In my last post about discoveries at the recent PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, I wrote about Swingbyte , a product that weighs next to nothing, fits on a clubshaft below the grip, and conveys data such as clubhead speed, face angle, and launch angle to a mobile device. Now I'd like to address a shirt that purports to help you achieve one of the elixirs of an effective and efficient swing. Yes, a shirt. And it's called, well, the Golf Swing Shirt . As I did in my post about SwingByte, I'll have a look at the backstory as well as the product.
The Golf Swing Shirt's claim to fame is that it has one sleeve. Yes, only one. While there's a hole at either shoulder, only a single sleeve pokes out the front of the garment at chest height. It's tight too, straitjacket-like, as some wags have noted. I came across this unusual, and very orange, shirt while freelance wandering around the massive floor space of the Orange County Convention Centre. I noticed a fellow at a booth whose arms were buried so tightly inside an orange shirt so that I thought he was choosing to strangle himself. I had to check this out, and was soon trying one on. In this case, a picture really is worth a thousand words. I needed to try on the shirt to get the feeling. What was this all about?
It was about connection throughout the swing; that is, developing a swing in which one's arms don't fly away from one's body. I mentioned to Ray Rapcavage, the shirt's inventor, that something Ben Hogan wrote in his famous book Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf , had come to my fevered mind that is far too dense with swing thoughts.
"Page 47," Ray rapped, and he was right. In the copy I have in front of me, mind you, the 1985 edition that Golf Digest published, Hogan's advice is on page 48.
"The upper part of the arms should be pressed very tightly against the sides of the chest," Hogan wrote. "In my own case, I consciously work to build up so strong an adhesion between the upper arms and the chest that a person would have to exert a really terrific amount of force to wedge them apart."
A full-page illustration and an accompanying smaller illustration on the next page show Hogan with his arms adhering tightly to his body. An orange circle around his arms in each illustration is meant to show that the arms never slip away from his chest. There's the advice again: "Keep the elbows and arms as close together as possible throughout the swing." Words to be taken seriously. The Golf Swing Shirt, incidentally, is available in black and white as well as orange.
Hogan wasn't the only one who advocated swinging as if one's arms were bound to one's chest. I thought about the famous and properly opinionated instructor Jimmy Ballard. He's advocated what he calls "connection" for years, and by that he means what the Golf Swing Shirt is meant to generate. Ballard taught Curtis Strange while he was winning the 1988 and 1989 U.S. Open. He teaches Rocco Mediate, who lost the 2008 U.S. Open against Tiger Woods in a playoff. Mediate and Ballard are working together as I write. Mediate is playing his first Champions Tour event this week, the Allianz Championship in Boca Raton, Fla.
Ballard's most excellent book is called How to Perfect Your Golf Swing: Using Connection and the Seven Common Denominators . He's all about a strong adhesion between the upper arms and the chest. That being the case, I shouldn't have been surprised when Rapcavage told me that he had tried to connect with Ballard. Maybe I shouldn't even have been surprised that they did connect, when Rapcavage visited him at the Ocean Reef club in Key Largo, where he belongs and teaches. And by the end of my chat with Rapcavage, I wasn't surprised to learn that Ballard decided to endorse the Golf Swing Shirt. I was surprised, however, to learn that Ballard would be at the booth within an hour. I was going to make sure I stopped by.
But how did this all come about? Well, Rapcavage, a New Yorker by birth and a three-handicapper, told me he'd taken "some of the best instruction I could find." He said he had tried everything, and that he always felt connection was the key to a good swing. One cold winter day he took himself and his L-wedge to his yard. He was wearing a heavy sweater as protection against the cold. He dropped three balls down and shanked each one. One ball hit his house, and another nearly hit a car.
"How could this happen?" he asked himself. He'd flirted with a scratch handicap, after all. Rapcavage, 49, is a businessman who develops income properties such as shopping centers. He was living in Rumson, N.J. by the time he went out into the cold with his heavy sweater and three golf balls. Frustrated, he put the sweater over his head, pulled it sideways and inserted his arms into one sleeve. He was bound to figure out a better way to swing.
"I hit 20 shots in a row, and every one was perfect," he told me. "It was such a different feeling. I felt connection. My arms and body were one."
As any golfing husband would do, he demonstrated his idea, and his connected self inside the one sweater sleeve, to his wife.
"She thought I was insane, cracked," he told me. Undaunted, he graduated from a sweater to a shirt that he had cut up, sewed, and stapled into a pattern. That was 15 months ago. He put it on and felt just fine in it, golf-wise anyway. The true test would come on a course. There was ice on the course when he played, but so what? His arms adhered to his chest, and he shot even-par for the round.
"I felt like I was in a scene from Caddyshack. I'm having the round of my life, and I'm all alone," he said.
A friend later asked him what he was doing with what he called a "Frankenstein shirt." Rapcavage suggested his friend give the shirt a try. He did, and he hit the ball beautifully. Rapcavage spent the next six months trying it with other golfers. He was thinking of it as a training tool for himself, not as a product for the golfing masses with their flying arms.
But after about 20 golfers tried the shirt, he did begin to think of it as a product. He took his idea and pattern to a friend who has an apparel company. She took the pattern and created the Golf Swing Shirt. He put it on 25 people, who gave it a try.
"The result was the same. It was then that I felt it had potential. But before I quit my day job, I knew I should get an objective opinion. That's when I sought out Ballard."
I'll write tomorrow about his meeting with Ballard, and mine, and what has happened since Rapcavage tied himself up inside that heavy sweater. (A lot).
RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein
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 firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein