Rubenstein: Connecting with Jimmy Ballard
In yesterday’s dispatch I wrote about how Ray Rapcavage came up with The Golf Swing Shirt. His journey led him to famed instructor Jimmy Ballard, the man who teaches connection. Ballard was so taken with the prodcut that he’s endorsed it. Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington is also so enamored of the shirt that he too has put his imprimatur on it.
I came across the Golf Swing Shirt during the recent PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. Rapcavage told me that Ballard would be stopping by his booth soon after we chatted. Ballard and I sat down for about 30 minutes and I enjoyed what I can only describe as a highly entertaining and lively conversation. I knew we would get along as soon as I mentioned the late Canadian master ball-striker George Knudson. Ballard respected Knudson for the artistry of his swing and his approach to the game. They spent some time together, and Ballard mentioned him in his book.
“Knudson was my buddy,” Ballard told me. “We had a ball together. He’s one of the few golfers who came on tour with a great swing and left with the same swing. Annika [Sorenstam] also. Even [Ben] Hogan changed his swing.”
Presently, Ballard stood up and showed me what Knudson and Sorenstam did. It was as if he suddenly became a golf club. Ballard and the invisible club were one and the same. They were connected.
“They coiled and their spine shifted into their right side,” Ballard said, and demonstrated. People asked George what he does, and he said, ‘I go right heel to left toe.’ George exploded to his left toe [through impact].”
Ballard is 70, and he loves to get into the golf swing, really into it. He had dinner the night before I ran into him with Dr. Peter Mackay, a Canadian who is the clinical director of the Elite Performance Institute in San Diego. Mackay, a chiropractor, has been instrumental in developing the new Core Grip training program at the Titleist Performance Institute there. He’d invited me to the dinner, but I couldn’t make it.
“I wish you had been there,” Mackay said to me of the dinner with Ballard. “It was a classic. Jimmy debated the swing with my partner who developed all the biomechanics for TPI. It was quite a night.”
Mackay, by the way, said of the Golf Swing Shirt that it’s “quite good.” Ballard certainly feels that way. He watched Rapcavage hit balls with the shirt on at the Ocean Reef club in Key Largo, Fla., where he belongs and teaches. He didn’t say a word, but Rapcavage was aware of what he called his “hawkish stare.”
Ballard put the shirt on his head pro, who then hit a few balls. He picked a person at random, and watched him hit some shots while wearing the shirt. The fellow hit some fine shots while bound up in the shirt.
“What’s this thing called?” Ballard asked Rapcavage.
Rapcavage said it’s a swing shirt. Ballard said he had seen enough and invited Rapcavage to sit down with him.
“He said he’s taught for 47 years,” Rapcavage recalled. “He says he’s taught [Seve] Ballesteros, [Hal] Sutton, [Sandy] Lyle, [Curtis] Strange. He’s seen everything. He then says, “This is the best training device I’ve ever seen.’”
Rapcavage, a talker by nature, was speechless. Ballard told him the Golf Swing Shirt could help every player from a kid to a pro. Most players, he said, tend to pull their arms apart on their backswings and then they overswing.
That was the start of Ballard’s involvement with The Golf Swing Shirt. It’s now sold in 20 countries. It’s a training product, and is marketed as such, so Rapcavage has not sought approval from the USGA’s equipment people.
Ballard endorses the product on his website’s home page. He continues to work on connection with his long-time student Rocco Mediate, the six-time PGA Tour winner now starting his first season on the Champions Tour. Mediate and Tiger Woods were tied after 72 holes of the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif. They were still tied after the 18-hole Monday playoff. Woods won on the 19th hole.
“Rocco called me on Sunday night (before the playoff) and asked me, ‘What am I gonna do with this kid?’ I told him his swing is alright, and that when he gets under pressure he should make sure he moves center.”
That, perhaps, is Ballard’s central theme: Move center. The center moves. The spine shifts. It’s okay if the head moves. He also says that a golfer “always wants to grow taller,” through the ball. That’s a good thing.
I’d wanted to meet Ballard for more than 30 years, since Knudson told me about him. If you’d like to read more about him, James Dodson in September 2000 wrote a very good piece here.
It was time for me to leave. Ballard told me a few more stories about Hogan and Knudson, and then he said, “I really miss George. He was special. He and Annika, they were the best I’ve seen.”
It was good, after all these years, to finally connect with Ballard. I couldn’t have guessed that our meeting would come from my coming across a product called The Golf Swing Shirt, but then again, maybe that’s why I like writing golf so much. Stories lurk everywhere.
RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein
Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein