Tiger Woodsí First Golf Coach Talks

Editorís Note: Rudy Duran is probably best known for being Tiger Woodsí first golf coach between ages 4 to 10. Duran has imprinted the world of junior golf and continues to do so. A member of the PGA since 1976, Duran not only runs one of the countryís largest and most successful junior golf programs, but heís also a golf course architect, humorous motivational speaker, businessman and tireless advocate of junior golf. Special thanks go to Alex Miceli, publisher of The Wire, for the transcript of this interview.

Q.: How did your involvement in junior golf start?

RUDY DURAN: I got out of the Air Force in 1971 and started teaching junior golf, which was my first golf job. I was excited about junior golf at that time because during my time in the Air Force I was playing tournament golf and trying to develop my game and I realized that my beginnings as a junior were weak. What the kids really needed was better, more comprehensive junior golf programs. So that was my motivation to get started.

Q.: Where did you get your first start?

RUDY DURAN: A place called Hasley Canyon Golf course, in Saugus, California, just outside of Los Angeles.

Q.: Is that how you got involved with Tiger Ö from Hasley Canyon?

RUDY DURAN: After a year at Hasley I moved to another golf course in Long Beach an 18-hole par-3 course named Heartwell Golf Park in 1972. So I worked at Hasley Canyon for actually a little less than a year, but the full summer season and then started working the next spring at Heartwell where I ran my junior golf program which was primarily a summer program. I started playing tournament golf again from 1976 to 1978, but I eventually went back to work at Heartwell in 1978 and started up my junior golf program again. When I started back my junior program I used what I learned in my years of running the junior golf program in the summers and then my attempt at tournament play for a living. I c hanged the junior golf program to a weekly event and started a weekly junior golf program, 12 months a year. And as a result of having a junior golf program at Heartwell I had a reputation in Long Beach, for being a good player and a good teacher with tournament experience and the Woods family brought Tiger to me. So for all those reasons, my experiences up until about 1980 and my junior golf program and my teaching and my reputation in town was the reason that my name came up for the Woodsí to bring Tiger to me when he was four and he stayed for six years until I moved to the central California area San Luis Obispo area to another golf course.

Q.: How different is it teaching junior golf now than back in the late 1970s?

RUDY DURAN: Well, for me, itís different. Itís different now in that Iíve taken on junior golf as a passion and what I do for fun. And back then junior golf in general was out of sync with the golf community. We did basically junior golf in the Ď70 and Ď80s just because we were forced to by somebody for the most part. Some people wanted junior golf programs and for the most part junior golf was an aside at every golf course. There were age restrictions, you had to be at least 10 or 12, you had to at be accompanied by your parent and it was kind of difficult for juniors to get started unless they were at a private country club and even then it was difficult. So junior golf was kind of tolerated and in some circles it was promoted, but for the most part junior golf was just tolerated by the industry. Now itís embraced and is promoted. So itís come a long ways from the 70ís. Before as junior golf programs were something, that not every one did and if you did it, it was your lowest level assistant teaching it and he kind of did it a few weeks in the summer. Now itís a full blown initiative. So thatís changed quite a bit. For me personally, itís been the same. My demand, because of my original drive was, if I would have had a comprehensive junior golf program, I could have been a better player. And so that was kind of my goal. Iím going to try to provide what I would have wanted as a junior. And so then my career and my passion has been how to provide what I would have wanted when I was a junior. And thatís what I started to do in learning and refining it and learning and thatís been my motivation. So for me itís always been the same mission except now itís been widely embraced. I was one of the few doing it, but I wasnít the only guy.

Q.: Now there seems to be more products for juniors and I know youíre involved in the Accu-Length product. Can you talk about why you decided to get involved with Accu-Length and the benefits you see a junior to get involved with a product like that?

RUDY DURAN: One of the first problems for a teacher is if youíre going to be serious about your junior golf programs is getting clubs for the kids when they show up. My very first few junior golf programs I got 25 kids for my summer clinic and they showed up and they didnít have any clubs. Generally speaking in those days, it was rare to have anyone under 10, so letís say nine to 14 was generally the age. Well, a lot of these kids can be quite small and Iím giving them clubs up to their chin. I didnít even have any junior clubs. A so then we had to rush around and try to cut some clubs down and so right from the beginning, getting kids clubs that fit so they could learn the game was always a problem. And so I tried to figure out how to do it in my book. I have a club fitting chart that I used for cutting down clubs in advance. This has always been kind of an issue. One of the very first things I did with Tiger was get him clubs that fit his body the same way adult clubs fit them. So trying to get clubs to fit for kids throughout the years has always been an issue. But in the last 10 years itís come a long, long way. The golf junior golf clubs are much better. And then Accu-Length comes along with a set of clubs that can fit a junior throughout their different ages. You donít have to get a new set to cut down, they have the same set. You can let the club grow with the kid. You start with the club fitting and it fits them continuously until they go into adult clubs, so that whole technology was very exciting to me because thatís what Iíve been trying to figure out how to do by cutting down clubs. And so my cut down clubs in an ideal world I would have 18 different sets for your kid when he comes out. With Accu-Length you get four sets and then they have an adjustable length. So I really liked that the clubs could fit the kids their entire junior career.

Q.: How did you get involved with Accu-Length?

RUDY DURAN: Rick Rudder, one of the founders of Accu-Length and Shaun Benson, had started reading my book and saw that my chapter on club fitting was basically what they were trying to do or to improve upon. So they said, this is a good fit. So I had a leader in the junior golf world, talking about the importance of how important it is for clubs to fit kids. And so thatís when they came to me.

Q.: Outside of the clear benefit you already talked about, what are the other benefits of using the Accu-Length product?

RUDY DURAN: Well, theyíre high quality, thereís no junior golf clubs of a higher quality. So in that regard at least theyíre, thereís good if not better than everything out there. And then they stayóthey fit your child. And itís fairly easy to do. You donít have to involve a club fitter or a repair person if you donít want to. You could do it at home. And so the fit is really the big thing and then theyíre high quality. So I canít think of anything else, other than quality and the fit. And what we have already talked about, the importance of fit to develop a good golf swing or the proper golf swing. Which makes it more fun for kids, because their success rate is going to go up? And itís, and people love to do things that are fun. Theyíre not going to do things that are not fun. So it probably keeps kids in golf. So thatís kind of is that the direction you were talking about?

Q.: I assume you use these in your junior golf program now?

RUDY DURAN: Yes, we have them available to our kids, although this is fairly new, but the clubs are available at my golf courses and I have an off course golf shop, which is where we sell most of our equipment, and theyíre available there. So Iím excited about making them available for all the kids and the simplicity of keeping clubs that fit juniors.

Q.: I guess one thing that you touched on, which I think is kind of important, is the fact that there is going to be a more likely success factor when using something that is not only high quality, but fits the child better. How important is that as you see junior golf evolving and you see kids all the time, itís easy to stray, not staying interested, golf is not an easy game, obviously, how important does it seem that using a club like this, something that fits the child are as well as it does and can continue to adjust to fit the child, important in their development of the game?

RUDY DURAN: Well, having properly fit equipment certainly is going to make it easier for anybody to hit the ball. And having more success in hitting the ball makes playing the game more fun and things that are fun weíre more apt to do over and over. So I think that having clubs that fit help kids stay in golf because it helps them hit the ball better and helps them have more fun. It would be the same for an adult, getting adults involved in golf. They need to have clubs that fit them as well. So itís just great now that juniors have the ability to get clubs that fit them and stay fitting them. So itís going to keep their success rate high and itís going to continue to be fun and theyíre going to stay in golf.

Q.: How are you involved, if at all, in regards to the development of the product as it goes forward?

RUDY DURAN: I was involved in the development of the sizing, the most recent sizing. They had a little different sizing chart. And we worked together and expanded from three sets to four sets so now there are four sets that really speak to the kidsí down to their shorter heights like 40 inches and they really didnít have before. That was the biggest product development that I have been working with them at this point and they have kept me in the loop on what theyíre doing in terms of improvements and so I suspect that Iíll be involved in improvements as things go forward. This is a great start, but I donít want to pretend that this is the end of the road. This is great, but there could be even better things out there. We improved the adult clubs the new metal woods as opposed to the wooden woods, so I think itís just a great start and a company has a great commitment to providing juniors equipment thatís of high quality and fit.

Special thanks go to Alex Miceli, publisher of The Wire, for the transcript of the above interview.