The old man and the rookie: How a highly regarded 85-year-old swing instructor returned to the PGA Tour 40 years later with his latest pupil, a 23-year-old hot shot
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carl Lohren sat in a folding chair behind Ryan Gerard before Friday’s second round of the 2023 Wells Fargo Championship and studied his warmup. He didn’t say a word because he didn’t have to. He had already imparted enough wisdom to his pupil that Gerard, a 23-year-old who earned Special Temporary membership on the PGA Tour last month, didn’t need any handholding.
“This kid is exceptional,” Lohren crowed. “His swing reminds me of Jon Rahm in that it’s fast and he doesn’t take it way back. He’s got the lower body going forward before the club gets to the top which I think is symbolic of a great swing.”
It had been 40 years since Lohren, 85, has worked with a pro at a PGA Tour stop – in 1983 he spent time with Gary Hallberg at Pebble Beach and later that same year at Butler National near Chicago during the Western Open with Marty Fleckman. Lohren’s heyday as an instructor to PGA Tour pros took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the likes of Deane Beman, Babe Hiskey and Dave Hill. (Among his disciples was club pro, Gene Borek, who, in addition to passing on his methods to students such as yours truly, dominated the Met PGA section for years and once shot a course-record 65 at Oakmont in the second round of the 1973 U.S. Open that stood for 48 hours until Johnny Miller went two better.) In 1970, Beman was mired in a slump and called Lohren from a Jacksonville, Florida motel and said, “Are you ready to do some weaving because I’m a basket case.” Lohren straightened him out — less than two months later, Beman won the Texas Open, his first of five official Tour wins.
For Lohren to be back inside the ropes with a player support badge for an up-and-coming pro more than 50 years later, well, it’s not unheard of – the best comparison may be Bob Toski, who worked with the likes of Tom Kite, Bruce Crampton, Judy Rankin and Pat Bradley during their primes and had a second act late in life with Birdie Kim, who won the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open, and Ken Duke, who won the 2013 Travelers – but it’s almost as rare as spotting Halley’s Comet and speaks to his incredible longevity in the game while confirming his teaching techniques are as relevant as ever.
Swing coach Carl Lohren returned to a PGA Tour driving range with one of his pupils on May 5, 2023, for the first time in four decades. Here he watches Ryan Gerard before his second round tee time at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte. (Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports)
Lohren credits Ben Hogan’s swing to leading him to “the move,” and a better way to strike the golf ball. Lohren was an assistant pro at the time in Jackson, Michigan, and watched Hogan play three rounds at Oakland Hills in the 1964 Carling Open. To play a 150-yard shot, Hogan selected an 8-iron and took an abbreviated swing. Lohren could not imagine Hogan reaching the green, but to his surprise, Hogan’s ball exploded off the clubface and wound up ten feet from the pin.
“His hands were only halfway back and those hips started moving left. I said to myself, he doesn’t have a top to his swing,” Lohren recalled.
After that seminal moment, Lohren continued to study Hogan and hit thousands of balls trying to replicate Hogan’s swing. Those observations set him on the right path to developing his swing philosophy to start the swing with the left shoulder.
Lohren played college golf at the University of Maryland, finishing second individually in the 1958 NCAA National Championship and qualified for three U.S. Opens and six U.S. Senior Opens (finishing a career-best T-14 in 1992) and played on the PGA Tour Champions in 1990. But he made his mark in the game as a teacher.
Lohren came along before a cottage industry formed of swing instructors such as David Leadbetter, Butch Harmon and more recently Sean Foley and Cameron McCormick became celebrities in their own right for teaching the top touring pros – Golf Channel loves to show them on the range at majors – and endorsing all sorts of training aids and self-help products. Lohren recalls the time in 1970 when Dave Hill came to his club for a lesson and asked him to fly to Colorado and spend the weekend working with him on his game. But Lohren declined because it was Fourth of July weekend at his club and he had three children and a devoted wife counting on him to be at home for what little time he could get away. Hill flew in noted Australian instructor Norman Von Nida instead and that was that.
Ryan Gerard holding “One Move to Better Golf,” the instruction book by his teacher, Carl Lohren, which he received as a Christmas present in 2017. (Courtesy Gerard family)
Lohren served as head professional at North Shore Country Club on Long Island, New York, for 30 years, and those in the know knew he was one of the best at his craft.
Gerard’s father, Bob, grew up nearby and fell in love with the game. As an eighth grader, he began working at Pine Hollow Country Club for Larry Laoretti, a club pro turned Champions tour star in the 1990s whose trademark was chomping on a lit cigar while he played. Bob worked the range for practice privileges and joked that he picked up more of his own balls than those of the members. Laoretti sent him to Lohren for instruction, and Bob became good enough to play at Florida Atlantic University and kick around on some mini tours before giving up the pro dream.
In 1999, Ryan was born and he received his first set of clubs at age 2. His parents say he tried to sneak out of the house whenever he could to hit balls in the yard. Growing up at Wildwood Green GC in Raleigh, North Carolina, he and his friends, which included former U.S. Amateur champ and fellow Tour pro Doc Redman, took part in impossible chipping contests, where they intentionally gave each other the worst lies possible and then would see who could get the ball closest to the hole.
In 2007, his father took him to Quail Hollow for his first PGA Tour event, where Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh duked it out. Ryan sat at the range with a notebook watching these players he’d seen only on TV and scribbled down his thoughts on their various swings. Years later, when his parents were packing up to move, Bob found that notebook. On one page, it said, “Phil Mickelson swing good.” On the next page, it said, “Tiger Woods swing great.”
That experience cemented in Ryan’s mind that he wanted to be a tour pro just like the players he had watched and for the next several years he carried a golf ball in his pocket to school and elsewhere every day.
Carl Lohren chats with Ryan Gerard ahead of the second round of the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte on May 5, 2023. Thirty years after Lohren taught Gerard’s father, he began teaching Ryan, who would drive nine hours roundtrip for a lesson. (Photo: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports)
In those early years, Bob was his primary teacher, feeding him information from Lohren’s instruction book, “One Move to Better Golf,” which was published in 1975 and gained a cult following. When Ryan developed into one of the better players in his age group, his father realized he had taken his son as far as he could and sought someone more qualified to help take him to the next level. But every pro who worked with Ryan wanted to change his unorthodox swing. Bob knew one swing instructor who would shape Ryan with what he had.
“You’ve got to have faith and I had no doubt in my mind that Carl would see how good Ryan could be,” Bob said.
So, they embarked on driving more than four hours each way to Knoxville, Tennessee, where Lohren had retired to be near his daughter, Tammy, who at the time was teaching at Patriot Hills Golf Club, and where Lohren still would give lessons. He took one look at Ryan’s swing and was reminded of Hogan’s swing – Ryan didn’t have a top too. What others failed to recognize in Ryan’s swing was that even though it looks unconventional to the naked eye, it still conforms to the fundamentals. Bob and Ryan made the drive every few months for Lohren’s sage advice.
“I went and saw him wherever he might be working at a given time, and we were having a blast,” said Ryan, who also took lessons from Lohren at Belfair GC in South Carolina and occasionally in South Florida.
His ranking blasted off too as he won five junior titles, including the 2015 AJGA Polo Golf Junior Classic, one of the biggest AJGA events, and became an AJGA first-team All-American and earned a scholarship at University of North Carolina.
As Ryan climbed the junior and amateur rankings, some of the parents asked Bob what pro his son worked with and some of their ears perked when Bob described him as “a quiet legend.”
The unassuming Lohren never chased celebrity; he doesn’t post on social media, he never hosted his own TV show on Golf Channel, so his name never became ubiquitous among golf fans like that of Leadbetter.
But as Beman once said, “Carl knows more about the golf swing than anybody I know.”
“I think he is one of the best coaches to ever coach golf,” he said. “I kind of know what I like. He knows where he wants me to be, and it’s a partnership of how I can get there, and how he can get me there in the most comfortable way possible for me.”
Ryan Gerard on signing day with North Carolina. He became a second-team All-American in 2021-22 before turning pro. (Courtesy Gerard family)
As a freshman, Ryan struggled to make the traveling squad. UNC’s coach Andrew DiBitetto relied heavily on Trackman numbers and wanted to make several changes to Ryan’s swing based primarily on the numbers the machine spit out, including suggesting he ditch the pre-shot routine he’d learned from Lohren. When Ryan shared this news with Lohren at their next lesson, Lohren grew indignant and dug into his archives to show one of golf’s greatest players doing virtually the same moves.
“I said, ‘Next time he wants to change you, show him these pictures of Hogan.’ He left him alone after that,” Lohren said with a smile.
After that lesson, Ryan made the traveling team and posted the low score at his first tournament. He went on to earn second-team All-American honors in 2021-22.
“I do like that he keeps it old school,” Ryan said. “No tech, no Trackman, no anything – just a couple of rulers, some alignment sticks, and hitting shots.”
The 23-year-old missed locking up guaranteed starts on the Korn Ferry Tour by one stroke at Q-School in December but he said it only proved to light a fire underneath him. He prevailed in a 5-for-3 playoff to Monday qualify for the Honda Classic in late February — his first non-major PGA Tour start – and shot a sizzling second-round 63 en route to finishing fourth.
Ryan Gerard and his caddie discuss their options at the 10th hole at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte while his Coach Carl Lohren and fellow pro and disciple Wallace Hamerton watch from the side ropes during the second round of the 2023 Wells Fargo Championship. Gerard attended his first tournament as a kid here in 2007. (Photo: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports)
“I didn’t have anything that was guaranteed or given to me, so I knew that I had to take advantage of the tournaments that I was going to get in, and I did that,” he said.
Just as impressively, he bounced back from a 5-over start at the Valero Texas Open to make five birdies on the second nine last month. He made the cut and earned special temporary membership. (Lohren does make an exception for one bit of tech: he often follows Ryan’s round on PGA TourCast.) Despite shooting a second-round 77 to miss the cut at the Wells Fargo Championship, Ryan’s hometown event where the dream of playing on the Tour first took shape, he’s made five cuts in eight starts and banked more than $500,000 to date.
“I have the game that translates out here if I play well,” Ryan said. “Maybe not every week, maybe not every course right now, but one day I believe that I can play and win out on the PGA Tour.”
And there’s no doubt whom he will continue to trust in his quest to reach the winner’s circle: Lohren, his Yoda with hearing aids, who he now flies to from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Nashville, Tennessee, and then drives another three hours to Knoxville to where Lohren hangs his hat these days at Holsten Hills Country Club.
“I want to work with who I think is the best,” Ryan said, “and he’s the best for me, for sure.”