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The “Secret”… and How it Helped me Win the National Hickory Championship
By Mike Stevens
USGTF Level III Member, Tampa, Florida

Ah, the “Secret.” The one thing that makes the golf swing perfect. Is there really such a thing, or is it just legend? Ben Hogan claims he found it, yet he practiced harder than anybody and never actually revealed the magic motion. However, Hogan was right. There is a secret and it is in every good golfer. They just don’t know what it actually is. It took me years to comprehend, but finally it dawned on me and it came from the most unlikely source. It was the best golf lesson I ever had, and it came from someone who is not even a golfer. In fact he is not even a real person. His name is George Costanza from Seinfeld.

While pitching a sitcom idea to NBC executives, George was asked what the show was about. His reply: “It’s about nothing.” There it is, that’s the “Secret” to a good golf swing – nothing. Most people have 10 different thoughts in their head while swinging a golf club. And, unfortunately, golf instruction today just makes it worse. Most would have one believe that if you know what to do and concentrate hard enough at the right moments, you can make a great swing.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I always hit my best shots after I so thoroughly butchered a round that I didn’t give a damn any more. That got me to questioning: Why not swing that way all the time? Just focus on a routine and then pull the trigger, no swing thoughts at all. Now, this is not an easy thing to do, especially over 18 holes, which is why golf is such a hard game, but it works. My fairways and greens percentages have increased dramatically. Look, we all know how to swing a golf club, been doing it for years. We just have to get our brain out of the way and let our body perform. Remember the words of Bagger Vance, “The swing is never learned; it is remembered.”

As I prepared for the 2010 National Hickory Championship at Oakhurst Links, I was determined to use my no-thought swing throughout the two-day competition. This tournament requires players to use pre-1900 equipment or replicas of such, and is played on a course built in 1884 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. It is considered the most demanding event in hickory golf. After being properly announced, I placed a new gutty on a carefully-crafted sand sculpture and prepared for my first swing. As I began that graceful motion I have made so many times, there it was, a moment’s doubt and “oh no,” cold-topped it. Double bogey. What a way to start. Second hole was not much better, as I had to hole a six-footer for bogey. I wasn’t trusting myself, which often happens when you hit a bad shot. On the third tee, I just focused on my routine, cleared my mind and swung. Six inches later I had my first birdie. Then, par, par, par. On seven, I launch a shot dead at the flag, but the rubbery gutty bounced hard just past the stick and rolled over the green and out of bounds. Then, a bad break on nine caused another bogey and I turned at 43, six over.

The swing was working, however. I hit every fairway on the incoming nine and shot even par, which put me on top of the leaderboard at the halfway point. Round two started out with more of the same, five straight pars, but two three-putts left me two-over going out. As I said earlier, keeping it together for 18 holes is not easy. It happened on my approach shot at 11, just an instant of doubt because my lie was a little dicey – a lateral into the tall grass. I managed to bogey, but I was shaken up. I didn’t let it go and my tee shot on the next par-3 was awful. I got a break as it did not reach the tall grass, but I was faced with a difficult pitch uphill over a bunker. I managed to get it on and settled for another bogey.

As I stood on the next tee, the most difficult hole at Oakhurst, I decided no matter what, no thinking was going to be my mantra for the rest of the round. I split the fairway with one of my best drives of the tournament. Par, par, par, par, birdie. As I stood on the last green surveying a 12-foot putt, I said to myself, relax and just let it happen. I still have trouble putting without thinking, but on this occasion, I just put all my faith into my body and the ball rolled firm and true, dead-center into the cup. I became Champion Golfer for the second time on my favorite golf course in the United States.

The “Secret” had worked. No more experimenting, no more tips or trying every new method some supposed guru says is the answer. I have always believed that a golf swing involves a good swing path, good balance and the ability to get the club squarely on the ball. Add in the true “Secret” – NOTHING, and you might just surprise yourself. The real question is, can you clear your head and just allow your body to perform?

Mike Stevens is Southeast Region director of the USGTF and golf teaching pro at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. He was the 2005 National Hickory Champion and the 2004 US Golf Teachers Senior Champion. In 2010 Mike won a second National Hickory Championship. He also owns and operates the Mike Stevens On Target Golf School in Tampa and Sarasota. For more information on Hickory Golf go to www.hickorygolfers.com.

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