One of the legends in golf instruction passed away December 15 -- quietly, just as he taught. Ben Doyle was not only a charter member of Golf Digest's 50 Best Teachers list, but a mentor and friend to dozens of top-rank instructors around the world. He also helped craft three of the most beautiful swings in the game in the form of Mac O'Grady, Bobby Clampett and Steve Elkington.
Doyle was probably most famous for his relationship with the Golfing Machine teaching manual -- a complicated golf textbook written by Homer Kelley in 1969. Doyle was the first teacher to become certified to teach Kelley's method, and spent more than 40 years advancing its core principles.
He did it from a cart filled to the top with bags of old clubs, vintage televisions, video equipment and household items like mops and brooms -- all designed to get students to feel and see a technically sound swing. I went to see Doyle in the early 2000s with another of Doyle's proteges, 50 Best Teacher Tom Ness, and the cart didn't look much different during my visit than it did in this image from the August 1983 issue of Golf Digest. It was probably sitting in the exact same spot, too, at the end of the driving range at the Quail Lodge & Country Cub in Carmel Valley, CA. The two days of lessons I saw all went essentially the same way, with the student making small, body-controlled swings in a bunker while trying to strike a specific point in the sand.
Doyle's dogmatic devotion to the Golfing Machine manual and less-than-charismatic teaching style often led to him being dismissed as a one-note "method teacher." But many top teachers credit Doyle for being one of the true trailblazers in incorporating science into golf instruction. He was one of the first instructors to film each lesson and provide the student with the tape at the end of the session.
"There's a lot of recent proof that has come out that the best way to learn is through analogies--showing a person similar things that he's done before, like dragging a mop. Ben was way ahead of his time," said 50 Best Teacher Chuck Cook, who started working with Doyle in the mid-1980s. "My whole teaching is built around what I learned from him. The core information--get good impact, on plane with lag--those are my three goals in every lesson I give."
Doyle's influence within the teaching business extended across generations, from Cook, Ness and Gregg McHatton to Brian Manzella, Michael Finney, Michael Jacobs, Tom Stickney and dozens of other nationally-renowned instructors.
"If you did a teaching tree, Ben's branches would be right there with the best," said fellow 50 Best Teacher Brian Manzella, who made his first trip out to see Doyle in 1987. "He was a true pioneer. Even if you went away from the Golfing Machine, his idea still held--that there's an answer for anything, and there's a way for the average guy to do it. He had it down to the essence."
Despite his influence, Doyle was never recognized on the sectional or national level by the PGA of America and isn't in the teaching Hall of Fame, something Cook calls a "tragedy." Manzella said Doyle's unwillingness to listen quietly to information he thought would hurt players ended up hurting him politically. "They basically re-wrote the rules of the PGA Teaching and Coaching Summit around him, because they were panic stricken that he'd get up and whisper a question that would show that what everybody was teaching was wrong," said Manzella, who published a heartfelt obituary
for his mentor on Facebook Wednesday night. "He never got the recognition he deserved."
But Manzella said Ness framed the devout Christian Scientist's legacy the most appropriately on Tuesday, when word came of Doyle's passing in San Francisco. "He said Ben is in the real Hall of Fame now."