While much has changed with technology bringing a scientific approach into teaching, Sergio Dias of South Africa reckons there’s still room for the ‘old school’ way of coaching
By SHIV DAS
When at first you don’t succeed, try again…later. It’s what Sergio Dias, 31, is keeping in mind.
He gave himself a shot at becoming a golf pro back home in South Africa after playing college golf and mini Tours, but decided on coaching as he found he had a passion for it.
As for pro golf, he may have a go at it when he turns 50 and qualifies for the seniors tour with a better understanding of the pitfalls to avoid.
He’s now here in Malaysia on contract for two years with MST Golf Sdn Bhd, the country’s leading golf equipment and apparel retailer with a retinue of coaches, helping aspiring youngsters and even professionals get a fix on their game.
“Golf is not just a golf swing,” he said. “There’s a lot more that goes into it” — a message he’s busy promoting and imparting.
It’s not just the physical side of the game that’s there, but also the mental aspect, which parents of youngsters often don’t fully appreciate and which he’s well up on because his Level 3 in sports psychology helps.
Children are being exposed to golf from as young as four and as they grow, everything changes because they grow bigger and taller, and equipment has to be adjusted, a point that escapes most parents of wannabe golfers.
Custom fitting has to come into the picture and then understanding of the finer points of the game begins to make sense.
It says everything for professionalism being brought into coaching and Dias feels he’s in a good place right now to be able to do just that.
While much has changed with technology bringing a scientific approach into teaching, he reckons there’s still room for the “old school” way of coaching, focusing on the fundamentals of how the arms, body and trajectory feature in the swing.
In getting deep into coaching, he studies videos of top players of the past and present, such as Ben Hogan, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy — and what strikes him is the comfortable way they stood, addressing the ball. It’s not contrived and the same when swinging at the ball.
“A lot of the motions a player has to go through are done unconsciously. If I asked you to throw a ball to me, you would do so in the way that comes easiest and automatically to you.”
He’s benefitted from the international exposure he gave himself as a coach, going from South Africa to the UK and Europe where he set up base for a while, before college mate Geronne Nero, who had taken a position as master fitter with MST Golf, asked if he was interested in a position here and here he is.
He’s had no problems settling in. His coaching sessions start off with him getting an insight into mindsets and whether there are effects of past injuries he has to contend with.
With access to YouTube these days and online teaching, trainees come to him with lots of preconceptions, some of which he needs to unlock.
That’s the first base he goes to and then there is the uniqueness of an individual’s swing. “If it is, say A, then there is need for match-ups, as there’s no one way.”
When he was doing his apprenticeship under Chris Wilkins in South Africa, it was still old school, lifting the left heel on the swing take-way, body putting vertical pressure on the ground a lot more.
“We didn’t have technology then to know how much vertical force was being exerted at that point, but now we can see all that…why a person, say, does a squat on the downswing, exerting 140%, 150% body mass vertical pressure downwards.”
His first impressions of the game in Malaysia? “Golf is still very young and there’s big potential, given the weather is great and golf courses are in good condition.”
Really, there’s no need to go to America or Australia to kick-start a professional golfing career, because the facilities available locally are some of the best in the world.
There are tournaments (Professional Golf of Malaysia or PGM Tour) to cut one’s competitive teeth on and there’s also the Asian Tour, which figures favourably among the bigger international Tours, such as the European Tour and even the PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association) Tour, and provides “great stepping ground”.
More foreign players are coming to this region and allowing them to play will help raise the standard of the game in this part of the world. “Bring in everyone, open things up and competition will make players do so much better.”
Thailand and Korea are doing great because there is great support for the game. “The kids in Thailand work so hard and they have many role models doing well on the men’s and ladies tours, to look up to.”
If he is given the chance, he will extend his stay as he’s enjoying an excellent working environment — coaching integrated with club fitting, the works.
“If the swing is good and the numbers all look good, but the ball is not going where it should, we can have the fitters look at the club shaft and solve the problem.”
The South African connection at MST Golf is strong. Apart from Nero who came out here earlier, there are Andre Joubert and Luke Reuter, also fitters, and together the three provide the most advanced club fitting services in the country.
All four are based at MST Golf’s Superstore in Petaling Jaya, along the Federal Highway.
Malaysia needs more players on the bigger Tours and Dias sees his role as helping to fulfil that goal.
At the moment, he’s finding talents mainly via social media.
A typical day for him is either lessons on the course at TPC Kuala Lumpur for 80 “students” currently on his list, or giving online lessons that give him a lot bigger reach.
He’s able to break down various aspects of a trainee’s swing and shot making with the help of an app (Skillest), all for a monthly subscription, something he’s been adept at for more than two years.
He’s got clients in Jakarta, South Korea and even India. Although just six months into his job, he’s already thinking of extending his stay, because he’s tapping into a rich vein of golfing talent in the region he’s working with to good effect.