The director of instruction at Butch Harmon School of Golf talks to John McAuley about his role in reviving the American's on-course fortunes.
Justin Parsons is the Dubai-based coach helping Peter Uihlein get back in the swing
At first, Justin Parsons was unaware, given he was watching events unfold from back in his native Northern Ireland, but then the messages started coming through from Dubai.
Director of instruction at Butch Harmon School of Golf at the Els Club, he had a particular interest in the HNA French Open earlier this month, where Peter Uihlein entered the final round of the Rolex Series tournament with a share of the lead.
Parsons has been coaching the American since last year and, as Uihlein chased a second European Tour victory and first since 2013, his name cropped up on the tour’s live feed. There, Parsons was commended for his work with the former world No 1 amateur, who had struggled for consistency for the past few years. Not that Parsons had realised.
"A few of the guys in Dubai sent me that through because we got the Sky coverage,” he says. “I heard one of the European Tour commentators talking about that, which was very kind.”
Uihlein eventually finished second in France, coming up one shot short to Tommy Fleetwood. Obviously disappointed at the near miss, Parsons could take at least some satisfaction immediately afterwards, when in his post-round interview, Fleetwood referenced Uihlein’s technical turnaround. Coming from Europe’s hottest golfer right now, it was high praise indeed.
“The thing that was most special for me from a personal point of view – and we have to remember that we’re only very small pawns in this big adventure and these guys are the ones hitting the shots – was for Tommy Fleetwood to say that a lot of the players have been looking at what Peter’s done with his swing and how he’s been able to transform things a little bit,” Parsons says.
“It was a very, very proud moment. Because if the players can feel you’re doing a good job for their fellow players, and they feel like they’re seeing things, that’s a great endorsement for me.”
To his credit, Parsons is quick to deflect attention. As he points out, Uihlein is the guy out there hitting the shots, putting into play all the practice from all that time together on the range, or the constant correspondence back and forth to the player’s base in Florida. Uihlein has long been known as a talented golfer, but had regressed somewhat and last year a wrist injury contributed to him slipping to 297th in the world rankings. Hence the hook-up with Parsons in August.
“It’s been awesome,” Uihlein says. “I rung him up after I was coming back from surgery and I just wanted a full change, really. We’d done a little bit before - he helped me out when I was working with Butchie. And I just really liked what he said, things like the drills that he gave me and the games he gave me. It’s been a big team effort for my turnaround play, for sure.”
This week, the pair are together at the British Open, which starts on Thursday at Royal Birkdale - a knock-on from Uihlein’s runner-up finish in France. The performance in Paris represented his best finish on the European Tour in almost four years, although there have been obvious signs of progress this season already. Uihlein has five top-10 finishes worldwide in 2017, including a tied-fifth in Dubai in February, and has moved into the world’s top 100 for the first time since 2014. And then there is that place at Royal Birkdale, too.
“Getting to the Open is a big thing,” Parsons says. “That’s two majors he’s played in so far this year and that once again cements in a player’s mind the type of place he’s moving to in his game and where his game’s taking him. So that’s fantastic.”
The changes implemented by Parsons have begun to bear fruit. Careful not to alter too much, he felt Uihlein’s swing was a little too steep, so moves were made to bring the club in from a wider, deeper position with the clubface more open. It has helped make Uihlein more consistent, most notably in his driving – as displayed in France.
Parsons was in regular contact with Uihlein during the tournament, exchanging messages via WhatsApp, expressing his pleasure in his play, reminding that all that hard work and all the introspection through the tough times was worth it. That finally it was paying off. With the stakes so high, commendably Uihlein kept his emotions in check. And anyway, Parsons could sweat it out for both of them back in Northern Ireland.
“I very nervously watched the entire final round surrounded by my family back in Holywood and we were kind of glued to it,” Parsons says. “It was one of those ebb and flow days of golf and certainly with Peter making such a great run at the end, it was terrific.
“It’s a great journey when you’re working with a player and you see them starting to do the things you know they can do and you believe in them and you see them doing it under pressure. So I was extremely proud of him.”