Automatic Repeatability ...

Rick's automatic repeatability was enhanced whtn Paul took this polaroid instant swing sequence of his full swing
Paul Harney's playing career included playing and competing against the likes of some pretty individualistic styles of swinging and playing - Arnold Palmers' follow through, Lee Trevino's unique motion, Miller Barbers awkward position at the top, Chi Chi Rodriquez and Doug Sander's extremely short backswing, Billy Casper's sweeping hook ...

But according to Paul, they all found their own individualistic styles of swinging and playing based on what worked for them and NEVER CARED WHAT ANYBODY ELSE THOUGHT OF IT. That is the key. They might all look different, but they never changed unto themselves.They just kept repeating their individual swings automatically without changing until they could do it in their sleep.

One day Paul decided he wanted to take a look at my full swing repeatability so we went out to play the back nine on his course.
From the tee and fairway I recall hitting my best shots that day - but from the rough and whenever I would encounter an uneven/poor lie, I would hit my worst. Back in the clubhouse and over a cup of coffee Paul asked me how I thought I played.

"It seemed that I hit my best shots from the tee and fairway and worst shots from the rough or when I had a bad lie ", I summarized.
"Yes, I saw the same thing" Paul agreed, "what were your trying to do when you had a bad lie?"
Then I began to describe in great detail how I had intentionally altered my swing to adjust to the bad lies at which point asked
"Did it work on any of those shots where you changed your swing because of a bad lie?" knowing full well that it didn't.
"Well then, I suggest that you change your set-up or what club to use, but not your swing when you have a bad lie"

Yet another lesson and simple truth about 'automatic repeatability'.

Lesson: Change club selection and set up, but keep your swing the same even when you have a bad lie.

You've Lost All That Time ...

Rick practicing full swing at Paul Harney GC practice range with clubhouse in background
During that six month period leading up to the PGA Tour Qualifier in 1974, I would practice at Paul Harneys Golf course range by working on my full swing frequently going right through the bag. Paul would come out to the range and watch me as I practiced. Sometimes he would just watch and observe, saying very little, the go back into the clubhouse.

Other times, like this particular stretch of a two week period, he would watch, observe and then ask an open ended question. During this particular stretch, every day about midway through my practice session he would come out, watch some shots then ask me what I was working on. Every day for two weeks straight he would ask me the same question and I would give him a different answer.

One day I would be working on weight shift, another day clubface rotation, another day trying not to hook, another session swing plane and on and on. Paul would listen to my varied responses, then watch a handful more shots and without a word, walk back into the clubhouse. Here I thought he was supposed to be helping me with my swing and long game and all he seemed to be doing was asking the same question without a response - for two weeks straight!

But then, on the final day of that two week stretch, he came out again and asked the same question, only to have me give him yet another different answer as to what I was working on ...

"Do you realize that I've been coming out here to watch you practice every day for the last two weeks and asked what you are working on in your swing, and each day you've given me a different answer?" Paul began, " What you might not realize that every time you change your swing you've lost all that practice time you've spent before."

Wow, it was like a lightning bolt just struck me - I was wasting my time because I kept changing my swing every day. From that point on I attempted to work on the same swing every day without changing in my quest for automatic repeatability.​

Lesson: When practicing full swing, focus on one thing at a time for skill acquisition before moving onto something else.

Nicklaus' 1 Iron ...

Back in the day when just about every tour player had a one iron in their bag, I was no different carrying the one iron 'knife' as a driving iron. On tight short par 4 holes or as a second shot to par 5's, if you could carve a one iron into the fairway consistently it could prove as an advantage to use in place of the driver to keep in play.

One day while I was practicing at his range during that 6 month stretch, Paul came out to watch me hit 1 irons to a target about 240 yards away. I was struggling with my swing and the ball was going all over the place. As difficult as a 1 iron is to hit, no two shots were the same and I was in search of that magic bullet, that one quick tip, trying something different every swing.

In all his wisdom and fully aware of what I was thinking and doing, Paul waited until I hit the best shot of the bunch, a high flying majestic 1- iron that had my natural shot shape with a soft draw into the target 240 yards and landed right next to the flag.

"Now, do you think Nicklaus hits a 1 iron any better than that?" he questioned with raised eyebrows, not waiting for my response.
"Well Jack Nicklaus doesn't hit a 1 iron any better than you just did - I know, I've played with him ... he just hits that shot that you just hit more often than you do"

Lesson learned ... Attempt to repeat what's right about your best shots rather than fix what's wrong with the worst.​

Internalize the look, feel sound,& train of thought of your best shots for more automatic repetition.​​

I'm Just Trying to Hit it Straight ...

In keeping with Paul's habit of watching me hit balls and work on my full swing at his golf range during that six month stretch, there was a pattern to his observation. He would watch a few minutes' worth of shots, then ask me about my train of thought and frame of mind when practicing.

"I'm just trying to hit it straight" was my response one day.
"Well, you'll be the first one to ever do that", he quipped.
And then, for one of the very few times during my 5 year apprenticeship, Paul Harney displayed the talent of a 7- time PGA Tour winner for me by demonstrating every ball flight pattern imaginable ... high, low, and mid-range draws hooks, fades and slices all intentionally into the target I was practicing to ...

"You see, we [tour players] never try to hit the ball on a straight line, we all try to work the ball ..."

Some years later, after 6 hours of observing the perfect swing of the Iron Byron machine testing equipment at the USGA Golf House Testing Facility, not even the perfect swing of a machine hit the ball on a straight line - * the ball flight pattern was a 3-5 yard draw.

Lesson: Working ball into the target more realistic then trying to hit ball on straight line.

*Source: USGA Golf House ; Far Hills N.J., Iron Byron Testing Machine Observation @ 112 mph ; 1990

Caspers Sweeping Hook ...

Paul enjoyed talking about other tour players and their individual swinging styles and mannerisms. During these fireside chats he would frequently share stories with me about other tour players and how they played. To drive home his point about automatic swing repeatability, doing the same thing every time and establishing workable ball flight patterns into the target, he used *51 PGA Tour Winner Billy Casper's sweeping hook off the tee as an example.

"That Casper," he recounted one day, "He'd aim up to 50 - 100 yards right of he target off the tee and hook it into the middle of the fairway every time" ...

"What happened if he had a sharp dogleg right with high trees lining the right side of the dogleg?" I questioned.
"He'd aim up over the trees, and hook the ball high over the tree line into the middle of the fairway" Paul shot back.
"and he was the best putter I've ever seen ..."
So much for hitting the ball straight ...

Lesson: Develop a 'go to' shot shape that you can and do repeat regardless of the design of the hole.
*Source ; Billy Casper PGA Tour Official Profile ; Wikepedia .Org 11/1/15​

Swing Lower ...

The first lesson I ever observed was watching Paul instruct a beginning student at his Paul Harney Golf Academy. Much to my surprise, what struck me about that first lesson was how patient and encouraging Pauls' instruction was to a novice beginner who was either topping or whiffing the first couple dozen shots. In my mind, here was a player who had won 7 PGA Tour events and routinely shoots in the 60's and there he is encouraging a brand new student to the game who barely knew what end of the club to
hold and couldn't get the ball off the ground.

What a lesson it was for me to witness such an accomplished player teaching a novice beginner with the utmost patience, support and encouragement who, after every swing would frequently say "almost" or "that's the way" when the effort was made by the student to apply his teachings.

But a beginner's frustration won out and finally exasperated, the greenhorn student had enough of the whiffs and tops and wanted to know why the ball wasn't going up in the air. "You're hitting the top of the ball, it's called topping" Paul offered to the student.
"Well, how do I stop doing that" the beginner said somewhat impatiently.
"Swing lower" was Paul's simple reply as he continued to the next student down the line.​

Lesson: To eliminate topping, make swing intention to swing lower, down and under down the bottom of the ball.

Swing Only as Good as the Contact ...

Sequence of clubhead swing down on bottom ball with leading edge and clubface contacting ball and ground at the same time
You see, to Paul Harney the swing was only as good as the contact you make. He often times pointed out the glaring individualistic swing differences of his generations' greatest players and ball strikers - Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, Hogan, Trevino - who all shared one thing in common - making square and solid contact at impact.

To make square and solid contact, Paul frequently talked about developing leading edge control, where the bottom front edge of the clubface or 'leading edge' made precise contact with the bottom back of the ball on the middle of the clubface with the face angle square at impact. Ideally, Paul liked to see the leading edge hit the bottom of the ball and the ground at the same time, rather than ground to ball or ball then ground.

In his mind, as long as you made this kind of solid contact somewhere near the middle of a square clubface aka the "sweet spot", you could develop your own individual style of swing "mechanics" and he didn't really care what those "mechanics" looked like - as long as at the moment of truth - impact you were repeating an individual style of swinging capable of squaring the clubface while making solid contact with the ball.​

Lesson: Focus on leading edge of clubface contacting the bottom [back] of ball squarely rather than swing mechanics.

Swing Revolves Around the Head ...

  1. Head Still!
    Head Still!
  2. Head Still!
    Head Still!
  3. Head Still!
    Head Still!
That being said, there was one simple truth about the golf swing that Paul shared with me after one of his rare practice sessions I witnessed at his club. I happened to catch the trail end of one of sessions as he was working on coming up with a full swing training aid that would help golfers keep their head still.

In keeping with his generation of great players developing their own individualistic style of swinging, there were certain 'mantras' they all believed in which would help them be and stay well within the framework of the accepted swing fundamentals of his time. In Jack Nicklaus' book *Golf My Way, he was so committed to this basic swing fundamentals that he had to write it 3-times in one of his excerpts to his many * 'playing lessons' proclaiming that for a golf swing to work and be repeatable, a golfer must keep the
* "head still, head still, head still ..."

With that in mind, Paul developed a training aid which amounted to a chained helmet that fit on your head attached to a long pole stuck in the ground designed to keep your head still - because as Paul surmised after that rare practice session I witnessed "everything in the golf swing revolves around your head."

Another simple, timeless truth.

Lesson: Keeping head still key to full swing and solid contact repeatability.​​

*Source; Golf My Way 1974 ; 'Playing Lessons' ; Golf Digest, 1981

It Takes a Lot of Knowledge to Say a Little Bit ...

Like a lot of new young PGA Apprentice assistants of my generation, I began my teaching career trying to share with each every student my unabridged theory of the golf swing - with a heavy dose of overly analytical swing mechanics. As previously mentioned, Paul eschewed overly analytical swing mechanics in place of simple concepts, beliefs and swing intentions. In keeping with the teaching style of the late great Harvey Pennick, Paul was a master at giving you a simple image, thought or intention to enable you to execute all the so called swing mechanics properly without thinking about how.

Well, it didn't take long for Paul to notice my teaching verbosity in its infancy so he nipped my loquacious teaching style in the bud and pulled me aside saying "I've noticed that when working with your students you tend to give them a lot of analytical information about swing mechanics" he began, "If there was such a thing as a mechanically perfect swing, don't you think all the top players in the world would look the same when they swing?" he continued "But they don't look the same - because they all have developed their own individual swinging styles that worked for them and never changed.

Then he left me with this teaching gem ... "and keep in mind, it takes a lot of knowledge to say a little bit"
Because of this and to this day, my teachings are simple, concise and to the point.​

Lesson: Reduce analytical swing mechanics to a simple workable thought to practice with and transfer to course.

The Five Ball Test ...

Add to that professional golf legacy that Paul Harney won the Massachusetts Open a record * 5- times - every one he played in. I was there as a teenager to witness his course record breaking * 65 in his playoff win over Jim Browning at Salem CC in 1970 - one of * four in a row he would win from 1967-1970.

And I was there as his assistant at the Paul Harney Golf Club to witness how he prepared for his fifth and final Massachusetts Open win in 1977 at the Country Club of New Seabury. Paul decided to play in the Massachusetts Open that year because it was being played at a venue [New Seabury in Mashpee, Ma] in very close proximity to his club.

Once I heard he had entered, I was very curious to see how he would prepare for the event. Amazingly, I never saw him go to the range to practice or hit balls. Rather, Paul would take his driver just outside the clubhouse behind the 10th tee, tee up five balls and calling it 'the five ball test', he would pure them all right down the middle of the first fairway. Paul would conduct that 5 ball test every day for two weeks leading up to the tournament and never miss the fairway.

Paul went on to shoot a * record 31 on the back nine of the final round in the Mass. Open that year held at New Seabury to eventually win in a playoff over Lynne Bourne.

Lesson: Dance with the one who brung you - if you haven't brought it with you, wont find it out there in competition. ​​

*Source ; MGA Archives ; History of Mass Open

All That Matters is That it Works ...

Paul was all about practicing your swing so hard one way, that not only would it lead to automatic repetition under the gun
'when the bell rings' as he would like to say, but it would be a swing you could rely on and trust when it mattered most on the course. He believed in this so fiercely he would rather see you practice and play with a quirky individualistic swing that you repeated one way every time despite how it may have looked, than be in constant search of a mechanically perfect swing that changed all the time.

Paul believed if you practiced long and hard enough and repeated the same thing that worked every time, that even if you were a Billy Casper hitting up to a 100 yard sweeping hooks off the tee you could still play and win at PGA Tour Championship level golf. Paul would often punctuate his philosophy by saying that it didn't matter how the swing looked - that even if your swing mechanics may have looked bad to others, if you found something that worked for you and could repeat under pressure, it would lead to trust, confidence and winning ways [Jim Furyk, Bubba Watson cases in point] as long as you didn't change or lose confidence in what you were doing.

He would tell me that the top players of his generation had supreme trust and confidence in what they were doing, never doubted themselves and kept repeating their swing NEVER CARING ABOUT WHAT ANYONE HAD TO SAY ABOUT HOW THEIR SWING LOOKED. No matter how these players swings looked to anyone else, they played with 100% certainty that their swing and techniques would work for them today, tomorrow and for the rest of their career.

I am reminded of an anecdototal quote involving Lee Trevino when during his professional playing career he was frequently criticized for the way his swing looked and responded to his critics by saying, * "Who can say I have a bad swing? The only thing that matters in golf is the score you put on the board. You don't have to look pretty out there, you have to win. Look at my record and tell me who has a better swing than mine.'

The rest of course is history, and Trevino went on to win 29 PGA Tour Events and 6 majors on the way to a Hall of Fame career with that awkward, quirky looking swing. All because he had complete trust and confidence in his swing and never changed, despite what others would say about it.

Lesson: To play winning golf - a golfers swing doesn't have to look pretty, it just has to work!

*Source ; The Golf Lee Trevino quotes ; 11/15/15​