Not all rocket science at Dave Pelz School

Dave Pelz with Jussi Pitkanen
By Brian Keogh
More than 25 years after this reporter’s first and only lesson, it was time to give professional golf instruction another go. Surprisingly, given Dave Pelz’s background as a NASA boffin, it’s not all rocket science.

Set on the grounds of spectacular Killeen Castle near Dunshaughlin in leafy County Meath, the only Dave Pelz Scoring Game School outside the United States provides even the most modest golfer with the short game confidence to return to their weekly fourball with a glint in the eye and a spring in the step.

True, star pupil Phil Mickelson won’t be looking over his shoulder for six mid to high handicap Irish golfers when he takes on Torrey Pines in this week’s US Open. Nevertheless, we still trooped home with enough newly-acquired know-how in the art of pitching, bunker play, chipping and pendulum-style putting to shave a couple of shots off our handicaps.

Often seen working around the greens on practice days at golf’s Major championships with the likes of Mickelson or Vijay Singh, Pelz attended Indiana University on a golf scholarship from 1957 to 1961, compiling a less than impressive 0-22 record in head-to-head matches with a former Ohio State All-American by the name of Jack Nicklaus.

Those morale crushing defeats at the hands of the young bear, who would go on to the design the Killeen Castle course that will host the 2011 Solheim Cup, convinced Pelz to abandon his dream of turning professional.

Armed with a degree in Physics, he joined NASA in the early 1960's instead, investigating the upper atmospheres of the earth and other planets at the Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland before leaving to begin a full-time career in golf research in 1975.

After spending more than three years analysing thousands of “missiles” launched by players of all abilities, Pelz proved scientifically that 60 to 65 percent of the swings taken in a typical round of golf are made from inside 100 yards.

According to Ty Waldron, a Senior Pelz instructor from the United States and the man charged with leading the fledgling Pelz School in Ireland, Pelz worked out that 80 percent of what we average above par is spent within that 100-yard zone. As we all know by now, it’s all about the short game.

When you consider that the average amateur three putts between three and five times per round, regularly fluffs simple chips, blades bunker shots and sends 50 yard wedges screaming over the green, the scope for improvement in that area alone is massive.

“I worked in Texas years ago,” explained Waldron during a lunch-break in the sumptuous surroundings of the Killeen Castle clubhouse. “We were doing a series of One Day Clinics in the area and a man came up to me in the introduction, shook my hand and said, ‘I had not planned on attending your clinic. But the gentleman that I’ve played with twice a week for years, attended last week. We both usually shoot around 95 but the day after he attended your clinic, he shot 83. Could you take 12 shots off my game?’

“It’s a true story. It is remarkable. If your short game is a weakness, there are very simple things that can cause it to be a weakness and once you understand the approach and you have some skill, you can go from playing very poorly to playing very well.”

The One Day Clinic, which runs from 9 am to 4 pm, is divided into a couple thee-hour segments, combining simple classroom theory and practical outdoor execution sessions with an hour for lunch midday.

The morning session was spent learning the Pelz method of executing three basic shots - the 12 yard pitch, the 15 yard bunker shot and the greenside chip-and-run. The afternoon was dedicated to putting - simple theory on the set up and stroke mechanics of a pendulum putting style, followed by practical drills designed to help with speed control, touch and feel.

In each instance, great emphasis was placed on taking the hands out of the shot through a simple set of pointers on grip, ball position, rhythm and swing length. Getting feedback on what you are doing through the use of a variety of simple gadgets and techniques, was regarded as key.

“It doesn’t matter who comes to the clinics,” explained Finnish born instructor Jussi Pitkanen, who has considered Navan home since his father came to work at Tara Mines when he was just 10 years old. “No matter what the level, tour player or beginner, everyone gets the same information.”

Like Tullamore-native Conor Devery, who delivered the afternoon putting clinic, Pitkanen was hand-picked by Pelz and his wife Joann to undertake a six-month training programme at the Pelz School in Florida.

“If you can chip it, pitch it or hit a bunker shot closer to the hole, you are already a better putter,” explained Devery at the start of a putting session during which all six students were stunned to discover that their standard length putters were far too long to allow them to position their eyes directly over the “Aimline”.

Set on 11 acres in the historic grounds of 12th century Killeen Castle, the Dave Pelz Scoring Game School features USPGA standard greens, bunkers, aprons and hitting areas designed by Pelz to simulate championship golf conditions.

Bookings and further details can be found on

or by calling 01-6892026. One-Day Clinics cost €395. The Two-Day Putting and Short Game Schools cost €1,475 respectively and the Three-Day Scoring Game School will cost €2,200.