The transformation of Moe—how he became the best ever

Moe at Oakdale GC in Toronto probably in the 80s looking powerful and strong.

Moe at Oakdale G&CC in Toronto probably in the 80s looking powerful and strong.

Here’s my column in the upcoming issue of Single Plane Golfer magazine published by Todd Graves, co-author of our new book The Single Plane Golf Swing: Play Better Golf the Moe Norman Way

Grainy video of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy swinging with superb form as toddlers underscores the impression the best in the world came out of the womb with immaculate golf swings.

Not Moe Norman. The best-ball striker in the history of the game was no prodigy. Moe shot 102 in the Ontario Junior at 16. By 17, he was shooting in the 70s, but he was not competitive and battled a persistent duck hook.

But by 20, Moe had undergone a transformation. He was becoming one of Ontario’s top tournament players, winning a number of prestigious amateur events in 1949 such as the one-day Early Bird—shooting 67—and the 54-hole Kawartha Invitational.

Over the course of two years when he was 18 and 19 on the range at Rockway GC in Kitchener, Ontario, Moe developed and perfected his unique motion that has become known as the Single Plane Swing, arguably the most efficient swing in golf. (Later, Moe said that during this period he “trapped” the swing that he would use for the rest of his life.)

Sure, he hit thousands of balls during long days on the range, and he was extremely strong, even for a slight young adult, but Moe took a path to improvement that provides us with important lessons today.

Respected teaching professionals such as Dr. Jim Suttie, Chuck Cook and certainly Todd Graves say Moe’s swing is the work of a genius. It is mind-blowing to consider that Moe developed his swing on his own as a young man. Moe didn’t rely on a pro for advice, and there was no video 65 years ago.

Moe relied on himself. He felt what was going on his body with absolute clarity. He wasn’t distracted by concepts or by thinking about what he was trying to do. He was—in today’s parlance—completely present to what his body was doing. He relied on his intuition and feelings. Moe was bright, but he didn’t analyze things; he was super sensitive to feelings, both physically and emotionally.

Compared to most of us, he took things to extremes, especially golf, in part because he didn’t have much of a life outside of golf. And you sure don’t become best in the world taking half measures.

Moe told me that while he lay in bed after long practice sessions, he’d feel which muscles were the most tired. “Which ones (muscles) still wanted to hit another ball? How did my left eye feel compared to my right eye? Since my right leg was much more tired than my left leg that means I was keeping my weight back there too long. My body did my talking to me.”

Moe said that his motion was so different from the conventional swing because he listened to his body. “Nobody could teach me this. I learned by feel. Whatever felt good to me.”

That’s not to say we can’t learn from professionals or from other sources (including, well, books). In fact, we can speed up the process of improvement with great instruction. However, as Moe demonstrated, you don’t improve and play great golf by thinking about it. (It took me about 30 years to learn this.)

The irony of the pursuit of improvement in golf is that we have far superior technology than in Moe’s day and a tsunami of information in our phones, but the majority of golfers do not improve. Think about your own approach to golf. Most of us consciously direct our bodies to move like we think we should. It’s like trying to walk up stairs thinking about how to angle your ankle and where to place your toes.

Certainly, becoming “a student of the game” is a key tenet to becoming a good player, but most teachers, including Todd Graves, will tell you that thinking about the swing just leads to paralysis by analysis. (I’ve been there, got the T-shirt, as they say.)

In creating our new book The Single Plane Golf Swing: Play Better Golf the Moe Norman Way, Todd and I describe the swing in great detail to help readers understand it. But we also include more than 300 pictures to illustrate the text to help you visualize the swing, and we included “feelings drills” so you can feel the ideal motions.

Our intent was to emulate Moe. It’s our strong sense that Moe didn’t analyze his swing, but rather he pictured and felt what he wanted to do. And by following Moe’s example, you’d be hard pressed to find a better model to base your own process of improvement.

We have provided a chapter on Moe’s life  in The Single Plane Golf Swing book, but for more detail on Moe’s early years, check out my 1995 biography The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story.

Photo: Howard Alter



About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!