Golf Digest’s magnificent 7: learn from the best – golf instructors – playing tips

Our goal is to fill this magazine each month with the most comprehensive, cutting-edge and helpful instruction for your game, from the best teachers. Judging by the results of the latest 50 Greatest Teachers voting, we’ve assembled a great team.

Each of the teachers voted into the top seven by nearly 1,000 of their peers–Harmon, Leadbetter, McLean, Smith, Haney, Flick and Cook–writes instruction stories exclusively for Golf Digest. They help us bring you everything from anti-slice tips for beginners to advanced techniques employed by the best players in the world. Golf Digest’s Magnificent 7 have been featured on our cover 37 times and have produced hundreds of pages of lessons, tips and drills.

All of the 499 teachers recognized in this survey–on both the 50 Greatest list and in the state rankings that follow–spend far more time working on your swings than they do on their own. We thought it would be fun to turn the tables and ask these top Golf Digest Teaching Professionals to describe what they have been working on in their own games. The tips–from Leadbetter’s forward waggle to McLean’s pre-tournament tuneup–offer a fascinating glimpse into life on the other side of the video-analysis monitor. We’re confident that these tips, and the instant lessons that follow from the No. 1 teachers in each state, will provide lasting help for your game.

1 Butch Harmon

DON’T REACH FOR IT: One of the most common faults I see average players make with the driver is to stand too far from the ball–and it’s one of the faults I fight in my own game. Players often feel more powerful when they’re all stretched out and reaching for the ball. I’m no different. I feel like I can really whack it from this position. But reaching like that gets your weight too far out over your toes and your spine angle too tilted. During the swing, gravity pulls your weight toward the ground, and you lose your balance. I’ve seen people almost fall over when they hit at the ball this way, and it’s certainly difficult to make good contact like this.

I pay close attention to my setup and make sure I’m in a more athletic position, like a basketball player on defense. My weight is on the balls of my feet, not my toes. If somebody came up behind me when I was at address and gave me a shove, I’d be able to keep my balance.

LOCATION: Butch Harmon School of Golf at Rio Secco G.C., Henderson, Nev.

PROMINENT STUDENTS: Tiger Woods, Fred Couples, Justin Leonard, Jose Maria Olazabal, Darren Clarke

AWARDS: No. 1, Golf Digest’s 50 Greatest Teachers (2001-’03)

BOOKS: Butch Harmon’s Playing Lessons (1999), The Four Cornerstones of Winning Golf (1997)

RATE: No private lessons; two-day ($3,500) and three-day ($4,900) schools available

STATE RANKING:

#1 TEACHER IN NEVADA

2 David Leadbetter

RELEASE TENSION WITH A WAGGLE: With teaching, unfortunately and instinctively, you tend to get a little too mechanical–and you’ve got a million swing thoughts going through your head. So for me, the easiest way to get the tension out of the setup position and to start the swing in rhythm is with this simple preswing drill: Start your swing by hovering the club a couple of feet in front of and above the ball. It’s a rocking motion to loosen up and have some momentum for a much freer start to the swing.

Remember, most swing errors happen at the start. If you can get a good start where you synchronize the swinging of the club with the turning motion of the body, it gets you into the flow and helps you put the club in good positions without having to think too much about it. The forward waggle is one of my favorite drills, especially for those of us who play sporadically or who don’t have a lot of time to practice.

LOCATION: David Leadbetter Golf Academy at Champions-Gate, Orlando

PROMINENT STUDENTS: Ernie Els, Nick Price, Aaron Baddeley, Charles Howell, Justin Rose

AWARDS: No .1, Golf Digest’s 50 Greatest Teachers (2000)

BOOKS: 100% Golf (2002), The Fundamentals of Hogan (2000), David Leadbetter’s Positive Practice (1998), Faults and Fixes (1996), The Golf Swing (1990)

RATE: $5,000/private morning session (limited availability)

STATE RANKING:

#1 TEACHER IN FLORIDA

3 Jim McLean

STAYING SHARP: My busy schedule keeps me from competing in many tournaments, but when I do play, my goal is the same as it has always been–to play well. I learned to get the most out of my practice time when I was the head professional at Sunningdale, Quaker Ridge and Sleepy Hollow in the PGA’s New York Metropolitan Section, which has the top club-professional tournament schedule in the country. The key for me is a written game plan that I follow to the letter. I also have another teacher supervise my limited practice, which pays off 10 times greater than working on my game alone.

The main drill I use is a three-quarter swing. I check my arm position, shaft position and clubface position, and I pay close attention to balance and footwork. By monitoring these positions and holding my finish for at least three seconds after every shot, I can really sync up my swing in three or four days. In 2001, I used this drill after a long period of inactivity and qualified for the U.S. Senior Open–the only tournament I played that year.

LOCATION: Jim McLean Golf School, Doral Golf Resort & Spa, Miami

PROMINENT STUDENTS: Len Mattiace, Brad Faxon, Peter Jacobsen, Cristie Kerr, Sergio Garcia

AWARDS: 1994 PGA Teacher of the Year STATE RANKING: #2 TEACHER IN FLORIDA

BOOKS: Golf Digest’s Ultimate Drill Book (2003), The Eight Step Swing (2001), The Idiot’s Guide to Improving Your Short Game (2000), The X-Factor Swing (1994)

RATE: $2,250/session

STATE RANKING

#2 TEACHER IN FLORIDA

4 Rick Smith

SLICE BUSTER: Eighty-five percent of all golfers need this tip. And even though it has been a long time since slicing tee shots was a problem for me, I still like to use this split-hands drill to reinforce a free release. My students use it to rotate their forearms through impact and turn their slice drives into draws.

The clubhead should approach the ball from inside the target line, square at impact, and then rotate back inside the target line. To do this, you need to rotate your forearms (along with the body) through the hitting area. Here’s how:

Grab your driver and address a ball on a tee. When you grip the club, do so by taking hold of the shaft with your hands apart. And instead of your normal setup position, the driver should be resting on the ground inside the target line and behind your right foot. From this starting position, try to hit the ball by sweeping up and rotating the forearms through impact. You should finish with your right hand above the left.

This has always been one of my favorite drills.

LOCATION: Rick Smith Golf Academy, Treetops Resort, Gaylord, Mich.; Tiburon Golf Club, Naples, Fla.

PROMINENT STUDENTS: Phil Mickelson, Rocco Mediate, Lee Janzen, Matt Kuchar, Jerry Kelly

RANKINGS: Top 10 Golf Digest’s 50 Greatest Teachers, 2000-’03

BOOKS: How to Find Your Perfect Golf Swing (1998)

RATE: $2,000/two hours

STATE RANKING:

#1 TEACHER IN MICHIGAN

5 Hank Haney

THE LEFT HAND LEADS: No matter what you do with the rest of your swing, the critical moment is at impact. If you can get the back of the left hand square to the target (photo below) and you have a neutral grip, the ball has to go straight. It has no choice.

If I haven’t played for a while, my goal is to reinforce that feeling of getting my left hand leading the clubface and the back of my hand facing the target. I’ll start with the smallest and slowest action–a chip shot. You have a lot more control over that motion. Then, you can work your way up from punches and three-quarter shots and graduate to full shots.

Remember, if you slice your shots, you’re hitting with the side of the left hand. When you hook, your hand has turned over too much.

LOCATION: Hank Haney Golf Ranch, McKinney, Tex.

PROMINENT STUDENTS: Mark O’Meara, Kelli Kuehne

AWARDS: 1993 PGA Teacher of the Year, Top 10 Golf Digest’s 50 Greatest Teachers (2000-’03)

BOOKS: No More Bad Shots (2001), The Only Golf Lesson You’ll Ever Need (1999)

RATE: $360/hr.

STATE RANKING:

#1 TEACHER IN TEXAS

6 Jim Flick

PLANE TO SEE: I like to feel that the plane of my clubshaft at impact is similar to what it was at address. This results in solid contact and straighter shots. Three of the greatest, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus, used to work on returning the club to the address position at impact in similar fashion.

To check my club’s position at impact, I first set up to the ball with, say, a 5-iron, making sure I’m in a nice tall posture, my back is relatively straight, I’m bending at the hips, my knees are flexed slightly and my arms are hanging naturally. Then I have a friend insert two clubshafts into the ground about eight inches apart, on a plane parallel to my club. One shaft is just outside the ball, the other just inside my hands as in the photo here.

I start with easy practice swings until I’m confident I can swing the club between the two shafts without hitting them. Then I graduate to actually hitting balls. My only thought is to match the angle of my clubshaft at impact to the angle of the two shafts.

LOCATION: Jim Flick Golf, Desert Mountain G.C., Scottsdale

PROMINENT STUDENTS: Jack Nicklaus, Tom Lehman, Ian Leggatt

AWARDS: 1988 PGA Teacher of the Year; inducted in World Golf Teacher Hall of Fame, 2002

BOOKS: On Golf: Lessons from America’s Master Teacher (2001)

RATE: $300/hr.

STATE RANKING:

#1 TEACHER IN ARIZONA

7 Chuck Cook

TWO-FOR-ONE TIP: Even top professional and college players struggle with two distinct things–coming a little over the top and from the outside on the downswing, or getting the hands “stuck” behind the hips. The first is a path issue, and the second is a sequencing one.

I use one drill quite a bit to work on both problems when they creep into my own game. First, I lay a club on the ground, just behind the ball and parallel to my target line. I take my normal address position, then pull the right foot back, until the right toe is even with the left heel. I hit some shots swinging along my foot line. If you’re struggling with coming over the top, this drill forces you to swing from the inside, which will create a more powerful, straighter shot shape. You just can’t physically come over the top and make contact when you swing from this closed position.

When my hands get stuck behind the hips on the downswing, they have to flip over through impact to compensate, which leads to inconsistency. This drill helps me move in the proper sequence.

LOCATION: Chuck Cook Golf Academy, Spicewood, Tex., and Red Sky, Colo.

PROMINENT STUDENTS: Payne Stewart, Tom Kite, Corey Pavin, Mark Brooks, Carin Koch

AWARDS: 1996 PGA Teacher of the Year, Top 10 Golf Digest’s 50 Greatest Teachers (2000-’03)

BOOKS: Perfectly Balanced Golf (1997), Tips from the Tour (1986)

RATE: $250/hr.

STATE RANKING:

#2 TEACHER IN TEXAS

COPYRIGHT 2003 New York Times Company Magazine Group, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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