Carlsbad, Calif. – About three months ago, I took a playing lesson from Jim Flick. I figured his genius was knowing how to play the game — how to get around the golf course — as much as it was how to swing the club.
Looking back 22 years, to 1990, I knew Flick had told Tom Lehman, “You can be the best player in the world.” For a short time, Lehman probably was.
So what was he going to say to me? I had visions of something like this: “Jim, you can be the best player on your block.”
Flick, of course, was better than that. He was a brilliant man — a master psychologist as well as an extraordinary golf teacher.
“You don’t know how good you can be,” he said. “You’re going to play better than you ever dreamed.”
Flick and I had talked many times before this lesson. He knew I had low expectations for my golf game. A lifetime of weak, blocked shots will do that to you. He was smart enough to express his optimism in a general sort of way. He didn’t predict I would win the Florida State Senior Amateur. He simply said I would play better.
Regardless, I felt bullish.
Several weeks later, he called me to inquire about my progress. Then he dropped the bomb: He was in the final stage of pancreatic cancer. I felt sick. I felt that Flick, along with the entire world of golf, was being cheated.
At the time of our lesson, he hadn’t known. He said he felt a little strange, that was all. He would go see his doctor, much like a golfer would schedule a lesson with his pro.
The diagnosis was devastating, although he said he was “at peace” with his life and his legacy.
Sadly there was so much more he wanted to do in the arena of junior golf. For the last decade of his life, he had pretty much dedicated himself to teaching juniors. He called them his “kids,” and he exposed them to an environment of feel, relaxation and clubhead control while many other teachers were taking a mechanical approach to instruction.
“We do not want to become robotic in the way we teach golf,” Flick would say. “Most golfers cannot play their best using that approach.”
On Saturday, Nov. 17, almost 250 people gathered here at TaylorMade headquarters to honor Flick with a memorial service. He would have celebrated his 83rd birthday on this day.
TaylorMade chief executive Mark King revealed that immediately after Flick’s death was announced on TaylorMade’s Facebook account, more than 1,800 requests flooded in — asking where and when a memorial service would be held. Eventually there were so many requests that the service would be by invitation only.
“The impact and reputation of Jim Flick was so great that it seemed like every golfer in San Diego who ever broke 100 wanted to attend,” King said.
The service was held right on top of Flick’s lesson tee at the practice range formerly known as The Kingdom and henceforth officially known as Flick’s Kingdom.
More than a dozen instructors who learned their craft from Flick were in attendance. Touring pro families were led by Tom and Melissa Lehman and Phil and Amy Mickelson. Lehman was a longtime Flick student, but Mickelson was not. He just wanted to show his respect.
Instructor Bob Toski, 86, was one of Flick’s oldest friends. “Fifty five years,” Toski told the audience during his tribute to Flick. Then Toski evoked perhaps the day’s most touching moment when he turned his attention from the crowd to the sky, asking, “Hey, Jim, everything okay?”
It appeared to be Toski’s way of saying — or at least hoping — that all the famous golf instructors would gather one day in heaven and engage in a teaching roundtable that would never end.
Toski broke down after that, the flinty teacher unashamed to show his feelings to one and all.
After the service, I sat down with Beau Hossler for a bite of lunch. Hossler, who put together a serious challenge for the 2012 U.S. Open title at the age of 17, will graduate from high school in December and head for the University of Texas. He stated his intention to study business and remain in college long enough to earn a degree.
Hossler was a student of Flick for six years. He said he would “always try to remember every single thing” he learned from Flick.
Meanwhile, PGA Tour veteran Bob Estes came to Flick just a year ago. Flick made a huge impression on him, so great that Estes will go coachless into the 2013 season. “It’s all in my head and my body,” Estes said. “It’s all there. It’s like Jim is still there.”
Former PGA Tour player Phil Blackmar said to Estes, “That’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it? To be your own coach, to know your own game so well that you can fix it when you things go wrong on the course.”
One of Flick’s final wishes was to see Lehman win the Charles Schwab Cup once again. Lehman indeed won the Schwab Cup Championship on Nov. 4. Flick died on Nov. 5.
During Lehman’s tribute to Flick, the wind kicked up and blew his notes off the lectern and onto Flick’s practice tee. Lehman paused a moment, then left them on the ground, almost as if he decided Flick himself had wisked them away.
Freed from any script, Lehman grew even more emotional, a mere human being speaking a heartfelt brand of sentiment in which words and tears were eloquently mixed together.