Review of Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible by Fred Shoemaker

I’m finally getting over an annoying episode of Adhesive Capsulitis (also called Frozen Shoulder). It has hung on since early March which makes me feel lucky because it is commonly known to as long as nine to sixteen months in guys my age.

So, I’ve only played a total of 54 holes of golf since March. For 36 of those holes it felt just like a #1 Phillips head screwdriver was getting jabbed into the front of my shoulder. Now, I’m thankfully pain free and so far have recovered about 70% of my range of motion.

I kept working on my game (in my head, anyway) while I was effectively banned from the course. One interesting book I read was Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible by Fred Shoemaker. Here’s an overview from the Extraordinary Golf website:

Most golfers approach the tee with a complex mental package: worries and judgments about their swing, the other person’s swing, the course, the weather, looking good, looking bad. They think about what’s wrong instead of what’s possible.

Drawing on his experience teaching both amateurs and professionals for more than three decades, in his clinics around the country, in his Golf in the Kingdom seminars at the Esalen Institute, and at his own golf schools in California, Shoemaker gives players a new perspective.  He combines a host of practical, proven exercises with a whole new way of thinking.  He shows how golf can be coached, learned, and practiced, with results not only in people’s scores but in their sheer pleasure in the game.

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I agree about the complex mental package. In fact, I’d say Shoemaker is putting things mildly in his description of what the average handicap player carries around in his cranium. As Bobby Jones said, “Most golfer’s believe they’re thinking but what they’re actually doing is worrying.” Shoemaker writes about the benefit of awareness and his own efforts to first maintain concentration on the ball for the entirety of his swing and then to develop an awareness of where the club head is throughout his swing. I found both exercises compelling though at the time I was still unable to swing at the ball.

At my worst, I could barely create an arc big enough to hit a long putt but as I slowly recovered I got into the goal of trying to maintain concentration on the ball throughout a chip and then an easy pitch shot. One benefits of the exercise is to free the brain from bullshit swing thoughts and anxieties. Not surprisingly, I’ve found it very difficult to maintain that level of concentration on a driver or 3-wood swing but I can now keep my brain on the ball from putter through hybrid fairly consistently.

The book also espouses the idea of (safely) throwing golf clubs as a bit of evidence that average players have what would be an effective golf swing that’s being inhibited by those counterproductive efforts to fix their swing. The more natural physical actions that will send a club flying toward a target would be well applied to golf swing, I agree. But the photos in the book are a bit off. All but one of the photographs show players who have stood up to their full height while tossing the club. I accept the idea that tapping into one’s natural ability to get the body to throw the club has a solid application in golf but there is, in fact, a ball down there just waiting to be hit and you can’t hit it while standing tall.

For a while, even while I was still reading the book, my brain wrongly substituted the idea of look at the ball for concentrate on the ball. Looking is one thing and concentrating is another. True concentration brings along the possibility of pushing out swing thoughts through the simplicity of concentrating on the ball. As I like to say, simple is seldom easy. Merely looking at the ball keeps the brain free to consider a bunch of thoughts and worries, none of which make the player more likely to hit the ball well.

While I was thinking about this review I came across Dr. Mark Wilson, a researcher in experimental psychology and human movement science and a leading expert in visuomotor skill acquisition and performance under pressure, from the University of Exeter. He researches what he calls, “skill acquisition process via Quiet Eye (gaze).” The term quiet eye (QE) is a term first proposed by Professor Joan Vickers of Calgary University. Anyway, Dr. Wilson has done research on golfers and has found that, “Such intense focus on the ball blocks out negative interference from mental chatter and allows the brain to process the aiming information and direct the body in the proper motions to get the ball where you wish to go.” I like the sound of that and I’m sure Fred Shoemaker would as well.

Extraordinary Golf would be even better had Shoemaker made a a more overt connection between awareness and action. As one’s awareness increases so does one’s ability to move the club with confidence. I guess it might have taken Shoemaker somewhere he didn’t want to go but I’m more than happy to go there. Golf is a hand/eye coordination game. Do you honestly think those tour pros who are so good at bouncing balls on the face of a wedge aren’t showing a skill that helps them strike the ball as solidly as they do? Pros have consistent and powerful swings as well as superb hand/eye coordination. Handicap players lack at least one of those abilities and possibly both. The good news is that concentrating (visually) on the ball may actually enhance hand/eye coordination for a handicap player whose ball striking is variable not only because his concentration is everywhere but also because that high level of defocus makes the hand/coordination required for a solid strike even more unlikely.

The older I get, the less I want to think about the challenge of trying to affirmatively change the way I swing. My paths to physical improvement are dubious; I’m not getting any younger, stronger or more agile. I see Fred Shoemaker’s Extraordinary Golf as an encouragement to get me to change the way my mind works when it comes to moving the golf club. Years ago, I was smart enough to turn away from Youtube videos and most conventional golf instruction. Now, I’m very close to turning my back on the idea of fixing my swing by trying to swing better. I think if I had done this years ago I would have enjoyed the game even more than I already do. Thanks, Fred…well done!

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The 18th fairway at Griffith Park’s Harding Golf Course in October

 

Review of Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible by Fred Shoemaker

Randolph Engineering Aviator

Like a few million other guys my age, I grew up with the legend of American Astronauts. But, even though I respected guys like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin it was the Mercury and pre-Mercury guys like Chuck Yeager and L. Gordon Cooper who really got me going.

Cooper was regarded as the best pure stick & rudder guy of the Mercury era and he held the record for lowest heart rate during take off of any of the Mercury or Gemini astronauts. Now, maybe that just meant that Cooper was dumb but it always seemed like seemed like tough & unflappable to me. More than anything, the guy just looked like an American pilot and I’m sure Cooper very much saw himself as a pilot first and an astronaut second.

Anyway, the man had style.

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And, the thing is, I needed new sunglasses. Like needed…like I lost one of my go-to shades. I looked around for a current version of the cheaters Cooper wore back in the day and I came up with Randolph Engineering.

What? Sunglasses that are made in the US?

I know; totally crazy. I’ve owned French sunglasses, Italian sunglasses, German sunglasses and doubtlessly many pairs made in China. But, unless I had (and surely later lost) an old pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers from back in the early 80s I’m pretty sure I’ve never owned a pair of US-made shades until now. Who knows? Maybe Ray-Bans were already made off shore even back then.

Sure, I could have maybe scoped out a better deal online but I decided to go old school and cruised over to the local Randolph stockist right here in the West Val. The optometrist owns a pair of Randolphs himself and said that he brought the line in because he thought the idea of US-made sunglasses was cool, as do I.

There are a lot of options but I chose to ignore most of them and confined my choices to frames: flat black, matte chrome or bright chrome. The black, even though it’s my default color choice in everything except cars, kind of hid some of the contours of the frame. The bright chrome rocked out loud but since I do not I passed on those shiny beauties. The matte chrome shows the frames off nicely so I snatched them up.

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The Aviators fit me beautifully and they fairly scream quality as well as faultless fabrication and assembly. You can truly feel the pride of the people who made them and that’s worth a lot to me. I was a bit uncertain about the straight temples but my doubts evaporated once i slipped them on.

It got me wondering, why do they make curved temples when straight is so dang comfy?

Randolph makes the Aviator in three sizes and I found the middle size to be just right. My final justification for the buy was the fact that the Aviator can be used with prescription lenses. Someday, but not today, I’ll need prescription lenses to navigate the highways and byways of California and when I do I’ll be set with my Randolph Aviators.

The more I think about it, the better value the Randolphs are. When you factor in the US manufacture and the lifetime warranty they cross into the realm of how do they manage to sell them for the price? In fact, I may end up with another pair if I’m not careful.

If you find yourself short a pair of sunglasses, do yourself a favor and check out the Randolph Aviators. I am digging them and I’m a very hard man to please.

 

 

Randolph Engineering Aviator

Flickr’s Explore Algorithm & “Good” Photography

Photos of mine have been captured by Elickr’s Explore algorithm a handful of times. Each time I wonder why for a few moments before I remind myself that a computer program can’t see photos, derive possible relevance, think about or consider what the photographer may have been thinking about when the shutter was pressed.

That makes me think, why would anyone care whether one of their photos made it into Explore? I can’t come up with a reason that a photographer would be motivated to try to get his images into Flickr that could possibly relate to the quality of his photography.

After all, who could possibly aspire to impress a computer’s programming?

It’s easy to imagine one possible motivation residing in a miniature version of Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame, and I know some photographers who are looking for just that. At the same time, I can see Flickr’s motive in developing and refining the Explore algorithm. I don’t browse the images in Explore very often but when I do I see lots of close-up photographs of birds and a lot of huge landscapes with surreal or at least very dramatic color.

The photos in Explore are nearly always conventional in the extreme. The occasional unusual photo (unusual either in subject or execution) nearly always strikes me as something that made the algorithm experience the computer-software equivalent of bemusement, for a mere fraction of a millisecond. Today there’s a simple photo of a miniature figurine of a lion. I can imagine the data chain inside the algorithm wondering silently to itself, is that miniature lion really alive?

That question got me thinking about just how unlikely it is that the algorithm will ever be able to judge truly interesting let alone good photographs. Think of the objective differences between an Ansel Adams photograph of Yosemite National Park and the millions of other images captured from the same or similar vantage points. Now think about how you would go about creating a program that recognizes artistically good light and a well-seen composition. It’s hard enough for a human viewer to get a sense of what the photographer was trying to achieve and so wholly arguable as to how well that effort or vision was achieved. The genuine wonders of artificial intelligence notwithstanding, identifying good photography is going to remain a real problem for Flicrk’s algorithm. I’m sure the folks at Flickr are doing their best but it’s not very good.

This brings me to the photo of mine that found its way into Explore.

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Crap, even I don’t like this one all that much. I took it about twenty minutes after the sun fell behind the foothills. I had been out looking for an oak I photographed back in April. Somehow, I couldn’t find it even though I though I was certain about where it was. Obviously, I wasn’t. As I hustled through the canyon, trying to beat the coming darkness, I spied this huge tangled mass of an old tree and looked at the road go on beyond it.

As I did I thought to myself, that old oak knows exactly where that road leads; toward autumn. So, I turned around and snapped this. Yes, I kept the branches of the tree on the right in the frame intentionally.

Now thousands of Flickrites have viewed it and hundreds have faved it.

Yay.

No, I’m not upset this photo is in Explore.

Yes, it’s nice that so many people are seeing it (I suppose).

But, in the end I am far too selfish to care what a bunch of people who don’t know me think about one of my more marginal photos. I’m trying, in my way, to be a better, more aware, more sensitive and more creative photographer. It’s doesn’t matter to anyone other than me if it happens. Maybe in some backhanded way having this image in Explore has rekindled that singular clarity of mission.

It could be that Flickr algorithm is better than I thought.

 

 

 

Flickr’s Explore Algorithm & “Good” Photography

Downtown Los Angeles & Beyond

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This was an unusual day when it came to light. There was great distance visibility. But, there was also a good deal of moisture in the unsettled air. The result was a kind of soft-clarity that tended to obscure details and one’s sense of distance. It was as if the very far and the not so far away had been drawn into each other.

With winter on its inevitable approach, this photo reminds me of the kind of light that comes with the cooler and sometimes moisture-laden air of the season. It’s always been a difficult season for me to look forward to, but I’m working on it.

This was taken just beyond the Cobb Estate in the foothills above Altadena, CA.

Downtown Los Angeles & Beyond

Untitled 1: On the San Gabrielino Trail

2010 was the last year before the start of the Great California Drought. That year, heavy downpours drove mud and debris down from the foothills through what are ordinarily dry, or nearly dry, river beds all the way to the Hahamongna basin.

The San Gabrielino Trail above JPL is an odd one, unless you’re from Southern California. Toward the bottom, near where this photo was taken, it’s a strangely disquieting mix of the suburban and natural worlds. There’s an asphalt walkway that gives way to a broken concrete one before direct contact between foot and mother earth finally takes over.

I caught this view through the chain link fence that keeps the locals out of the river bed on the lower part of the trail. I stood there for a quite a while, pointing my humble Panasonic LX3 between the links of the fence. I didn’t think much about the image until days later.

Maybe it’s my envisioning of the massive flow of water that came in the days and weeks before the image was taken. Maybe it is my wonderment at the idea the trees had withstood that muddy onslaught. Maybe it’s the little touch of vibrant green. I’m not sure but I always enjoy this photo when I come upon it.

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Untitled 1: On the San Gabrielino Trail

The Schaeffer Fire, Bonnevile Salt Flats, US 395 & the Sherwin Range

Smoke from the Schaeffer Fire
Smoke from the Schaeffer Fire

The Schaeffer Fire had been burning for well over a month by the time I caught this image on the road to US 395 west of the Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns in Inyo County. There were no fewer than three wildfires fires burning in California at the time (mid-August).

Bonnevile

When I was a kid I was fixated with the land speed record attempts that took place at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. I was around eleven when I finally got a chance to see the place for myself. Much to my delight my father even took our 1966 Pontiac Bonneville (no kidding) out on the flats for a few high speed passes.

Those, indeed, were the days.

I took this photo with my father’s Argus C3 on that trip way back in the early 1970s. The negative was buried somewhere in a box of over 6,000 images left behind by my parents. Most of the images were out-of-focus castoffs, but there were a few gems among the rubble.

I’ve not been back to the flats. I’ve learned that the salt on the flats is thinning, but no one is quite sure why. It makes me want to go back to that day when the salt was flat and thick and dustless and I sat beside my father, speeding across the horizon.

395 south toward Bishop
Looking southwest toward Bishop near US 395
Sherwin Range at sunset
The Sherwin Range at Sunset

It never fails to amaze me how often the humble iPhone 5 ends up seeing duty when a better camera would have been more suitable. Just a few minutes earlier the light was even more spectacular and the lenticular clouds were nearly luminous.

The Schaeffer Fire, Bonnevile Salt Flats, US 395 & the Sherwin Range