From Frustration to Simplicity

Todd’s Story

Todd Graves, protege of Moe NormanI often tell my students that no one has spent more time and money on golf instruction than me.  This all started in 1991 when my golf game was desperate and I needed help. I had just returned from the Asian Professional Golf Tour competing against the likes of V.J Singh, David Toms and Todd Hamilton to name a few.  After playing with some of the best in the world, I learned that I lacked consistency and I needed better ball striking abilities if I was to continue playing.  After discussing my situation with some of my tour friends, I decided to search for an instructor who could help me understand the swing and help me become a better player.
After all, if I couldn’t beat the guys on the Asian Tour, how would I ever beat the guys on the U.S. Tour?  So to get better, I began to travel around the United States spending time with the most well known instructors; the guys you see on the covers of magazines and on the golf channel today.  There is only one word for the results of my attempts to get better; confusion.

I finally moved to Dallas Texas to work with one of golf’s best instructors and finally, after two years of hard work and practice sometimes hitting 1000 balls in a day, I had become tired and frustrated frustration. That is what I was feeling in late 1993.  There is no other word for it.  And trust me, nobody was hitting more golf balls or practicing harder.  But I had reached wits end.  I felt as though I had absolutely no hope and after running out of sponsors, I didn’t have the money or the heart to continue and I quit playing golf.

Then one day, while living in Dallas, a friend from college came through town after competing on the Canadian PGA Tour.  He had a tape of a mysterious Canadian who was known for his unique golf swing and somewhat odd personality.  The man’s name was Moe Norman.  As I watched the video, one thing in particular caught my attention; the people watching him hit balls.  They were professional golfers that I knew in college.  There were dozens of them, all watching this amazing Canadian Legend hit golf balls.

Now, before I continue with my story, let me ask you a question.  Have you ever had any peculiar events occur in your life that kind of lead you in a direction?  Things you might call coincidences or synchronicities? (I hate to call them coincidences, because I think all things are purposeful), but have you ever had a series of events occur that kind of push you toward something?  Well, during this period of my life, these types of events were spontaneously occurring in my life.  Because at the same time I was visiting with my friend, there was a man named Jack Kuykendall demonstrating his Natural Golf Method at a driving range in Dallas that my professional golf sponsors owned.

These two events triggered a new hope in my thinking about golf.  I thought, “Could there be an easier way to strike a golf ball?” Could Moe Norman have the answers? Maybe I had been searching in the wrong places for the answers to my game.

At that time, I began to look further into Moe Norman and Jack Kuykendall.  What I found was that there were some differences between what Jack was demonstrating and what Moe Norman actually did.  Jack discussed having the hands split apart on the club 3 inches, Moe had an overlapping grip.  Jack had his own club design, Moe played with standard clubs that he altered for his swing.  Also, Jack used a big grip and talked about hammering a nail while Moe had a slightly larger than normal but tapered grip on his clubs.  But, even with the differences in technique, there was one thing in common, the single axis.  Jack talked about the science of the Single Axis and Moe Norman was the living validation of possibly an easier way to hit a golf ball.

The Single Axis

These events lured me back to the driving range and back to the video room to study my swing mechanics.  Could my new knowledge give me the results I was looking for?  Could the answer to a simple way to hit a ball be in the Single Axis golf swing of Moe Norman?

I often utilized video often in my practice because I believed in modeling and not wasting time with poor technique.  I had spent so much time looking at other players golf swings, it was easy for me to understand how helpful video analysis could be.  I figured 10 perfect swings on video are a better use of time than 100 bad swings on the driving range.  Besides, the driving range couldn’t tell me anything about my golf swing and I wanted to know more about the club movement.  And now after seeing the video from Canada, I wanted to Model Moe Norman and I wanted to do it without wasting time.

So there I was, in my teacher’s studio about to defy all of his teachings and put myself in positions that would make him laugh.  (I would later find a tape of Moe in my teacher’s office.) However, with the state of my current golf game,  I had nothing to lose.  So there I was, standing in front of the video cameras I address the ball on the video screen, lifted my hands into a straight line with the club shaft, widened my stance and looked down at the ball.  I then made my first single axis golf swing.  Of course, I immediately ran to the video machine to play it back. As I played it back, I, for the first time in my life, found what I was looking for.

Impact Plane

Before I explain what I saw on video, let me explain my “conventional” golf swing.  At address I hung my arms below my shoulders.  When I did this the club is on a separate line than the arms which I now call a two-axis swing system where the arms are on one axis and the club is on another.  My swing was a combination of arm movement on one plane, rotation on another, a hinging of the hands and turning of the body.  And this was only my backswing.  My downswing was a combination of re-rotating my body, arms, club and lifting of my body to impact where I could then try to finish in balance.

My practice consisted of video taping my swing and drawing a line on the tv screen at address and then again at impact.  As always, the impact line always appeared above the address line.  In other words, it was higher than the original shaft line at address.  This meant, in conventional terms, that the club was starting on one plane and impacting on another.  The problem with this “two” plane type of swing is that because the club starts on a lower plane, it must lift into impact.  This lifting of the club shaft meant that the upper body must also lift to allow for the higher impact plane.  As I had learned, the upward and backward movement of the body is a difficult move and it takes coordination, timing and lots of practice. (I recently explained this in the July 2005 Golf Tips Magazine).

With all of this movement, consider the fact that it only takes ONE DEGREE of clubface error to hit a driver 30 yards off line. The conventional two axis system makes it difficult to square the face at impact.  With such a small room for error it would seem obvious that the goal is to create the least amount of deviation of the club plane between address and impact.  It made sense to swing the club on a SINGLE plane.

What I saw on Video

So, when I went to my teacher’s studio for the first time to model Moe’s swing, by adjustng my grip, lining the club correctly with my arms, I had finally reached my goal.  When I swung, the club impacted the golf ball on EXACTLY the same line as address.  By modeling Moe, I had finally swing the club on the single plane.  It was so simple.  I then realized that Moe Norman, the mysterious Canadian who swung the club what he called “My Way”, had a secret.  Moe had unknowingly uncovered the answer to a better ball striking technique.

When I realized how easy it was to swing the club on plane, I then realized that all of my conventional efforts were, to put it quite frankly, wrong.  I don’t think they were a waste of time because without them I would not have searched for a simple way.  But I knew that I had to learn a new IDEA of the golf swing.  My concepts of how to swing the club had been drastically challenged.  The conventional thoughts of arms hanging below the shoulder, lower body rotations, and shoulder turn were now dramatically altered.  I knew that my understanding of Moe’s golf swing and the single plane was just a beginning of my learning process.

Meeting Moe

I must admit, after that first day in the video room, I was extremely excited.  I felt as though I had discovered the Holy Grail of the golf swing.  I realized that after reading all of the golf magazines, studying the best players in the world, playing on the Asian professional golf tour and then working with the best instructors in the world that I been making one very big mistake.  I had been asking the wrong question.  I had been searching for what works on tour however the tour is full of many swings that work.  When I finally asked one simple question, “Who is the best in the world?” only one name emerged from even the best players on tour; his name was Murray ‘Moe’ Norman.

It was mid summer 1994 and Moe was performing a clinic in Chicago.  I knew that if I was to take my learning to the next level I needed to meet the man behind the Single Axis Golf Swing.  I decided to drive to Chicago and meet Moe and watched Moe hit balls in person for the first time.  His first three shots from 50 yards struck the target.  The fourth shot wet directly under it.  By the end of the clinic, Moe was striking drivers at a 250 yard post.  I watched as about every 10th ball would strike the post.  I can honestly say that I have never seen a greater display of control and accuracy of the golf club.  I have never seen golf look so simple.  It was the greatest ball striking I have ever seen.

After the clinic I approached Moe.  We talked about his amazing display and I told him that I had never seen a better clinic.  Moe’s first words to me were “I’m the best in the world”.  “There is no doubt” I said “No doubt.” “Mind if I hit a few of your clubs” I asked. “Sure, but there too heavy for you” Moe said.  They weighed a ton.  Lead tape covered the heads.  But as I swung the club, Moe watched as I hit his 7-iron and then his 5 iron.  “Looks like me without a belly, looks like me without a belly” Moe said.

From that day Moe and I became friends.  We played, practiced and performed clinics occasionally.  I often visited Moe in Florida when I was either playing tournaments or working with Natural Golf.  Our relationship became one of a student and teacher.  Moe was extremely intuitive and played golf by feel.  I learned the things that Moe himself could not explain.  As I spent more time with Moe, I learned to “bridge the gap” between his feelings for the golf swing and the mechanical and physical reality.  I could never express my appreciation for Moe’s kindness and generosity as I diligently learned to know what he knew.  It was for that reason that I have acquired the nickname “Little Moe”.

The important part of this message is the promise I made to Moe during what would be my final round with him on July 4, 2004; 60 days before Moe’s death.  He was excited about all that I was doing with my swing and commented to me that he never though that he would see it but that I had “mastered” his move.  That day, I promised Moe that I would continue to be his voice to tell people about his amazing swing no matter what the consequences.  I promised him that I would show others how his simple technique could help them enjoy the game just as it helped me learn to love the game again.

Enjoy your journey!