As I get ready to head up to the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, the definition of a real golfer occurs to me. This is somebody who has what I'm choosing to call the "golf gizmo gene." This golfer is addicted to swing training aids. This golfer is convinced that the way to better golf is through contraptions that are sure to help make a smooth transfer from the golfer he is to the golfer he can, or should, be.
I'll be telling you in a moment about Maury Povich, the host of the Maury Show on NBC. Maury is a gizmo guy all the way. He also happens to hold a handicap just shy of three. The guy can play. Most recently, Maury, who just turned 74, is training with something he and his pals call "The Straps," which his long-time swing coach Peter Kostis – yes, that Peter Kostis – invented from parts you can buy at Home Depot. More on Maury soon.
Meanwhile, I confess to being a gizmo guy myself, of the first order. I'll be relishing the idea of checking out the latest in swing training gizmos while I cruise up the Florida Turnpike from Jupiter to the Orange County Convention Centre, where I'll walk the aisles endlessly in search of training devices, all in the interests of research for more articles, of course. Okay, maybe I'm also hoping I'll find the one device sure to give me that sweet swing I know I must have in me.
I confess to a checkered history in the golf gizmo game. Years ago I used a device that had its own, well, straps. The device was essentially a belt that you'd tighten around your arms, to help promote the feeling of connection that the great Ben Hogan felt was so important. (I think I saw Mike Weir on the range this year using such a device). My arms have tended to fly away from my chest during my backswing, so I needed to tighten up. Imprisoned, I was connected. I practiced at home with a wiffle ball. Sometimes I got the feeling I wanted on the course. Usually, though, I didn't.
My patient wife Nell came to refer to the belt, made by a company whose name I forget, as the "truss." Once I declared it out of action, we found an ideal use for it as a device to keep the cover for our pool in place so that it wouldn't unspool.
"We've never had a gizmo that has kept the pool cover tied up so well," Nell told me this week. We still use it. It's perfect for the job.
Then there was something called The Coach, which I came across a dozen or so years ago while working on a book with David Leadbetter. Here's more information about The Coach, which was meant to train the golf muscles properly and put you into the correct position. Robert Fitch, the late and great golf coach at Indiana University – a school, by the way, that many elite Canadian amateurs attended – invented the device, and Leadbetter worked with him to further develop it. Fitch knew golf and he knew the human body and how it should work. He held a doctorate in physiology.
The Coach had a prominent position in my home. I put it in a small room just off our kitchen that used to feature a Nordic Track, where I pretended I was skiing indoors to improve my cardiovascular fitness. Nell called it "Sven," for obvious reasons. Sven was soon banished to the garage, which is where The Coach also ended up. I have no idea as to the ultimate fate of both Sven and The Coach.
I'm getting nostalgic thinking of all these golf gizmos that have been such a significant part of my golfing life. What happened to that suction device that I'd stick up against a wall downstairs in what Nell and I came to call the pro shop because of all the golf "stuff" there? I'd go down to the pro shop and swing the tubes attached to the suction device as if I were making a swing. The thing was meant to force me onto the proper swing plane. I remember falling backwards a few times when the suction cups de-suctioned. I was lucky to survive my attempts to use the cupping device.
All of this brings me to Maury Povich. He just turned 74, and he loves, loves, loves, golf. Maury was down my way in Jupiter recently playing a tournament. I had just played a game with my pal Ned Steiner, a close friend of Maury's who travels with him frequently for golf. Ned's played four U.S. Amateurs, and he still has lots of game. Anyway, Ned was driving me home when he had a call from Maury. Maury had finished his round at the tournament and was headed for Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, where Tiger Woods, a member there, was hosting an outing. Maury wasn't involved in the outing, though. He was going to hit some balls up there, and he was telling Ned he was doing so in the straps. He invited Ned up. Ned dropped me off and continued on his way.
I had to learn more about the straps, for this story and in case I might use them one day. I called Maury at his home in New York City, where he was beside himself because it was freezing and he had no chance of getting to the Century Country Club in Purchase, N.Y., where he belongs and sometimes ventures even in the winter to whack some golf balls. It was going to be a busy day anyway, Maury told me.
"Walk the dog, try to work out, taping the show," he said.
Maury didn't take up golf until he was 30, when his father, the much-loved and tremendous sportswriter Shirley Povich got him a membership at a club in Washington, D.C. Twenty years later, Maury's wife Connie Chung wanted to buy him something special for his 50th birthday. Maury told me she "scoured" the country and came up with one Peter Kostis - yes, that Peter Kostis. She bought Maury some lessons for his 50th birthday.
"Peter and I have been attached at the hip ever since," Maury said. He added that Kostis, one of the most well-known swing coaches and tournament analysts – he works for CBS and was also a consultant on the movie Tin Cup – attended the University of New Hampshire, where he studied engineering. He is attached to golf gizmos, and uses them with his tour players, including Paul Casey and 2008 RBC Canadian Open winner Chez Reavie.
"Peter is a big believer in hip turn," Maury told me while explaining the origins of the straps. It turns out that, to promote hip turn back from and through the ball, as opposed to a lateral slide, which, he believes, can ruin a swing, Kostis came up with the straps.
"It's a rubber hose that you clip onto Velcro around your waist," Maury said, and, good sport that he is, he was having a good time and laughing as he tried to describe the straps to me. I was trying to picture Kostis's creation. Further, Maury said, you're clipped into spikes four or five feet apart on the ground on your left and right side. You're forced to turn your hips rather than slide them. Maury's ball flight got higher and he had a gentle draw. Needless to say, he went to Home Depot and got his own straps that he carries in a gym bag and takes to the range when he's practicing. He told me Kostis uses a similar device as the straps for teaching the proper shoulder turn. Maury referred to this as a shoulder harness.
"I was always lateral going forward," Maury said. "Now my swing is faster, I have a fuller hip turn, and I don't slide. I'm playing probably as good or better than I did 10 years ago. I still believe I can play better. Peter says if you look at guys on the senior (Champions) tour, the ones who can turn can play. The ones who can't turn can't play. He wants you to swing like you're in a phone booth. You stay in the phone booth."
How I'd love to stay in the phone booth. I'm a slider. I drift way off the ball. Ned is always admonishing me that I get way too ahead of the ball when I come through it because I slide. Clearly, I need the straps. Peter Kostis, where are you? Will you be at the PGA Show?
I hope so. From the truss to the Coach to the straps, I'm hooked. PGA Merchandise Show, golf gizmo area, here I come.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round's on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein