Tale of the Tape

One Student’s Way to Better Golf

September 22, 2004

Robert Nanton made his appearance today. Mr. Nanton has been coming down from Fort Washington, Maryland to vacation at Massanutten Resort for years, and for years he has showed up at Lakeview for his annual golf lesson. He is one of the interesting people who make my job as a teaching professional so enjoyable.

The tall, thin, soft-spoken gentleman showed up in his clam-digger jeans shorts that hung almost low enough to meet his dark socks, and the multicolored long-sleeve shirt that gave him a little buffer against the cool air on this first morning of autumn. Gray hairs peeked around the bottom edge of his Nike hat, which, along with his Nike clubs and the striped headcover, suggested his affinity for all things Tiger.

quote-tape-aBesides his friendly demeanor, one of the things I always remember about Mr. Nanton is his unique way of retaining the material we cover during a lesson-he uses a tape recorder. I recall riding around the Spring Nine at Lakeview two years ago, talking to the tape recorder about risk/reward analysis, playing the odds, and other aspects of course management. And last year, at the practice green we talked about pitching and chipping techniques.

It is a little different talking to a tape recorder, but I like the challenge of keeping a lesson concise and clear enough that it is worth hearing several times over. And the important thing is that it seems to help Mr. Nanton. He had a little trouble remembering which pouch on his golf bag had tees in it, but he was not going to forget our lessons, not if the tape had anything to say.

Mr. Nanton returned to Lakeview for his annual checkup this morning, and sure enough, there was the recorder. It seemed I was off the hook, though, because he had forgotten to change the batteries.

So we started the lesson without the recorder, and I noticed that Mr. Nanton had a few common tendencies in his setup and swing. His posture was a little too upright, which raised his hands a bit high, which in turn made the shaft too upright. The problem with this kind of setup is that the shoulders are likely to swing on a flat plane, while the club needs to swing on a steep plane. Imagine trying to chop firewood while riding a merry-go-round; that is what it is like to swing with the shoulders and arms moving in different planes.

In Mr. Nanton’s case, the flat shoulder turn contributed to a common backswing problem: his arms wrapped too far around his body. I usually try to convince golfers to keep the arms, hands, and club “inside the box”. To test this, I have a golfer make a backswing. Then I extend my arms and put a hand on each of his shoulders. If my arms hit his arms or elbows, then he did not keep his backswing “inside the box”.

quote-tape-bThe idea is to have the club, arms, and the body work in partnership throughout the swing, which is what some people call being “connected”. The lead arm crossing the chest excessively, and a flying elbow in the backswing means there is poor connection, usually because the arms pull back independent of the body.

So I had Mr. Nanton bend his spine forward more, until the club shaft and his spine were almost perpendicular to each other. “Oh, I like this,” he said after hitting just one ball. He was able to turn his shoulders on a steeper plane, which allowed the arms to swing upward, rather than around the body. Having done this, Mr. Nanton started practicing a swing that was in a better plane and more connected, and the ball was less likely to fly straight off to the right side.

After our session, I moved to another part of the driving range for my next lesson. Mr. Nanton stayed and kept working on his new backswing for the whole hour. My next lesson after that was on the course. When I came back, Mr. Nanton was still there, making slow-motion backswings to check out his positions. With that kind of dedication, I’m sure he will figure it out very quickly.

By the way, Mr. Nanton found a power cord for the tape recorder, so we spent our last ten minutes in the pro shop talking about posture and staying in the box. I hope the tape helps him, and I look forward to seeing him and his improved swing again next year.

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