A quartet whose jobs typify the broad range of roles open to PGA Professionals have attained the Association’s highest honour – Master Professional status.
Peter Ball, Paul Burley, Phil Kenyon and Graham Walker have all joined a distinguished band that includes the late John Jacobs OBE and Pete Cowen, coach of several major winners including Henrik Stenson. Each one was presented with a commemorative plaque recognizing their status by PGA captain John Heggarty during the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
Ball, who is based at Moor view Driving Range in Sheffield, put major winner Danny Willett on the road to stardom and specialises in giving youngsters, many from disadvantage backgrounds, the opportunity to play golf.
“He’s passionate about working with children and introducing them to golf,” said Dr Kyle Phillpots from the PGA “Not just middle class children but all children, especially those who are disadvantaged. Some of them are violent and dangerous and Peter has had to make them hand in knives. He also gets them to undertake menial tasks before they play.
“Not all of them are violent or bad. One who came through showed a real passion for the game was Danny Willett. Another at the other end of the spectrum whose whose father was a drunk and close relatives workshy has proved a real success story. Peter took him on and gave him some discipline. Golf became the boy’s focus, he completed his schooling, has never been out of work and still plays golf.”
In accepting the award, Ball said: “I’m very proud to be here – not just for myself but all the other coaches who I’ve had the privilege of working with and learning from. One of those is Graham Walker. Joe Dean (who qualified for The 2017 Open) is another I’ve coached and Graham has taken Joe on as he did Danny Willett. I’m just a junior coach who tries to inspire kids. Graham takes them to the next level and has done a superb job. As coaches we never know the lasting effect we have on young people. Or the impact that is felt by the families. Because of this I’m very proud to be a golf coach.”
Graham Walker (pictured below) has a rock hard Yorkshire connection; he has won the county’s Open Championship three times and the Yorkshire PGA championship once. But it is as a coach he has excelled. So much so that he was named Coach of the Year by England Golf in 2015, an honour fuelled by a passion for coaching when he was head professional at Hillsborough Golf Club, Sheffield. Under his tuition, 11 junior members went on to turn pro, three of them playing on the European Tour.
Walker, who now runs his own academy at the Oaks Golf Club, near Selby, had four of his charges playing in the Open at Birkdale: Richie Ramsay, Paul Waring, Willett and Dean. In accepting the award he paid tribute to his first two bosses, Doug Poole and Ray Wilkinson.
“My first two bosses were massive influences on me,” he said. “They encouraged me to play golf which I do now when dealing with my assistants now. They also encouraged me to work hard, teach at night schools and spread golf to juniors around the golf clubs.
“I’ve had some very good influences. One was the late Ramsey McMasters. He was a great one for helping me to share. He said everything you do you must share with other people. And I was fortunate to listen to John Jacobs over the years – his advice that sticks with me is to be careful what you ask a good player to do because he might not be able to do it.”
Phil Kenyon’s role as a specialised putting coach has seen him work with a who’s who of Europe’s finest golfers. Major winners, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, and Stenson have all been coached by him as have Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood and Matt Fitzpatrick. The latter is rated the fourth best on Tour while Stenson was ranked 174th in 2014, the year he turned to Kenyon for help, and 60th a year later. Kenyon is the principal owner of the Harold Swash Putting School of Excellence based at Formby Hall, Merseyside.
In accepting his award, he paid tribute to the school’s founder who passed away last year. “Harold was a huge inspiration and I wouldn’t be here without his help and encouragement. Richard Bradbeer, a former PGA captain and head pro at Royal Birkdale, was also a great inspiration. I remember walking across the car park as a boy to have lessons with Richard.
“I’ve also fortunate to work alongside Graham Walker as part of my role with England Golf, as I have been in having the support of my parents and my wife. My job involves long hours and a lot of travel away from home and her support is invaluable.”
Paul Burley is also well-travelled, ever since the days when he spent two years as a player on the Sunshine Tour. Subsequently he has been involved with the business and management side of golf clubs and resorts, notably with IMG.
He was head-hunted by them in 1996 and appointed director of operations for Asia and Australia. He followed that by becoming director of golf at Turnberry, a role which saw him managing 10 PGA pros, and he is now back with IMG as Global senior vice-president with responsibility for golf course management and golf course design.
“It’s a great honour to me to add my name to a distinguished list,” he said. “I wouldn’t have achieved what I have without The PGA. I’ve always tried to hire PGA pros whenever possible – they understand the business and development of golf better than anybody else. I’m proud to say that many of the guys who worked with me at Turnberry have gone on to have great success in their careers. Having the PGA brand associated with me in my role has been hugely important.”