Love of Teaching – Manuel de la Torre
Great article on our late/great teacher – Manuel de la Torre
© The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – 2015
Fox Point — A stroke in September and a weakened aortic valve have robbed Manuel de la Torre of some of his independence. He uses a walker and no longer can drive a car, so he must rely on friends and caregivers to transport him and tend to some of his basic needs.
De la Torre’s mind, however, remains as sharp as the business end of a forged 1-iron. He hasn’t lost his gift for communicating ideas about the golf swing with clear and precise language or asking probing questions.
That’s why you’ll still find him most days right where he’s been for nearly 65 years: on the lesson tee at Milwaukee Country Club, working his magic as one of America’s most knowledgeable and respected golf teachers.
“It’s my life,” de la Torre said. “And it doesn’t take effort on my part as a teacher to teach. I have my speech, I have my eyes and that’s all I need to teach.
“The thing that bothers me, of course, is that I can’t demonstrate like I used to, because I can’t hit shots. But what else would I do? If I don’t teach I’m going to be sitting here and lose contact with the world.”
At 93, de la Torre can talk about the swing for hours. And if you’re lucky enough to spend any time with him, you’ll be wiser for it. The phrase “living legend” gets tossed around lightly, but in de la Torre’s case, it’s the truth.
He was born above his father’s golf shop in Madrid on Oct. 6, 1921. Angel de la Torre was Spain’s first golf professional and won the Spanish Open six times. He taught his son the basic tenets of the swing that became the foundation on which the younger de la Torre built his teaching career.
Manuel was a fine player, too, competing regularly on the fall/winter portion of the PGA Tour schedule in the 1940s and ’50s and winning the Wisconsin State Open five times. He played with Sam Snead, Tommy Bolt and Lloyd Mangrum, knew Ben Hogan and Canadian shot-making legend Moe Norman and traveled with Felice Torza, runner-up in the 1953 PGA Championship.
But it was as a teacher that de la Torre made his mark.
Though he can talk in great detail about the geometry and physics of the swing, his philosophy is based on the simple concept of swinging the club toward the target. Teachers and players today, he said, get too caught up in mechanics and body movements.
“You don’t think about your elbow when you’re brushing your teeth,” de la Torre said. “And yet, you’re very successful at brushing your teeth. But this is what happens with golf. People are not concerned enough with what they have to do with the club. They focus either on the body or the ball, and neither one of those things produces consistency.
“My philosophy is based on the knowledge of what to do with the tool that is used to propel the golf ball.”
De la Torre said he could fix Tiger Woods’ swing problems in 15 minutes, if Woods was willing to listen with an open mind.
“Tiger had a marvelous swing when he was 21, but then he wanted to go to a higher level, so instead of using his swing better — which is what I would have told him to do — he changed his swing,” de la Torre said. “He went to Butch (Harmon), then he went to (Hank) Haney, then he went to (Sean) Foley.
“If you keep changing things, you can’t perfect anything. He just had to keep doing what he was doing, and do it better. He would still be the same Tiger Woods now that he was then. He would not have lost his game.”
In 1986, de la Torre was named the inaugural PGA of America’s National Teacher of the Year. In 2005, he became just the 12th member of the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame. And in 2006, he was inducted into the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame with, among others, Jack Nicklaus.
He also wrote an excellent instructional book, “Understanding the Golf Swing,” which was published in 2001 after he spent a decade working on it.
But he might have toiled in obscurity if not for his close association with Carol Mann, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame who counts the 1965 U.S. Women’s Open among her 38 tournament titles.
“The unfortunate thing about my dad is he didn’t have the good fortune that I did,” de la Torre said. “I had Carol Mann. Foley, why does he get rated so high? Because he taught Tiger Woods. I call it fame by association.”
Among de la Torre’s other students were — and still are — 1973 Masters champion Tommy Aaron, Sherri Steinhauer, Bob Brue and Martha Nause. Two-time Greater Milwaukee Open champion Loren Roberts made it a point to see de la Torre for a swing tune-up when he came to town.
“I personally think Manuel might be the most knowledgeable person about golf in the world,” Brue once said. “I have access to and can afford to go to anyone (for lessons). I prefer to go to Manuel. He makes the game simple enough for a child to understand.”
Many of today’s top teachers have been influenced to some degree by de la Torre’s philosophies. Before David Leadbetter became a household name, he sat in de la Torre’s PGA seminars as a young teacher living out of his car.
De la Torre no longer can stand for hours on the practice range at Milwaukee CC, but he wants to stay active and give at least a few lessons a week. Students don’t have to be club members to arrange lessons but in most cases they will have to transport him to and from the club.
He hopes there’s still a demand for his services.
“If people want help,” he said, “I am very willing to help.”
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