Coach to the stars

Dean Bailey meets Andy Paisley, the coach behind some of the North East’s brightest golfing talents

Spend a few minutes talking about golf in the North East and you’ll hear the Paisley name. While European Tour winner and Northern Golfer columnist Chris may be your first thought, his older brother Andy has built a reputation as one of the UK’s best coaches and the man behind many of the region’s most talented players.

Hexham Golf Club professional Andy, who counts a number of European Tour players, England internationals and county players among his pupils, has worked with his younger brother throughout his golfing career.

“I really enjoy working with Chris and we have a fantastic working relationship,” Andy explains following a session at Hexham in pouring rain. Six years older than Chris, Andy says he’s always looked out for his little brother, preferring to compete against their older brother Richard.

Andy works closely on Chris’ putting while Andrew Nicholson is credited as Chris’ main coach. He regards his brother’s success as an important part of his own career, as well as a source of family pride.

“Chris is the best player I work with and his stats have really improved in the last couple of years [he was ranked second in strokes gained putting on the European Tour last year]. People are noticing that.”

Andy admits it’s the kind of relationship he could only enjoy with his brother. “We’re always very honest, brutally honest, with each other,” he says. “Telling Chris the truth is really important and it works for him. Other players might not take to that style, but we’ve got the balance spot on.”

Andy has become more and more in-demand on tour recently thanks to the success of his players.

“It takes time to develop your reputation as a coach. It’s a great feeling to have great players contact you to work together, it means you’re getting things right,” he says.

“What I’m most proud of is the pipeline of players I have coming through. It starts at the top with Chris and the guys on tour, and comes down through the elite amateurs to the juniors.

“There are 12-year-old juniors learning the same techniques as a European Tour winner; that’s going to benefit them so much going forward. With Chris being so successful, I’ve been able to spend more time around the best players; that’s helping me as a coach and it will help every one of my players.”

Challenge Tour players Charlie Ford and Scott Henry are also among Andy’s professional players, along with Ladies European Tour golfer Kylie Henry. Andy has also recently started working with South African European Tour player Justin Walters.

At home at Hexham Golf Club, Andy’s close relationships with his long-standing pupils are some of his most rewarding, including his work with our February/March cover star Andrew Scrimshaw.

“I really value the work we’ve done together and the friendship we’ve built,” he says about Andrew. “He is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen and his passion is incredible. He’s turned into a quality player; his statistics show that. I’d love to see him make it to the next level. He really deserves it.”

Many of the region’s best amateurs can also be found on the practice ground at Hexham alongside Andy and Ossie – Andy’s springer spaniel and trusted assistant.

The list features Matty Lamb, a former England boys captain, England girls squad member Jess Baker, and one of Northumberland’s most successful amateurs of the last few years Andrew Minnikin – who manages Andy’s England Boys Regional squad.

“I love working with players right through their development – from kids learning the fundamentals through to the tour players. I get a lot of satisfaction from coaching a really broad spectrum of golfers,” he says.

“The ultimate goal of a coach is to make players better – better practisers, better technicians, whatever they need to improve. Golf can be very results driven but it’s really important to focus on controlling the things you can control. We focus on measuring improvement and looking at statistics – from there we hope results will follow but good processes and continuing improvement is the key.”

While all his players are very individual, Andy explains that every golfer can learn from the traits his best players share.

“There are just two things that I want every player to do,” he says. “The first is to do the big things well – master the important skills for each section of the game while not sweating the small details too much.

“The second is to do the simple things well. The best putters I coach have amazing attention to detail – anyone can learn that. Everyone can have great aim, alignment and tempo. The best players I coach are the best at those things.”

Though he plays less golf than he’d like to because of his coaching commitments, Andy’s coaching has led to his game improving recently.

“I realised pretty early on in my professional career that I wasn’t going to be a tour player, but my game is solid without too much time on the range,” he explains. “In the last three years I’ve played some of the best golf of my life despite practising less than ever before.

“It all comes from working with good players; talking about good mechanics, good green reading and how to play and practise the right way. I can think about that and then apply it without necessarily hitting the balls.”

Andy exudes passion for the game in all forms, as his soaked gear in the back of his pro shop shows, and that has a lot to do with two of his mentors, fellow PGA professional John Harrison – who he worked alongside at Matfen Hall before moving to Hexham – and Andrew Nicholson.

“I watched John teach hundreds of lessons and learned so much about working with people. John has this incredible way of forming relationships with people and he taught me to invest in people as their coach.

“I was lucky enough to work with Andrew Nicholson as a kid and he always made me feel like I was Tiger Woods by the end of a lesson. He has the brilliant ability of filling you with energy and enthusiasm because he is so passionate about your golf and your improvement. I want every golfer I work with to feel like that.

“I’ve learned so much from both of those guys which I use in every lesson to this day.”

While his elite players grab the headlines and have allowed him to grow an enviable reputation in his 17 years as a PGA professional, Andy’s life as a club-based PGA professional is one he wouldn’t want to trade.

“It can be busy with coaching then having the business on top, and my phone never stops, but I wouldn’t trade it.

“I get a lot of videos and texts from players. I read a lot too. I study the game and spend a lot of time on players, tracking progress and keeping notes on sessions to make sure their on a good long-term path. It’s a real passion.

“Coaches have to be there for players. We need to care and players need to know that we care. That means investing in them.

“I couldn’t be at a better club to do all of that. The club and the members are so understanding when I’m away – my assistants Josh and Jonny are really experienced now and run the shop, custom fitting and loads more to allow me to commit my time to being the best coach I can be. I couldn’t do what I do to this level without an understanding and committed team behind me.”

While he’s incredibly busy, standing on the range at dusk in the rain or waking up to swing videos from his US-based players, Andy’s enthusiasm for the game is second to none. His players clearly appreciate everything he does to unlock their potential and their results are proof that the commitment is working.