April 27, 2016

Manuel de la Torre a remarkable teacher


In 1986 the PGA of America established the Teacher of the Year award to recognize excellence in teaching. It was only fitting that the first PGA professional that received this high honor was Manuel de la Torre. Manuel died peacefully at the age of 94 in Milwaukee with his daughter at his side this past Sunday. He was a remarkable teacher and role-model for thousands of amateur students, golf professionals, and golf teachers.

Manuel was born above his father's golf shop in Madrid, Spain. His father, Angel, was Spain's first golf professional and introduced Manuel to the game by making him tiny golf clubs. The de la Torre family barely escaped the Spanish Civil War and immigrated to the United States in 1936. Growing up in the golf business, Manuel shared his father's passion for the game and the golf swing. Being a fine player on his own, he could've pursued a playing career, but his true calling was to teach. He became the professional at Milwaukee Country Club in 1951 and never left. His father was a close friend of Ernest Jones, the author of "Swing the Clubhead". He and his father would have endless talks about the Ernest Jones method and their own observations and understandings about the golf swing. Their thirst for knowledge and their close relationship and conversations lasted until his father's death at 86 years of age.

I was lucky to have known both Angel and Manuel. I attended a four day PGA seminar that Manuel and Paul Runyan conducted at Houston Country Club in 1980; watched him teach at his special teaching area at Milwaukee Country Club in 1975 and had dinner with him in PGA Gardens, Florida in the early 1990's. His passion and communication skills were compelling. His way of reducing a very complex subject to simple to understand terms was amazing. But I knew his father much better. I corresponded with him and I would travel down to Tamarisk Country Club in Palm Desert and take lessons, where Angel taught in the winters. Summers he would spend in Chicago and teach at Lake Shore Country Club, where he was the professional for 37 years. Knowing the father like I did, I saw all of what his father taught his son and the integrity and humbleness what was part of their personalities.

This exchange was first told to me by Angel and then Manuel repeated the same story at the PGA Seminar in Houston. I repeat the story often. Gary D'Amato of the Journal Sentinel, included it in his tribute to Manuel and sums up what we all should be looking for and be doing.

De la Torre was runner-up at the 1942 NCAA Championship while at Northwestern University. "When I got back from the NCAA, my dad asked me how I played — he never asked me how I scored," de la Torre said. "I told him I played very well. He then asked me, 'Do you know what you're doing?' I said, 'Yes I do.' Then he asked me, 'Does it work?' I said, 'If I do it properly, it will work.' "So then he said to me, 'Son, if you know what you're doing and it works, spend the rest of your life perfecting it.'"

Pretty good advice!



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