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FOCUS ON GOLF: THE 62ND MASTERS | Inside the Industry

Lessoning the Load

Everyone Has a Secret for Success on the Course, but Buyer Beware

April 09, 1998|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here it is: the Flat Spot. The answer to hitting the ball long and straight, and it's on sale for only $4 in Golf magazine, which beats anything any late-night infomercialized sorcerer is peddling to fix your golf swing.

Let's see, there's a picture of Lee Trevino. Long hitter? Used to be, because he knows the secret of the Flat Spot.

Fred Couples? There it is: "He achieves an exceptionally long flat spot with the driver."

First, the image, with a U-shaped swing that is flat on the bottom. Then set up with your stance slightly wider than your shoulders. Ball just inside the left heel. Downswing, lateral weight shift from back leg to front, wait a minute.

Pivot on right hip on the backswing first. Body moves laterally, but, uh, head doesn't, which apparently means you need a neck like a swan.

Hips are level the whole way.

You think of all of this, all of these keys, as you address the ball. The mind churns.

Overload. Overload. Cannot compute.

Hold it.

One Magic Move. On sale for $3.95 in Golf Digest.

One move has to be better than the mental contortions necessary to achieve the Flat Spot.

(This Is It--See Page 76), the cover says.

Johnny Miller says, "I've never been one to break the swing down into a million pieces, analyzing every angle until your head hurts."

You and me, brother.

"It isn't necessary," Miller says.

Got that right. Gimme One Magic Move, page 76 . . .

. . . and page 78 (" 'Palm up' spells instant disaster," "you're asking for trouble if you don't release that [right] hand correctly and change its position through impact) . . .

. . . and page 79 ("Lose right-wrist angle, lose the shot," "Ideally, the right wrist should remain cupped, or bent backward.") . . .

. . . and page 80 . . . and 81 . . . and 82.

The Magic is gone.

So are Senior Golf and Golf for Women and Golf Tips and all of the other magazines that mix inside-the-tours information with how-they-do-it, figuring that you would like to do it that way too.

You would also like to be 6 feet 1, 160 pounds, have buggy-whip wrists, time and money to play every day and look good in an alpaca sweater while you're on the course at Pebble Beach.

The publications jump off the shelves of your newsstand, and in any given month, you can find tips on the tee shot, the long irons, short irons, wedge play, putting ("One Magic Move" gets the ball to the green for Miller in Golf Digest, but Golf magazine tells what happens when he gets there in "Why Johnny Can't Play." Save your $4: It's because he has the yips).

You can read how Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Tom Watson, Miller, Tom Weiskopf, David Leadbetter, Dave Pelz and anybody else who ever broke 80 did it.

You can learn so much, it will make you take up tennis.

"I usually start my talks to clubs with this," says Tom Barber, a PGA professional at Griffith Park. "I hold up a copy of Golf Digest and say, 'As long as they keep putting out this thing, I'll never be out of work.' "

He has been dining out a long time on money paid by confused golfers.

"People see these things and they try them," Barber says. "But what golfers, even professionals, do and what they think they do are two different things.

"One thing to 100 golfers can have 100 different interpretations."

And 100 different results.

"Of course, I'm selling teaching, you have to remember that," says Barber, son of 1961 PGA champion Jerry Barber, explaining his bias. "I think you have to get with somebody who understands your golf swing.

"You know, a guy told me once that a self-taught man has a fool for an instructor."

Still, we keep looking for the answer, the single key to success that probably doesn't exist. New driver. New putter. Cavity-back, perimeter-weighted, titanium-inserted, graphite-shafted wonder clubs. It's easier to buy a game than build it, and maybe the One Magic Move involves the right-handed wallet-grip.

"You can play only as good as your equipment will let you," Barber admits, but adds this: "Sometimes when you hit the ball longer, it goes farther out of bounds."

We go to clinics, and we watch Ken Venturi and Miller work with telestrators on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, letting us know that Jim Furyk's swing is just like Greg Norman's . . . only different.

Our comparisons are to those who play every day, and if Jeff Sluman is 140 pounds and averages 266 yards on his drives and won at Tucson last year, and we're over 200 pounds, why don't we average 266 yards on our drive and win at Tucson?

Does he have the One Magic Move?

Or maybe we compare our games to the players we're losing money to on Saturday, even though we know there's no magic there.

Perhaps, though, it would be better to compare them to the norm.

"The average score for a man is 108, for a woman 115," Barber says. "Most golfers aren't as bad as they think."

Most golfers just think bad.

And actually, there is One Magic Move.

"You can do all the reading you want and hope it all works, but to get the most of it, you have to get with somebody you click with and who understands your game," Barber says. "That's the bottom line."

He is setting up a Tuesday date with John Hardy, the teaching pro at Alisal in Solvang, teacher of the teacher.

"You don't run a car until it falls apart," Barber says. "And you don't do it with a golf swing. I need a tuneup."

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