Randy Henry just returned to North Idaho from working 3 1/2 months on his latest golf project and it couldn’t have been more tiring, interesting or rewarding.
Henry has instructed players of all ages and abilities in 40 years as a golf teacher, including clients who’ve won PGA, LPGA and Champions tour events. But it’s doubtful many of his past pupils initially called him “Mr. Henry,” shook his hand at the outset of each practice, put in 12- to 14-hour days without complaint and had to be ordered to take well-deserved time off.
Meet the head coach of Russia’s men’s and women’s national teams. Henry, who lives in Hayden Lake, began implementing his program to 20 players – selected by the Russian Golf Association – for 3 1/2 months at PGA National in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
“I had a great time,” Henry said. “These kids are certainly not spoiled. They’ll work their tails off and they have a true desire to do well. This is something really different and you feel like you can make a difference.”
Henry, 62, took an interest in Russian golf after becoming a mentor to Maria Kostina, whom he’d met at a tournament in Florida. Kostina eventually played for Washington State University and was the first Russian to play in the U.S. Open in 2007. She’s an instructor for Henry at his business, Henry’s Dynamic Golf, located inside the Coeur d’Alene Resort Plaza Shops.
Maria’s younger sister, Ana, also played at WSU. She’s been on the Russian national team and plays professionally in Europe.
“Golf just wasn’t a popular sport in Russia,” Henry said. “Someone came in and asked them if they were interested in trying a different sport. They’d stand in line and hit three balls, then go to the end of the line and wait 20 minutes to hit three more balls. After three months, they said the line got shorter so they could hit more balls.”
Years ago, Henry was asked to evaluate Russian national team players and later was invited to speak in Russia at a national summit on golf. It wasn’t a big surprise when the country asked Henry to lead its national teams.
Henry’s immediate goal is to help the Russians trim shots off their scores and compete at the highest levels. There’s already been progress. His players won six tournaments and had numerous top-10 finishes competing against other Florida-based golf academies.
Henry said Russian players will work exhaustingly on the technical aspects of the swing and, with instruction, they made noticeable improvements. Knowing that hours of mundane repetition could lead to burnout, Henry incorporated games on the range and during rounds to keep things interesting while still remaining competitive. He tracked results and it gave him a better idea of players’ strengths and weaknesses.
“We started teaching them how to play golf,” said Henry, who has turned over Henry-Griffitts, the club-fitting company he co-founded with Jim Griffitts in 1983, to his son, Randall. “The range is the biggest waste of time in the world. We definitely had a purpose when we were on the range, with accuracy drills and other games we could chart.
“In golf, you have to have a layup distance where you’re comfortable. They didn’t know that. They just banged it as close as they could to the green. We had one game for wedges from 70 yards. They just took off on things like that.”
Communication wasn’t an issue, because the players speak English.
Henry’s long-term ambition is to grow the game in a country with a limited number of courses and players. The inclusion of golf in the 2016 Olympics has prompted numerous countries, including Russia, to dedicate more resources toward national programs.
Henry said installing his program has been “overwhelming” at times, but he’s encouraged by the results. He’ll see his players again at a couple of European tournaments.
“The hard thing is we’re dealing with 100 kids that golf, everywhere else there are thousands or hundreds of thousands. The success we’ve had with the minimal amount of players is unbelievable,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is put in this plan so we can put it out to the Russian people. The idea is to kind of break through and get it in the hands of the average person.
“It’s an interesting job. It’ll be amazing to see what happens.”