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'Break par every time!' Hot tips leave him cold

June 26, 2008|Daniel Wexler

A former PGA Tour player turned club pro once told me: "The game of golf is easy. It's the teachers who make it hard."

And to a great extent, he was right.

Just a glance at all the books, magazines and DVDs out there peddling one "secret" or another would be sufficient to intimidate most newcomers, and to confuse "average" golfers enough that it's amazing they can even get the ball airborne. So how should most mainstream players negotiate this world of unrelenting game-improvement hype?

To begin with, recognize that most publications and TV shows predicated on instruction don't have anything new to offer; they exist simply because demographic studies and Nielsen ratings indicate that readers/viewers are addicted to this stuff. Put "How To Cure Your Slice" on the cover and they will come. In droves.

Second, be wary -- and I mean unfailingly, unflinchingly wary -- of anyone claiming to offer the way to swing a golf club. As a former professional, I utilized three entirely different swings during my playing days, each built around completely different mechanics, and each -- at least for a while -- working to good effect. And the logic of avoiding dogma is further reinforced by this simple question: Are 5-foot-11, 350-pound former U.S. Amateur champion Chris Patton and, say, 6-3, 200-pound Phil Mickelson even physically capable of making the same swing? Both have succeeded at the game's highest levels, but they've clearly employed at least somewhat different methods to do so. Make no mistake then: When some hot new instructor publishes the latest book that everyone is talking about, it may well be worth looking at. Just don't assume that whatever groundbreaking discovery it's touting actually holds any relevance to you.

Third, though most golfers will never have a swing even remotely similar to that of a PGA Tour player, they can certainly learn an important lesson by noting all the exciting and radical ideas the world's best don't try. Remember, touring professionals are competitors whose livelihoods depend on finding and perfecting the best technique. If something works, you can bet they'll be using it en masse -- but if it doesn't, they won't. Period. And this same litmus test can often be applied to the latest equipment advances as well.

The average golfer should be looking for instructors and instructional materials that provide clear, simple explanations of the game's fundamentals, for these are the building blocks of all that is good in the golf swing. My own teaching background was primarily resort-based, where beginners and the chronically underskilled were always looking to get off to a quick start. I inevitably suggested just the opposite, emphasizing the overwhelming need to master the proper grip, the correct stance and the basic elements of weight shift before the inevitable flogging of range balls began. A sound repetitive swing absolutely cannot be achieved without these fundamentals, and the player who takes the time to learn them correctly will find that the rest of the game follows suit with surprising ease.

Also worth remembering -- if not chanting yourself to sleep with at night -- is the fact that the full swing really is only a small component of your overall game. Your putting stroke, short game and ability to properly manage the golf course will, in total, have a far greater impact on your score than keeping your head down or your left arm straight. Happily, these are also areas of the game where even the least athletic of players can, with intelligence and practice, develop their skills to exceedingly high levels.

No magic touch -- or bevy of instructional materials -- is required.

-- Daniel Wexler

Daniel Wexler is a golf historian and author based in Los Angeles. His website is

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