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PLAYING GOLF THE `NATURAL' WAY.

Byline: JILL PAINTER GOLF

I'd heard about Natural Golf before.

I didn't know much about it, other than what most golfers know -- it was the swing former PGA Tour pro Moe Norman used.

If you want to watch a conventional golfer melt down in a hurry -- moreso than if he'd just snap hooked a drive -- ask him what he thinks about Natural Golf. His eyebrows get crinkled and instant skepticism sets in.

My game is in bad shape, so I decided to give it a try. I'm like a lot of golfers who just haven't improved over the years. I took a quick lesson over the summer and Westlake pro Joe Buttitta enrolled me in a three-hour class last week.

And you know what?

I hit the ball straight. Most of the time.

The swing is based on swinging out of a single plane. The conventional golf swing has five planes. For me, that means all kinds of ways I can mess up one part. Swing on a horizontal plane and your club face hits the ball square. That's the object of golf.

``I'd never heard of it before, but the first ball I hit was straight,'' Buttitta said. ``I didn't teach it for eight months, though. I didn't teach anybody else until I understood it. A friend of mine tried it and he sliced everything, even wedges. He hit it straight and almost kissed me on the lips.''

Many Natural Golfers swear by it. The grip is different, which some people resist, and swinging out of a single plane can feel a bit awkward. I felt quite stiff.

Newbury Park High golfer Molly McBride has been playing golf for eight years but switched to Natural Golf 18 months ago. McBride has met some resistance for using the swing, but she's not changing it.

``A lot of people are like that because they don't know what it is,'' McBride said. ``I love it. I wasn't as consistent as I am now. It's unbelievable how my swing and score have improved. I get par a lot more now.''

And McBride is the No. 1 varsity golfer for the Panthers, so it's hard to argue with the results. She finds that this swing suits her better.

``It's more comfortable for my body,'' McBride said. ``My body is upright, and I don't have to slouch and bend my back. The clubs are so much easier to swing.''

Golfers can use the Natural Golf method with regular clubs but there are Natural Golf clubs. McBride just bought a set about two weeks ago. She used them to shoot a 39 (for nine holes) at Westlake Golf Course recently.

It's hard to gauge how many golfers use this swing. About 300,000 golfers are on the Natural Golf mailing list and president Manny Brown estimates about 150,000 of those use the Natural Golf swing.

There are 120 certified Natural Golf instructors but 40,000 who teach conventional swings.

Brown has been president of Natural Golf for a year. Brown, 51, has been playing the game since he was 22. He was a 10-handicapper with the conventional swing and now is a 10-handicapper with the Natural Golf swing.

It's not like Natural Golf is gripping the country, but Brown hopes it will catch on with more golfers, especially some of the 3 million who quit the sport every year. The company is trying to target the males and females in the 40-75 age group.

``Golf has always been a very traditional sport,'' Brown said. ``We're going up against something that frightens people. They don't really believe there can be another way. They don't realize our swing is so much simple. It's different, there's a different grip and there's a different stance.

``If people are having any kind of physical or mental anguish with their game, they've got to give us a try.''

Brown wanted to emphasize Natural Golf is not trying to compete with conventional golf. He said it's merely an option.

Ophir Marish, 34, began taking Natural Golf lessons recently and said he just had the game of his life at a company outing.

``I never had proper training, I was just hacking at it,'' said Marish, who lives in Topanga. ``This doesn't feel any different. It feels perfectly natural to me. My body movements feel right.''

If you want to see the single plane swing on television, contestant Kelly Murray is using it on Big Break VI.

Next time I hit the driving range, I'll give it another whirl. It certainly can't hurt my game. And if it means staying out of trees and traps and other such hazards that are everywhere but the fairway, I'm all for it.

CAPTION(S):

photo, 2 boxes

Photo:

Manny Brown, president and CEO of Natural Golf, illustrates the single- plane swing utilized by those who practice Natural Golf.

Courtesy of Natural Golf

Box:

(1) THIS WEEK'S SCHEDULE

(2) Etc.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 11, 2006
Words:823
Previous Article:L.A. CONFIDENTIAL.
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