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Amateurs could learn from Sieckmann, Pernice bond

CARLSBAD, Calif. – Telling the truth is not always a high priority in professional golf.

Why? In the heat of battle, nobody wants to unnecessarily criticize or offend other players or coaches.

However, take golfers and their instructors away from the course, ask them to reflect on what they know best, and the conversation can be eye-opening.

Instructor James Sieckmann and Champions Tour player Tom Pernice have worked together for 19 years. When they showed up Monday at the World Golf Fitness Summit, it was just another opportunity to talk about their field of expertise: the short game.

“If you ever run into a coach who says, ‘It (the short game swing) is a mini full swing, run away as fast as you can,” Sieckmann said. “The two swings are completely opposite. On a finesse wedge shot, for example, you’re being weak on purpose.”

In the Sieckmann technique, the left arm rotates open, while the right elbow folds dramatically into the body. The golfer then releases (hits fully with the arms and chest) through the shot.

A golfer whose swing plane is too steep will be unable to do this. By taking advantage of a shallow swing plane, a player can make more effective use of the bounce on the sole of a wedge.

Here is Sieckmann’s version of a short-game method that doesn’t work: The ball is positioned too far back, the shaft lean is too far ahead, the club face is closed and the golfer uses a push swing without a proper release.

Which brings us to the hinge-and-hold shot that has been associated with Phil Mickelson in recent years.

“I think Phil was a much better chipper before this hold-on method,” Pernice said. “Now, every once in a while, you’ll see him hit a chunk. I think he should go back to what he did before. He had one of the best short games in the history of golf.”

Kenny Perry also would receive a Pernice overhaul.

“Give me five minutes with him,” Pernice said. “He’s too steep (on short shots), his body is closed rather than open, his clubface is closed, he lays back on his right side. He is one of the greatest ball-strikers who ever lived, but he can’t hit a chip shot.”

And David Duval: “I believe David Duval was the most talented player I’ve ever seen,” Pernice said, “but when it started to go wrong, he didn’t know where to go. That’s why we have coaches who know our personalities and our swings.”

Sieckmann, fond of golf aphorisms, weighed in with some observations.

“Don’t confuse style with fundamentals,” he said, meaning there are different golf swings that can achieve the same fundamental positions and results.

“Over-coaching is worse than no coaching. Skill is beyond technique,” Sieckmann said.

“Players tell you what they feel,” he concluded. “It’s not the same thing as what they do.”

Sieckmann, headquartered in Omaha, Neb., believes players should be held responsible for everything they do on the course. Pernice, who sees Sieckmann every two months or so, sends his coach a voice memo after every tournament round.

It’s the James and Tom Show, and amateurs might benefit tremendously by finding an instructor who believes in this close-knit approach to coaching.

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