“Good, God, Morning, Light…” Those opening worlds from his classic, self produced video, How to Build a G.O.L.F. Game, a video that neatly summarized his teaching philosophy that influenced two generations of golf instructors around the world, say more about the man than any obit piece ever will. My long-time teacher and mentor, world renown instructor Bentley J. Doyle ended his “human experience” Monday night. A devoted Christian Scientist, Ben was preceded into the next phase by the love of his life, Joanne. He is survived by 3 daughters and several grandchildren.
The first time I ever heard of Ben was in an article about players and their “bibles” that appeared in Golf Magazine around 1980. Bobby Clampett’s “bible” was The Golfing Machine and his teacher was Ben Doyle. Ben’s bible was, well, THE Bible, and he read it every single day of the dozens and dozens that I spent with him since our first meeting in June of 1987. Sitting on his iconic cart full of items his might use—but really didn’t need—in one one of his tens of thousands of golf lessons, Ben would eat a simple sandwich and read the Good Book in the very few minutes he wouldn’t have booked with players and teachers from around the world.
Before devoting his career to teaching full-time, Ben was a fabulously successful club pro in Seattle at the Broadmoor Golf Club. That’s where he met fellow Christian Scientist Homer Kelley, who has recently completed his self published book, The Golfing Machine. Ben became the first “authorized instructor” of the book and before long, moved Joanne and their three daughters to the Monterey Peninsula area of California to teach golf full time, first at the Laguna Seca Golf course and then at Carmel Valley Golf and Country Club, which later changed its name to The Golf Club at Quail Lodge.
He spoke so softly you could barely hear him, even if you were sitting next to him. Yet somehow, Ben’s presence could intimidate even the most confident of famous teaching pros. Most instructors know their info is based on anything but science, and just in case there was any real science in that little yellow book, they didn’t want to be busted by Ben.
That made the countless PGA Teaching Summits that we attended together pretty darn interesting, as myself and often Mike Finney, and even more often Steve Khatib, would basically caddy for Ben, often room together, and help him hold court during the off times of the seminars. Sitting next to him at every summit from 1990 on, until he stopped attending them a few years ago, Ben would lean over toward me and tell me what the speaker got wrong in real time. It was a priceless education.
Ben and fellow teaching pro Don Villavaso more or less took over for the job of being the older, wiser men in my life after my dad passed in early ’87. Ben got the biggest kick out of the Real Don and the imitation Don that he would hear from all of his New Orleans-based boys—Mike Finney, Tom Bartlett and Chris Hamburger. Ben never heard the uncanny imitation of himself by now Valhalla Head Professional Chris Hamburger. Not that he didn’t want Chris to perform it for him, it never happened because Chris just respected the man way too much to do it in front of him.
That’s pretty much how anyone that really got to know Ben felt about him, reverence and respect. He was pretty much holy for all practical purposes, but when he stepped down a little closer to our level it could be absolutely hilarious.
Ben was a hands on teacher. One of his go-tos was holding onto the top of your pants around your left hip while he had the other hand keeping your head back. Through impact he’d pull your hips open and not let your head move forward. On one of the many Outback Steakhouse court holdings Ben would have during the Port St. Lucie PGA Summits, he told the story of how he did that very exercise to a young lady wear a sarong skirt. “I pulled her hips around and the whole skirt just dropped to the ground,” Ben told us to our mock horror and grade school giggles. He had the table of 12 or so in the palm of his hand when he dropped the punch line, “She had the cutest little panties.”
We all just about couldn’t breath for the next few minutes and the uproar silenced the rest of the whole establishment. Classic Ben.
He boiled the swing down to what Chris Hamburger called “the essence,” and he worked you “with your mind in your hands and your eyes correctly on the inside-aft quadrant of the ball” until you could take out not just a line in a bunker, but pretty close to the precise grain of sand. With a set up “behind the ball” and the ball forward as it could be, Ben Doyle could get any decent student to hit the ground exactly where he wanted, and he did it with a distain for hip slide or overly open shoulders.
He read pretty much every book on the market and housed them in a beautiful classic glass fronted book case in he and Joanne’s super nice house on Blue Larkspur Lane in Monterey. It was in this house that you could take a shower in a tub with no curtains and no lock on the door, browse through hundreds of his lesson tapes, eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s served with a large spoon stuck in the opened pint, or in my case find out that Ben would rather miss putts than look as goofy as he thought I did with my mid-90’d really bent over Langer grip putting style.
It was fitting that I was interviewed on the phone by Matt Rudy of Golf Digest this morning, in the house of another of Ben’s boys, my pal, Michael Jacobs. Ben stayed in Mike’s house quite a few times and he did a few schools with Mike Jacobs and I at Rock Hill on Long Island, and they always featured Ben “not coming down” one inch to whatever level the golfer was.
Ben wanted all of us to be able to demonstrate as well as we taught and he just loved the dynamic swings he helped build like Michael Finney, Tommy Bartlett, Bobby Shaeffer, Billy McKinney and Gregg McHatton.
The three main things I learned about teaching from Ben was that there is always a real answer to how the swing worked, you could get anyone to make a professional-like golf swing, and you had better work your tail off in a lesson.
He and Joanne taught me and all the boys so much more about life than golf. They were always so patient with all of my non-golf life foibles and were beyond thrilled when I lucked into the love of my life, Lisa. All of the boys will never forget the many, many dinners with the Doyles and all the great times and laughs we all had every time we all got together.
A few years ago, after Anti-Summit I in Arizona, Mike Jacobs, Steve Khatib and myself flew to California to see Ben and Joanne. We had a great dinner with them at Quail Lodge and said good night to them and then took the long walk back to our car.
It was an eerily quiet walk. It was easy to see that our time with them on this little planet was getting closer to the end than to the beginning. Not a dry eye or a word spoken in that car for a few minutes. We were glad we took the time to go to see them. Joanne passed within two years and now Ben.
Ben and Joanne left us a lot. I would never have met the awesome pals I have because of our shared relationships with the Doyles. We wouldn’t be the men or the teachers we are now. Not even close.
If you are lucky, you’ll make a dent in this world in the time you have allotted.
Ben didn’t make a dent—he fixed a lot of dents and put a bow on top.