After 15 years as a top-flight teaching pro Chris Haarlow has figured out the balancing act between teaching and playing.
Haarlow, 43, an instructor at Precision Golf School in Greensboro, can somehow find the time to practice and play in between his many hours spent teaching the game.
The results, at least this summer, speak for themselves.
“I’m probably on overtime when it comes to teaching and under time on playing,” Haarlow joked, “but I’ve been able to mesh the two pretty well.”
Haarlow has been recognized with countless awards through the years for his teaching and his work with the Triad Youth Golf Foundation. He’s worked with kids and adults and his vast knowledge of the swing has gone a long way in him carving out a career that’s been very rewarding.
What has also been rewarding is his play on the course. In early May at the 89th Carolinas Open at Bryan Park he opened with a round of 67, and then followed that up with 73-72 to finish in a tie for seventh.
He did better in June at the 49th North Carolina Open at The Club at Irish Creek when he shot 68-69-73 to tie for fourth.
Haarlow wasn’t surprised at his high finishes but was encouraged to know he can still put his game together when he needs to.
That Haarlow can change gears from teaching to playing is a testament to work with Dr. Richard Coop, a noted sports psychologist who is a professor at the University of North Carolina. It was back when Haarlow was playing pro golf and teaching on the side that he talked with Coop a lot.
“When I was playing pro for those 6 ½ years I was around Dr. Coop and a lot of great players during that time and I just developed a solid mental game,” said Haarlow, who played in the 1994 U.S. Open.
Haarlow had to be strong mentally back then because he wound up going to PGA Tour Qualifying School six times before he decided that teaching was a better career path.
Nowadays when Haarlow, who was a three-time All-America at Guilford College from 1989-91 and is in the school’s hall of fame, gets on the course as a player he can put himself into the proper mindset.
“I literally create my own little space when I’m playing and I keep it simple,” he said about clearing his mind when he plays in tournaments. “I watch a lot of golf swings as a teacher and I see a lot of bad shots and I see some good ones.”
Because he’s been walking that line between player and teacher for so long Haarlow can keep them separated. Even though he’s 43 Haarlow is still learning from his mistakes and his successes.
“I really think that my best golf is still in front of me and that’s the attitude I always bring to those who I’m instructing,” Haarlow said. “And I try to keep it simple, and that’s when I’m playing and when I’m teaching.”
Another factor that Haarlow says has made a difference in his playing well is the stage he is in his life. He doesn’t need to play well to make a living. It was different in the early 1990s when he was trying to get that big break as a pro golfer.
“I think it shifted for me that when I was playing competitively all the time and it being my livelihood it was the most important thing day in and day out,” he said. “Now, there’s not that pressure.
“I don’t have to prove myself,” Haarlow said about what he thought about when playing pro golf. “I can now go out there and compete and it’s something that I still love to do.”
When Haarlow is asked to describe a typical week when he’s not playing he says there’s usually around 55 hours devoted to teaching between camps, academies and private lessons.
What he loves about Precision Golf and working with Robert Linville, who is the director of golf instruction, is the variety that’s offered and the freedom to play in tournaments from time to time. Haarlow admits that if he had to teach 55 hours of golf 50 weeks out of the year he wouldn’t have lasted very long.
“I’ve been doing it for 15 years with Robert and everybody around me including my peers make sure that I’m not burned out,” Haarlow said. “There’s a nice ebb-and-flow and I think that helps me all through the year.”
The biggest thing that Haarlow tries to convey to his students is confidence.
“I try to make my students, no matter what age or what skill level they are at, have confidence in themselves,” Haarlow said. “I also try and do a lot of cause and effect like how come the ball flies off a certain way and what can we do to fix it? I guess if I had a strength in my teaching is I try to understand what each of them is wanting to accomplish in the game.”
Haarlow, who grew up in the Pinehurst area, caught the golf bug early because his father, who was a high-school teacher, loved to play the game and introduced it to him. Haarlow also had the benefit of getting taught by the legendary Peggy Kirk Bell.
“She was, and still is, a big influence on me and back when I was learning the game I ran around Pine Needles getting lessons and learning as much as I could,” Haarlow said. “I guess you don’t know at the time who has an influence on you but Peggy really did for me and it’s something I’m grateful for.”
Haarlow is adamant about his love of teaching and hopes to continue for a long time.
Because he’s entering his mid-40s the logical question to Haarlow is does he have an eye on the Champions Tour?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I know all about what Mike Goodes (who is from Reidsville) has been out there but I don’t have aspirations along those lines. I just want to continue to compete and learn more about the game as I go.”