Question Period with one of Latin America's most influential coaches
It's not often that a woman leads a national golf federation's coaching staff. When it happens it often generates some reaction and excitement.
Monica Tamayo is now the head coach with the Golf Federation of Peru having served in a similar position with the Colombian Golf Federation. She brings a solid golf resume with her wherever she goes, demonstrating the important roles that women can play in Latin American golf. Her resume naturally started with her playing career, where she eventually attended the University of Wisconsin (Badgers), playing with the Women's Golf Team. She was a Badger's "letter winner" from 1983 to 1986 and has had a strong link to her alma mater.
Our South American colleague, Africa Alarcon recently connected with Monica to ask her some questions about her journey in golf and in being a trailblazer for women in golf.
1. How did you start your life as a golf player? Who was your biggest inspiration when you were young?
The truth is that I started playing golf and tennis at the same time -- at the age of 12 or so. My dad recommended that I dedicate myself more to golf because he saw many more opportunities to excel in golf than in tennis because there were so many tennis players. I started playing golf and progressed very quickly. In less than a year I already had a 23 handicap and I enjoyed it very much. My great model or female golf role model was Nancy López. I grew up with that Latin American model that women and even from Latin America could go far through competing in golf. I owe a lot of my love to golf to my great lifelong teacher Rogelio González who is a lover of this sport and he taught me about passion and desire to improve.
2. When did you realize that you wanted to be a golf teacher? What were your first steps?
When I was pregnant with my son Juan Fernando. At first, I experienced a very strong "morning sickness", but in the afternoons, not in the mornings . So I started working only part time, I worked in the morning and stayed free in the afternoon in case suddenly I did not feel well.
In the afternoons I would go to the club, practising putting and children would come up to me and ask me what I was doing, how I would practice, if I could look at them and help them anyway. From there, I was hooked. I started to participate in the children's program in my city and I had the privilege of accompanying a group from Antioquia to the national junior golf event in Ibague in 1992. While there, I met a young Camilo Villegas and Camilo Benedetti. I also received unconditional support from the mothers and fathers of these children in the national program and we had a spectacular week. That's where my vocation for teaching and coaching was born.
A year later, a man named Álvaro Vélez, who was president of the Pereira Country Club, called me and suggested that we set up a children's and youth golf school at his club and I told him that I was not qualified to do so that I had not prepared for this. He responded that maybe not formally, but that he had seen me on several occasions working with the juniors and it seemed to him that I had the makings of being a golf coach.
So, I accepted this job I went to live in Pereira, and that is when I started to learn and educate myself in everything I could related to golf and coaching. For example I trained with TPI (Titleist Performance Institute), in golf training technology, with KVest, Trackman, Boditrak, and with video preparation. I also immersed myself in physical preparation, mental preparation with Vision 54,and everything related to golf. putt and short game with James Sieckman, and others.
The truth is I was always passionate about studying and doing my best in whatever I do. So in order to be the best that I can in my golf coaching career, I have time and energy in staying current, studying all the issues related to the development of the golfer and their swing.
3. During your teaching career, what moments were most remarkable for you?
As a teacher there have been very special moments, I remember especially when I was the caddie for my student, Martín Jaramillo at a junior golf tournament in Doral (Florida). Martín won the event for the 8-9 year old division. It was very exciting and satisfying to see his happy face — it is priceless! Another moment came when I was coaching the Colombia men's and women's team. The women won the South American youth team competition in Brazil. Our men's team finished second so both women's and men's teams qualified for the world tournament in Japan.
Then there are other memorable moments such as meeting up with some of my students who chose not to pursue golf as a professional career. It was satisfying to hear them share their successes, developing careers and how golf helped them develop skills and attributes such as discipline, punctuality, resilience, chivalry and building relationships with clients.
4. How would you describe your succeed in a male-dominated environment such as coaching golf? What advice would you share to those that follow in your footsteps?
I believe that by sharing my experience and knowledge with other instructors helped me grow and establish my skill and competence in an industry that is dominated by men. In my travels abroad, I attended many different seminars, educational conferences and symposiums, bringing back what I learned to share with others in our profession. Doing that helped other instructors gain access to training, knowledge and new ways of thinking in golf. Despite many not knowing English, we translated the course materials into Spanish and that was very helpful, especially since many of my fellow instructors were not able to travel abroad.
In hindsight, I think that by sharing like we did, it created a sense of belonging amongst all of us, that it was not about competition with others or about gender, but was rather we have all been orientation towards teamwork and knowledge sharing in order to help grow the sport of golf.
To those wanting to become golf coaches, it is my advice that they train and learn as much as they can so that they have a strong foundation of knowledge. Then as they continue to develop themselves, they can adopt their own style of coaching. I also believe that it is important to have an area of specialization or expertise. Have a good foundation of knowledge, but find an area of interest that you can be passionate about and specialize in that area. You will build a reputation for your teaching and being able to inspire others.
Being professional is important, not getting involved romantically with co-workers because it is a professional environment and others will only see you as a professional as you maintain that integrity and consistency. Establishing your professionalism and credibility is important for the long term. Also, it does not matter if you are a man or a woman, the focus should be on continually improving yourself in all aspects of your vocation and to just do your best to be a good person everyday.
5. Tell us about how you joined the Peruvian Golf Federation and the challenge of working there during this Pandemic.
After 12 years of serving as the coach and national director of education for the Colombian Golf Federation, the organization underwent a major change in the Board and its directors. It was natural time for me to review and evaluate my work with the Federation. After much thought, I knew it was a time for a change too and to look for new opportunities that could challenge me and stimulate my thinking and professional growth.
It was during this time that I was contacted by representatives of the Peruvian Federation, asking me if I would consider traveling to Peru one week once per month to work with their national team. It seemed like a great opportunity that came at the right time in my career. Besides, Peru is a country that has many attractions. Lima is a very cool, quiet city where you can eat deliciously but what I liked the most was the potential that the children have. They have a strong desire to progress and excel and I had the opportunity to grow with them.
This pandemic year has been very difficult because I have not been able to travel. Initially, we did virtual physical training for 3 months, I supported a teacher in the golf classes that he was delivering virtually, but in reality with all the courses closed and the country closed, it was very difficult to make the progress that we wanted. The pandemic situation is still very difficult and it is likely that for this rest of the year it will not be possible to travel to Peru either.
6. As a golf teacher, what do you enjoy teaching the most and which part of the process excites you the most?
I have always liked the short game; I am passionate about teaching the short game (putting, chipping, approach, bunkers, up & downs, and more). It is an area that many other teachers do not spend time on, or they do not like very much so there is an opportunity to reach my students in an important area of the game. I also enjoy possibilities for improvement that every person has in golf.
I am passionate about continually learning and improving my skill and knowledge. I have done this my entire life -- at university and after. I have continued, studying the coaching technology and methods, mental coaching, psychology, fitness, strategy and tactics, and I like it when everything converges and that improvement is seen in individual students.
7. What do you think is the most important skill / ability of a golf teacher?
A golf instructor and coach must have different skills and be very competent with them. As for me, I believe that the most important ability is to have an "eye for details" — being able to look at a player and assess their current level of skill so that I can develop a learning program for them that helps them progress as an athlete.
I must also mention that it is also very important to learn how to actively listen to our players. We must resist the temptation to continue speaking or be overbearing in our manner of speaking and we miss hearing what the player is trying to say whether it is what the player wants to accomplish, what they feel or sense about themselves and their swings, and how to receive important feedback from our students.
8. How is professional golf growing in Latin America?
Golf was growing in Latin America, exciting new players were emerging, many with the potential to be stars in professional golf. Like elsewhere, the Covid19 pandemic has had a serious effect on golf. Competitive golf events have dried up, and that has slowed down the development of many promising young professionals. Once the pandemic retreats, we will hopefully see the resumption of competitive golf for our young players.
Latin America has seen many young players arrive in professional golf playing on the PGA or LPGA tours such as Jhonattan Vegas, Sebastian Muñoz, Abraham Ancer, Joaquin Neimann, and Carlos Ortiz. There are many good women playing professionally too, particularly from Mexico ( Gaby Lopez, Ana Menendez, Fernanda Lira, and others) and they have been very good role models for our young players showing that they are not only good players, but good people with charisma and caring personalities. It is important to show strong leadership that is also sharing and caring.
9. You are a professional agent as well as a coach, what kind of barriers and problems can a Latino player expect to encounter and how can they tackle them?
With the internet and Google generation, there seems to be much more expectation among our younger players that they should achieve immediate results or success. Impatience means that we need to teach our younger players that everything has a process or a journey. It is a long process and results do not always come right away; there is a need to work hard and work smartly about their training, practice and more.
I sometimes think that in Latino culture we are raised in nice homes with many comforts and are generally pampered, so perhaps the desire and hunger to succeed and excel in a sporting endeavour is not as strong as it needs to be. If the results are disappointing, our young players become discouraged easily. We need to teach them that is a process and a journey, that they need to stay focused and not lose faith in themselves.
Another challenge for young players from Latin America have is one of financial resources and sponsorships that allow them to compete abroad. Players often need to spend time playing on smaller tours in the United States and Europe to continue developing their game and their maturity as a person before they can graduate to the bigger tours like the PGA, European Tour or the LPGA.
10. What characteristics does a Junior need to have to become a professional one day?
There are several things that junior players need to focus on. First, a young person needs to have a passion for golf. They must be excited about playing and enjoy playing the sport. Practising should not be seen as drudgery and something to be avoided, it should be embraced and seen as “motivational”, meaning that players know that they will become much better players the more that they practice and develop their games.
A young junior player needs the support of their parents and family for emotional and physical support As they grow and develop, juniors will want to look at playing important events with college and university coaches attending. Family needs to support their child going to college or university to play golf, and the decision as to which school to go to is important. You want your child to go to a program that is supportive, with both their studies and their golf training schedules.
Your child also needs to be surrounded with as many positive and influential people that can be role models and mentors as they grow. Becoming the best player that they can be means that there will be failure and heartbreak involved. We learn from our losses and our failures, and our junior players need the support and encouragement to “get up” and try again. Commitment to practice is important. Often, a young player becomes really good at a young age and develops bad habits like avoiding practice and preparation because they are able to win at lower levels of competition. Others will be practising and working harder and will eventually pass this type of player.
Lastly, a player needs some good fortune along the way. Sometimes, it is just that one shot at a big tournament, where the ball hits the tree and bounces into the middle of the fairway rather than bouncing into a water hazard. And sometimes good fortune is needed to find the right people for them as coaches, trainers, or sponsors and promoters that will assist them in their journey towards professional golf.
11. What's Next for You?
I am hoping to resume work on a project along with a psychologist and physical trainer. We are looking to develop a comprehensive program that combines the interdisciplinary fields of psychology, kinesiology, and golf skill development. It will be a program to help players prepare for competition and development.
I am also very excited to start my school again and to incorporate the new coaching and training platform “Gamyplan” developed by professor Jesús Rodríguez from Spain. The platform is fully integrated and allows us to build programs, plan and monitor progress with out students and will be a big help in teaching.