2005: Dispelling Myths

North Plains, Ore.

The golf swing is full of misunderstanding and myth. Everything is not as it seems.

His students might label Jerry Mowlds a myth breaker. Mowlds simply calls himself “an observer of what really good players do when they play golf.”

Mowlds is a former PGA Tour player and a past winner of the PGA of America Professional of the Year award. Today, he appears on most lists of top instructors in the United States.

Mowlds laughs as he considers all the myths that have grown around the golf swing. The truth, he cautions, is often the opposite of widely held beliefs.

Myth: “I think I’ll change my golf swing.”

Most golfers, Mowlds says, are misguided if they attempt this. It’s much easier said than done. Most simply can’t do it successfully.

“It is very, very unusual and difficult for anybody to change his swing so an old friend wouldn’t know it from 50 yards away,” Mowlds says. “It is far, far better to get all golfers to play the best they can with the way they swing the club. There are many styles and swings that have been proven to work, and the student needs to find the one that suits him.”

Myth: “Everybody I know is using video to help their swings, so I’m going to do it, too.”

Mowlds believes that many golfers are better off not working with video.

“It can hurt a golfer who hits good shots but may not look good doing it,” Mowlds observes. “The last thing you want to do is introduce doubt in that person’s mind. Some people just can’t stand the scrutiny. As Jim McLean often says, ‘It’s easier to ruin talent than it is to improve on it.’ ”

Myth: “I forgot to follow through on that chip shot.”

What many golfers forget to do, Mowlds insists, is hit their chip shots with authority. The followthrough is not needed to hit a chip with conviction, and he has devised a drill to teach this.

Simply drop a few balls next to a golf bag that has been placed on the ground. Then chip the balls over the bag, stopping the clubhead before it contacts the bag.

“Don’t try to move the ball with the club,” Mowlds says. “Strike the ball with the club, and it will move.”

Myth: “OK, but surely I need a big followthrough on a lob shot around the green.”

Not necessarily. Mowlds loves to demonstrate the Tiger Woods technique of an aggressive, full backswing and practically no followthrough on this short shot if it is struck from substantial rough. From a normal lie, Mowlds says, a player should create a “lazy” feeling with a natural followthrough.

Myth: “I decelerated on that putt.”

Sure, it’s possible to miss a putt by decelerating, but Mowlds is adamant in saying that the best players in the world are much closer to a slightly decelerated style of putting than they are to an accelerated style. This is especially true on downhill and sidehill putts, and on speedy greens.

“Hit the ball with the club, and let the ball move,” Mowlds advises. “This is true with chipping, and it’s true with putting. Bad chippers and putters are always trying to accelerate the club. That’s one of the reasons they are bad. Their club is moving too fast after impact.”

Myth: “Whenever you recoil (with your hands and arms) on a chip, pitch or putt, it means you hit the shot wrong.”

This is not always correct, Mowlds insists. “Many of the best players recoil when they’re hitting shots around the green,” he says. “It’s a natural response to restricting the finish. If you follow the ball with the clubhead toward the finish, it removes some of the backspin.”

Myth: “I wanted to hit a hook, so I closed the clubface.”

Mowlds is clear about this: “If I want to hit a draw, I open the club (at address) and come a little under the plane. I try to impart a top-spin feeling.

“If I’m trying to fade the ball, I close the club to the target line and do the opposite, spinning the ball the other way from somewhat above the plane.

“Just look at all the shut-face faders who are great players – Colin Montgomerie, Paul Azinger, Fred Couples, Tom Weiskopf. At his best, David Duval played exactly like that.”

Myth: “I was able to fix my swing problem on the course, so I don’t need to practice.”

Mowlds has a simple piece of advice: “Don’t confuse fixes with fundamentals. Don’t practice the fixes, or they could become a new problem.”

Myth: “I was hooking my drives, so I weakened my grip.”

Mowlds winces at this one. “When the grip is weakened to fix a hook, often it just increases the amount of forearm rotation it takes to keep the ball from going to the right,” he says. “Therefore it p54 can cause even worse hooking.”

Myth: “You need to concentrate on making a smooth swing on every shot.”

Mowlds teaches some of his students, particularly those with less strength, to use different wood and iron techniques. “I give them a ‘swing’ with a wood and a ‘hit’ with an iron,” he says. “This way, they get more energy at impact on the iron shots. The ball gets up in the air better, and they don’t hit all their irons the same distance.”

Myth: “I hate quick-fix lessons.”

Mowlds on his early career: “When I started teaching, 95 percent of the lessons were 30 minutes. I could give a 30-minute lesson in about 21 minutes.

“Many active players today are shying away from instruction because they are reluctant to get into a long-term commitment to developing a different swing. What they need is some ‘let’s do better today’ instruction. For a lot of people, golf is a game they want to play and not work at.”

Myth: “I hit all my shots straight – no draw, no fade.”

Mowlds has a philosophy: “The only thing I don’t teach is to hit the ball straight. Most players cannot achieve a neutral ball flight, and they hurt their games by trying. Annika (Sorenstam) is about as neutral as any golfer I’ve ever seen. She’s on the same plane every time.

“Straight is just more difficult. Curving the ball offers more control. When you are aiming a straight shot, your target gets pretty small, but curves are always working toward the target.

When I played the Tour in the ’60s, the balls were so crappy you had to put a big hook or fade on it to have an idea where the ball was going.

“High shots go pretty straight, and so do low shots. When I need to hit a straight shot, I go high or low.”

Myth: “The best golfers in the world are young.”

Mowlds jumps right on this one. “Who wins the (PGA Tour) tournaments where you have to work the ball?” he asks. “The guys in their 40s. They are the best shotmakers.”

Myth: “When they putt, most players try to make the followthrough the same length as the backstroke.”

If you watch today’s players, Mowlds says, many of them are taking the putter back farther and following through shorter. It’s more of a long back/short through stroke.

Myth: “For your longest drive, you need to take the club back as slowly as possible.”

Maybe not. “I tell some of my students that they can’t hit their longest drive until they learn to hit their shortest drive,” Mowlds says. “I’ll ask them to adjust their clubhead speed through the ball -- light, medium, and really ‘pop it.’ Never think slow; think ‘easy fast.’ When we get to their fastest swing, many of them hit their best drives. Speed is not a bad thing.”

Myth: “I carry four wedges because all the guys on the PGA Tour do it.”

There is no law, Mowlds says, that requires anyone to carry four wedges. Often, he observes, the worst wedge players are the ones with four wedges. They seem to think the wedges should do all the work.

Players with three wedges often are more inventive and creative, and generally they are better wedge players.

Myth: “I am amazed how well the touring pros know their own swings.”

Not exactly. “Touring pros know what their swings feel like to them,” Mowlds says, “but they don’t necessarily know what they are doing. You have to be careful about accepting what a tour player says about his own swing.”

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