What do average golfers try to copy from tour pros that gets them in the most trouble?
DAVID LEADBETTER: You see amateurs go at it thinking they can swing as hard as a tour player. But the tour player swings at 90 percent, where these guys are going 110 percent, and their chance of mis-hits is a heck of a lot greater than a tour player's. But they're constantly seeing how far the tour guys hit it on TV. Then it's as if they say, Hey, how much speed can I build up? A guy has one good tee shot, and he thinks he had a great round of golf.
HANK HANEY: I don't know if copying anything that somebody does well gets you into a lot of trouble. It just might not necessarily help you. You're not going to fix everything in somebody's swing, and they're certainly not going to fix it themselves. The hard part is finding the one or two things that could give them a little correction in their ball flight. So when they look at a tour pro, they might see something, but it might not have anything to do with their particular ball-flight mistake. That's where they run into trouble.
JIM McLEAN: I do agree with Hank to a large part. I think you may need a teacher to help you and maybe not, but watching somebody do something well is one of the greatest possible ways you can learn to play the game. It's the visual way of learning. Like when we were kids: You watch the best player at the club and see what he's doing, and maybe you get a chance to go to a tour event. So mostly it's good, but maybe they're really trying to hit the ball too hard.
HANEY: I've got to admit, I see the opposite. The biggest contributor in golf to somebody's potential is speed. Take Michelle Wie on the LPGA Tour. [Her potential is] because of one thing, and one thing only: her ability to create speed. I see amateurs, and I will give you that they all tend to swing too hard, but none of them swings too fast.
The thing that concerns me is, Are you swinging to your capabilities? I see amateurs who swing at a speed that's not even close to what they're capable of that day, and distance is so important. Distance also gives you accuracy, because 7-irons are easier to hit than 5-irons. Amateurs have this idea, from watching big guys like Ernie Els or Vijay [Singh], that if you make a smooth swing, somehow the ball just rockets off the club. It doesn't happen like that.
BUTCH HARMON: You can swing fast, and as long as you stay in balance you can swing as hard as you want. But people who swing harder tend to be falling all over the place. Sequence is the word. If you put them on a machine when they think they're swinging as hard as they can, they're not going very fast. That's because they're completely out of sequence. Look at Ernie or Fred Couples: Everybody says they're swinging easy. The heck they are! Check how fast that clubhead is coming in there.
LEADBETTER: If you look at the great players, if you look at a swing that's working well, it's synchronized. They're able to time the release of the club with a turning of the body. With amateurs, if they synchronize one swing a round, it's fortuitous. And that's where athleticism comes into this game.
McLEAN: The amateur might be going real hard, but the speed is at the wrong time. It's out of sequence. The fastest part of the swing is back here [before the ball], and they're actually slowing down at impact.
HARMON: I'm constantly saying, "Keep the speed all the way to the finish. Let me see how fast you can swing to the finish." Don't even worry about where the ball is. The ball will get in the way. It's like Hank said, "Hit the damn thing. Hit it!"
HANEY: I ask players, "Why would you swing that slow?" And they say, "Well, I get wild." I say then swing fast at a 3-wood, but don't try to swing slow at a driver. It's not natural. I see far more people swinging too slow than too fast. I'm not saying some people don't swing too fast, but I see far more people swinging too slow.
Let's talk about teaching tour players. What are the biggest challenges?
LEADBETTER: The expectations that are put on them. Golf is not an easy sport from the standpoint of week in and week out. Things change. Players change. Situations change. And it's a challenge for the player, not so much for the coach. But the great players through the years have learned to handle it. They've had to. I think back to Nick Price, who didn't like everything that happened to him when he became No. 1 in the world. He wanted to become No. 1, but when he got there, he realized that a tremendous amount of his time was taken up. He didn't enjoy it. It was almost as if subconsciously he started to take his foot off the gas because he didn't like the limelight.
HARMON: The difference between teaching a tour player and a club player is that one is trying to make a living. With the club player you're going to experiment, so it's, "Well, that didn't work; let's try this." The pressure, if we have any, is that when you're dealing with a tour player and make a change, you better be 100 percent right.
A tour player is a fine-tuned animal. He has capabilities. He has flexibilities. He has talent and coordination. He can pretty much do anything you tell him to do. And he puts his faith in you. There are a lot of expectations put on them. As teachers all we can do is wind them up and put them out there, and they have to go play. A lot of times we get too much credit for successes, and too much criticism for a lack of successes.
What one piece of advice would you give to average players that would help their games the most?
HARMON: They never hit enough club. Just because their 7-iron went 150 yards one time, every time they're 150 yards out they feel like they have to hit a 7-iron. The average golfer should gear to a longer club every time. If it's a 6-iron shot, hit a 5, and so on. They'd have a little better sequencing in their swing, and they'd hit the ball better.
McLEAN: Start with the small shots, and build your game from small to big.
HANEY: Diagnose your game, and then have a plan to try to get better.
LEADBETTER: Work on pitching. The average amateur golfer is a really pitiful pitcher of the ball. If they'd learn to hit those 50- to 60-yard shots, in effect that's a mini golf swing. If they can learn to hit those shots solidly, get the club set, rotate and release the club in sync, they'd learn to hit those shots fairly consistently. And that would help their whole game.
One club the amateur has come to rely on is the 60-degree wedge. Overall, has this club helped or hurt the average golfer?
HARMON: David just made the greatest statement: Teach them how to hit a pitch shot. They can't hit a pitch with a 49-degree pitching wedge, they can't hit one with a 56-degree sand wedge, and they really can't hit one with a 60-degree. The average player is wasting his time with a 60-degree wedge.
McLEAN: I agree with that. With the 60-degree, they have too much loft. That's a problem for the average player. It takes a lot of practice to get good with it.
HANEY: Same thing. On certain shots you want more loft, but if you don't have speed in your swing, you can't use a 60-degree wedge from more than five yards off the green.
LEADBETTER: As Seve said, "I no need 60. I open the 56 just a little."