Dubai golf coach Justin Parsons voted among top-50 instructors outside the United States and continues to perfect his craft, writes John McAuley.
Dubai golf instructor Justin Parsons is making a name for himself
Justin Parsons, director of instruction at the Butch Harmon School of Golf, is recounting a favoured tale from his base inside the Els Club, Dubai.
It begins with Rory McIlroy dropping in, unannounced, after a round at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, just as Parsons was taking a junior through a few swing drills. It includes pleasantries exchanged between friends and concludes with a completely bemused client.
“I’d just said to Rory ‘OK, sure I’ll see you later’, and then closed the door,” Parsons says. “But when I turned to look at the kid his mouth was wide open; he wasn’t quite sure what to do.”
Little wonder. Parsons had just been chewing the fat with a double major champion and title holder at this week’s DP World Tour Championship. Add to that, a frequent visitor to Harmon’s facility deep in Dubai Sports City (DSC).
That McIlroy spends a few weeks in the off-season there with Michael Bannon, his coach, is testament to Parsons’s pedigree. A fellow Northern Irishman who knows well Bannon from back in his homeland, Parsons has driven the usual route of golfer-turned-teaching professional – with a year banked as a pro on the old PGA Mastercard Tour – and arrived, via a few desert destinations, at an exceptional terminus.
Having earned his stripes at home in Knock Golf Club, picking up balls on the range to selling Mars Bars, his current position as head of tuition at Butch Harmon’s only Middle-Eastern venture seems rather sugar-coated. However, there is a lot of work, very little rest, and almost no play.
“I’ve managed 10 or 12 rounds in the past year,” he says.
Not that Parsons is complaining. More than a decade on the other side of the camera has lifted him into the rarefied air of Harmon-backed coaching, when in May 2008 Claude Harmon, Butch’s son and respected instructor, asked if he would swap The Montgomerie for a new venture at DSC.
Within three months, Parsons was in Las Vegas, picking the brain of golf tuition’s headline act. Jackpot.
“It’s like a computer nerd meeting Bill Gates,” he says. “Butch is an unbelievable character, a master communicator. He’s been a great influence, as has Claude.”
Three years under Claude’s wing gave Parsons the confidence to fly solo, especially when Claude left to run his own operation in West Palm Beach, Florida. The progression was recognised last month, when Golf Digest voted Parsons one of the top-50 instructors outside the United States.
“When I left, in the discussions between my father and I there was never any thought about anyone other than Justin,” Claude says. “In the last five years, he’s gone from being a golf instructor to become a great coach, where he’s developing players.
“He’s as good as you’ll find and, with the access he now has to top professionals, he’ll only get better. I see Justin as a member of the family. I’m unbelievably proud of him.”
It explains why the Harmon core values persist. Attention to detail, dedication, the importance of good communication, and all in keeping with the Dubai enterprise’s original objective: to provide children on the school’s junior programme the best chance to play collegiate golf in America, or become fully-fledged members of the main tours.
“We believe if they show the diligence and the work ethic, and follow our programmes physically, mentally and technically, they’ll give themselves a good chance to do that,” Parsons says. “We’ve got a great young team of pros here. And to be associated with the Harmons, that culture and the principles they stand for, is a tremendous advantage. It has a trickle-down effect to me and the team.”
The academy’s influence has permeated the golf scene, both locally and internationally. Zane Scotland has blazed a trail on this season’s Mena Tour, comfortably seizing its Order of Merit crown, and a number of the Asian Tour’s Indian representatives are also on the books.
As is Michael Hoey, victor at July’s Russian Open on the European Tour.
“It’s been fantastic to work with Justin and his team,” he says. “Justin’s knowledge of swing mechanics has helped me identify my pattern and I’m moving in the right direction.”
Parsons is certainly heading forward, although for now life on the road full-time is not an option. A young family — he, his wife and 16-month-old daughter — sees to that.
His mind, though, is constantly on the go, from seminars conducted in India to some less-than-casual reading on what makes great coaches tick.
Yet for all the research and swing restoration, the close association with the Harmons has taught Parsons one thing above all else.
“It opened my eyes to the simplicity of the task we have and how complicated we can make it if we don’t know what we’re doing,” he says. “Butch and Claude pride themselves in being able to see the thing that’s wrong, identify it quickly, and work on it.
“That’s something I’ve tried to do, through Claude’s pressure: always see it fast, make sure it’s the right thing, and fix it. Then you’ve a happy client and a happy golfer.”
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