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Winning Pair
Chris Lewis
September 25, 2006
Armed with an old and unloved swing theory, these two instructors are suddenly all the rage on Tour
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September 25, 2006

Winning Pair

Armed with an old and unloved swing theory, these two instructors are suddenly all the rage on Tour

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Butch Harmon 10 Adam Scott $13,223,981
Hank Haney 1 Tiger Woods $8,641,563
David Leadbetter 8 Trevor Immelman $8,177,982
Rick Smith 3 Phil Mickelson $5,638,748
Bennett & Plummer 8 Dean Wilson $5,432,832
Jim Hardy 6 Tom Pernice $3,942,510

Three weeks ago swing coaches Mike Bennett and Andy Plummer were standing on the practice range at the PGA Tour's Deutsche Bank Championship near Boston when they saw something that cracked them up.

To their right, veteran Dudley Hart and rookie sensation Camilo Villegas were side-by-side, trying to figure out how to make full swings with golf tees stuck under their armpits.

The drill--a staple for Bennett's and Plummer's eight PGA Tour clients--is designed to make players "stay connected," keeping their arms and torsos moving in concert. Only it wasn't working. Hart and Villegas looked as if they were attempting to escape from straitjackets as tees dropped repeatedly on the tops of their feet. "I had to take out my video camera," Bennett recalls. "It was just too funny."

The duo have been laughing a lot this season. Just two days before, pupil Will Mackenzie had won the Tour's Reno-Tahoe Open. In August, Dean Wilson had won at the International, near Denver, and in April, Aaron Baddeley had taken home the trophy at the Verizon Heritage, in Hilton Head, S.C. Word of mouth spread so fast that Tim Herron took a sabbatical from his regular instructor in May and worked with Plummer for just 48 hours before winning at Colonial.

Bennett and Plummer may be the Tour's teachers of the moment, but their method is rooted in a 35-year-old physics- and mathematics-laden tome, Homer Kelley's The Golfing Machine. In the early-1980s Bobby Clampett was the book's flag-bearer, but when his career went south, so did the book's reputation. Mac O'Grady, the legendarily eccentric player and instructor, taught his version of the Machine's methods through the '80s, but his odd, secret-society manner put people off.

In the early- to mid-'90s first Plummer and then Bennett, both struggling mini-tour players, worked with O'Grady. The lessons were influential. By the end of the decade both had dropped off the tours and turned to teaching. Though they held various jobs throughout the country, they remained connected because of their devotion to the Machine's principles. And in 2002 they met again through Tom Scherrer, a struggling pro who hired both of them to help with his swing. Something about the tandem teaching assignment clicked, and they continued to work together, slowly building up a stable of Tour clients, including Wilson, Steve Elkington and Grant Waite.

The pair has just opened their own teaching facility in Radnor, Pa., and the best advertisement for their services may be Wilson's success. Through his 20s and early 30s Wilson, now 36, bounced "from one top teacher to another," he says, "but things kept getting worse. There was a time in the middle of 2004 when I didn't want to hit balls in front of people anymore." He began working regularly with Bennett and Plummer in late '04. Since then he's risen 143 places in the World Ranking, to 67th, with winnings this year of $1.986 million.

Plenty of players, though, look askance at Bennett and Plummer's teaching and its reliance on The Golfing Machine. With its talk of angles, tilts and multiple planes, the book reminds many players of an onerous high school class. But the two instructors insist that students grasp the theory's principles. "Some guys simply want to fix the computer," says Elkington. "Mike and Andy want to open up the computer and show you how it works."

The resulting swing looks radically different from today's dominant models. Most top teachers advocate a big move off the ball, loading up the right side to produce power and keeping the shoulders more or less level. Bennett and Plummer, in contrast, stress staying over the ball, with less weight shift and a steep shoulder turn. "At first it looks and feels like a reverse pivot," Baddeley says, "but now I absolutely love the feeling of being right on top of the ball."

Ultimately, an emphasis on consistent ball striking, rather than distance, is the key to their popularity. The power game "is fine for guys who hit it as far as Tiger, Phil and Vijay," Wilson says, "but what about the rest of us? We're not going to beat anybody trying to play that way."

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