George McNamara: Lessons of a Master

If you’ve had a coaching style for about 20 years, it would be human nature to think your approach is pretty good. You might think of yourself as an expert and a difference maker. Especially, if you’ve been certified as a Master Professional.

But imagine that after two decades or so, you realize something quite alarming—that the approach you’ve been religiously following doesn’t help people. In fact, it prolongs their mediocrity.

You might resist and stick with it anyways. Better than admitting you’re not the guru that everyone—including you—thought you were.

Not George McNamara.

After 20 years, he changed his approach to coaching golf completely. Rather than continue teaching golfers mechanics as the “answer man,” he devoted himself to empowering his students in learning and self-discovery.

That tells you so much about George—in the way he coached, led employees and lived his life; he was all about supporting and encouraging people. It was never about George. As a mentor and model for me as a coach, he was an inspiration.

Sadly, George (Mac) McNamara passed away at age 73 on July 19 from complications following cancer surgery. Tributes about George spoke of his kindness, caring, his sense of humour and generosity.

“George was an A-Type personality, a big picture guy, a futurist, first class, top shelf, professional, open minded, wanting to help. He wanted to be your guide,” said David Linkchorst, a PGA of America professional who works and teaches at The Golf Zone in Honey Brook, Pennsylvania where George was a partner.

I believe there’s much that everyone can learn from George’s story that can make a difference not only in your golf but also your life.

During a Swing Thoughts podcast in 2019, George told us about his transformation as a coach when he was Head Professional at Brandywine Country Club in Delaware. “I gave the same people lessons for 20 years, but no one was getting any better,” he said.

“I’d impart my wisdom to them and I felt that if they couldn’t do it, it must be their fault. I figured, ‘I’m pretty well trained and I know what I’m doing.’ I blamed them for not observing what I was asking them to do.”

In 2004, he listened to a presentation by Fred Shoemaker at the PGA of America Teaching Summit, an event that has become legendary for the chilly reception that Shoemaker received for, in essence, telling about 1,100 teaching professionals that the standard mechanical approach to instruction didn’t help the majority of people to play better golf.

“Fred’s talk blew me away,” George said. “It was the opposite of almost everything that I had been trained to do. When I listened to Fred, I realized there might be a different way.

“The basic premise of Extraordinary Golf is awareness. What I found was that coaching empowered people to learn, rather than me being the answer man. My job was no longer to supply information, but to draw something out of them.

“Everyone has a swing. They just haven’t experienced it yet,” George said.

Following Shoemaker’s model, George created a non-judgmental environment in his lessons in which people could learn from their own experience. The process of learning was everything.

His approach contrasts starkly with a golf instruction culture that stresses that if you learn the right technique, you will fix your game. In essence, you’ll get the outcome you’re seeking.

George countered: “If you are just looking at outcomes, nothing is going to change. Outcomes are always changing. If you are looking for process to change the outcome, that’s where learning takes place.”

When many golfers hear about learning from their own experience, they don’t understand what it means. George tells a story that makes it easier to grasp.

(I’ve condensed the story here, but George told it brilliantly on our podcast. Click here and fast-forward to the 105-minute mark for our in-memorial section on George on episode #206. See the links below for George’s four appearances on Swing Thoughts.)

A man who had been battling a slice for 15 years came to George to fix his ailment. At the range, George didn’t give the man any mechanical instructions. Rather, he encouraged him to actually hit slices, “the bigger the better.

“But toward the end of the lesson, he started to experience the club going from outside to inside (the target line) with an open clubface. Three weeks later, on his own, he got rid of his slice.”

Notice that George allowed the man to coach himself and find his way to swing.  That story wonderfully encapsulates George’s faith in people and how he inspired them to discover their own brilliance.

Thanks George for being a good friend, mentor, model and coach to me, and to thousands of people fortunate enough to have shared precious time with you. You are missed.

To listen to George on Swing Thoughts, click on the following:

#Episode 89

#Episode 107

#Episode 128

#Episode 169

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!

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