16. Lessons and Practice

The Loch Lomond Invitational Golf Tournament finished last night (as I write this on the 13th July). America’s Tom Lehman, the British Open champion, (he is the holder and will be defending his title at Troon. You will know the result before you read this article) won by 5 strokes over Ernie Els of South Africa. Even though Tom Lehman won by such a convincing margin over some of the worlds’ best golfers, he is not an odds-on favourite for the British Open but is at 12-1 in the latest betting.

Victory in golf does not come easy. Champions change with almost every big championship event. This, in fact, is a great part of the excitement. The uncertainty of the result. The golfer whose game looked flawless and could do no wrong at the last championship may well not survive the halfway stage of the next event. As an example, Nick Faldo, who has won some of the most prestigious titles in the world, was really off-form at Loch Lomond, finishing 21st in this event.

The roving camera showed him on the practice ground being coached by his mentor, David Leadbetter; this during the actual championship!

Now the tuition-and-practice schedule of any sportsperson has probably been designed, either by the competitor or the person in whom the competitor has most confidence and, as such, varies considerably from sport to sport, coach to coach and country to country.

As a dance competitor, I always needed to practice intensively; in fact on a daily basis. I am reasonably confident that, while I lived in Blackpool, I clocked up more mileage round the Empress Ballroom floor than any other member of the Blackpool Dance Club. (I use the first person singular because I had three different partners over this period.)

Later, as competing pro¬fessionals with a London dance studio on a long lease to operate, Doreen and I made the difficult decision to restrict the number of hours that we would give lessons to pupils – thereby losing substantial tuition fees – in
order to devote this time to developing our own dancing. As a championship approached we would increase the practice time from the minimum of three hours daily to six hours. But there was a cut-off point in our training schedule. The day before a competition, NO practice. The day of the competition, NO practice.

We had established this routine by trial and error and found a regime which suited us. We practiced with increasing intensity up to the penultimate day before the championship. The actual day before the event was spent relaxing mentally and physically, perhaps going to a cinema, walking in St. James Park, definitely no strenuous practice. I might, if at Blackpool, in those glorious years when practice sessions in the Empress Ballroom were run daily, just ease gently round the floor with my partner on the day before our event. More likely we could be found on the North Pier in the Sun Lounge.

On the actual day of the championship in which we were taking part, practice was absolutely forbidden by partnership agreement. Our philosophy was that we had already done everything necessary to produce the best possible dancing of which we were capable; we hoped we were mentally and physically at ‘concert pitch’. If we had not got it right by this stage, it was too late for this particular championship anyway. A warm-up of the muscles was now all that was necessary.

This was our modus operandi and it worked for us. The normal type of informative or corrective lesson just before a championship was also something totally taboo. If we had any contact at ail with a trainer it would be solely for a morale-boosting session.

Which is why I watched Faldo practicing and being coached with a degree of disbelief. Could he really retrain his mind and his muscles and rely on the instruction to be reproduced by both in the form of a constantly repeating, precision swing of the golf club in the middle of a tournament? What do psychologists think? Obviously, it did not work! The best he could do was a score of 280 against Lehman’s 265. Nineteen other golfers came in between these two scores.

But perhaps he had already written off Loch Lomond and was being coached for Treeon and the 1997 British Open. Yes, I’ll go for that!

source: Dance News newspaper Edition No.1519
Harry Smith-Hampshire, Making of a Champion series