Interview with Steve Wozeniak

Despite not being a household name, Steve Wozeniak has taught some of the very best players and coaches in the world. Specifically, he spent 7 years with famous instructor Jimmy Ballard, whose ideas were learned at the feet of Sam Byrd. We’ve interviewed Ballard and discussed Sam Byrd’s contribution in other blog entries; but if you haven’t heard of him, he helped Hogan remake his swing, starting in the mid 40’s. Besides being Ballard’s head assistant for years, Steve Wozeniak was the head of the Colbert/Ballard golf schools and currently teaches in beautiful Bellevue, Washington. He is the only teacher in the Pacific Northwest to have taught players from all 4 major professional tours. We have thoroughly enjoyed his posts on his blog, and we recently interviewed him for Three Guys.

This is an abbreviated transcript of the full interview between Steve and Wade Baynham of Three Guys Golf. You can listen to the full two part interview at the bottom of this post.

Three Guys (1:15): Steve’s Bio and Journey to PGA Director of Instruction Bellevue, WA – Only teacher in the Pacific Northwest to have taught players from all 4 major tours, 25 years of experience teaching 75 Tour players and more than 300 PGA and LPGA professionals,

Steve: Head of instruction at Jimmy Ballard/Jim Colbert Golf School Head Pro at Interbay Golf then in Palm Desert for a few winters, then Director of Instruction at Ocean Beach Club in FL. I worked with Ballard every day for 7 years– that was a real treat!

Three Guys (2:20): My experience learning from Colbert, and from what I know of Byrd–It seems like Sam Byrd, Colbert and Ballard are sometimes short on verbal communication?

Steve: It took Ballard 5 years working with Sam Byrd every day until he had his eye and wouldn’t lose it. It’s the same story from Rick Richardson, Ballard instructor in Ft. Lauderdale. I needed 3 or 4 years working every day to get Ballard/Byrd’s eye. I think that’s why Colbert/Ballard school didn’t grow– grew too fast, and the instructors didn’t have time to get Jimmy’s eye.

Three Guys (5:00): Ballard has said that the state of golf instruction is nothing but a state of confusion.

Steve: I think the biggest problem is the change of direction. -instructors will pick out little things that happen at 100 miles an hour- like holding the angle -feel is very different than real

Three Guys (6:45): That sounds like your post of ‘What Hogan was showing you.’ Hogan seems very misunderstood. We hear people talking about trying to hold angle/lag and get the club behind them… They don’t understand Ballard’s point that the more you try to drop the club ‘inside,’ the more you hit outside and across.

Steve: Exactly right, they don’t believe you when you tell them, but it’s the physics of it. From Hogan’s Five Fundamentals:

lesson 2 p41 the setup

p97 throwing the ball

p102 ‘half a left arm’

All these keys were learned from Sam Byrd.

Also a very important and much overlooked part of Hogan’s book:

p50 arms and club form one unit– arms like two sides of a steeple and the club like the spear of the steeple– And they stay like that throughout the swing.

Leonard Thompson said as he changed directions, he felt like you would ‘snap the head off’ the club.

Tiger in 2000 said the ‘right arm straightens as fast as possible’ on the downswing

Hogan said ‘throw a ball’ with your right arm.

Post interview: Steve emailed this extended explanation of this idea:

After talking about the confusion being mostly in the change of direction, and Hogan, Tigers and Thompsons’s “feels” I would like to add this if you don’t mind…..   We have to understand that the great players don’t keep the angle, wrist cock or tuck the elbow in, they try and get that out of there at lightning speed. That’s the only way to keep pressure in the shaft, create speed and keep the club in front of you throughout the swing.  You can easily feel this for yourself with one simple drill. Get set up and hold a golf ball in your right hand with the left behind your back.  Now throw a golf ball down your outer railroad track (target line) as if your standing on the inner rail which is how we align ourselves to the target.  Throw it hard, now are you tucking your elbow in or retaining any kind of angle?  Or are you getting the right arm straight as soon as possible and going down the line of flight with your whole right side…….You can answer this yourself in about 2 minutes of this…’s simple, and why Hogan put himself throwing a ball in his book…..And as you do this you are pulling as hard with your left side as hard as your pushing with your right…..that’s Centrifugal force, and how every great unwinds to the target.

Three Guys (10:38): I’ve had a problem with students: their right arm throws out and away from them rather than throwing down– solutions? Ballard says left arm works side to side, right arm works up and down… Is that part of what you tell students?

Steve: I just have people hit 7 or 8 irons off a really short tee with right arm only; you have to use right arm correctly to hit it that way. Have you read Natural Golf by George Knudsen?

He watched Hogan for hours and hours– he saw a controlled and powerful golf swing; you couldn’t push him over; ‘I (Knudsen) was continually rolling onto outside of left foot and rolling onto left heel like everyone else in the follow through. Not Hogan, getting onto his flat left foot, to the toe. I also realized keeping the head still has nothing to do with the golf swing, it just flows with the body.”

Three Guys (Part 2: 2:00): That’s why you have pictures of Tiger in current swing not able to step on left foot and unwind right side.

Steve: But he did it perfectly when he was working with Butch. The Harmon brothers are great teachers- why? Father Claude Harmon was good friends with Hogan and learned all the Sam Byrd stuff from him.

Three Guys (Part 2: 3:30): Pro golfers have so much more talent than an amateurs; does that change how you teach?

Steve: They are much more talented, but the fundamentals are the same and we teach the same thing to both. You have to hit it straight and long to stay on tour, and the great ones have always done that. It’s very hard to rely on shortgame week in and week out when your fundamentals get off.

Three Guys (Part 2: 4:45): You have said that Tiger’s back desintegration was easy to predict as watching the sun rise, but Tiger says that he will stay with his current coach.

Steve: He needs to get away from Foley, who is really “stack and tilt” mixed with Mack O’Grady. I taught out at Palm Desert with Mack O’Grady who had a perfect golf swing, but who taught nothing that he actually did. Saw him holding a women’s head during her swing and nearly snapping her back in half. ‘Stack and Tilt is really odd’– what swings are they looking at? The best swings to copy currently on tour: Jimmy Walker, Stacey Lewis, Adam Scott, Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer. The swings look different when they’re doing it, but they’re the same.

Three Guys (Part 2: 8:38): Colbert talked about the idea of keeping the ball ‘covered’ and hitting with center or sternum so that you can actually start down from any point in your backswing. This seems lost on many current players.

Steve: Yeah it’s a shame, an announcer will say a short shot is ‘all arms,’ and it’s never true. They’re always using their body… the good players are always covering the ball and using their body. Colbert was announcing and he was confused on the short game until he saw many of the greats, and he realized that Ballard was right about using the body on the short swings too. He figured it out, turned 50 and tore up the Senior Tour.

Three Guys (Part 2: 11:28): Anything else you’d like to talk about related to golf instruction?

Steve: The elbows never go above the shoulders in the backswing and the throughswing—kids, especially are so flexible, that if you keep their elbows below shoulder height, they use their core better. If they’re good at another sport, you can relate it so easily to the golf swing.

In terms of creating distance: I want you to try to tear the cover off the ball, but you have to be in the right position to do it, and stretching is so important to that. The older you get, the more you have to do it, and the older you get, the less you want to, but it’s actually the most important thing as you get older.

Three Guys: Thanks and we’ll look forward to more of your posts in the future.

Written by Wade Baynham
Single-digit handicap, who learned golf in his early 20′s from my former father-in-law, a long time PGA tour and Champions tour player. I enjoy studying the golf swing and occasionally give golf lessons.