The first Boston athlete to reach out to Bill McInerney for golf instruction was none other than ex-Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Brady was interested in setting up lessons for his two sons, Jack and Benny, so his agent contacted McInerney, a local golf pro with years of experience teaching kids the game. The Brady boys soon visited McInerney’s academy at McGolf, a driving range in Dedham, and started to learn the basics.
“You’d have people peeping through the curtains,” McInerney recalled. “It’s hard to miss Tom because he’s so tall and he just — I mean, he looks like Tom. No one looks like Tom.”
While Jack and Benny received instruction, Brady often teed off on his own. McInerney still remembers giving him a tip about properly maintaining his spine tilt.
Little did he know, Brady was just the beginning. A number of professional athletes began frequenting McGolf and later KOHR Golf Center, the state-of-the-art driving range and practice facility McInerney opened in Natick three years ago.
Brady never made a trip out to the new spot, but several Boston athletes have. Among the first was Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, with quite a few of his teammates — defensemen Matt Grzelcyk, Torey Krug, and Charlie McAvoy — following suit. Others who have stopped by include Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and former New England Revolution forward Taylor Twellman.
The coronavirus pandemic forced KOHR to temporarily shut down mid-March, shortly after professional sports leagues had suspended play. Massachusetts was the last state in the country to end its ban on golf, but since KOHR reopened in May, business has been booming.
“We’re the busiest we’ve ever been,” McInerney said.
KOHR is open to the public, as McInerney and director of golf instruction Daniel Boisvert train kids of all ages, some of whom are aspiring college and professional golfers.
Higher-profile customers, however, are treated to a private area, secluded from other clientele. Some of the new regulars? Red Sox outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kevin Pillar, as well as Celtics forward Jayson Tatum.
“Jayson’s very new to it, but he’s made about as quick progress as I’ve seen with anybody,” Boisvert said. “Sometimes at that size, you can be a little awkward at first, but I was pretty surprised by how quickly he started getting better.”
Ainge certainly approves of Tatum's latest hobby.
“There’s some potential there,” Ainge said. “Golf is a very healthy sport for professional athletes to play during their off time. I really can’t think of too many things I’d rather have my players doing in their off time than playing golf.”
Ainge has invited Tatum and point guard Kemba Walker to join him for a round on the course — and he’s hopeful the beginners will accept.
“It’s a way to compete without putting a lot of stress on your body,” Ainge said. “I always loved playing golf during the season and the offseason. It was a little bit of an escape away from your job. It gets the competitive juices flowing.”
At KOHR, there’s a club-fitting company, Cool Clubs, on-site, so that taller players, such as the 6-foot-8-inch Tatum, can receive custom equipment.
When athletes visit KOHR for personalized instruction, Boisvert will offer pointers on things like their grip, aim, posture, and alignment. For example, he recently added some tilt into Tatum’s backswing to keep his hand path neutral. Boisvert also will incorporate videos, similar to a film session at practice.
KOHR’s greens feature target ranges, which helps simulate the experience of playing a hole. Boisvert sometimes sets up small competitions, such as longest drive and closest to the pin. Tatum, he says, has a knack for crushing the ball.
According to both Boisvert and McInerney, professional athletes pick up golf faster than most.
“Their awareness around their movements is a lot higher,” Boisvert said. “I’d say it’s typically 30 to 40 percent quicker that you can get a professional athlete to be a good golfer.”
McInerney said the players have all the “basic athletic skills” to pick up the game.
“They understand touch; they understand feel,” he said. “They all have amazing sequence; they have extreme power. It makes it so much easier, if you’re a talented athlete in another sport.”
Once athletes start coming in, there’s always a likelihood they’ll be back. Tatum has been in for at least 10 lessons since his first back in early June.
“Everybody has a tough time with golf,” McInerney said. “It’s a really challenging game. Professional athletes are obsessively competitive, and I think that brings the best out of them. It’s a very tough game. They want to figure out how to beat it, and they just can’t. That makes it an addiction.”