Tyler Lower, a new teaching professional at The Bridge Golf Foundation and Learning Center, fell in love with the game while working on the maintenance crew at Blackwolf Run in his native Wisconsin before the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open. That job was the beginning of a golf career that has taken him to Florida, Martha’s Vineyard, and the New York City area. He recently fielded some questions from Charlie Hanger, digital content manager for The Bridge Golf Foundation.
CH: Tell us about your journey in the golf business.
TL: I grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a smaller town in between Green Bay and Milwaukee, right on Lake Michigan. My first taste of championship golf was a job on the maintenance crew for the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run during my last year of high school. From there, I moved to a caddying position at Whistling Straits, where I worked for four summers. This gave me the chance to meet some great people and granted me the opportunity to work down in Florida at Seminole Golf Club in Palm Beach in the winter.
After a couple winters in Florida, I made my way up to the Northeast and had the chance to work a summer at Vineyard Golf Club on Martha’s Vineyard. That following winter in Florida, I met a good group of golf pros that were from the New York area, and they all told me the same thing: the golf scene around New York City is unbeatable.
After making my way to New York, I landed a job at the Golf Club of Purchase and quickly moved my way up there from outside operations, to the pro shop, and then into teaching. Learning to teach at Purchase, I used my winters in 2008 and 2009 to work at the Jim McLean Golf School and learned even more. That’s where I met Mike Sweeney, the director of golf at The Bridge Golf Foundation. We stayed in touch as I worked at a couple of other clubs in the New York area and Wisconsin, and when he asked me to come aboard at the Foundation, I jumped at the chance. So far it’s been above and beyond my expectations.
CH: That’s a pretty late start in the game. Had you played at all before taking the job at Blackwolf Run?
TL: Not really. I played soccer year-round, so I didn’t pick up the game until I was 18. Once I got the job on the golf course, they would send us out on our detail, which would be fixing divots or raking bunkers, pretty remedial at that point. After a while I got a 6-iron and I just started to hit shots while we were walking the fairways fixing divots, making divots myself. I really enjoyed it, and it was really challenging, and I found that golf tested more than just physical ability. It tested your mind and sometimes your body and soul all at once.
Having the golf course to use for a very discounted rate, if not for free, was a huge step for me. I was working pretty long hours, but at the end of the day I always made sure that I would walk a couple of holes, and I did that as well at Seminole. The caddie program there was full of hall of fame caddies and really accomplished golfers; guys who had played collegiately and professionally ended up going through there. I played three to five days a week when I was working seven days a week in the winter, and that really helped my game. Then I began to delve into the PGA pro side of things, and I realized that teaching the game was also very challenging as well as rewarding.
As part of my preparation, I did my due diligence and took lessons myself. I still take lessons because I think it’s really interesting to see how other people teach. It’s good sometimes to be the student and not the teacher.
CH: How would you describe the impact that golf has had on your life?
TL: Some people look at golf and it’s about exercise. Some people look at golf and it’s about escape. I looked at golf and thought, man, golf has taken me from Sheboygan to Palm Beach to Martha’s Vineyard, and the next thing you know, now I’m here in New York City. Golf has been a wonderful vehicle for me. I’ve met hundreds of people who I’m still close with. Golf is more than a game and does so many things for so many people.
I try to tell the young men at the Foundation this all the time. This game is hard for you, yes, this is a challenge for you, yes, but knowing what a 7-iron is and what a driver does can start you on a path to places you never could have expected, as it has for me.
Another great part of picking up the game for me was that I got my father back into playing. He worked nearly 40 years at the Kohler Company in Wisconsin before his sudden passing six years ago. He worked in the foundry, in the brass department, and lastly in the distribution center. He had played when he was a kid with his mother, but when he had kids and was working he didn’t really play. I got him a set and got myself a set as well and we just started to play. One of the greatest moments I’ve had on a golf course was witnessing my dad’s only hole in one, and there’s a funny souvenir of the moment. We had the scorecard framed, and it shows me shooting 100. My older brother loves to bring that up. “You might be the only PGA professional who has a scorecard framed that shows you shot 100.”
CH: When did you think, “I’m pretty good at this and I can make a living out of it”?
TL: Probably right around 2004. I was working with a professional, Andrew Shuck, who’s now at the Country Club of Charlotte. He took me out to dinner and said he thought I would make a good golf professional. He told me that caddying had gotten me pretty far and put me in front of a lot of important people, but he thought I should go another step and make a profession out of it. A short time after that, I decided I was going to get on staff at a club and start the process.
But it was still some time before I really felt comfortable with where my game was, where I felt comfortable playing with a member who I might soon be teaching. And I think my journey affects the way I teach. I teach with some empathy because I wasn’t this 8-year-old who just picked up the game and was this phenomenal golfer. I was an 18-year-old stubborn kid who was shooting 100. And that goes to show the progression you can have in this game.
CH: You have a lot of experience teaching indoors and out. Do you have a different approach when you’re working inside with a simulator as opposed to outside on a range?
TL: Teaching indoors is very different from teaching outdoors. You really get a chance to work on the body a little bit more because the players aren’t so caught up in the result. For a while I had my own indoor teaching setup in a barn in my backyard when I was living in Norwalk, Connecticut, and sometimes I’d even turn off the simulator to get my students to hear the sound of the shot vs. always looking up at the screen. Sometimes when you take away that result and just really work on what the body’s doing and where the club is and what it’s doing, then you really start to see results.
CH: How would you describe your approach to teaching golf, and does it differ for juniors and adults?
TL: When you’re teaching junior players, you have to keep them engaged. With all the options kids have today, if they’re not good at something, why would they want to do it? So, if a student isn’t driving it well one day, I’ll make sure we end the lesson with chipping or putting or something where I know he’s going to do well so that he stays interested and wants to come back for more. We’re going to get back to driving, but at a time when I know his golf psyche can handle it.
For all of my students, I love the fundamentals — grip, stance, posture. If you don’t have the core fundamentals, then it’s really hard to become a well-rounded golfer.
You also have to recognize how people learn. Some students need to see it. I’m a visual learner and love seeing my swing on video. I learned to play golf by watching other people play when I was a caddie. Some people need to feel it. I need to get in there with them and put the club in a certain position so they can feel how it’s supposed to feel. As an instructor, you have to recognize immediately where students are on that spectrum.
CH: Do you have a favorite teaching pro?
TL: If we’re talking about the mental side of the game, I think it’s Craig Harmon. I worked at McArthur Golf Club down in Florida for a short time parking cars and picking the range. I would always listen to him teach his students at the short game range, which was right next to the valet post. His ability to make people feel good was unlike anything I’d seen before.
When I was caddying at Seminole, I saw Bob Ford teach a little bit. If you had a picture of a PGA golf professional in the dictionary, he would be it. He wouldn’t say much. He’d let them hit it a little bit, say a couple of words here and there. And then a couple of days later, I’d be caddying for that golfer, and of course I was a nosy, want-to-get-to-know-everything type of person, and I’d say, “What did you and Mr. Ford work on the other day?” And you’d think it was going to be a long, drawn-out thing, but it was always something small — just a slight grip change or the club coming down a little bit steeper or whatever, and that was it. He showed me how a good instructor sees the problem, goes right to it, fixes it, and then lets the player do some self-discovery.
Another great lesson for me came last year when I got to caddie in the PGA Championship for Jeff Schmid, a friend of mine and a PGA pro from Iowa. One of the practice rounds was with Zach Johnson and his coach, Mike Bender. Being an instructor, this was about the best day of my life, walking around a major venue with a major winner and his renowned coach. On the fourth tee, I asked Mike what they were working on. I was so excited, expecting him to tell me the next big thing in golf, but he said: “We’re just working on alignment. On that last shot the ball went a little left, but Zach’s feeling like he’s aligned more to the right.” I was like, “Alignment? That’s it?” But I realized that, like a lot of other things in life, we sometimes want to find something big and complicated to fix when the answer could be something really simple. “Just make sure your feet are pointed in the right direction and make that same swing and you’re going to have a better result.”
CH: Have your sports allegiances changed since you left Wisconsin?
TL: Nope. I own stock in the Packers, so I’m an avid fan, and I’m going to their game against the Giants on Sunday. I also try to go to two or three games a year back home. I grew up a Brewers fan, going to games with my baseball team as a kid. A lot of my friends went to the University of Wisconsin after high school, so I spent a lot of time there. Got to see Ron Dayne break the career rushing record in ’99. Sports are really part of the fabric back home, and the Wisconsin sports scene has been great recently. I still follow all the teams, the Packers, Brewers, Bucks and Badgers.
CH: What are your interests outside of golf?
TL: I am also an avid outdoorsman, always trying to spend time outdoors — running, skiing, fishing, paddle boarding, and the occasional surfing outing. I’ve never missed getting a line wet when visiting Florida, and I always try to fish when I’m in Wisconsin, even if it’s a little ice fishing. I spent last winter in Big Sky, Montana, working at the Yellowstone Club. I skied a ton, got to Utah, Jackson Hole, and Telluride to name a few. I really enjoyed living out West.