by Nils Nelson
I'm writing this in my new Swing Align office beneath the sixth green at El Rio Golf Course, Tuscon. My first choice, under the bunker on the sixth green at Riviera, didn't work out, which is just as well since exploding sand shots from above would surely have messed with my keyboard. Grit can really be a drag.
Being used to working in the wee hours, I don't mind the dark. It's quiet down here, my laptop works, and I'm both thankful and sad to be writing about a special friend: Allan Strand, the man who invented the Swing Align training aid. Thankful, because my life was enriched by his friendship; sad, because I miss him. I miss him bad.
Just before the PGA show in 1995, when I was the equipment editor for Links Magazine, I heard about a new putter with unique features. Always on the lookout for innovative clubs, I made an appointment to visit the Dandy booth. The memory, the image of meeting Allan for the first time, has never faded. With a big smile and an aura of friendliness, he introduced himself, shook my hand and welcomed me into his world.
After a fine visit and presentation, I went home with a Dandy and began to familiarize myself with its features. The list was so long that it proved to be a daunting task. After a couple weeks of not being able to absorb the Dandy's attributes and put them into practice I sent up an SOS, calling Allan for help. What happened next is one for the books. Mr. Dandy didn't attempt to clarify the putter's features over the phone. No, not at all. Instead, he said he'd be happy to drive from LA to Tuscon for a one-on-one personal lesson, which he did, meeting me on the putting green at Starr Pass Golf Club. Who does that? Who would do that? Only Allan Strand.
On the perfect practice green, we rolled scores of putts through the warm afternoon. Patient, encouraging, Allan filled my head with new light bulbs and turned them on, and by the time we adjourned to the clubhouse patio for drinks, I had an understanding and appreciation for the Dandy. We talked like old friends until the sun went down and it was time to call it a day. The Dandy would go through a number of iterations over the following years and become a veritable putting instrument, just as our friendship would also deepen and evolve.
When we weren't meeting at the PGA show, Allan and I racked up scores of phone calls, often in the wee hours when I was writing and he was driving to the next Tour stop, or to a Dandy demo with a billionaire, seeking investment. I always answered the phone, no matter the time, which led to his laughingly dubbing me The man who never sleeps.
During these years, Allan met with Gil Morgan for practice with the Dandy, leading to a friendship with the great ball striker. In-depth conversations about the golf swing planted a seed in Allan that would slowly grow the concept of an innovative training aid. He always stayed with me and my wife during the west coast to Florida swing and, invariably, after a long day we'd end up putting in my office on the worn berber carpet, Stimp 12. One night, this changed.
"Let's go in the backyard, I want to show you something."
I grabbed a 7-iron and turned on the lights. Allan poked around in the dormant Bermuda grass, found a twig that was almost straight and secured it to my forearms with a couple rubber bands. Not exactly high tech.
"Allan what's going on?"
"Here, just set up to the ball. See how the twig is parallel to your target line? Now swing back halfway and stop. See how the stick remains horizontal? Okay, swing to the top and hold it. Horizontal. Okay, now follow through to the finish."
"Still horizontal," I said.
We ran through it again. So simple. The twig showed that I was lined up at address as well as on plane during my swing. I even made some "bad" swings on purpose and saw how the twig angled down, pointing at the ground. It was revealing, like a lie detector for golfers.
"Allan, I wish I had a mantle so I could put this twig on it. I think you've struck gold."
In the coming months, Allan moved forward, making a rough prototype of the swing trainer - a daunting project, to say the least - and the day came when he was able to start practicing with it. I'd get updates. Not only was he polishing his already beautiful swing, he found that the trainer led to more efficiency and thus more power. He was tickled. "I'm hitting the ball farther. With less effort. This thing really works."
Just as with the Dandy, I rode the rollercoaster of ups and downs, progress and setbacks. At one point, Allan sent a "before and after" video of his SO, Christine, on the driving range. She already had a good swing, but after a mere handful of sessions with the trainer, it looked as if she had been working for months. Her swing was not only better, but ball-striking improved as well.
Allan never earned a degree, but he was an engineer at heart, driven by curiosity and the desire to make something, anything, better. His standard? Excellence, passed on by his dad, who had a master's degree in physics. In contrast, as a ten-year old, Allan began studying classical piano with Bernard Weiser, an internationally recognized teacher and performer, rising to such a high level that he considered a career as a soloist, but chose another path. As golfers, we should be thankful for this.
Early in 2013, Allan was at Pebble Beach, where Ken Venturi was signing his autobiography. Allan waited in line, and when he introduced himself, he said that the pro's book, The Venturi Analysis, was his bible. They struck up a conversation. Allan had the swing trainer with him and asked Venturi if he'd take a look after the book signing.
"He loved it," Allan told me during one of his calls. By this point, every PGA teacher that had seen the trainer loved it as well. The future was bright, if only Allan could get over a terrible cough that had been plaguing him for months. Having seen doctors and been x-rayed, no one could narrow down the cause, until further tests revealed bad news: cancer in his left lung had spread to his upper spine. The first x-ray had missed the tumor that was hidden behind his heart.
When he called and told me, I was devastated, but Allan, always with a positive attitude, thought that if he could just get another year or two, he could bring the trainer to the finish line. It didn't work out. The mantle was taken up by his brother, Ev.
No longer does the phone ring at odd hours, the familiar voice of my friend filling me in with the latest. My endorphins would always spike as soon as I knew who was calling from a distant highway, [somewhere on the journey] logging more miles in the quest. Sometimes, after talking a while, Allan's voice would start to break up. I knew what was happening. "I'm going to lose you, I'm heading into the mountains." That's how I like to think of my friend. He's not gone. he's out there on the road, heading into the mountains.
- Nils Nelson