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Mr. Over-the-Top Goes to the Golf Doctor

by Jack Berry

Michigan Golfer editor Terry Moore had seen enough. After all, how many times can you go by a landfill without wrinkling your nose?

Moore owns the fastest swing in West Michigan (North, South and East as well) but he also owns a 2.5 index and has made a hole-in-one with a 1-iron. As TV analyst Gary Koch would say, “Is that any good?”

And for too many years Moore has subjected himself to watching my pathetic fall-away jump shots on the tee and what PGA professional Bob Percey, after one look, called a “classic over-the-top swing.” It is, without doubt, the ugliest thing in golf.

Tired of hearing my gripes (he’s tired?), Moore sent me to Dr. Percey at my neighborhood golf course, Shenandoah Country Club in West Bloomfield.

Percey, 1977 Central Michigan University graduate, spent two years on the Spacecoast Minitour, played in two Buick Opens and four National Club Professional Championships, taught for four years as an assistant to Steve Horvat at Wabeek Country Club in suburban Detroit and then was head professional for 18 years at Chemung Hills Country Club in Howell.

Now Percey teaches at the Professional Golf Training Center in Windemere, Fla., in the winter and Shenandoah in the summer and his lesson book is chock-full, testament to his teaching ability and easy-going personality.

“I love to see people’s faces when they do something they’ve been practicing hard to do. The rewards in teaching are great, to see people happy,” Percey said.

Then we put him to the test. He didn’t run away but after our first lesson he did undergo lasik eye surgery, perhaps refusing to believe what his eyes were telling him.

The eyes did not lie: a wimpy cut game because of the aforementioned “classic over the top” which delivered a career ladened with shrimp distance and obscene divots.

I would kill to draw the ball but no matter how pure my thoughts, no matter how I envision the perfect inside out swing with a beautiful high finish the fact is that what happens is that once I start coming down, it’s over the top again and there was the x-rated video Percey had just shot of that miserable move.

Percey pointed out that the problem didn’t start with coming down—it started with going back. First he strengthened my grip, got my head up off my chest, my butt out a bit more and the ball more in the center of my stance. I have a terrible habit of getting the ball more and more forward until at times it seems opposite my left big toe.

He pulled out one of those teaching aids you see on The Golf Channel, the one where you fit your left hand into a formed grip and the right hand into a sliding piece of plastic. Take the club back on the proper plane and it keeps the right shoulder where it should be, not over and across.

It’s a pull-the-bell motion, pull down, not yank it sideways.

Take a 5-iron, pull the bell twice and then swing away. MAGIC!

So I finished a humongous bucket of balls because my lifelong motto has been: A thing is not worth doing at all unless you overdo it.

I hit ball after ball, beautiful arches and, going LEFT!

It was on to Grand Rapids with all those pure thoughts in my head. About the middle of the night my back was so sore from hitting so many balls that a bottle of Advil wouldn’t help and the next morning Editor Moore and I began a two day blitz of 18 holes at Thousand Oaks, a beautiful, heavily-wooded new public course designed by Rees Jones that nestles comfortably in the hills north of Grand Rapids, nine at Moss Ridge in Ravenna, and nine at spectacular Arcadia Bluffs and then the following day, the full 18, walking, at Arcadia Bluffs. A tough walk on a brilliant course that is going to draw national attention.

And I was thinking so many pure thoughts about the pulling-the-bell motion, making sure of my grip, ball position and head up that I was a basket case.

“Always happens the first round after a lesson,” Moore said sympathetically.

The next morning at Arcadia Bluffs, a cloudless, virtually windless day with Lake Michigan sparkling bluer than blue, there was a bit of a comebck. The grip was working. The posture was good. Solid contact was made. Still too much over the top but a sliver of progress. Onward and upward.

Editor’s note: Considering the severity of Mr. Berry’s swing maladies, the high quality of his prose, and the determination of his undaunted instructor, this column will continue as a series. Stay tuned.

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