2003: The Skilled Player - An exercise in trust

St. Augustine, Fla.

Swing speed, balance and neutral grip. Posture, take-away and alignment. Important terminology in the instructor-student relationship.

There is another word to remember, however, that is just as important to success in the golf classroom. Trust.

A teaching professional mistrusted by his student is an instructor whose lessons are lost. There is a relationship blooming at the World Golf Village’s PGA Tour Golf Academy that features high-tech video instruction, shot charts, lesson notes and other ingredients necessary for a successful game-improvement formula.

It also includes trust.

Scott Sackett, the academy’s director of instruction, began working with Brian Ingraham, a 15-year-old, self-taught golfer from New Jersey, on Nov. 12, 2002. There have been more than 25 one-on-one lessons since, all recorded (on video and in hand-written lesson notes).

At first glance, Ingraham might be any young player looking to improve his game. But Ingraham is not just any young player.

His desire to improve was the impetus behind the entire Ingraham family – father Bill, mother Leona Jablonski and 11-year-old sister Allison – moving from Tewksbury, N.J., to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. And they did so after Brian Ingraham had been playing golf all of three years.

Bill Ingraham – who pays Sackett $1,215 for a nine-hour block of instruction for Brian – owns a New Jersey printing company that he oversees from Florida. He has made this move so his son – who shoots in the low- to mid-70s and has won two junior tournaments since moving to Florida – could have a chance to chase a dream.

“It is not a path I would necessarily recommend for everyone, but Brian is no ordinary kid,” said Sackett, a disciple of instructor Jim McLean who splits time between Resort Golf Schools in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the World Golf Village in St. Augustine. “He’s extremely talented, mature and intelligent.

“His dedication is incredible and he has an amazing understanding of the golf swing, particularly when you consider he’s been playing such a short time.”

Ingraham is home-schooled so he can spend more time on golf. His regimen includes some sort of golf or golf-improvement training 6 or 7 days a week. He tries to take one day off every week, but sometimes there are tournaments, or an unquenchable thirst for extra time on the range or in the gym.

All in the name of golf.

“I realize I’m very lucky to be in this position,” Ingraham said. “I am here for one reason, to see how far I can go. And working here, with someone I trust, I know I will be able to take my game to another level.”

Trust. An important factor to be sure, particularly when reconstructing a golf swing. While Ingraham came to Florida as a 14-year-old with the ability to shoot in the mid-70s, his swing was in need of attention. He entrusted it to Sackett.

His grip was weak, his stance narrow, his head too far forward at address and there was too much upper-body movement. All these problems were recorded in Sackett’s notes during Ingraham’s first lesson, and all continue to be addressed.

But the most glaring problem with Ingraham’s swing when he came to Sackett was that his hands were far too high at the top of his backswing, forcing his left arm to an angle of 63 degrees. (He’s right-handed).

“His hands being so high was the first thing I noticed, and when we looked at his swing on video he was shocked,” Sackett said.

Sackett estimates the average PGA Tour player has a 49-degree left-arm angle. If a player’s backswing is too flat, it’s akin to a merry-go-round. Ingraham’s swing was more like a ferris wheel: too upright.

In order to get the shaft back on plane before striking the ball, Ingraham was making impromptu adjustments on the way down. He was making the adjustments well enough to score, but it was an imperfect swing that was subject to inconsistency. The plane angle of his shaft at address and impact was 50 degrees, and that’s about the angle his left arm should have been at the top of the backswing. But it was at 63 degrees, far too large a discrepancy for Sackett’s liking.

“He didn’t even realize he was doing it,” Sackett said. “And that’s not unusual. When you teach the golf swing, you find out very quickly that what a swing feels like to a player isn’t necessarily what is actually happening.”

So Sackett and Ingraham went to work.

The minor problems, as you might expect, were easier to correct. They worked on strengthening Ingraham’s grip. They began a six-step routine to improve posture at address. There was emphasis on keeping Ingraham’s left pocket aligned with the ball at address. And they worked on keeping his head (and along with it, his upper body) still and behind the ball at impact.

Repetition and reminders have combined to combat the tendencies, but the biggest battle has been that 63-degree angle.

“We’ve worked really hard on that,” Ingraham said. “Being flatter on the take-away has been the biggest way to keep my left arm at proper angle at the top of my backswing. Now it’s to the point where I’m almost too flat sometimes.

“Before I had a weak grip and my take-away was too upright. Now, I feel like my grip’s too strong and I’m a little too flat.”

Such a sensation of overcompensation is not uncommon. In fact, it is welcome. Ingraham might feel as if his grip is too strong and his backswing too flat, but the reality might be quite different. When Ingraham has all the angles

correct, and his swing is close to perfect, it feels to him as if his hands stay below his beltline and that they are too far behind his body. That’s what it feels like, but that’s not what shows up on video. The grip is stronger and the backswing certainly is flatter than the first lesson in December, but it feels even stronger and flatter to Ingraham because it goes against his natural tendencies.

Even if the overcompensation is genuine, it’s a good thing, according to Sackett.

“If the angle of his left arm is at 45 degrees on the range and we’d like it to be closer to 50, that’s fantastic,” Sackett said. “Because I promise you, tendencies take over when a player goes out on the course to play a competitive round.

“So, if Brian’s at 45 on the range, his tendency to have his hands too high will come into play on the course. That will bring him up to about 50 degrees, which is right where we want him.”

Sackett’s idea of “right where we want him,” coincides precisely with Ingraham’s. So they travel together on a path that they hope someday leads to the PGA Tour, trusting that each will contribute to the goal.

“I am confident, but also realistic,” said Ingraham, before heading back to the range.

“I trust (Sackett) enough to know I’m on the right track.”

Trust. There’s that word again.

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