Dr. Jim Suttie is, at least arguably, Chicago’s best-known golf teaching professional.
Noted as a pioneer in applying biomechanical principles to the golf swing, Suttie was the PGA of America’s national teacher-of-the-year in 2000 and won that award three times from the PGA’s Illinois section. He’s also been among GOLF magazine’s top 100 instructors and among the top 20 in America on Golf Digest’s 50 Greatest Teachers list.
In a recent, far-ranging interview, Suttie offered these insights on the game he has taught to so many over the years:
QUESTION: While you’ve been based in recent years at Cog Hill in the summer, you’ve also been teaching in Naples, FL. What’s it like teaching down south?
SUTTIE: I’ve been at Cog Hill for 14 years and also at a club called TwinEagles in Naples. It is a two-course development that’s been doing quite well and has a nice practice facility, but in the summer it’s too hot and it rains a lot.
Q: Lots of tour players have come to you for help. Who would be the main ones?
SUTTIE: Well, I don’t own any of them, but I’ve sure worked with a lot of them. After they’ve done it all and tried all the tricks they want to find out what they’re doing (chuckle).
I worked with Chip Beck, Bobby Clampett, Loren Roberts and Brad Faxon from when they were on the regular tour to now, when they’re on the senior tour. I haven’t worked with too many on the LPGA, but did work with a few of them.
Q: You’ve also worked with two of our Chicago PGA Tour players, Mark Wilson and Kevin Streelman. Kevin is Chicago’s only home-bred PGA Tour player and you correctly he’d make the cut at the U.S. Open for the third time in the three times he qualified for that tournament. What made you feel he’d do well at Olympic Club?
SUTTIE: I was quite impressed with his scoring in (U.S. Open sectional) qualifying (Streelman finished third in the nation’s toughest sectional after shooting a 30 on the first nine of Ohio State University’s Scarlett course). He’s very streaky, but that course really suits him well. He likes to hit a little fade and work the ball.
Q: You’re not just dealing with high-profile players, though. What about some of the others you have worked with – the devoted amateur-types?
SUTTIE: Last week a kid from Nashville came by (at Cog Hill), then went out on the course and made five birdies. Those kinds of things tend to be fun.
But I also had an ex-surgeon, 71 years old, and his wife come in from San Diego just because they wanted to get better. I try to give each person what they can physically do to enjoy the game. I don’t try to put them in spots they have to do something.
Q: What about your young pupils?
SUTTIE: Well, I worked with Michael Schachner (promising young touring pro from the North suburbs) since he was 3 years old. He’s become a very good player, but at that high a level it becomes strictly mental.
There’s an 8-year-old who I’ve been working with for over a year. You have to have different approaches for every person. Everybody has their own learning style. You’ve got to make it fun for young kids.
Q: In general, do you prefer working with men or women?
SUTTIE: It doesn’t matter. They say I’m good with the ladies, but I might scare them. Maybe it’s my doctorate. They might perceive me as very technical.
Q: Tell me about all that schooling you’ve had. I’m assuming that led to you’re getting the nickname “Doc,’’ – because you’re one of the few golf teaching pros to have a doctorate degree.
SUTTIE: I’ve been teaching about 40 years, but I went back to school in 1978 at Middle Tennessee State and did research at the University of Kentucky to get my doctorate. I had gotten my Masters at Northern Illinois. I was an assistant coach at Northern Illinois and also coached at Eastern Kentucky and Florida Gulfcoast.
Q: Golf has changed a lot over your years of teaching, due at least in part to developments in equipment technology. Any thoughts on that?
SUTTIE: We have had changes in technology. They’ve been very helpful, but we’ve overdone it a little. We’ve been looking too much at body mechanics. I like to spend a little time on analysis and more on fixing.
Q: What working hours do you keep as a teacher these days?
SUTTIE: I’m pretty flexible. I just have people call my 800 number. I don’t do a lot of marketing.
Q: Any new projects on the horizon?
SUTTIE: I’m working on a book for ladies, and I’ll get some LPGA players to model for it. Ladies can’t swing like men, but they’re being taught like me. Men are stronger in the upper body. Women are stronger in the lower body. Men are diggers, women are pickers. They’re afraid they’ll hurt their fingers and wrists.