Saturday, June 25, 2011

20 Questions With Nick Clearwater

Nick is probably one of the two or three best instructors that you have never heard of. You just met John Graham who falls into that catagorie as well, and hopefully over the next few months you’ll get to hear from several more under the radar instructors.

For the last few years, Nick  has been a true road warrior. Logging thousands of miles on the PGA Tour  working with Stack and Tilters Charlie Wi, Troy Matteson, Bill Lunde, and Eric Axley among others.  Over the last few months he has been conducting 3D testing and analysis on dozens of tour players.  I would venture to say that he has as much  knowledge of what’s going on with the golf swings of the guys with their names on their bags than anyone that get’s paid to do that sort of stuff.  I have been fortunate enough to work closely with Nick at The Links and Tees Golf Facility in Addison Illinois for the past two seasons. A golf instructor might work his entire career and never have the opportunity to train with a coach that has first hand experience coaching and teaching PGA Tour professionals.  He has been kind enough to go under the 20 Questions knife for a little exploratory surgery. Enjoy J

1. Jack or Tiger?

2. What do tomorrows instructors need to focus on to be successful and will technology become more important or less important?
       Tomorrows instructors need to learn how to study, research, & understand how the golf    swing truly works. 3D technology is crucial to learning how the swing works, but I have only met a handful of instructors that can decipher the information well enough to use it correctly. Keeping up with technology is important in every profession; Golf is no different.

3. What will be the most relevant form of technology for instructors in 10 years?
       Most likely Doppler Radar, but I am still going to be reading 3d graphs every night ;)
4. Do you think the Golf ball goes too far?
       Only on the PGA Tour
5. What's the best golf course in the world?
          Pine Valley

6. What's the best golf course you have ever played?
          Pine Valley

7. Who was your brush with greatness with in golf?
       I have been fortunate enough to meet Jack Nicklaus & Arnold Palmer, but hanging out with “Big” Al Geiberger is by far the most exciting. Al has seen EVERYTHING in golf.
8. Who was your non-golf brush with greatness?
Probably ESPN President ,George Boddenheimer. He’s not only the most powerful man in all of sports, but one of the nicest guys I’ve EVER met.

9. Jack or Arnie?
      Jack on the course and Arnie off of it.

10. Greatest instructor of all time?
        Andy Plummer and Michael G. Bennett will ALWAYS be my heroes. I will never be able to thank them enough for teaching me how to study the swing and master a system of measuring it.
 11. Regardless of sport, who is the greatest coach of all time?
          Mike Ditka 1a and Phil Jackson 1b

12. How big a role will fitness play in the next decade and are swing flaws physical causations?
         Fitness and strength training are important for everyone’s general health. Golf pros are not doctors of physical therapy. It would be appropriate if all instructors could recognize that FACT. The last time I told a student he/she was not flexible and/or strong enough to make a golf related movement that was necessary to push and draw a golf ball was in 2003.
13. How well do you think an instructor should play and can you quantify it?
          Yes, an instructor should be able to play reasonably well. Teachers that cannot demonstrate their own material really do not understand how the swing works. A teacher should be able to demonstrate and articulate with some precision how to curve a ball.
14. Who is your dream foursome?
       Arnold Palmer, Don Rickles, and Gary McCord (you’re just an idiot if you don’t pick Rickles and McCord)
15.Would you rather qualify for the US Open as a player or play a role in helping one of     
    your current students that are non currently on tour make it out there?
    I would rather have a player make it out on the PGA Tour

16. Bob Jones or Ben Hogan?
     Jones had a better backswing
17. What rule or rules would you like to see changed or abolished by the USGA?
        The USGA rules are fine, but get rid of scorecards on the PGA Tour. Pointless.

18. Clubface or Path?
     Both, can’t have one without the other.

19. Do you think Tiger will catch Jack's 18 majors?

20. Prioritize these areas of the game in order of importance 1 being the most important and
       8 the least.

Putting                                      1.  Ball Striking
Driving                                      2.  Putting
Chipping /Pitching                      3.  Chipping/ Pitching
Wedge Game                           4.  Course/Game Management 
Ball Striking                              5 . Driving
Specialty Shots                         6.  Wedge Play
Game/Course Management       7.  Specialty Shots
Fairway Woods/Hybrids             8. Fairways Woods/Hybrids

    Bonus Question - Teacher or coach?
      Coach, but IMO it’s just semantics.

     Double Bonus Question - Zeppelin or Stones?
 I am 33 not 83, Ronnie! Ouch, That’s gonna’ leave a mark ;-(
Triple Bonus – Maddona or Gaga?
Brittany when she was still hot!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

20 Questions With John Graham

It's been pretty amazing how the internet has impacted golf instruction. Even more amazing is how it has made several instructors celebrities in the instruction community almost overnight. A handful of guys have created their own brand and jump started their careers just by promoting themselves and their methodologies. All you have to do is develop a website, administer a message board forum, and the next thing you know you have a posse of followers ready to fight for you. Prior to about 2003 the only way an instructor could attain a modicum of notoriety on a national level was if he campaigned within his local you know you have a posse of followers willing to fight for you.  It used to be that the only way to get your name out into the public consciousness  was to be lucky enough to be seen on a PGA tour practice range with a lanyard containing a coveted PGA practice range instructor credential. If you were really lucky, one of your players might have had some success or possibly wins out there and mentions your name on TV or in the media. Thank goodness there are guys out there now that don't have to shamelessly self promote to garner attention for their craft.  I want to illuminate some professionals that I have personally researched, corresponded with, and in a sense vetted over the past few years by giving them an opportunity to answer some pretty intriguing questions. Today marks the first installment of 20 Questions With. We ask them questions that they might not typically offer opinions on in their internet worlds. Some of the questions might be a little controversial. Others might not be so golf related. But rest assured they will stimulate conversation within the golf instruction community. The first installment will be 20 Questions with John Graham.

John is a senior instructor with Aim Point Technologies. Aim Point is arguably the hottest new instruction program in the business these days. John conducted a fundamental green reading class here in Chicago last month at Links and Tees in Addison, Illinois and I was fortunate to spend a couple of days with him while he was in town. Rest assured I worked him over pretty good.

John lives at home with his wife Kristin and their four children. He can be reached at

1.  Where do you think golf instruction will be in 10 years? I think golf instruction will be very similar to how it is today. However, I think it will be more reasonably priced with lots of emphasis on 3D motion capture, both in club and body with a better understanding of how the body works in this act.  This will be good for the elite player but I don’t see much change in the type of instruction for the average player.
2.  If you could use only one piece of technology what would it be? As of now, it would be Trackman, assuming you’re talking about the full swing.
3.  Jack or Arnie? Arnie
4.  How did you get into Aim Point? I got into AimPoint after watching a video that used to be offered by David Orr called Green Reading 201. After watching it, I contacted Mark(Sweeney) and the rest is history.
5.  What would be your dream foursome? Ben Hogan, Mickey Wright, and Arnold Palmer.
6.  What is the best golf course you’ve ever played? Oak Hill East. No tricks just golf course saying come and get me if you can.
7.  Tiger or Jack? Jack
8.  Do you think Tiger will reach Jack’s record of 18 majors? I never thought Tiger was going to break Jack’s record.
9.  Path or clubface? Clubface.
10. If you had a student that came to you with a big pull slice that was 15 degrees  outside to in, and a square clubface at the top how would you fix him? Move his path more to the right. What if he had a closed clubface? Move his path more to the right. And finally, what if his face was open at the top? Move his path more to the right. With each fix tell us why you fixed in that manner. I would fix them all in the same manner because that is the piece they need. All the while, I would pay particular attention to how the path change affects the face.
11. Who are your top 5 instructors that no one has ever heard of. James    Ridyard, Jason Sutton, Jason Helman, Paul Horton and Jamie Donaldson
12. What would you do to help Tiger Woods if he called and wanted to hire      you as his swing coach? I would work on his downswing and follow through plane. I think he still swings to far right.
13. What is your greatest achievement as a golf instructor? Having five  students of mine that I taught how to play golf as youngsters play for me on a college team and win the National Championship.
14. Johnny Miller or Nick Faldo? Johnny Miller
15. What frustrates you the most about popular instruction?  It’s unwillingness to provide information in a correct fashion. I hate when complex info is dumbed down because they are afraid players won’t understand the truth.
16. What rules do you think the USGA should change or abolish? I think they are fine. I think their application is sometime miss used.
17. What age should parents  start their children with golf instruction? If the instructor understands how to work with kids, I would say when the child asks for them.
18.  What would be the most important piece of advice you would give parents about raising their child as a competitive golfer? Continue to have them play additional sports.
19. Fitness or properly fitted equipment? Properly fitted equipment.
20. Short game or ball striking? AimPoint =)
Bonus Question:

Lady Gaga or Madonna ;-)

Madonna. All day.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Apex Putting and Where To Start Your Putts

Back in May when John Graham conducted our Aim Point Level I class, I was surprised but not shocked at how many students thought that the apex was the aim point of a breaking putt. I myself aimed that way for years. I still have this debate with a few really good players about this issue. I also have the debate with some good players on whether or not people truly see the line of a putt as a curve. So called aiming expert, Mike Shannon claims that there are two types of aiming styles- linear and non-linear, and that all golfers fall into one of the two camps. He also believes that you are born this way and should not try to change.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Families for ALS

I met Dr. Andy Schroeder when I went to his partner, Dr. Paul Castle for some symptoms I was experiencing with my elbow. I always look forward to going to their office because of the family atmosphere. Also because during football season Andy loves to talk about the Green Bay Packers, or during baseball season the St. Louis Cardinals. We could literally talk about sports in general all day. I've only met a few guys more passionate about their sports teams than Andy Schroeder. Every two months or so when I start having symptoms I go see Paul or Andy for some ART therapy. Back in April I was in the waiting area and Andy came out of his office and was limping. I made the comment that he looked like he was getting old and starting to 'cripple up" as we say down south. Always the jokester he made some comment about how he was getting too old to continue to run in marathons. Later in his office while he was working on my elbow he told me something that took my breath. "You know how you mentioned my limp while you waiting to see me? Just so you know, I was just diagnosed with ALS". Well, obviously I just went blank. I didn't know what to say. What do you say to someone that tells you they have an incurable disease? In fact, he apologized to me for dropping the bomb so nonchalantly. Your first reaction is to try to convince them that maybe there was a mis-diagnosis or that they should see another doctor. He told me that he had been having the symptoms since the fall of 2010 when after running in the Chicago Marathon, he had a hamstring cramp that wouldn't go away. After seeing several doctors, he finally went to the Mayo Clinic and they confirmed the diagnosis. Of course he joked about it was just a bad cold. That's the kind of guy he is.

Andy Schroeder was born to help people and make them feel better. When something like this happens to someone like him, it just takes all the fun out of life for the rest of us. I hate it when people use the cliche "it put's things in perspective" because we should already have things in perspective.  The perspective is that everything does happen for a reason. Whether you believe in God, Buddha, a door knob, or a bag of cheetos, when we look back in 20 years on the impact that people or their circumstances have made in our little worlds that's when it might make some sense. For now all we can do is the best we can to make some sense out of it and help out those who are directly effected by it.

On Tuesday August 23rd, Andy's partner Paul is conducting the first annual Families for ALS golf outing at Hilldale Golf Course in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. The proceeds will go to the ALS foundation and to set up a scholarship fund for Andys daughter who was just born last fall. The golf outing starts at 9:00 am and later on Tuesday evening, a dinner and fundraising auction will be held at Chicago Prime Steakhouse. The format for the outing will be a 4-person scramble. We will have several skills contests as well as an opportunity to Beat The Pro on a par 3- if we can find a suitable professional to donate his time and mad skills.

Please be advised that I will be relentless in my pursuit to get as many teams as I can to participate in this endeavor. I will bother, shame, and pester everyone of you to field a team,  participate in every skills contest, and attend the dinner between now and August 23rd.  For more information and details and to register go to:

For those of you that are not familiar with Bruce Edwards. He was the caddy for Tom Watson who succumbed to ALS in 2004. Here is a short video about him.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

How Wide Is The Golf Hole, and What Is the Correct Amount of Loft on Your Putter?

How wide is a golf hole? Four and a quarter inches in diameter for sure. But what if you hit it too hard?Does it get smaller? Jack Nicklaus always felt that if he hit the ball just hard enough to get it there, it actually gave it a better chance of going in because effectively the hole got larger. This was pretty forward thinking in the era before we had technology to hang our hats on and tells us what was actually happening when the collision of clubface and ball occured. I found this first video that was shot at 1000fps on You Tube. It was produced by the Aim Point guys and it shows how the ball behaves if it is hit with enough speed to carry it passed the hole 14 inches.

This next video was produced by Aim Point as well. It shows how the ball leaves the face with three different loft angles on the putter face. Whoever is rolling these putts is using a Edel putter. This particular model has an adjustable face plate. I'm not crazy about the idea of having a lot of removable components on my putter, but Edel has some of the best quality and craftsmanship available today. When you purchase an Edel putter, it includes a comprehensive fitting session that focuses on several areas. But their main focus is on alignment. They believe like I do that the aiming the putter face correctly is the most important aspect of consistent putting. However, in this video the emphasis is on how a loft angle closer to zero at impact keeps the ball lower to the ground sooner than the the industry standard of 4 to 5 degrees of loft angle. There are a lot of really smart putting gurus that want you to putt with as much loft as you can stand. For years I have had to explain why I bend my putters to around 1 or 2 degrees of loft. My answer has always been that in my experience the ball comes off the face with a truer roll. If the ball has a true roll as soon as it comes off the face then you can minimize the effects of a less than perfect putting surface. The ball will track to the hole like it's hugging the ground and won't be as likely to bounce off line if it hits a spike mark, old ball mark, or many of the imperfections that most of us are forced to deal with. Not all of us are fortunate enough to putt on the Augusta- like surfaces that some of my friends at Butterfield and Chicago Highlands do.  ;-) 
Good putters seem to have their own style or individual procedure and mechanics. There are just a few fundamentals that I like my students to adhere to. One is aiming the putter face where you want the ball to start. To do this you MUST have some type of system or procedure that ensures that you are in fact aiming where you think you are. For me that using the line on the ball. If you are not using a line, logo or side stamp I highly recommend that you do so. But only if you are prepared to make more putts and shoot lower scores. If that's not your thing don't sweat it. Another key to good putting is to develop and refine stroke mechanics that allow you to make the ball roll and track to the hole as soon as possible. For some good putters, having 5 or 6 degrees of loft helps them do this. However, I don't know any that aren't on the PGA Tour or are highly ranked amateur players that compete at the highest amateur level. One other important aspect of consistent putting is the mentality that you a ARE a good putter that doesn't putt scared and tries to MAKE everything. Trying to make everything doesn't necessarily mean that you hit every putt inside 6 feet hard enough to take all the break out. Trying to make everything is a mentality. The mentality that you have when you have a gimme 10 inches from the hole. Think about this: When was the last time you had a swing thought over a gimme putt? At the most you might think about covering the hole with the blade of your putter. Never use swing thoughts that include the word don't. Always think in the positive do realm.