Shane O’Grady is creating pathways to better golf

Bernie McGuire
Bernie McGuire

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If you’ve been around golf any length of time there is no doubt you’ll have heard the name Shane O’Grady. He is one of Ireland’s foremost golf coaches and has come a long way since his days as a junior golfer in Ballinasloe back in the early ‘80’s.  “Back then there was no junior golf coaching in Ballinasloe and while I loved the game and was quite a good player at the time it wasn’t until I turned professional and started working under Eoin Mulhall at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club in the late 80’s that I really started to understand the golf swing and the mechanics,” he says.

“Eoin was a brilliant teacher and he instilled in me the fundamentals of being a good coach. How you need to give time to people and players and how coaching isn’t a quick fix. Nowadays everyone seems to be after that one tip that will change their game, well unfortunately that tip doesn’t exist in my mind and people need to view lessons and coaching as a process and commit to it if they want to see real and sustainable results.”

It doesn’t sound like ground breaking stuff and surely isn’t anything we haven’t heard before but can it really be that simple? “Fads come and go in golf the same as they do in life but the fundamentals of teaching someone how to hold the club, turn, aim and play the game have been the same for a hundred years and they won’t be any different 100 years from now. Yes, it can get technical the further into it you go but the skill required to teach someone never changes. It all stems from the coach, if they love teaching and enjoy helping people then they will be good and they will be successful, if they don’t then they won’t.”

Having turned professional in 1988 and served his time at Dun Laoghaire, O’Grady found himself at Royal Dublin and working with the now retired Leonard Owens. Not alone that, he was living in a ‘flat above the lockerroom’ at the time too which was some experience no doubt. “I loved my time at Royal Dublin. It was simply brilliant. Leonard was great and offered plenty of opportunities to teach and improve and Royal Dublin is a place that is still very close to my heart to this day.”

However, it wasn’t always on the cards to be a golf coach and O’Grady tried a couple of times at Q School and in 1998 broke par in no less than 26 competitive rounds but still found himself no closer to attaining that elusive Tour Card and the dye was cast. Having missed out at Q School by one shot alongside David Higgins he decided that it was time to come home and get a different type of career underway.

“I was always the guy that would look at anyone on the range. If they were having difficulty I’d give them a hand or a look over and having done a lot of coaching when I was coming up through the ranks I knew it was something I enjoyed. So when I came back I joined Black Bush GC in 1995 and coaching was one of the first things I looked to do. Back then golf was becoming more popular so there were plenty of teaching opportunities outside Black Bush while I was developing my business here. I used to travel a day or two a week to different locations such as Athlone and to my good friend Michael Horan in Birr and have a full day of coaching set-up.”

“I also wanted to give something back and I offered my time to the college in Ballinasloe to help them. Having had no history of winning anything at all the college, within 3-4 years they had won three All-Ireland College Championships and had six Irish internationals which was a huge turnaround in such a short space of time.”

 Rachel, Lauren & Julie after the Home Internationals in 2016. Image from Golffile

After significant success O’Grady was then offered the opportunity to move into the Leinster coaching staff and in 1999 he, alongside Damien McGrane and Simon Byrne took over from David Kinsella in coaching the Leinster Panels. They divided up the region geographically and while the others have moved on O’Grady is now the longest serving Leinster coach and is responsible for the North Dublin area stretching into parts of Meath. He works with his own panels in the area and then players are selected from there to go to the main panels for the region.

As things have gone along O’Grady took a step back from his playing duties, life changed with marriage and family but he admits he’s in a great place, “I’ve been really lucky. I don’t play close to as much as I’d like but the coaching business has gone from strength to strength and I’ve had some incredible success with some of my players over the years and continue to do so. I’ve focused more on teaching rather than spreading myself too thin and whether it’s a 30 handicap player, or an elite amateur player I get the same satisfaction from helping people to play better golf.”

Currently the most talked about players O’Grady handles are Lisa and Leona Maguire for obvious reasons. Leona is the #1 ranked lady amateur in the world while Lisa, who was phenomenal when she was younger, O’Grady believes will be back at the top again in time. “It gives me a huge amount of pride to look at what Lisa & Leona have achieved and what we sowed as grass roots when they were young girls has helped them develop. It wasn’t just their golf swing we dealt with, it was a pathway of everything from how they could go from 11 year-olds to Irish Internationals and winning international tournaments. We brought them along a path which included their personal development, physical development in terms of strength and growth, club development and fitting each year with PING. We also worked with them on their mental game and I brought in some other people to help in areas I felt the girls needed more than I could offer.”

“That’s one of the things that has helped me create a strong group of players that I coach.  I can handle all aspects of their game but sometimes they require a little more than I feel I’m competent to offer them and I outsource that to other professionals. Over the years I’ve worked with some of the best people in sport, not just golf, to help improve my players. In the early years I worked with Jim Kielty. He was fantastic and worked with Derval O’Rourke as well. Even though he wasn’t golf specific he knew how the body worked at a young age and how it would change through growth spurts over time and what that would do from a competitive sports perspective.  Things to flag and look out for, he flagged them all the way and was always right.  In more recent times I’ve used a girl called Fiona Healy who is brilliant with all the female players and she handles physical profiling and training.”

“Fiona doesn’t overstep the physical to the technical which is brilliant even though she has good technique herself as an ex-Irish international player. Karl Gilligan is another one I’ve used through the years and he is another fantastic personal trainer. He was Eoin Rheinish’s (Irish Olympic rower) trainer so it’s not all golf specialists, once they understand the body and how it works then golf is just another sport they can handle.”

 Richard Kilpatrick. Image from Golffile

O’Grady handles all aspects of his players’ games from long game to short game, putting and mental and was one of the pioneers in the early years as he built the country’s first indoor putting studio at Black Bush. By his own admission he doesn’t subscribe to a ‘one size fits all’ model of golf coaching and believes that you need to fit the coaching to the player rather than the other way around. He recalls one story where a client came into the shop at Black Bush and said, ‘10 years ago you changed my life. You turned me from left handed to right handed in a lesson and it completely changed my life and my game.’ “I remember that lesson” says O’Grady.  “The guy was whiffing it and skulling it right handed and he really wasn’t right handed at all. I told him to switch over and said that was his lesson for today.  Ten years on he’s able to play to a reasonable handicap and is enjoying the game but he never forgot that first lesson.”

“That kind of thing is sometimes more enjoyable than coaching superstars as their expectation is so enormous and managing that and delivering on that can be quite difficult at times.”

The mantra seems to be to give time to players and for players to commit to the process and a lot of the successes aren’t from players who have just arrived. They are from players O’Grady has been seeing since they were 11 or 12 years of age. “You don’t become a great player overnight but if you do the right things at the right time and in the right way then success will come and right now with the current crop of players I have it’s all coming to fruition for them. Of course they don’t all come to me that young, Eanna Griffin for example was a 5 handicapper when he arrived here at 19 years of age and he recently won the Connacht Strokeplay and he’s now a +3 player.”

“Over the years I’ve had a whole host of marvellous players such as David Mortimer who was quite successful and won two Irish PGA Championships but has now gone on to ply his trade as a club pro at Galway GC. Richard Kilpatrick is another I work with and he competed at Portstewart in the Irish Open this year and is finishing his training next year and will be out playing fulltime after that I hope. Gavin Moynihan has come back to me since October last year having been with me when he was on Leinster panels back in the day. Since the tragic loss of his coach Jacko last year Gavin lost his swing a little bit but we’re working on getting it back and he’s won on the Europro this year and had a great finish at Portstewart too. He’ll be there or thereabouts but he needs to keep his head down now and make sure he gets into the Top 15 to claim a European Tour card for next season.  With Gavin we’ve kept it very simple, he’s now got his confidence back and we found some simple systems which are working for him again.”

But the list of winners and top players doesn’t end there.  Currently O’Grady coaches Ellie Metcalfe who has been with him for a few years and has won a Connacht Girls title and has a great future as an Irish international. Eanna Griffin we already mentioned. Jack Doherty won the Ulster U18’s which has been coming a while, Michael Fitzgibbon from Howth won the Connacht U14’s, Brandon St. John has been knocking on the door for two Championships and he’s another U14 player and a great prospect (both have just been selected for the Irish U14’s), Lauren Walsh who defeated Kate Dwyer in the Leinster Final, to where O’Grady admits he had to turn the phone off for that one as he coaches them both!

“Lauren was due one as she was beaten last year by Julie McCarty who won four of the Championships (Connaght, Leinster, Ulster and the Irish Girls) in 2016 and is another of my players. Rachel Thompson won the fifth of the Championships (Mid Leinster Girls) last year and she’s another one on my books and has gone from a 5 handicap to scratch. So I’ve had a nice run in the girls Championships and Julie, Lauren and Rachel were all on the team which won the Home Internationals last year too, which was brilliant. I’ve also got Rachel Taylor who’s out injured at the moment and Louise Coffey from up North too so plenty coming through who are going to have a big impact in the future.”

Looking at the results it’s easy to see why so many of the top players find themselves on the doorstep at Black Bush Golf Club, but what’s next for O’Grady? “I keep telling you this is a process. I have a pipeline of great young golfers coming through and they will keep coming. They are all commited to the game and to being the best players they can be so that will continue.  But I’m open to all levels of golfer. I look forward to a lesson with an 18 handicapper as much as I do the elite players so I’m hoping to see more of those players in the coming year and you never know, one of them might just go on and do something brilliant too.”

This article is from the latest edition of Irish Golfer Magazine. To read the full magazine CLICK HERE.

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