Pizza Delivery Boy for the Golf Universe
Pub Links Golfer Magazine publisher Tom Landers gets to meet some
very interesting people in the world of golf.
There was excitement in Tom's voice when he told me that I simply had to talk to Tom Shea, Director of Instruction at Blackstone National Golf Club in Sutton, Mass. Armed with Tom's description of the colorful pro and having read a wonderful piece by James Dodson on Shea, I buzzed him one Saturday morning. Yet, even having been forewarned, I was not quite ready for the enormity of Tom Shea's being.
"Work is hard, golf is easy. Saying golf is hard is a lot of bull…," was one of the first things Shea said to me. What transpired over the next hour was what can only be described as a life changing experience…for me that is. Shea's words are still reverberating inside the "brain gyms" that he is fond of talking about.
At the very core of Shea's teaching--no that's not an accurate word, Shea would say, it's more like training--is a rather simple doctrine; learn how to hit the ball and everything else takes care of itself.
"It's like going hunting without learning how to shoot a rifle," says Shea. "People are out there trying do things like swing the club and let the ball get in the way. I want them to learn how to hit the ball and let the ball do the work."
Maybe you've got the drift that Tom Shea is not your average golf professional, decked out in Dockers pants and an Ashworth shirt spouting technospeak, all ready to tie you up in a knot with an overabundance of "swing thoughts." Shea works out of what he calls "the center of the golf universe," a 1991 Dodge Caravan he affectionately refers to as "Vanna." The vehicle has 275,000 hard miles on it.
"Tom Landers once implied that I'm the center of the golf universe," laughed Shea, a physically imposing man at 6-4 and around 220 pounds. "Vanna is the center of the golf universe and I'm just the pizza delivery boy."
If you sign up for a lesson from Shea you'll buy an eclectic mix of Greek philosophy, poetry, and New Age discussions about body movements and brain waves. But don't get lost this seemingly Neo-Hippie approach to golf. Tom Shea is a master instructor who has studied with some of the top teachers in the country, including Peter Croker, Chuck Hogan and Jimmy Ballard. He employs the latest state-of-art video technology and training aids and is an accomplished Henry Griffitts club fitter who believes that to truly optimize your playing ability you've got to have clubs fitted to your body type and swing.
And don’t be put off by Shea's sometimes Marine drill instructor approach. "If I'm paying somebody $150 I think I would want to listen to what he says and shut up," he'll quickly tell you. Shea merely wants to break down all the fears and anxiety that surround you to allow your "organism" (i.e., your body/mind) to function freely. The end result, he says, is that you will improve your game and, most importantly, have fun playing.
Shea conducts an initial interview with his clients to find out where their heads are.
"Many people are afraid of letting go," says Shea, who is threatening to run for Congress from Massachusetts' 7th District. "But to truly improve, you have to be uncomfortable at times. I take them out of their comfort zone."
His first lesson involves hitting 60-foot shots with a wedge. "I want people to see the shot, hear it bounce and tell me how high it bounces," he tells me. "I'm involving their senses in the golf shot." At the core of Shea's training are three principles-- hands on the club, feet on the ground, and hit the ball.
Shea says enjoying golf is really just a matter of being open to change and shedding previous learning that has cluttered the swing and out will come an appreciation of the simple beauty of golf.
"Most people are resistant to change, but change is going on all the time. Change is inevitable, change is easy."Hmm, just like golf.