It is with a great deal of satisfaction and relief that I can report that two of my friends and students, Dick Mast and Gary Hallberg, have achieved exempt status on the 2012 Champions Tour by virtue of their fine play at the recently completed Senior Q-School. Hallberg finished tied for 2nd at 16 under par, while Mast finished tied for 11th, finally nailing down the 12th and final conditionally exempt spot in a playoff.
If you go back in the video archives you will find my “lesson of the week” with Dick that we did back in September of 2010. Dick finished first in the 1st Stage qualifier last year, but missed out in the finals. He qualified for a number of events through open qualifying in 2011, including two regular PGA Tour events. He came back up to Woodmont early this year, and has been hitting the ball nicely for some time now. He reported that had he putted well he would have “won easily” at this year’s Q-School, but at age 60 I’m figuring that what he accomplished is pretty darn impressive to say the least.
Dick came upon the website via his college age son, who found my videos on You tube and showed them to his father. Dick, as a long time PGA Tour pro, is also a long time student of the game and has spent significant amounts of time with most of the teaching pros that you might have heard of. In fact, he had become so frustrated with the instruction he was receiving that he once took lessons from 3 different name teachers in one day just to see if there would be any commonalities in their approach. Alas, he got 3 different diagnoses and prescriptions, and found himself as stuck and frustrated as ever. When he came to see me he had plenty of questions, and was quite happy when I told him that my approach would be to leave his backswing, transition, and release action alone and focus instead on his posture and his forward swing pivot movement. He was highly interested in my “drive 45 degrees” idea of hip action, as he had never seen or heard it explained as such. When I showed him how he was failing to reach the “furthest left point” with his belt buckle in the follow through, and that his hips were stalling due to the right leg driving toward the ball he loved the idea of being aggressive all the way through impact by keeping his hips deeper and aiming his movement more sharply to the left and squeezing the cheeks together and thrusting up and left with the belt buckle to finish the motion. These ideas freed him up immediately and he began flushing the ball. Our hope now is to get his short game to match his long game and eventually achieve a Champions Tour victory. Being “conditional” will keep him out of some of the events but he will continue trying to open qualify.
If you have followed the PGA Tour at all since the early 80’s you have probably heard of Gary Hallberg. He is one of only 4 4-time First Team All-Americans in Division 1 history, and has 4 PGA Tour wins to his credit. He won a Champions Tour event at the end of 2010, shooting 61 in the final round to beat Fred Couples by 1 shot. It was a timely victory, as he was just about to lose what status he had left, and it gave him entry into every tournament this year. Alas, his play was sporadic at best and he only was able to finish 48th on this year’s money list. He was going to get into about 18 or so events next year without Q-School, but he decided to play as he would be in better shape next year with a top 5 finish. He actually played a round of golf with Dick Mast in practicing for an event they were both playing in, and when Dick mentioned he had been working with me and hitting the ball well as a result it registered with Gary that he might send me his swing to see what I thought, especially since he had been struggling for most of the year.
Gary and I go way back, all the way back to college where we were teammates on the 1977-78 Wake Forest golf team. Gary was a wunderkind, while I was just a decent player, but we became great friends and remained such even after I transferred to LSU that fall. I sat out a year and made First Team myself in 1979, and Gary and I played together in a number of tournaments. Gary graduated and got his Tour card without even attending Q-School, while I lost my game completely my senior year and quit playing altogether for a year. I got back into the game and spent 5 years on the mini-tours in Orlando while Gary was achieving success on the big tour, and after I quit playing again due to injuries and surgeries Gary’s success began to moderate. He was once the most natural player you ever saw, and relied almost 100% on talent and feel for the game. He fell into an extended slump and tried to get out of it by seeking out advice from various sources, and the ultimate effects were almost all negative. Filled with swing ideas and unable to focus on anything long enough to see if it worked he continued to struggle, with flashes of great play but no consistency. I worked with him off and on after I became a teaching pro in the early 90’s, but I was not able to help him on a continuing basis and once he got out of my control he would swerve down another path and get lost once again. The word on Gary was that he would “ask the Sky-Cap for advice”, not a great situation for a guy trying to stay out on Tour.
Anyway, around November 1st I received a swing online from Gary without any prior discussion, and in the next week he sent a few more. He became a member of the website, which was a great thing for him since I could point him to an appropriate video as we discussed certain things in his swing. It was maybe 2 nights before the beginning of Q-School that he told me he was trying to drop his hands straight down from the top, and when I suggested that he move them out toward the ball (his natural movement anyway) and that that kind of “side-arm throwing” motion would help him clear his left leg faster he tried to imagine what I was saying but couldn’t quite picture it. Then I had him look up the “Hogan’s Secret” and the “Right Arm Action” videos, and after watching them he “had it”. Now, we’re talking about one of the most talented players in the universe, and when he saw clearly what he could do he just went out and did it. He sent me swings after the first and third rounds (he shot 67-65-66) and they were just marvelous. A final round 70 left him in second place and fully exempt for next year, and my hope is that we can work together on a consistent basis this year and create some real long term success. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
One thing this story shows is the power of the internet. Both these players, even though I knew them before (Dick was the “king” of the mini-tours when I played from 1981-1985) came to me via Youtube and Waynedefrancesco.com, and both used the online lesson feature to get started. Dick made the trip up to see me personally, but Gary got what he needed just from the computer and speaking with me over the phone. It shows you what can be accomplished by using this technology, which, combined with the great information we provide, gives you a real chance to improve your game. I would really like to see more of you send me your swings, as I can give you the “direction” you need to focus your practice and stay on track.
From Dick Mast:
Thankyou so much for the help with my golf swing this year. As you know I have been to most of the top 50 teachers in the U.S over a 30 year span. I have learned a lot from many of these reputable golf instructors. But I must say that you were able to not only pinpoint the main problem areas, but were able to explain and demonstrate exactly what I needed to do to correct them. I can confidently say that I am striking the ball with control better than ever. Since we have worked together I have qualified in three Champions events, the British Senior Open, and 12th at The Champions Tour School. Honestly if my putting was better I could have won any one of these tournaments. We can work on that this winter!
Thanks again Wayne,
Your friend and student, Dick