Of all the sports, golf has to be the most frustrating, especially for a beginner. You think you have it all sussed out – ball addressed, grip right, arm straight etc. etc. etc. – but when you finally connect with that malignant golf ball, it takes on a mind of its own and decides to seek shelter in the nearest tree or bunker. AAHHHH!
When all is said and done, it is a wonder that golf establishments don’t offer anger management courses to their members … they would certainly make a fortune from the spin-off.
However, taking the frustration out of the game of aspiring PGA champions is Tom Mullarney, owner of, and chief bottler washer at, Mullarney G.O.L.F. Instruction, which is based at Westlink Commercial Park in Oranmore.
Mullarney’s philosophy is very simple … you wouldn’t put a person into a car and, without any tuition whatsoever, ask them to drive it. So why would your very first time to hit a golf ball be from a tee-box at the local golf club? Why would you pick up a golf club and expect to be able to hit the perfect shot there and then?
“Most people go to the driving range, pick up a driver, and start hitting golf balls. So it is like being sitting into a car and told to drive it at 100 miles an hour,” says Westmeath native Mullarney, who is married to Salthill native Finuala Stephens and has two children, Eibhlin (17) and Ronan (14).
“The first thing with golf, though, is that you first should learn how to chip, then pitch, then take a three-quarter shot, and then the full shots. You should learn to build up your game.”
That said, like most people, Mullarney did it the hard way. Upon finishing college in Athlone IT, the qualified engineer decided to try his hand at golf at Athlone Golf Club. He subsequently moved to Galway to take up employment as a design manager with Nortel in 1987 and in the ensuing years he continued to pursue the game as a member of Tuam and Oughterard before joining his current club, Galway GC.
“I played football at all levels (with Mount Temple and Castledaly), but with golf, I loved the preciseness of the game. It is a very precise game and there is a huge mental aspect to it. It is one of those games which, basically, has everything. Although some people say there is not a great physical aspect to it, they just have to look at the way the professionals prepare for tournaments.”
Within a year of embracing the sport, Mullarney had diligently worked his way down to an impressive handicap of eight, which would suggest that lessons for him would have, ultimately, been a complete waste of time.
Mullarney, though, disagrees, noting that for the next 20 years his handicap would extend no further than five, and this was after taking lessons all over Ireland, and, indeed, all over the world. All those instructors told him the same thing … “the lessons were pretty basic stuff”.
“Then a few years ago at the end of a lesson, I asked a Pro a particular question; I asked him a particular question about the swing. He said ‘you always want to know why’. For a minute there, I thought I was unique.
“He said, though, he had a book for me. The book was called ‘The Golfing Machine’. That book started to open golf up to me, of what was required to swing a golf club. So I started reading. He had told me it was a tough read, and it was. It was very technical. I suppose, though, with my engineering background, I understood it.”
Indeed, in many respects, Homer Kelley’s book – which seeks to provide a greater understanding of the geometry and physics behind the golf stroke – changed his life.
It was after his handicap fell from five to seven that Mullarney decided to employ the techniques in the book to try and reinvent his golf game. “I started to practise some of the things that were in it and I ended up knocking down my handicap from seven to 2.8. I had knocked off more shots in those few months than I had in the previous 20 years.
“Up to then, I was swinging a golf club, but I didn’t know how to use it correctly. That might sound strange to you. People say ‘you were a five handicap, surely you knew’, but I didn’t really. So it made such an improvement in my game that I wanted to meet the man who wrote the foreword to the book. He was a PGA golf instructor named Ben Doyle and he worked in America.”
Mullarney tracked him down, explained who he was, and that he was interested in teaching the techniques in the book in Ireland. He was told that he had to pass an open book exam – comprising of 500 questions – and, if he received 90% or more in that, he would then be offered an internship studying under Doyle and company in the States.
The father-of-two successfully completed the exam, attaining the required mark, and he subsequently packed his bags for the U.S. of A., where, upon completion of his training, was authorised by Doyle, who was ranked by Golf Digest in the Top 50 Teaching Pros in America.
Indeed, an instructor of The Golfing Machine for over 30 years, Doyle has coached a number of tour professionals, including Bernard Langer, Paul Azinger, Bob Tway and Steve Elkington to name but a few.
For his part, Mullarney became the first authorised Irish instructor on the world renowned golf swing instruction book and in June, 2003 – after leaving Nortel following 17 years of dedicated service – he opened Mullarney G.O.L.F Instruction, and golf store, at 17a Westlink Commercial Park in Oranmore.
As part of his instruction classes, Mullarney employs video technology to analyse a person’s golf swing, before unveiling a number of techniques to remedy poor play. “I set it up indoor, really, to take the attention off the ball,” continues the Salthill resident. “The motion and body movement has to be got right first.
“Really, you have to educate your hands to work the club and make the club function properly. It would be no different to using a knife and fork. The first thing we need to learn is how to control a golf club, the shaft, the face and the head. They have to be controlled when you swing the club. So you have to educate the hands to make that happen.
“You also have to obey the law of the lever when you swing the club. You have to swing it, the club, on an inclined plane and you have to make a circular motion. Actually, the basic golfing motion is a circular motion on an inclined plane with hinge action, with club face control,” he reiterates.
Offering half-hour tutorials for €45 and one-hour lessons for €70 – a package of six grinds can be secured for €350 – Mullarney believes that golf is not just about practice as such, but that it has to be about “perfect practice”.
He adds: “People when they start playing the game are really better off learning about golf before they go to the course. It is one thing knowing what you have got to know, but then you have to practise, so that when you do go to the course, you will do it subconsciously. That is the hard part.
“If you don’t practise, it is hard to do it without thinking. You should practise until you do it subconsciously, like the way you would drive a car,” concludes the adopted Galway man.
Good advice. Maybe those anger management courses might not be needed after all.