969, he became the PGA head pro at Longview CC, returning to Seattle after eight years to begin a 22-year run as PGA head pro at Broadmoor Golf Club.

He moved to Aldarra in 1999, left for Tumble Creek at Suncadia in 2006, then went back to Aldarra in 2009. Since 2012, he has instructed at Redmond Ridge. He was inducted into the Pacific Northwest Section PGA Hall of Fame in 2000.

Tindall firmly believes the majority of golfers would improve if they were to stand closer to the ball. “Then, just let your arms hang naturally and adopt a narrow enough stance to give yourself the opportunity of finishing with your hips facing the target.”

And, of course, Tindall espouses a good grip. “Everyone should grip the club properly,” he says. “A bad grip causes the player to make too many compensations.”

Jeff Coston

Jeff Coston

Jeff Coston raises a good point. “I’m the all-time leading tournament winner in the history of Pacific Northwest golf,” he says, “and you’re putting me in the ‘Teachers’ category?”

We’re not going to list all of the Seattle University grad’s playing accomplishments here, suffice to say he has been named the Pacific Northwest PGA Player of the Year an amazing 21 times. So yes, it would have been entirely appropriate to place him alongside the Pacific Northwest’s other great players (watch for that list in a future issue).

But Coston has also become one of the region’s foremost instructors, teaching out of his own golf academy at Semiahmoo in Blaine, Wash., and traveling the country to lead golf schools alongside other instruction luminaries such as Mike Adams, Mike Bender, and the creators of the “Stack and Tilt” program Mike Bennett and Andy Plummer.

As a PGA Tour pro in the 1980s, Coston benefitted from David Leadbetter and Mac O’Grady’s innovative approach to teaching the game.

“David changed the face of instruction,” says Coston. “And Mac spoke of golf as a science – the physics and geometry of the golf swing. Not opinion, truth. That rocked me!”

Coston says he is wired such that he needs to know why certain shots happen. “Reading the golf ball and matching path and club face is critical,” he says. “Mastering through the hitting zone and impact is non-negotiable.”

But it’s about more than having the right information. It’s people skills too. “The world-class instructor communicates well and has discernment,” he says. “He or she knows how each person processes information and how they learn.”

Coston is also a member of the Pacific Northwest Section PGA Hall of Fame.

Jim McLean

Jim McLean

Jim McLean’s first sporting interests were football and basketball, which he played at Glacier High School (no longer exists) near SeaTac Airport, but when his father bought him a series of golf lessons with Al Mengert, the PGA head pro at Tacoma Country and Golf Club, his interests changed dramatically.

A natural at the game, McLean won the state junior championship twice and won the PNGA Men’s Amateur three times, results that caught the eye of Dave Williams, the golf coach at the University of Houston who won 16 NCAA Division 1 titles during his 36 years with the Cougars.

McLean became an All-American at Houston, where he not only benefitted from Coach Williams’ wisdom but also that of former Masters champion Jackie Burke.

“How could you go wrong with those two gentlemen giving you advice?” says McLean. “I learned so much from them both.”

McLean was in line for a spot on the Walker Cup team after graduating but decided to turn pro instead, playing mini tours in Florida with good friend Bruce Lietzke. He missed out at the PGA Tour’s Q School so went to New York City to teach the game instead.

His first job was at Westchester CC where he met Ken Venturi, another great mentor with whom he played dozens of rounds.

He got his first head pro job at the age of 29, at Sunningdale GC in Scarsdale, and from there he went to Quaker Ridge where he split his time with Tamarisk in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

McLean’s last club in New York was Sleepy Hollow, where he taught the Rockefellers and was the host pro for several Senior PGA Tour events. “I got to spend time on the range with Gary Player, Lee Trevino, and a lot of other great players,” he says – just more great golf knowledge and experience in the bank.

In 1991, after 26 years in New York, McLean upped sticks for Florida full-time, having accepted an offer to run the golf school at Doral following Jimmy Ballard’s departure.

In Miami, McLean has developed into one of the game’s most respected teaching professionals, holding a perennial position among Golf Magazine’s top ten teachers in America, coaching dozens of PGA and LPGA tour players, and contributing greatly to golf instruction’s library. In 2003, he was inducted into the PNGA Hall of Fame.

Brian Mogg

Brian Mogg

For his 13th birthday, Brian Mogg’s parents bought him a series of five lessons with Glenn Malm at Tacoma’s Allenmore GC. Mogg took to the game rapidly, eventually earning a golf scholarship to Ohio State where he became an All-American.

Mogg played on the PGA Tour for three seasons. Playing the tour from Seattle was a grind, so when he came up one shot short or lost in a playoff at Q School three years in a row, he transitioned, in 1993, into teaching, working for David Leadbetter who had been his instructor for his last few years on tour.

“David revolutionized teaching,” says Mogg, echoing the sentiments of Coston. “Of all the important lessons he taught me, perhaps the most fundamental was to own your swing. Before David came along, there wasn’t a lot of smart teaching out there. And because I was his student and became his company’s director of instruction (in 1997), I was able to spend time on the range with Nick Faldo, Nick Price, Denis Watson, Mike Hulbert, and a number of other top players.”

Mogg, who set up his own instruction school in 2002, has been a Golf Magazine top 100 teacher since 2004.

These days, he says, too many teaching professionals can give you all the Trackman stats you want but don’t know how to interpret them. “And there’s an over-emphasis on the swing,” he adds. “It’s terribly important of course, but I don’t think there’s enough time spent on the short game, fitness and flexibility, and course management.”

This holistic approach has earned his students 29 PGA and LPGA tour victories, including Y.E. Yang’s win over Tiger Woods in the 2009 PGA Championship. He currently runs five golf schools around the world – in Orlando, South Korea, Honolulu, Toronto, and in our own backyard at Chambers Bay.

Tom Sovay

Tom Sovay

Golf certainly wasn’t Tom Sovay’s first, or only, sporting love. A keen swimmer and tennis, baseball and soccer player, he didn’t pick up a club until he was 15, the age at which he began hitting it around Lake Ballinger in the summers.

Sovay attended the UW, and began playing more golf, heading to the range at Jefferson Park after classes. “They admitted they would give me free balls so they could have a good laugh because I had told them I wanted to be a pro,” Sovay remembers. “That’s a true story. I really got into the game, but didn’t play a competitive round until I was 19.”

After leaving the UW, he got a job working at the range and parlayed that into the assistant pro’s job at Jackson Park at the age of 22.

Sovay names Puetz Golf’s Billy Derickson as the person who had perhaps the most influence on his teaching career, but adds that Bill Tindall and Doug Campbell also had a significant impact.

“Billy was a very accomplished teacher and somehow took a liking to me,” says Sovay. “And Bill and Doug always helped me out as much as possible.”

Then there was Sovay’s father, James. He didn’t play but he taught his kids in analogies. “My ability to paint pictures in people’s heads is a gift my dad gave me,” he says.

Sovay, a seven-time Western Washington PGA Chapter Teacher of the Year, is all about the fundamentals, not surprisingly naming the grip as the most vital component of all. “I like to let my students develop their own swing personality and characteristics as long as they’re not in conflict with the fundamentals. Reducing conflicts in a student’s swing is always my goal.”

Sovay still plays as much as he can, this fall winning the Pacific Northwest Senior PGA Professional Championship, but always comes back to teaching, currently as the director of instruction at Redmond (Wash.) Ridge. “I try to play more but everywhere I go people want me to teach them,” he says. “So even though I still play at a decent level, the students just keep coming. I love the game so much, I want to give everything I know to everyone.”

Joe Thiel

Joe Thiel

A native of Sharon, Pa., Thiel grew up playing a nine-hole course a wealthy businessman named Frank Buhl had donated to the city and where youngsters could play free of charge. That was about the only green fee Thiel could afford, and he took advantage of Buhl’s generosity, playing the course as often as he could in the hope of becoming a “champion player.”

“I’d be first up in the house and take my daily lunch money to buy two Hostess Snowballs and a cola,” Thiel remembers. “I’d play from early morning until the church bells rang at 5.30pm.”

Thiel worked hard but there were no teachers at the course, so was entirely self-taught. “I therefore missed some of the foundational fundamentals,” he says. “But I found a game good enough to win sometimes.”

After high school, Thiel studied computer science at MTI Business College in Riverside, Calif. but soon discovered it wasn’t for him. He caught a bad number in the draft, did a tour with the Air Force in Vietnam, came home, and began working as an assistant pro at Meadow Hills CC in Denver, Colo., where he gave his first lessons.

“I loved it,” he says, “though I felt bad for everyone I taught because I knew nothing about the golf swing beyond what I learned watching Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Gene Littler and Ben Hogan. I had no training.”

Thiel read everything about the golf swing he could get his hands on, studying books and articles by accomplished teachers and players, as well as a host of sports psychologists and mental game experts.

A humble man who teaches a number of quality players including the Tacoma-native Putnam brothers, Andrew and Michael (with Andrew winning his first PGA Tour event in August) and Ashen Wu (winner of the KLM Open on the European Tour in September), Thiel is respected for his professionalism, passion, and ability to connect with students as much as his knowledge of the golf swing.

He describes himself as a product of everything his teachers, peers, and students have taught him.

“I realize what a blessed man I am,” he says. “The most enjoyment I get is impacting someone’s life using golf as the vehicle. More so with kids perhaps, but really with all people, nationalities and ages.”

This story was originally published in the November 2018 edition of Pacific Northwest Golfer Magazine.