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Dave Pelz: Making golf easier would help grow the game

Mike BaileyBy Mike Bailey,
Senior Staff Writer
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Players coached by short-game expert Dave Pelz have combined to win 18 majors. (Mike Bailey/TravelGolf)

SPICEWOOD, Texas - Short-game researcher and instructor Dave Pelz may have a few detractors, but the former NASA scientist is arguably golf's most influential short-game expert of our time.

Two best-selling instruction books, a successful network of short-game schools and the trust of world's best players, including Phil Mickelson, have certainly validated his methods.

Pelz, who is the founder of the Pelz Golf Institute and World Putting Championships, has coached the likes of Lee Janzen, Phil Mickelson, Steve Elkington, Vijay Singh, Tom Kite, Mike Weir, Andy North, Tom Kite, Payne Stewart and Paul Azinger. Between them, they have won 18 majors.

His latest book, "Golf Without Fear," is due out this fall. It follows the more recent "Dave Pelz's Damage Control," and the highly successful "Putting Bible" and "Short Game Bible," which were designed as the ultimate references on and around the greens. Pelz has also authored "Ten Minutes a Day to Better Putting," as well as countless magazine articles. He also appeared in 13 half-hour shows per year on the Golf Channel and produced four videos, "Dave Pelz's 10 Minutes a Day to Better Putting," "Fundamentals of Wedge Play," "Developing Great Touch" and "The Amazing Truth About Putting."

I caught up with Pelz at his headquarters near Austin overlooking beautiful Lake Travis. Pelz gave a tour of the grounds, which includes a new lifelike artificial turf short-game area. What follows is an abridged version of our question-and-answer session.

A Q&A with Dave Pelz

Even before Tiger Woods' sabbatical, the game hasn't been growing. Why not?

The game is so tough. We have as many people trying the game as we need to grow the game, but they quit because it's so hard.

At first, people were complaining because they were designing 7,000-yard courses. Now they're pushing 8,000; it's just ridiculous. The average golfer who can't hit it very well really struggles with the modern "championship" course. I personally think we need more short courses like we have at (The Club at) Cordillera [the short course Pelz designed in Colorado].

In fact, if I were designing a course for beginners, I might not even put any bunkers on it.

What can players do differently that they're not doing now to get better?

If you don't practice at home or in your backyard, you're probably not going to get very good, because nobody drives to the golf course enough, at least not anybody who has a real job.

"Damage Control" is totally in your backyard, and the book I just finished, "Golf Without Fear," is working in your backyard on the shots that bother you on the golf course. I keep trying more and more in these books to prepare you for your golf experience in your backyard.

You endorse a product that makes it easier to practice at home. Can you tell us about it?

Did you know that the wine industry has used up all the natural cork in the world? It's like balata rubber; it's gone. So these guys came up with an artificial cork. And one of those guys, who was a golfer, said he would like to license it for golf.

These balls, which are called Almost Golf, go the first 20 yards like a real golf ball. It's a really neat way to practice in your own backyard without breaking anything or hurting anybody.

How has technology helped amateur golfers?

With all the technology that has come forth in the last 20 years or so, the average amateur has had no benefit whatsoever. He hits the drive farther, yes, but into the woods. His score doesn't go down as he loses more balls.

Do people really understand how good a tour player is?

No. Based on shot link data that we have [compiled among amateurs and pros], the average guy on the PGA Tour – top 125 - is a plus 5.5 handicap. On that same scale, Mickelson was a plus 8, and Tiger was the best at plus 8.5.

So if you think you're going to stand on the first tee, and you're going to make a bet with these guys, and you're going to go off your handicap, they will eat your lunch. Because they've got at least five shots in their back pocket that aren't counted in the USGA handicap system.

What do you say to those who charge that your teaching is too technical?

I say we make things easier. We don't have people who have the putting yips or the chipping yips when they're done. Our technical instruction is so that you understand it well enough that you forget about all the things you don't need to worry about and just concentrate on the one thing you do need to know. And that makes it a lot easier.

I worked with Steve Elkington, who is the furthest thing from having a technical mind. Phil Mickelson isn't very technical either. He's very much a feel player. But when you get to the point where you know what you are working on, and you're not worried about all the other things, it actually makes it much easier.

Most amateurs who say, "I'm a feel player," say they're a feel player because they don't know what to work on. They think that somehow feel is magical and mystical, and if they feel good, they'll play well.

What's the quickest way to real improvement?

A one-day or two-day clinic can help if the teachers are good. But we think a three-day school is best. Our instructors who live in Boca Raton, Fla., or Georgia or California – they're full-time employees. That's all they do. They teach. Their life is working on their own games and teaching people to improve their short games.

By far, that's the ultimate. It's immersing you (eight hours a day) in what we call the scoring game. From 100 yards to the edge of the green is the short game. And then the game on the green is the putting game. And together those make up 80 percent of your handicap.

Should everyone carry at least four wedges?

Oh yeah. The more greens you miss, the more you need four wedges. I would say start out with a 48- or 49-degree pitching wedge, a 55-degree wedge, a 60- and a 64-degree wedge.

So you would recommend the 64-degree wedge for everybody?

It makes the hard shots much easier. But one thing: you have to accelerate. Pros say I would never give a bad player a 64-degree. But I would never give them a 60-degree either. Anybody who decelerates and lets the club head pass the hands with a 60-degree now has 70 or 80 degrees of loft on it anyway. You've got to accelerate to keep the clubface square and get reasonable consistency. A 64 is no harder for a beginner to hit than a 60.

What kind of wedge does the high handicap player need in bunkers?

They need a fair amount of bounce. You can't give a bad player little or no bounce. I would say the more loft the better and get them to open it up more. Bad players don't like to open the face. You've got to open the face, and that's one of the great things about the Almost Golf ball. You don't fear doing anything wrong.

You've been working on golf equipment and instruction for a long time now. At 70, why not just retire and enjoy life a little?

The truth is I think I've been retired for about 30 years now. I am doing exactly what I want to do.

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Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before joining the TravelGolf Network team in 2008, he held positions at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Read Mike's golf blog here and follow him on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.

 
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