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The Word According To Dave
C.W. Nevius
October 14, 1996
To pros and duffers alike, the wisdom of short game guru Dave Pelz is gospel
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October 14, 1996

The Word According To Dave

To pros and duffers alike, the wisdom of short game guru Dave Pelz is gospel

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Nothing better illustrates the depth of Pelz's knowledge than the way he approaches putting. He put us on a five-step program for reading a putt, used a laser beam to check the direction in which our putters were aimed (almost everyone's was way, way off), showed us a drill to determine the putter's sweet spot and conducted a session with a metronome to discover our inner putting rhythms.

I had come to camp with a peculiar, hunched-over putting stance that made me appear to be resting my forehead on a kitchen table. I took an extremely short backswing, then popped the ball with what I hoped was a Jack Nicklaus-like piston stroke. Not textbook, I know, but good enough to beat my brother-in-law. Still, when I assumed my position over the ball on the first day so that I could be videotaped, I felt like someone submitting a painting of dogs playing poker to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Pelz people suppressed snickers—probably due to years of practice—and matter-of-factly stood me up, positioned my arms so they swung directly beneath my shoulders and had me check the angle of my putter after I struck the ball. But that was it for the mechanics.

When Pelz looked at the tape, he immediately noticed something, but it wasn't that I appeared to be putting while balancing a piano on my back. He was more concerned with what I did after I hit the ball. Sure enough, the ball was barely away when I began making exasperated gestures. By the time it stopped, I had already turned around to complain that I had pushed the putt. Typical, Pelz said. How long was my stroke? I hadn't noticed. Was my putter on line? Who knows? Had I read the line correctly? Probably not, because the ball didn't drop. "Most golfers judge their stroke by whether the ball goes in the hole," Pelz says. "That is wrong. You need immediate, reliable, accurate feedback." Pelz told us to follow the example of Greg Norman, who freezes his putting stroke where it stops, moving only his head to watch the ball. When his ball reaches the hole, Norman looks down and gets a read on how far it went based on the length of his stroke—immediate, reliable, accurate feedback.

At that point Pelz introduced his rituals, which are the touchy-feely part of the program. Instructor Jackie Bertram, whose promising LPGA career was cut short by a serious knee injury, demonstrated the method. She said she would stand over a putt and begin to think, You know, this might break a little more than I thought. Well, I'll just hit it a little harder. Or should I? Naw, it'll be fine. Just go ahead and hit it. This revelation gave rise to two questions: How was Bertram able to get a transcript of the conversations inside my brain, and what could I do to eliminate them? The Pelz solution is a five-step ritual, carefully counted off in time with your putting rhythm. The ritual is triggered by a simple motion, such as lifting a thumb off the putter, and is followed by an inexorable, mind-filling sequence of movements—thumb down, look to the hole, look back at the ball, take the putter back and swing it through the ball.

That's when most of us regained our faith in the word according to Dave. The ritual, which we also learned to use on wedge shots, focuses the mind and leaves the body free to hit the shot. "Your subconscious controls your game," Pelz says. "You must control your subconscious." Of course, there was still much to be done. Pelz had us work on the "truth board," an inclined, carpet-covered putting track, and instructed us to mentally run through the ritual as often as possible.

Does it all work? I played 18 holes the day after graduation—"Worst thing you can do," Pelz had warned—and floundered. I'd lost my swing somewhere in the lecture hall. But there was a moment when I came face-to-face with my personal nightmare: 30 yards of grass, broken by a yawning bunker. I lined up a wedge, ran through my ritual and lofted a high, soft shot that took one hop, clanged off the flagstick and stopped a foot from the cup.

Hand me the truth board, Dave. I'm ready to take the oath.

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