England Golf feature: Nigel Edwards interviewNovember, 2014
The Walker Cup captain is England Golf's director of performance and coaching
In 2003 Caerphilly’s Nigel Edwards faced a 20-foot putt on the 18th at Ganton, with the biggest prize in amateur golf up for grabs.
“There was no pressure,” explained the long-time member of Whitchurch, near Cardiff. “I was just trying to hole the putt as I hadn’t looked at the scoreboard and wasn’t sure what the score was or what I needed to do.
“I didn’t quite hit it hard enough, but it was close enough to do the job.”
In halving his match, the unbeaten Edwards clinched a third consecutive Walker Cup victory for Great Britain and Ireland and marked himself out as one of the finest golfers to never turn professional.
It was a career-defining moment for a player who once ranked second among amateurs worldwide, and one that he has been able to repeat as Walker Cup captain in 2011.
In August Edwards also led his GB&I team to the St Andrews Trophy, defeating Continental Europe.
Next year he will again lead the Walker Cup team into battle, proving he has lost none of his will to win.
When he was appointed director of coaching in 2012, Edwards brought this determination to succeed, with which he hopes to develop the next generation of elite golfers.
Edwards said: “The players and coaches know how passionate I am about England Golf being successful. I want us to win.”
In recent years some sports have taken the competitive edge away from junior development, with participation being emphasised as the major focus, as opposed to scoring.
But Edwards and the team at England Golf want to develop the next generation of elite golfers, and winning forms the core of that philosophy.
From lifestyle and nutrition to short-game accuracy, everything is geared towards reducing the number of shots played on the course.
“We need to ensure a more physical approach to golf, with players becoming athletes, as opposed to ‘golfers’,” In the two years following his switch from the Golf Union of Wales, Edwards has overseen a change in culture at England Golf, where the emphasis has been placed upon the creation of ‘golf athletes’.
“We need to ensure a more physical approach to golf, with players becoming athletes, as opposed to ‘golfers’,” said Edwards. “Gone are the days when people just work out every winter and in the summer play golf and the focus for us has become the driving forwards of world-class athletes.”
Strength and nutrition have become a vital part of a golfer’s arsenal, with the physically-imposing Tiger Woods and, more recently, Rory McIlroy providing role models to today’s up-and-coming young golfers.
This athleticism is creating a generation of elite young golfers, vital if England Golf is to keep up with the competition.
“If we could have 10 Rory McIlroys coming through every year, that would be very nice indeed,” said Edwards. “There’s so many people out there now, giving 100 per cent, that if you aren’t, you’re going to fall behind,” Edwards explained.
“But if you can look in the mirror and say ‘I got the most out of myself today’, then you are going in the right direction.”
Levels of competition may be on the increase within the men’s game, but it would be remiss to think the ladies’ game isn’t following the same trajectory. The girls are proving as eager to develop their abilities as their male counterparts.
Numbers remain significantly lower than those taking part in the men’s game, but the amount of females taking part is increasing.
At England Golf, boys and girls are treated as equals, with girls undertaking the same performance programme, giving them the best opportunity to become elite players.
Female coaches such as Lysa Jones highlight England Golf’s desire for equality within the sport, with mutual respect for coaches, regardless of gender.
Edwards said: “What we want is the best person for the job, irrespective of whether they are male or female. It’s the skill of the coach to bring out the best in a player, and we have got some real quality coaches.”
These coaches all follow the same progressive philosophy that Edwards has installed at England Golf.
But for all the technological advances and culture changes that have been introduced during his stewardship, the cornerstone of a successful golfer remains the same – the ability to get the ball in the hole in fewer shots than your opponent.
“Our focus will always be on putting, short game and wedge play. These are the things we see in amateur golfers which we can address in the here and now,” said Edwards, adding that no matter how much time is spent in the gym or eating the correct foods, practice will always be king.
He added: “If you are not going to practise, you can’t expect to get better. We want to find their way of becoming a better wedge player and putter and part of our system is to help people to find that way of enhancing young players’ talents and maximising their scoring opportunities.”
When speaking to former charge Ryan Evans following his professional tournament debut in the Dunhill Links, the youngster said it was ruthless accuracy around the greens which separated the elite professionals from the rest.
From top to bottom, the mentality at England Golf is to see everyone improving. Players, coaches, even Edwards himself, are all part of an ongoing project that will see the provision of golf coaching in England brought to an elite level.
Edwards’ legacy from his playing career was a long list of trophies. His legacy as a captain already features the Walker Cup and St Andrews’ Trophy and, all being well, could grow longer following next year’s Walker Cup at Royal Lytham and St Annes.
But his legacy as director of coaching may prove the most profitable and could have longstanding effects for golf in England, with Edwards hoping that teams developed under his guidance will challenge for major trophies for years to come – even if it is at the expense of his beloved Wales.
“I want to win, this is my job. Clearly as a Welshman I want to see Wales do well, but my job is about England performing. Wales handed me the wooden spoon at the Home Internationals because England came fourth, and that has been noted.”