Your Ph.D. in Golf
Feel the weight of that club? Understanding where it is during the swing is the key to improving--that, and some guidance from a top pro.
photograph by Keith Mosher
Dave Seeman, director of the golf academy at White Clay Creek Country Club, compares the golf swing to fly fishing.
John Dunigan, director of instruction at Hartefeld National, refers to the swing as the Iron Triangle.
And longtime instructor Rick McCall compares the hands and wrists on the golf club as being constrained in plaster of Paris.
Who says golf can’t serve as metaphor?
Seeman is like a wildlife tracker who looks for evidence of his quarry.
“I know everything I need to know about your swing just by watching your ball flight,” Seeman says from his computer-equipped training center in the Delaware Park complex. “After a lesson, I really don’t want to see you again until you’ve noticed a change in your ball flight as a result of the things you are working on from the lesson.”
His comparison to fly fishing has to do with getting students to understand the relationship between the club and the body.
“When I ask students what they react to in golf, almost all the responses are emotional ones, such as the feel of the ball from solid contact,” Seeman notes.
But what he’s after is a palpable reaction to the golf club, and that’s where he believes his fly fishing analogy helps.
“The key to a successful fly cast depends on your reaction to the line in motion,” Seeman says. “Once you know where the line is in motion, you can execute a successful cast. Same thing for golf. Your only reaction is to the weight of the golf club in motion. Knowing where the club is in motion is the key to making the adjustments necessary for a solid golf swing.”
John Dunigan, who’s written two books about the golf swing, now wants to complete an academic degree in psychology. He views the golf swing in more scientific terms than perhaps Seeman might. “It’s the geometry of motion and the physics of force. All golf shots are composed of a specific line of compression between the clubface and the ball.”
Like Seeman, Dunigan can analyze the flaws in a swing by noting the trajectory of the shot.
“The goal is to flatten the golf ball against the clubface in order to produce distance, loft and curve. The goal is not to try and hit the golf ball straight.”
Now that’s simple, but it doesn’t seem to make any sense. Wouldn’t we all like to hit the ball straight?
“If you try to hit the golf ball straight, you’ll never hit it properly,” insists Dunigan. He describes the contact as a glancing sideways blow of an inside-out line of attack that produces the proper trajectory—and makes the ball go where you intend it to, which is a very different proposition from trying to hit straight.
The academics of golf instruction have changed dramatically over the years. “It’s a science,” Dunigan says.
“In the old days, you simply went to the pro in the golf shop and signed up for a lesson,” says Seeman. “Today golf professionals are strictly teachers. It’s their only job.”
Seeman, a teacher since 1986, says that both instructors and students understand how difficult a game golf is.
“The Tiger effect has spawned a desire to improve,” he says. “People are playing less and practicing more. And people today don’t want to do things in a mediocre way.”
Anthony Hollerbeck, the teaching pro at Baywood Greens near Rehoboth Beach, believes changes in our commitment to fitness has allowed a more athletic, upright swing to emerge.
“A more upright swing requires greater strength and control,” says Hollerbeck, “but that is what allows you to make a better turn.”
Hollerbeck teaches his students to “get into the ideal hitting position by making sure the left pocket of the pants (for right-handers) is turned toward the golf ball at the top of the back swing.
“Most of my older students especially have a tendency to sway rather than turn, and that’s where the power is either lost or generated,” he says.
McCall, a golf teacher for 44 years, has helped no fewer than four Delawareans make it to the professional tours. He agrees that the modern golf swing is a more athletic circle than the old reverse C that produced so many back problems.
“People are more flexible due to better fitness and are capable of a more balanced, circular swing that keeps everything moving forward,” he says
With experience that goes back to Arnold Palmer’s prime, McCall believes nothing has improved teaching the golf swing like video playback.
“To be able to show the student what he or she is doing wrong, as well as what it looks like to do it right instead of having to try and explain it to them, is probably the greatest single change I’ve seen in golf instruction,” he says.
Dunigan, with his emphasis on science, focuses students on the proper angle of the hands to the shaft.
“If your hands aren’t set so the shaft of the club is leaning forward from the ball, you will not achieve proper compression and will be lifting the club instead,” he says.
Dunigan starts with chipping as the most effective way to demonstrate the proper setting of the hands. All of the professionals here wished students would ask for help with the short game, especially putting.
“In my clinics, we spend one entire day just chipping,” McCall says. “And on each of the other days, we spend additional time chipping as well.”
Most of the problems Hollerbeck sees with short games stem from insufficient weight on the student’s right foot.
All would also like to see students put more emphasis on putting. The biggest flaw they see is students not having their eyes directly over the ball.
“They try to use their wrists,” says McCall, so he invokes his plaster of Paris analogy. “I tell them to pretend their wrists and hands are set in plaster so they will learn not to let them move during the putting stroke.”
How do you know you’re finally making the improvements you sought?
“Look at your divot,” Dunigan says. “If you’re divot is left of your target, you’re swing is outside-in and will not be able to strike the ball squarely to get the required compression to hit a controlled shot.”
His advice: “Set the hands forward, arms across the shoulders and down to the shaft in a triangle (that Iron Triangle), then learn to set the power angles (wrist and elbows).”
In other words, you don’t need a Ph.D. in golf to play. It’s a simple game. Just stop trying to hit the ball straight. Get it? D