- Alistair Tait
Farewell Rhino, last of the old school
Many reading this won’t have heard of Gavin Christie, who has departed to that great practice range in the sky aged 79 after succumbing to cancer. He was an old school coach the like of which we’ll never see again.
Christie coached many European Tour players during his 50 years as a member of the Professional Golfers Association. Mark James wouldn’t have won 18 European Tour titles and featured in eight Ryder Cups if not for the man nicknamed “Rhino.”
“My dad would have seen Mark James as his number one,” Stuart Christie, one of Gavin’s three sons, told the PGA. “He taught him from the age of 14 and what Mark went on to achieve from a teenager is amazing.”
Christie was attached to many clubs during his life, including Wentworth, Burghley Park, Lincolnshire, Kedleston Park, Derbyshire, and two in Co Dublin, Ireland: The Open Golf Centre and Lisheen Springs. Besides James, he coached European Tour winners in Howard Clark, the late Gordon Brand Jnr, David J Russell, Roger Chapman and others during his long life as one of the most knowledgeable if publicity shy coaches on the European circuit.
The “Rhino” tag was invented because the Scotsman was said to be thick-skinned and charged a lot. Well done him, I always thought. He had an in-depth knowledge of the golf swing and didn’t suffer fools gladly who didn’t agree with him. As for charging a lot, European Tour players should have paid a high premium to tap into his vast knowledge. As James proved, riches followed for those who got on Christie’s wavelength.
He existed in age before trackman and phone apps to tell us swing path, swing speed, angle of attack, smash factor and share price movements on FTSE 100 index. He predated video cameras. Indeed, he was like the late Bob Torrance in that regard. They had no use of such tools, so great was their knowledge of the golf swing.
I first met Christie in the early 1990s when I introduced myself to him on a European Tour practice ground. I’d heard he was one of the most knowledgeable coaches on the circuit, and was keen to sign him up as a teaching professional for Golf Monthly magazine.
I asked him where he was from and he replied:
“I’m from the Kingdom.”
As in the Kingdom of Fife.
He asked me where I was from. I said:
“Nowhere near as grand as that: I’m just a humble peasant.”
A big smile spread across his face. We hit it off immediately.
Christie couldn’t be lured onto the GM teaching panel.
“Why would I share everything I know about the golf swing for a few pieces of silver?” he said. “Some secrets are best kept hidden.”
Of course, he didn’t hide his secrets. He passed them onto his students.
Chapman gave special credit to Christie after he won the 2012 U.S. Senior Open, his second senior major that season after victory in the Senior PGA Championship.
"I'm just more confident in my golf swing. Been working with my coach Gavin Christie. We've been working on, obviously, things, and he basically says I'm not high maintenance. 'You just got to hit the ball as late as possible.' That's all he says to me,” said Chapman, who also found senior tour success working with Berkshire Head Professional Paul Anderson."
Legends Tour player Gary Evans spoke for many when he tweeted:
Former European Tour/Challenge Tour player Stuart Davis highlighted Christie’s eccentric nature when he tweeted:
Davis’s description is spot on. Christie had a cheeky way about him, always challenging how we look at this crazy game. He always seemed to have a twinkle in his eye. His eccentric nature could have been the basis for Shivas Irons, the main character in Michael Murphy's book Golf in the Kingdom.
Christie didn’t just focus on professional golf. In recent years I saw him at many amateur events – the 2015 Walker Cup, 2016 Curtis Cup, the Amateur Championship, the St Andrews Links Trophy. He would usually be in the company of fellow golf professional and good friend Roger Yates. Christie loved casting a critical eye over topflight amateurs and listening to his analysis of players was always a bonus. As my tweet from the 2015 Walker Cup shows, time spent with Christie was treasured:
As Yates tweeted following Christie’s death:
Yates also said:
“Any time spent with Gavin was time well spent.”
I can vouch for that. Wish I’d spent much more time with the Rhino. I’d probably know a lot more about not just the golf swing, but life too.
#JustSaying: “Why would I need to use a video camera to tell me what I can already see with my own eyes?” Bob Torrance