RHYME YOUR WAY TO BIRDIES WITH THE SORRELL METHOD.
BY HARRY HURT III
The more relaxed your golf swing can be, the better shots you will see."
"Hitting a golf ball is like driving a car—if you don't know what makes it go, you won't drive it very far."
"Golfers who do drills enhance their motor skills."
These and innumerable other rhyming aphorisms come from the sonorous voice of Charles Sorrell, a former PGA Tour player and longtime teaching pro based at the Charles Sorrell School of Golf at Golf Meadows in Stockbridge, Georgia. Sorrell has also put together an instruction manual, Lessons That Rhyme Stay in the Mind, and a video, During the Golf Swing, What You Feel Is Not Real.
While Sorrell's doggerel for duffers may not put Shakespeare to shame, it usually puts his students in a lighthearted, relaxed frame of mind that's ideal for learning golf and swinging a club with minimum effort and maximum power. In an era of high-tech computer gadgetry and increasingly complex swing mechanics, Sorrell is a grand master of simplicity who prefers to teach with low-tech visual aids—familiar household objects ranging from volleyballs and toy light swords to brooms with painted bristles and makeup kits.
Sorrell believes that making proper impact with the ball is the game's be-all. (His rhyming habit is nothing if not infectious.) Unlike most teachers, whose instructional sequence begins with the student's hands and body and ends at the ball, he begins with the ball and works back through the club to the hands and body. "If a student doesn't know what types of impact make the ball do what it does," he declares in a rare nonrhyming line, "teaching is futile."
The principal aid Sorrell uses to teach proper impact and to demonstrate ball flight laws is a giant dimpled Styrofoam globe he picked up from a golf-ball merchandising display. A black stripe winds around the globe's circumference, with a brown dot and a blue dot on one side of the stripe and a white dot and a red dot on the other (see illustration below right). Sorrell starts a typical introductory lesson by positioning the globe so that the black stripe is horizontal and parallel to the turf, demarcating an equator.
"What gets a golf ball off the ground and into the air?" he asks rhetorically. "Do you lift it up with the clubface contacting the ball below the equator on an ascending angle?No, you get the ball in the air by contacting it below the equator on a descending angle. That's Golf 101."
Next, Sorrell rolls the Styrofoam globe so that the black stripe is vertical and the line of colored dots proceeds away from the student in the sequence brown-blue-white-red. "The only times you want to strike the ball on the black stripe are when you're putting, chipping or hitting short pitches," he says. "For virtually every other type of shot, you want to strike the ball on the blue dot."
Ah, but here's the rub, as noted above—what you feel when you're swinging a golf club is not real. You want to feel as if the clubface is moving toward the brown dot at impact, even though your goal is actually to hit on the blue dot. In order for most people to do this, Sorrell has discovered, they need start out by swinging their club toward the nearer brown dot. "If swinging toward the brown is what you try to do," he says, "then you'll probably hit it on the blue."
Like rhyming, the Sorrell colored dots can be overdone, especially if feel suddenly becomes real. In other words, if you actually strike the ball on the brown dot, your swing path will be too much from the inside, and you'll hit pushes, push slices or sweeping hooks.
But as Sorrell points out, most average golfers suffer from the exact opposite problems: They're either slicers who swing toward the red dot, coming "over the top" on a path that's too outside-to-inside with an open clubface; or they're pull hookers who aim at the white dot, swinging even more outside-to-inside with the clubface closed relative to the path direction.
"If you hit the ball on the red, you're dead," warns Sorrell. "If you hit it on the white, the ball will never fly right."
Sorrell says the best way to improve your ball striking is to practice making proper impact on your own version of his Styrofoam globe, which you can re-create with a volleyball, black electrical tape and colored marking pens. Using everyday tools and toys, you can cure any nagging ills, and enhance your motor skills, with the help of three of Sorrell's favorite drills.
IF YOUR HEAD DOESN'T BUDGE, APPLY A SMUDGE
Sorrell says that one of the most crippling myths about the golf swing is that it's crucial to keep your head still during your backswing. Although your head should not move up and down, it should rotate to the right with your upper spine so that it ends up over your right knee at the completion of your backswing. That's what helps create the coiling or "loading up" you need to hit powerful drives.
You can learn the proper head position by dabbing a smudge of chalk (or makeup) on the point of your chin. Make a few backswings with a golf club. Now take a look at the left shoulder of your golf shirt. If there is chalk on your shirt, your chin is not elevated enough, which prevents you from making the proper coil.
Practice keeping your chin up and rotating your head during your backswing until you can keep your shirt clean. And always bear one more Sorrell rhyme in mind: "The more you move your head toward your right knee, the more powerful your drives will be."