The rain came relentlessly, great sheets of water pounding the earth and flooding the streets and making golf courses look like the backdrop for the TV show "Flipper."
But the golfers didn't care.
With a level of concentration normally associated with a police bomb squad at work, they gripped their clubs and found the perfect stance and began the perfect backswing and brought their hips and arms and shoulders into synchronization and lustily whacked at golf balls.
These golfers were indoors, well protected from the howling elements as they stood on the mauve and gold designer carpet in the plush Trillium Ballroom of the Warner Center Hilton in Woodland Hills.
And the golf clubs and golf balls were only figments of their imagination.
But with the true meaning of golf--and a lifetime of never again having to bark "Fore! "--now seemingly at their fingertips, the clubs were as real as steel, the golf balls as hard as, well, golf balls.
Golf professional and master salesman Robert Poen was working his magic.
Poen has spent nearly four decades as a teacher of golf, but it was not until the mid-1980s that he said he found The Secret.
The Secret, he says, will allow you to hit a golf ball farther than you ever have.
The Secret, he says, will make your golf ball soar true every time.
The Secret, he says, will "amaaaaze you!"
There are hundreds upon hundreds of self-proclaimed golf gurus offering similar boasts. All vow to teach the ideal grip and how to create the perfect swing plane and how to slash 10 or 20 strokes from your score. None tell the real truth to the weekend hack-it-and-chase-it golfer: The only way to slash 10 or 20 strokes from your score is by not playing the last two or three holes.
Poen said his approach is different than any other.
The Secret, he said, involves not so much that twisted-knuckle death-grip most golfers apply to the club but rather the workings of the mind. The Secret, he said, emerges from knowing the mysterious ways of the brain, even if you don't understand the difference between a swing plane and a crop-dusting plane.
Poen brought his traveling golf seminar through the Valley last week, luring more than 100 rabid golfers who were fighting the California version of cabin fever out of the rain and into nice, warm hotel ballrooms for a shot at The Secret. He enchanted them with newspaper ads that shouted, "Learn How To Slash Your Golf Score. In 90 Minutes . . . Guaranteed! . . . In this clinic you'll learn the perfect golf swing the quick and easy way."
At the Warner Center Hilton, 47 golfers--the admission fee was $25 but Poen offered a two-for-one sale--sat transfixed for 90 minutes listening to the charismatic Poen, rising from the edges of their seats several times to stand and practice--with the imaginary clubs and balls--the swing that Poen was trying to explain to them.
"I can flat-out change your golf swing," he told them in his opening remarks. "And I can do it so quickly it will amaaaaze you!"
The golfers actually gasped. And murmured among themselves. This, it should be noted, is common among golfers.
"Thirty million golfers in this country play this game seriously, for years, and never improve," Poen said. "And, actually, most of them get worse over the years.
"They learn nothing."
Which is not entirely true. Most golfers learn over the years that one of those 20-foot long, telescopic ball retrievers is priceless when you play a course with lots of water hazards.
OK. OK. So what's The Secret?
Well, The Secret actually is made up of several little secrets. From the grip to the follow-through.
Poen estimates that only one of every 15 golf students ever learns anything through traditional teaching methods--which generally consist of a student thwacking buckets of golf balls with a five-iron at a driving range until either he or the golf pro passes out.
"I conducted tests," Poen, an Escondido resident, said of his early teaching days in San Jose. "I'd put 10 golf balls on a practice mat and have the student hit them. I'd chart each shot. Then myself and several pros would spend a lot of time with (the students), showing them the correct swing. And after a month I'd put 10 balls on the mat again and have them hit them. And you know what? Most of them got worse. "
The problem, Poen said, was that weeks of intensive teaching by traditional methods--loosen your grip, keep your eye on the ball, etc., etc.--made the recreational golfers aware of all of their mistakes. And when they stood over a golf ball after this intensive instruction, all they could think about was how many things could go wrong.
"And then you get stress and anxiety and brain lock," Poen said.
And nothing, he said, even the world's most looped backswing or any other horrible habit, is worse during the swing than brain lock. It prevents a fluid, effortless swing. Poen says it is here that The Secret begins to show itself.