He is passionate about golf and he likes to pass on to his students just how devoted he is to this sport. Ricardo Jiménez Eliaeson, always amicable, smiling and enthusiastic, is the masterful manager of the Nicklaus Academy at Finca Cortesín, recently named the best resort in Europe by users of the Leading Courses internet portal. Born in Stockholm, to an emigrant father from Málaga and a Swedish mother, 48-year-old Ricardo has been passing on his golfing knowledge at Finca Cortesín since the luxury Costa del Sol resort opened in autumn 2006. He had the honour of being one of the first to play the renowned course, even before the tees had been built. “That first impression was spectacular,” he recalls. Later, three editions of the World Match Play Championship were held on its magnificent greens.
What makes the Nicklaus Academy stand out from others?
Nicklaus Academies are recognised as being state-of-the-art, where students can enjoy an experience highlighted by, among other things, high technology, with their ball flight analysed by the Flightscope device and their swing by video analysis, and we also have the privacy of our own practice tee. Coaching is very personalised and normally one coach works with one or two students, which speeds up the student’s learning process.
How important is technology and how much is it down to the teacher when it comes to learning to play golf?
Most of us pros don’t actually need technology to know what is happening with the student, but the students do need it because through technology they understand that what we are saying is correct. It confirms our teaching. We use it in the first place to show the mistakes that need to be worked on, and second to confirm how their movement has improved.
What are the more common errors committed by beginners?
The main beginner’s mistake is that they are not able to handle the club, to control the clubface, to make contact with the ball. Obviously we professionals do have that ability because we’ve been developing it for many years, but beginners don’t have it and we try to teach them how the clubface has to coincide with the ball and what happens once the clubface does connect with the ball. The key is to try to control the clubface, and to that end you need to have a grip that is not too tight. Most beginners have too tight a grip, so they can’t manoeuvre the club.
And average players?
Exactly the same happens to them. Ninety-five per cent of our students have a problem with the pressure they exert on the grip, especially with the left hand.
Is it not so important if a swing is ugly but effective? Or do you need to change it?
Not at all. Perhaps in the beginning, when I started, I was focused a lot on trying to achieve a perfect position with the club during the swing. In our lessons before the Jack Nicklaus Academy came here we sought the perfect swing. But the reality is that each student is different – they can only do what they can do. Sometimes they have physical limitations for golf, and what we try to do is adapt ourselves to them. I always say the same thing: you take a Trackman or a Flightscope, and you say to all the Tour players that you want them to have a swing line of two to the right and the clubface one degree closed in respect of the line. When you return a few hours later, they are all hitting the ball the same: that is, all the swings are different.
What coaching options do you offer here: individual classes, courses…?
The academy is open for everyone. Anyone can come here and take classes with us. We base ourselves on the fact that 90 per cent of players want to improve their game, and that’s exactly what we offer. We make an assessment of their game on the course, an assessment of the flight of their ball using Flightscope technology, we evaluate their swing via tests and video analysis with Swing Catalyst, we assess their putting using a TOMI device that provides us with some key parameters during impact, and we also do an analysis and test of their chipping, wedge and bunker. After that we finish with a physical assessment of the student, check out their equipment, if necessary doing a fitting with TaylorMade, and finally we evaluate all their abilities and observe the ones that are sound in each playing area. With all that information in hand, we can see which aspects we need to work on with them, using technology plus drills and our training aids. Then we supervise their work constantly to ensure they don’t waver from the correct path. We have private classes, classes out on the course, clinics… but above all else we work on personalised packages adapted to the needs of each student.
One of the initiatives we want to put into place is our involvement with Women’s Golf Day (6 June), an event in which women and girls receive an introduction to golf, or improve their swing in the case of more experienced players. We will have a special collaboration that day with Ladies European Tour player Noemí Jiménez.
Once the classes are concluded, what does a player need to do to ensure they don’t lose the knowledge they have gained?
The ideal student is the one who really wants to work hard. I have had the good fortune recently to work with several students who have taken on 40-hour packages; and clearly, when the keenness to improve is so strong, the work is a lot easier. The normal student is one who comes here to have a one-hour class then goes out on the course and doesn’t hit the ball well and thinks you are a bad teacher. One might not be the best coach for all students, but it is true that the time which, for example, a professional dedicates to practice is not the same that an amateur can, usually because of their work. So in that case it’s not only important what the coach says and teaches but also that the student works on it later. It’s all the same if they do it badly. If I recommend a drill to them and, when they return the following week, I can see they have been working on the drill even though they hit it badly, we have progress there, and that’s very important: effort and perseverance. It’s clear that the more time you work with a client, in an intensive way, the better will be the results you obtain.
Ricardo highlights the fact that both he and his teaching colleague Rubén Holgado have been professional players, “and that’s important because we try to teach students to hit few shots transferring what they have learned to the course.
“We know that the physical part, the mental aspect and the nutrition are important, but we are here basically to teach them how to play golf.”
In addition to golf, etiquette and the rules, what the Nicklaus Academy at Finca Cortesín aims for above all else is for students “to know themselves as a player and see how they can improve. Our objective is that, when they leave here, they know what they need to work on at all times.”
To achieve that objective, the academy offers packages of three, five, 10 or 20 hours. “We specialise in creating personalised programmes for each player,” says Ricardo. “If someone, for example, wants to play 18 holes then work only on their driving or putting, we prepare a specific package.
“And something that is important for us,” he concludes, “is to show students the passion we have for golf. Bearing in mind the number of people who return, it seems as though we are achieving that.”