Ben and I connected on Twitter. After going to his blog, and seeing his dedication for the game, I asked if he would be interested in an interview. Ben used to work over at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Indiana. Crooked Stick was home of the 2012 BMW Championship, an event Tiger almost won on a course I recently played on. I, before moving to Arizona, befriended Mr. Tony Pancake, the head golf professional at Crooked Stick. Sure enough, Ben knows Mr. Pancake well. Ben isn’t in Indiana anymore. He’s down at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, South Carolina. I am sure the weather is nicer down there! I have never met Ben, but it was fun getting to know him and to learn more about his goals with the greatest game ever played. It is my absolute pleasure to introduce you to a true professional, Mr. Ben Smith.
Thanks for following me on Twitter! Without Twitter, this interview wouldn’t have been possible. How are you using social media for business? Are you using any other social media services besides Twitter?
Twitter has been a great tool for me to follow PGA and LPGA professionals and learn more about how and what they teach. In the past, to learn this type of information I would have to go work at multiple locations to learn from different head golf professionals and other local PGA professionals. Now, I can follow PGA professionals from Hank Haney to John Graham from my phone and learn tidbits about their style and philosophy.
I use Twitter and Facebook to help advertise a golf blog that I recently started. This helps me advertise myself through sharing tips and opinions on current golf topics. Also, we have a local newspaper that posts my articles on their website which helps me connect with the town I live in.
Folks are saying Kiawah Island Golf Resort is one of the hardest courses in the country. Some players are saying it’s too hard! But to me, that’s fun. What are your thoughts on tough golf courses? It’s a major… it should be tough!
Because I’ve played the course I can say this, The Ocean Course is very deserving of being called the toughest course in the country! Majors should do two things for players – reward a well-played golf shot and penalize a poor golf shot. The Ocean Course does both of these things very well. When the players hit good shots, they have the chance to make birdies. When they hit poor shots, they are going to struggle to make pars. I would love to see more major golf tournaments go to Kiawah Island Golf Resort because of the quality of the golf course.
I am going to subscribe to your RSS feed. How often do you blog?
I blog once or twice a week. Usually, the blogs are trying to help the reader improve his/her golf game. Every now and then I like to share my opinion on a current issue or tournament.
Benjamin… can I call you Ben?
Absolutely. Only my mother and wife call me Benjamin, and that’s when they’re angry!
You are a PGA teaching professional at Harbour Town Golf Links. Do you ever get to play the golf course? What is your best round out there?
I do get to play the golf course, and I’ll play about ten full rounds a year on it. Most of my play happens in 9-hole or 5-hole rounds around my work schedule! My best round so far is 75. (On a side note, by title, I’m a PGA professional. I don’t teach exclusively, so I can’t call myself a teaching professional.)
When the RBC Heritage comes to town, what is your role with the TOUR and with the players?
Our staff is responsible for three areas during the RBC Heritage – merchandise pavilions, the practice facility, and the locker room. We work together with the TOUR staff and The Heritage Classic Foundation staff to provide a world-class experience for the players, volunteers and spectators. (The Heritage Classic Foundation is the organization responsible for running the event throughout the year. They have a staff of approximately ten full-time employees and four interns that run all aspects of the event.) In short, we sell merchandise and make sure the players have areas to practice and gather.
Personally, my roles for the RBC Heritage include executing the buy of hard goods merchandise for our locations, scheduling our professional staff at Harbour Town Golf Links and our sister facilities Heron Point Golf Club and The Ocean Course Golf Course, and supervising our staff at the merchandise locations, practice facility, and locker room.
Those are the roles that are on my job description. As with any major tournament, I’ll find endless little roles that become my responsibility. For example, I ended up transporting Luke Donald’s caddy two miles on a golf cart to his car so he could make his flight on Sunday. (The shuttle accidentally left him at the station.) Every staff member’s week is filled with little things like this happening.
The Hilton Head Island PGA Chapter voted you the 2011 Assistant Golf Professional of the Year. There are a lot of pros down there. What did that award mean to you as a teaching professional?
It is very humbling when your peers vote that you are the best in your group. Everybody likes to think that they are good at the job, but it means a little extra when your peers confirm it like that. However, I’d be remiss without saying that it is an award that belongs to our entire staff. Without everybody else on our team doing what they do on a daily basis, there is no way that I even get considered for the award.
Any course… what is the lowest round?
66 (30 on front nine) playing the forward tees at Crooked Stick during a golf marathon.
Have you ever had a hole-in-one?
#6 at Crooked Stick in 2009. Missed my target by 20 yards, but the result was perfect!
That’s a tough hole! Wait a second… you were Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Indiana? I recently interviewed Mr. Tony Pancake. Do you know Mr. Pancake?
I’m fortunate to know Mr. Pancake very well as he has been a great mentor to me. I started as a seasonal golf professional on his staff in my first job after graduating Ball State University. What I learned from Tony during my three seasons there will stay with me for the rest of my career. For as good of a golf professional that Tony is (and he’s brilliant), he’s an even better husband, father and gentleman.
There are three courses down there at Sea Pines. Out of the three, what is your favorite course?
Harbour Town Golf Links is my favorite of our three courses at the resort. It’s such a brilliant course in that it makes you work on every shot. If you hit a good shot you get rewarded, but when you hit a poor shot it is so much work to get the golf ball back into a good position! Then, you think about all the history of the facility from Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus who created it through players like Arnold Palmer and Davis Love III who have won the RBC Heritage. It is truly a special place!
I guess it makes sense you worked at Crooked Stick… you graduated from Ball State University! I went to Purdue. Can we still be friends?
There are a lot of choices out there… but what golf ball do you play?
I play the TaylorMade Penta 5 golf ball. It’s a great golf ball that jumps off my driver and still has more feel in my short irons and wedges than any other golf ball I’ve ever played.
I am Tiger’s biggest fan. Do you honestly think he will break Jack’s record?
This is such a great question. I could go either way with my answer depending on what day it is! Right now, I do not think he is going to get there. I want to see him get there, but I think that the mix of his poor distance control with short irons, change in confidence after the scandal, and Rory McIlroy will keep him short of the record.
Between you and I, the man had the greatest run of any player since Bryon Nelson’s 11 straight victories. Then, he changed his golf swing – twice. I’m a big advocate of Butch Harmon’s golf teaching. I’m not sure that changing methods twice has helped him reach his goal of 19 Majors.
They added golf to the Olympics. With the Presidents Cup and the Ryder Cup, do you think adding golf to the Olympics will devalue the other team events?
Absolutely not. I think it will have the opposite effect. I see the Olympics having a large positive influence on global golf, encouraging more people to play the game. Over time, this should strengthen the Presidents Cup with a better talent pool for the international team. The Ryder Cup has such tradition and talented players that it should maintain as the premier team event in golf.
Do you call it teaching or coaching? Is there a difference?
There absolutely is, and I do both. Some students need teaching, while some students need coaching. Teaching is instructing the student on the proper way to execute a golf swing. This side of instruction is when I teach how to hold on to the golf club, how to take a stance, and how the body works during the stroke.
Coaching is instructing the student on the proper way to play or practice the game. In my opinion, coaching is much more enjoyable than teaching because I get to make my students think about the mental side of the game – course management, club selection, warm-up routines and practice routines. Coaching is what I do when I’m trying to get my student to maximize the potential and talent he/she already has.
Alive or dead… who is in your perfect foursome?
My father, Ben Crenshaw (my dad’s inspiration for the name Benjamin), and Ben Crane. I want some insight on his videos. Can I have a couple groups behind that one? How about a full-field shotgun? This is one of the great parts about golf. There are so many people that I would enjoy playing golf with. The most fun I’ve had playing was with Patrick White, Kellen Marish, and Zack Creed. We’d play quick games after work at Crooked Stick. Sometimes we’d play nine holes, sometimes five, other times three depending on how much sunlight we had left. We would play for bragging rights, and the right to make fun of the others’ golf swing.
Your wife is also on Twitter. She has more followers than you. Just saying! Do you guys ever tweet each other?
My wife is the much more talented member of our twosome, she should have more followers! Every now and then we’ll tweet each other, especially when the other is doing something fun/creative/cool.
How much focus do you put on junior golf?
Junior golf is crucial to our industry as we seek to cultivate the next generation of players. I work with our resort staff on three different junior golf initiatives like the Future Stars clinics, Hooked-On-Golf, and Pro-Pal.
Future Stars clinics are daily golf instruction during the summer months where our golf professionals will teach the basics to juniors. Hooked-On-Golf is a program with the Hilton Head Island Junior Golf Association where local golf professionals give a group of junior players weekly clinics to hone their skills for local junior golf tournaments. Finally, Pro-Pal is a program with our local Boys & Girls Club to partner juniors who likely wouldn’t have access to golf with a mentor golf professional for a weekly lesson during the summer. All of these programs do a great job of teaching the basics of golf to juniors to ensure that the next generation gets the opportunity to play and enjoy this great game.
Do you do playing lessons?
Absolutely. Playing lessons are some of my most enjoyable lessons because I get to work with the student on all the different aspects of playing the game. I also see some changes between the swing I’ve seen on the practice range to a swing I see on the golf course!
There are four majors on the PGA TOUR. Which one is your favorite?
There’s so much to like about each of the four, but in my opinion it doesn’t get better than The Masters. Maybe part of it is growing up in Indiana with Augusta signaling the start of golf season.
Do you ever visit Indiana?
Right now, my wife and I go back for Christmas and other special occasions. We make it back once or twice each year. It’s hard to leave the weather, beach and our friends in Hilton Head!
What other sports do you follow?
All of them. If I had my way, I would program my television only to show live sporting events. Basketball is my favorite of the other sports, especially the Indiana Pacers.
Tell me more about your time with the Indiana Golf Foundation.
Before my senior year at Ball State, I sought out an internship with the Indiana Golf Foundation and the statewide Pepsi Junior Golf Program they operate. My internship for the summer was to be a tournament coordinator/rules official for the various junior golf tournaments the program operates all over Indiana.
We had a staff of seven collegiate interns who worked under the junior golf director, Ryan Lambert. Five of the other six interns played collegiately across the state (the sixth majored in exercise science and played in high school). During a typical week, we would split into two groups and conduct ten junior golf tournaments. I might start in Indianapolis on Monday, drive to Muncie on Tuesday, go to South Bend on Wednesday, spend Thursday in Peru and finish in Lafayette on Friday. As you can imagine, I saw a lot of golf courses and met so many people – players, parents, PGA professionals.
I had so much fun that summer. We spent our summer traveling the state, conducting golf tournaments, making strange golf rulings, and squeezing in late rounds after tournaments before traveling. Then, we would hang out in hotel lobbies playing cards, try to find edible food somewhere, and try to find some sleep before waking up around 5:00 AM to do it again. We loved every minute of it. That internship confirmed for me that I wanted to work in golf.
There are a lot of training aids out there… do you use training aids? Do you have a favorite training aid?
I like to use basic training aids in my teaching. It is hard to beat a pair of alignment rods and an extra golf club while teaching. In my opinion, the simpler the aid is the better it is.
The difficult part about using teaching aids during a lesson is that I need to have the student be able to perform the action without using the aid by the end of our time together. Sometimes, students get too caught up on using the training aid instead of making a golf swing. As an instructor I am careful that I use training aids to reinforce a change, allow the student to feel comfortable with it, and then take it away. I want to see the student have success after I take the aid away before I address any other issue.
Did you play golf at Ball State?
No, I actually thought I wanted to get away from golf after high school. I went to Ball State expecting to work as a sports reporter after graduation.
Did you read The Big Miss?
How far do you hit your driver?
My driving average is around 270 yards.
There are a ton of golf magazines out there. From Golf Digest to the Global Golf Post, I can’t keep up. Do you subscribe to any golf magazines? What is your favorite publication?
I don’t subscribe to any of the magazines because I take copies of them all from work. I’m spoiled as we get them for free. My favorite is Golf Digest, by far. The quality of the information in Golf Digest makes it a must read for me.
Do you set your lesson rates, or does the resort?
The resort sets our prices.
Can you imagine your life without golf?
Not at all. Golf is one of the greatest passions in my life. I can’t imagine what I’d fill my time with if I totally eliminated playing, teaching, watching and working in the golf business – not that I would want to.
What’s next for Ben Smith?
I am currently preparing myself as best as I can for a head golf professional position. Hopefully, that opportunity presents itself somewhere here in the Lowcountry as it is a great place to live and work. The thought of being able to direct a golf operation excites me to get up and go to work each day with the purpose of learning as much as I can about how to be a great PGA professional.
While preparing for my next job, I plan on having fun with my blog. Look for many insightful instruction pieces designed to help readers get better and enjoy the game more!
Thank you so much for doing this. I know you are busy. In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
I want to use my last word to encourage readers to have fun playing golf. So often we forget that golf is a game meant to be played and enjoyed. Find what excites you about the game and go enjoy it! Also, I would encourage you to seek out a local PGA or LPGA professional to help find the fun in golf. There are thousands of us around the country who would love nothing more to help make the game more fun for you! Visit http://www.pga.com/pga-america/find-professionals to find a local PGA professional near you.