PGA Tour veterans Craig Barlow and Jeff Gallagher lead the High Performance Golf Institute at Lake Las Vegas and share how to play your best golf
By Brian Hurlburt, Las Vegas Golf Insider
Understanding pressure is extremely important when it comes to playing quality golf–in more ways than one. The High Performance Golf Institute (HPGI) at Lake Las Vegas is the place to go to be immersed in all things pressure, rhythm, patience and tension.
When asked to share their best golf tips or advice, both Craig Barlow and Jeff Gallagher, former PGA Tour players who are the stewards of the HPGI experience, were unanimous in their answers.
“It’s all about rhythm and lack of tension,” Barlow says. “You shouldn’t squeeze the club too hard and grip pressure is a huge key in a golf swing.”
Barlow continues: “Rhythm is a very difficult thing to teach, but we focus on helping our players understand how to play with rhythm and that lack of tension. When I was playing on Tour, I was very aware of it and I know Jeff was, too. I think the reason why both of us had great rhythm was we had lack of tension. It’s impossible to have great rhythm when you have tension. If an amateur could jump inside of a Tour player’s body, they would be shocked about how free their tension is. I can guarantee you even Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, who swing the club pretty violently, don’t have any tension in their swings.”
Former world number one and two-time major champion Greg Norman confirmed Barlow and Gallagher’s beliefs about lack of tension during Shark, an ESPN documentary. The night before Norman won the 1986 Open Championship, Jack Nicklaus gave him a simple piece of advice.
“He put his hand on my shoulder, and said ‘Just focus on your grip pressure tomorrow, that’s it,’” Norman said during the show.
Barlow and Gallagher don’t need an affirmation from Norman nor Nicklaus, but the documentary was released the day before this interview. Hearing so much attention paid to rhythm, pressure and lack of tension in a 24-hour time span put an exclamation point on Barlow and Gallagher’s shared point of emphasis.
The HPGI is located at Lake Las Vegas, and the facilities include the Jack Nicklaus-designed Reflection Bay Golf Club, a state-of-the-art indoor teaching facility, plus the expansive Falls practice area that features grass driving ranges, full-length holes, short game and bunker areas, putting green, and several target greens that are perfect for simulated in-round practice. Barlow and Gallagher also utilize Trackman technology to dial in distance control during both indoor and outdoor sessions.
Other top instructors at HPGI are Nicole Dutt-Roberts and Bradley Keyer, along with master club fitter Brendan Bergin. Dutt-Roberts, a PGA of America professional, specializes in helping beginning players and women’s groups, while Keyer, a former college golfer, also works with beginners and younger players, and assists in other areas. Chris Mulhall also operates a golf academy onsite.
“The best way to describe our facility is ‘unique’ because there is nothing else like it in our area where you have three or four different holes to learn the golf game along with everything else that is out here,” Gallagher says. “Generally, you’re at a country club or a public golf course where you’re hitting balls on a driving range and they may have a little small chipping green and maybe a bunker. Here, we have four different holes, a par three that we can hit full shots into, a hole you can hit driver on, plus short game areas with bunkers. Because of that, we can simulate all different types of shots, from rough-type lies to uneven lies, and any lies you may encounter during a round. The uniqueness of how our players can prepare and practice is what sets us apart.”
Many golfers, including pros, believe that doing the same thing over and over can lead to a deterioration in practice results. The diversity of HPGI is a solution to this persistent issue.
“When I first started teaching about 11 years ago, I was on a range and my players would just hit ball after ball after ball,” Gallagher says. “That can get boring. I am the first to admit that I didn’t like to practice as a professional golfer because it just got monotonous after a while. But we are so fortunate here because our players can hit balls for 15 minutes to work on the mechanics, and then go over to number eight and hit 130-yard shots to work on accuracy, and then we can utilize another part of the practice area. We can also do playing lessons on a hole at our facility instead of going out on the golf course. However, we have the best of both worlds because we can also work with our players at Reflection Bay.”
The “in-game” practice sessions also help players with another kind of pressure, that of executing shots under the gun while Barlow or Gallagher monitor the results. It may not be exactly the same as hitting shots during a tournament, but having a PGA Tour pro judge your success adds enough pressure to keep things real.
“Mentally, Craig has given me some very good advice about how to go into a tournament with the right mindset and how to perform my best under pressure,” says Lauren Pham, a Bishop Gorman class of 2023 who will play golf at the University of Kansas. “Craig knows everything I am going through, no matter what the problem is or what the solution is. Because he has played on the Tour, Craig is very knowledgeable about everything, even if it’s the smallest little details. If something is going wrong, Craig will figure it out and he will work with me until we work it out.
“I’ve been working with him for about two years and my game has improved in every aspect from putting and short game to hitting it much more consistently. I know I can rely on him because his instruction is very precise, very tight. Also, he is a really good mentor because he knows exactly what to say because he has been through it all.”
Barlow made more than 170 cuts during his PGA Tour career and played in eight major championships. Gallagher is a previous champion on what is now known as the Korn Ferry Tour and has also competed in the U.S. Senior Open several times. The duo has worked with state amateur champions and other top players, and enjoy bouncing ideas off of each other.
An area that translates well to students is when it comes to on-course and tournament experience. It is a long and arduous process for a golfer to learn everything on their own, but Barlow and Gallagher are helping short circuit the process by providing insights about their own experiences.
“I like to tell my students that half of the things that I teach them are things that I had to learn the hard way,” Barlow says. “What Jeff and I are doing is trying to cut out the middle man, and the middle man is experience. I tell them all the time, ‘Hey, I screwed this up many times in my career and it took me years to learn this. I don’t want you to have to go through those same struggles that I had to go through.’ That is invaluable. There are plenty of good instructors around the country, but there are very few who can actually put their thumbprint on the exact situations like Jeff and I can.”
Like many of Barlow and Gallagher’s students, Pham is striving to be successful in college before trying to play professionally, but the two instructors also work with everyday golfers who are seeking their wisdom to help turn scores of 90 into 85, those 85s into 80s, and so on.
Dr. Jason Zommick, a Southern Highlands member, has worked with Gallagher for about four years. Since he began taking lessons from Gallagher, Zommick, a six handicap, has won the Southern Highlands match play title and also a net championship. Zommick, 54, has a goal of qualifying for the U.S. Senior Amateur in 2023.
“Jeff is an expert on the short game and putting, and is also good at all aspects of golf, but the short game is really his mastery,” Zommick says. “What he does so well is evaluate students. He has evaluated what I can do well and what I need to work on, and then recommends changes. Everything we do is based on my goals. What I also like is that he teaches very positively. When I hit good a shot he recognizes it, but even on the bad shots, he keeps it positive. He’ll say, ‘Let’s try that again and do a little better this time’ instead of focusing on the negative.
Zommick also says that Gallagher’s teaching philosophy is “refreshing” because he works to the strengths of his students. A previous instructor disregarded Zommick’s recent hip replacement surgery and tried to force a certain swing pattern on him, which proved unsuccessful due to limitations caused by the medical procedure.
Barlow and Gallagher share similar teaching philosophies, and believe a focused mindset and consistency are keys to success.
“My teaching philosophy is that you succeed in golf before you ever pull the club back,” Barlow says. “I preach ball position, alignment, posture, rhythm, grip, and I know Jeff does as well. It’s important to understand that there is no perfect golf swing. I tell my students from the get go that if you want to play this game well, you must own your setup. There’s a system about how to get set up the same every single time and it is a learned trait.
“You shouldn’t just put your hands on a golf club and slap the club down behind the ball. There is a certain distance a player should be from the ball and the ball position changes with each club. And, as I said before, we emphasize how important rhythm is and how important lack of tension is. Mindset is also important, and players must be committed to what they are trying to accomplish.”
Teaching the swing and mental approach is a major part of the HPGI experience, but technology and club fitting are also important. In a future article, we will take a deep dive into the custom club fitting experience with Bergin that Barlow and Gallagher believe is vital.
“How many places can you go take lessons and then also have somebody who is part of that team who can adjust clubs, fit clubs, change clubs, work with different bounces, and everything else?” Barlow asks. “I’ll send someone to Brendan who isn’t spinning the ball enough and Brendan immediately starts tinkering with the lie of the club, with the shaft of the club, lightening up the club, and makes improvements. Club fitting nowadays is as important as it’s ever been. That is why the golfers are so much better because there is so much information in all different aspects of the game. We also work with a TPI certified physio, so we have all aspects of the game covered.”
Overall, Lake Las Vegas is a residential community and vacation destination situated on a privately owned, 320-acre lake 17 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. Within the 3,592-acre resort are residential offerings and land development opportunities plus resort hotels in addition to Reflection Bay and the private SouthShore Golf Club, also a Nicklaus design. The area has evolved into a true golf destination.
“Our vision has always been to create a golf ecosystem, and we have invested on every level to make that a reality,” says Eric Dutt, manager of operations for Reflection Bay and HPGI. “It’s rewarding to sit back and now witness how it is all coming together and see the reaction. The HPGI is very important to everything we do.”
This is part one in a series highlighting the golf experience at Lake Las Vegas and Reflection Bay.