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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 2)

Day two begins with practice on tricky little 15-yard lobs, the ones Phil Mickelson makes look so effortless. This is the kind of testy golf shot that requires a precise, fluid motion that will hold up under pressure. Indeed, every stroke the Pelz school teaches--pitching, chipping, putting--is designed to withstand the rigors of competition, whether you're a PGA Tour star trying to win the U.S. Open or a weekend hacker trying to beat your buddies out of five bucks.

Perhaps no stroke in golf is more susceptible to pressure than the putting stroke. That is why Pelz stresses a simple, easily repeated pre-shot routine. You can devise your own, but whether you use the routine Pelz recommends or not, make sure you always run through the five or six steps you've rehearsed. That's the easy part.

After your routine, you have to actually make the stroke. That's the hard part.

While there are countless shapes and sizes of putters and nearly as many ways of gripping them, Pelz believes there is but one correct swing: in a rhythmic pendulum motion, straight back and straight through. (The school uses a custom-designed robot, "Perfy," to demonstrate what the perfect putting stroke should look like.) To this end our instructors have us practice with long "broomstick" putters, which is like putting with the second hand of a grandfather clock. The idea is to strike the ball as squarely as possible, without any hand or wrist manipulation, à la Chi Chi Rodriguez. Again, our instructors emphasize that, no matter how talented you are, if you don't place the ball properly in your stance, you are playing with a significant handicap. After the Dave Pelz Short Game School, you'll never wonder again.

Before escorting the class to the wedge range, Chorniewy and his colleagues share an astounding statistic: even the best putters in the world, touring professionals, make only 50 percent of the six-footers they attempt. But they make nearly 90 percent of their three-footers. The moral? Develop an accurate wedge game and you'll make your golfing life a lot more enjoyable.

After an alternately humiliating and exhilarating session in the sand, which, handled properly, can be the easiest place on the golf course from which to hit--ball position, ball position--we are subjected to a computer video analysis of our swing. Watching yourself on tape making faulty strokes is like being forced to look at photographs of yourself sporting an old hairstyle. But no pain, no gain. The tape doesn't lie; it just tells some truths you might not want to hear.

Our final day begins with a review of sand play and an indoor review of putting mechanics, including the application of several infernal devices Pelz invented to groove a proper putting stroke. Normally, it's almost impossible to shank a putt. But when you make a bad motion with one of Pelz's teaching clips attached to your blade, the ball skids away at comical right angles. Unless you have an indefatigable sense of humor, you start putting correctly in a hurry.

With a newfound mastery of putting mechanics, the class moves to the practice green to get a lesson on that other great golfing mystery: reading putts. Our teachers set up a sample putt and ask us to estimate how much break we would need to play, assuming the ball was rolled at a perfect 17-inches-past-the-hole speed. The average guess: 20 inches. The actual amount of break: 47 inches. The lesson: almost everybody underreads their putts and subconsciously pulls or pushes their strokes to compensate.

The three-day school concludes with intensive reviews of chipping, putting and pitching, in which our instructors challenge us to a variety of closest-to-the-pin games. The results of our training are obvious. Shots that we would have been pleased to get within 10 feet of the hole two days earlier are now coming to rest within three feet--if not at the bottom of the cup. Even more telling is our final video analysis, where Chorniewy projects images of our first- and third-day swings side-by-side, like before-and-after photos of weight loss endorsers. The before pictures look like golfers who are predestined to chunk, skull and chili-dip. The after pictures look like golfers who are certain to get it close, close enough to get up-and-down when it counts.

Contributing editor Michael Konik, Cigar Aficionado's gambling columnist, writes the golf column for Delta Air Lines SKY magazine.

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