People you should know in golf: Dave Pelz
Dave Pelz is one of the most influential short-game coaches ever to have given a golf lesson.
His pupils have a collective 16 major championship victories between them including the wins from Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Tom Kite.
But did you know he worked at NASA for 14 years? And has played with a guy who’s had 31 holes-in-one?
He is a prostate cancer survivor and has been helping Srixon promote their partnership with Prostate Cancer UK to donate £1.50 to the charity for every dozen balls sold.
Pelz has got some very strong views on how far the pros hit the ball and admits he owes much of his success to his wife.
He also has the best back garden in the world.
We met him at the 2017 PGA Show in Orlando…
Where do you grow up?
When did you first get into golf?
I played in my first tournament when I was seven.
I was a terrible golfer, I had just taken up the game, but I was enjoying it. I played with my dad, he was about a six to eight handicapper, and he took me to a handicap tournament and I played against a 77-year-old man.
At the end of the match, I have no idea what we shot, I don’t even know who won, but I remember shaking his hand and having my picture in the paper. I thought I was a golf star.
I thought I was going to be the best player in the world. I ended up going to college on a golf scholarship, I’ve been in the game my whole life.
What was your first job in golf?
I got out of school from Indiana University and I couldn’t make the tour.
I was a physicist. It was 1961, Sputnik had just been launched and NASA were hiring physicists. So I got a job at NASA and worked 14 and a half years doing space research.
At the end of that time I was convinced, because I had all this research and equipment at my disposal, I would work my day go home to my family for dinner, then go back into my research lab and do research on golf.
At the end of the 14 and a half years I decided I was a golfer who loved physics rather than a physicist who loved golf.
In 1975 I took a temporary leave of absence and worked for one year in golf and lost everything I had.
I thought if I could enjoy losing money then being able to make some money in golf would be the world’s greatest challenge – and it has been.
I’ve done fine. I’m living the good life and I’m still doing research every day.
What was the best decision you ever made?
The best decision I made as an adult was listening to my wife.
I had been building golf clubs based on my research. They were awfully good golf clubs but nobody knew about them.
I was making great clubs but I was a terrible business man and not very good at marketing so I was selling many.
My wife said, ‘Look, you’ve done all this research, I’m getting amateurs calling asking how much you charge for lessons but you’re only teaching pros – there aren’t enough pros to make a decent living.’
She told me I’ve got to teach amateurs. I said I didn’t have time, I was doing serious work.
But she convinced me. She told me to take that data to teach these people and let them pay for it – then we could get out of the equipment business and just give teaching schools.
I’ve been giving schools for 25 years and they are all based on research – all my testing and my research goes into my schools.
People paid for the schools in advance. In the old days when I sold a set of golf clubs – half the people just took them and didn’t pay for them.
If you had one piece of advice what would it be?
Take your wedge and make a shorter backswing and accelerate to a longer follow through. So that you are accelerating through impact.
Most people take too long a backswing and they slow down – they decelerate into impact and that results in a bad wedge shot.
If you weren’t working in golf what would you be doing?
I’d definitely still be in space research. NASA sends me a picture every morning which is the astronomy picture of the day.
I wake up I turn on my computer and there is some Hubble Telescope photograph of a galaxy 80 million miles away or something like that.
What’s your current golf handicap?
Have you ever had a hole-in-one?
I have never had a hole-in-one as an adult. I had one at 14 but haven’t had one since.
I’ve been waiting for a long time.
There’s one guy, I can’t remember his name but he’s the known as the King of Aces – he’s had 51.
I thought this guy must be be the best iron player ever. I played golf with him and he shot 85 – he’s not a good player!
Tiger or Jack?
Jack Nicklaus is the world’s best player, Tiger has played the game the best it has ever been played.
And the best shortgame is Phil Mickelson, bar none. Better than either of those two.
What’s the one thing you can’t live without?
I think the most important thing is a good attitude. Life is really tough if you don’t have a good attitude.
A good attitude makes life enjoyable and fun.
What has been the most significant innovation in golf equipment?
The fact that the ball goes so much further than it used to. It really excites poor players.
Every once in a while even poor players catch a drive right on the sweetspot, get that clubhead going in the right direction and really hit a good one.
I think that brings a lot of people back to the game.
The fact that the USGA banned anchoring putters, banned box grooves – that makes the game harder for the average player.
They don’t want tour players to shoot in the 50s.
I told the USGA that if you put our tour players on Rancho Santa Fe they would shoot in the mid 50s because there are six to eight of the par-4s that they can drive.
Dustin Johnson can drive it 330 every time without swinging off his feet – he’s got a good golf swing.
Don’t tell me the game hasn’t changed. If you don’t want the game to change like that then give the pros a different ball and get them to hit it 260 instead.
Bring the pros back but I don’t think the game should be made harder for the average golfer.
For more about Dave Pelz and his teaching schools visit his website.