Ranger Rich: Battling for his game, his life 

Barry Nolan would love to hit that little round ball just a few more times. - RICH TOSCHES
  • Rich Tosches
  • Barry Nolan would love to hit that little round ball just a few more times.

When he was confronted with the maddening frustration that is golf, he didn't do what most golfers do, which generally involves taking the Lord's name in vain until your throat hurts and then rolling up your trousers so you can fish your $180 putter back out of the %$^&*#@ lake as your buddies try not to make eye contact with you.

Instead, what Colorado Springs advertising and marketing executive Barry Nolan did was try to figure it out. He analyzed the golf swing. Like Einstein analyzed matter and energy.

And after he'd spent what he estimates at some 100,000 hours studying the swing and reading a seemingly endless stack of golf books on the mechanics of the swing and the physics of the hip turn, and looking at photos and videos of the golf swing and comparing them until his eyes hurt, he thinks, now, that he has it figured out. He has put it all on a DVD that just might be any golfer's salvation.

And today, at 66, Nolan also might be nearing a sad ending to a tough, knock-down, 15-year battle with cancer. It seems that just as he has reached a golfing breakthrough that will help others, he can no longer play.

Golf began for Nolan in the summer of his eighth year in the heavy air of Pennsylvania, as a kid whacking a ball around on a course where his mother played. By 12 he was pretty good. He played golf all day long until his father suggested that perhaps the boy might explore a world that involved summer jobs.

The kid got a job throwing hay on a farm in town, a farm that just happened to run conveniently alongside the golf course. And by mid-afternoon he'd put down the pitchfork, head across the pasture to the golf course and chase the ball until the sun disappeared.

He was smart as could be, too, and he made it to Princeton University and even played golf on the freshman team, but he wasn't quite good enough to chase the dream beyond that. And so, after a Princeton degree and an MBA from Columbia University, Nolan began his working life, first in New York and eventually here in our village for Current Inc., the greeting-card giant.

But always there was golf. Good golf. He got his scores into the 70s. And there was funny golf, too. He returned to New York one day from a visit with his mother in Pennsylvania and had lugged three golf clubs with him. As he passed by a downtown doorway with the clubs over his shoulder, a sleeping homeless-looking fellow looked up, rubbed his eyes and shouted, "Fore!"

And even though his golf was sound, he arrived at a moment in the early 1990s when the frustration of the game made him seek an answer.

"I wondered," he said the other day, leaning back in a soft chair in his Broadmoor neighborhood home, "just what the hell was so difficult about this game of golf. I'd read so many contradictions in so many books, and it occurred to me that nobody really understood how the swing works.

"Golf does not easily give up its secrets."

Unlike so many others, Nolan sought an answer. Among his big revelations, he says, is that there is no such thing as a "backswing" in golf. The movement is actually "around and behind" the golfer, a move involving the rotation of the torso and thighs.

His DVD is called Swail — Nolan's tongue-in-cheek combination of "swing" and "flail"— and since coming out last spring via swail.com, it has started climbing the Google search ladder. He has sold some 400 copies at $69.95 each, which might seem high but the Web site explains that it's far more valuable than just another teaching video. He recently got an order from a golfer in Lithuania.

But the cancer is back. Prostate cancer. It was diagnosed first in 1994. With surgery and then hormone treatments, doctors kept it in check. But now it roars.

"Six weeks ago, doctors told my wife and children to come to the hospital," Nolan says. "They told them I probably wouldn't make it through the night."

He is weakened now and moves slowly, but the cancer has spared his mind and he is as razor-sharp as ever. He thinks of his family, of course. And of his life. And about this silly game of golf, too, as another Colorado spring turns the grass green beneath an occasional new thin blanket of snow.

"I'd love to get out to the golf course again," he says as a smile dances across his face. "Maybe I could only play half of a hole. But I'd really like to do it."

Yet if that doesn't happen, Barry Nolan still is leaving a legacy that, who knows, might even revolutionize the game he loves so much.

"I hope that millions of golfers around the world get better because of the DVD and enjoy the game more," he says. "But for me, the journey has been more important than the destination. The trip has been a great one."



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