Tee Up Your Best Game
Bring your score down and your opponents to their knees with these hard-won tips from the county’s top golf pros
photographs by Visko Hatfield
For such a social game, golf is also the great refuge for rugged individualists. And at no time in golf does one witness the self-guided maverick in action more than when it comes to scheduling an actual lesson: Many folks simply want to go it alone. But there’s no reason to be intimidated, says Cory Muller, head golf pro at Country Club of Darien. “There’s nothing you can do in front of me that I haven’t seen a hundred times before.” While golf teachers generally have the patience of midwives, they also have different coaching styles and strengths. To compile the technique tips on the following pages, we consulted with five pros at some of the area’s top clubs. Every course, public and private, has a PGA-trained professional on-site, ready to solve problems with a personalized approach.
Location: Country Club of Darien
Game Philosophy: Have a plan
His Past: Pro at Country Club of Purchase
Where He Competes: Local Met PGA Section tournaments
Local Boy: Cory and his wife just moved to Norwalk.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
Cory Muller is a big believer in having a plan. No matter if his client just wants to hit the gosh-darned fairway more often or succeed in the U.S. Open qualifiers (including the one at Country Club of Darien), Muller wants to sit down with that striver and map out a course of action. “One of my strengths as a teacher is to be able to identify what the goals are and how we can move toward those goals,” he says.
With the action plan mapped out, Muller employs a handy teaching tool: the video camera in his iPad. Amateurs, of course, might be leary of anyone recording their barnstorming golf swings, but the video camera can help students dismantle the odd habits that have cursed their game for years. “What people think they’re doing and what they are doing is not necessarily the same,” says Muller. “When I turn on that camera, players are generally astonished. ‘That can’t be what I did,’ they’ll say. ‘That doesn’t feel like what I did.’ We have a saying about this: There’s feel, and then there’s real.”
Muller has stored numerous images of tour pros on his iPad so that he can show his students how their swings compare. “For instance, an important part of the game is making sure your clubface is square to your target at impact,” says Muller. “The best players in the world get the clubface square. If you can do that, it may overshadow some of the other not-so-great aspects of your swing, and you’ll be able to get the ball down the fairway and on the green.” As Muller’s photo collection shows, the key to perfecting this move is to let the clubface rotate at the same speed as the body. “It’s a bit counterintuitive to the way many people have been playing,” he says, employing the modest understatement of the teaching pro who doesn’t want to say that your swing might be better suited to swatting flies.
“People generally have reasonable hand-eye coordination, so maybe their ability to move their hands and arms is more intuitive,” he says. “Learning how to actually rotate your body, turn and shift your weight, is a bit more challenging. The bigger muscles take a while to train.” Training those big muscles, however, is much easier when a professional like Muller draws lines on his iPad screen and shows how a proper and elegant swing can lead to effortless power and satisfying control.
Swing Tip: Muller says a common mistake made by beginners is to hold the club tightly in the belief that the clubface should stay pointing at the target. This actually causes a loss of power due to the lack of wrist hinge, as well as bad directional control. “Learn to rotate the forearms at the same speed as your body as you take the club back,” he says. “When the club is belt-high and parallel to the ground, the toe of the clubface should be pointing straight up in the air. Now the clubface is square.”
Location: Birchwood Country Club, Westport
Professional Wins: The New England Open
Fun Fact: Eleven hole-in-ones in her life; two in competition
Resume: Ranked among LGPA’s 50 best women instructors
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Like many of her clients, Kammy Maxfeldt follows the sun in winter. Last season she was in West Palm Beach, where she noticed a pattern: People approached the game differently in the south. “In Florida, they don’t seem to have doctors’ appointments and houses that need work. Many players appear to have the whole day to play. Up here, everyone has something to do so they just cram all of their golf into four hours.”
A golfer on a tight schedule is a golfer who doesn’t stretch first, and thus does not play anywhere near his or her capabilities. Maxfeldt has become an ardent devotee among professionals who are getting students to pay more attention to their bodies. “People think of the first few holes as just a warm-up,” she says. “By the fifth or sixth hole, they’re hitting it a club farther. But if they had just hit fifteen or twenty balls first, or stretched for a few minutes, they could have saved three or four shots.” Maxfeldt wishes everyone would stretch. “We active baby boomers are prone to injuries now, and that’s why we stress stretching before you go out to play, whether it’s at home or just using the golf cart to put your leg up on and warm up those hamstrings. Twenty years ago you barely asked anyone if they were hurt. But people are so physically active now, and playing sports later in life has created a lot of injuries. Those knees took a pounding when they were playing tennis in the eighties.”
Warming up beforehand is critical, but anyone who suffers post-round stiffness should bear in mind that it’s also important to do some stretching after the round, when your muscles are all warm and pliant. “If you do it after,” Maxfeldt grins, “you’re not going to need as much before.” Some of the best exercises can be found at mytpi.com, a site managed by the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI). Maxfeldt is in the process of getting her certification from TPI; she’ll be one of just a handful of pros in the area with that credential. The benefits of being observed by a TPI-certified instructor can be astonishing. Those pulled shots and weak slices might just be the result of a tight hip muscle. “Hitting the fairways might not be a call for a new $300 driver but rather a few timely stretches,” she says.
Swing Tip: Maxfeldt can help you develop a good drill to get off the first tee. Do not stand ready at the ball and look down the fairway at your target in the hopes of being lined up right. Do stand behind the ball to line it up. “You are lining up the club, not your eyeline,” says Maxfeldt. “After you get the club in a comfortable position that will allow you to hit correctly, then slide your feet and your body into position.”
For the complete list of pros who know pick up New Canaan Darien Magazine's July/August 2012 issue.