Jack Newman: On the road

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Editor's note: GolfChannel.com will be following fourmini-tour players – Tim Hegarty, Zack Sucher, Benoit Beisser and JackNewman – over the course of 2011 in our new feature, 'The Minors.' Checkin each week for the players' progress, updates, photos and more.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Those golfers. With their private jets and millions of dollars. With their six different homes in five different countries and their blonde, skinny, model wives. They can cause you to break the 10th Commandment and commit the sixth deadly sin.

That’s the broad perception of professional golfers. The public sees the elite player and how he lives, sees events like the grandiose Tavistock Cup and believes everyone travels in luxury and is treated like royalty.

Some are. Most are not. In fact, forget the Gulfstream, most guys and girls who play golf for a living can’t afford to travel regularly in coach. Rather, it’s one steering wheel, four tires and many, many miles of paved road.

Jack Newman’s mode of transportation is a “steel green” Ford Taurus, model year 2006 – before the vehicle redesign.

“Yeah, the new ones are pretty sharp,” he said. “I don’t have one of those.”

Newman bought the car used about a month before his freshman year at Michigan State with around 19,000 miles. The odometer now sits over 95,000. Fortunately, it’s as reliable as it is bland.

“It runs and gets me where I need to go,” he said. “That all I need right now.”

The Hooters Tour was on hiatus last week, so Jack didn’t have to travel too far from his rented establishment at Orange Tree Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. He used the down time to work with his swing coach, exercise and rest up for the true beginning of the 2011 mini-tour schedule.

Friday, Newman packed up his tangibles and made his way to Cartersville, Ga., for a club-fitting session with Cleveland Golf. Incidentally, Newman was informed that three of the four Monday qualifiers for this past week’s Transitions Championship on the PGA Tour had visited the Cartersville site within in the past year.

After that, it was off to Gainesville (Ga.) for this week’s Hooters Tour event. Next, it’s east to Conover, N.C., for another tournament; then north to Oxford, Ohio , where he will base out of with former Michigan State assistant coach and current Miami University golf coach Casey Lubahn and his wife, Rachel; and then it’s back down to Georgia for two more events.

All told, that’s six major pit stops, more than 2,100 miles and roughly 40 hours in a Taurus, in one month’s time. That ‘s enough to make a man start believing there’s a 6’3 ½” invisible rabbit riding in his passenger seat.

“I really don’t mind it,” Newman said. “It usually takes me eight to 11 hours to get to each event. It’s relaxing, gives me time to do a lot of thinking.”

When I caught up with Newman in Tallahassee a few weeks ago, he said he was contemplating getting satellite radio, but for now it’s just the regular dial and CDs.

We met for lunch after his second round in the Hooters Tour’s Killearn Country Club Classic … at Subway – true fare for the travelling golfer.

Newman was coming off a birdie on his final hole that Friday, which was good for a second-round 71 – which wasn’t good enough to make the cut, coming on the heels of an opening 75.

Jack’s got lots to think about on those lonely drives, primarily a new swing that’s less than two months in transition.

“I was just talking to my old coach,” Jack said as he sat down in a booth, “about whether I should just take a beating now and not worry about my scores or missed cuts.”

That’s exactly what he’s decided upon.  At 23 years old, he expects a long career in this sport and is willing to sacrifice a couple of extra low scores in the present to be able to shoot them consistently in the future.

His new coach is Mike Bender, instructor to the likes of former Masters champion Zach Johnson and five-time PGA Tour winner Jonathan Byrd.

The two caught up last Thursday at Bender’s golf academy at Timacuan Golf and Country Club in Lake Mary, Fla.

“I’m trying to get a flatter backswing,” Newman said. “The goal is to get a more consistent swing, a repetitive swing that will hold up under pressure.”

Described Bender, “He was pretty upright, with the club laid off at the top. He’d then use a lot of his upper-body in the downswing. His hand pass was too steep, making it necessary to compensate with his hands.”

The goal, Bender said, is to get Newman’s hands on plane; much like you would in a putting stroke. That will create less of a need for his hands to help square the club face at impact, “which results in less margin for error.”

“Any good player trying to get better,” Bender continued, “needs to rely less on timing.”

Both the teacher and the pupil are excited with the progress being made. Newman has picked up noticeable distance, and in a relatively brief amount of time together, Bender can see a great deal of potential.

“Players have different levels of ability in making swing changes. With his level of ability, he’ll have no problem making the changes we’re working on. Certainly, it will take some time, but he will get there,” Bender said.

“I don’t know his short game very well, but with his size (6’4”, 200lbs), the length he can hit the ball, and his attitude, I think he’s going to do fantastic. Ball-striking won’t be an issue. He’ll be plenty good to make it on (the PGA) Tour.”

More than just swing plane, the two are working to improve Newman’s approach to the game. His attitude, as Bender mentioned, is supreme, as is his maturity level. However, he’s still less than one year removed from turning professional and there’s plenty to be learned.

“We’ve talked about things like how to practice,” Bender said. “He didn’t really understand the purpose of practice.

“We talked about shaping shots and hitting into certain zones, not hitting at a single target but around the target.  Take a pro with a wedge and ask the average golfer what would be a good shot. They would say, inside 10 feet. Really, it’s inside 15 feet. The Tour average from 100-125 yards is 17 feet. You’re not going to hit the target, not very often, so aim for an area around the target.”

Thursday at Timacuan, the two focused on Newman’s focus, or more aptly, his eyes.

“We tend to swing in the direction of our eyes. At the top of his swing, his eyes tend to shift left, kind of like Annika Sorenstam. We worked on trying to keep his head in the right spot and he could tell a big difference,” said Bender.

As Newman heads out to states like Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Kentucky and everywhere else his tour travels will take him, there won’t be many opportunities to work with his coach one-on-one. Bender noted that while he doesn’t need to spend a great deal of personal time with players he’s coached for years, such as Johnson and Byrd, it is of great benefit for a new student when the teacher is present more often. To accomplish that, they have established a set of drills Newman can work on while on the road and they are looking into staying connected via the Internet.

Following his short stay in Tallahassee, Newman made his way back south to Ocala, Fla., where he fired bookend rounds of 70-68. In between, he shot 73-77.

“The first and last day, I felt really good. In between, I kind of lost it. I’m working on getting to where I can put together two good rounds in a row, in a tournament, then three good rounds, then four good ones,” Newman said via phone this past week.

“I really like where we’re headed. I just have to keep trusting my swing and what we’re doing.”

“And,” he was quick to note, “have fun. You can’t be successful out if you don’t enjoy what you do.”