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School Daze
Austin Murphy
May 13, 2002
After a long weekend of intense instruction from 30 of the game's top teaching pros, is it any wonder that the author's head was swinging?
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May 13, 2002

School Daze

After a long weekend of intense instruction from 30 of the game's top teaching pros, is it any wonder that the author's head was swinging?

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The surviving chickens were transferred to a smaller truck. "Their eyes were about the size of quarters," said Perpich. "There was some guy talking to 'em, trying to calm 'em down."

"You know who that was, don't you?" said Forney. We all looked at him. " Dr. Richard Coop."

We were still laughing when the waitress asked if we wanted another round.

The school attracted people who cared passionately about golf. People like Carol, a mother of two from Trumbull, Conn., with whom I took Dana Rader's immensely helpful Putting 101 and who confided in me, "I think I watch the Golf Channel too much." People like John, a pharmacist from Missouri, who sat in the first row at Flick's seminar. That was just like John. He had been the third person to sign up for the school. He was one of the 60 or so nutcases on the range at 5:15 p.m. each day, whacking more balls after eight hours of instruction.

Because these golf people knew instinctively that I was not one who shared their passion, I needed a cover story. I decided to tell them that golf school was a gift from my father, who wished, in the twilight of his life, to play a round with me that took fewer than six hours; a round in which I lost fewer than a dozen balls; a round during which none of my tee shots struck a home bordering the course. (All of which is true, save the part about his forking over the $2,695 for tuition.) Of course, I wouldn't need a story if no one spoke to me for three days, but Forney, as gregarious as he is gullible, elicited my tale that first morning, then swallowed it whole. (I came clean with him and Perpich that night, then swore them to secrecy.)

It had taken all of two swings for Perpich to diagnose my golfing pathology. As a boy I was told to keep my left arm straight and my head down. Doggedly, moronically, I still obey those commands, grim though the results have been. A few summers ago I drove a ball through the second-story window of a house just off the fairway of a course in Rhode Island, narrowly missing the head of a woman who was sitting on her sofa hemming trousers. (She shared this detail while my brother and I vacuumed the glass from her den.) "Everything's locked down," Perpich said. "You're not getting any shoulder turn. You're all arms. We have to loosen you up."

Perpich and Forney accomplished that. We got in around midnight. The next morning Mike Bender's seminar, Get on the Right Plane, was interrupted by the tardy arrival of a man who seemed to be suffering from a hangover and who, upon closer inspection, appeared not to have showered. I apologized, and class resumed.

After Bender's eye-opening course, I was off to the desert for a bit of detox: Sand Secrets, taught by Fred Griffin. With a pitiless sun beating down on us, my classmates and I stood in a bunker learning about club-face position and flanges. Griffin would step on his ball, deliberately plugging it, and then blast it to within a foot of the cup. The novelty of this never wore off: the ability of the instructors to talk a blue streak right up until they began their backswing, and then hit a shot stiff to the pin. It was like being at a magic show. It made me feel as if I were getting my tuition's worth, as did Griffin's parting tip: "When you blast to within inches of the pin, tip your cap, should anyone be watching, but don't smile. They might think you were simply lucky."

I felt lucky to have been accepted into my Saturday afternoon clinic, Short Game Secrets, taught by the ursine guru himself, Dave Pelz. Actually, most of the teaching was done by Pelz's staff, younger guys who'd drunk the Kool-Aid and memorized the Word according to Dave. "What we teach is not the only way," said one of Pelz's true believers on the putting green—we were hearing this for the fifth time in 90 minutes—"but it is based on scientific fact."

"You guys are worse than Scientologists," said a Texan in our group. You go, Hoss, I thought. Undeterred, the disciple went on: "Dave's having been a scientist for NASA for 14 years, guess what he's done to green reading? He's torn it up." With that, he set up Pelz's True Roller, a ramp down which you slide a ball to see how the green breaks. This was but one of a half dozen gadgets with which Pelz's people had us experiment. "Dave's all about scientific research," said the acolyte, "but he's also about teaching aids."

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