- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
I am not going to get too technical about what Hunter did to my game during the course of the week, but the only thing he did not change was my grip. As for the rest, it was left arm straight, weight shifted left and back toward (but not on) the heels, right knee cocked, hips square to ball, bring club back without breaking wrists, pivot, coil, keep head still, come off left heel, keep right side rigid, swing through and out. Searching through my notebook, I find that I scribbled these Hunter Laws: relaxed grip...regard the club as an instrument, not a bludgeon...eyes communicate distances, fingers feel...the finish of a swing is a reflection of what preceded it...hips lead the way on the downswing...turn shoulders against hips...learn to visualize the plane of your swing.
Hunter also changed my putting stance and stroke. I was a wrist putter but under pressure wrists do funny things, so Mac had me stroking the ball pendulum style, wrists locked, hands forward of the club head and out from the body.
He taught me how to get out of a sand trap. I am now an authority. Open your stance so that you are facing the green, take a nice full swing and hit the sand somewhere behind the ball, making sure to follow through. How far behind the ball? Hunter said it was senseless to pick out one grain of sand an inch or two away as a target. Just make sure you hit the sand, not the ball. And one last thing. Before swinging, waggle the club loosely with a relaxed grip. The correct mood for a sand shot is a carefree one. Using this method, I, who never had come out of a trap without blood on my hands, lined up a dozen balls in the sand one afternoon and knocked them all smartly onto the green within a minute.
Enough expertise. If I thought I was going to have a lark in California—an hour lesson, a couple more hours of practice, then off to the hotel swimming pool for the rest of the day—I was mistaken. From the start Hunter acted as if his reputation as a teacher depended on my rapid improvement. Whenever he had a free half hour, he was at me—left arm straight; pivot, damn it. Sometimes we would play four holes, or nine, with Hotfoot Harris lugging the bags, but mostly he had me hitting balls on the practice range or putting on one of the club's three practice greens. On a typical day I would be at Riviera for 10 hours, from seven till five, and half that time I would be with Hunter. His moods rose and fell with my performance. When I hit a good shot, or a series of good shots, he seemed truly excited. "There's no doubt you can play in the 70s," he would say. "If I just had you out here for a few more weeks...."
And there would be the depressing moments, times when perhaps because of fatigue—and that did become a factor as the week wore on—I would lose the way with terrible results. At such times Hunter was almost angry. "No, damn it, you're giving way on the right side." He would slap my right hip hard to emphasize the point. One time he said, his voice rising, "If there's one thing you're going to learn this week it's that you can't learn golf in a week."
There were times I felt I could not escape Hunter even when I was alone. I had the feeling he was up in that fortress of a clubhouse on the hill, looking down on my every move. One day, tired of hitting balls on the range, I noticed that the 10th hole was open. Hunter had said it was all right to play the course when I wanted, so I slipped over to the 10th tee and hit one. It was a poor drive, a low screamer into a fairway trap, leaving me a shot of some 120 yards to the green. I hit a nine-iron out, but barely, so that I still had about 90 yards to go. Oh well, I thought, a nice wedge and I'll still have a chance for a par or, at worst, an easy bogey. I had just finished hitting some good wedges on the range, but I sculled this one, which meant I had made three horrible shots in a row. Suddenly I heard a noise, turned and saw Hunter careening across the fairway in a cart. "Drop another one," he yelled and proceeded to make me hit seven wedges until I had it right. I don't know how long he had been watching me or where he had come from.
When I became too tired to practice any longer, I would climb the steep hill and try putting. To keep interested, I often resorted to fantasy. I was not at Riviera but Augusta and had to hole out to win the Masters. Or maybe get down in two from 40 feet. " Bingham has put his second shot well past the pin, folks, and has to two-putt to defeat Gary Player." I'd set myself up for the pendulum stroke. " Bingham strokes the putt and here it comes, down the hill, past the cup and, oh my, he's left himself an ugly 15-footer coming back." It didn't matter if I missed the next putt. There was always another Masters in a minute.
During the week I got to know a number of Riviera people besides Hunter. The first day there I met Art Rios, a leathery Mexican-American from El Paso, Lee Trevino country, who is in charge of the practice range, runs a taxi service from the range and 18th green up the hill to the clubhouse and, when he has time, gives a few lessons. Rios joined Riviera years ago as a caddie, worked himself up to the golf shop and now is an assistant pro.
Once when I was hitting wedges Art came over and told how as a boy he had owned one club, a two-iron, and how he had hit balls in a field until he had learned to hit any kind of shot with it. He once bet Dean Martin, a Riviera regular, that he could par the 408-yard 9th hole using only a two-iron.
"I told Dino just how I'd do it," Rios said. "Drive, hit the second just short because I can't get home from therewith two-irons, chip up by opening the face of the club and sink a short putt, closing the face." Rios drove precisely where he said he would, but his second shot drifted off to the right, inches short of a trap. "Dino raced ahead in his cart and kicked the ball into the trap," Rios said. "He didn't think I could see him. When I got there I said: 'Dino, that's the greatest favor you could have done for me. It's a much easier shot now.' I just opened the face of the club, knocked the ball out about three feet away from the pin and sank the putt."