I call him Dr. Birdie, but most people refer to Dr. Gary Wiren as golf’s all-around man.
He has seen and done it all. He also is the person who almost singlehandedly legitimized golf training aids.
Wiren, 68, might as well be ageless. He has been teaching golf for five decades. Along the way, he enhanced his reputation as a skilled instructor with impressive tournament performances.
Invariably he has done it his way. Playing in the 1994 U.S. Senior Open, he wore knickers and carried his own bag (that’s right, no caddie). When someone dared him to compete in the South Florida Long Drive Championship, he entered and won. His tape-measure drive went 381 yards.
Dr. Birdie goes long.
Wiren is a former education director of the PGA of America. He is a PGA master professional. He is a member of four different Golf Halls of Fame – Nebraska, South Dakota and Florida, as well as the Pacific Northwest Section of the PGA.
He is a gifted public speaker and a popular lecturer on cruise ships, and was a keynote speaker at the first World Scientific Congress of Golf in St. Andrews, Scotland. He has written 11 books, and has a valuable collection of golf memorabilia that includes more than 2,500 clubs, 1,700 books and 1,300 balls.
For all his exploits, though, Wiren may live longest in golf lore because of something he invented – the Impact Bag. I see Wiren’s creation at virtually every range and golf school I visit.
The bright yellow Impact Bag, filled with old towels or clothing, is used by golfers to practice the proper impact position. As players take their swings and slam their clubs into the bag, the resulting crack echoes up and down the range. There is no such thing as the silent treatment with this training aid.
Wiren is the godfather of training aids. He was the first person to systematically nurture what would become a new category of golf products as well as the first person to carefully evaluate these devices. Finally, he was the first person to start a business devoted entirely to training aids.
This business, called Golf Around the World (www.golfaroundtheworld.com), is 100 percent training and teaching aids.
As Golfweek begins to take a look at some contemporary training aids, it is only fitting to pay tribute to Wiren.
“I was making a presentation on teaching to the Indiana PGA Section,” Wiren said. “This was almost 20 years ago. One of the members came up and said, ‘Take a look at this.’ It was kind of a homemade deal that was designed to prevent a golfer from throwing the club from the top. He ended up giving it to me.
“A couple of weeks later, I was speaking to the North Texas Section. I just happened to have the piece with me, so I held it up and said, ‘One of the things I really admire about teachers is their creativity.’ Afterwards, several guys came up to me and wanted to know where to get one.”
Wiren started Golf Around the World with just a few training aids. He and his wife, Ione, worked out of their house. Soon they were looking for office and warehouse space. Their son, Dane, eventually became president and CEO.
Wiren is a one-man promotional band for training aids. “Everybody who works for us is a former golf professional or has been in the golf business,” he said.
“It’s not just about selling equipment; it’s about counseling people. It’s a consulting kind of thing. When a golf pro calls and says that one of his students has a problem staying connected, well, we’ve got four different connection devices.
“We’re trying to be an education arm as well for the use and development of training tools.”
Golf Around the World sells to amateurs as well as pros. “Serious golfers come to us,” said Wiren, who lives in North Palm Beach, Fla., and teaches at Trump International Golf Club. “They know we’ve done our homework on all the items we sell. We’ve worked hard to establish our credibility.”
Wiren refuses to sell any product in which he doesn’t believe. “The point is,” he said, “you cannot learn without feedback. All the products we sell are designed for feedback.”
As a youngster, Wiren absorbed many of his personal lessons at Spring Lake Park in Omaha, Neb. That’s where he learned to play golf – on a municipal course with nine holes and a green fee of 35 cents for juniors.
He received an undergraduate degree in English from Huron (S.D.) College. Then he earned a masters degree from the University of Michigan and a doctorate from the University of Oregon (both in sports science).
Wiren has received many awards, including national PGA Teacher of the Year in 1986.
Still, he is most visible through the Impact Bag. The idea came from Henry Cotton, who taught his students to hit a tire. Wiren wanted something softer, so he came up with a bag that doesn’t rip or tear.
“I wanted students to be able to ask questions and learn the answers,” he said. “Where is your body at the moment of impact? Where is the club? I wanted them to know where everything is at the moment of truth. I teach acceleration, not deceleration. I beg them to really try to bust the bag.”
Wiren has his critics. One year I was standing with infamous touring pro Mac O’Grady at the PGA Teaching and Coaching Summit. O’Grady had just listened to Wiren’s presentation on training aids.
“He ought to be locked up,” O’Grady said. “It might as well be called witchcraft.”
Wiren pays no attention. “Anybody can be a better teacher with these devices,” he says. “Training aids and teaching aids are revolutionizing golf instruction.”
The doctor is in. Instead of a black bag, he carries an Impact Bag. Take three whacks and go to bed.