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Golf's Heretic: Mo Norman

The Mad Heretic of Golf Moe Norman Preaches A Revolutionary Swing Technique Known As "Natural Golf"

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Instead of using a looping "pendulum" stroke long favored by Ben Crenshaw and other green-side masters, Fox drives into the ball, hitting it with a piston-like motion. "Pendulum putting comes inside the [intended] line of a putt, down to square and back inside again. Yet by taking the shoulders out of putting, using the left arm only as a stabilizer and turning your right arm into a piston, we keep that putter on line longer. Much longer!"

Overthrowing years of St. Andrews orthodoxy for the Orwellian prospect of being "programmed into a piston" wasn't all that enticing--or easy. Fox kept citing Newtonian physics to speed my conversion (my hotel room was also stocked with books and videos stressing the "scientific truths" behind the Natural Golf revolution). To his credit, this former ESPN executive tried to dispel my doubts by encouraging me to stroke ball after ball. But even with his highly personalized attention and coaching--"Take a deep breath, focus, separate the hands and with as much right palm as possible, piston...piston... bang!"--I was a loose cannon, booming balls off the green.

Thankfully, after retreating to The Registry's CaddyMaster's shop for a soothing cigar (this golf shop also arranges lessons and tee times), it was time for lunch. Then I had little trouble with my touch, for whatever mound of salad, fish or dessert I dug into, everything was mouth-watering.

Once the group stopped talking about golf and Norman's erratic driving (in his new Cadillac, that is), we drove to Kensington, a lush private course a few minutes away from The Registry. Waiting for us at the range were a dozen buckets of balls and three golf bags crammed with "ideal mechanical advantage" clubs, specifically designed for the Natural Golf system.

A far cry from the forged or classic irons, which have an expanded "sweet spot" for less proficient players, or the newer cavity-backed clubs, Natural Golf's sticks (a set costs $1,100) are slightly larger than standard length with smaller, more upright heads and much fatter grips.

Fox and his fellow proselytizers insist that conventional, heel-toe weighted clubs are more susceptible to driving the club head back and under the ball on off-center hits, leading to the dreaded slice and a loss of distance. But according to Fox, Natural clubs, with their center of gravity in the club face's center and a shorter lever arm, "produce a solid hit through maximum transfer of energy from the club head to ball."

That is, if you have the "scientifically perfect" Natural Golf swing, your right arm in a single plane with the shaft of the club, hips barely turning, and an abbreviated backswing.

Good-bye to the age-old finger grip, which creates a 45-degree angle with the shaft, and necessitates the rotation of hips, hands, shoulders, club face and shaft, the body moving upwards and backwards to get the club square at impact.

Now it was time to "shake hands with the pin," as Norman constantly quips, by placing the club in the palm as if holding a hammer, forming Natural Golf's much-ballyhooed single-axis system.

"Our power system is the future," insists Fox, with "fewer mechanics, [less strain] on the back, and demanding far less maintenance from executives who have little time to practice." Fox says the conventional swing has "seven twisting motions, seven, all hard on the spine, and with a club face tolerance of two degrees [at impact] to hit a fairway 200 yards away. So many moving parts! The two-axis system is all timing, timing, but what executive can work at developing that timing? But I'm stealing Todd's thunder.... Let's get you started in single-axis."

Once Graves begins hitting wedge shots, all landing 100 yards away on a small floating platform, he urges me to "take a wide, wide stance, heels shoulder-width apart [for greater balance than in the traditional stance]. Bend the knees, sit with your butt, the club resting well behind the ball, and keep that right foot down, down. Keep it down until impact."

Following additional instructions, I body-centered my hands, brought them slightly past hip height on the backswing (the right elbow below the left), then brought my right arm straight to the target line on the downswing, as the right palm was hinged, "hammer-hitting" style, 45 degrees at the wrist. At impact my body was square to the target, facing the ball (none of that violent hip turn that throws the club off square). Pow! Hitting several solid shots, I actually approximate Graves' notion of "paradise."

"What's so beautiful about Moe is his piston motion; his arm and club are always in a single line," gushes Graves. "The usual swing has lots of shoulder turn. Ours feels like an underhanded tossing motion."

Graves continues to monitor my progress, repeatedly preaching, "Keep your right foot down...make short swings...flex the knees...don't try to muscle it...just release the right hand." I didn't understand all his lingo, with such terms as "genetic timing barrier," "pronation" and "sup 45-abduct." Yet I still benefited from the one-on-one teaching, which allows Fox and Graves to rotate between students (at larger golf schools, students receive minimal individualized instruction). I felt reborn. Saved! For instead of my customary low duck hooks and ugly slices, I was booming drives into the heavens.

I was ready to confront The Beast, to try my new Natural Golf skills on Kensington's course, crowded with sand traps and water hazards. This, too, was a departure from the norm, for many golf schools don't have the manpower to supervise students playing 18 holes (six students is the maximum at any executive camp). Yet here I was, grabbing a driver and set to play the perfect game for executives. Fox calls it: "Hit till you're happy."

While I enjoyed a few uplifting moments, particularly on the par-3s where I nailed several irons close to the pin, Fox and Imperial were Moe Norman Revisited. Over the course of this day and the next, their drives were invariably finding that holy ground known as the fairway.

In his own zone, Graves was even more exciting to watch. While Natural Golf's critics say the "hammer" move backswing is too abbreviated to generate maximum club head speed and results in a loss of distance, the five-foot-nine-inch, 160-pound Graves repeatedly put that argument to rest with 275-yard missiles.

Woefully struggling at times, I could only stare at his drives with envy and wonder if I would ever reach such nirvana. It didn't happen at this camp, for Natural Golf is not miracle-working. As with conventional teaching, Natural Golf demands at least a year's commitment and practice, practice, practice.

"Beginners really get it; we're programming guys coming to the game fresh," says Fox. "More experienced players will also dramatically improve. They just have to give it time, have the faith to buy the clubs and to work at it. There are no instant cures."

Also be prepared for sore muscles--and more than a few moments of skepticism. It's not easy switching faiths, experiencing golf's version of Catholics turning to Hinduism. Fortunately, the luxurious Registry with all its amenities will help smooth that transition.

And then there's Heaven. Late that first night, we visited this snappy new cigar emporium; an enormous walk-in humidor complements a warren of private rooms studded with case after case of $125-a-glass wines, microbrewed beers, caviar and chocolates. With so much to feast on, it was difficult to pay attention to a video explaining the science behind Natural Golf.

But as I sat there enjoying an Avo, I did catch one snippet, a reference to Ben Hogan calling Moe Norman's mammoth drives "an accident." Hogan would later recant, urging Moe "to keep hitting those accidents." He apparently realized that golfers would feel blessed to be so accident-prone.

(Natural Golf clinics are staged at The Registry and at various sites across the country with certified teachers. For further information, call 800/219-7307 or Peter Fox at The Registry, 800/891-3258.)

Florida-based writer Edward Kiersh writes frequently for Cigar Aficionado.

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