Once you have been to a few European Tour events they develop a certain comforting familiarity, with certain customary landmarks - the physio trailer where all the players work - out, the fast-food caravan alongside the driving range and, further along the practice ground, Bob Torrance helping yet another player groove his swing.
Cloth capped, often with a cigarette cupped in his hand, he is one of the best-known, and indubitably best-loved fixtures on Tour, handing out advice, encouragement and, no doubt, the occasional verbal kick up the backside to those with the wisdom to seek his opinion; all in his unmistakeable Largs brogue.
In fact, he's not quite as regular a feature as he used to be but certain events - the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth, the Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond and the Open Championship at wherever - will still see him in familiar pose, handing out a few well-chosen words. It can take a while, though, for almost everyone with access to this restricted area; caddies, players, managers, journalists et al, seems to know him and to appreciate the opportunity to stop for a moment's chat.
So, in view of the length of time he's been doing this job, it seemed natural to start by asking if, in his opinion, the golf swing has changed much over the years.
'No,' he replied. 'And I don't agree with a lot of the changes we see nowadays, such as widening the arc at the start of the downswing.
'Tempo and leverage are the main things and they come from the start of the downswing. You can do five things wrong in a golf swing and one right and play superb golf. Equally, you can do five things right and one wrong and play crap.
'Look at Seve Ballesteros - he's got the two most important parts of the golf swing wrong, the takeaway and the start of the downswing.'
Mr Torrance, like many others, has worked on the Ballesteros swing and it seemed to be paying off a few years ago but Seve never seems happy to consult with one expert if there are five more he can also ask.
'I often get told to watch certain players because they've got a lovely swing - and I do, and they have - but they can't play. Swinging a club is only part of the equation, you also have to play, and score, otherwise the rest is worthless,' Mr Torrance says.
'But also, last year, a guy came over and asked me what I thought of a certain player's swing. My view is that if he's playing on Tour, he must be good.'
To demonstrate the point, Mr Torrance (calling him 'Bob' somehow seems disrespectful) explained that, if you get the first part of the takeaway and the first part of the downswing right, nothing else matters.
'The takeaway can vary from player to player,' he says. 'Some take it back with no hand movement while others have an exaggerated move but that's okay if it works for them. The biggest difficulty is explaining to people what they're actually doing because what you feel and what you do can be two entirely different things. That's when video comes into its own because what you think you're doing on the way down and what you feel are often not the same. When I use video the first thing the player often says is "That's not me"'.
Another critical element for Mr Torrance is tempo but he's quick to emphasise that tempo is not the same as speed. Nick Price and Tom Watson both have quick swings, he pointed out, but excellent, consistent tempo.
In terms of interview technique I then made, I have to confess, a big mistake. I was talking about great players and teachers of the past and mentioned the name Hogan. That was enough for Mr Torrance, who took off on a monologue about the great Ben that would probably still be continuing now if I hadn't run out of notebook. In his view, the greatest ever players were Hogan and Jack Nicklaus but it's clear that he has a particular affection for the Texan the Scots used to call the Wee Ice Mon.
'I met Hogan seven times,' he said, 'and he always said he turned everything over from right-to-left but that wasn't true. But he also said that when he played at his best you couldn't get a razor blade between his chest and arms and I think that was fairly accurate.
'I also talked to him about Augusta and said that the greens there were too tough and he said: 'That depends on where you hit your second shot.'
'Hogan was so good that you had to see him in person to believe how good he really was, what a pure striker of the ball he was. In 1953 [when he won the Open at Carnoustie] he had everything a golfer could want.'
Shame that his putting eventually deserted him then?
'Everybody's putting goes at some point. It's like water dripping on a rock and eventually it will wear you down.'
Currently Mr Torrance is working with his son, of course, Ole Karlsson, Tony Johnstone of Zimbabwe, Raymond Russell and Padraig Harrington.
'Ole Karlsson, I think, is going to be very good,' he says, 'and if he comes to see me in Largs for two concerted weeks of work I think it would really pay dividends.
'Raymond Russell is probably in my house more than his own. He works very, very hard and deserves any success that might come his way.'
Mr Torrance works hard too, but has slowed up a lot in recent years. He gave up alcohol four years ago but his wife still frets over him standing out on the range in all weathers and is adamant that interviewers like myself should at least sit him down in the warm with a cup of coffee.
It was a pleasure to comply.
Bob Torrance on:
Woods is very, very good but he's got the party to himself at the minute. Look at the Masters this year, Els and Mickelson both folded up. And when you look at Davis Love you see that he never wins when Tiger's in the field. I said to Tiger two years ago that a lot of good players improve in their lifetime but I've never seen a great golfer like you improve so much.
In my opinion Padraig is going to be one of the top players in the world over the next few years. He's made steady, consistent progress; he's straight, long and a beautiful putter and he's got a great temperament.
Amateurs' biggest mistake
Weight transference is the single biggest problem for handicap golfers and you will always struggle for distance if you don't get that right.
We must stop making the ball go further, it's destroying some great courses. So what do the makers do? They bring out another ball that goes further still.
|| 13 - AUGUST 2002