Wayne Westner was one of the most talented players in the world, winning the 1995 Dubai Desert Classic and 1996 World Cup of Golf with Ernie Els. not to mention another 11 Sunshine Tour events in his native South Africa.
He agonisingly lost out of Nick Faldo in a playoff for the 1992 Carroll's Irish Open at Killarney and his career came it an end in unfortunate circumstances in 1998.
Playing in the Madeira Islands Open, Westner tore angle ligaments after falling over six feet when a railway sleeper crumbled under him as he played in the Pro-Am.
He played only once more that season and never recovered his best form, going on to open the Wayne Westner Golf Academy at Celbridge Driving Range before eventually moving back to South Africa in 2006 following a divorce.
Last week, 54-year old Westner was back on the Irish golf radar once more as coach to Royal Dublin's Jeff Hopkins, who attended the Wayne Westner Golf College this year and finished a brilliant sixth at the Sunshine Tour Qualifying School.
Hopkins will turn professional now and Westner, who has patented a golf swing training aid he believes will allow anyone to hit a golf ball properly after just 20 minutes, has taken him under his wing.
As he told Compleat Golfer last year: "I’ve been working with Dennis Bruyns on a robot that teaches people how to play golf in just 30 minutes. It’s a robotic arm that gets you to swing the club in a perfect arc, set exactly for your size, plane, height, etc. It also shows you how and when to break your wrists and release your hands – it’s a phenomenal machine. It just needs some financial backing, but it won’t be long before it’s on the shelf, and I think it will revolutionise golf.”
Hopkins grooved his swing with Westner's training aid and the former tour winner is now also helping Lucan's Richie O'Donovan, the former East of Ireland champion, at his golf college at Selborne Park Golf Club on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast.
A lover of the game in all it's complexity and simplicity, we caught up with Wayne for a brief chat recently and his hopes for Hopkins, O'Donovan and his invention.
Q So how good is Jeff Hopkins, Wayne? That was an impressive result at Q-School.
He’s a class act and along the lines of Adam Scot — a very hard-working, very dedicated young man. He had a few problems so he came out in January this year and worked really, really hard. I’ve got a a very simple machine I’ve developed and I put him on that for a couple of months and worked on that and did a lot of work on his mental technique.
The swing is one thing but the mind is very important as well and needs to be practiced as well. He’s come a long way with his mind. The better your game is physically, the easier it is to teach the mind. The mind is purely a reflection of experience. If you hit 10 bad shots, your mind is not going to show you a good shot. You have got to hit eight or nine good shots for your mind to be able to show good shots. You can’t lie to your mind. You can only teach it how to be honest.
Q How has your invention helped Jeff?
My machine is very simple. It’s a fixed arm that swings the golf club and keeps the golf club on plane. Jeff’s going now to pick one up to bring back to Ireland. He’s got a good golf swing now. Every bit as good as Adam Scott’s. Everybody is talking about him over here. He hits the ball so far it’s not even funny. It’s not that he hits it far. He hits it straight. It’s like he’s holding a rifle. He’s lot better than I ever was.
Q You're being modest. There’s a big step up from the Sunshine Tour Q-School to making it on tour. What does he have to do now? Just go out there and play?
To be honest, I know I was never this good. I played well with strength and guts and determination. I never had the physical technique that he’s got. Now it’s a case of competing and maybe winning an event. Now he’s got a card and he can play and compete and earn money from it. He’s certainly as good as anybody out there. If not better in my opinion.
Q What do he need to work on?
One of his flaws is that he finds it really hard to cut himself some slack. When he does hit a bad shot, because he hits so many good shots, it’s hard to accept it. I’ve told him it’s not a game of good shots, it’s a game of bad shots and he’s starting to accept that and control his emotions a lot more. I can see him going from strength to strength, if he keeps doing what he is doing. We’ve got him a really nice team — a management team (he knows everything about physical training), we’ve got him a caddie, some sponsors and perhaps a few invites.
Q There’s a lot of young talent in Ireland waiting to explode if they get the right people around them. Do you see that?
You’re right. Pádraig Harrington is the perfect example. He got his degree in his accounting. Then he got somebody to train his swing. Then he got somebody to train his mind and then he got his fitness trainer and he just stuck to it. In all fairness, Pádraig hadn’t the talent that a lot of the kids had but he decided that’s what he wanted to do and he just stuck to it and stuck to his routine. That’s what it is. Pick a team and just stay with it.
Q How is life since you returned to South Africa from Ireland?
I was in Celbridge for about nine years and came home in 2006. Unfortunately, I separated from my ex-wife and I missed my son so much because he was only coming back on holiday. So I made the decision to go back home and it’s great. I loved my time in Ireland. I was very happy there, met some wonderful people and still have some great friends there.
Q Life is good.
I’m in a fantastic part of the world. I have one or two players — I am also trying to help Richie O’Donovan at the moment. He’s another good player with the potential to be a great player. It’s just the mental game with Richie to be quite honest. So I am focussing at the moment on my swing aid which is called Instant Golfer. I’ve been working on it for give years and we hope to launch in January next year. It allows a beginner to hit the ball in 20 minutes. It folds up into a golf bag and you can put it in your car. It weighs on 25kg. My passion in life is to create more golfers. We only have around 120,000 golfers here and I think we should have 700,000. People don’t want to play because it is too expensive and takes too long.
Q How can you get more people playing the game?
Well this machine doesn’t teach you how to play golf but it teaches you how to hit the ball in 20 minutes. So you can go tot he course and not make a fool of yourself which is one of the reasons why people don’t play.
The South African equivalent of McGuirks is now selling bicycles as well as golf clubs. I want to change that a bit so the game becomes more affordable and more of the general public play. More normal people. Golf is in a massive down cycle at the moment but it will pick up again. It has to. And I would love to be part of it because I love it so much. I think the golf swing is such a simple thing but unfortunately everyone does exactly the opposite of what is natural when they touch a golf club. So if you can show them the natural way immediately, the game is not very complicated. the ball is just sitting there waiting to be hit.
So the golf swing has been my passion my whole life. I’ve studied it and I love it.