To those pros who cast pearls of wisdom before this swine, please accept my thanks—and my apologies. Thank you for the quality of your instruction, which was superb. Sorry I made so few swings worthy of it. I had a lot on my mind.
You would, too, if you had the best golf instructors on the planet lining up to get their hands on you. That's what it was like at Golf Magazine's first Top 100 Teacher Weekend last month. Assembled at the World Golf Village outside St. Augustine, Fla., were 30 of those elite teaching pros, the game's finest minds all vying to climb inside mine. By Sunday morning I could barely brush my teeth without being paralyzed by a tsunami of swing thoughts: Am I hinging my wrist enough? Should I soften my grip on the brush? Is that a left-to-right break in the sink?
Individually, the instructors rocked. Seriously. It had been two decades since I had sat in a classroom, and I'd forgotten what a pleasure it is to be in the thrall of a great teacher. Take Jim Flick, the salty 72-year-old who laces lectures with such throwaway remarks as, "When I started teaching Jack..." and who said to me, " Mr. John Murphy"—my alias—"please address the ball in a posture other than one resembling a dog at a fireplug."
From the tart axioms of Flick—"The swing creates the turn, the turn does not create the swing"—to the earthy humor of Bob Toski, who raised eyebrows with his explanation of why he has always possessed excellent hand speed, the instruction was memorable. Problem was, you could overdose on it. From early Friday morning to Sunday noon, the 250 students of Teacher Weekend sat through at least eight seminars. Between the teaching pros and their trusted assistants, including the so-called range rovers who prowled the practice area eager to deconstruct the swings of the unwary, each student received some degree of coaching from roughly two dozen experts. Even if each instructor had only two or three tips to impart, that's a lot of advice to digest over a weekend. That's a lot of smiling, leather-faced guys encroaching in your personal space, putting their hands on your hands and shoulders and hips while asking, "So John, where's home?"
It was a good thing that the hole-in-one contest was on Friday evening, before the torrent of tips had engulfed my cerebral cortex, reducing me from mere hack to quivering, doubt-ridden hack racing through a 75-point checklist during my takeaway. Dinner was at the Murray Bros. Caddyshack Restaurant (no, gopher was not on the menu), and behind the place was a platform overlooking a pond, at the center of which was a small green. Knock the ball in the hole and win a car, we were told. While waiting in line to win the car, I yawned several times. This made little sense, considering that by the time it was my turn to hit, I was tense enough to hurl into the pond. The yawns, I learned two days later in sports psychologist Richard Coop's clinic, Think Like a Pro, were symptomatic of overexcitement, which, Coop explained, leads to shallow "thoracic breathing." Such breathing limits the brain's supply of oxygen, thus inducing yawning.
On the hole-in-one platform I remembered the advice I had received in my first clinic, Back to Basics: Short Game, taught by Mike Perpich, an easygoing Kentuckian who turned out to be my favorite teacher of the weekend. I took a nice, easy swing with an eight-iron, hinging my wrists, turning my shoulders and connecting on a not-terrible-looking shot that bounded off the froghair before two-hopping into the water.
I was delirious with relief—I had neither whiffed nor skulled the ball—and in fairly serious need of an adult beverage. There to oblige me were Perpich and Craig Forney of River Pines Golf in Alpharetta, Ga., where Perpich is the director of instruction and Forney is the head pro. The day before, as the two men were driving south on 1-75, traffic slowed outside Macon, and they noticed what appeared to be large snow-flakes in the air. "At first there were only a few," said Perpich, "then more and more. We realized they were feathers."
"That's when we started to see them," said Forney. "Dead chickens. First a few, then a lot—on the shoulder, on the median."
"On guardrails, up in the trees," added Perpich, "everywhere."
A truck loaded with live chickens had jackknifed. "They radioed for a dump truck," said Forney. "Guys were shoveling 'em into the back. It was a mess—beaks and claws going every which way. There was this one, its head was hanging over the side of the truck, looking right at me." He leaned sideways, lolling his head and sticking out his tongue. "It was as if she was pleading with me to save her."