Three weeks agoswing coaches Mike Bennett and Andy Plummer were standing on the practice rangeat the PGA Tour's Deutsche Bank Championship near Boston when they sawsomething that cracked them up.
To their right,veteran Dudley Hart and rookie sensation Camilo Villegas were side-by-side,trying to figure out how to make full swings with golf tees stuck under theirarmpits.
The drill--a staplefor Bennett's and Plummer's eight PGA Tour clients--is designed to make players"stay connected," keeping their arms and torsos moving in concert. Onlyit wasn't working. Hart and Villegas looked as if they were attempting toescape from straitjackets as tees dropped repeatedly on the tops of their feet."I had to take out my video camera," Bennett recalls. "It was justtoo funny."
The duo have beenlaughing a lot this season. Just two days before, pupil Will Mackenzie had wonthe Tour's Reno-Tahoe Open. In August, Dean Wilson had won at theInternational, near Denver, and in April, Aaron Baddeley had taken home thetrophy at the Verizon Heritage, in Hilton Head, S.C. Word of mouth spread sofast that Tim Herron took a sabbatical from his regular instructor in May andworked with Plummer for just 48 hours before winning at Colonial.
Bennett and Plummermay be the Tour's teachers of the moment, but their method is rooted in a35-year-old physics- and mathematics-laden tome, Homer Kelley's The GolfingMachine. In the early-1980s Bobby Clampett was the book's flag-bearer, but whenhis career went south, so did the book's reputation. Mac O'Grady, thelegendarily eccentric player and instructor, taught his version of theMachine's methods through the '80s, but his odd, secret-society manner putpeople off.
In the early- tomid-'90s first Plummer and then Bennett, both struggling mini-tour players,worked with O'Grady. The lessons were influential. By the end of the decadeboth had dropped off the tours and turned to teaching. Though they held variousjobs throughout the country, they remained connected because of their devotionto the Machine's principles. And in 2002 they met again through Tom Scherrer, astruggling pro who hired both of them to help with his swing. Something aboutthe tandem teaching assignment clicked, and they continued to work together,slowly building up a stable of Tour clients, including Wilson, Steve Elkingtonand Grant Waite.
The pair has justopened their own teaching facility in Radnor, Pa., and the best advertisementfor their services may be Wilson's success. Through his 20s and early 30sWilson, now 36, bounced "from one top teacher to another," he says,"but things kept getting worse. There was a time in the middle of 2004 whenI didn't want to hit balls in front of people anymore." He began workingregularly with Bennett and Plummer in late '04. Since then he's risen 143places in the World Ranking, to 67th, with winnings this year of $1.986million.
Plenty of players,though, look askance at Bennett and Plummer's teaching and its reliance on TheGolfing Machine. With its talk of angles, tilts and multiple planes, the bookreminds many players of an onerous high school class. But the two instructorsinsist that students grasp the theory's principles. "Some guys simply wantto fix the computer," says Elkington. "Mike and Andy want to open upthe computer and show you how it works."
The resulting swinglooks radically different from today's dominant models. Most top teachersadvocate a big move off the ball, loading up the right side to produce powerand keeping the shoulders more or less level. Bennett and Plummer, in contrast,stress staying over the ball, with less weight shift and a steep shoulder turn."At first it looks and feels like a reverse pivot," Baddeley says,"but now I absolutely love the feeling of being right on top of theball."
Ultimately, anemphasis on consistent ball striking, rather than distance, is the key to theirpopularity. The power game "is fine for guys who hit it as far as Tiger,Phil and Vijay," Wilson says, "but what about the rest of us? We're notgoing to beat anybody trying to play that way."
Here are some ofthe top teachers working on the PGA Tour, listed by how much their clients havebanked so far this season.