PHOENIX, Ariz. – Martin Chuck is holding an old, strangely-shaped iron, looking at it and talking about it with affection, like it’s some sort of sacred relic.
That’s because it is, at least in his world. He'd been searching for something just like it in order to help golfers on quests of their own.
The relic is a nicked-up Jerry Barber “shankless” 7 iron, so named because its hosel feeds into the clubhead in such a way that extreme heel hits would not send the ball off at embarrassing angles. Chuck discovered it nearly 20 years ago in the lost-and-found barrel at Arrow Creek Golf Club in Reno, Nev., where he was working at the time.
With the help of a course ranger versed in metalworking, Chuck ground away the bottom few grooves of the club, leaving the area smoothly rounded off.
This was not some exercise in creative club torture. Chuck was searching for a way to get through to a golfer who seemingly refused to hit down on the ball. Once Chuck had finished with it, anyone hoping to use it to get a golf ball airborne would have to have the use the grooves on the middle of the clubface or higher. For the student, this meant proper shaft lean at impact, which creates the solid, descending-blow contact that is necessary to send golf shots flying straight and far.
Thus was born one of the most consequential golf training aids of the 21st century: the TourStriker. In fact, Chuck named his golf school at Raven Golf Club on the south side of Phoenix the TourStriker Golf Academy. His combination of ingenuity and nearly four decades of traditional golf teaching experience - with two legendary golfers advising him along the way - makes him one of the best in the world. Golf Digest ranks him 26th on their "Top 50 Teachers in America" list, and GOLF Magazine's latest "Top 100 Teachers in America" list includes Chuck as well.
Chuck's army of training aids
As with most tools, the best golf training aids are simple and intuitive. No complicated contraptions to build, no lengthy manual, no doubt as to whether you’re using it correctly. The TourStriker is simply an iron that has been modified to have a smaller, specifically-located sweet spot. If you can hit good shots with it, it means you have done well with the most important part of your golf swing: impact. You can’t fake it with the TourStriker – you either hit a shot properly with it or you don’t. The positive-feedback loop it creates is an efficient way to become a better golfer.
The first TourStrikers found their way into golfers’ hands in late 2008, and when Chuck showed his odd-looking club off to the industry at the 2009 PGA Merchandise Show, it was a smashing success. Famous instructors like Randy Smith and Martin Hall were supportive, and Chuck had suddenly made a name for himself as both a teacher and an inventor.
Most inventors don’t stop at one. Neither has Chuck. Every bit as popular as the TourStriker is the SmartBall, which even PGA Tour pros like Justin Rose have used to shore up the crucial relationship between forearms that sits at the heart of almost every swing.
“It’s an inflatable ball on a lanyard, which is the stupidest thing ever,” Chuck said, acknowledging its simplicity.
But that’s the key to a great solution to a problem, isn’t it? Chuck had previously used a foam ball that was used for a similar purpose, but there was no way to keep it from eventually falling out of a student’s arms and rolling away, causing disruptions on busy practice tees. In the SmartBall, Chuck had developed a better mousetrap, which would always stay close at hand, could be used while hitting balls and, because it is inflatable, could be stored in a golf bag.
Simple, intuitive and ultimately helpful.
Chuck also eventually rolled out the TourStriker Educator, meant to help players practice positioning their wrists correctly during the swing. “The Educator is just a play on a coat hanger,” which teachers have used for the same task for years, said Chuck. Another better mousetrap.
Simple, intuitive and ultimately helpful.
With all these gadgets he’s invented, it might sound like Chuck is a technique-geek of a instructor. But in fact, he’s very much hands-on and feel-oriented in his teaching. The TourStriker, SmartBall and Educator are all means to the end of getting a golfer to feel certain important aspects of a sound swing. “I was trying to expedite the external feelings so that understanding happened quicker,” Chuck said. His guiding light is the same with all devices: “Can it transfer over to your regular golf clubs? The device isn’t there, but can I still feel it? That’s the goal.”
Technology, be it one of his inventions or more high-tech help like the GEARS 3-dimensional golf swing motion-capture system, “validates my argument for a change,” said Chuck. “It’s my silent partner.”
An early introduction into ball-striking and teaching
Chuck knows that the most effective teaching often lies in a light touch. He has known it almost his entire life.
Growing up on the outskirts of Toronto, Chuck was exposed to two of Canada’s greatest golfers from an early age. He first met eccentric ball-striking savant Moe Norman during a golf camp at the age of 10. “I’d seen other pros hit balls, but not like that,” Chuck said. “I could sit in a chair and shag balls for him without getting up.”
Norman took a liking to Chuck, and would later follow him during Chuck's own foray into professional golf on the Canadian Tour. “If he liked you, he’d find you and he’d watch you play a couple holes,” Chuck said. “If I played bad, Moe would pinch his nose like ‘You stink!’ and he’d laugh and go ‘Hoo-hoo!’”
Chuck’s first teaching experiences came courtesy of another ball-striking wonder, George Knudson, who set up a private practice club in Buttonville, Ontario, near where Chuck grew up. As soon as Chuck had his driver’s license, he went to work for Knudson, also receiving regular advice from the eight-time PGA Tour winner and 1969 Masters runner-up.
Knudson didn't just teach Chuck and other avid young golfers how to play better for their own sakes. “If we had a break from serving up hot dogs or balls, we’d walk the range and say, ‘Hey Tim, how’re you doing today, you okay? Swinging it okay?” said Chuck. “And if [golfers] had a question, he’d told us how to answer their questions.”
So at 16 years old, Chuck had direct, daily experience teaching adult golfers, something young pros seldom receive before they’re in their 20s today. Now 53, communicating with golfers looking to improve has been part of Chuck’s life for nearly 40 years. It shows in his easy manner and clear and engaging explanations of the golf swing's many nuances. Little wonder his multi-day golf schools have been so popular for years, as have his one-off-videos and series here on GolfPass.
Chuck’s newest series, Breaking Golf’s Greatest Myths, is something of a passion project. Taking aim at one of the most popular quick instruction adages, “‘Keep your head down’ is rubbish,” he said, because golfers take it too literally. “[They] get static over the ball…they never develop any kind of athleticism to move the club properly.”
Rather than the misleading “Keep your head down,” Chuck prefers “Keep your squatchee still.” A squatchee is the button-like fastener on the top of most hats, and Chuck believes this image better enables golfers to remain in good posture while also being free to make an athletic, powerful swing.
Chuck has other quick phrases that avid watchers of his videos will recognize, like “Pace it and face it,” a useful rhyme for proper pitch shot technique. These phrases act as verbal equivalents to the physical indicators that Chuck will often use in one-on-one lessons, including squeezing a student’s forearm or wrist in order to remind them of proper timing or technique.
“As golfers, we are searching, searching, searching – it’s an endless search,” said Chuck. He was talking not just about his students, but himself. Being a great teacher requires first being a perpetual student, always looking for novel and effective ways to turn the ephemeral moments of revelation that golfers get from a rare perfect-feeling shot into something ever-longer-lasting.
Whether it’s his inventions, his videos or anything else Chuck has in the pipeline, the search is still on. As long as that remains the case, golfers will continue to reap the benefits.