Home Instruction Teaching Spotlight: It is hard to argue with geometry and physics

Teaching Spotlight: It is hard to argue with geometry and physics

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LeoBy Robert Kimball

It was an unseasonably cool, rainy morning when the man opened up the Rick Murphy training facility at Greensboro National Golf Club. He was, as usual, 15 minutes early.

“I didn’t stay the head pro at Starmount Forest Country Club by being late,” he laughed.

The man’s name is Leo Halloran, and if you didn’t know any better you would think he was a college professor on his way to class rather than a Class A PGA Professional with over 40 years of experience under his belt. He carries with him no TrackMan device, and no FullSwing simulator is waiting to be turned on once inside the building.

Just the man and the books he carries under his arm; this should be interesting.

The irony of the rainy morning is not lost on him because it was in a city known for such weather, Seattle, that one of the most important books of his teaching career was born.

Halloran was the pro at Starmount, and he “taught a little bit off and on, but by 1998 I was teaching full time at the Rick Murphy Center and I knew I had to become a better teacher. Over the years, I had accumulated around 125 books on teaching. So, I said to myself that I am going to go through all these books, and find out where all these teachers got their information to write these books. In other words, try to find out from where the recurring swing thoughts and ideas were derived.”

As he looked through all these volumes, two names recurred as references –– Homer Kelley and Ben Doyle. Kelley had once worked for Boeing as a problem solver for the engineers. If there was something they couldn’t figure out on their own, they would call in Homer to consult and assist in whatever capacity he could.

Kelley was also previously a short order cook for a guy in Seattle, who happened to be an avid golfer. His boss gave Kelley some golf lessons. The first time he played, he was horrible, but then he started practicing, and the next time he played he shot in the mid 70s. None of the golf pros in the area could tell him why he did that, so it started his inquisitive mind on this 40-year journey to go and accumulate as much information on the golf swing as possible. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

In May 2005 Sports Illustrated magazine released the results of asking a cross section of Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers to vote on the most influential golf swing coaches ever, and came up with a consensus top 10. Homer Kelley ranked No. 6 on that list.

“When I read the name Ben Doyle [in my research], I said, ‘My goodness, that reminds me of a book I bought back in 1978, signed by [Doyle].’ I remembered I read the first two chapters and put it on the shelf because it was way too complicated,” Halloran said.

The book he is referring to is titled “The Golfing Machine.” The first edition was written and published by Kelley in 1969. It is now in its seventh printing.

As to where Kelley obtained his information, Halloran believes he derived the information from two specific books: The Search for the Perfect Swing (1968), by Alistair Cochran and John Stobbs, and The Science of the Golf Swing (1967), by Dr. David Williams, an engineer.

“In 2000, when I really wanted to bring my teaching level up to a higher standard I enrolled in a two-week teaching class at Myrtle Beach which focused on the book and how to teach it. This was where I got my bachelors in teaching. This was an education system; it’s nothing like what the PGA offers. I was in class from 8:30 to 5:00 every day, and I had a written exam each night to complete. This was all run by a man named Joe Daniels, a PGA member, who is very much an academic. He worked with Homer and now owns the rights to the book, which is run out of Portland – where I went to get my Masters in the field,” he said.

“This book is simply about the understanding of the geometry and physics of the golf swing. When you understand this book, it opens the door for you to grasp anything that has been written about the golf swing.”

Obviously, Halloran is not the only believer in The Golfing Machine. “Zach Johnson, you know … the guy who just won The Open? His teacher is Mike Bender. Do you know where [Bender] gets his information from?” Halloran smiles and taps on the cover of the book, no need to verbalize the answer.

Bender studied under the tutelage of an ex-touring pro named Mac O’Grady. Those of us old enough to remember O’Grady from the early-to-mid 1980s are familiar with his quirks on the course (he is ambidextrous, so he swung righty and putted lefty), his battles with PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman, and his desire to win a tournament by playing the first two rounds right handed and finish up the last two rounds left handed (which he never did). Mac still teaches the concepts of the Golfing Machine and has worked at one time with Homer Kelley. Unfortunately, O’Grady’s professional career was cut short due to back problems, but he operates a golf school.

So, how does all this help Halloran in his daily teaching? “Things come and go in the art of teaching golf, but when it gets down to it, you can’t argue with geometry and physics,” he smiles. “I believe it is very important for the student to understand that the golf club is designed at an angle, and you must understand that for successful shots, the angle must change slightly in the impact zone with a little lag in the club head. It’s pretty simple, when you get down to it. I love the concept of lag. This ensures that the club has the ability to square at impact [where it matters the most], as well as allowing the player to really move through the ball without flipping the face over.”

It’s great to take a divot with a shot, but it must come after the ball has left the club face, not before. He says he will spend the first few minutes with a new student getting some background information. What other sports did they play? For example, if you played tennis or baseball, you can understand the idea of the head of the bat or racket in front of the hands, and might pick up on it easier.

“I focus on the correct loading of the club on the backswing and the transfer of the weight to the left side keeping that lag in place right before the ball is struck,” he says. The rest is going over basics such as correct grip, posture and tempo, etc.

The main message that Halloran seems to drive through and through is that “The Golfing Machine” is written for the teachers, not the students. “This [book] is so we can understand the mechanics as to why the ball is behaving the way it is. It always comes down to what the ball is doing,” he stresses. “Everyone has a different golf swing, just look at the PGA Tour for examples [Jim Furyk, J.B. Holmes, Bubba Watson], but they can all get the ball to fly in a consistent way, or at least get it to where they intended, and that’s why they are successful.”

So, Halloran doesn’t believe in reinventing someone’s swing. “If it’s working, why change it?”

A simple question from a complex mind.



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