TAMPA, Fla. - I take back most of the bad things I've ever said about golf instructors. I still think, overall, that they're mostly a bunch of scam artists, exploiting the average hacker's unrealistic dream of hitting it like Tiger Woods, even though he or she downs a 12-pack of Schlitz Malt Liquor while playing once a month. The hacker, I mean -- not the instructor.
There are a million self-professed golf gurus out there, all with their swing aids and expensive audio-visual equipment, charging you obscene amounts of money while filling your head with complicated "swing thoughts." They get your brain so twisted with geometric angles your body reacts like an algebra equation, turning it into knots. The ball dribbles off to your right and your friends turn their heads in shame.
Deming had a simple question for me: "What do you want to fix?" It was a simple answer, too: my slice. I have a slice as big as all outdoors. Not an average slice, but a wicked, evil slice. My slice could have its own horror movie: Jason and Freddy versus McDonald's Slice. My slice is a serial killer who leaves no clues to the cops.
Adjoining counties have been known to alert their Emergency Response Teams when they see me on the driving range. Neighbors stay in constant radio contact, quivering behind closed shutters. You think I'm kidding? Ever hit three fairways over?
Deming's solution was simple, as well. Two drills and a couple of buckets of balls equal no slice.
Now, it's not quite that simple, because once I got out on the course, some of my old problems returned - and some new ones to boot. Deming predicted that. But, at least I know what I'm doing wrong and now have some simple drills to keep the beast subdued.
Deming did use some audio-visual equipment, risking it to film my swing. But, he only videotaped two swings before we got down to action.
The first thing he did was shorten my stance. I was standing over the ball like Thor, the god of thunder. He explained, why, in simple terms, I had to shorten it. With your feet wide apart, there's no "pivot point."
Your lower back must pivot, to allow for your shoulders to rotate and, as a result, your lower body to get into the action. That can't happen with a stink-bug stance like mine. It's physically impossible.
Then, the two drills. I'm sure you've seen one: you place the club on your chest, parallel to the ground, holding it in place with your fingertips. Rotate your right shoulder - left shoulder for southpaws - as far as you can. Then twist your body the other way, emulating your swing. Finish with your right knee touching the back inside of your left knee. This mimics the correct follow-through. Do it five times - all the way, don't cheat - then hit five balls. Repeat.
The second drill was one I'd never heard of. Take an iron and tee the ball up. With your normal swing, try to hit the ball with the very top of the blade. If you do it correctly, the ball will go off way to your left, a short, but serious hook. This gives you the feeling of turning the club over instead of leaving the face open. Now, if you can stand the chuckles of your fellow driving-range mates, it's just a matter of fine-tuning it.
That's it. One small change, two drills, two hours on the range and one on the course. Deming didn't try to change my grip, saying whatever I felt comfortable with was fine. He didn't fill my head with psycho-babble. He glossed over the fundamentals: stance, alignment, etc.
The closest he came to psychology was his claim that it takes 21 days for a change like this to make the journey from your conscious mind to your subconscious mind and unpack its bags. You stand up there with first-tee jitters and bad habits come racing back like, well … bad habits. That makes sense.
I accomplished in one morning more than I ever had in hour after hour on the driving range, on the course and in countless readings of tips from "experts" in all the golf magazines. There might be other instructors who have these drills, but there's something to be said for "presentation," for the actual teaching. The most complicated movement in sports has to be taught simply.
Now, I'm not advocating that everybody rush to Tampa and look up Deming to fix their slices. They'd have to widen the interstate. The point is that, just as every golfer's swing is unique, it seems that you have to find an instructor to match your unique needs, both physically and psychologically.
If you're into Zen, by all means, head to Leadbetter. If you're a simple man with simple needs like me, find someone like Deming. Or else practice these two simple drills. I'll bill you later.
April 20, 2005