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Golfing with the Guru

Dave Pelz's Short Game Schools Help Golfers Put Their Shots on the Green, and Into the Cup
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
James Woods, May/Jun 97

(continued from page 1)

To carry the religious metaphor a bit further, when it comes to the art of the short game, I should admit that I am something of a convert. Last year, after attending a Dave Pelz Short Game one-day clinic--they're offered periodically in most major American cities--I went from being an erratic putter--sometimes great, sometimes horrendous--to being a consistently very good putter. How good? With practice--and a thorough re-reading of Pelz's book on putting--I qualified for the Compaq World Putting Championships by Dave Pelz, where I competed against players such as Beth Daniel, Payne Stewart and Brad Faxon for a $250,000 first prize and the title "best putter on earth." Though I didn't win, I came away from the experience convinced that Pelz's training really works.

Whereas the one-day clinic is a quick gloss, a compendium, of Pelz's encyclopedic short game knowledge, his three-day schools are an exhaustive exploration into everything you always wanted to know about getting the ball in the hole. You are treated to all manners of classroom demonstrations, game-improving gadgetry, video analyses and theoretical lectures. But most important, you are compelled to hit thousands of golf balls less than 60 yards.

The Dave Pelz Short Game School is conducted on both U.S. coasts, year-round. The Ranch at PGA West, in La Quinta, California, is home to the school's western campus, while the flagship location is in Florida, at the famous Boca Raton Resort and Club, the luxurious and impeccably tasteful hotel and golf course situated between Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach. Sam Snead and Tommy Armour were once club professionals at Boca Raton; these days, the name Dave Pelz draws duffers of all types to the golf course, where, adjacent to the picturesque 17th hole, the Dave Pelz Short Game School has three specially designed greens tailored to teaching all manners of little golf shots.

My class in Boca Raton is an almost perfect heterogeneous sampling of the golf-playing public: split evenly between women and men, low- and high-handicappers, couples on vacation and spouses on the loose, young bucks and retirees, even a Ladies Professional Golf Association touring veteran trying to get her playing card back. Our common bond is a desire to get better at a game that normally resists such efforts.

Our lead instructor, Jim Chorniewy, a former mini-tour player, is possibly the only man in the world to teach at a short game school and compete as a finalist in the National Long Drive Championship. "If I can't teach you to hit it high and soft," he jokes, "at least I can show you how to rip it down the middle." Chorniewy stresses that knowledge will come first and results will follow. "We're not here to make you great putters or great wedge players. We're here to make you your own best instructor."

In pursuit of that elusive goal, the first two hours of the school are dedicated to observation: while the students demonstrate their facility--or lack thereof--with wedges and putters, Chorniewy and his colleagues videotape the mayhem, rating what they see and constructing a game plan for the remainder of the week. You feel like an Olympic athlete undergoing a battery of performance tests, albeit an Olympic athlete who has somehow wandered into the wrong sport.

After the diagnostics, we are treated to a comprehensive theory session, reviewing much of Pelz's meticulous research. Among the more interesting revelations: the face angle (how square your putter face is at impact) will influence the ball about 450 percent more than the path (direction you swing) of your putter; the "lumpy doughnut" effect around the hole, which is caused by putting traffic, means you should try to roll all your putts 17 inches past the hole; and the worst place to practice putting is on a practice putting green.

The Dave Pelz Short Game School assumes its students possess intelligence and inquisitiveness, not just faulty golf swings. For that reason, before you are taught how to do anything correctly, you are taught why what you are about to learn is correct. Thus, before my class is unleashed upon the practice range to work on 30-yard "flop" shots, we are briefed on the theory of what Pelz calls the finesse swing. Unlike the typical power swing, where you try to create maximum torque between your shoulders and hips--think big body turn--the finesse swing synchronizes the lower and upper body. The result, Pelz's theory goes, is a fluid swinging motion, as opposed to a hitting motion. The key? Acceleration. The instructors constantly stress a shorter backswing to cut down on deceleration, the nemesis of all golf swings.

Still, even if you swing the club as beautifully as Steve Elkington or with as much touch as Raymond Floyd, if you don't position the ball properly in your stance, you're making the game much harder than it has to be. Correct ball position is the Rosetta Stoneof the short game. Of all the information one digests at the Dave Pelz Short Game School, where to place the golf ball may be the most powerful revelation of all.

After an hour of mildly successful attempts at putting theory into practice, we are dismissed for the day. Sensing the toll that day one normally takes on neophyte short-gamers, our instructors remind us that the bathrooms are stocked with plenty of Band-aids and Tylenol.

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