Not available in stores

by Al Pastor

It seemed prudent to keep a safe distance. (Starkcenter.org)

It seemed prudent to keep a safe distance.
(Starkcenter.org)

More destructive than supplements, at least as unregulated, golf practice aids remain a healthy sub-category of golf commerce. The afflicted, riddled by addiction, despondent for answers and quick fixes, are especially vulnerable. Preying on them like vultures, those pro endorsers should be ashamed of themselves.

“The weed cutter is still my favorite learning tool,” Harvey Penick wrote with typical frugality, “but if you can’t find one,” he added, “use a broom.” What?! No three easy payments? No infomercial? There must be a catch. What gives? The reference was in Harvey’s final memoir. By the time The Game for a Lifetime came out (1996), there was, sadly, the inevitable backlash to such seismic success – and simplicity. Some people, as Harvey noted, just didn’t care for a straight answer. Dan Jenkins got a wry column out of the discontent with the withered, self-effacing  “grown caddie.” He noted pros jealous to cash in with their own pithy homily, “take live aim” and so forth. It wasn’t all that much of a stretch. I heard the sniping.

Little known, there was a practice aid of Harvey’s own devise. I don’t believe it had a name. I’m only sorry that the thin tissue label affixed to the top of the shaft that stated “Harvey Penick, patent pending, Llano, Texas” is gone. It came from an elderly neighbor’s garage sale. She’d briefly taken lessons with Harvey at Austin Country Club.

I showed it to John Rhodes. A North Texas teacher, John had worked over the years with successful tour players like Tom Kite and Peter Jacobson. He’s the kind of teacher who can’t walk into Lowe’s or Home Depot without finding new construction materials to fashion homemade practice aids. He’s really a wizard, very enthusiastic, and obviously entrenched in the D-I-Y tradition. Inventive, I guess is the word. I haven’t seen nor heard of John in years. I hope he’s well. The last time we crossed paths he was in the Colonial press room.

Working for the Star-Telegram, he was tracking something rarely discussed, typical of his active mind. I’ve never tired of noticing his line of inquiry. He was simply tracking what happened to tour players after shooting those terrific low rounds. What he determined, and I’m simplifying for the sake of brevity (sorry, if it’s not really working) was that, often as not, those low rounds routinely presaged rounds eight or 10 shots higher. Or, at least several shots higher. I’ve since discussed this with players but I’ll let that go. John’s point was that someone who shoots, say, 63 and then follows it up with a 74 the next day is, in their way, not all that different from the golfer who shoots 80 one day and is (justifiably) miserable the next day with a 92. Of course, both golfers are justifiably steamed.

John was intrigued by Harvey’s training aid. He enthusiastically started hitting a few balls with it, not well. It’s just about impossible. I stood at a safe distance, fearful of getting brained.

Here’s Harvey’s reference to the aid from And If You Play Golf, You’re My Friend (1993).

Another [training aid] was a chain with a grip on one end and an iron on the other. I could hit a golf ball 150 yards with that contraption, but I quit using it when the cotter pin came loose one day and the iron ball flew off down the range. It could have killed somebody.

He also mentions another aid with a special grip but discarded that. You may be able to see that the rubber grip on his novel design is rectangular rather than round. John described what he thought Harvey had in mind but I’ve forgotten, likely timing. Walter Hagen had his name on a little aluminum shaft with a clicker inside. The object was to swing the club so the click would come at the very bottom of the downswing – at the ball – where you want it. Mine always clicked on the way down, symptomatic of various faults. I should’ve bought the Hagen aid, fiendishly simple, but I had the sense to realize it would lead to madness.

(Tell me this, oh, gullible golfing public. Have you ever seen a touring pro use a commercially-sold practice aid, other than a stick placed strategically at his or her feet?  I mean, not when the camera was rolling and they were getting paid.)

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