Tee It Up with The Little Pro: Ch. 5

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Wiggle, Waggle, Looks at the Target, and Forward Press. Learn how to incorporate these 4 elective elements into your pre-shot routine and you will forever be grateful that you took the time and expended the energy to master them. They have been near and dear to me throughout my career and responsible for so many of my successes on the golf course.

When I first started playing on the PGA Tour in the late 1950’s, there were more than 40 tournaments a year that lasted from January through early December. The Tour began in California, as it does today, and we traveled our way across the country finishing up at the end of the year in Florida.

In these early days, the non exempt players for that week followed the tour and played in Monday qualifiers in order to make the starting field on Thursday. If you made the cut in an event, you were exempt from having to qualify the following week. It was everyone’s goal to make the cut and avoid having to qualify the next Monday. Monday’s were pressure packed!

I remember playing a tournament in Texas and with 9 holes to play, I found myself in the lead. While I had experienced success at every level throughout my playing career, I had never won on the PGA Tour, and the nerves were kicking into gear. I remember trying to find the right mindset that would calm me down and enable me to perform under this intense pressure. Well, I wound up shooting 36 on the back nine and finished in 4th place. While I didn’t win, I learned a lot that day that I was able to use later in my career.

I went on to become a solid Tour player and had more than my share of success in competitive golf. I set the competitive course record at Medinah in 1962. I qualified for the U.S. Open eight times, played in six PGA Championships, and won the Metropolitan PGA Championship, The Colonial Invitational, and Southern California Stroke Play Championship, twice. Over my career, I’ve competed in more than 200 PGA Tour events.

The most important lesson I learned that day in Texas was to stay in my routine, which up until that day I didn’t even know I had. We didn’t have sport psychologists traveling with us then, like the players do today. My routine consisted of a certain number of waggles, a set wiggle, 2 looks at the target, and a forward press…..then I pulled the trigger. This pre-shot routine becomes so ingrained that it happens automatically, without a conscious thought.

It’s what champion athletes refer to when they say, “I was in the zone”, or “I simply got out of my own way.”

The “Waggle” – A motion made by the club prior to starting the swing. The purpose of the Waggle is to relieve paralyzing stiffness, to prime the swing, and set the time signature or rhythm of the swing.

While there are many forms of waggles, my favorite was performed by Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. They fixed the hub of the club as they addressed the ball and using only the right hand, waggled the head of the club back and forth 2 or 3 times before initiating the swing. Two time U.S. Open winner Dr. Cary Middlecoff moved his club and elbows in and out in a slight flapping motion, British Open Champion Justin Leonard and Masters Champion Mike Weir move the entire club away from the ball to about halfway into the backswing. One of the more dramatic waggles is featured by PGA Champion Jason Dufner, who pumps the handle of the club back and forth multiple times as he settles into his address position.

If the Waggle is the primer of the club then the Wiggle primes the body. The Wiggle is a shake out maneuver designed to loosen the body, keeping the joints free so the muscles can execute without restraint.

One of the best “Wiggles” I ever personally witnessed was in 1949 in an exhibition at my club in Meridian, Mississippi featuring “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias. Babe was arguably the greatest athlete, man or woman that ever lived. She accomplished so much in sports having won gold medals in the 1932 Olympics, setting a world record in the javelin and the 80 meter hurdles. During her career, she played professional basketball and once pitched an inning for the Phillies in an exhibition game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Her accomplishments on the golf course included 3 U.S. Open Championships, The 1946 U.S. and British Womens Amateur Championships, and 31 professional tournament victories.

Her vaudeville experience (Babe was also an accomplished harmonica player and tap dancer) provided her with a level of showmanship that endeared her to sports fans everywhere. The day of the exhibition was no exception as she stepped onto the tee during a particularly tense moment in the match. She turned to the crowd and stated,” It’s time for me to loosen my girdle and let ‘er fly!” She then wiggled her entire body and ripped a tee shot of Olympian proportions. It was thrilling to be there and witness this tremendous athlete at her best.

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Some of us are fortunate to play championship golf, but this isn’t essential in the enjoyment of the game. – Babe Didrikson Zaharias

The “Looks at the Target” impacts the way you see the shot in your minds eye. It is critical that your eyes remain parallel to the target line before and throughout the swing. The head should swivel back and forth, keeping the eyes focused down the target line. This will enable you to pick up the flight and curve of the ball. You will see the shape of the shot before you hit it, right to left or left to right whatever is called for. Keeping the eyes parallel to the target line is also a must on the putting green.

The number of times you look down the target line prior to initiating the swing is a matter of personal preference, but it is imperative that the looks always be the same in manner and number, on every single swing or stroke. Staying in this set routine will allow your subconscious to guide you and help you perform at your best.

The “Forward Press” is a preliminary motion designed to “kick start” the swing. Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, and Gary Player all forward pressed by flexing the right knee inward toward the left knee. Jack Nicklaus swiveled his head slightly back away from the ball and Phil Mickelson moves the handle of the club slightly toward the target. All of these movements are designed to be the ignition switch for the swing.

So there you have it, within every great golfer, there is a pre-shot routine that guides them into their posture, poises them to make the most relaxed yet athletic move, serves as a calming influence to relieve their stress and tension, and ignites their powerful and consistent movement.

You can be a great golfer too. See you on the next tee! Catch up on previous lessons here.

Eddie Merrins "The Little Pro"

Affectionately known as “The Little Pro”, Eddie Merrins has long been revered as a golf guru. “The Little Pro” has had success at every level throughout his career.

During his 14 years as UCLA men’s golf coach, the team reached #1 and won an NCAA National Championship. Eddie also had a stellar professional career playing in over 200 PGA Tour events including 8 US Opens, 6 PGA Championships, and 2 British Opens. While playing professionally he managed to leave his mark as a Club Professional at some of the most famed clubs in the United States, including Merion and Bel-Air Country Club where he is currently the Golf Professional Emeritus after a 40 year run as the Director of Golf.

Throughout his career he’s had the opportunity to instruct some of the biggest names in entertainment, as well as some of the highest-level professional and amateur golfers. His teaching philosophy propelled him into a class of few peers. He’s listed as a Top 100 Golf Magazine instructor and has been elected to numerous Halls of Fame, and most recently, as an inductee to the PGA of America Hall of Fame.

“The Little Pro” has a unique ability to effectively communicate the golf swing, as he displayed by authoring a best-selling book “Swing the Handle, Not the Clubhead”. This book led to the success of the “Swing the Handle” video series. You can purchase both here.

"The Little Pro" is passing along his knowledge through these articles with the help of his longtime friend Rick Oldach.