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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Time With Mickey Wright & Harvey Penick, A Guest Post by Sam Adams


Sam Adams, Essentially Golf
I met Sam Adams through the Google+ Golf Community (if you love golf and aren't a member of the Community you're missing an opportunity to connect with others who share your passion) and discovered that while we've never met Sam's living and teaching golf within about 30 miles of my home base.  As our conversations unfolded I also discovered that his approach to teaching draws on his friendships Mickey Wright and Harvy Penick, golfers I admire enormously.  

Mickey Wright played on the LPGA Tour from 1955 to 1969, was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1964, has been named all-time top woman golfer by both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, and penned Play Golf the Wright Way, a book I return to again and again as I continue to refine my relationship with this pesky, humbling, befuddling game that so engages me.  I was more than a little impressed when Sam shared with me that he's actually played a round or two with her.

My son Wes introduced me to Harvey Penick and his little red books several years ago when he tucked a couple of the volumes into my carry-on bag at the conclusion of one of our golf matches and said, You'll enjoy reading these on your way across the country at 32,000 feet.  Wes was correct.  I've read them all now, but my favorite is For All Who Love The Game: Lessons and Teachings for Women.  Although he's best remembered as Ben Crenshaw's coach (it's said Harvey continued to provide guidance to Crenshaw from his deathbed), like my current swing coach, Tommy Pendley, Harvey Penick had that rare capacity to nurture the golfer who lives inside many women and his writings speak to me and inspire me.  

How could I go wrong with a guest post from a fellow South Carolinian who's learned his trade from these two golf luminaries?  I couldn't.  So here's Sam's guest post on the wisdom and the inspiration he gained from Mickey Wright and her coach, Harvey Penick:


When I was a young assistant golf professional I had a wonderful opportunity to meet and spend time with the legendary Mikey Wright.  For those of you that may not be familiar (too young) she is the person holding all the records that Annika Sorenstam was chasing.

Mickey Wright. Photo credit: www.usga.org.
One of the greatest players in LPGA history, Wright owns 82 tournament titles and ranks second in all-time career LPGA wins behind Kathy Whitworth, who has 88; is a five-time Vare Trophy winner (1960-64). Wright is the only player in LPGA history to hold all four major titles at the same time. She won the final two majors of the year in 1961, the U.S. Women’s Open and the LPGA Championship, and then took the first two majors of 1962, the Titleholders Championship and the Western Open.  Wright was coached by Harvey Penick. Ben Hogan said Wright's swing was the best he had ever seen.

She and Betsy Rawls, who won 55 LPGA events, including eight major herself, were close friends.  Betsy was from Spartanburg, SC (where I was working as an assistant) and came home frequently to visit her mother.  Mickey often came with her and I got to know them both.

When Mickey was there she would let me watch her practice and ask questions.  When I was on the range with her I thought I had died and gone to Heaven.  On rare occasions I even got to play with her and Betsy.

Harvey Penick working with a student.  
Photo credit: www.pga.com
At some point I had told them I was going to PGA School in Houston in the next few months.  The next time they came in the shop Mickey told me that her friend (and instructor) Harvey Penick was going to be one of my instructors.  She had spoken to him about me and he would be expecting to meet me.   Excited wouldn’t even begin to describe what I felt.

I didn’t waste any time introducing myself to Harvey as soon as I could.  He was wonderful and I got to spend time on the range watching him give lessons and chatting with him.

One of the most interesting things he told me was about Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw and the difference in the way they practiced.  He explained that Kite was like Ben Hogan.  He could stand there and hit fifty five iron shots identically.  Crenshaw, on the other hand, had to play in order to practice.

Crenshaw would get bored hitting balls and start trying to change the trajectory, curvature, and so forth.   As a result, Harvey explained, Crenshaw could go to the range hitting the ball good and if he stayed long enough he would screw it up.  It made a real impression on me because I had the same problem.  I was learning that the process of practice is personal and can vary widely from one golfer to another.  Practice is critical, but there's just no single correct way to get it done.

Watching how Harvey taught and being able to ask questions was the beginning of my realization that if a golfer understood the swing well enough, it was actually very simple.  This was re-enforced a few years later when I read John Jacobs book Practical Golf.

At some point I discussed with Harvey a statement Mickey Wright had made to me on the practice tee one day.  She had this drill where she would line up five or six golf balls and then start swinging the club and going down the line hitting shot after shot in one fluid motion.  I asked her why she did this and she said that if she couldn’t think properly, she didn’t want to think at all.  Harvey and I talked about Mickey's routine and the underlying rational she had for it.  He understood completely and agreed totally.  I've passed it on to my students when they get trapped in occasional thinking problems.


It’s impossible to fully capture in a single writing the full scope of impact my association with those two golf legends had on a young assistant golf professional who was trying to learn all he could about playing, teaching and the golf swing and how grateful I was for their time and attention.  I return to, recall, and then put to work the lessons I learned from my time with them with every instructional moment at Essentially Golf.

Editor's Note: You can read more from Sam's pen at ProGolfNow.com.  He's joined the writing staff and will be providing equipment reviews and swing tips.  You can let him know if you want him to take a look at a particular piece of equipment or focus on a particular problem.  And if you're in the western part of South Carolina and looking for some quality golf instruction, you can contact him directly through his web site, essentiallygolf.com.