18 Questions With Chuck Evans
Golf Channel Academy recently did an interview with Chuck. Here it is, by Dave Gould.
Once a promising linebacker and defensive back prospect good enough to garner the attention of the Washington Redskins, Chuck Evans now spends his time watching a different type of ball flight. Evans runs the highly successful Chuck Evans Golf academies, operating in the Kansas City metro area where he played his high school football —Tiffany Greens Golf Club and Staley Farms Golf Club in Kansas City, Mo., and in Phoenix Arizona where he lives.
Chuck also serves as Executive Director of Instruction for Medicus Golf. With nearly 45 years of experience, Evans is an instruction grandmaster who ranks among Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers in America and Golf Digest’s Best Teachers in Your State, and is also a Golf Range Association of America (GRAA) Top 50 Growth of the Game Teaching Professional. In addition, he holds a GSED (Doctorate Degree in Golf Stroke Engineering) with The Golfing Machine.
Evans recently took the time to look back at the football injury that spearheaded his golf coaching career, and to the individuals—and the book—which helped shape his teaching philosophy.
Q: What is it you like most about coaching? What brings you the most satisfaction?
A: I suppose it’s the feeling of doing the job well, which means your players get better. They strike the ball more consistently, they learn the scoring shots, all those things. The other part that’s satisfying is to see that we have trained the golfer to be his or her own coach. They understand how their swing works. When they start missing shots they can get themselves back on track.
Q: Is that your basic philosophy—teaching a golfer to be self-reliant?
A: That’s one part of it. Golfers find themselves in various stages of performance and skill-development. I’m not the golf coach who wants to see you every Thursday at 3 o’clock. There are teachers out there—in golf and outside of golf—who want the student to be totally dependent on them. That’s not me. I want you to get to where you can generally depend on yourself. That doesn’t mean you don’t come back and work with your teaching professional. I’ve got names in my lesson book right now that have been in the book—on and off—for 20 years. I have several players that come from out of state every month to work together. We give our students what we call a playbook of things to work on. That playbook will change as the person makes progress and develops new goals.
Q: When you mention playbooks, it serves as a reminder that you started off as a football player, correct?
A: I did play as a young man. In high school I was a 6-foot-2, 225-pound running back. I ran a 10-flat 100-yard dash, which was pretty fast for back then. Combine that with my size and I could run right through people and keep going. My high school [Raytown South in suburban Kansas City] didn’t have a golf team. High school athletics for us was about playing on teams, so I developed as a golfer on my own. We were high school state champions in baseball and football. Meanwhile, I was playing some amateur golf and having a fair degree of success.
Q: Did you feel like you could play football professionally?
A: At one point I was brought in as a free agent by the Washington Redskins, who thought I could play defensive back for them—I had also played linebacker on defense in high school. But I never got to have a college football career. My big moment in college football was an unfortunate one. It was during spring drills at Florida State. I was a pre-freshman taking part in spring practice. It was a backpedaling drill, and as I made a cut moving backwards I injured my left knee severely. It was a full year of rehab after the surgery. Over the years I’ve had three complete reconstructions of that knee. So that injury in spring practice ended my college football career before it began.
Q: What did you do after that?
A: At that point it was 1971, and I was already 21 having done a tour of duty in Vietnam as an Army sniper, fighting in the TET Offensive. I guess I was one of those people who needed to get away from classrooms after high school. Anyway, FSU yanked my scholarship due to the knee injury, so I really was done with college before I ever started. During rehab from my surgery I had used golf to get moving again, but that meant hitting shots without any leg drive, so all my power had to be generated with the arms. That interested me, so I started studying the bio-mechanics of the swing.
Q: So you were at least exploring biomechanics even before you began teaching golf?
A: Well, at that time there was a new kind of research being done by Dr. Gideon Ariel, who has gone on to become one of the founders of golf biomechanics. He was pretty influential even then, when it came to athletics and biomechanics. He had been an Olympic hurdler, so he started by breaking down the mechanics of hurdling, using computer programs, and went on from there. I tried to absorb a lot of that information and understand the cause-effect.
Q: Who were some of your early influences?
A: I had a friendship with Gardner Dickinson, who taught me quite a bit about tournament golf and about teaching. He helped me understand how it is that a person could strike the ball beautifully and yet still struggle to play the game. If people asked me about Gardner as a golf instructor, I would say: ‘He will show you how to PLAY the game.’ People who didn’t know him would say he was crusty, which I suppose was somewhat true. He got along very well with Ben Hogan, and, of course, his stories about Hogan were just great to hear. I basically called him one day out of the blue and we started talking, then eventually I made some visits down to Seminole [Golf Club] to continue the conversation.
Q: Complete the following statement: A great golf coach is….
A: Someone who can work with all types of players and help them enjoy the game more.
Q: What other individuals have had a great influence on you as a coach?
A: As far as knowing what it is I should be teaching and imparting, Homer Kelley, author of The Golfing Machine. From Homer, I basically learned what I should teach, and I also learned a format for sequencing it. That’s a very big part of the puzzle.
Q: But not all of it?
A: No, because you also need methods for presenting the information, and making it stick. You look to someone like Martin Hall, Bob Toski, or Jim Flick, some of the great communicators in our field. You look at John Jacobs, a gifted communicator. I recently gave a talk at my PGA Section on the evolution of teaching. I told the group that our profession had to finally realize that each student was a little different, and therefore we would need a dozen-plus ways to express and explain every move or position we want golfers to execute. There have been coaches who excelled in this area. They found ways to get the ah-hah moment to happen, be it with visual learners, kinesthetic learners, auditory learners, analytical types, artist types and so on. My own success owes something to all those skilled communicators.
Q: If the average golfer had one hour per week to practice, how would you suggest they spend that time?
A: Here’s what I would say: Stand in front of a mirror and carefully look at yourself at setup and through the swing motion. See the angles of your body. You have to understand your positions and movements by seeing them in a mirror, in slow motion. Every student we work with is given a mirror drill, which may change or evolve. I look at my own swing in the mirror 15 minutes a day, every day, and I’ve done that for decades. If you can’t see a move you want to make in your mind, with your eyes closed, you can’t reliably make that move. What you’re doing with your body has to be fully understood. Then you can take it to the range and see how it affects ball flight. Then you can take it to the course and see how it affects scoring.
Q: What is a typical lesson like at Chuck Evans Golf?
A: We see people every week who are in our programs. One week they get private coaching, the next week they are involved in supervised practice, in a group. In a sense, supervised practice is a way of almost guaranteeing that there will be practice between lessons—that they’ll do the homework, in other words. If a student has been able to practice, we will add new material in the next private lesson. If they haven’t, we are in a position where we basically have to give them the same lesson as before, all over again.
Q: How do your regular students view the process they’re involved in? How does it evolve and unfold, from their perspective?
A: Everybody we work with improves. The level of improvement is based on the goal they have set for themselves and how hard they’re able to work [toward achieving that goal]. If someone who shoots 95 to 97 has a goal of shooting 85 to 87, we’re pointing toward the day when he gets there and can stay there. Then it’s time to adjust the goal. It needs to be a sustainable goal, so we sit down and conduct a formal goal-setting session. We develop a plan, start executing it, then perhaps re-evaluate it. If the golfer is happy where they’re at, we go into what we call maintenance mode. Our academy does an in-depth short-game assessment. We do physical screens. There is a full-swing evaluation, which involves ball speed, club speed and the like. We have an assessment for your mental-game performance. So, lots of assessments go into your profile. It’s all very specific in terms of goals and the path they’re on.
Q: In your opinion, what’s the most important club in the bag for the average recreational golfer?
A: Well, the most important club to them is the driver, so in some ways a teacher has to go along with that. It’s hard to fight it. The thing is, whatever is an issue in their golf swing will show up in the driver swing, very often magnified. Most people are okay with having us work on their swing mechanics using a lofted iron, knowing that this will translate well to their driving game. Driver is the club where ball position problems can crop up most easily; therefore, it’s also the club where you can have the most positive effect by adjusting ball position.
Q: What is the one phrase you can’t go a single day without uttering on the lesson tee?
A: I would say it’s a question, one that I and my fellow coaches at Chuck Evans Golf ask every day, actually every lesson: “What are you thinking about as you are getting ready to make this move?” The golfer will tell us, then we’ll proceed. If the thought or sensation produces what we want then all is well. If it doesn’t, something will need to be adjusted.
Q: What is your favorite golf instruction book and why?
A: The Golfing Machine, by Homer Kelley. It has enough information in it to build world class swings. I struggled with it, as everyone did. That book got thrown across the room a few times. But hey, on page 10 he tells you how to read the book—what order to read it in, and it isn’t chapter 1 then chapter 2 then chapter 3. I almost ended up owning the rights to The Golfing Machine. At one point I had moved up to the Northwest to help Homer’s widow adapt his notes for a new edition. So, I’ve had about as close an association with The Golfing Machine as a person can have with a book.
Q: If you could have your students emulate one swing on Tour, who’s would it be and why?
A: We don’t teach that way, by having students emulate someone else’s swing—even a Tour player’s swing. So, for me to talk about swings on Tour it is simply from a personal perspective. I would start by saying there certainly are no bad swings out there. You can’t get there with a bad swing. The player with the swing that has the best geometry, in my view, is Stuart Appleby. Look at his backswing, his downswing—the geometry is really there. However, he still doesn’t always control the clubface consistently. With the absolute greatest, most consistent ball-strikers—George Knudsen, Moe Norman, there was supreme clubface control.
Q: Give us your dream golf foursome. On the tee, it’s Chuck Evans and….
A: Ben Hogan, Moe Norman, Jack Nicklaus. And I would get to watch those players not just strike the ball, but watch how they move the ball around the golf course in order to score.
“If you can’t see a move you want to make in your mind, with your eyes closed, you can’t reliably make that move.”