|Mike Bender's Benderstik is a new approach to an old idea of providing negative feedback. (Courtesy of Benderstik)|
It's an age-old argument: Which is more effective? The carrot or the stick. Top 100 teacher Mike Bender would argue the stick, and more specifically, his own, the Benderstik.
The Benderstik, which is basically a foam ball at the end of a flexible stick, provides negative feedback. In other words, if you swing incorrectly, the foam ball is bumped. It's harmless, but intrusive, says Bender, who teaches several tour pros and is based in Lake Mary, Fla.
"Many training devices, including those with straps, provide positive feedback," Bender said. "But you learn three to four times faster from negative feedback."
The bottom half of the Benderstik is rigid and comes with a screw-in spike for use on grass. (A separate stand is also available.) The upper half, which screws into the base segment, is flexible, allowing for the various positions Bender describes in a DVD that accompanies the product. Golfers may also anchor the device in their golf bag.
Among the swing faults that can be unlearned with the Benderstik are swaying, sliding, overswinging, flipping the ball and losing one's posture. It is best used in conjunction with alignment sticks, or a pair of clubs.
Bender, who runs the Mike Bender Golf Academy outside Orlando, Fla., has long been an inveterate tinkerer. As a child, Bender dismantled and reassembled all sorts of stuff -- radios, bicycles, TVs -- just about anything else he got his hands on. So coming up with something like the Benderstik was right up his alley.
There are three main styles in which people learn new things: auditory, visual and tactile. Tactile learners respond best to a "kinesthetic" sensation, or actually performing a task or motion, a big part of the Benderstik concept.
"At the start of my career in the early 1980s I had what I thought was a good swing, until I saw what I was doing on video," Bender said. "My takeaway and backswing were way too vertical, and I had a high finish like Jack Nicklaus, because he was the best in the game. I, of course, wasn't Nicklaus and needed to start with a backswing more like that of Doug Sanders. But after a week of practice with what I thought was a new swing, I'd come back to the video and see that it didn't really change. Feel, as Greg Norman once said, is not necessarily real."
In other words, both the auditory instruction and visual reinforcement of the video were failing Bender. But the Benderstik can be positioned to influence at least eight major elements of the golf swing -- from takeaway to a hip turn and follow through. Unless that part of the swing is executed properly, the yellow ball will interfere with the arms, head or hips. A swing that doesn't contact the ball begins to build the muscle memory, Bender said.
Anybody who watches TV golf regularly is inundated with commercials and infomercials about training aids and videos that promise to turn high-handicappers in low-handicap golfers.
Truth is most of them are ineffective. We all know players who have a whole library of training aids and videos that have done them very little good -- especially over the long run.
But this might be different. Its simplicity is its beauty. No straps, no complicated theories, just a good tool to ingrain solid fundamentals.
In fact, just as valuable as the Benderstik is Bender's instructional DVD, where he not only shows you how to use the Benderstik, but also imparts his solid golf instruction.
The other part of this is that most players -- especially experienced players -- have certain tendencies or common faults that they always seem to fall back on when their games start going south. Therefore, the first thing you should do, if you know what it is, is identify your faults and the drills Bender describes to correct them. In other words, don't go out trying to use every drill in the video. That would lead to confusion.
And for most players, this would probably work best after getting some instruction for a qualified teacher. Golf, like medicine, can be difficult to self-diagnose. As Bender and Norman said, feel very often isn't real. It's important to have another set of eyes seeing what you can't. With that said, Bender also believes that his device would be helpful to golf instructors and their students.
The Benderstik and an instructional video featuring Mike Bender retails for $99.95.
See wwww.benderstik.com for more information.
October 25, 2013
Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.