We have only been in the Valley for a few months, but I am trying to make friends every chance I get. I figured I would start by introducing myself to some of the local golf professionals. There are over 200 courses here… so I have my work cut out for me. But there are a few golf courses I was already familiar with. Before moving here, I would visit to play golf, and have played courses like Talking Stick Golf Club, Troon North Golf Club, and others. Rather than keep visiting, we just made the move permanent. Another course I was familiar with is Karsten Golf Course. This course is in Tempe, Arizona and is the home course for the Arizona State University golf teams. Rather than book a tee time, I emailed and introduced myself to Scott Watkins. We met, talked, and became quick friends. Besides the golf course, there is also a PING Learning Center there. As we will learn in the interview, Scott has a lot of experience and has worked at several clubs in the area. This has been a long time coming, but it is my pleasure to finally introduce you to Scott Watkins.
How long have you been in the golf business?
I have been in the golf business since 1983.
You are down at Karsten Golf Course. My buddy Jeff Ritter used to teach there. Do you know Jeff?
Yes, I got to know him a little while he was transitioning over to The Raven Golf Club.
Does the ASU golf team play at Karsten?
Yes, they play here and have a dedicated practice facility at the west end of the range.
Phil Mickelson played for ASU. Have you ever had the chance to work with Phil?
No, but I have met him a few times and played 9 holes of a practice round in the Phoenix Open his rookie year. I believe that was in 1992.
You have a PING Learning Center here. Tell me more about that.
The Learning Center was added in 2002. We have the V1 video system in there, but that is Matt Trimble’s personal equipment. I use JC Video equipment outdoors. I prefer outdoors because you can see the ball fly instead of hitting a net twenty feet in front of you and outdoors you are hitting off of real grass and not from a mat.
Since you teach at the PING Learning Center, does that mean you play PING clubs? What’s in your bag?
No, I play Titleist and have for the past twenty years.
Speaking of ASU, that is where you went to college. Are you originally from Arizona?
I was born in Belleville, Illinois. We moved here in 1960 when I was two years old. I attended ASU and was a two-time All-American my junior and senior years.
You have been nominated for the Golf Magazine Top 100 list. Do pros take that list serious? What does being on that list mean to a pro?
Pros take it serious, but if people knew how the list was created, they might not think much of the list. I have been nominated, I believe, four times, but never returned the questionnaire because I feel that choosing the top 100 instructors by how they fill out a questionnaire is wrong. Someone could plagiarize another golf book to answer questions, and if I am going to be judged on how well I teach they should have people anonymously take lessons and have them rate their experience. I am amazed how people that are new to the list instantly and dramatically raise their rates. Others wear their being on the list like a badge of honor, but it’s seriously a list from answering questions. It sells magazines and creates egos.
You spent a few years on the PGA TOUR. Tell me a little bit about that experience.
I played in 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1984. I qualified right after graduating from ASU. It was an incredible experience but I struggled with my putting a bit to the extent that I continually left a few putts per round dead on line but from six inches to hanging on the lip short. That adds up over the course of a tournament. I struck the ball fairly well but I was a low ball hitter and that made courses with fast hard greens more difficult to play. The format of the tour for my first three years was that the top 160 money winners from the previous year would keep their card but only the top 60 were exempt each week. The other 100 and those coming out of the Q-School, qualified on Monday for the remaining spots. If you made the cut you were exempt the next week. Most guys didn’t have agents and if you missed the cut you had to scramble to change hotel and airline reservations to get to the next stop to get ready to qualify. Today the top 125 are all exempt plus the combined 50 from the Web.com Tour and Q-School. It’s actually a tough life and looks glamorous but I spent thirty-two weeks a year on the road. Getting home sick didn’t help my game either.
Some pros call it teaching, while others call it coaching. Is there a difference? What do you call it?
I have always called it teaching but it is both. I think the teaching comes with teaching the student how to swing or stroke it the coaching can encompass the rest of playing the game such as course strategy, pep talks, course strategy, equipment etc.
Do you give playing lessons?
I do and usually for only up to 9 holes. Some instructors play along during the lesson but I never bring my clubs as I don’t want to be tempted to think about my game. I want to be totally focused on my student.
Have you ever had a hole-in-one?
One at Torrey Pines South Course on number 11 with a 2 iron. It was my second hole of the 1980 Andy Williams San Diego Open Tour event.
There are a lot of golf courses out here in the Valley. Do you have a favorite course?
For a desert course I like Desert Mountains Renegade Course. As far as non-desert I would say Papago Golf Course. If was originally designed as a desert course but non-native trees were added over the years that takes the pure desert feel away.
What’s your handicap?
I don’t have one and haven’t played a lot over the past five years but probably like a +2 at this point. With some practice and playing more I feel I could lower that.
A lot of golf professionals don’t play very often. Do you play? How often do you get out on the golf course?
I normally would play in the late spring summer and early fall and hardly play in between. Our tournament schedule is in that window of time. But five years ago I had an injury that kept me from playing that season. Had two other injuries the following two years, so those wiped out three seasons then in 2010 I taught out of state, there goes the 4th season and last year and this summer I just didn’t feel like grinding on the range. I played in the US Senior Open qualifying this summer and haven’t played but maybe once or twice since.
Are you going to be at the 2013 PGA Merchandise Show?
No, I am not. As an instructor I haven’t seen much need to go.
You offer a lot of different lesson programs. Do you prefer individual lessons to group lessons?
Individual lessons allows you to get more done with the student. Group lessons are better with putting and chipping which are more simple strokes but and individual lesson in these areas is still more productive.
Your rates are listed on your website. Do you set those rates?
Yes, I am considered an independent contractor.
There are a lot of training aids out there. Do you use any?
Very few and usually with putting.
You have a website, but are you using any social media to help promote yourself and to increase revenue?
I haven’t to date but will soon as I am learning how valuable of a tool it can be. Hoping you can teach me!!!
Every golf course has a head professional. Is there a lot of competition between you guys, or do you all work together for the good of the game?
There is zero competition. We still do whatever we can to help the facility and they see the value of having good instructors who can bring new people to the course.
You have a mission statement. I don’t see that very often. What inspired you to write a mission statement?
I wanted my students and future students to know how and why I am in this business. I want them to know I am teaching to help people play the game at a higher level and that I am committed to that.
People can sign up on your website for a newsletter. How often do you send that out?
It should be once a month but over the summer I got a little lax. I have one coming out soon and will get back to once a month. The future newsletters will have pictures or video instead of my old format.
I try to play once a week. When are we going to tee it up?
Let me know your schedule and we will make it happen.
I am Tiger’s biggest fan. Do you honestly think he will break Jack’s record?
It is getting less likely. He is is approaching 40, when the majors don’t come easy. He also has health issues and still hits too many off the map from the tee. He also isn’t making the putts he used to and the rest of the field no longer fear him like they did.
Speaking of Tiger, who do you think is the greatest golfer of all time?
Jack Nicklaus. He still has the most majors but go look at the second and thirds he racked up. Tiger could never touch the top three finishes Jack has. Although Tiger’s era has deeper quality of fields Jack played against Arnie, Gary Player, Tom Watson who all are legends and I believe all won at least eight majors themselves.
What is your most memorable round of golf?
A 64 in the Phoenix open in 1992 as a club pro. Had a three putt from twenty feet that kept it from tying for the low round of the tournament.
There are a ton of golf magazines out there. From GOLF Magazine to Golf Digest, do you subscribe to any? If so, which ones and why do you keep the subscriptions going?
I don’t anymore. The instruction parts seem to be the same stuff over and over but be presented by a different guy. Three or four times a year you will get a tip on how to add twenty yards off the tee. So this year I hope to add sixty to eighty yards to my drive. (Laughs.)
You have played in the Phoenix Open a few times. Explain how you got into that and what fans can expect from that event.
The first four were when I was on the TOUR. I also won our Southwest Section Championship four times that came with exemptions to Phoenix, Tucson (prior to the match play) and the Las Vegas event. I have also qualified four or five times in between.
What’s next for Scott Watkins?
I am going to continue to teach golf as that has been my passion but two years ago when the economy imploded I got licensed and started working for the WIN Group insurance agency that offers property and casually insurance on the side. That has been fun being able to save money and something they have to have.
Thank you so much for your time. I know you are a busy guy. In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
Well, first of all it has been a pleasure to meet you and to see the passion you have for what you do. It’s rare these days to see someone your age going after what they truly love to do. I am looking forward to spreading the word of golf through the social media avenues; something that I am truly a novice at. It is such a wonderful sport and hate to see the number of people playing shrink as it has so I want to do my part in helping grow the game.