Man who made a winner out of the Big Uneasy

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The Independent Online

Three years ago, Jos Vansti-phout walked up to Ernie Els on the practice putting green during The Open at Royal Lytham, and it was not to wish the South African good morning. "You are the greatest underachiever I have ever seen," was his message.

Three years ago, Jos Vansti-phout walked up to Ernie Els on the practice putting green during The Open at Royal Lytham, and it was not to wish the South African good morning. "You are the greatest underachiever I have ever seen," was his message.

Even the Big Easy was taken aback. "You can't talk to me like that," Els replied. He told Vanstiphout to disappear. A few days later Ricky Roberts, Els's caddie, contacted Vanstiphout: "The boss wants to talk to you."

"Ernie wanted to know why I said what I said, and I told him I believed it was the truth," Vanstiphout recalled at Troon on Friday. "He hadn't won that year and I couldn't believe such a gifted guy did not have better results. He said, 'OK, let's give it a go'."

Since working with the mind coach, Els has won 19 tournaments and has dramatically reduced the gap on the world No 1, Tiger Woods. "I believed Ernie had a phobia about Tiger," Vanstiphout said. "He started to believe he was unbeatable. Tiger's good, but he's not God. This Big Easy thing is a myth. Inside is a volcano, and now we've built the chimney to guide the smoke and fire."

Sports psychologists tend to talk like this, but Vanstiphout appears to get results by not necessarily telling players what they want to hear. Orthodox he is not. "A lot of them are spoilt brats. Sometimes I literally grab them by the balls. I'm not afraid of anyone. I'll kick their arses. Everybody else licks them."

A hands-on psychologist, Vanstiphout was born in Houthalen, a coal town in Belgium. His father was a miner and Jos was the youngest of 10 children, six of whom have died. He began working at 13 and says he has had more jobs than he cares to remember. He appeared on the European Tour 10 years ago and has worked with, among others, Retief Goosen.

When Goosen won the US Open in 2001 he did so by beating Mark Brooks in an 18- hole play-off after squandering a chance in regulation play by three-putting the final green. Jos took some credit.

Vanstiphout, who lives in Monaco along with half of the world's leading sportsmen, was with Goosen for five years. "It was not what you'd call a divorce, but sometimes you need a break. Retief's a wonderful player and you ain't seen nothing yet."

Here, two of his clients are Els and the New Zealander Michael Campbell. Campbell said that before the first round he got a "kick up the arse" from Vanstiphout. "Michael's mind was more on business than golf," Jos said. "The money comes through success in the game, and if you lose sight of that you'll be left with just business. We said bye-bye to the men in suits and Michael has more time to focus on his game rather than bloody business. That leads to better results, more confidence and more fun."

Vanstiphout once worked with children who were suffering from cancer of the blood. "I don't really want to talk about it. It's too sad. What I'm doing now is nothing compared to that."

He issues his players with personal tapes of between seven and 12 minutes' duration which are to be absorbed morning and evening. "It's not hypnosis, but I try to change their subconscious through deep relaxation. The more honest a player is the sooner it works. You suck in all the positive things. They are all different, and I keep saying things over and over and over again. I'm not a miracle worker. It's not difficult to win races when you're working with the best racehorses in the world. I never have a contract with anybody and I never will. It's all done on trust."

Vanstiphout accompanies his players on the practice ground but does not follow them around the course. "It's important that they don't get ahead of themselves, that they stay in the present. First shoot the bear and then sell the fur."

It's one way of putting it.

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