Day in the life: Wentworth pro Kristian Baker

On growing up with Justin Rose, major dreams & 'don't guess' coaching philosophy

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GolfMagic
Fri, 13 Mar 2015

Day in the life: Wentworth pro Kristian Baker

We all dream about winning a major, but I grew up playing with a guy called Justin Rose and I quickly realised it wasn’t going to happen. He was clearly a superstar in the making. He had amazing technique and dedication. I was so far behind.

I decided the next best thing was to coach someone to win a major and I’ve been close. In 2009 Ross Fisher led all four majors at some stage and was in contention for both the US Open and the Open at Turnberry, which he led briefly in the final round.

I started playing golf when I was 14, and by 18 I had got down to a handicap of about two. There was a group of four or five of us who played together at Tylney Park before Justin joined North Hants. Another was Brad Malone who now coaches Adam Scott.

Wentworth was my first proper job. It was 1997 and I was 20. After qualifying I moved up to senior assistant, and spent four years managing the shop and deputising for boss David Rennie when he was away.

But coaching was what I really wanted to do. John Jacobs is my all-time hero. Reading his books, it seemed logical, I could understand it. That was the biggest buzz, trying to help people get better at the sport I love. I started teaching Ross and others, and have been at it full time for about 10 years.

Ross was a Wentworth scholar, a scheme set up to give local kids the opportunity to play golf. I took him on when he was about 17 and playing off low single figures or scratch. He could hit it miles. He got into the England elite squad and started winning some big tournaments and got down to about plus four before turning pro.

Once he got into the England scene he got very serious and dedicated. He was very precise in everything he did. His practice balls were immaculately clean, his clubs, his shoes, even his towel would be spotless. 

He had this natural ability to play the game, not just in terms of technique but doing the best with whatever golf game he had that day.

He earned a European Tour card in his first year on the Challenge Tour, but went to Q School and got a better card with access to more tournaments.  

Every year I taught him his world ranking improved, culminating in that 2009 season when he had the lowest cumulative score for the majors. He decided to move on at the end of 2009, but I was delighted with what we achieved.

He was arguably one of the world’s best players that year. His game was miles in advance of where it had been. He was long and straight, a lethal combination, and when his putter was on he was hard to beat.

As head of instruction I’m responsible for everything to do with coaching at Wentworth. I have my own teaching bay and most of my clients are long-term pupils. I’d say 50% are members, the rest are non-members. Lessons range from an hour to half a day.

I believe in evidential-based teaching, so I try to give as much factual evidence for why the ball is doing what it is. I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Claude Harmon in the early days and learnt a lot from him. I then work it back from there, from set-up through the nine sections of the swing to try to find the root cause. The great skills of the best coaches is keeping it communication so you have to keep it simple.

I use video, Trackman radar, and I’m a huge fan of stats to give feedback on the areas that need improvement and work closely with Chris Sells from strokeaverage.com.  I also work closely with a biomechanist called Mark Bull.

You don’t have to be a low handicapper but if you are serious about improving, a biomechanist can help identify if there is a physical reason holding you back. We might be able to refer them to a physio or strength and conditioning coach to fast-track improvement. It could be a micro movement that is throwing out the whole chain.

Building a team is crucial nowadays with good players. A big part of my role is helping to form the team. They are all amazing at what they do, I’m just part of that puzzle.

I’m a big fan of throwing pupils into the deep end - hitting balls on the range is great but that’s not playing golf. Routines, shot selection, course management, awkward lies – there are plenty of ways to lower scores other than a nice swing so I'm a big fan of playing lessons, too.

Wentworth’s par-three course is amazing for teaching. Some people have a mindset it is for beginners, and I had one pupil years ago who was adamant they didn’t want to play it. When we got there, Nick Faldo was practising on it and that was the end of the protest.

Sometimes in the evenings we will hold a seminar with our seven coaches. We’ll pick a subject, such as putting pace control, or a certain golfer’s swing, and we’ll share our ideas on coaching.

When the BMW PGA Championship is on in May, the driving range is reserved for the tournament pros so teaching is shut down for the week. I’ve been lucky enough to have had players in the tournament for about the last 10 years, so that week is more about looking out for them.  

David Dixon is one of my most promising players at the moment. I started teaching him on the Challenge Tour seven or eight years ago. Within six months he was back on the European Tour and within nine months he won at St Omer in France. I haven’t actively pursued coaching established Tour players for the last couple of years, but I’m keen to get back into that now.

I can’t see myself travelling to all the events, though. A busy tournament practice ground on a Tuesday or Wednesday isn’t the ideal place to be working on your game. It is better to prepare properly back here, and then go and scrap it out. Don’t worry if it is perfect or not.

Wentworth is a great place to work, with all its history. With the European Tour based here, too, it’s like being at the epicentre of golf. But the best part is the members. The vast majority of them are very successful but they are such great people and so interesting. Spending a few hours with them is more of a pleasure than job.

Wentworth is visually at its best in the autumn, with an amazing array of trees and colours. The World Matchplay used to be a special time, with blue skies, frosty ground, and the pros teeing off at 0730am. That was superb.

My final piece of advice for golfers? Don’t guess. People try to improve by throwing darts in the dark. Get some proper factual advice for a decent diagnosis. You will save yourself a whole world of pain.