Bob Toski Golf Pro: Road Less Traveled Leads to Legendary Career

    Imagine a modern-day professional winning the PGA Tour money title at age 28, then retiring from competitive golf two years later to spend more time with his family.

    That’s exactly what Bob Toski did, and it’s just one of many convention-defying aspects of his amazing career. He would go on to become the dean of American golf instructors and the first person inducted into the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame while still living.

    Born in Haydensville, Mass., in 1926, Toski was one of nine kids. Two older brothers were assistant pros at a local club, where Bob caddied and learned the game. He turned pro in 1949 and blossomed in 1954, winning four tournaments and leading the Tour in earnings with $65,820 (equivalent to about $560,000 in 2012 dollars). The tiny Toski routinely hit drives of 260 yards or more and was considered golf’s longest hitter, pound for pound – he weighed just 118.

    In 1956 Toski left the Tour to help his wife raise three young children; many believe his decision was influenced by the death of his own mother when Toski was 6 years old. As the years went by, it became more and more obvious that he had made a wise choice. Toski lived comfortably as a club pro, mostly at courses in the south, and earned a reputation as an astute teacher.

    A marketable one, too.

    Toski gained widespread fame in an era before top instructors enjoyed celebrity status. His colorful personality played well on television, and millions watched his tips during NBC’s golf telecasts beginning in the 1970s. Toski also produced numerous books and was a pioneer in the instructional video genre.

    Of course, Toski was more than just a showman. Frequently sought out by golf’s top players, his pupils included Tom Kite, Judy Rankin and Pat Bradley.

    Toski returned to competitive golf on the nascent Senior Tour in 1980. While his reputation was sullied by cheating accusations arising from a ball-marking incident in 1985, Toski maintained his status as a top-flight teacher. In fact, he continues working at age 85 at the Toski-Battersby Golf Learning Center in Coconut Creek, Fla., which he started in 1989 with partner Gary Battersby. There’s at least one current tour player, veteran Ken Duke, under his tutelage to this day (August 2012).

    Who knows what Bob Toski could have accomplished had he pursued his playing career? There are plenty of golfers who are glad he didn’t. 

    Famous students: Tom Kite, Bruce Crampton, Bruce Devlin, Judy Rankin, Pat Bradley, Jane Blalock, Ken Duke 

    Core philosophy: Not surprisingly given his sprite-like size, Toski has always valued touch over brawn. He encourages students to develop feel around the greens and back to the tee.

    Where modern swing theory often focuses on using the big muscles (hips, torso, shoulders) to generate clubhead speed, with the hands and arms in a supporting role, Toski sees things the other way around: He believes the arms, hands and wrists lead the body and create speed. It’s a principle he shares with noted colleague Jim Flick, with whom Toski collaborated on the book How to Become a Complete Golfer.

    Toski espouses light grip pressure and relaxed arms, plus good balance and rhythm emanating from the feet. 

    Classic Toski-style tip: To drive home the importance of grip pressure, Toski teaches students this drill:

    • Take an iron in each hand and hold it upside-down, by the clubhead, pointing both ends at the floor.
    • Try to tap the grip ends together. It seems simple, but many golfers find it pretty difficult.
    • Tap the grips together a dozen or more times in a row.

    The secret to success: Light pressure in the hands. This keeps the wrists loose and flexible, which enhances your feel and control. It may seem like a contradictory concept, but it works – and it translates well to the golf swing.