Undercover Tour Pro: What's a fair price for a player to pay a teacher?
A teaching pro at a country club takes the day off and drives two hours each way to work with a player at a tour event. For the teacher, it's a welcome break from his daily lesson book and exciting to handle an athlete who is uncannily capable of following physical instruction, to say nothing of the thrill of being in the high-stakes theater of the PGA Tour. Now, this teacher and player are acquaintances, but there's nothing official about their relationship. The player might've just as easily asked his caddie or the next guy down the range to have a look at his swing. But he didn't. He called this particular teacher, who came running. Who's to say what the actual value of the lesson was, but the player did go on to win about $700,000 in his next three tournaments.
How much compensation does the teacher deserve? I have no idea if the player hit it well or just chipped and putted lights-out. It's possible the player completely disregarded what the teacher said. All I know is, this player gave the teacher a 5-wood. His old 5-wood that he didn't want anymore.
This next one I heard through a secondary, but trustworthy source. An LPGA player gets a putting lesson from a teacher the week before she wins her first major. Part of the lesson involves a $60 putting mirror. As payment, her father delivers to the teacher a case of beverages of the company that sponsors the daughter. The mirror wasn't returned. The teacher has not coached another professional since.
It's an adjustment for new tour pros. Up to this point, their lives have been wholly spent on the amateur plane. Coaches, boosters, tournament directors—just about every person they've encountered in the game has wanted to help, expecting nothing in return. It's such a long shot to make it in pro golf, most people will help a youngster for no other reason than they can.
But there comes a time when a player must wake up. Livelihoods are at stake. Heartfelt gratitude and a couple dozen balls don't cut it.
My buddy is a college coach whose player made it through some Monday qualifiers shortly after graduating. Their friendship was so deep that they never bothered with a contract. The handshake agreement essentially was, Keep helping me, man, and you know I'll take care of you when I can. Some number of great tournament results later, the player stopped responding to the coach's texts. The player's wife said their relationship was getting “too close.” Eventually they reconnected after the coach demanded and received 70 grand, but they've since parted ways again.
I pay my guy 40 grand a year. He'll hop on a flight and cover his expenses whenever I need him, but neither of us wants that happening often. Usually, I can send him a swing video and we can talk on the phone for five minutes, and that's plenty. Our deal used to be 20 grand annually, plus a bunch of percentages that kicked in for top-25s and top-10s, but then I had my best season. The number I was supposed to pay him was ridiculous. I said, “Whoa, buddy, I've barely seen you. How 'bout here's a check for 40 grand and we call it square?” He didn't say no.
I know one famous teacher whose deal is $150,000 per year. Even if you pay that, you're on his schedule, because he might have four or five players to visit before you at any given tour event. He had one student who was a major champion, a veteran who'd made more than $20 million in his career. But this player had some real dry seasons in his 40s. His decision to stop working with said teacher was purely financial.
How do you know if you're paying your teacher adequately? Depends how many other players he has, how much you lean on him, your success, and other stuff. But I guess an easy general rule is, if he doesn't leave you, you're good. —With Max Adler