Ernie Els said he would “play with a heavy heart” in today’s third round of the Nedbank Golf Challenge, after hearing news on the putting green that his former coach Jos Vanstiphout had passed away.
“This is another very sad day,” said Els. “Jos really understood me and what made me tick, which was of course one of the many rare gifts that he possessed. We made a good team for a number of years. I’d have to check my records, but I’d say in our time together we won more than 25 tournaments around the world. He was a person with talent and integrity, a good man. I send my thoughts and prayers to his family at this difficult and emotional time.”
Vanstiphout had worked successfully with many other top players, including Retief Goosen, before Els teamed up with him at the beginning of 2001. The following summer Els won his first Open Championship at Muirfield. Els recalled that week: “I honestly believe that what we worked on together that year made the difference at the Open at Muirfield, especially in the time between me finishing my final round and starting the playoff. He contributed that crucial one percent.”
Vanstiphout was born in Belgium in 1951, one of 10 children, and didn’t become interested in golf until he had just turned 40. The defining moment occurred when he bought a copy of Timothy Gallway’s book The Inner Game. Vanstiphout was impressed and utterly consumed by the subject. What’s more, Vanstiphout clearly had an aptitude for this aspect of the game and a gift for communicating his own personal thoughts and ideas to players in such a way that they could improve their performance.
Soon Vanstiphout was in demand on both sides of the Atlantic, travelling around the world and essentially living the life of a tour professional – lots of air travel, long days on the practice ground, practically living out of a suitcase. Not that he would have swapped it for anything. He loved his work and the rewards, both financially and emotionally, made the effort more than worthwhile. As any teacher knows, there is great satisfaction in contributing to other people’s success.
Vanstiphout was something of a pioneer in a world where some were perhaps rather cynical of the benefits of sports psychology. Jos was not concerned with such trivialities. Yes, as he once memorably observed, “you can’t take a mule and make it win the Derby”, but the truth was many of the players he worked with were able to elevate their careers to greater heights. Vanstiphout didn’t shout or boast; his record spoke for itself.
“He was a true friend and I’ll miss him,” said Els today.