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Sports 101: Westhaven’s Virgil Herring sets example of modern day club golf professional

For anyone who has spent even a short amount of time around the golf course, you have likely encountered your club’s “head golf professional,” but what do you really know about what they do all day? Many still have the misconception that the club’s professional is the guy on the range most of the day giving lessons but is also the person selling the hats and shirts in the clubhouse and managing the social aspects of the club the rest of the time.

Herring uses a hands on approach along with the latest technology when teaching the game. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Herring uses a hands on approach along with the latest technology when teaching the game. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

While that assumption had merit decades ago, the role of the golf professional has evolved as the game of golf has. The modern day club pro no longer oversees the merchandise in the clubhouse or worries if the carts are being cleaned each night – there are now club managers who work to oversee the inside and outside staff. Today’s “club pros” are more likely to be called directors of instruction and be PGA certified teachers of the game.

PGA professionals like Westhaven Golf Club’s Director of Instruction Virgil Herring do still wear many hats, but now all of them are focused on one set of goals – teaching and growing the game.

Instead of worrying if there are enough shirts for sale in the pro shop, Herring is spending his days teaching students the game in a state-of-the-art facility, through radio and through appearances on television. As the game continues to grow in today’s multimedia world, so must the teaching of the game. With his multiple teaching outlets, Herring is a prime example of what that looks like.

Herring has the opportunity to reach golf fans across the world as host of the popular radio program “Golf Talk America,” which can be heard daily on PGA TOUR Radio and Saturdays in Nashville from 7-8 a.m. on 104.5 The Zone. He also can be found on a television screen near you as a teacher with Golf Channel Academy, the instructional arm of NBC’s Golf Channel, and also as a regular guest on local NewsChannel 5’s “Sunday Sports Central” providing weekly golf tips.

The famed David Leadbetter is credited with beginning the move away from a do-everything club professional and into more of an exclusive teaching role. The game of golf has experienced tremendous growth in recent decades, and while, yes, the “Tiger Woods effect” helped draw many new people into the game, it has been the PGA teaching professionals like Herring who have helped develop the games of these new golf fans and fostered a level of skill that kept them coming back to the course week after week wanting more.

Inside the Westhaven Golf Academy, Herring demonstrates to Director of Player Development Matt Walter the TracMan technology used to analyze a student’s swing and ball speed. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Inside the Westhaven Golf Academy, Herring demonstrates to Director of Player Development Matt Walter the TracMan technology used to analyze a student’s swing and ball speed. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

With the increased focus on exclusively teaching, how the game is taught has evolved tremendously as well. Those who took golf lessons two or three decades ago would hit balls on the range with one instructor giving them advice – then take it to the course and see if it worked. Now students at all skill levels are being helped with top-of-the-line technology, more focused research on the science of the game and from the increasingly important mental aspects of the game. The evolution of the way the game is taught has also led to the development of dedicated teaching facilities, like Golf Academy at Westhaven where Herring is based.

Inside the Golf Academy at Westhaven, you’ll find Herring at a teaching station that features multiple cameras and monitors to capture every possible video angle of a golf swing, along with Trackman Doppler radar that analyzes the swing and ball flight. You’ll also find a master club fitter to measure and fit golf equipment to the optimal specifications of each individual player, making Golf Academy at Westhaven a one-stop-shop for professional instruction.

Herring, who early in his teaching career was filming students on a standard VHS video camera then using dry-erase markers on a TV screen to show the planes and angles of a swing says of the technology advancements that, “it has changed my teaching career, for sure.”

Herring guides Westhaven’s Director of Player Development Matt Walter through the feel of a proper golf swing. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Herring guides Westhaven’s Director of Player Development Matt Walter through the feel of a proper golf swing. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Students of Herring can now see every detail of their swing from multiple angles and have tangible evidence of how specific changes affect their game both positively and negatively. With clubs that are fitted perfectly to them by Westhaven’s Master Club Fitter Tim Sygerych (who worked personally for six-time major champion Nick Faldo) and technology to guide their instruction, students are able rid their mind of other distractions and focus solely on the improvement of their swing.

For PGA teaching professionals like Herring, the sole focus on teaching the game along with advancements in technology has allowed him to have a tremendous impact on the future generations of golf. In his career, Herring has had 141 of his students go on to earn college golf scholarships. Many of those players have gone to major Division I programs, and Brandt Snedeker, his most notable student whom he coached from 2000-07, went on to be an All-American at Vanderbilt, PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year and the 2012 FedEx Cup Champion.

Herring doesn’t take much credit for the success of his students. He is quick to remind anyone who asks that he “didn’t take a single swing” to get them where they are. However, he is quick to share the joy he experiences watching each of them achieve their dreams.

What many don’t expect to be part of the golf teaching professional’s job may just be the most important for the modern day golfer. That is the job of being a part-time psychologist. Herring has spent a great deal of time studying the mental aspects of the game and differentiating the methods used in other spots that don’t necessarily translate to golf.

Herring is more than just a teacher of golf; he is also an accomplished player in his own right. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Herring is more than just a teacher of golf; he is also an accomplished player in his own right. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

He says of his focus on the mental aspects of teaching that, “once we get past the physical elements, it is always the personal psyche, the self-image, of a person that limits them on how good they can be – because they have a self-stamped envelope of who they think they are and can be.”

He added that, “it has always been part of my teaching because I’ve always been trying to figure out why I didn’t make it. It wasn’t for lack of ball hitting or a desire to do it, it’s just that there are certain mentalities that work well in other sports but don’t work in golf.

“When you try to understand the differences in golf and other ‘reaction’ sports, it is totally different in how you have to have calm about you and not think about mistakes. Having a game plan to handle adversity and knowing that golf is a game of misses, not a game of perfection, and how well do you manage your bad shots and miss hits are what make you the best player.”

Given the advancements we have seen in recent years to how the game of golf is taught, Herring anticipates even more change going forward.

“I think it is going to get even more segmented. I think soon you are going to see there is a place that you go to get your swing work and a place that you go to get your mental work, and those may not be in the same place. It is going to get even more segmented, and as we have so much more information about every player that it is going to become very personalized.”

If the world of golf instruction does continue getting more segmented and specialized, one thing players around Nashville will know is that Herring will be ahead of the game and making sure his students have the best advantage possible to become the best player they can.