With the weekend warrior in mind we created Bump and Run, a weekly Q&A with some of the game's top instructors. Each Friday, a teaching professional will occupy this space and answer questions directed toward improving your game. This week it's Laird Small, Director of the Pebble Beach Golf Academy.
Director, Pebble Beach Golf Academy Pebble Beach, Calif.
- Golf Digests 50 Greatest Teachers
- Golf Magazine Top 100 Teachers in America
- 2003 PGA National Teacher of the Year
Students (past and present):
Kirk Triplett, George Lopez, Tom Sullivan, Oprah Winfrey
'We used to get a bunch of calls per week ' I couldn't put a number on it ' because that was the only way to get on Pebble if you didnt stay at the hotel,' said Small, who was head professional at Spyglass Hill for nine years before joining Pebble's staff in 1996. 'A friend of a friend of a friend of a friend would call, trying to get on Pebble, and I was usually the final call after everyone had exhausted all of their resources.'
As one of the last means to get on Pebble, Small has received some tempting offers in exchange for a tee time. On one occasion, a prominent company offered him a very expensive watch for a doubleheader on Cypress Point and Pebble.
'If people really want to play they have to go through the right channels to get on because its worth the effort,' said Small, who has also caddied and worked the cart barn at Pebble. 'People think there are saved tee times on the golf course; there really arent. But we try and help everybody to get out and play and enjoy the course.'
To submit a question to Small ' besides how to get on Pebble ' or one of our teachers, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and check back every Friday to see if your question got answered.
You've given lessons to some prominent business people, politicians and celebrities during your time at Pebble, including your boss, Clint Eastwood (part-owner at Pebble) and Oprah Winfrey. How was she to work with?
That was a lot of fun. We met on the putting green and I had a short window of time to give her a lesson. She was doing a show with Clint Eastwood, promoting a new movie he was about to release.
Were preparing for her to arrive and her handlers say, 'Well, we dont know if shes right-handed or left-handed because she does things both ways.' Then they say, 'Oh, and she has big hands.' So we had four sets of clubs out there and we didnt know which one she was going to use. Then they say, 'Oh, by the way, she had a lesson about three weeks ago. She spent two hours and didnt hit a ball, and shes really frustrated. She cant do the game.'
Im thinking, 'How am I going to get this done with all these cameras rolling and my boss, Clint Eastwood, right there?'
Funny thing was, just a day earlier I had given my oldest son ' who was eight at the time ' a lesson on the putting green at Spyglass. I was trying to teach him how to putt and he said, Pop, let me show you how I do it. He put the ball down about an inch away from the hole and knocked it in. I said, 'No, youve got to be farther away than that,' and he was like, 'That was fun. Let me do that again.' And he repeated his previous putt from just by the hole.
So Im going through this lesson with Oprah, and I get her in the right grip and setup and have her putting the ball. Now it comes time to fish or cut bait, because she wants to now make the putt. Crowds are gathering around because they realize who she is, and now Ive got to have her make putts. I had no clue how to start her because if she misses a putt, it confirms that she cant do it and she looks bad in front of the cameras and everyone else. It immediately flashed on me what my sons lesson was, so I put the ball right next to the hole and had her knock it in. Then I had her move the ball back another inch and she holed it again. I said, 'Oprah, were creating new patterns of success,' and she says, 'I love that.' So I kept stretching the distance back and before I knew it, she had made 12 putts in a row, back to about nine feet. Shes just jumping up and down, spinning, doing the victory dance. It was great.
When it came time to play the 18th hole at Pebble Beach [she, Clint and Dina Eastwood played a modified scramble], she grabs me by the arm and tugs me right next to her. Were walking arm and arm. I tried to get away, because I didn't want to get in Clints shot, and the more I tried to get away the more she tugged me in. She had a 25-foot, downhill curling putt on the 18th green and she hit it about a foot away, on her first try, which was just fabulous.
Its a lifelong lesson I received from my son about learning from patterns of success. I think sometimes as teachers we make it more complicated than it might actually be.
Yes, we had the ex-President of Spain and his wife out here for a three-day conference and I gave them golf lessons each day ' a little on the range and also on the course at Spyglass. We've just walked off the first green and theres President Clinton and his group on the fourth green. He and President Clinton were great friends, so the ex-President of Spain says, 'Laird, come on over, you have to meet President Clinton.' So we go over and he says, Bill, this is the guy Ive been talking to you about; hes helped me with my swing and my game, and youve got to let him watch you hit a few golf balls.'
So I watched him hit a few balls and it turns out he was having trouble shanking some shots. I gave him a couple of tips on the fifth hole to stop him from shanking and he did better right away.
What was the main tip?
It turns out he was standing too close to the ball, so I had him stand farther away so he could swing out to the ball. He was shanking it because his swing was coming too much from outside to in.
Speaking of the shanks, we have a reader who needs some help. He writes, 'Just about every time I go for a short shot anywhere inside 120 yards I somehow shank the ball straight right. I don't think I could produce the awful shots that result even if I tried. Can you help?'
Sure. People shank the ball a lot of different ways, usually from the hosel coming in first. But sometimes you can shank it off the toe, so you need to identify where its coming from, especially on short-game shots.
One of the drills you can do for the shanks is take your normal address position and curl your right big toe up off the ground so theres more weight on your right heel. If you have a hard time doing this you can take a golf ball and place it underneath your right foot, toward your toes. That will keep your weight back, so you don't lurch out toward the ball too much and shank it. What happens is your right side will stay a little quieter, making room for your hands and arms to swing. People tend to lunge out at the ball, and what happens is the right hip moves forward and invades the space where the hands and arms are, pushing them further out so the hosel meets the ball.
Any advice for the weekend warrior? Something that may help them drop a shot or two during their Saturday or Sunday round?
If you don't have time to practice during the week, swing a golf club in your backyard so you get a feel and awareness for your club. If you do have a chance to warm up ' say, you have 30 minutes before you tee off ' spend 20 of those minutes on your short game. Go to the putting green and putt, chip and pitch, THEN go hit some balls. What usually happens is people go right to the driving range and they don't have a chance to practice the short-game shots. These are the ones that the typical 90-shooter is hitting 70 percent of the time.
One of the most feared shots at Pebble is the second shot on the par-4 eighth hole, over the ocean. Any advice for the weekend golfer who has a fear of forced carries?
Amateurs try and hit shots that their talent level doesnt allow them to do; they overestimate their ability. I would first get a realistic assessment of what the yardage is on the forced carry. Then, ask yourself, 'Can I hit a reasonable shot six times out of 10 that would carry that?' If you can, go ahead and do it; if you cant, play it safe because the golf course usually gives you an alternate route to hit these shots.
If, for example, you have a 125-yard carry to the green on No. 8 at Pebble and you don't feel comfortable getting it there, then go to the left. If you want to hit the shot just to hit it, go hit it. If it doesnt come out the way you wanted to thats okay, at least you tried. Dont beat yourself up because it didn't come out the way you expected. Sometimes the game is about taking chances.
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