Nick Dougherty with Graham Walker – photo England Golf/Vicki Head
Graham Walker has added the accolade of England Golf coach of the year to his burgeoning reputation.
Walker, who is based at The Oaks, was presented with the award by Nick Dougherty at the England Golf 2019 Performance Conference.
It is the second time he has won the award having first been recognised in 2014. Three years later he was awarded Master Professional status which is the highest honour bestowed by the Professional Golfers’ Association.
Dougherty – who went on to become a three-times winner on the European Tour and is now lead presenter on Sky Sports Golf – excelled as an England amateur international after making his debut as a 15-year-old in 1997.
Returning to Woodhall Spa for the first time since his amateur days, Dougherty said it was a privilege to present awards to three stalwarts who have devoted their time and expertise to either develop the next generation of golfers or lead senior teams to success at international level.
Walker is recognised as a leading expert in short-game teaching and over the years has worked with European Tour winners such as Danny Willett, Paul Waring, David Horsey as well as Ladies’ European Tour winner Holly Clyburn.
Currently, Walker coaches world number 10 Tommy Fleetwood and passes on his knowledge to all the England Golf performance squads. The Sheffield native has been on the staff at England Golf since 2011 and his coaching continues to be of huge benefit to aspiring players looking to fulfil their potential.
England Senior Women’s manager Debbie Richards was recognised as volunteer of the year for 2019 while the final award winner was Cheshire’s Roy Smethurst who has led the England Men’s Senior squad to three Home International titles along with a gold medal at last year’s European Senior Men’s Team Championships.
Dougherty paid tribute to all the winners saying: “The success enjoyed by all the England performance squads over recent times wouldn’t be possible without the excellence in coaching and management that all the teams receive.
“I know from my time representing England at amateur level just how crucial it was to have a good grounding in the game before making the move to the professional ranks.
“I made my debut for England aged 15 and my heart was bursting through my shirt. You only have to look at the numbers of English players currently making their way in both the men’s and ladies’ games to see that the work being done at grassroots levels and then with the performance teams as they move through the age groups is bearing fruit.”
Walker had just returned from a four-day pre-Christmas training camp in Dubai with Fleetwood when he spoke to Yorkshire Golfer.
The relationship started in earnest just over three years ago, but they first got to know each other through England Boys coaching sessions.
Walker works exclusively on what he describes as the short game - defined as shots in and around the green from up to 50 yards - and wedge play which can be out as far as 140 yards.
The training camps can be intense in terms of workload. The day starts around 9 am with shots from the fairway from short distance until, in Walker’s words, they are happy with the strike Tommy is achieving and then they move further out, into the rough, closer to the green in both fairway and rough and finally bunkers where they have seen the greatest improvement.
“Tommy’s bunker play has definitely improved but our overall focus is to be what we describe as ‘world class with loft’. If you can control the loft and spin and have the ability to get the ball in the air quickly and land it softly and get it close to the pin you can never be short sided."
The days last until winter darkness falls in the Gulf around 5.30 local time but Walker’s work is not confined to the practice ground. This year he will be at the Majors and eight to twelve of the bigger events watching his protégé.
“Not all of the work is done on the range. When I travel to events with Tommy it's more about watching him play and looking for things we can improve or work out shots we need to add to his armoury.”
Walker points to Fleetwood’s attitude as one of his strongest assets. “Tommy’s thinking is a bit like the one of Yorkshire and England Golf in that he gives me time to develop his game and make him better and he’s also very willing to listen to new ideas and then give them a go.”
Walker first came to the fore as a teacher at Hillsborough Golf Club where he developed the junior section to produce a string of professional golfers. John Mellor, Oliver Whiteley and Neil Cheetham all made it to the European Tour while another eight became PGA qualified professionals.
Walker had started the game on the various municipal courses around Sheffield before joining Doug Poole at Chesterfield Golf Club as an assistant. “I was very lucky in having bosses like Doug and Ray Wilkinson at Lees Hall who both encouraged me to play, practice and teach as much as I could.”
By his own admission he worked very hard at this game in those early years and he became good enough to place in the top 20 of the World U-25’s, compete in the 1982 Open Championship, collect a host of Yorkshire titles and finish second in the British Assistants.
Sixteen years ago he moved to The Oaks on the outskirts of York where in his role as Yorkshire’s lead coach he hosts the county men’s squad and Yorkshire Boys as well as some of the other players he tutors including long term client Paul Waring who had his best ever season last year and is now ranked 75th in the world.
“The Yorkshire officials are great to work with and it started out with Keith Dowswell who had great vision. They let you get on with it and give you time to get results. The same goes for Nigel Edwards the Performance Director at England Golf. That kind of trust and support makes you feel liberated as a coach.
“And the Nutt family who own The Oaks have been incredibly supportive in investing in the academy and the short game area and creating a facility good enough to help develop the players we work with."
And the key to being a top coach? “Listen before you speak, study your pupil, understand what they want to achieve and work out a way to get them there. But my number one rule is always: ‘Pupil First’."