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Herb Wimberly served as the Aggie men’s head golf coach for 31 years, retiring in 1994. Some of the notable golfers who played for Herb “back in the day” are Rich Beem, Larry Beem (Rich’s late dad), Bart Bryant, Steve Haskins, Tom Byrum and Tom’s brother, Curt Byrum. Curt has been an analyst for The Golf Channel for several years.
As a player, Herb was a standout at the University of New Mexico. Over his long span of years competing in professional events in the Southwest, Herb won dozens of tournaments, including the 1974 Sun Country Match Play Championship, the 1960 and 1962 New Mexico Opens, the 1960 Hilton Open and the 1987 Senior-Junior Team Championship with his late brother, Guy. Not long after retiring from coaching, Herb was inducted into the College Golf Coaches Hall of Fame.
I met Herb within a few days after moving here to Las Cruces in August 1988. Herb greeted newcomers in the old pro shop at the NMSU golf course in a manner as if he had known you for a long time.
“There aren’t any new friends, just good friends I’m meeting for the first time,” he said once.
It wasn’t until later that I found out more fully why the young men who played golf for Herb regarded him almost as a god, not so much because of how he coached, but more so how he handled himself with and around others. A true professional and a gentleman golfer.
In addition to being a stellar college golf coach, Herb was an extraordinary golf teacher. As a PGA instructor, Herb had given golf lessons to countless thousands of adults, kids and NMSU students (in golf classes) over the years. So, I thought I would share some of the nuggets of wisdom and unique insights Herb passed on to the people he taught.
One of the main things Herb emphasized is that “the swing is basically easy, but the game itself is hard.” That was meant to put beginners and struggling golfers at ease. By grasping the few fundamentals of the swing – grip, posture, backswing, body movement and release – everyone can strike the ball with a reasonable shot. The other parts of the game – chip shots, shots from sand bunkers and putting – are more difficult to master. For golfers who play regularly but have difficulty scoring and hitting consistently solid shots, Herb advised that “developing a better golf swing necessarily involves a process of change.”
That’s essentially what folks attended our performance golf schools to learn. Herb and I conducted over 100 two-day golf schools, helping some 1,500 golfers over the years.
If you think about it, the golf swing doesn’t remain static. Otherwise, icons like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson wouldn’t have swing coaches and wouldn’t continually be tweaking their swings, always searching for improvement. As a corollary to the principle of change, Herb tells us that “the more uncomfortable you feel when making a swing adjustment, the more you know you’re changing.” He says that a comfortable feeling with the golf club (like a big bend of the lead arm) is not really the correct feeling.
When it comes to the short game, Herb notes that chipping and short pitching strokes “represent the full swing in miniature.” What he means is that the very same fundamentals apply to small strokes as they do to full strokes. “Ball contact positions for the full swing and the short swing are (basically) the same.” Herb understood that putting was really “a game within a game,” but that it required most of the same fundamentals. One of those basics that we all need to be reminded of is that “your head stays behind the ball as you accelerate at impact.”
One thing I have learned from Herb Wimberly over the 30-plus years I have known him is to not get discouraged. Herb has faced plenty of adversity in his golf and personal life, but he is a resilient person seeing the brighter side. His perspective on golf is very telling: “There are no style points on the card; just get it in the hole in the fewest strokes possible any way you can.”