Bible Or Bull? First published 34 years ago, 'The Golfing Machine' remains the most controversial instruction book ever

July 07, 2003
July 07, 2003

Table of Contents
July 7, 2003

Inside Tennis

Bible Or Bull? First published 34 years ago, 'The Golfing Machine' remains the most controversial instruction book ever

This book is intended to serve as a duffer's bible, the golf nut's
catalog, the circuit player's handbook and the instructor's
--Homer Kelley's The Golfing Machine

This is an article from the July 7, 2003 issue

Imagine a world of golf instruction devoid of personalities,
videos, CD-ROMs, magazines, websites and infomercials. Imagine a
single source from which every teacher and player could get
information. "That's not a dream," says Joe Daniels, a
49-year-old club pro from Beaverton, Ore., "and the wonderful
thing is, the book has already been written. Now it's our job to
bring it to the masses."

That book, according to Daniels, is The Golfing Machine, the most
controversial and arguably the most influential volume in the
history of golf instruction. Written by the late Homer Kelley,
The Golfing Machine became a seminal tome among golf cognoscenti
in 1969, when Kelley self-published the first of its six editions
and created a program that trains, tests and certifies teachers
in the principles put forward in its 241 pages. Yet The Golfing
Machine has never gained widespread appeal, largely because it
looks and reads like a physics textbook, which in a sense it is.
Kelley based his explanations of the swing, as he wrote, "on
law--the geometry and physics of force and motion."

Daniels and Danny Elkins, a 46-year-old teacher from Roswell,
Ga., are two of the book's authorized instructors. In December
they pooled their life savings and purchased from Kelley's widow,
Sally, the copyright to The Golfing Machine, its operations,
Kelley's memorabilia and the manuscript for an unpublished
seventh edition. Intrigue has long swirled around The Golfing
Machine and its enigmatic author. Was Kelley, who died of a heart
attack while giving a seminar to the Georgia PGA on Valentine's
Day 1983, a mad scientist, or was he the most brilliant person
ever to analyze the swing? Is The Golfing Machine the last word
on the swing, or is it an incomprehensible waste of paper? Did
The Golfing Machine help Bobby Clampett and other tour pros, or
did the book destroy their careers?

On one hand PGA Tour veteran Steve Elkington quotes from The
Golfing Machine like a minister reciting Scripture, and David
Leadbetter makes the book required reading for
instructors-in-training at his golf academies. On the other hand
Hal Sutton thinks the book is so complicated that it's not worth
reading, and teaching pro Jimmy Ballard scornfully says, "I never
saw the book produce anything good."

Until she sold the rights last December, Sally Kelley had
single-handedly tried to propagate the book, working out of a
cubbyhole office in the Seattle house that she shared with her
husband. She served as publisher, publicist, bookkeeper, website
editor and manager of a worldwide network of The Golfing
Machine-certified pros. She even opened a museum dedicated to her
husband and his book in their garage. However, four years ago,
Sally says, she suffered severe depression from the stress of
running the operation by herself. That's when she considered the
previously unthinkable--selling the book. "It felt as if I would
be selling a part of my soul," she says, "but I realized that I
could never make Homer's dream come true."

Why trust instinct when there is a science.
--The Golfing Machine

Ben Doyle is one of golf's most famous instructors and the most
prominent teacher to have embraced The Golfing Machine. Doyle,
70, teaches 364 days a year--his day off is Christmas--at the
Golf Club at Quail Lodge in Carmel, Calif. He is a pro's pro,
having given lessons to half of the world's top 50 instructors as
well as to more than 25 PGA Tour players, including Elkington,
Paul Azinger, Bernhard Langer, Johnny Miller, Curtis Strange and
Grant Waite. But on a rainy Saturday afternoon in October 1969
Doyle was a fledgling club pro at the Broadmoor Golf Club in
Seattle. While he was sitting behind the pro-shop counter, a
short, skinny man wearing a fedora, a suit and tie, and a trench
coat entered the shop. "I'd like to show you a book I've written
about the golf swing," the man said.

Doyle's first instinct was to tell the stranger he didn't have
time to talk, but the man told him that a mutual friend from
Doyle's Christian Science church had suggested he visit him, so
Doyle ushered him to a quiet table in the men's grill. "I thought
we would be there for a few minutes," says Doyle. "We spent six
hours together."

Kelley wasn't a golf pro. A deeply religious man with an
insatiable appetite for knowledge, he idolized Leonardo da Vinci,
Albert Einstein, Jesus Christ and Michelangelo. Kelley worked as
a Christian Science practitioner, as a consultant to Boeing and
in the jewelry business, but during his free time he pursed his
passion: the study of the golf swing. That obsession began in
1941 when, only six months after taking up the game, he shot a
four-over-par 76 at a 6,000-yard course in Tacoma. Curious about
why he had played so well, Kelley asked a few teaching pros to
analyze his swing. The responses--"You're keeping your head down"
and "Your balance is great"--were unsatisfactory, so he began a
quest that would last for the rest of his life.

Kelley frequented ranges, hit balls into a net he built in his
garage and played to about a 15 handicap, mostly at public
courses. It wasn't Kelley's original intent to write a book, but
after 14 years of research he became convinced that he had
uncovered the science of the swing and believed that he was being
divinely led to share his findings with the world. During his
first conversation with Doyle, Kelley said he hadn't solicited
advice from anyone else. "Instantly I knew that Homer was a
genius," says Doyle.

Kelley didn't claim that there was one correct swing. Rather, he
said there are countless correct actions, and his book was an
encyclopedia of them, a point that has been overlooked by
detractors. Kelley told Doyle that the swing has 16 components
(he later expanded that to 24), and that each component can be
executed in multiple combinations. The components include the
grip, the shoulder turn and the hinge action.

Kelley also declared that there are three basic essentials and
three basic imperatives that all golfers need to hit a good shot.
The essentials are a stationary head, balance and rhythm; the
imperatives are a flat left wrist, a clubhead lag pressure point
and a straight plane line. One mathematician who studied The
Golfing Machine calculated that the components it identifies can
be combined into more than 468 quadrillion swings. "Homer called
it 'customization,'" says Doyle. "He knew golf is played poorly
by most people and that they need healing. Thankfully he
uncovered the truth we need to provide that healing."

G.O.L.F. is a game for thinkers, and as detailed as this book is,
it is still greatly dependent on thinking players.
--The Golfing Machine

"It was love at first sight," says Sally. "Homer and I were both
from Minnesota, we had both been divorced, and we both loved cats
and church."

A hale 91-year-old with blue eyes and rosy cheeks, Sally
gleefully remembers life with her husband. "We were homebodies,"
she says. "We never took vacations because Homer was so peaceful
here, and he couldn't imagine a day away from his research. We
didn't have kids, but golf was Homer's baby."

Golf dominated the Kelley home. Homer's iconic acronym, G.O.L.F.
(geometrically oriented linear force) was spelled out in
eight-inch steel letters on a weather vane atop the roof and on a
sign over the garage door. One of the telephones was shaped like
a golf bag.

After publishing The Golfing Machine, Kelley spent his life
promoting it. He led seminars at PGA sections around the country,
gave private lessons and wrote newspaper and magazine articles.
He also created a certification system for teachers that has
three levels, ranging from a G.S.E.B. (Golf Stroke Engineering
Bachelor) to a G.S.E.D. (Golf Stroke Engineering Doctorate). An
instructor earned a degree by passing a take-home written test of
more than 50 questions based on the book and then getting a
recommendation from a previously certified Golfing Machine
instructor who vouched for his teaching ability.

Kelley granted degrees to instructors who attended the weeklong
classes he taught at his home. He used his library as a classroom
and the hitting net in the garage for demonstrations. Oklahoma
State coach Mike Holder, whose Cowboys have won a record eight
NCAA titles in 30 seasons, attended one of Kelley's first
classes, in 1981. "We didn't understand a lot of what Mr. Kelley
said, but he was fascinating, and you just knew he was speaking
the truth," says Holder. "He could clearly explain and
demonstrate things about the swing that nobody else could."

This book can support individual My Way procedures but no The Way
--The Golfing Machine

In the early 1980s Bobby Clampett was going to make Homer
Kelley's dream come true. Clampett was going to become the Tour's
best golfer, and his public avowal of a lifelong devotion to The
Golfing Machine was going to make the book a best-seller. A
two-time college player of the year at BYU, Clampett roared onto
the Tour in 1982 by winning the Southern Open. In '84 he became
the youngest player to amass $500,000 in career earnings. With
blue eyes and curly blond hair Clampett was a media darling, and
he never did an interview without crediting his success to The
Golfing Machine and Doyle. Clampett had been smitten with the
book since he was a boy learning the game under Doyle's tutelage.
"I read that book every day," says Clampett. "I was so into it
that I wrote a high school paper for science class about clubhead

But in 1983 Clampett's game mysteriously started to fall apart.
Desperate for help, he ditched Doyle and solicited advice from a
dozen other teachers. Years of overanalysis led to swing
paralysis, and Clampett never regained his form. By the mid-1990s
he was off the Tour. Clampett's demise brought down The Golfing
Machine as well as Doyle. As book sales plummeted, rival teachers
began mocking the book's principles and the certification

"When I played well, people said it was because of The Golfing
Machine, but when I came on hard times the same people blamed my
problems on the book," says Clampett. "The reality is that I
caused my own demise. I should have stuck with what got me to the

There is more information in this book than any golfer can use in
many lifetimes.
--The Golfing Machine

When Elkington joined the Tour in 1987, many of his peers said
that he had the prettiest swing in the game. So why in '98, a
year after winning the Players Championship and finishing eighth
on the money list, did he decide to make changes in his swing
based on what he had read in The Golfing Machine? "A friend
introduced me to Ben [Doyle], and Ben introduced me to the book,"
says Elkington. "Ben and the book were the most interesting
things I'd ever come across in golf. The Golfing Machine is the
Holy Grail. It takes all the 'feels like' things and explains
them. That knowledge is the ultimate power."

Elkington is the type of player who cares more about
understanding the art of the game than the results of his swing.
He's so into The Golfing Machine that he often practices without
hitting a single ball, a regimen that is not prescribed by Kelley
but one that Elkington devised himself. Before and after rounds
Elkington will go to the range and roll out a five-by-six-foot
plastic mat created by Doyle that, in words and illustrations, is
a condensed version of The Golfing Machine. "At first some people
thought I was nuts," says Elkington. "But now I get a lot of
people who want to learn."

Elkington struggled in 2000 and '01 because of hip surgery and
then a back injury. Healthy again last season, he lost the
British Open in a playoff and made more than $1 million on Tour.

Elkington's play is one reason that there has been revived
interest in The Golfing Machine. Sales have risen to about 2,000
copies annually from less than 500 a few years ago, and a growing
number of prominent teachers--including Leadbetter, Ron Gring,
Mike Hebron, Jim McLean and Jim Suttie--have incorporated
elements of The Golfing Machine into their teachings. Still, the
critics are as outspoken as ever. "I can't understand it, and I'm
not sure a student at MIT could," says Butch Harmon, Tiger
Woods's coach.

Nevertheless, Daniels and Elkins are undaunted. They're focused
on publishing the seventh edition of the book and debunking what
they believe are misconceptions about Kelley and his bible. "Lots
of people think golfers who believe in the book are a
lunatic-fringe cult," says Daniels. "But it's actually the
opposite, and that's what we've devoted our lives to showing the

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY GERRY GROPP/STAR SYSTEM PRESS TRUE BELIEVER Doyle has devoted his career to teaching Kelley's concepts, some of which are printed on a mat.COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF SALLY KELLEY EARLY ACOLYTE In 1981 Kelley spun a clubhead with a string to demonstrate swing plane for Holder (back right).COLOR PHOTO: RICH FRISHMAN SWEET SWING Sally, standing in one of Homer's swing-plane teaching devices, sold the rights to his business last winter.COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK MR. MACHINE Despite possessing an enviable swing, Elkington made several changes after being converted by Doyle.COLOR PHOTO: ANTHONY BOLANTE/REUTERS FADING STAR When the phenom Clampett mysteriously flamed out, critics blamed 'The Golfing Machine.'
"It felt as if I'd be selling a part of my soul," Sally says,
"but I could never make Homer's dream come
Elkington says the book "takes the 'feels like' things and
explains them. That knowledge is the ultimate power."