Thursday, 8 June 2017

Harvey Penick

Harvey Penick is one of my favourite teachers. He was a good player--probably good enough to have played on the tour. But, early on in his career, he saw Sam Snead hit a golf ball. He, probably wisely, thought, "I'll never beat that guy," and chose to pass up on trying to earn a living on the tour and turned to teaching. That turned out to be a decision that was good for him, and good for countless numbers of golfers.

Harvey was a humble man who loved golf and loved people--the perfect combination for a great teacher. He still got goosebumps as an old man by helping a woman get the ball airborne and be able to play with her husband. He cared as much about the duffer as he did about the many pros who sought his advice. He cared more about his students than he did about himself. He truly wanted to help golfers. It was about them, not him.

I suppose you could write a book about all the terrific things Harvey taught, and the way he taught them. He would be a great model for anyone aspiring to be a great teacher. But, to me, three things that he taught stand out.

First, was the importance of a good grip. Harvey said he could happily talk for hours about the grip. He also taught that a good swing was useless if accompanied by a faulty grip. He told his players on his college team not to worry about the player with a good swing and a bad grip. But he suggested that they had plenty to worry about when playing against a guy, or gal, with a poor grip and a bad swing. Those players had learned, by playing and practice, how to make it work.

The second thing that Harvey taught that would help so many struggling players was how to set up to the ball naturally. So many players struggle with alignment. Harvey advised us to set up to the ball like we were shaking hands with someone on the other side of the ball. How brilliant is that? When you shake hands with someone, do you face to their right or left? Are you all cock-eyed? No. You are square to them. Your chest faces right at them. What a great way to explain square alignment. I've used that analogy to help myself and others.

The third teaching of Harvey's that is absolute 24 carat gold is his teaching to "clip the tee." He would have players put a tee in the ground and practice swinging the club so that it just clipped the top of the tee. He couldn't explain why it worked so well, but clipping the tee made golfers square the clubface at impact. If every struggling golfer practised only that, they would soon find themselves hitting good golf shots.

I was struggling with my drives lately. It was really frustrating, and I concluded that it was down to my bad back that I couldn't seem to hit the ball high enough, or far enough, with the driver. The last two times out I focussed only on clipping the ball off the tee with my driver and, I'm back, baby! Suddenly my trajectory was better and I was driving it at least thirty yards farther--just by remembering Harvey's advice to "clip the tee."

There are lots of other great ideas from Harvey Penick. But I'm absolutely certain that every struggling player would improve and gain so much more pleasure in playing if he would just learn a good grip, shake hands with someone on the other side of the ball, and clip the tee. 

Thank you, Mr. Penick. You were definitely one of the best there ever was.