The short-game woes of a young Dave Pelz should be celebrated by all those golfers whose short-game woes have been assuaged by his expertise. For, had Pelz succeeded on Tour as was his dream, the world of golf would undoubtedly be bereft of his teachings.
Pelz attended Indiana University—majoring in physics—on a golf scholarship and played well, except when he lost to Jack Nicklaus 22 times. Although Pelz was a quality amateur, he realized that his short game fell, well, just short. So, Plan B in 1961 was to work for NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in MD, where he became a senior scientist in the Explorer program. In his spare time, Pelz also used his research methods and physics to learn exactly how the mechanics of the putting stroke influence the roll of the ball.
In 1976, Pelz resigned from NASA to form his own company, Preceptor Golf, which marketed his first innovation, the Teacher Putter. He then invented “The True Roller,” which makes a perfect stroke, and was the basis for his exhaustive study of putting. In 1977, he started a three-year analysis of every shot in golf and concluded that 60% of a player’s score comes from within 100 yards, hence the short-game emphasis. This scrutiny of the game encouraged Pelz to begin teaching, to write articles for “Golf Magazine,” to publish books, to appear on the Golf Channel, and to produce videos. In 1982, he developed his first Short Game and Putting facility, and today he has his Scoring Game Schools located throughout the country and abroad.
Pelz’s methods paid off first for Andy North, who won the 1978 US Open. Other Major winners who sought his advice include Lee Janzen, Tom Kite, Vijay Singh, Payne Stewart, and Mike Weir. His most recent student has been Phil Mickelson, of course, who said to his mentor, “I couldn’t have won my Majors without you.” Pelz has written several best-selling books including his “10 Minutes a Day to Better Putting,” “Damage Control,” “Golf Without Fear,” “Putting Bible,” “Putt Like the Pros,” and “Short Game Bible.” Pelz holds 17 patents on golf equipment, but his most recognizable creations are the 2- Ball and 3-Ball putters that he has licensed to Callaway Golf for the Odyssey line. With more than 5,000,000 of these on greens around the world, they are the best selling golf club ever.
NEGM: What were your responsibilities with NASA?
DP: Basically, we were studying the earth’s atmosphere based on the sun’s radiation and behavior. Weather forecasting was in its infancy in the 1960’s, with an accuracy rate of 7-8%. Today, because of these and continuing studies, it’s around 70-80%.
NEGM: Did losing to Jack 22 times have an impact on your career?
DP: Yes, he helped convince me that Goddard needed me more than the Tour. Of course, I did not know how good Jack really was. I just knew I was not good enough.
NEGM: When you are not doing your research at the Pelz Golf Institute in Spicewood, TX, (near Austin) what else keeps you busy?
DP: I visit all seven of my schools. I get great pleasure from the teaching I do and from watching players improve their short games. I also spend a lot of time interviewing Tour players. Phil and I work together frequently, and currently we are preparing for the US Open.
NEGM: What is your next project?
DP: A book, planned for 2013, that will be on how to read greens. Too many golfers, Phil included, often don’t see what is really there and under read the breaks. I’ve been doing a lot of research and am excited about the prospects of what I am learning.
NEGM: Which one of your patents or innovations is your favorite?
DP: The two-ball and three-ball putters. Because the ball images on the club’s head are easy to align with the ball itself, golfers are almost automatically better putters. Aiming is the first major step in the putt’s success.
NEGM: How often do you get to play golf now? Do you belong to a club?
DP: Rarely in past years because I have been so busy. This year my goal has been to play once a week, and I have played about 16 times so far. My short game is OK, but my driving is too wayward. I belong to Summit Rock and Escondido, both near Austin.
NEGM: What are your favorite golf courses.?
DP: Augusta National, Pebble Beach, and Pine Valley.
NEGM: Who would be in your Dream Foursome today? Of any time period?
DP: Whenever my three sons—David, Eddie, and Mark—can play, that’s a dream for me and lots of fun. Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Gene Littler, and Jack Lemmon. Peter Jacobsen and I so wanted Jack to make the cut at the Crosby Pro-Am. He missed it 30 straight years.
NEGM: Which pros are the best putters?
DP: Aaron Baddeley, Luke Donald, Brad Faxon, and Brandt Snedeker.
NEGM: Is putting an innate ability?
DP: No, putting is not a God-given talent. It can be a learned skill. The most common flaw is that players tend to rotate their forearms and/or break their wrists through impact, preventing the clubhead from being square at impact. This flaw is why the Belly Putter and the Long Putter have become so popular. By locking the club against the body, the golfer’s stroke flows through impact without any breaking down. The ball rolls where it is aimed.
NEGM: Any regrets that you didn’t get a chance to play on Tour?
DP: No, not at all. Once I started to do my research, my niche in golf became evident to me. My calling is to teach the short game as effectively as I can. I want players to score better and enjoy the game more.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?