When I was a kid, my father (who was a really, really good player) told me I had too much right hand in my golf swing and that it resulted in my then-constant slice. This was sadly not one of my father’s better golf lessons and it took me years to learn that the opposite was true.
Now, the funny thing is that even though I know this, I sometimes find myself driving the downswing, and even initiating my takeaway, using the energy and force of my left arm.
Trying to avoid this tendency got me thinking (seldom a good thing when it comes to golf, but a really good thing in this case) about what some Youtube golf gurus had to say on the subject. The first video is from Steve Johnston and the fun starts at around the three minute mark. Johnston actually says that, “The left arm just hangs and is inert until the right arm stretches it and creates leverage.” The crucial part lasts about three minutes and is worth watching again and again to get the idea to fully penetrate thicker heads like mine.
Next, up is Martin Chuck in this video from way back in 2011. Roll forward to the forty second mark and you’ll hear him say that, “The left arm just hangs.”
Now I know both arms work together in every good golf swing. But, I also know that I tend to let my left arm take over both in effort and feel. I’m right handed and I know my right arm is stronger and more coordinated than my left. But still, I need to relearn this lesson far more often than you would think.
Hey, I’m trying…
When I allow the right arm to do its correct share of the work, the club’s path back and into the downswing is both easier and tidier, for lack of a better word. Also critical is what Johnston says about pulling, specifically when he says outright that there’s no pulling with the left arm.
Again, I know I’m guilty of that more than I care to admit. When it comes to golf, reminders from those who know better are great to have and frequently needed (by me, anyway).
It was really generous of GolfSmarter’s head-honcho, Fred Greene, to invite me onto the show. He does an amazing job on the podcast and makes the entire process so enjoyable for the guest. The experience made me want to do it all again, but to do a little better job.
I did the interview cold; I didn’t know what questions Fred would be asking in advance. That ramped up my anxiety factor a little at the outset but once we got rolling the interview took on a nice flow. Fred’s a real pro and a great friend to golf.
I was very pleased to have the opportunity to talk about the release of the second edition of Tony Manzoni’s classic golf instructional book, The Lost Fundamental as well as the availability of my new book, John J. McDermott & the 1971 U.S. Open.
Thanks, Fred, for providing the forum for me to share two of my favorite subjects with you and the entire GolfSmarter audience.
I can’t remember if it was 2008 or 2009 when I first met Tony Manzoni. I know I was in the desert on a golf junket and that I had picked up a local desert golf magazine that had an article on Tony that alluded to his swing theory. The article was pretty sparse, and didn’t really get to the essence of what Tony was saying, but there was just enough there to pique my interest.
Soon thereafter we met but it was years, many years, in fact, before our book, The Lost Fundamental, saw the light of day. Those many years have now flipped by as the days and weeks and months and years of the calendar are destined to and now my friend, Tony Manzoni, has moved on.
Tony battled cancer over the last few years. He fought the good fight and fought it with optimism and good humor but in the end cancer or the fates or God in heaven ended the game and now we are all left to face the world, and especially the world of golf, without him.
Yes, he had played alongside of the greats of our game.
Yes, he taught golf to movie stars.
Yes, Frank Sinatra was godfather to his daughter.
Each of these are undisputed facts but what they don’t convey is what truly matters about Tony Manzoni. In the end, as great a teacher as Tony was, as fine a player as he was, his real calling in life, his real gift, was as a lifelong student of golf.
Of course, Tony was an amazing player in his own right.
Of course, Tony coached his College of the Desert team to no fewer than five state championships.
I had the good fortune of working with Tony on his concepts many times over the last decade and each and every time I met with him in person, or when I spoke to him by phone, his mind was always on the game.
Once, I met with him in his office during a time when we were feverishly editing one of the final drafts of our book. I was reading the book, out loud, to him while Tony silently read his copy of the draft.
I was watching his hands as he read but I couldn’t figure out why he was moving them as he was..
Then I realized what was happening. Before we had gotten into the edits I had mentioned the premise of an article I had read concerning the action of the wrists during the golf swing. The writer said that only the left wrist truly hinged while the right wrist merely shifted right to accommodate that hinging action. What I was seeing was Tony working his hands to see if this was true or not.
After a while, Tony looked up and me and said, “You know, Paul…that’s absolutely right.”
Perhaps this is the final and best lesson of a true master of golf. Learning never ends. Part of being an expert is having an open mind to different ways of experiencing golf and also to explaining it. Tony had this gift. A part of it gave him the ability to relate to his young students at College of the Desert though he was many years their senior. It was easy for him because Tony was always learning, just like his players.
Tony has only been gone for a few days now but I already miss him dearly. My own golf game will surely suffer for his absence but my life will always be enriched by the echo of Tony’s ongoing presence and his passion for golf and learning.
I am proud to count Tony Manzoni as a friend and I was honored to work with him on the mission of bringing his knowledge to more and more of those who love our game.
If you would like to read more about Tony’s storied career you can read his obituary in the Desert Sun here.
Yup, another oldie, this time from back in 2007. No, I never did qualify for the US Amateur Public Links. Coulda, woulda, shoulda…
Sorry that I couldn’t come up with a more clever title and that I had to resort to a cheap take off of a miserable movie called My Dinner with André that I hope never to see again. I know you’ve all come to expect more from me. Anyway, taking a golf lesson is a lot like going to the dentist: No one goes because they want to.
I never had any delusions about becoming a great player. My own playing ambitions are really pretty modest. I want to hit the ball solidly and I would like to qualify for the US Amateur Public Links. To do this, I’d have to shave enough strokes to get my handicap down to the mid 8s from the mid 10s.
But, I digress…
My game fell apart right around the time I got divorced, though I cannot be sure of any direct association. The horrors came on fast and hung on tight. Out of nowhere I lost my backswing. It almost felt like someone else was taking the club back for me and not the way that I wanted. It felt like the top of my back swing got lost in the woods and it quickly became impossible to find a way to start the down swing toward the ball with any kind of flow. That’s a lousy feeling. Once your back swing is lost it takes so many corrections to re-simplify that which has become all too complicated for the result to be a solidly struck ball.
Amazingly, some balls were hit solidly. Still, the entire event became so convoluted that swinging the club had become a genuinely painful process. Playing a round was possible, but not enjoyable. Practicing,however, was impossible. The feeling of physical madness that had contaminated my full swing was quickly making its presence known in simple practice swings, and shorter shots. At times, I could even feel it during chips and long puts. I kid you not…
Part of the problem is that we tend to muddle on. Golf imparts an odd mixture of fatalism and optimism. Players really believe that they can figure out their flaws but somewhere in the depths of their souls they know that other, possibly more serious, problems will always be lurking nearby.
Finally, and out of desperation, I tried a couple lessons. I was looking for someone who not only knew the golf swing but also had the conversational skills to clearly convey what he knew and also to understand what I was saying to him. So much of my life is about words yet I know that words can often get in the way. Still, words are indispensable tools in both golf and life.
I took lessons from two local guys. One is something of a local legend and the other is a humble pro from a local executive course. The legend was useless though I say that with no rancor. He was simply a guy who had decided long ago that he was going to give every golfer the same prescription. He had found his nectar and poured it freely.
The second guy was a gem of a person, though he just couldn’t get me going in the right direction. We could have talked for hours about golf and life, he was just such a fine and genuine guy. Somethaing about the evil move that had taken root in me just escaped him. He could almost see what was going on but it just couldn’t find a way to address it. It was frustrating to both of us. He really wanted to help and I really wanted to be helped. Still, he is a man that I happily count as a friend and a really good teacher of the game.
For months I tried to dissemble my swing in the backyard. I learned some interesting things. I learned that a comparatively weak left hand (the hand itself not my left hand grip) made me tend to open the blade far too quickly on the way back. I learned this when I realized that if I tried to hit chips with my left hand only I would usually shank the ball. When I focused on keeping blade square, just few inches longer, I developed a whole new feeling for the position of the left hand as it moves away from the ball. I also learned that my balance had been compromised and I have started to work to increase my lower body stability and regain as much balance as I can.
Still, I gradually became aware that the basic fault was far too ingrained for me to beat it by myself. My greatest fear was that the fault would become a permanent effect and that I’d be just another guy with a game shattering fault who just scraped it around. I had heard about Roger Gunn quite a bit over the years. He’s about my age and played a lot of competitive golf in the Los Angeles area. Roger has taught PGA Tour players and Hollywood types but would he be up to the challenge that I brought to him?
Roger teaches out of Tierra Rejada in Moorpark (you can read my review of the course elswhere in the blog) which is one of the newish breed of let’s build a golf course on a mountain type of courses that have become so prevalent in Los Angeles County over the last decade or so. Whatever your take on Tierra Rejada as a course, the have an excellent practice facility. I met Roger out there last Friday morning and I was very impressed with my lesson and with Roger.
After we shook hands and began to chat, Roger took an informal inventory of my bag. He took stock of clubs and their condition and examined their faces and soles. He reminded me of a doctor who asks you what you did over the weekend while he looks into your ears. Of course, I had to present a dissertation on my problem that would have bored lesser pros to tears but Roger listened intently and that meant a lot.
Finally, the fateful moment arrived. I have hit the ball like this for so long that I have almost gotten used to it, but it stills feels lousy and the balls flies without verve or purpose. I half feared that I would hit a couple OK and that it would throw him off the scent. I needn’t have worried.
After just a couple swings Roger began to speak about the importance of plane and path. Of course, I head heard and read the stuff he was saying a thousand times before. But, Roger gave a few simple examples that brought the essence of the problem to me clearly. For the next few minutes we worked on a very basic correction that involved him guiding the plane of my back swing. He reiterated that without the proper plane and path issues like tempo were irrelevant. His efforts allowed me to feel where the top of my swing had to be so that I could freely get the club on its way back to the ball.
A real strength that Roger has is to doggedly stay on point. When I asked him whether it might be helpful to work on my transition, he gently reeled me back into the issue of plane and said that if the plane was right the transition would take care of itself.
After my lesson with Roger I felt more than a glimmer of hope for the first time in a long time. I had a simple issue to work on that was basic to my swing. I also had an idea of how I had gone so far astray. It is well known that we all learn to play golf differently. Roger combines clear verbal instruction with an amazing ability to get to the most essential problem first. It would have been great had I found Roger a long time ago. I could have been on my way back to playing the way I know that I can a whole lot sooner. That said, golf is a lot like life. Sometimes we have to suffer through things for a new and better path to be clearly revealed. I’d like to thank Roger again and recommend him to anyone looking to rekindle their passion for the game. I’ll be working with Roger again soon.
I need to make up for lost time if I’m going to qualify for the USGA Publinx!
My sister and I have something in common when it comes to two of our closest friends. My sister’s college roomate, now a wife and mother of three and my best friend, a husband and father if two. both suffer from significant depression.
Each has issues with their spouse and children. But, I’ve identified a significant difference between the two and the difference was manifest in the one of two sentences that each of them chose to sum up their condition.
My sister’s friend says, “I just don’t want to feel like this any more.”
My buddy says. “I know there’s no help for me. This is just how it is.”
A while back, I felt motivated to share a DVD I own called Buck. It’s the now-famous story of horseman Buck Brannaman. I saw it on TV years ago and I never forgot it. It’s one of a handful of DVDs I’ve ever actually bought and I take it out from time to time just to watch a few scenes.
Now, the funny thing is that I have very little interest in riding horses. I’ve probably been riding ten times and on seven of those rides my steed was made of plastic. Still, I am fascinated with the way Brannaman conveys information. Earlier this year I went to see one of his clinics at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. It was fascinating. Now, Brannaman is not always a little ray of sunshine. But, what attracts me to his method is that it’s heavy on sensitivity and what I call, self-discovery. By that I mean that he’s not merely encouraging sensitivity toward the horse. Rather, he’s saying that sensitivity toward the horse is mandatory and that developing a sensitivity toward the horse you’re riding leads to sensitivity towards oneself and other people.
As I’m prone to do with nearly everything, I apply this to golf. Golf is nearly always taught as a prescribed method of creating a specific series of movements. Of course the golf swing is comprised of motions, so this make sense on one level. But, if you scratch the surface with the best golf instructors they will often admit that what they’re really trying to teach is a feeling that can be hard for some players to feel. I’ve even spoke to one teacher who told me he sometimes tries to trick his students into buying into a motion he thinks will create a feeling that will somehow unlock a better swing. Talk about tricky, but learning isn’t always easy and straightforward.
I’m sure you’re wondering how this applies to the first couple paragraphs. I have to admit that at the time I loaned my friend the DVD I wasn’t sure either. I just had a feeling. Now that he’s watched it I think I have handle on what I wanted him to get out of it. Some of the lessons resides in a line Brannaman refers to in the film:
Solvitur en modo, firmitur en rey.
This is Latin for gentle in what you do, firm in how you do it. Like I said, Brannaman should have been a golf teacher. I think my friend has lived most of his life believing that something done out of the gentleness of love must always be done in that same gentle way. Over the decades, this gentility-first ethos has spawned inaction and passivity where verve and action were needed. That first quote of his, I know there’s no help for me. This is just how it is rings like the very bell of negativity derived from passivity.
I think this is a heck of a difficult thing for my friend to become aware of at this point in his life. He’s gotten so good at applying this mentality to himself even though he would never prescribe it to his children. He has created a bizarre and damning corruption of the old line, Do as I say and not as I do. He has failed to see the real lesson he’s passing on to to children through his actions and his words.
My sister’s friend went out and got help because she didn’t want to keep feeling as bad as she did. She was prescribed with antidepressants and got better. Of course, science has found that people get better from depression for a number of reasons. For the fortunate, the brain’s chemistry normalizes over time all by itself. For some, antidepressants assist in the recovery of this balance. Sometimes the brain recovers from the causes of the depression, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, only with time and perspective.
But, before people get better they have to want to get better. Do we really need to talk about the connection between attitude and health?
I watched Brannaman work with a person as his clinic who told him, “Buck, I think all this leg work (in getting the horse to turn) has numbed my horse up.” Brannaman looked at the back end of her horse and said, “Well, a fly just landed on your horse’s flank and he flicked it away with his tail. If your horse can feel a fly, he can feel your knee. The question is, can you become sensitive to how your horse feels what he feels?”
Sensitivity, or what I prefer to call awareness, is what we should all be looking for. It doesn’t matter if we’re learning a new golf shot or we want to learn how to tell a horse to stop or go or we want to know how to relate more effectively to ourself or other folks. We must be aware in a way that gives us the best chance to learn what we need.
My dear friend has lost this awareness. He can’t bring himself to flick that fly off of his leg and so it’s going to keep tormenting him until he does. My sister’s friend felt the same way but she acted on her awareness that help was close by. I remember hearing Dick Cavett say that in the depths of depression the cure could have been as close as the other side of the kitchen table but he just couldn’t bring himself to reach for it.
I spend a couple hours each week talking to my friend and thinking about his plight. I try to monitor how he’s feeling without asking about it relentlessly. I try to point out options when it comes to his work and his life and his family. I encourage him to try new courses of action, new ways of doing things and different ways of thinking about his ife. He speaks frequently of his experience of what he terms existential dread and crisis.
He’s not joking…
So, I wonder about the internal force that pushed my sister’s friend to reach out for help and the internal deficit that makes my friend unable to do the same? Is optimism a prerequisite for a willingness to ask for help or even the belief that help exists? If it is, I’m quite sure I don’t know of a way to motivate optimism in anyone, even someone I know as well as my old friend. You can lead an horse to water or a friend toward help but in the end it’s up to the horse and the friend to care enough to help themselves. Ever the optimist I’m confidant my old friend will have a quenching drink from the fountain of help this year.
I turned to Jim Venetos about the same time his internet star began to rise. I am glad about this. It’s great to watch someone have his turn at success after much toil. There’s never been an overnight success that actually came about overnight and I am sure Venetos could tell a tale or two about the amount of work he’s put into his own game and the games of his legion of students.
If you’re not a reader, I will cut to the chase here. I have moved on from what I will call the Venetos Method. There is great validity to many elements of his method, but also some troubling issues at least for a player of my limited ability. In the end, I can see the value of a quieter lower body but not in the goal of absolute stillness. Worse (again, for me) is the requirement of setting up with the shoulders closed with a great deal of weight loaded onto the front side. Combined, these two aspects of the Venetos swing almost put my game out of action this season.
First, the closed shoulders stressed my lower and middle back in a way my golf swing had never stressed those parts of my body. Second, the weight left coupled with the goal of keeping weight there brought about an episode of plantar faciitis the like of which I have not suffered in 20 years. This result may be a coincidence but I rather doubt it. Loading the front side of the body while mass (comprised of the arms and club at least) goes rearward is very difficult to do without some painful tweakage. It took my left foot no less than two months to heal and even now it’s still a bit tender.
During my lessons, Venetos was big on saying that his method negates the need for rhythm, tempo and timing. I was always surprised at his use of these terms (since I never had mentioned them). But, the more he mentioned them over time the more I reflected on two simple facts. The first is that when I have played my best golf my swing felt possessed of rhythm, tempo and some element of timing. The second fact is that a swing, as a kind of arc, takes place across a given area of space and over a given period of time. The length of the arc can be measured from a number of different points; the hand’s arc travel a lesser distance than the club head, for example. To put it simply, no matter what, tempo always matters (again, at least to my game). I admit that it can be an amorphous and difficult issue to train, but it’s still an inevitable and irreplaceable part of every athletic process I can think of. To contend it doesn’t matter is dubious at best.
It’s odd to me that the rhythm, tempo and timing thing became such a big deal to me after I had taken my final lesson with Jim Venetos. It came me on day when I was playing quite well after a day that found me playing horribly. One day everything was a blur (except for the ball coming off the face) and the next day all was nearly languid (yet the ball flew with snap and authority).
What was different? Many things, perhaps. But, to me, to the golfer writing down his score, the difference was in the meter and pace of my swing.
Years ago, there was an internet video that showed a bunch of players doing their imitations of different tour players and even of their own buddies. What was funny was that their imitation swings looked just like their actual swings.
Consider this example number 48 of feel isn’t always real.
Point taken (my own, ironically enough), but in the end, we have to be sensitive to the pace of our swings, especially when we don’t play or practice as much as we would like. How many rounds are ruined by the rush and fractured tempo that comes from a last minute dash from the car to the first tee? The doomed swing isn’t really so very different but its fundamental tempo is MIA.
Now, my swing mantras are these: Pace, posture and poise. Pace addresses my need to balance the speed of my back swing relative to the speed of my forward swing. When I play well, their paces feel as though they match and it doesn’t matter if I’m hitting a drive or a putt.
Since my flexibility is only slightly better than a rod made of glass, it’s not easy for me to maintain my posture; I have been known to come out of my posture on putts, for God’s sake.
Poise goes back to that coaches of coaches, John Wooden. He prized players with poise. When I make a swing I covet the poise that comes in the form of the kind of balance that can be seen and felt over the entirety of an athletic movement.
A golf swing, even my golf swing, is an athletic movement. It starts, moves and finishes in a given space and over a given time. The idea of ignoring at least a sense of that time is anathema to me.
I have gone back to go forward. Looking back got me looking at the writing of Harvey Penick and his advice to practice swinging the club with your eyes closed. Doing this makes me acutely aware of how my swing is and is not balanced and paced. I have also gone back to the most influential golf book I have ever read, Nick Price’s, The Swing. This book was my golf-bible many years ago and I now wonder why I ever set it aside. If you’ve never read it, read it…
Let there be no doubt that I admire and like Jim Venetos. If he ever called me up to have a beer, I’d be there and the first round would be on me. But, I am fundamentally unable to make his swing work for my body and my game, and that’s all that counts when it comes to grading the validity of a swing technique or method; it’s simply my only measure of relevance.
Still, I don’t regret the time and effort I spent working on Venetos Method or the money I spent on my lessons with him; both were well spent in my opinion. Golf is a game of endless realizations. That essential nature make some people take up bowling. The truth is that I have stared hard into the abyss of giving up the game more than once over the last year or two. Of that fact, I am neither proud nor ashamed. All I can do is continue to strive, and that’s something I know Jim Venetos will encourage.