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Golf's forgotten prophet

By Lawrence Henry
web posted July 30, 2001

There are two high churches of the golf swing. In one, doctrine holds that the body swings the arms; David Leadbetter is its best known high priest. In the other, doctrine says the arms swing the body. Its priest is Jim Flick.

Thousands of words, many of them very bad, have been written on this subject. (As any writer knows, describing a physical action precisely and effectively is just about the toughest task in prose.) Late in his career, Ben Hogan collaberated with illustrator Anthony Ravielli and writer Herbert Warren Wind to produce the first modern golf instruction book, Ben Hogan's Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf. It's hard to say where Hogan falls on the arms-body/body-arms catechism. His work - he was the first golfer ever to practice in a systematic way - is so rich that adherents of both faiths claim him.

Tiger Woods

And, as you might expect, both schools of the golf swing seem to have produced much the same result, golfers whose swings derive in some way or other from the Hogan model. Celebrated swing examplars like David Frost, Tiger Woods, Steve Elkington, Tom Purtzer, and star Leadbetter pupil Nick Faldo are clearly Hogan types.

But while Hogan developed his insights about taking the club back on one plane, then delivering it forward on another, uncoiling the knees, hips, shoulders, arms, and hands in sequence, another golfer from Texas was also digging his own lessons out of the dirt, and coming up with an equally successful technique that looked very different: Lee Trevino.

Trevino always said he wasn't a swinger of the club at all. "I'm a blocker," he would explain. He took the club back high, with an open stance (left, or front, foot back), then bulled it forward on an inside path with a ferocious torso turn. Like Hogan in his early career, Trevino had had to fight a hook (a left-curving shot). As Jay Nordlinger pointed out to me in a recent e-mail, it was Trevino who said, "You can talk to a fade, but a hook won't listen." (A fade curves the other way.)

Other than Paul Azinger, almost no one today swings the golf club like Lee Trevino. Trevino's own book, Groove Your Golf Swing My Way is listed on as "out of print - limited availability." Hogan's book is in print in several editions, with learned commentary from contemporary instructors.

Lee Trevino

Among recreational players, that's a pity. It is far, far easier and more effective for a non-athlete (and that's what all of us recreational players are; sorry, guys) to set up and swing like Lee Trevino than like Ben Hogan. There are fewer things to coordinate - forget all that knees, legs, hips, arms, wrists uncoiling stuff - and the Trevino model promotes the one thing recreational players chronically fail to do: Turn.

Yes, combining all that whippy shoulder-arm-wrist action with a body turn produces more power and more ability to hit more different shots. But amateurs regularly fail to get their body into the swing, and without the body, nothing else works. The Trevino model emphasizes the body, almost to an ungraceful degree - perhaps the reason more golfers don't do it; they think it looks funny.

There is no doubt it works. Trevino once wrote an article on hitting a driver for Golf Digest. In the months afterward, the magazine was deluged with with letters from deliriously happy golfers who were hitting better tee shots than ever.

In the golf swing, you can't have everything - unless you're an athletic prodigy like Tiger Woods, and there's only one of those. Instead, you have to find one fundamental that works, that creates a strong, reliable, square hit on the ball. Lee Trevino found it.

I have saved a video tape of Lee Trevino's last win on the Senior Tour. I don't remember which event it was; Trevino was 57 or so at the time. On the tape label, it simply says "Trevino."

That's the tape I'm going to show my sons when they get serious about the game. ESR

Lawrence Henry is a regular contributor to Enter Stage Right.

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