Daily World Newspaper
Photo by Freddie Herpin
Article published Apr 2, 2006
Golfer earns global acclaim
Opelousas' Thomas T. Wartelle named Top 60 instructor
Thomas T. Wartelle was 14 the first time he ever picked up his brother's old golf club kept together by duct tape and convinced himself to take up the game of golf.
Over the next few years, Wartelle became a club rat, whether it was caddying for club members at Indian Hills in Opelousas or shagging balls on the driving range, and that whole time he did one thing - practice.
"I hit about 500 balls a day from when I was 15 to 28 years old," said the Grand Prairie native and Washington resident. "But it's taken me 20 years to learn to play this game mentally."
The practice has more than paid off. Wartelle was recently named as one of the top 60 golf teachers in the world by Golf Teaching Pro Magazine, the first such worldwide ranking of golf teachers performed.
The fact that it's a "world" ranking, however, shouldn't come as a surprise. While today you can find Wartelle offering lessons and tips in Opelousas, most of the time, you'd have to travel to France ... or Holland ... or Brazil ... or Taiwan ... to find Wartelle either playing in tournaments or teaching pros looking to make it big.
"Since about 1994, I've probably lived in Europe more than I've lived in the states.
"I'm kind of a celebrity in parts of Europe," Wartelle said with a modest grin. "Here, I'm just Thomas the caddy."
It's a title Wartelle seems not to mind. He admits he wasn't the best golfer in his teens, when most pros are starting to make a name for themselves.
"My first try in school I shot a 70 in nine holes and didn't make the team," he said. "Thirteen months later, though, I became a scratch golfer. I had an awful swing, but I was a scratch golfer."
Wartelle went to LSU for a year but transferred to USL (now the University of Louisiana) and played alongside the PGA's Mike Heinen and Craig Perks.
"I was more of a scrub on that team," he said. "I was like our fifth or sixth player."
But persistence paid off, as well as the ability to take advice. Wartelle credits 1957 PGA champ Lionel Hebert with giving him a lot of good mental tips and local amateur Chad Williams for showing him ways to improve his game.
By 1993, Wartelle turned pro himself ... sleeping in his truck at times while playing mini-tournaments in Florida. In 1994, he played in Europe, an experience he calls his "turning point."
"That's where I really learned to play," he said.
And learn to teach. Wartelle thinks he's been named one of the world's best because he enjoys what he does, and he knows that it takes a lot of work to get it right.
"I never paid for a lesson in my life," he said with a laugh. "Maybe I shouldn't tell anybody that though. I don't want them thinking they can learn without me."
Joey Monica of Opelousas is appreciative of Wartelle's guidance. Because his business involves some golf with clients, Monica took up the game just in February and is already impressing his instructor.
"He's already driving it well," Wartelle said. "First time I saw him do it, I couldn't believe it."
This past Friday, Wartelle showed Monica basic putting tips ... leaning over the ball, keeping your club head straight ... and whatever he told him worked. Monica sank four straight puts after a tweak in his stance.
As for his own playing, Wartelle said he still hopes to join the tour. At 35, he definitely has the contacts and the sponsors. Aldila shafts, Sonartec clubs, TrionZ magnetic wrist bracelets and the World Golf Teachers Federation are just a few brand names he promotes and endorses. Now, he said, he just needs the luck.
"To be a Tour player, you need three things -to be good, to be rich or sponsored and to be lucky," he said. "If you're not sponsored, it can cost you up to $50,000 to $100,000 just to play in tournaments."
Besides several top finishes in worldwide tournaments, Wartelle said his biggest golf thrill so far has been playing 18 at St. Andrews in Scotland, the birthplace of golf.
"I was more nervous teeing off there than at the U.S. Open," he said. "There was just so much history to it."
But his greatest thrill was the recent birth of his son.
"By far, the greatest thrill," he said. "My wife, my baby, my parents - none of this happens without their support."
And none of it would have even began had it not been for that old broken club.
Thomas T Wartelle ™
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