Taking a long look at the short game

Academy: A PGA-certified instructor offers guidance to students at Black Horse Golf learning center in White Hall.

July 04, 2004|By Todd Holden | Todd Holden,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

By his own admission Frank J. Laber, 57, is on the back nine of his successful golf career.

Although Laber is not competing or serving a golf club, he now offers a practical coaching approach - stressing the short game, from 30 yards in - at his own course, the Black Horse Golf learning center on Troyer Road in White Hall, which opened in 1999.

"This is essential to those looking for lower scores, since shots at these short distances represent about 70 percent of the shots in a normal round of golf," Laber says.

Laber put in 18 years at Long View Golf Course in Timonium as head professional - teaching and helping the careers of local professionals such as Mike Healy and Dave Campbell.

One of Laber's recent students at the Black Horse center is McHenry Mitchell, 55, of Bel Air, whose wife, Clariese, had won a trip to Scotland to play at St. Andrew's. That meant playing well for Mitchell, a golf perfectionist: His handicap is 8.

Mitchell chose Black Horse, with 37 tee-boxes, chipping greens, a sand bunker and home ground, because Laber, one of two certified PGA Master Professionals in the county, works there. Harford's other master, R. Coleman Plecker of Joppa, operates Coleman Plecker's World of Golf on Philadelphia Road. There are 2,000 PGA members in the Mid-Atlantic.

Mitchell has taken "tune-up" lessons each spring, and he wanted to try Laber, the new kid on the block. The "kid" is 57, trim and teaches in an easygoing delivery.

Mitchell admonishes fellow players who rush out to buy the latest club or ball in order to get that extra 20 yards off the tee: "Why pay $250 for a driver or three wood that you aren't hitting properly? If you told some golfers that half that price, keeping the wood they already have, could be put to a package of lessons from a likable and knowledgeable PGA instructor [it] would yield far better results,'" he says.

Mitchell loosens up on the tee and begins to strike balls with a 9-iron.

"I want you to stay over the shot," Laber says. "Just a nice solid swing at it."

"Turn back, get the right hip around and finish with your belt buckle facing the target," he advises; "Just feel like you're going to pitch that 9-iron 70 or 80 yards."

Mitchell is awkward, trying to relax, not an easy task under the eye of a professional. "When you hit a good shot, you don't feel off balance," he tells Laber. "It is more effortless and fluid and balanced."

Laber replies, "I want your arms to hang under your chin more. The whole body will turn through the swing with the larger muscles. Line your hips up to the shaft on the ground in line with the target."

Every so often Laber asks, "How did that feel?" and then advises, "The rest will just happen."

He doesn't overcomplicate a complicated game. Laber compares his students with David Duvall and Ernie Els, who are both competitors at the highest level of professional golf. Mitchell is built more like Els, and so Laber adjusts his treatment to a taller golfer. Duvall is much shorter, so his swing differs.

"The sound of the ball at impact tells you a lot," Laber adds. "I want you to turn your right hip around more. You rely too much on your hands. I want you to pull those larger muscles through the shot."

The lesson is near over. Mitchell is tired and a little bewildered. He hits a few more balls after the lesson, and Laber returns to his cluttered office. On the wall is a photo of him playing with famed former Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas.

Unitas' famed right hand is resting on Laber's shoulder in the photo, as if another honor is being bestowed on this Master Professional.

On the Web

Black Horse Golf: www.blackhorsegolf.com

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