Big Play Len Mattiace won for the second time this year using the same balanced, on-plane swing that he had as a kid learning to play the game at my club

July 07, 2002

Watching Len Mattiace's supersmooth swing at the FedEx St. Jude
Classic on Sunday was a trip down memory lane, but not because
Len had pulled off a similarly dramatic comeback at February's
Nissan Open for the first win of his career. No, his victory
charge in Memphis was emotional for me because I've known Len
since he was an eight-year-old munchkin just beginning to fall
in love with golf at Smithtown Landing, on Long Island, N.Y.,
where I've worked since 1969. Len, who's now 34, has always been
low key and businesslike, so it was fitting that Sunday's most
important play wasn't flashy--just a stiffed wedge from 115
yards on the 16th hole (above) that gave him a lead he would
never relinquish. "Perfect!" I yelled at the TV after watching
Len's swing. "He still has that gorgeous rhythm and balance, and
everything's dead on plane."

GOOD OLD DAYS Len has fought some tough battles, including losing
his mom, Joyce, to lung cancer a few years ago, but I heard a
hell of a happy camper on Sunday evening when I got him on the
phone. Len, who now works with swing coach Jim McLean, vividly
recalled playing in the nine- and 10-year-old division of the
Metropolitan PGA Junior Classic at Smithtown. "That was my first
competition, and I remember thinking, Man, this is hard, because
I was only nine," Len said. "But I came back and won it the next
year." Len's memory of our two courses was also crystal clear.
"The big 18 looked like a monster back then," he said. "That's
why I always played the nine-hole par-3. I loved that little
course. In fact, I think every kid should learn on a par-3
because it's the best place to practice all the shots in the
bag."

LOOSE CANNON The U.S. Senior Open telecast on NBC provided more
proof that Johnny Miller needs to stick to reporting and stop
offering absurd opinions. Too often Miller crosses the line by
assessing a player's character before he even hits a shot.
"Let's see if he has the guts to play this shot," Miller will
say, as if that's all there is to it. He made an inexcusable
mistake during the fourth playoff hole on Sunday. While Don
Pooley was lining up a 10-foot putt for birdie and the victory,
Miller blabbered, "This is a very, very easy putt." C'mon,
Johnny. No putt to win a national championship is easy. You
would think a former U.S. Open winner would know that.

Michael Hebron, 60, is the director of golf at Smithtown (N.Y.)
Landing Golf Club and one of Golf Magazine's Top 100 teachers.

THREE COLOR PHOTOS: COURTESY OF ABC (TOP) TWO COLOR PHOTOS: DAVID BERGMAN (2)

THE TIP

Balance is the core element of an effective swing, in part
because good balance is necessary to help keep the club on plane.
Swing plane is the angle of the shaft at address (1). It can vary
from player to player. For consistent strikes you should maintain
this angle during each part of the swing: address, backswing,
impact and follow-through. Notice in the sequence of Len's
approach shot to the 16th hole on Sunday (above left) that his
eyes, shoulders, hands and the club are parallel. In the third
frame the lines show that Len's body, and shaft, are perfectly on
plane.

To learn how to stay in balance and on plane, take easy
three-quarter practice swings with the club of your choosing
while standing atop a milk crate. (Caution: Please be careful!)
With the opening of the crate facing up, put a foot on either
corner of the crate's two long sides. If you swing in balance,
the crate won't move and your body and the club should be on
plane throughout the swing (2).

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)