George Peper: Self-Help…Help!

Recently, with the help of the good folks at Golf-Tec, I had occasion to watch my golf swing on video, something I hadn’t done in years. The experience was similar to listening to my voice on tape for the first time—I’d expected something a bit more pleasant.

The first thing I noticed was not my golf form but my overall appearance, with immediate attention to a thickening gut—I shouldn’t have worn those tight-fitting shorts. And I could have at least cleaned the mud off my shoes.

Next I was struck by how my increasingly slump-shouldered street posture had worked its way into my golf game. At address I appeared ready not to swing a golf club but to bob for apples. Given this Quasimodoid start, my backswing seemed decent enough—though my instructor would later point out a flaw or six.

It was at the top that things became distressing as somehow my upper body slid nearly a foot toward the target, producing a lumberjack assault on the ball. My backswing plane had become a downswing plane crash. The Golf-Tec guy, a terrific teaching professional, gave me some good tips and the overall swing thought of imitating Matt Kuchar’s super-flat move. We took another video and it showed I’d made some real progress.

Now I was hooked—but I needed to see incremental proof, more videos. Rather than sign up for a series of lessons from the Golf-Tec guy, however, I decided I could do it myself. (I now realize this was like deciding I could do my own knee replacement.)

Brimming with ignorance, I ordered a gizmo called the Rokfrom v3 Golf Shooter, a plastic iPhone case mounted on a four-foot long dowel that allows you to film your own swing—you just slip your phone into the case, stick the dowel into the ground, press the video button, and swing away.

Then I found a great free app called Ubersense Golf, which allows you to import swing videos, overlay them with all kinds of helpful lines and circles, just like the teaching pros do, and even compare your swing to the swings of tour pros. Ubersense didn’t have Matt Kuchar available but they did have Morgan Hoffmann who is about my height and weight and only 40 years younger.

These two products must be idiot-proof because on my first try everything went perfectly. Within moments of returning my 6-iron to the bag, I was staring at side-by-side sequences of Morgan and George. It was all very exciting—until I started watching the swings—then it was all very depressing.

Morgan, in addition to having a flatter stomach and cleaner shoes than I, appeared to be performing a completely different act. It was, as the Brits say, like chalk and cheese, and my half reeked of Limberger. My forward slide and downward thrash looked more desperate than ever. As beautiful as Morgan’s swing was, I couldn’t stand to look at it—not in such close proximity to mine.

After a half hour or so of slo-mos, rewinds, and stop-actions, I took my Rokform back to the rockpile, attempted some new and better moves, and filmed a sequel sequence. Through it all, though, I had the strange conviction that I wasn’t getting anywhere. After a review of the tape, the ruling on the field was confirmed.

I tried again—and again—using tips and techniques I’d gleaned from four decades of editing golf instruction: keep the head back, make a deeper turn, stand tip-toe on the left foot, drop the hands, fire the hips—filming and re-filming. Eventually I began to make a downswing that was less V-like and more of a U, where the clubshaft descended on a plane that fell beneath my shoulders rather than in the middle of my head. My impact improved, too—much less agricultural—and my shots began to fly higher and straighter.

All this happened over the course of two or three days. Then, last weekend, I headed out to the course to test my retooled swing. After an immaculate par at the first I played one of the worst rounds of my life.

It’s one thing to see your golf swing, even see what’s wrong and what you need to do—it’s quite another to make yourself make that happen. That’s what teaching pros are for. Happily, I still have the phone number of that Golf-Tec guy.