HEBER — Back in the day, Jim McLean was quite the golfer.
He was an all-American for Houston, when it was THE golf school in the country. He played in the Masters, the U.S. Open, the U.S. Amateur, as well as several PGA Tour events.
"I played a lot of junior, amateur and college golf, but my pro golf wasn't so great," McLean says with a chuckle.
So McLean turned to teaching golf and became an expert at it. Over the past few decades he has become one of the premier golf instructors in the country, if not the world.
The 62-year-old McLean has established nine golf schools bearing his name, six in the U.S. and three in foreign countries, with the latest being located right here in Utah at the new Red Ledges Golf Club, just east of Heber City.
"This is a beautiful location," he said while standing on the driving range, which has terrific views of Mt. Timpanogos, the Heber Valley and the nearby red rock landscape for which Red Ledges gets its name. "You won't see many better ranges than this. We've got great facilities here and Jack Nicklaus has designed a great golf course."
McLean has taught numerous PGA Tour players over the years from Tom Kite to Curtis Strange to Ben Crenshaw, and currently works closely with PGA champion Keegan Bradley and up-and-coming LPGA golfer Alexis Thompson. But he still gets as excited teaching a beginning golfer as he does one making millions of dollars.
Obviously with schools stretching from Spain to Mexico to Utah, McLean doesn't have time to work full-time at each place, but he does spend at least a couple of weeks at his various schools as he recently did at Red Ledges.
"My thing is to provide the database, the training and come in to check it out," he says. "It's building a brand and a way of teaching the whole game of golf. It's different than a method teacher who teaches the same thing to everybody. "
McLean relies on top professionals at each of his schools to teach his golf philosophy and feels he has top teachers in Jon Paupore, the director of instruction at his school in Heber and his assistant Derek Butts.
"We look at golf in the broader picture," McLean says. "We believe 25 percent is long game, 25 percent is short game, 25 percent is mental and 25 percent is course management."
Ideally, McLean likes to spend two or three days for several hours with a student, but knows that isn't possible for everyone. He has produced several books and videos on teaching golf, but doesn't believe there is one way to teach each student.
"With any student, I try to focus on what do they really need to get better at — the long game, the short game . . . if it's the short game, what part of the short game — chip shot, flop shot, bunker shots, etc."
McLean also takes time to work on the mental side of golf. He said everyone experiences first-tee jitters and that golfers need to learn to relax and understand how much tension they have in their body and how to release it.
"That takes practice at any level, from the pros to the average player," he said. "You have to be reminded even at the highest level, to slow down a little bit, breathe right and walk a little slower when you're under stress. Those are not profound things, but you just forget to do some things in golf."
So far business has been good at McLean's golf school at Red Ledges, despite a slow economy. Paupore said business doubled this past year and he kept busy all winter at an indoor facility in Park City.
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