Women's History Month
How two women opened and run a revolutionary golf school for amateurs, while working with three world No. 1's
Listen to enough LPGA major winners’ press conferences and you’ll hear players thank two women again and again for their role in the victory: Pia and Lynn. Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott are performance gurus, coaching players not only on the technical aspects of golf, but the intangible, mental side, too. Plenty of coaches work with tour pros, but few are women. Nilsson and Marriott work with players on both the LPGA and PGA Tours, including Annika Sorenstam, and have also created a golf school, Vision54, for amateurs.
Nilsson and Marriott met while they were both young coaches, Nilsson after playing on the LPGA Tour.
“I was at all the educational seminars,” Nilsson said. “The only other young female at all of these teacher training seminars was Lynn. We kept running into each other and we became friends. The more we talked, the more we realized we had some thoughts in common.”
Nilsson was at an inflection point in her career, trying to figure out what to do next after spending a decade as the head coach of Sweden’s national teams. Her timing aligned with Marriott’s, who was ready for something new, too. At the time, Marriott was consulting for the Arizona State University women’s team and the director of instruction at the now-closed Karsten Golf Course. The two decided to open a golf school, called Vision54, where they could implement their own teaching style and beliefs.
The name, Vision54, comes from the idea that if pros birdie every hole at the home course at some point, why couldn’t they do it during one round? Shooting 18-under on a par 72 course would be 54.
Their beliefs are based in the idea that what a golfer needs to improve can be found on the golf course, not the range.
“We don't improve the swing to make the golfer better,” Nilsson said. “We don’t know if that’s the problem yet. Let’s go watch them play and see what they actually need to do to play better. It could be technical but there could be other things.”
What they hone in on are the pieces of advice many golfers have heard like, Focus on the target, Take it one shot at a time, Trust your swing. While these are all good pieces of advice that can help you play better golf, Nilsson and Marriott felt these types of directions were vague and difficult for players to implement. They wanted to make this type of advice more useful by giving people a way to practice it.
“Our studies and experience led us to package it as skills that you can practice and train that are scalable and doable,” Nilsson said. “We have skills to do between shots, to manage the variables of the game. We’ve boiled down years of thinking and exploring, to some tangible skills.”
Instead of telling someone to forget about the bad shot they just hit, Marriott and Nilsson provide players with the skills to not fester on bad shots.
These ideas were far from how golf instruction was being practiced. Two women, opening a golf school with this methodology as the basis in 1999, was revolutionary.
“People told us it was never going to work because people weren’t seeking out that kind of instruction,” Nilsson said. “We had two participants when we first opened, but we didn’t care. We knew if this works, people will tell each other and it’ll grow organically. A few years later, we were ranked the top golf school in America.”
Their golf school, located in Scottsdale, Arizona offers everything from lessons (which they recommend the least) to multiple-day camps.
“Pia and Lynn are one of the leading lights in the golf instruction business,” renowned golf coach David Leadbetter told Golf Digest. “Their contribution to the game overall has been immense. They command enormous world wide respect and in many ways are pioneers, who have paved the way for others in a male-dominated industry.”
As their school became more successful, they wanted people to have access to their teachings without having to travel to Scottsdale. They came up with a book proposal and brought it to an agent in New York City.
“We were two women in the male dominated golfing world and we weren’t teaching traditional, technical teaching,” Nilsson said. “We had the draft, and we spoke with a book agent in Manhattan. He told us he liked our thoughts, but that we should focus on writing a book for women’s golf. Lynn and I were so disappointed. We knew we could do that, but we knew what we were doing worked for everyone, not just women. They wanted to put us in a box.”
Luckily, the agent changed his mind. A few weeks later, he called them back and accepted the book proposal. The book is titled: Every Shot Must Have A Purpose. They’ve now written six books.
Along with their golf school, Nilsson and Marriott have continued working with tour players, both on the LPGA and PGA Tours. Right now, they work consistently with six players and have others they work with less frequently.
“I’ve never liked when people ask, “Who’s in your stable?” We don’t have a stable,” Nilsson said. “We say, We have a harbor. Some come for short tune ups, some come to rebuild more things, some come often, some don’t come as often. Our goal is that they can go out of the harbor and sail anywhere around the world. Our goal in coaching is always not to be needed. But we know sometimes you have to come back to the harbor.”
Patty Tavatanakit is one of those LPGA major winners who thanked Nilsson and Marriott in her post-win press conference. Tavatanakit won the 2021 Chevron Championship, the 22-year-old’s first LPGA win.
“I’ve hugely enjoyed working with Pia and Lynn and I give them both a ton of credit for how far my game has come,” Tavatanakit told Golf Digest. “They’re an awesome resource, and they have a great balance of being accessible for me, but also holding me accountable for being on top of my process. Their success as female coaches is definitely inspiring but it’s not a surprise. It’s easy to see why their players trust them so much, and why those relationships are so strong.”
Every year, about 300 people come through the Vision54 school in Scottsdale. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nilsson and Marriott have expanded their online schools and programming. Their newest addition is lessons of focused, situational teaching that people can purchase. For example, if you’re someone who struggles with first-tee jitters, there’s a lesson for that which you can purchase, without committing to something more substantial like their eight-week online course.
“Our biggest goal is, we want these skills to be accessible to everyone, so we’re thinking of ways to do that,” Nilsson said.
The two have done a lot in golf, from coaching three No. 1 players in the world, to reimagining golf instruction for amateurs. But what they’re most proud of is that they were brave enough to bet on themselves at a time when people didn’t believe in two women trying to break new ground in the golf instruction world.
“Lynn and I dared to go with our vision, and our gut,” Nilsson said. “The books, the training, the school, it’s going well. We’re proud of players winning tournaments, but the pride in having the guts to go into business, feeling like we’re influencing the perspective of golfers, that’s what we’re super proud of.”