By David Gould, Staff Editor
Phone calls and emails from golf coaches psyched about the USGA-led rollout of a National Team program have been flowing into Proponent Group headquarters. They’re also regularly reaching longtime Proponent member Henry Brunton. When coaches direct their questions to Brunton, they’re talking to the guy who long ago built the Canadian version of what’s being undertaken currently in the States. He’s happy to answer questions, especially given his strong sense that folks are getting ahead of themselves.
“On one hand, it’s exciting, it’s long overdue and it’s going to have a profound effect on the competitiveness of U.S. players,” says Brunton. “On the other hand, it’s an extremely slow build and the search for actual hands-on coaches is pretty far down the to-do list. People have to realize that.”
Resistance to the general concept, which Brunton encountered north of the border, won’t in his view hobble America’s efforts. “I started the Canadian program from scratch in my living room,” recalls Henry, “and it was very challenging to get buy-in from some of the people we needed as stakeholders. In the U.S. that buy-in should come more easily—although it’s still going to be a long, deliberate process.”
Scale also matters. “This is a gigantic undertaking,” says Brunton, “particularly given the size of the U.S.” Thus, it will be “five or 10 years,” he expects, before athletes nurtured by the US National Team program start showing up on leaderboards at U.S. Amateurs, U.S. Opens and other high-level competitions. “But when it happens, those leaderboards will be much more dominated by American players than they are now,” he predicts.
So, Brunton says, picture strategic plans in thick binders, Powerpoint presentations distributed to state golf associations, deep dives into “all the sport science this will involve,” and the interweaving of complex research and technology to produce a standardized curriculum, for lack of a better term. “There’s a lot of politics involved,” he says plainly—no problem at all if you’ve got a knack for building consensus and bringing people together.
“It’s an Olympics mindset,” he explains. “The 14-year-old swimmers and gymnasts and speed skaters out there are supported by consistently applied training methods. They’re also recruited and funded in a very organized way, so elite talent doesn’t get missed or fall through the cracks.” That last piece, he points out, is a heavy lift all by itself, if you want to do it right.
Golf performance expertise and first-class coaching skills will of course be in demand, according to Brunton, but “over the initial stages the staffing emphasis will be on leadership positions as the structure gets built out gradually.” That being said, there are excellent golf coaches who are also well suited to the “30,000-foot positions where you’re building relationships and repping the USGA worldwide,” he says. An example that comes to mind is the late Dana Rader, a successful academy owner and someone who used networking and personal bonds to create successful outcomes throughout the golf instruction field.
“In the end, the results of all this work will be phenomenal,” Brunton says. “The National Team leaders are going to discover just how much talent is out there in the U.S., and what can be accomplished with it. They’re off to a good start.”