There’s an old adage that says those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. A couple of the players who have qualified for this week’s U.S. Senior Open have proven themselves on both sides of the equation.
Bob Heins and Brian Fogt are outstanding teaching professionals who have earned berths in the 2012 U.S. Senior Open at Indianwood Golf and Country Club in Lake Orion, Mich., which runs from July 12-15.
Heins is celebrating his 30th year at Old Oaks Country Club in Purchase, N.Y., and Fogt is coming into his 10th year, which includes two separate stints, at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, site of the 1965 U.S. Open and more recently, the 2004 U.S. Senior Open.
Fogt and Heins are no strangers to the big stage. Fogt competed in four U.S. Open Championships in the 1980s (1982, 1985, 1987, 1989). However, he will be the first to tell you that he’s a better player now than he was during his run of Open appearances.
Heins, on the other hand, has had tremendous success within the Metropolitan New York Section of the PGA, taking Player of the Year honors twice, as well as Professional of the Year, Coach of the Year and a Bill Stausbaugh Award for meritorious service.
Fogt qualified for Indianwood at Norwood Hills Country Club in St. Louis with an even-par round of 71, while Heins earned a spot with a 72 at Arcola Country Club in Paramus, N.J.
“We only had one spot, so there wasn’t a whole lot of wiggle room on that, but the golf course is one of my favorites here in town. It was a real treat to play,” said Fogt.
Fogt was the first alternate for the 2009 Senior Open, but waited in vain for an opportunity to play. “I’m looking forward to playing up there. I had a near miss when it was at Crooked Stick a few years ago, I was first alternate and went over and sat around on Thursday and I guess I was close to getting in but I didn’t, so it’s nice to be on the other side of it.”
Heins’ qualifying experience was a little more nail-biting.
Two days after birdieing the second hole at Arcola C.C. in a 5-for-1 playoff for the first alternate spot, Heins found out that Rick Vershure, who had been the site co-medalist with a 69, was disqualified for playing with clubs that had non-conforming grooves. This moved Heins into the Senior Open field.
Heins and Fogt are better known for working with some big names in golf: PGA Tour winner Johnson Wagner, four-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Ellen Port, 2010 USA World Amateur Team member and 2010 U.S. Open low-amateur Scott Langley and touring pro Adam Long are among the notable golfers.
What lessons do you share with a four-time USGA champion or an NCAA Division I individual champion (Langley), who have already proven to be so accomplished in the game?
“I’m a big advocate of fundamentals,” said Fogt. “I don’t care how boring it sounds, or what sport it is, it seems like all the players or teams that have good fundamentals tend to do well. Golf is still a sport where, the more understandable and simplistic it is, the more people relate to that.”
“Everybody who plays has different issues,” said Heins, who works with Wagner, a three-time PGA Tour winner. “Some have swing issues, some have mental issues, short-game issues, putting issues, or combinations of [them]. So you’re never giving the same lesson twice, even though someone may seem similar, they’re all nuanced a little bit. Even if you went up and down the row of tour players, who are all talented people, there are different issues there, too.”
Along with being exceptional teaching pros, both are also students of the game. When asked which he finds easier, working on his own game or that of his golfers, Heins was quick to respond that fixing his own game is undoubtedly less stressful.
“You just have to be more sensitive when you’re working on someone else’s, but you can try whatever you want when you’re doing your own and not worry about how you’re going to affect it,” said Heins.
“When you have someone like Johnson [Wagner] who’s already got a world of talent, you don’t want to upset the apple cart,” added Heins. “And then the things you do make changes to, you want to make sure they’re correct, and you introduce them gradually.”
Heins and Fogt may find it easier to perfect their own swings, but helping others is what gives them real satisfaction.
“I’m trying to do both and still be competitive myself, but I think I get more satisfaction out of working with my students. And it doesn’t have to just be the ones that are playing well,” said Fogt. “I had a club member come in to my teaching area the other day and, he works a lot, [so] he doesn’t get out there very much. Really good rounds for him are in the low 80s, and I still enjoy that as well. It’s not just about working with the upper-tier players.”
One might think that being a teaching pro might put Heins and Fogt at a disadvantage because they lack the time to work on their own games.
“A couple years ago, I was working with Adam [Long] and he was having a good college career, it was like watching a robot, and I went home that night and I told my wife that a thought came in my brain that I never thought before,” said Fogt. “She asked me what I was talking about and I said that I was watching Adam today and I thought to myself, ‘I can’t beat this guy.’”
In reality, Heins finds that teaching has become a great stress relieverwhen he’s out on the course.
“I think it’s taken the pressure off me to play well for my living, no doubt about that. Once I got my job, sure it took away from the time I could spend on my game but at the same time, I relieved the pressure of trying to make a living at it,” said Heins. “It also allowed me to maybe relax a little more on the golf course and to be a little less harsh on myself when I wasn’t performing up to the standard I perceived I should be performing.
“I think in the long run, having to learn a lot more about the game to help other people, sort of in a back-door way, helped me to understand my own game better.”
Going into the Senior Open, the pair are realistic in their goals and expectations.
“I just watched Joe Daley win the [Senior Players Championship] a few days ago, and I played with Joe back on the Buy.com Tour, and I think it was an announcer’s comment at how relaxed he was and how he just wasn’t getting in his own way. I want to do that,” said Fogt.
Heins added: “At every tournament, you’d love to make the cut, you’d love to make the check, you’d love to play your best golf… but I also try to realize that I have to go hit my first tee shot on the fairway and react from there. You can have all the plans you want, but until you play, you don’t know who’s showing up and how the golf course is playing that day and what you’re bringing to the table.
“I’m not a tour player who is sharp every day; I’m a guy who can be very sharp or less than sharp. I’m going to have to figure it out, get as prepared as I can, and try to go out and play the golf course as I find it, with whatever ability I have that day or those days.”
Fogt added: “I tell Scott and those other players to go out and make more birdies than bogeys and just see how it works out. I’ve never seen this golf course at Indianwood but based on past experience, if you do that at any USGA championship, then you’re in pretty good hands. So that’s my goal I guess, if I can make more birdies than bogeys through the first round, I’ll be pretty content.”
A seemingly simple plan of attack, but planning can only advance a golfer so far. It’s the execution that will push these pros past the cut-line at Indianwood.
Kelly O’Shea is a communications intern for the USGA. Email her at email@example.com.