‘Everything you know about the swing is wrong’
Paul Nusbaum hated, hated, hated golf.
“It made me want to slit my wrists,” says the West Virginian,
56, a health-care administrator. “I wanted so badly to get better.
I went to golf schools — McLean, Leadbetter, Flick. I bought all
the tapes and gadgets and had teachers on speed dial. I spent
about $70,000 over 15 years, but the harder I tried, the
worse I got.” One morning, the 27-handicap carded a front-nine
37 and thought, I’ve got it! “But I shot 59 on the back.
So I gave up.”
Then, late one night in 2002, a Golf
Channel infomercial caught his eye.
A.J. Bonar, an owlish teacher in a bucket
hat, was enticing viewers with “the
truth” about golf, which could be theirs
for $89.95, the cost of his DVD. “I
started yelling ‘You fraud!’ at the TV,”
Nusbaum recalls. “I was pissed. I sent
him an e-mail that said, ‘You’re lying to
the American public! You’re all fakes!'”
The fake wrote back: “You’re just
swinging wrong. Come to my school.
No improvement? No charge.” Says
Nusbaum, “On the first day, I start
killing 7-irons and crushing my driver.
I dropped seven strokes in a month
and won my club’s championship.”
He laughs. “Now I sound like an
infomercial, but golf is fun again.”
Who is A.J. Bonar? He’s not famous,
though he has sold a million copies of
his DVD series, A.J. Reveals the Truth
About Golf. He doesn’t teach top pros.
He spent eight years as head golf coach
at Bowling Green State University, 12
more running the San Diego Golf
Academy, and has headed the A.J. Golf
School, in Carlsbad, Calif., since 2000.
Solid credentials, but hardly Harmonesque.
Yet Bonar, 62, boldly claims that
your teacher is screwing up your game,
and that he holds the sacred secret to
the golf swing.
I’d seen the infomercial. I’d heard
breathless accounts of hackers emerging
from his school with gleaming new
swings. I doubted that golf’s “truth”
lay in the land of the Ginsu and
Flowbee. But gimmick or not, I was
desperate. Golf had been sticking its
steel-tipped spike in my rear for years.
I had taken countless lessons from pros
who preached the same gospel: head
still, hands quiet, clear out. Nothing
dented my 15-handicap. At times the
planets (and my shoulders) aligned,
but my swing flaws always returned,
barged in and threw their muddy feet up
on my couch. I was tired of skulling
irons, of cussing like a gangsta rapper
with a stubbed toe. It was time to think
outside the tee box.
The A.J. Golf School hardly
impresses at first glance. Bonar
works not from a high-tech
learning center or cushy
country club, but rather a ragged, matson-concrete
range in Carlsbad. The
setting doesn’t have much charm, but
A.J. does. He begins class with a snappy
“Pick a card,” he says to his huddled
students. The king of clubs (get it?) is
buried and reappears — gasp — atop the
deck. Not bad, but if I wanted tricks, I’d
hire David Blaine. Let’s hit some balls!
“Golf is like magic,” he says. “You
watch a magician and think, ‘That’s
amazing!’ But when you
learn the trick, you say, ‘I
could do that.’ It’s the
same with the swing.
“There’s a trick, but most
people don’t know it.” He
vowed to show us how
to saw the lady in half.
“Everything you know
about the swing is
wrong,” he added. “You
play piano, you improve.
You play tennis, you
improve. But in golf, you
can work and slave, and
get no better. Why?
Because the swing rules — square the face,’ ‘swing
with the body — are
myths. Millions of golfers
have been taught wrong.”
Taught wrong? I formed
a carefully worded query:
“What the hell are you
As Bonar tells it, in
1968, golf instruction
changed with the publication of The
Search for the Perfect Swing, by Alastair
Cochran and John Stobbs. Based on
tests commissioned by the Golf Society
of Great Britain, the book was the first
comprehensive scientific study of the
ballistics of the golf swing. Among their
key findings, the authors concluded
that golfers can’t use the hands to
reliably manipulate the club on the
downswing. The clubface, they added,
must stay fairly square through impact.
“The Search gave rise to the theory of
square-to-square, which became the
accepted method and informed teachers
like Flick, McLean, Leadbetter. Square-to-square
made logical sense. Turning
over the face seems reckless.”
But the book was flawed, Bonar
claims. It dubbed a square clubface
king but ignored the fact that all good
players close the face by about 120
degrees in the two feet before and after
impact. That second lever, the rotating
clubface, imposes tremendous energy
on the ball, he says. But by swinging
with your big muscles, you lose the
lever. “It’s like hitting a tennis ball
with all arm, no wrist. You lose that
Every good golfer turns over the toe,
Bonar says. When you aggressively
rotate your hands, the toe passes the
heel at a much higher speed than with
passive hands. Bonar says unleashing
this “turbo toe” is the swing’s missing
link. It creates a radical accelerator — the
rotating face — that equals big power
with little effort. To demonstrate, he
stood on his left leg and socked a
3-wood 200 yards. “That was all hands
and arms. No weight shift. But I
If this sounds all too theoretical, you
should know that Bonar spent four
years in the mid-1990s as the director of
education for a California-based custom-fitting
company called Zevo Golf, where
he oversaw the fitting process. (He was
also an R&D consultant at TaylorMade.)
Bonar’s eyes light up when talking about
his lab days.
“At Zevo, we found out some neat
shit! We tested David Toms, Julie
Inkster, Duffy Waldorf, Billy Ray Brown
and others,” he says. “We confirmed
that, with top players, the toe rotates
much faster than the heel through
impact — up to 19 mph faster. That
creates a draw bias, a face hook, worth
about 30 extra yards on drives. It’s like
hitting a homerun in baseball — but
swinging square is a check swing.”
My mind reeled. Were the pillars of
golf instruction built on quicksand?
Had the game’s top teaching pros
perpetuated a Da Vinci Code-like fraud
against millions. (“So dark the con of
golf!”) It made some sense. It explained
why I never get better, how Ernie Els tags
it 300 yards with a flip of the wrist,
and why the average American golfer’s
handicap (16.2) hasn’t budged in 15
years, despite golf schools, movable
weights and Academy Live! Maybe we
were taught wrong.
To show that his method works
from even the worst of lies,
Bonar stepped on a ball in the
bunker, burying all but the “T”
in “Titleist.” He grabbed an iron, swung
and — thump — it popped out, high and
soft. A nice shot, but no big deal, right?
He then revealed his club of choice:
not a sand wedge but a 6-iron. Jaws
dropped. I grabbed the club, equaled his
feat and asked, “You sure this swing is
legal?” Onto the range.
A lot can happen in seven minutes.
You can shave. Or walk your dog. Or
listen to Rick Springfield’s greatest hits.
Or you can find your swing.
That’s how long I beat balls before it
happened. My first swings yielded
Baker-Finchian hooks, but my timing
improved. Then on the downswing, I
tried feeling as if my right hand was
hitting topspin forehands in pingpong,
and I started ripping 7-irons 170 yards.
Wow. This was different. Not this time.
I flipped my wrist, and the ball got
smaller and smaller. Over and over.
My mind, normally a mosh pit of
swing thoughts, was blank. I swung
with my hands, my body riding merrily
along. My wounded spirit rose from its
deathbed. I loved the game again. No,
I was in love. (Is golf is seeing anyone? Or
thinking about me? Sigh… Golf.)
Day 2 was a playing lesson. The
feeling was still there. The game seemed
simple. Flip a driver 275 yards, toss a
wedge, two-putt, par. Yawn. I shot 80.
Only a few rounds since have been so
blissful. Ten months later, I’m not
scratch. But I threaten 80 often, break
it now and then, and hit tons of greens.
I know where my ball’s going. I have
control. And that’s all I really wanted.
“It’s sad,” Bonar says. “Most golfers
accept mediocrity. They’re told that golf
works in mysterious ways. Well, the
game is easier than you think. Not
easy, but easier. And if you use the club
properly, it’s a helluva lot more fun.”
A.J. Golf School, Carlsbad, Calif.
Half-day school, $295; two-day, $895;