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Despite the popularity of the swing the clubhead method-- Bobby Jones was among its many endorsers-- Jones had detractors. Rival teachers insisted that the swing was not as simple as Jones made it out to be. At a contentious seminar sponsored by the PGA of America in 1950, two-time Masters champion Horton Smith said that if pros taught Jones's method, "We wouldn't sell enough lessons." Jones countered by saying that the more golfers improved, the more guidance they would seek.
Frankel says there was a conspiracy within the golf industry against Jones, who died in 1965, and that a bias against simplicity in instruction still exits. The PGA of America's director of instruction, Rick Martino, dismisses such a notion, saying the PGA doesn't endorse any method over another. "Believe me," Martino says, "if anybody has a simple method that made everybody better, there would be a line out the door and around the block. There are no monks up on a mountain somewhere with the secret."
Nevertheless, Frankel maintains that most of today's teachers are at best "well-intentioned" and generally "misguided." He says that a reliance on mechanics over feel has made learning more complicated than it has to be.
"I absolutely agree," says Hall of Fame instructor Jim Flick. "We've taught so much about mechanics that the average golfer has forgotten that golf is a game to be played." Flick and another Hall of Famer, Manuel de la Torre, whose father, Angel, worked with Jones in the 1930s, subscribe to parts of the Jones method. But parts are not the whole, and like the swing itself, Frankel believes that Jones can't be broken into bits and still be Jones: "It's like painting over Michelangelo," he says.
My brother's a nonconformist," says Ron Frankel, 58, the practical yin to Arnie's zealous yang. (The Frankel Academy's logo incorporates the Chinese symbols.) "Arnie's whole life is Ernest Jones. I love him, but there are times he's out in leftfield."
Arnie meditates daily, fasts twice a week, studies Kabbalah, believes in holistic medicine, does not step on bugs, is a volunteer with Al-Anon (his mother, Margaret, was an alcoholic) and embraces the radical early writings of John Perkins--author of the best seller Confessions of an Economic Hit Man--on shamans, shape-shifting and dreams. Frankel believes that joy, freedom, respect, open-mindedness and change are all encompassed in the vibration he calls the swing. "I'm unconventional," he admits.
After World War II, Margaret and her husband, Milton, moved to New York with their toddler, Arnie. When Arnie was 11, his father decided that if his son was going to learn how to be responsible, he would have to get a job. Arnie found one as a caddie at Bethpage Black, and the game grabbed him. By age 15 he had broken 70 at Bethpage, and at 18 he received a golf scholarship to Florida State. Eventually Frankel transferred to Miami, from which he graduated in 1968. Determined to play on Tour, Frankel visited, in order, Bob Toski, Jack Grout and Lew Worsham--three of the most-respected teachers of the day. Each instructor pointed out a different fault in Frankel's swing, and he scrupulously tried to implement their fixes. In short order, Frankel couldn't break 80. "I felt as if it couldn't have been the teachers' fault because they were the best in the world," he says. "It had to be me."
Back on Long Island, Margaret Frankel begged her son to try one more teacher: an unconventional pro at nearby Lake Success, Nick Martino (no relation to Rick Martino), who had been Jones's old assistant and was one of two instructors whom Jones fully trained in his method. (The other was Jones's son-in-law, longtime Merion pro Fred Austin.) "Better golfers than you have been ruined by instruction," was the first thing Martino told Frankel.
Martino had Frankel go to the range and hit balls for two hours without thinking about anything. Within an hour the knots unraveled. "I was hitting the ball great," Frankel says. But he didn't know why. In minutes Martino explained the Jones method, taught him how to feel the swing and how to get the feel back if he lost it. Frankel was incredulous. "I had the gift of desperation," he says.
Soon Frankel became Martino's assistant, and by the next season he was on his own teaching the swing the clubhead method at Engineers Country Club, another Long Island club. Although he qualified for a few Tour events, Frankel's playing career never amounted to much. He preferred partying over practice and the counterculture over life in the pro shop. But he made a living on the lesson tees on both coasts and in Michigan. By the early 1990s Austin and Martino were dead, leaving Frankel as Earnest Jones's last Mohican.