Mark Hook at the BEST Centre in Majorca this month. | James Parrack

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The big sporting news of this month for us has been the opening of the pool at the BEST Centre and the return of swim and triathlon teams from around Europe. They tell us how excited they are to be back in Mallorca again after two years at home. They missed the sunshine, the friendly welcome and relaxing at the beach after training.

This week’s question is why are Norway, population 5 million, so good at sport? They top the medals table in Beijing and always bring home medals from the Summer Games too. We have a big team from Norway here at the moment, so I asked their coaches.

“Well,” they said, “in winter, when other countries use cars, the Norwegians use skis. The cross country skiing is always on TV and thy are the superstars in Norway.”

They said that elite level sport is focused at a very high level, very well funded and all knowledge and research is shared and applied across all sports.

The group here all had heart rate monitors attached to their goggles delivering real-time pulse rates to a screen on the pool deck to ensure they were all training at the optimal intensity. Also, there is no emphasis on success for athletes under the age of 14.

But there was one character on the pool deck with the Norwegian group that had nothing to do with swimming. So if you want to improve your golf handicap, then read on.

Mark Hook was the head golf pro at the La Manga resort for seven years and was instrumental in putting together the deal between what was then a golf and tennis resort and the Norwegian Football Federation to turn La Manga to the go-to destination for Europe’s division one football clubs and national teams.

Hook grew up in Liverpool in the 60s, the middle child of nine. His mother had the good sense to take six-year-old Mark to the local golf club.

“I hated it,” he said. “I didn’t pick up a club for three months. I was surrounded by posh kids and I wanted to be with my street mates. I will always be thankful to my mum for making me go. Eventually I started hitting the ball and realised I was good at it.”

By the age of 17, the posh kids were to become his life-long friends, training and travelling together and playing golf while his street mates were heading for drugs, crime and an early grave.

“At 17 though, I knew I wouldn’t be a pro player on the golf tour. The kids from Southport and off the links courses could shape the ball with a 3 iron that I could never do. I could see the difference even then. I could see everything in the swing and I knew I had the talent to be a coach.”

Before coaching though Hook spent three seasons working the bars of Lloret de Mar, set up a thriving business as an electrician then went bust in the recession of the 80s. So the coaching career beckoned, first in Norway as a golf pro travelling the world with groups, then a break to build the football business in La Manga and across Europe, and then back to golf to become the head pro in La Manga for nine years. The resort is now so big it has its own postcode.

So, tips for the weekend hackers? “The first thing to understand,” he says, “is that practice makes permanent. So practise the right things. The mistake is to try and change your swing. The trick is to take what you’ve got and make sure all the power of your swing motion is transferred to the ball. I can do this for most people in two lessons. Then you go to the short game, on the fringes of the green.

Too many people focus on the outcome, getting the ball in the hole. Instead, choose the line, then take a 7 iron and focus on the landing area, which is maybe only four or five feet away from you. When putting, forget about the hole and concentrate on the marks you need to hit on the way to the hole.”

Hook is an ardent Liverpool fan and has been to nearly all their away fixtures in Europe over the last forty odd years.

“I would have been there on Wednesday but I was working with the team here instead.”
Was Istanbul his favourite? “That was good, but for me it was Rome in 1977, the first time we won the European Cup.”