Monday, February 7, 2011

Up to a Considerable Point...

"Up to a considerable point, as I see it, there's nothing difficult about golf, nothing. I see no reason, truly, why the average golfer, if he goes about it intelligently, shouldn't play in the 70s."  --from Ben Hogan's Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf

Yes, Mr. Hogan. Whatever you say.

I think we must assume that "going about it intelligently" includes some form of instruction--lessons from a local golf pro, reading a trove of instructional books from the local library, watching hours of the Golf Channel, trying out the latest tip in Golf Digest. 

My own history with golf instruction is ridiculously brief: 

1.  The summer after fourth grade, my best friend's father takes me to the local public course, previously the home of a cow pasture and much dust.  He hands me a club and offers two pieces of advice: "It's not a baseball bat.  And you're not Superman." Much fun ensues.

2.  In 10th grade, I join the junior varsity golf team at school. Why? Some of my friends did it. We talked
about girls a lot. We got to play for free 5 days a week. I had nothing else to do? I borrowed a set of clubs from a friend who'd never used them. My parents bought me a golf bag for Christmas.

3. One afternoon, the high school golf coach, a sun-tanned ex-pro from Florida, emerges from the bar at the country club where we practiced and where he was a member.  "Today we're learning how to chip." Groans.
An hour later, with little success, he mumbles and sends us off to the course. 

4. One day at golf practice the coach watches me tee off.  "Are you really holding that thing like a baseball bat?" he asks.  He teaches me a proper grip that afternoon after practice.

5. After that, it's all books.  Books about proper mechanics, the swing plane, the mental game.  I've read sections of instructional golf books that even teach the best way to hit off of pine needles, a cart path, or even out of shallow water, if necessary.

Right now, I have seven golf instructional books checked out from the library. I've had four of them since May.  I've renewed one of them 14 times. Desperation? Perhaps.

Most are helpful, if only in small ways.  A little book called When Bad Things Happen to Bad Golfers--which wins the award for best cover: a frustrated golfer standing knee deep in water--reminded me of proper ball position with each club.  Breaking 90 with Johnny Miller has brought me back to my first golf lesson: You're not Superman. Hit the shot you know you can make.

Then there are ridiculous books like Golf in the Zone. It promotes many goofy things, most notably: 1. Avoiding coffee.  2. Listening to relaxing music on the way to the golf course. 3.  If you're an extrovert, "Punch the air, jump about, or give a roar of delight" after a good putt.

As a result of reading all of these books, I have a better idea of what's wrong with my swing (my backswing is too upright?) and I have a better idea of how to fix it. But, I fear my golf swing is a collection of parts, not yet its own.  It's a little like one of those sculptures you see at junk shops--an ash tray made out of bottlecaps and wax, a birdfeeder constructed from Diet Coke cans and toothpicks. It looks like something you've seen before, just a little curious.

I'm a goal-oriented guy.  One goal for the 2011 golf season? Read less. Practice more.


  1. I think I played my worst golf when I was a golf coach. I attribute that to all the golf instruction I was reading and trying to pass along to the golfers. Obviously, North Miami H.S. was pretty hard up for a golf coach at that time. As I recall, the key component that I brought to the deal was that I was going to drive the van.

    It's a delicate balance I think. You need to practice. You need to have some idea of the mechanics of the swing. (I write more from my background as a shooter of the basketball). And then you need to not think of any of that and give yourself over to the physical purity of it. None of this would happen were I to go over to the course, climb one of the snow mountains here in Connecticut, and tee up a ball for a swing.

  2. "I fear my golf swing is a collection of parts, not yet its own. It's a little like one of those sculptures you see at junk shops--an ash tray made out of bottlecaps and wax, a birdfeeder constructed from Diet Coke cans and toothpicks."

    In complete predictability, this is my favorite part of your post.