Swing's the thing for top instructor McCord

By Jason Stahl, Contributor

AURORA, Ohio -- Perhaps it was a mistake to videotape this particular golf swing. The sight of it would send even the most unflappable golf instructor straight to the clubhouse bar. But Rick McCord knew what he was doing. He keeps a videotape collection of swings for reference. And taping this swing would document something that most people would definitely need to see to believe.

The infamous swing was from a self-professed 12-handicapper who came to McCord for instruction seven years ago. When McCord saw the swing for the first time, he was amazed.

"This guy did everything in his swing you weren't supposed to do," McCord recalls. "It reminded me of Miller Barber's or Jim Furyk's because it had a big loop in it. Plus, he lifted his left leg totally off the ground on the backswing, then both of his feet were airborne at impact."

"I asked him if there was one golf pro whose swing he thought most resembled his own. He answered, 'Payne Stewart.' Well, it was light years away from that."

That experience taught McCord something he already had learned from his nearly 30-year seen-it-all career as a golf instructor: that students' perception of their own swings can be very different than others' perception of them.

The golf world's perception of McCord seems to be quite clear after his recent selection by Golf Magazine as one of the top 100 golf instructors in America. The 51-year-old was included in the magazine's first such list in 1991, which only featured 50 teachers, and has been included in every list since.

The honor was largely based on McCord's work at his school in Orlando, Fla., called Swing's The Thing, which he co-owns with longtime partner Dick Farley.

When you look at how "Swing's The Thing" started back in 1975, you'd swear that McCord had a hankering for Hollywood hype. In 1973, he began working at a golf resort called Shawnee on the Delaware owned by famed bandleader Fred Waring. Two years later, Dick Farley was hired as golf director. Inspired by a show at the club, McCord and Farley decided to start instructional lessons that were a little different.

"It was an exhibition with an instructional theme," McCord explains. "Several teaching pros were involved who would hit balls at the exact same time by swinging in unison. I narrated the show, introducing the pros one by one and describing their swings. It was very entertaining for the resort guests, and it's still done today."

The show was so popular that McCord and Farley hit the road and took it worldwide, using it as a promotional tool for their golf school and the resort. They also conducted "Swing's The Thing" for Golf Magazine, which was the start of McCord's 20-year stint as a member of the magazine's instructional staff. Since then, he's appeared on the cover of the magazine twice.

McCord might have made the cover of Sports Illustrated some day had it not been for a broken back. As a high schooler in Pennsylvania, he was a Third Team All-State selection at defensive back and earned a four-year athletic scholarship to North Carolina State University. Had it not been for the broken back, McCord would have played for Lou Holtz, who coached at NC State from 1972 to 1975.

After college, McCord, a scratch golfer at the time, thought he'd give the mini-tours a try. After achieving only moderate success on J.C. Goosie's Space Coast mini-tour, he decided to call it quits.

"I didn't believe I could go any further, which made me subconsciously gravitate toward teaching," McCord says. "After I started doing it, I realized I had a knack for it, and I liked it. The people I worked with seemed to improve and sought me out afterward."

McCord also says he "bird-dogged" legendary teachers like Bob Toski, Jim Flick, John Jacobs, Claude Harmon, Davis Love, and Portugal's Henry Cotton to learn by example. There were also a lot of lesser-known teachers McCord learned just as much from, including Mike Austin, who taught famous billionaire Howard Hughes how to golf.

Eventually, McCord gathered enough information to form his own teaching philosophy and discover ways to put that philosophy into practice.

"The way I teach people is to make them understand that there's no one thing that's going to make them better," McCord says. "Look at the body - there are six sets of joints, and all have a different function in the swing. It's understanding the movement of those joints and the coordinations of rhythym that's essential to getting results."

One of the first things McCord tries to get his students to understand is what a pivot is. "It's a shifting and rotating motion," he says. "If you just shift your weight, it won't be conducive to where you're turning. Turning is a product of the upper body and shifting is a product of the lower body, and that's the essence of rhythym - when you hit a good shot, there's a fluidity to it like a hot knife through butter. You have to understand how that motion has to be habituated through repetition."

For the last six years, Ohio golfers have been made more swings like hot knives through butter thanks to a schedule that put McCord at Canterbury Golf Club in Beachwood for four months of the year. Starting this year, however, he will spend May through August at Barrington Golf Club in Aurora as its new Director of Golf Instruction.

"The facility at Canterbury was limited because the driving range was so small. Barrington has a great existing facility, and I look forward to exploring that opportunity," McCord says.

Ohioans should look for McCord to make headlines not only as a the new teacher in town but as a player as well. Last year, he fell only three strokes short at the Columbus qualifier for the U.S. Senior Open.

Jason StahlJason Stahl, Contributor

Jason Stahl currently works for Medquest Communications in Cleveland, Ohio, as Editorial Manager. Prior to joining Medquest, he spent five years with Advanstar Communications as Managing Editor of Landscape Management, a trade magazine covering the professional landscaping business. He graduated from St. Ignatius High School in 1989 and John Carroll University in 1993.

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