Joe Hallett spent the better part of his 20s as a journeyman golfer trying to stay relevant on the professional circuit.
He bounced around on the Canadian Tour and the Space Coast Golf Tour in Florida but never reached the highest stage.
“I was the world’s worst tour player,” Hallett said laughing. “I literally was. I’m not sure I could show them where to go but I could tell them what they ought not to be doing.”
Others noticed his keen eyesight.
As Hallett struggled to make his fourth PGA Tour Q-School, mentors Joe Moses and Joe Lopez suggested he answer a new calling — teaching.
Twenty years later, he has climbed the PGA ladder by helping others reach their highest potential. Formerly the lead instructor at the PGA Center for Learning & Performance, he enters his third year as director of instruction at Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin.
In addition to aiding club members and heading up the club’s golf academy, Hallett also assists golfers on the high school, collegiate and professional levels. His top protégé, Stacy Lewis, just became the second American, since the ranking system began in 2006, to ascend to No. 1 on the LPGA Tour.
He spent the week in Rancho Mirage, Calif., getting Lewis ready for the season’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, this weekend. Hallett also tutors for seven-time major champion Juli Inkster, Ryann O’Toole and former Vanderbilt standouts Jacqui Concolino and Marina Alex.
“I’ve been at this almost 20 years and the best part of it is I learn something new every week,” Hallett said. “I learn it from a full handicapper or a Tour player. It will be in the way they do something or the way it feels or the way the shot goes or their description. I learn something every week. It is unbelievable.”
Generally speaking, he stresses simplicity.
“If they can get the ball airborne, half the battle is over,” he said.
Two of the most common flaws he sees in beginning golfers is too much movement in the legs and over emphasizing the windup on the drive. He uses video analysis to break down habits on the tee and greens. But his methods vary — especially with his professionals.
Some days he’ll just talk with Lewis, last year’s LPGA Player of the Year, while she drives ball after ball off the tee. Other days, he’ll analyze every swing over a two-hour lesson.
“I look at it this way, if a player is in the top 100 in the world they haven’t gotten there by doing a whole bunch of stuff wrong,” he said. “Let’s find out what you’re doing right, what you do well and let’s build on that.”
The 49-year-old was the beneficiary of growing up in golf-rich Florida.
Two streets down lived legendary instructor and former PGA golfer Bob Toski. When Hallett’s mother moved to Orlando, living in the townhome next door was South African David Leadbetter, who helped restore Nick Faldo’s swing. Hallett also spent summers learning from renowned swing coach Jimmy Ballard.
After playing college golf at Furman and a short-lived professional stint, he channeled that wealth of knowledge into a profitable career. Ranked as a Top 50 instructor by Golf Range Magazine, Hallett rose to lead instructor at the PGA’s headquarters in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
So why leave and come to Vanderbilt Legends Club?
His role began to shift from teaching to an administration and he wanted to stay closer to his “home” — the practice tee. That’s when former Vanderbilt Legends Club general manager Paul Bergen swooped in and convinced him to run the club’s academy while also offering private instruction.
“This is the best move I’ve ever made and is the smartest thing I’ve ever done,” Hallett said. “Nashville is just such a great hidden gem and the golf here is amazing.”
In return, Vanderbilt Legends Club and the Middle Tennessee golfing community believe they struck gold.
“He has just been a huge asset,” Vanderbilt women’s golf coach Greg Allen said. “It is always nice when our players have great golf instructors they can go visit and work with. … He is not going to get in there and make it too complicated. He is going to keep it simple. Joe has a great personality and a way of making you feel really good about what you’re doing as a player when you leave the lesson.”
For Hallett, it never seems like work.
He jokes his feet are 103 years old due to all the walking he does up and down the links. But since he delved into teaching and coaching, the long days are few and far between.
“I tell all the PGA kids this job is a career,” he said. “A job goes from 8 to 5 and a career goes from 5 to 8. If you love what you’re doing that career that starts at 5 in the morning and ends at 8 at night will be the fastest day you’ve ever seen in your entire life.”