When I think about what Mr. Hogan left behind, I’m reminded of the Greek myth about Theseus who entered the labyrinth to slay the Minotaur. Theseus faced a second challenge that was just as daunting: How would he find his way out of the maze if he succeeded in slaying the Minotaur? Well, it turns out all he needed was a spool of thread. He tied the thread to the entrance of the maze and unspooled it as he ventured into the darkness. Thus, he was able to accomplish his goal, and eventually find his way out of the labyrinth. Like Theseus in the labyrinth, Ben Hogan left us these books to help us on our way. All we have to do is follow the thread of the hero path.
As I look back over the past few years, I have to laugh because I’ve never been as good at golf as I wanted to be. I’m sure many people could say the same thing. I started playing when I was 8 years old, and today I’m 47. I was willing to work on my game and I spent a lot of money on clubs and lessons, but I did not get better. My average score was in the high 80s. I often shot in the 90s, and I sometimes shot in the 100s. The worst score I can recall was 126.
Then one fine day, I was in the checkout line at a golf store and saw Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons on a rack by the cash register. I bought that book, and it changed my life. Around the same time, I got a Flip video camera and I saw my swing for the first time in decades. Well, suffice to say, I didn’t look like Ben Hogan. I realized I needed to improve my swing, and Mr. Hogan’s books gave me a path to follow. Over the course of the next five years, I would undertake the challenge of trying learn how to swing like Ben Hogan. Along the way I started a YouTube channel, and began rebuilding my swing and sharing my work with the world. Today, I have more than 9 million views on my channel and I can even shoot under par.
Taking on the challenge of trying to rebuild my golf swing in the manner of Ben Hogan probably sounds a little crazy. At first, it seemed like a preposterous goal. I had been a martial arts champion and professional ballet dancer in my past, however, and it was by studying Bruce Lee and Mikhail Baryshnikov that I was able to achieve a respectable level of mastery in each of those fields of study. So, I thought “How hard can it be?” Well, it was the most complicated of all of my pursuits due to the counter-intuitive nature of the golf swing.
It didn’t take long before I could make golf swings that bore some of the hallmarks of the Hogan golf swing. The first year, I flattened my backswing plane and I learned to use my body well enough to create a good amount of lag. My scores quickly improved and I achieved my initial goal of being able to break 80. In fact, I did it 14 times that first year! To be honest, that was all I wanted from my game at the time. I just wanted to be able to shoot in the 70s, and not feel like a buffoon when I stood on the first tee box. But the goal of mastering the Ben Hogan golf swing began to fester in the back of my mind, and being in my mid-40s, it seemed like an age-appropriate pursuit since my days of combat and theater were far behind me.
After some initial successes, the greatest challenge I faced moving forward in regards to learning how to swing like Mr. Hogan was how to use my lower body correctly. Years of playing the game with my weight too far forward had caused me to develop some bad habits that seemed impossible to break. I’m right handed, and as soon as I started my downswing, my right heel would immediately pop off of the ground. This led to early extension of my hips and my spine angle would rise through impact. These are common maladies in the world of golf, and it took me years before I could get “over the hump.” Mr. Hogan said many times that what really separates world-class players from everyone else is the use of the lower body.
I would spend years trying to overcome my early extension, and sometimes I convinced myself that it was just how my body worked. But then I learned about a teacher named Gregg McHatton in my area. I began taking lessons with Gregg, who was known for being an expert on Ben Hogan’s swing. Once I arrived, Gregg pointed out something that many folks on YouTube had also noticed. He told me I resembled Mr. Hogan until just before I released the club head. At that point, I would lose my angles and I looked like an average Joe. The truth is my swing was really just a poor imitation of Mr. Hogan at that point. I had to tackle my impact and release.
Gregg first helped me to understand what a proper impact position actually looked like. The first time he asked me to demonstrate what I thought the impact position should be, I was flummoxed. I didn’t really know. He wanted me to keep more flex in my knees through impact, especially my front leg, with my hips open and forward shaft lean. Gregg has an interesting way of teaching. It seems to me that he prefers not spilling his guts about everything right away, but he rather enjoys leading students down a pathway that causes them to have their own epiphanies. At least that was the case with me.
Gregg and I enjoyed a number of conversations about Ben Hogan and baseball, and I like to practice swinging a bat to feel my hips leading on the downswing. I’ve always had a tendency to overpower the golf club with my hands and arms, but the weight of a bat makes this harder to do. But it was after I took a look at pitching that helped me to really understand how to use my feet and legs better. Once I started to imagine feeling my back foot against the rubber, I realized how inefficient it was to allow my right heel to pop off of the ground. I knew I needed to use my leverage against the ground. This caused my lower body to work in a much more efficient manner, and also helped to deepen my hips and to stop me from early extending. By mimicking a sidearm/underhand throwing motion like Mr. Hogan showed in his book, I really started to feel how the swing builds from the ground up. Today, I have a consistent move that allows me hit the ball farther than I ever have before and my consistency has vastly improved.
We all know there is only one Ben Hogan, and his swing was one of a kind. Mr. Hogan was so modest he didn’t even believe his swing was the perfect swing to copy. But he did say the ultimate judge of the golf swing is the ball itself. I do not believe I will ever perfectly match Mr. Hogan’s swing, but I have received so much enjoyment just from the pursuit, not to mention the benefit from my tremendously improved golf game. I certainly hope to keep improving at this wonderful game, but judging from my ball flight I can say that I made it much farther along than I ever thought possible.
I’ve slain the Minotaur and lived to tell the tale.
Don’t Leave Your Common Sense in Escrow Outside the Golf Course Parking Lot
Disclaimer: Much of what follows is going to come off as elitist, harsh and downright mean spirited — a pro looking down from his ivory tower at all the worthless hacks and judging them. It is the opposite. The intent is to show how foolish WE golfers are, chasing around a white ball with a crooked stick and suspending all of the common sense we use in our every day lives.
Much of what follows is not just the bane of average golfers, but also low handicappers, tour players and even a former long-drive champion during his quest for the PGA Tour… and now, the Champions Tour. In other words, if WE take ourselves a bit less seriously and use a bit more common sense, we are going to have more fun and actually hit better golf shots. We will shoot lower scores.
FYI: All of the examples of nutbaggery to come are things I have actually witnessed. They’re not exaggerated for the sake of laughs.
It’s winter time and most of you poor souls are not enjoying the 70-degree temperatures I am in Southern California right now (see, you all hate me already… and it’s going to get worse). That gives us all time to assess our approach to golf. I am not talking course management or better focus; I am talking how WE golfers approach our successes and failures, which for many is more important than the aforementioned issues or the quality of our technique.
Why is it that golf turns normal, intelligent, successful and SANE people into deviant, ignorant failures that exhibit all of the tell-tale signs of insanity? I also forgot profane, whiny, hostile, weak-minded, weak-willed and childish. Not to mention stupid. Why do we seem to leave our common sense and sanity in escrow in a cloud outside the golf course parking lot… only to have it magically return the moment our car leaves the property after imposing extreme mental anguish on ourselves that Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (don’t feel bad if you have to google this) would find extreme?
Smarter people than I have written books on this, but I think they missed a key factor. Clubs, balls, shoes, bags, gloves, tees, the grasses, especially the sand in the bunkers, the Gatorade they sell at the snack bar, hats, visors, over-logoed clothing, golf carts, etc., are all made with human kryptonite. Not enough to kill us, but just enough to make us act like children who didn’t get the latest fad toy for Christmas and react by throwing a hissy fit.
Bob Rotella has said golf is not a game of perfect, and although religious texts say man was made in God’s image, thinking we are perfect is blasphemous. We all play golf like we think there is an equivalent of a bowling 300. We expect to hit every drive 300 yards (the bowling perfect) with a three-yard draw… in the middle of the face… in the dead center of the fairway. All iron shots must be worked from the middle of the green toward the pin and compressed properly with shaft lean, ball-first contact and the perfect dollar-bill sized divot (and not too deep). Shots within 100 yards from any lie should be hit within gimme range, and all putts inside 20 feet must be holed.
We get these ideas from watching the best players in the world late on Sunday, where all of the above seem commonplace. We pay no attention to the fact that we are significantly worse than the guys who shot 76-76 and missed the cut. We still hold ourselves to that ridiculous standard.
- Group 1: “Monte, you’re exaggerating. No one has those expectations.”
- Group 2: ”Monte, I’m a type-A personality. I’m very competitive and hard on myself.”
To the first group, the following examples say different. And to the second group, I am one of you. It’s OK for me to want to shoot over 80 percent from the free throw line, but at 50 years old and 40 pounds over weight, what would you say to me if I said, “I’m type-A and competitive and I want to dunk like Lebron James!” Oh yeah, and I want to copy Michael Jordan’s dunking style, Steph Curry’s shooting stroke and Pistol Pete’s passing and dribbling style.” That seems ridiculous, but switch those names to all-time greats in golf and WE have all been guilty of those aspirations.
I don’t know how to answer 18-handicaps who ask me if they should switch to blades so they can work the ball better and in both directions. The blunt a-hole in me wants to tell them, “Dude, just learn to hit the ball on the face somewhere,” but that’s what they read in the golf magazines. You’re supposed to work the ball from the middle of the green toward the pin, like Nicklaus. Well, the ball doesn’t curve as much now as it did in Nicklaus’ prime and most tour players only work the ball one way unless the circumstances don’t allow it. “And you’re not Jack Nicklaus.” Some joke about Jesus and Moses playing golf has that punch line.
Wouldn’t it be easier to get as proficient as possible at one shot when you have limited practice time, versus being less than mediocre on several different shots? This also applies to hitting shots around the greens 27 different ways, but don’t get me started…just buy my short game video. Hyperbole and shameless plug aside, this is a huge mistake average golfers make. They never settle on one way of doing things.
The day the first white TaylorMade adjustable driver was released, I played 9 holes behind a very nice elderly couple. He went to Harvard and she went to Stanford. He gets on the first tee and hits a big push. He walks to the cart, grabs his wrench and closes the club face. She tops her tee shot, gets the wrench and adds some loft. Out of morbid curiosity, I stayed behind them the entire front 9 and watched them adjust their clubs for every mishit shot. It took over 3 hours for a two-some. These are extremely nice, smart and successful people and look what golf did to them. Anyone calling this a rules violation, have a cocktail; you’re talking yourself even more seriously than they were. Old married couple out fooling around, big deal if they broke a rule. No tournament, not playing for money, they’re having fun. They had gimmies, mulligans and winter rules. Good for them.
This is an extreme example of a huge mistake that nearly 100 percent of golfers make; they believe the need for an adjustment after every bad shot… or worse, after every non-perfect shot. How many of you have done this both on the range and on the course?
”(Expletive), pushed that one, need to close the face. (Expletive), hit that one thin, need to hit down more on this one. (Expletive), hooked that one, need to hold off the release.”
I’ll ask people why they do this and the answer is often, “I’m trying to build a repeatable swing.”
Nice. Building repeatable swing by making 40 different swings during a range session or round of golf. That is insane and stupid, but WE have all done it. The lesson learned here is to just try and do better on the next one. You don’t want to make adjustments until you have the same miss several times in a row. As a secondary issue, what are the odds that you do all of the following?
- Diagnose the exact swing fault that caused the bad shot
- Come up with the proper fix
- Implement that fix correctly in the middle of a round of golf with OB, two lakes, eight bunkers and three elephants buried in the green staring you in the face.
Another factor in this same vein, and again, WE have all been guilty of this: “I just had my worst round in three weeks. What I was doing to shoot my career low three times in row isn’t working any more. Where is my Golf Digest? I need a new tip.”
Don’t lie… everyone reading this article has done that. EVERYONE! Improvement in golf is as far from linear as is mathematically possible. I have never heard a golfer chalk a high score up to a “bad day.” It’s always a technique problem, so there is a visceral need to try something different. “It’s not working anymore. I think I need to do the Dustin Johnson left wrist, the Sergio pull-down lag, the Justin Thomas downswing hip turn, the Brooks Koepka restricted-backswing hip turn and the Jordan Spieth and Jamie Sadllowski bent left elbow… with a little Tiger Woods 2000 left-knee snap when I need some extra power.” OK, maybe it’s a small bit of exaggeration that someone would try all of these, but I have heard multiple people regale of putting 2-3 of those moves in after a bad round that didn’t mesh with their downtrending index.
An 8-handicap comes to me for his first lesson. He had shot in the 70’s four of his last five rounds and shot a career best in the last of the five. All of the sudden, those friendly slight mishits that rhyme with the place where we keep our money show up. First a few here and there and then literally every shot. He shows up and shanks 10 wedges in a row and is literally ready to cry. I said, “Go home, take this week off and come back… and what’s your favorite beer?”
He comes back the next week, pulls a club and goes to hit one. I tell him to have a seat. I hand him a beer and we talk football for 15 minutes. Then I pull out my iPad and show him exactly why he is hitting shanks. I tell him one setup issue and one intent change and ask him to go hit one. It was slightly on the heel, but not a shank and very thin. I said to do both changes a bit more. The second one — perfect divot, small draw and on target. I walk over, put my hand up for a high five and say, “Awesome job! Great shot!”
He leaves me hanging and says, ”Yeah, but I hit it in the toe.”
Don’t judge him. Every day I have people with 50-yard slices toned down to 15-20 yards saying the ball is still slicing. These are people who won’t accept a fade, but slam their club when it over draws 15 feet left of the target… and so on. I can’t judge or be angry; I used to be these guys, too. During a one-hour lesson, I often hear people get frustrated with themselves for thin and fat, left and right, heel and toe. Apparently, anything not hunting flags or hit out of a dime-sized area is an epic fail. I also get emails the next day saying the fault and miss is still there.
GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!
My big miss has always been a big block, often in the heel. Instead, I now often hit a pull in the left fairway bunker out of the toe. I celebrate like I’m Kool & the Gang and it’s 1999… and I get strange looks from everyone. I can manage a 10-15 yard low, slightly drawn pull. I cannot not manage a 40-50 yard in the atmosphere block… that cuts.
So, now that I have described all of US as pathetic, let’s see what we can do.
- Be hard on yourself, be competitive and set lofty goals all you want… but you need to accept at least a one-side miss. If you hate hitting thin, weak fades, you need to allow yourself a slightly heavy over draw. Not allowing yourself any miss will make you miss every shot.
- Generally, the better the player, the larger the pool of results that are used to judge success. Pros judge themselves over months and years. High-handicappers judge themselves on their previous shot. Do you think pros make a swing change after 10 good shots and one minor miss? We all seem to think that course of action is astute. Bad shot, must have done something wrong… HULK MUST FIX!
- Don’t judge your shots on a pass/fail grade. Grade yourself A-F. Are you going to feel better after 10 A’s, 25 B’s, 15 C’s, 4 D’s and 1 F… or 10 passes and 40 fails? If every non-perfect shot is seen as a failure, your subconscious will do something different in order to please you. Again, 40 different swings.
- Improving your swing and scores is a lot like losing weight. No one expects to make changes in a diet and exercise routine and lose 20 pounds in one day, yet golfers expect a complete overhaul in a small bucket. Give yourself realistic time frames for improvement. “I’m a 12. By the end of next year, I want to be an 8.” That’s your goal, not whether or not your last range session was the worst in a month. It’s a bad day; that is allowed. Major champions miss cuts and all of them not named Tiger Woods don’t change their swings. They try and do better next week… and they nearly always do.
- DO NOT measure yourself either on the mechanics of your swing or your scoring results according to some arbitrary standard of perfection… and especially not against tour players. Measure yourself against yourself. Think Ty Webb. Is your swing better than it was 6 months ago? Do you hit it better than 6 months ago? Are you scoring better than 6 months ago? If you can say yes to at least two of those questions, your swing looking like Adam Scott is less relevant than the color of golf tee you use.
That is a winning formula, and just like bad habits in your swing, you can’t wake up one morning and tell yourself you’re no longer into self flagellation. It takes effort and practice to improve your approach and get out of your own way… but more importantly, have some fun.
15 hot takes from Greg Norman on our 19th Hole podcast
Our Michael Williams spoke with the Great White Shark himself, Greg Norman, for GolfWRX’s 19th Hole podcast. Not surprisingly, the two-time major champion had no shortage of hot takes.
While you’ll want to check out the full ‘cast, here are 15 takes of varying degrees of hotness, from Norman’s feelings about bifurcation to whether he’d pose for ESPN’s Body Issue.
1) He wants bifurcation immediately, rolling back technology for the pros, rolling it forward for amateurs
“I would instigate a bifurcation of the rules. I would roll back the golf ball regulations to pre-1996. I would roll back the technology that’s in the golf equipment for the professionals. And I would open up the technology and give it to the masses because the pros who developed the maximum club head speed of 118, 120 are the ones who maximize what technology is in that piece of equipment. So the person who’s under 100 miles an hour does not hit the ball an extra 30, 35 yards at all. They may pick up a few yards but they don’t get the full benefit of that technology…I would definitely do that because I think we’ve gotta make the game more fun for the masses. “
2) He has no relationship with Tiger Woods and doesn’t plan to watch him play golf
“And this might sound kind of strange. What I’ll say is … I really, in all honesty, I really don’t care what Tiger does with golf. I think Tiger is, golf probably needs him to some degree but golf doesn’t need him, if you know what I mean, because there’s so many other incredibly talented great young players out there, probably a dozen of them, maybe even more, that are equal, if not way better than Tiger, and they can carry the baton of being the number one player in the world. So, I get a little bit perplexed about and disappointed about how some of these guys get pushed into the background by the attention Tiger gets. I hope he does well. If he doesn’t do well, it doesn’t bother me. If he does do well, it doesn’t bother me.”
3) He plays almost no golf these days
“I really don’t play a lot of golf. I played with my son in the father-son at the end of last year, had a blast with him. Played a little bit of golf preparing for that. But since then I have not touched a golf club.”
4) He doesn’t enjoy going to the range anymore
“To be honest with you I’m sick and tired of being on the driving range hitting thousands and thousands of golf balls. That bores me to death now. My body doesn’t like it to tell you the truth. Since I’ve stopped playing golf I wake up without any aches and pains and I can go to the gym on a regular basis without aches and pains. So my lifestyle is totally different now. My expectations, equally, is totally different.”
5) It took him a long time to get used to recreational golf
“But I’ve been in this mode now for quite a few years now so the first couple of years, yes. My body was not giving me what my brain was expecting. So you do have to make those mental adjustments. Look, there’s no difference than when you hit 40, you’re a good player or not a good player. Things start to perform differently. Your proprioception is different. Your body is different. I don’t care how good you are and how great physical shape you are. Your body after just pure wear and tear, it eventually does tend to break down a little bit. And when you’re under the heat of the battle and under the gun, when you have to execute the most precise shot, your body sometimes doesn’t deliver what you want.”
6) He’s a big Tom Brady fan
“I’m a big fan, big admirer of his. He gets out of it what he puts into it obviously…But he’s also a role model and a stimulator for his teammates. No question, when you go to play Brady and the Patriots, you’d better bring your A game because he’s already got his A game ready to go.”
7) He believes we’ll see 50-plus-year-old winners on Tour
“I said this categorically when Tom Watson nearly won at Turnberry in his 50s, when I nearly won at Royal Birkdale in my 50s….if you keep yourself physically in good shape, flexibility in good shape, as well as your swing playing, and your swing. Yeah, maybe the yips come in maybe they don’t, that depends on the individual, right? But at the end of the day, my simple answer is yes. I do believe that’s going to happen.”
8) The Shark logo has been vital to his post-golf success
“But I realized very early on in life too that every athlete, male or female, no matter what sports you play you’re a finite entity. You have a finite period of time to maximize your best performance for X number of years. And with golf, if you look at it historically, it’s almost like a 15 year cycle. I had my 15 year run. Every other player has really has had a 15 year run, plus or minus a few years.”
“So you know you have that definitive piece of time you got to work with and then what you do after that is understanding what you did in that time period. And then how do you take that and parlay it? I was lucky because I had a very recognizable logo. It wasn’t initials. It wasn’t anything like that. It was just a Great Shark logo. And that developed a lot of traction. So I learned marketing and branding very, very quickly and how advantageous it could be as you look into the future about building your businesses.”
9) He’s tried to turn on-course disappointments into positives
“We all … well I shouldn’t say we all. I should say the top players, the top sports men and women work to win. Right? And when we do win that’s what we expected ourselves to do because we push ourselves to that limit. But you look at all the great golfers of the past and especially Jack Nicklaus, it’s how you react to a loss is more important than how you react to a victory. And so, I learned that very, very early on. And I can’t control other people’s destiny. I can’t control what other people do on the golf course. So I can only do what I do. When I screw up, I use that as a very strong study point in understanding my weakness to make sure that I make a weakness a strength.”
10) Jordan Spieth is best suited to be the top player in the world
“I think that Jordan is probably the most balanced, with best equilibrium in the game. He’s probably, from what I’m seeing, completely in touch with the responsibilities of what the game of golf and the success in the game of golf is.”
11) His golf design is built on two pillars
“Two things: Begin with the end in mind and the least disturbance approach. I think we, the industry of golf course design industry, really did the game of golf a major disservice in the 80s and 90s when everybody was leveraged to the hilt, thought they had unlimited capital, and thought they could just go build these big golf courses with big amounts of money invested in with magnificent giant club houses which weren’t necessary. So, we were actually doing a total disservice to the industry because it was not sustainable.”
12) He’s still not happy about having essentially invented the WGC events and not getting credit
“I’ll always be a little bit salty about that because there’s a saying that I keep telling everybody, “slay the dreamer.” I came up with a pretty interesting concept where the players would be the part owners of their own tour or their own destiny and rewarded the riches if they performed on the highest level. And quite honestly, Michael, actually a friend of mine sent me an article, it was a column written, “Shark and Fox Plan to Take a Bite out of the PGA”. And this is written in 11/17/94 and I literally just got it last night. And I’m reading through this article and I’m going, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I was ahead of my time!” I really was ahead of my time.
So, it was very, very kind of like a reflective moment for me. I read it again this morning with a cup of coffee and I did sit back and, I’ll be brutally honest with you and your listeners, and did sit back and I did get a little bit angry because of the way I was portrayed, the way I was positioned.”
13) He was muzzled by the producer at Fox
“I’m not going to dig deep into this, I think there was just a disconnect between the producer and myself. I got on really well with the director and everybody else behind the scenes, some of my thought processes about what I wanted to talk about situations during the day, and it just didn’t pan out. And things that I wanted to say, somebody would be yelling in my ear, “Don’t say it, don’t say it!” So it became a very much a controlled environment where I really didn’t feel that comfortable.”
14) Preparation wasn’t the problem during his U.S. Open broadcast
“I was totally prepared so wherever this misleading information comes saying I wasn’t prepared, I still have copious notes and folders about my preparation with the golf course, with the players, with the set-up, with conditioning. I was totally prepared. So that’s an assumption that’s out there that is not true. So there’s a situation where you can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time.
15) He would do ESPN’s Body Issue
“Of course I’d do it. I think I like being fit. I think on my Instagram account I probably slipped a few images out there that created a bit of a stir…And I enjoy having myself feel good. And that’s not an egotistical thing, it’s just none of my, most of my life I’ve been very healthy fit guy and if somebody like ESPN wants to recognize that, yeah of course I would consider doing it.”
TG2: “If you could only play one brand, what would it be?” (Part 2)
“If you could only play one brand, what would it be?” Brian Knudson and Andrew Tursky debate their choices in part 2 of this podcast (click here in case you missed Part 1). Also, TG2 welcomes special guest and GolfWRX Forum Member Ed Settle to the show to discuss what clubs he has in the bag.
Listen to our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
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