A New England native son, Bob Toski, the man with the diminutive stature, has crafted a giant’s legacy in the annals of golf. An accomplished multi-win champion on the PGA Tour in the early 1950’s, Toski, born in Haydenville, MA, and educated at the local Northampton CC, was the Tour’s leading money winner in 1954 and won six tournaments between the Augusts of 1953-54. He also won the Mass Open at Hyannisport Club in 1958 and the Maine Open at Penobscot Valley in 1959.
Choosing to spend more time with his wife Lynn and his three young boys, Toski left the Tour in 1955 at age 30 to become a club professional and to dedicate himself both to understanding the fundamentals of the golf swing and to communicating that information to players of all abilities. As accomplished as he was on Tour, Toski’s second career as an instructor brought him international renown, and this past January at the PGA Merchandise Show Demo Day, friend and colleague Jim Flick introduced Toski to a large TaylorMade clinic of club pros, media, and guests as “the best golf teacher on the planet.”
From 1960 on, Toski’s name, face, and signature white cap became ubiquitous in the golf world. He composed instruction articles for myriad magazines, wrote or co-wrote a dozen books, made some of the first teaching videos, was a pioneer in bringing instruction to TV, was a regular on NBC tournament telecasts, developed his own line of eponymous clubs, and taught thousands of students. Touring pros such as Brad Adamonis, Jane Blalock, Pat Bradley, Bruce Crampton, Bruce Devlin, Birdie Kim, Tom Kite, Judy Rankin, and Lexi Thompson have sought his advice. After 2005 US Open champ Kim was asked how much the instruction of Toski had meant to her victory, she said, “Everything.”
In 1971, he started the “Golf Digest” Schools, directing them for 20 years, and his system became the standard against which all other schools were judged. In 1990, he was inducted into the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame. Currently living in Boca Raton, FL, Toski, at a young and agile 85, roots for the Boston teams and plays golf frequently at nearby Sherbrooke CC, where he persistently shoots in the mid-70’s. He still gives the personal instruction that has made him famous at the Toski-Battersby Golf Learning Center, ranked as one of the top schools in the nation.
NEGM: Why was Northampton CC such an important part of your childhood?
BT: I was next to the youngest of nine siblings, and when my mother died when I was six, I spent my summers and when I wasn’t in school at the club, where my brothers Jack and Benny were assistants. I learned to play there and worked there later on, too.
NEGM: When did you join the Tour and what happened?
BT: I joined the PGA Tour in 1950. I didn’t feel intimidated by the great players of the day—Demaret, Dickinson, Ford, Heafner, Hogan, Kroll, Mangrum, Middlecoff, Nelson, Penna, Snead, Worsham—but I was certainly apprehensive. I was only 5’8” and 118 pounds, perhaps too small and too light to be successful. Yet, I was encouraged by many of these guys, and they became my friends. They called me “Mighty Mite” and “Mouse” and “Swifty” because I walked so fast and “The Whistler” because I whistled while I played.
NEGM: What made you a champion on the Tour?
BT: I finally believed in myself and my game. In 1953, I was playing well and felt that I was about to break through. My pro friends thought so, too. Jimmy Demaret knew that I worried about my size and performance, and he took me aside and said to me, “Bob, if you’re good enough, you’re big enough, and you have no idea how good you are.” Shortly after that, I won the Insurance City Open in Hartford. And then the next year I won four more, including George May’s World Championship of Golf at Tam O’Shanter in Illinois with its $50,000 first prize.
NEGM: What has made you the most respected and foremost teacher of the day?
BT: First of all, I learned from the best. I watched the great players, and I analyzed their swings. I noticed certain essential truths in their games and mine. The golf swing is muscle control through conscious effort. Distance does not depend upon brute strength. Swing speed is what creates power. And speed is determined with a swinging motion that is created through the movement of the hands, wrists, and arms. An absolute is that the body turns and shifts weight to support the motion of the hands and arms. The swing creates a turn; the turn does not create a swing. As a result, the golfer will feel the force of his swing as he contacts the ball consistently. What I have been able to do throughout my career is to take these truths and apply them both to the individual’s needs and to the nature of his/her swing action.
NEGM: A dynamic instructor and a showman at heart, you were also known for your Toski-isms. What are your three best?
BT: (1) Golf is a non-violent game played violently from within. (2) Think effortless power versus powerless effort. (3) Feel the force; don’t force the feel.
NEGM: How many holes-in-one have you had?
BT: 12, with two of them coming within an hour at a hospital charity event in Rutland, VT.
NEGM: What is something that most people wouldn’t know about you?
BT: My last name is Algustoski. Because the first tee announcers, however, would mangle it, I just shortened it.
NEGM: You’re 85, Bob. When are you going to retire?
BT: I retire every night! But I’ve got to give lessons almost every day. That’s my passion. I was born to teach golf.