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And Butch said, “He likes to tinker”

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Your swing is broken. You know it. Your playing partners know it. The 15-year-old kid picking up balls on the range knows it. There is something fundamentally wrong. Everything was fine, and then one day it wasn’t. Well, that’s not entirely true. You started to feel it slipping away a few weeks ago, like a slow leak in a tire, but you ignored it hoping that it would get better. Unfortunately it got worse, until you had a complete blow-out today. What happened?

You aren’t sure, and so the first chance that you get, you make your way to the practice range and buy three large buckets of balls, determined to find the answer. You then begin to randomly experiment, trying one thing after another. What was it you heard on the Golf Channel the other night? What about the tip that your brother-in-law gave you last weekend when you were up at the lake? Your mind begins to race. Maybe if you took the club back a little slower? What if you were to hold your finish? Maybe try pausing at the top? And then, before long, you find yourself lost in a maze of thinking.

In desperation you begin to tinker, hoping you can fix the problem yourself. You realize that there is a certain audacity in thinking that you can repair your own swing. You would of course call a plumber if a pipe burst in your house. Why wouldn’t you hire a teaching professional to help you with your golf swing? And then a random thought crosses your mind. He would probably charge less than a plumber. The truth is that you like to tinker with your swing. You think of it as a hobby. But then you remember what the speaker at last year’s men’s club fall banquet said: “I would agree that tinkering with your swing can be fun, but it is an absolute guarantee that you’ll never improve.”

What exactly is a “tinkerer?” The dictionary defines a tinkerer as an individual who would repair, adjust, or work with something in an unskilled manner. The key words in that sentence is “unskilled manner.” As a life-long teacher, I’ve witnessed times when a skilled player is able to fix their own swing by experimenting around the edges.

That is not the case with the average golfer, who more often makes the mistake of confusing the symptoms they are experiencing for a root problem. And then, in an attempt to fix it, an average golfer often puts a band-aid on what amounts to an open wound. The problem may then appear as if it has been solved, but only temporarily — maybe for a day, a week or a month — but then the original problem reappears again, but this time often in a more virulent form.

When that occurs, the player is then forced once again to search for a secondary cure, and then a third, and a then fourth, beginning an endless cycle of tinkering. And in time, they often find themselves so confused, it is as if they have tumbled down into Alice’s rabbit hole where up is down and down is up, creating their own wonderland where nothing seems to make sense anymore.

Butch Harmon

I attended a teaching seminar hosted by the Iowa Section of the PGA in Des Moines, Iowa, a few years ago. Butch Harmon was the guest speaker. He had just been fired by Tiger Woods a few weeks before. After finishing his presentation, someone in the audience asked him about Tiger. Butch was quiet for a moment, clearly weighing what to say — or not say. The room became quiet, and then when it seemed as if he may have forgotten the question, he said quietly, “He likes to tinker.”

The Scientist

In the mid ’80s, I had a student who loved to tinker with his swing. He was a 15-handicapper who never improved because he was constantly experimenting. In his case, it was to a degree understandable because he was a scientist. He would spend his day conducting laboratory experiments, mixing the contents of one test tube with another and then observing the outcome.

The doctor would come to see me for a lesson every week without fail. He was like a man who might go for a haircut or a massage on a regular basis, whether he needed it or not because he enjoyed it. And each time he came, it was the same. He had made a discovery. He would first explain his latest idea and then how it had come to him.

“I was lying in bed when it occurred to me that if I pointed my left elbow joint downward it might force my wrist into a better position at the top of the backswing. What do you think?”

“I think if it works that’s great,” I said. 

“Let me show you,” he said, taking a practice backswing then looking at me like an expectant puppy begging for approval. “Do you think it will work?”

“We won’t know that until you hit a ball,” I said. “As you know, the practice swing and the real swing are always different.”

The problem was that he suffered from a nasty hook that might have put Ben Hogan to shame. The primary problem, was that like Hogan, he bowed his left wrist outward at the top of his backswing, which closed the clubface. The problem then was that he had to find a way to open up the clubface on the downswing so that at impact it was somewhere close to square. The doctor was capable of emulating the top-of-the-backswing position when making a practice swing, but then, when he went to actually hit the ball, his left wrist would revert to the same convex position.

And so lesson after lesson, the doctor continued to come up with a new idea, none of which worked. The next time he came for his appointment, I suggested that we talk for a moment. I started by saying “Doctor, there is something we need to discuss.” I could see the anxious look on his face. “Yes. I’m listening” he replied. He was used to doing the lecturing, but now he was on the receiving end. “I’d like you to stop tinkering with your swing,” I said. And then he said the words that I will never forget: “But I tinker to improve.”

I thought for a moment before answering him and then said, “I’m sorry doctor but I’m afraid that is just not true.” He looked at me as if I’d killed the family dog.

“You want me to stop tinkering with my swing?” he asked. 

“Yes, that is what I’m suggesting,” I said. 

“I’m not sure that I can do that,” he said. He paused. “But if you think it is important, I’ll try to stop.”

The word “try” gave him away. What I’ve learned is that when someone says they will “try” something, they are giving themselves a way out. They usually have no intention of following through on the promised action. I knew he couldn’t stop. I knew he wouldn’t stop. And so, at that moment, I resolved that I would allow him to tinker, and I would play the role of the janitor, sweeping up whatever mess he might leave behind.

A Dream

The doctor continued to take lessons from me for a few more years after that with only minor changes in his swing — or his scores. And then one day he just stopped coming. He was elderly, but in good physical condition. And then a macabre thought crossed my mind; maybe he had passed away.

That night I had a dream. I saw a picture of him lying in a coffin. There was a pastor standing at the church alter inviting members of the congregation to come forward to pay their last respects. As I shuffled forward down the center aisle, I saw his wife, Francis, seated in the front pew with a black veil covering her face. She turned her head as I passed, nodding in my direction. As I neared the open coffin I could see that his hands were crossed, left over right. As I looked closer, his left wrist was bowed outward just like in his golf swing. And then I woke-up with a start.

A few weeks later, I was relieved to see him at the airport with his wife. He apologized for not mentioning it before, but they were going on a trip around the world. “I’ll call you when we get back,” he said, waving over his shoulder as the two of them made their way toward their gate with a porter trailing behind. That was the last time I saw him, but I tell his story as a cautionary tale to students of mine who are inclined to tinker with their swings

The Author (as a sponsor)

You enjoy tinkering, you say? I understand perfectly. Just realize that as a tinkerer, there is a good chance that you will never be a better golfer than you are today. And so if you really want to improve, quit tinkering. Should you make that decision, you will in all probability find that you have become addicted. And so, as you begin to pull away, you may experience a period of withdrawal. This is normal, but during this period do not let your guard down. This is when you are most vulnerable.

Also, it is important that you remove any forms of temptation that could draw you back into your old behavior.

Step 1: Go through your house with a large trash bag and put all of the books, magazines, and videos that you own, including those stashed under your bed, into the bag.

Step 2: Cancel your magazine subscriptions, effective immediately.

Step 3: This step is related to watching the Golf Channel. In the event one of the instructional segments should suddenly come on while you are watching, you should do one of three things immediately:

  1. Mute the sound.
  2. Switch the channel.
  3. Put your hands over your ears and start mouthing, “La, la, la, la, la,” until the segment is over.

As your sponsor, I want you to understand that the only way to break your addiction is to go “cold turkey.” You may feel an impulse to jump into your car and drive to the local drug store for a copy of the latest golf magazine. Should you feel that urge, I want you to start counting backward from 100. That usually does the trick.

Let’s return to the subject of your swing. You are probably wondering, “What should I do next? You are a little confused, and I understand. You’ve had a good deal of new information to process. Here is my thought. I’d advise you to sign-up for a series of lessons with a competent professional who has a track record of success working with players at your level… and then never look back.

Also, as your sponsor, I want you to remember that if you should need me during a moment of crisis, you can always reach me. I’m only a phone call away. And now before leaving, I want you to take the Tinkerer’s Pledge. Please raise your right hand while placing your left hand on this old copy of Golf Digest with Gay Brewer on the cover. Now, repeat after me:

“I, (then state your name for the record)…”

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As a teacher, Rod Lidenberg reached the pinnacle of his career when he was named to GOLF Magazine's "Top 100" Teachers in America. The PGA Master Professional and three-time Minnesota PGA "Teacher of the Year" has over his forty-five year career, worked with a variety of players from beginners to tour professionals. He especially enjoys training elite junior players, many who have gone on to earn scholarships at top colleges around the country, in addition to winning several national amateur championships. Lidenberg maintains an active schedule teaching at Bluff Creek Golf Course Chanhassen, Minnesota, in the summer and The Golf Zone, Chaska, Minnesota, in the winter months. As a player, he competed in two USGA Public Links Championships; the first in Dallas, Texas, and the second in Phoenix, Arizona, where he finished among the top 40. He also entertained thousands of fans playing in a series of three exhibition matches beginning in 1972, at his home course, Edgewood G.C. in Fargo, North Dakota, where he played consecutive years with Doug Sanders, Lee Trevino and Laura Baugh. As an author, he has a number of books in various stages of development, the first of which will be published this fall entitled "I Knew Patty Berg." In Fall 2017, he will be launching a new Phoenix-based instruction business that will feature first-time-ever TREATMENT OF THE YIPS.

28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Speedy

    Sep 23, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    Butch Harmon’s the best.

  2. Double Mocha Man

    Sep 20, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    I am so glad I am not a tinkerer. I proudly admit that I “experiment” on the range.

  3. bh

    Sep 20, 2017 at 10:58 am

    Tinkering is what makes it fun for me. I like the puzzle. Sure, I could leave well enough alone, but doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

  4. Acew7iron

    Sep 19, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    If your not tinkering…yur not trying

  5. RonMcD

    Sep 19, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    We know he likes to tinker with his dinker ……..

  6. Square

    Sep 18, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    That last post was a mess. Sorry guys. Let’s try that again.

    I admit, I used to tinker. Even though would shoot between 68-78, I was never consistent. Tinkering was the culprit. I would try this, try that…you name it. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to have the money and the desire to see a real teacher in Tampa. I make a point of seeing him 2 x per year. His name is Rich Abele and by using Trackman we identified my one serious, consistent swing fault. Rich focuses on impact and I just needed one thing to think about. When I practice or play this single thought is the sole thing I concentrate on when I swing. Without question this year with less practice and play, I was able to play my best. I was able to consistently shoot 68-72 with a few 73s. Having one swing thought and having confidence in that single thought was the key. Having a great teacher helped too.

  7. Square

    Sep 18, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    I admit, I like to tinker. Even though would shoot between 68-78 I was never consistent. Tinkering was the culprit. I’ll try this, try that…you name it. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to have the money and the desire to see a real teacher in Tampa. I see him 2 x per year. His name is Rich Abele and by using Trackman we identified my consistent swing fault. Rich focuses on impact and I just needed one think to think about. When I practice or play it is the sole thing I concentrate on when I play golf. Without question the last year, with less practice and play was the best. I was able to consistently shoot 68-72 with a few 73s. Having one swing thought and having confidence in that though was the key.

  8. BW

    Sep 18, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    Most rec’n players who seek help from an ‘instructor’ are usually in poor physical shape and the instructors know it’s futility, so they just string them along to suck $$$ from the suckers.
    Many go to instructors to have a ‘golf buddy’ to talk to and then brag they went to so-and-so for lessons and it was great.
    Those who avoid instruction are usually ashamed of their bodies and avoid embarrassment. They just keep on hacking and clowning on the golf course.
    Golf is a dying activity and even the club manufacturers know that so they just cater to the upper 1% and wannabes with over-engineered clubs at ludicrous prices. They are just milking the stragglers. It’s over, baby…..

  9. Ray Bennett

    Sep 18, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    There is so much BS in this article. I had to laugh about the bowed wrist and opening the clubface bit. No wonder the average golfer is in Limbo after reading this nonsense.

  10. Steve S

    Sep 18, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    Much of this article seems to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, so enjoyed it. Bottom line though is that I have not found a teacher yet that doesn’t want to remake my swing. I play to a 10-11; mostly due to an erratic short game. I use a modified single plane swing that takes into account a bad knee and an arthritic back. It looks ugly but when I’m not in pain I hit the ball mostly straight with a very tiny draw. I’m sure most pros would gag if they saw my swing but I have fun. I’ve taken video of my swing when I was hitting the ball well and use it to compare to when I’m going bad. With all the new technology available to us, many of us no longer need a teaching pro to enjoy the game.

  11. acemandrake

    Sep 18, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    For me, “tinkering’ = “chasing tips”

  12. AB

    Sep 18, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    I tinker all the time and my swing gotten better, plus I have gained yards. There’s nothing wrong with tinkering

  13. Patricknorm

    Sep 18, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    Excellent article. I taught tennis and squash for 30 years from beginners to world champions. It’s easy teaching players with skills and motivation. It’s near impossible to teach those that question your methods. These people ” have an idea” but really don’t grasp the reality. If I could have had these people as children then maybe there would be hope.
    As adults, busy with life, successful in business but mediocre in sports. We all have aptitudes: music, math, athletics, memory, spatial, etc. I can take you so far but, there are limitations. We all need mentors regardless of our skills. Nobody can do it themselves and be great.

    • mlecuni

      Sep 19, 2017 at 4:54 am

      As an adult, i think that the tinkering way is possible if you Eat, drink, sleep golf like a child would do.
      So in a way, i agree with you when you say, if only i had these people when they were child, and i add, “or if they have way more time to practice/play”.

  14. Dennis Lurvey

    Sep 18, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    Tiger is a perfectionist to the point it takes over his life and his golf. He is incapable of playing as an art, has to be in control of everything all the time. Michelle Wie as well and others. It’s a mental disorder. Tiger has never been able to take direction from others, except maybe his dad. When he said he liked to tinker he was searching for a phrase that wasn’t, he’s an arrogant control freak perfectionist who believes he’s the only one who knows golf.

  15. Philip

    Sep 18, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    Have to disagree … I play with so many that regularly have lessons and do not even understand what they are trying to accomplish at times. Granted it is highly likely that they do not have the ability or desire to get better, however, I have witnessed lessons being given and received lessons that have no chance of resulting in real improvement. Personally, I think the main reason is the difficulty that people have in truly communicating. Luckily, I’ve had a few pros in which it clicked nicely. On the other side, the tinkering that I have been doing this season has resulted in me having more control than I ever did of the golf ball, and without losing distance … actually gaining some.

  16. Redley Jacob

    Sep 18, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    Where I practice next to it is Pro area where he teaches his students. All I hear is BS for 60 bucks an hour.

  17. Andrew Broom

    Sep 18, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    All the Pros want you to cough up your hard earned money but you will never actually improve. I went from 22 to 8 by tinkering only. Don’t listen to these vested interest and tinker away.

  18. Chris Baker

    Sep 18, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    I think the article makes a lot of sense, especially for the average golfer. But I’m not sure using Tiger Woods as an example is most effective way to get people to buy into your idea/theory (yes if you want them to open the article). He is either the greatest or second greatest golfer to ever play the game and he likes to “tinker”. I can only assume that people who hear Tiger Woods liked to “tinker” will take it upon themselves to also “tinker” because it seemed to work pretty well for him. My opinion is to use a golfer who liked to “tinker”, but ultimately was not successful in doing so.

  19. RonG

    Sep 18, 2017 at 11:49 am

    Adult men believe there is a golf swing buried in their big strong body and their massive minds only need to be told what to do and it will happen… consciously. It’s mind over matter and a small golf tip is all they really need to knock out the glitches.
    Oh, and the newest model golf clubs with SGI features will launch them and conquer the golf course. So easy….

  20. Avery

    Sep 18, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Hahaha.

    Step 4: Stop visiting Golf WRX

  21. Acew7iron

    Sep 18, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Oh and BTW…Ive dropped 4 strokes off my HC just this season. It is possible to Tinker and improve…the key? You have to play the game more than 4 times a month…

  22. Acew7iron

    Sep 18, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Well…As a player of the game for over 25 years and currently a 9 I consider myself somewhat of a “tinkerer”. As a avid follower of this site I recently read a very informative piece about how every golfer eventually hits the skids with their swing because its all tied to every sense you have and at some point it WILL come off the rails (not “if”…but “when”) mostly because we are human and not machines. It has been my experience that the more I practice and play the longer I can ride those good playing waves but I know one day it will just seem to leave…without warning.
    Now to my point…What shall I do when this happens? Run to a Pro and pony up $100 for a lesson to immediately get me back on track? I admit…would be nice to have that luxury but the game itself is expensive besides pay a Pro every time a hitch gets in my giddyup. No…Most of us must resort to the tinker…eventually the good swing returns and you ride the wave again until it crashes on shore 6-8 strokes above your HC.

    Tinkering is not the Devil…Its the only way to fix what ails you.

  23. Nick

    Sep 18, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Tinker = Trial and Error & Error & Error & Error ………….

  24. Doug Ferreri

    Sep 18, 2017 at 10:26 am

    I have been an instructor for many years and truer words were ever written.

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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