Plenty of retired athletes have a decent golf game. John Smoltz is a player. The 55-year-old Hall-of-Fame pitcher and Fox MLB Lead Studio Analyst has an index of +1.6 at Hawks Ridge Golf Club outside Atlanta, and he qualified for the 2018 Senior U.S. Open.
Smoltz had never taken a lesson before, but was looking to find some consistency and clubhead speed as he had started adding some compensations to his swing because of chronic back and hip issues. We paired him with Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Brian Manzella at Hawks Ridge, and Smoltz left with two basic drills that can help any player produce a more consistent release with less curve when it comes to shot shape.
Create a More Neutral Swing Path
"When I watched his first few swings, it was clear John's main issue was a path that went six degrees inside to out," says Manzella, who runs his Studio in the Sky in New Orleans. "He was trying to hit straight shots from there, which forced him to do a lot of holding off with the club." Manzella put a tee in the ground 12 inches in front of the ball and just inside the target line at tee height. If Smoltz could clip the tee, he'd have a more neutral path. For a player who tends to slice, modify the drill by placing the tee slightly to the outside of the target line.
Release Without Fearing a Hook
"John was one of the best pitchers in the world, and he for sure knows what he's doing with his right hand," says Manzella. "I had him take a handful of balls and make a normal downswing. As he went up through to the ext, if he can see the balls, he's releasing the club the right way—not holding it off or turning his hand over. With that feel, he could release it without fearing the hook—which had made him try to avoid bending his right wrist at all. That was basically making him throw changeups instead of fastballs."