The Smooth SwingMaker (Patent Pending)
by Al Pastor
Please direct your attention to the accompanying photo. Seems harmless enough, by all appearances a box containing an innocuous golf practice aid, one of any number of thousands. There is the ubiquitous caption in capital letters promising a lower score – with exclamation point! You’ll note the golfer is either smiling or grimacing. This is not unusual in the course of swinging a club by novice or expert. In this case what I take for a grimace is expressed with good reason. Take heed: the man has fallen under the spell. The reader may also wonder why the golfer is apparently hitting away from the green so near in the foreground. This can also be explained.
The product is The Smooth SwingMaker. Insidious, really, the only word for it, but one has to admire the simplicity, the ingenuity. An attractive cardboard box that could contain a Happy Meal holds pure poison. If only I could remember who to thank for the introduction. It is no longer on the market. The words “patent pending” appear in the lower right-hand corner. These words should always prompt pause, if not suspicion.
In the spirit of inquiry, this post is presented as a cautionary tale. We approach The Smooth SwingMaker wearing the protective gear of experience. Were there proper oversight of the golf practice aid market, akin to, say, the precautions taken with research of chemical or biological agents – that could in the wrong hands pose a danger – products like The Smooth SwingMaker would never be unleashed on an unsuspecting public. I believe it stands alone.
A golf life is littered with practice aids, catnip to the struggling. Occasionally they “work,” whatever that may mean. In time immunity can be developed but there is no effective inoculation. The author can reflect on the efficacy of two aids: the impact bag and the weighted club. Both sit unused in the closet. A flash of success will emit a temporary positive impulse within the brain’s recesses where reality nestles beside illusion.
The number of available products is impressive, testament to Man’s inventive, impatient quest. Many aids, no doubt well intentioned, are ridiculous, often miraculously so. Patent drawings detail spikes, harnesses, or other unfortunate belts and buckles. The unwitting current reliance on technology feeds the category.
Practice aids of one sort or another have long been enlisted to teach golf. Video is now ubiquitous but the best teachers rely on everyday items. The most effective aids, arguably, may be the least sophisticated: a two-by-four, a tee, a bucket. My alignment woes were once (temporarily) solved in a mall parking lot astride a painted parking space strip.
One successful instructor can’t visit the giant hardware store without seeing dozens of potential teaching aids. The concept is sound. The objective is to help the student “see” the inherent awkward universe of the golf swing. This can often be done with a tool meant for some other purpose. Harvey Penick’s grass whip may be the most famous example. Once common to tool sheds, the grass whip is now perhaps as familiar to most Americans as a scythe, if no less effective an aid.
The Smooth SwingMaker carried a suggested retail price of $12.95. Again, we highlight those two dangerous words: ‘patent pending.’
Inside the box is a booklet, three plastic perforated golf balls, and two small white plastic cups. One cup has a string attached. At the end of the short string is a ball. Those of a certain age may recall an ancient wooden toy in which children, or adults, would try and scoop the ball through the air into the cup. This gets to the core of The Smooth SwingMaker’s genius, simplicity.
The adept attaches the cup with the ball on the bill of their ball cap. There’s a piece of Velcro to secure it. He then places the ball into the cup on the cap, and swings. The objective is to keep the ball in the cup as one does so. This keeps the head still, which every golfer – and those who have never played – has heard about, a canard often taken on face value. As the booklet points out: “If your swing has flaws, the ball flys (sp) from the cup.”
There are 10 pages of illustrated instructions with an order blank in the back.
I’m hesitant to quote too liberally from the instructions, but let me just offer a representative sample.
The SwingMaker improves your game in two basic ways. First, with regular practice it helps you with two important fundamentals: keeping your head down and still and encouraging you to move your body in a coordinated, fluid motion. I fyou don’t do these things, the ball will fly from the cup. For example, if you swing too hard, the ball will likely “swirl” inside the cup and pop out. If your swing is smooth, it won’t.
Ladies and gentlemen, more crippling advice over the centuries of introspection, devotion, and dissection of the golf swing would be hard to find.
“Your friends may laugh when they first see your Smooth SwingMaker,” begins the anonymous author, who we might refer to as Dr. Evil. There are two cups. I see now that they are slightly different, and interchangeable, one preferred for woods and irons, the other for shorter shots. “Practice will be the best teacher as to which cup to use when.”
…That’s enough. I can feel the pull, the Smooth SwingMaker’s allure…Must. Put. Back. In. Box. . . .Phew. That’s better. It would be professionally unethical to unleash such a horror. It must be kept from those seeking improvement.
You’ll remember the scene at the end of the Indiana Jones movie where the Arc of the Covenant is sealed and securely deposited in the burial ground of an enormous anonymous warehouse filled with similar crates? That would be my suggestion for the Smooth SwingMaker, the Pandora’s Box.
At the conclusion of this essay, this most dangerous device will be transported to the secure, climate-controlled vault of The Stark Center for Physical Culture at Sports at the University of Texas at Austin. Express instructions will prevent its indiscriminate use.