I started teaching golf over 26 years ago when video was not available for the average consumer. In 1985, when the first consumer VHS camcorder became available, I bought it. It was great to be able to view a golf swing for the first time with such clarity.
Though shutter speeds were not quite fast enough to get a great stop action, it was the best that any consumer could buy. I got some great videos of old stars like Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Payne Stewart, Fred Couples and more when they would visit the Hawaiian Open. Being in Hawaii, I always thought it would be so great if I could actually see the best teachers of my era. Luckily, I got to see Bob Toski, then took lessons from Jimmy Ballard and I was hooked on learning from the best. I knew that I would really be better at my craft if I learned from others versus trying to learn it all by myself. But these guys were simply not as technical nor precise with their teaching as I thought they should be, so I kept my eye out for someone better.
By the late 1980’s, the protege of David Leadbetter, Nick Faldo began to win. Other players in the stable like Denis Watson and Nick Price were also very good players. I thought, “wouldn’t it be great to learn from David Leadbetter?” So in 1990 I called their office and soon I was booked for his weekend retreat at Lake Nona. Spending two eight-hour days hitting golf balls, chipping and putting was a dream come true. I certainly learned a lot but after a while I knew I just didn’t get it all. I didn’t get all the “secrets.” I eventually learned that my friend from junior golf days, Donald Hurter was a top assistant for Mr. Leadbetter. I looked him up and soon visited him to pick his brain and learn as much as I could about the golf swing. Later I also came to meet with Gary Gilchrist, the builder of the great Leadbetter junior golf academy. I also learned a lot from him and assisted him with clinics across our state.
Through these two former top assistants of Leadbetter I eventually realized that the system was flawed. It took me at least a dozen years to finally realize that his whole system was a bit of a contradiction. Leadbetter says “athletic” but doesn’t teach how an athlete moves. He says it relies on big muscles, but really the players hit with a flip. He taught many people about the plane, but the plane he’s talking about revolves around flippin’ it.
By the mid-1990’s digital video began to hit the scene. Though very expensive (over $10,000) and using an ultra fast (NOT!) 166 MHz dedicated computer, I bought the first generation Astar computer for doing digital video analysis. For the first time, side-by-side analysis of a student’s swing versus that of the top pros became a reality. This absolutely was a big step forward.
But the limiting factor in this process was the cameras. Shooting at 60 frames per second, too much information was missed. On the lookout for the next best thing, I knew that high speed cameras were the way to go. But the cost was way too high. Fastec had a sports camera that was capable of shooting at 240 frames per second but at a pretty high cost of at least $8000 for the whole set up including a dedicated computer to handle the video, I balked at getting this. Then when I heard that Casio was coming out with a $1000 camera capable of shooting 300 frames per second, I got excited. Of course I was one of the first in the US to get this camera since I got it from Japan before it was released in the US……and it was awesome!
My rise to this level of thinking started with the invention of the SpeedChains, which back in 2001 was a huge breakthrough in the ability to train athletes at a high speed with a variable resistance. Almost ten years later, the SpeedChains are finally beginning to be seen for what it is; a revolutionary way to train for complex movements with a level of specificity and speed that still reigns supreme.
But my travels and travails in promoting the SpeedChains taught me some lessons about how the world really is. I figured that if I wanted the SpeedChains to be a staple in gyms across the country I should start at the top and it would eventually trickle down to everyone below. So I sought out the top trainers in the country. Found that the granddaddy of weight training was Boyd Epley of the University of Nebraska. Since I had a student at Nebraska, I tried to set up a meeting with him to show him what I thought. Success! So I went to Nebraska and had a very short meeting with him. I opened my box to show him my prototypes and in 30 seconds he says, “I know this is not going to work. Why would you want to make it get heavier at impact?”
Dumbfounded at his response and questions, I said “that’s where forces will be highest.” So he brings in his top assistant, a carrot top kind of guy who later was to become head strength coach at USC to argue with me. Apparently, he was too proud to argue so he let his assistant do the talking and we argued our points for another ten minutes. But I could see they weren’t going to budge and I certainly wasn’t going to either.
Later, Boyd shows me his million dollar machine based on the exact opposite theory of mine! Now I understood why he could not accept my idea. He thought that by building a gigantic rubber band machine to help athletes lift heavy weights faster, it would really make them faster. So imagine if you’re trying to squat with 500 lbs. on your back and this machine would help pull it up. This obviously does enable a faster lift, but isn’t this illogical. I thought the point of lifting weights was that YOU need to lift the weight? If this were true, then why not make a machine do 99% of the lifting and you’d move even faster!
I packed up and left the place. Later Boyd was demoted to redoing the Cornhusker mascot. Shows you why wasting a million dollars on a poor concept is not good for job security.
Next, I went to an author of many books on strength and physical training, Juan Carlos Santana. He’s known as one of the top of the strength coaches in the US and was then on the board of Perform Better (the largest online training products website) to evaluate new products. I went to Boca Raton to demo my product for him. Since he was a bit late in showing up, I walked around his gym to see what he had. He spent 1.5 million dollars on his gym so I wondered what might be in there. Well, nothing out of the ordinary. There were free weights, machine weights with rope attachments, medicine balls, rubber bands/tubing, dumbbells, heavy punching bag, speed bag, Versa trainer, balance pads, and more. But I saw nothing different than the things I saw at Nebraska or at the University of Hawaii’s gym or any gym in the country. So what’s so special? Nothing, but he was much better at marketing and promotion than everyone else is the obvious answer.
He finally shows up and has a little time to spend trying to learn what I had developed. He sees something different and maybe worth looking into, but stops to say, “This is your baby. You must do the work of promoting it.” I often wondered how these guys could promote all the grand ideas of training for speed and specificity (talk a good game but not have one), but not really know it when it was right in front of their face.
So once again, I had reached for the top only to find a guy so proud of being a top dog that he wasn’t looking for anything new. It’s becoming all too familiar. Like a famous Zen author once wrote, “an expert’s mind is a closed mind.”
Those are just two of my travel stories, I have many more. But there was a silver lining to all of this. If there was anything to be learned, it was that the top guys are really no different than anyone else across the country. They may be more articulate or well versed with insider knowledge but they weren’t any smarter than I was. So I began to take this attitude towards golf instruction and started to question everything. Why would Tiger Woods be so dominant yet looked at with such scorn by the Leadbetter types? Could it be that Tiger represented the beginning of a new era in golf? Why can’t these people see the awesome athleticism in his swing? And how good are the top teachers in the world if they can’t understand that his way is better? Or do they just recruit and give scholarships to the best young talent like the Leadbetter Junior Academy does?
This healthy skepticism is what makes me try to learn and understand things for myself instead of trying to follow someone else’s ideas. Thus, after realizing that much instruction wasn’t very good (except for Butch), I began to search for new ideas. Being a technologist, I started to read more about biomechanics and the new technologies. Soon I bought a K-Vest and began to learn how to use and implement the biomechanical principles. But what I started to realize was that if you get your student’s graphs to look like the perfect kinetic link, their swings don’t look anything like Tiger’s. So what’s going on?
Skepticism set in and I had to do my research once again. I learned that the kinetic link or kinetic chain came from javelin throwing. Now it really takes some brains to figure this one out. You must watch European javelin throwers (who are far superior to the Americans), and they all look like they’re throwing while falling over vs. the Americans, who have perfect balance and form. Could it be that the Americans, who throw 20-30 meters shorter than the Europeans, have been taught a flawed principle? Could it be that by decelerating your lower body in the theoretical kinetic link principle manner that you could be ultimately decreasing your throw distance? Could it be that scientists in the lab don’t really care about the output?
The answers are pretty obvious since that is exactly what happens.”