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Golf: Immersion Therapy

James Y. Bartlett

You can read Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons and Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book a thousand times each and watch every Nicklaus videotape until it frays, but the only sure way to shave strokes off your handicap is to put in time on the practice range. However, touring pros, who practically live on the range, know that just beating balls is not enough: It takes the savvy eyes of a swing coach to make the minor adjustments that lead to a well-grooved swing. While a local club professional can be a good start to a better score, some club pros are more proficient at selling clubs and sweaters than teaching the swing.

There are a handful of nationally known instructors whose stocks rise and fall with the fortunes of their PGA protégés. Most ally themselves with eponymous golf schools offering one-, three-, or five-day instructional programs, but often they are off catering to the needs of their professional clients, leaving the actual teaching to acolytes. However, some of these golf gurus do make themselves available for private tutoring.

The current king of the golfing hill is Butch Harmon, who broke down and reassembled the swing of one Eldrick Woods. Although Tiger has said he will no longer depend as heavily on his advice, Harmon is not worried—he works with a dozen other top touring pros. Harmon does not rent himself out on a daily basis—at least not to mere mortals—but he does attend most sessions of the Butch Harmon School of Golf at the Rio Secco resort in Las Vegas. In 2003, he will teach at seven one-day sessions ($2,500) and 22 three-day sessions ($4,800), spending as much as four hours each day working with students and talking golf over lunch.


On the other hand, David Leadbetter, guru to such stars as Ernie Els, Nick Price, and Charles Howell III, can be all yours for part of a day. He has opened Leadbetter Golf Academies at luxury resorts around the world, but these days he does most of his teaching at the ChampionsGate resort complex near Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. While the lanky Zimbabwean has a bevy of trained instructors offering a wide range of customized instructional programs, you can hire the man himself to spend three hours in the morning watching your swing. The $5,000 tab includes a videotape record of the session and a round of golf (not including Leadbetter) in the afternoon.

If it is your short game that needs some tweaking, NASA engineer-turned-short-game-expert Dave Pelz is the man to see. Pelz will tell you that 74 percent of your score depends on what happens within 100 yards of the pin, which explains how he has made a fortune operating golf schools all over the country that concentrate only on chipping, pitching, sand play, and putting. Pros with the yips will pay anything for his advice. At $25,000 a day, Pelz’s time may seem pricey—unless you can never escape a bunker in one try, have no idea how to get up-and-down from a tight lie, or routinely miss pressure-packed 3-footers. An alternative is to attend a three-day Dave Pelz Scoring Game School, which will be held this year at Boca Raton, Fla.; Reynolds Plantation, Ga.; and La Quinta, Calif. Then, as a Pelz alumnus, you will qualify to enroll in one of the handful of “signature sessions” Pelz himself supervises every year.

Butch Harmon School of Golf, 702.777.2444, 888.867.3226, www.butchharmon.com;
Leadbetter Golf Academies, 407.787.3330, 888.633.5323, www.davidleadbetter.com;
Dave Pelz Scoring Game School, 512.263.7668, 800.833.7370, www.pelzgolf.com

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