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My Shot: Eddie Merrins

Continued (page 4 of 4)

Every great golfer I've known has had powerful forearms. You can't play the game at the highest level without them. Tiger has terrific forearms. Nicklaus' were tremendous. The best I saw belonged to Doug Sanders. He was just a medium-length hitter, but his backswing was extremely short, and it was incredible how much speed he generated with his forearms--the right forearm in particular. When he flexed that thing, it was like touching granite. The good news is, you can develop them. Squeezing and relaxing the steering wheel while you drive will help. So will squeezing a rubber ball while you watch TV. Strong forearms can take you a long way in this game.

Very rarely do you see a golfer whose swing isn't predicated on some aspect of their physique. There are players with large hands, players with strong legs or broad shoulders, long-armed players and players with strong trunks. They quite naturally take advantage of the best part of the anatomy. I've seen only one golfer who used every part of his body: Ben Hogan. Every part of Ben's body contributed equally to his swing. Now, Ben had a fast tempo to his swing, and there are players whose swings might have appeared to be more fluid. But from head to toe, Ben's swing had the most balance. It's why all the good players loved to watch him. He didn't waste anything. Every part of his body played a role--an equal role--in his swing.

I just wrote a book, Playing a Round With the Little Pro, and in it I say that you don't want to think about your score while you play. You have no idea what you're going to shoot before you tee off, so what good does it do to worry about it before you finish? That was Greg Norman's big downfall. Had he gone out and related to Old Man Par in the final round of the '96 Masters, there's no way Nick Faldo would have overcome that six-stroke deficit and beaten Greg so handily. Greg's obsession with winning got in the way of his playing. Relate to par--the winning will come.

Never think of your left arm as "straight" during the swing. The arm is designed to extend naturally during the swing, just as a boxer's arm straightens when he throws a jab. The arm can't lengthen if it starts out straight and tense. The "straight left arm" is a myth that will only take the athleticism out of your swing.

All a teacher can do is help the player help himself. All I ask for is a student who truly wants to learn. Give me that, and in short order a better player will begin to emerge. The desire to learn is everything.

The most important change in golf over the last 35 years has been for the better. When I was a boy traveling to junior tournaments, I couldn't help but notice the looks many men gave me as I walked through the train and bus stations with my golf bag on my shoulder. It was a contemptible look, one that conveyed the feeling that golf was a sissy game and I was a sissy for playing it. In those days, real athletes played baseball and football. Blue-collar men regarded golf as a game for the shy and weak. This continued, I think, up through the mid-1970s, which is fairly recent when you stop and think about it. It's a good feeling now, knowing we golfers were right about our sport all along.

Fiscal conservativeness is almost a prerequisite for working for the U.S. Golf Association. The story goes that Bill Campbell, when he was serving as USGA president, was invited to play at Augusta National. On the first tee, he walked over and began swishing his ball in the ball washer. The member he was with remarked, "Bill, that ball washer has been there for as long as I can remember, and you're the first man I've ever seen use it." Now, I'm not saying USGA people are cheap. Far from it. But if they visit your course, there's a good chance your ball washers are going to get a workout. They feel a golf ball is built for mileage and not distance.

About 10 years ago my golf game had fallen into a state of disrepair, and I was determined to get to the bottom of what was wrong. Feeling my hand-eye coordination was at fault, I sought out the best ophthalmologist I could find, Dr. Robert Hepler. After a consultation, he wrote me a letter explaining he would conduct a thorough examination. He wrote that I should bring a driver to the appointment, and I thought that was so insightful--he didn't ask me to bring a putter or a 5-iron, he wanted me to bring the driver, which tends to reveal the slightest flaws in your swing.

On the day of the appointment, I got a brand-new driver out of the shop at Bel-Air. My wife, Lisa, and I drove to Dr. Hepler's office, and as I waited to see him, I noticed the stares of the other patients. How strange it must have seemed to them, my bringing a golf club to an eye appointment!

When Dr. Hepler saw me and the club, he started laughing. "No," he said, "I meant for you to bring a driver so you would have a ride home after the appointment." The story got around fast, and I became the laughingstock of the community. Dr. Hepler was a big help--he mounted the driver on his office wall. Like a big fish.

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