It could have been at the crack of dawn or in the gloaming of the evening but, whatever the hour, Bob Torrance would be there. The driving range was his domain. With a cigarette in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, Torrance, who has died at the age of 82, was one of golf's most dedicated and knowledgeable coaches.
From amateurs to club professionals, European Tour campaigners to major champions, his was a meticulous eye that was cast across the golfing spectrum. With willingness and wisdom, Torrance's tutelage was all embracing; his passion and pride for what and for whom he taught was all consuming. Whether he was tweaking the swing of local postman-cum-professional Eddie Thomson at his Inverclyde facility in Largs or moulding Irishman Padraig Harring-ton into a double Open champion and US PGA winner in those same modest surroundings, Torrance simply revelled in being immersed in golf and its abundant intricacies and subtleties. Even the swashbuckling Seve Ballesteros sought out this sage of the swing.
In a coaching world of increased technology and hi-tech contraptions, Torrance remained steadfastly old school. His was a philosophy built on good technique, commitment and hard graft. His roll-up-the-sleeves approach was instinctive and favoured the naked eye. The absorbing stare could pierce its way through to the finest nuances of the swing just as effectively as the all singing, all dancing biomechanical analysis machines. With that instantly recognisable Scottish rasp, Torrance would deliver great pearls of golfing wisdom while, more often than not, wreathed in plumes of fag reek.
The words he growled could be harsh and colourful but then Torrance was always an honest, straight-talking man. One of this correspondent's early encounters with Torrance came during a Scottish Boys' Championship in which his teenage grandson, Daniel, was competing. Having watched the young Torrance lose his matchplay tie, the assembled scribblers gathered round Bob to winkle out a brief analysis of proceedings. "Ach, his short game's f***in' hopeless," barked Torrance, who was known as Bob to all and sundry but always as Robert by his loving wife, June. Suffice to say, the quote that appeared in the following morning's report was the slightly massaged, "Daniel needs to work on his short game." They were hard words from a hard-working man.
Torrance's obsession with the Royal & Ancient game began as a 16-year-old at Routenburn, that short, hilly course in Largs. By the age of 19, he was playing off scratch and his ability to construct his own swing and deconstruct the swings of others had been forged. "I studied every golfer known to man," said Torrance. "I tried to learn everything in the golf swing so I had a good idea how you should feel if I was telling you to do certain things. That's how I learned to teach."
One player he gleaned the most from was the redoubtable Ben Hogan, the nine-time major champion. Torrance had become infatuated by Hogan having watched him sweep to victory during the 1953 Open Championship at Carnoustie and the Scot would be fortunate to have his life illuminated by his idol when he spent time at the American golfing legend's Fort Worth home in Texas. "All modern teaching comes from Hogan," Torrance would insist having tapped into Hogan's encyclopaedic knowledge during these fascinating, fulfilling forays.
Having turned professional himself at the age of 20, Torrance took up a post at Rossendale, the Lancashire club where his son, Sam, would hone his skills during his formative years.
"I just gave him a couple of clubs and let him bang away but I remember one day when he was a wee bit older he came in and said he had shot a 43, it was a nine-hole course then," recalled Bob in an interview with The Herald back in 1994. "I told him to pick up the clubs and we would go straight out again. We did and he shot exactly 43 again. I started to think then that he could be a very good player."
He did become a very good player. Multiple European Tour wins and Ryder Cup success both as a player and a captain? The boy done good.
This particular boy was Torrance's only son but, in the extended family of golf, he had many surrogate sons. Harrington was the golden child. It was a relationship that began in 1998 and blossomed. The hard-working Harrington was right up Torrance's street and each man seemed to inspire the other. The Dubliner became such a regular figure in Largs that he even had his own room in the Torrance house.
The alliance would end in 2011 but Harrington, like many throughout the world of golf, will remain eternally grateful for the teachings of Torrance and his loss will be deeply felt. The driving range will never be quite the same again.
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