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Gillian Stewart has earned the right to have and express strong opinions, so she'll use it
When a professional golfer of Gillian's stature tells you that:
Metal woods should have been banned long before they became as common as three putts;
She is worried by the way golf is developing;
The courses on the European women's pro Tour are far too long;
The worst thing the female pros in Britain ever did was to split from the PGA;
Modelling your golf swing on Tiger Woods is dangerous;
Driving-range tuition can be one-dimensional,
you have to sit up and take notice (and there are plenty more where these came from),
because Gillian has always been very much her own woman but has earned the right to her strongly held, if not necessarily mainstream, views.

The Inverness-born blonde, who now divides her residential time between the Highland capital and a pad in Surrey, is not one to run with the pack. She does not say things for effect, with one eye on potential golf magazine headlines although she would make a very good golf columnist or TV golf channel pundit.

She was smart enough to go to Edinburgh University and graduate a few years before it became the norm that golfing skills could open doors to academic institutions.

Miss Stewart could have been virtually anything she wanted to be. She chose golf and has had two very successful golfing careers, first as a championship-winning, international-class amateur player and then as a tournament-winning professional, over the past 30 years. A third one is taking shape as shrewd Gillian considers her options for capitalising on all she has learned on and off the golf course. But, more of that later.

Here are the Gillian Stewart no-nonsense views on several topics:
Golf equipment
'I was testing a new driver recently. I'm very much a traditionalist as regards equipment. I've still got a set of blades, Mizuno blades. I've had a try at the Callaway and the heel-toe and all that but I've gone back to blades.

'I got this driver to try out. It was the kind of driver that Peter Alliss would describe as a bungalow at the end of a stick - it had a huge titanium head. I'd never really had a go with this kind of club before because I just never got into the titanium things. Because of the bigger head, they had to have longer shafts and I didn't want a longer shaft because I felt it was far too unwieldy for my liking.

'I swung this driver and the ball went farther than my steel-headed driver and it also went a more consistent distance. By that I mean there was maybe only 15 yards difference between my poorest and my best hit. With my normal driver, there could be up to 40 yards of a difference between my worst and my best drives.

'I have to accept that if I'm going to play at all, to compete these days, I've got to have one of these titanium drivers. From this huge head, the ball just takes off. The thing that struck me was that I could not tell the difference from the flight of the ball or the feel off the clubhead, what was a good swing and what was a bad swing.

'And I was thinking: "This cannot be right because I could feel, for instance, when I put a poor swing on it and yet the ball has still gone out there."

'The way things are going, I think the skill of the game is being eroded away. The titanium driver is quite legal but I don't think it should be. In fact, my feelings are that when metal woods first came out, they should have been banned straight off.

'Do you remember when Dennis Lillee came out with his aluminium cricket bat in a Test match? When he came back to the pavilion, he was told in no uncertain terms that he couldn't use it again. I'm sorry that didn't happen in golf. Metal woods should not have been allowed. If we had stayed with the wooden woods, the more skilful players would have continued to prevail.

'I think with the equipment changes we've had in recent years, there's been a great levelling out of the abilities of players because you can get away with so much more. I couldn't believe it when I tried the titanium driver. I was thinking: "It's great but it's not right." I want a bad swing, a bad shot to feel like a bad shot and to produce a bad result. I hate the way golf is going with equipment. The introduction of metal woods was a big mistake. I cannot see players of the Seve Ballesteros mould emerging in future with the equipment that is now permissible.

'And I think that's really sad for the game of golf. Seve was a feel player who could shape lots of different shots with different clubs and was so exciting to watch for that reason. Nowadays you're not required to shape or manufacture shots nearly as much. The modern courses do not require you to be able to do that and the equipment reflects that. Or is it that the courses reflect the equipment? I think that's the truth.

'It's not progress. When you look at courses like St Andrews, when the Open is played there it's just a caricature of what it used to be. I know that Jack Nicklaus says that a ball should be introduced that does not fly nearly as far as the present ones do. They have got to do something. It's all very well giving high handicap amateur golfers enjoyment, and for pros too it's great to be able to hit the ball for miles, but let's keep the bigger picture in mind - is this good for the game of golf long term?'

European women's Tour
'I turned pro in 1985 and those were the best years of the women's European Tour. The circuit was expanding rapidly at the time. There was no need to think of going to the States - there were lots of tournaments and lots of money to be made over here. It was under auspices of the PGA and the direction of Colin Snape and he really expanded it from 1983 through to 1988 when he left the PGA.

'We split from the PGA around that time and hat was a poor move. We had a players' meeting about it and only two or three of us voted against it. Certainly the majority were in favour of going our own way as a Tour. We became independent and we managed for two or three years under the direction of an Irishman, Joe Flanagan, but it was mainly on the back of what we had established with the PGA. Then those sorts of resources and contracts started to fall away gradually until we had a recession in the early 1999s.

'There was a view taken at the time of the split that we were doing exceptionally well and that the PGA was making money from our efforts. But it was a total misconception. When we decided to stand on our own two feet, cutting ourselves loose from the PGA, we had nothing, no infrastructure behind us - we were starting from scratch. The mistake was that the split came far too early and I believe that the way things have gone for the women's Tour since then have proved this.

'I believe that one of the reasons why the men's European Seniors Tour has had the drive to build up to such a lucrative and tournament packed-schedule in only 10 or so years is that they have the massive resources of the European PGA Tour behind them. The Seniors Tour is able to access the staff and the resources of the European Tour and that makes a big difference.

'I think that throughout the last 10 years or so we have continually shot ourselves in the foot as regards our presentation of women's pro golf to the public. For instance, the powers that be in the early 1990s decided that we needed to play long, difficult courses and the scoring, to me, got steadily worse. Cuts went up to seven and eight over par and as recently as our Open at Royal Lytham [1998], the cut at the halfway mark was something like 161, or 17 over par.

'I remember sitting in a clubhouse watching our Open on TV and there were lots of guys there looking at the scores. They were just laughing at the standard of women's pro golf. It was so humiliating. I knew just how long and how difficult the course was for the girls and how foul the weather was but the guys just thought it was a joke.'

New technology and golf lessons
'The danger of being able to superimpose Tiger Woods' swing is that he is an exceptional athlete and most people cannot aspire to the positions he gets into. So, in a way, that is a danger but it's a marketing tool, isn't it?
'One of the fellows that I teach is a Nairn member but lives in Glasgow and he told me he visited a driving range in Glasgow where he was able to pay £10 to have his swing videoed. One of the top player's swings was then superimposed on his. He was quite concerned that he wasn't precisely getting into the same position as the pro at a particular point in the backswing. He had paid his tenner and got the video of his swing but an analysis was not included. Really, going down that route didn't do him any good. He lost confidence and got sidetracked for a bit because of it. So new technology has got to be used carefully.'

Golf teaching
'People were always asking me when I was home if I did any tuition and, when I was playing full time, I always said "No." However, with more time between events, I started to say "Yes" to one or two people last year and that's how it started. I never really thought I would go down that route but I really enjoyed it from the off.

'When you play tournament golf, you have to be very tunnel-visioned and very single-minded. When you teach, you have to be the opposite. First, you become very open minded and second, you're contributing to someone else's enjoyment of the game and it feels good. There's a lot of satisfaction to be gained from helping someone improve, whatever level they are at.

'My approach to teaching golf is, first of all, a personal one - the recognition that different people respond to different things. With a number of people I will go to their house to give the lesson. Some people really appreciate it if you are then able to sit with them and discuss the lesson over a cup of coffee.

'Thereafter they are E-mailed the key points from the lesson and what they have to work on prior to the next lesson. It's a bit like having a personal golf coach and gets away from the driving-range conveyor belt type of lesson which tends to be one-dimensional.

'Second, my approach is holistic and covers every skill necessary to master the game. Golf is the ultimate psychological sport. Some people jump at the chance of a two hour lesson, where I walk and coach nine holes of golf with them while they play two balls.

'At the moment I have been commissioned to teach at Muir of Ord, Aigas and Fortrose & Rosemarkie golf clubs. I'm doing mainly one-on-one teaching with adults and mainly group coaching with the juniors. It is really expanding at the minute and I am delighted with the way things are gong.

'I don't know what the future has in store. Two years ago, I didn't think I'd be doing this. Maybe one day, I'll get the chance to help Tour pros, who knows?

'Right now, I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I still have my flat in Oxshott, Surrey, which is useful for the corporate golf days which are hosted mainly in the London area.'

If you fancy a lesson with Gillian she can be contacted on 07801 930034 but be prepared for nothing less than an honest opinion.


©    12 - JULY 2002



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