Reaching my golf potential with Jim Venetos: Book Three

196 toward Crystalaire
165 toward Crystalaire

I turned to Jim Venetos about the same time his internet star began to rise. I am glad about this. It’s great to watch someone have his turn at success after much toil. There’s never been an overnight success that actually came about overnight and I am sure Venetos could tell a tale or two about the amount of work he’s put into his own game and the games of his legion of students.

If you’re not a reader, I will cut to the chase here. I have moved on from what I will call the Venetos Method. There is great validity to many elements of his method, but also some troubling issues at least for a player of my limited ability. In the end, I can see the value of a quieter lower body but not in the goal of absolute stillness. Worse (again, for me) is the requirement of setting up with the shoulders closed with a great deal of weight loaded onto the front side. Combined, these two aspects of the Venetos swing almost put my game out of action this season.

First, the closed shoulders stressed my lower and middle back in a way my golf swing had never stressed those parts of my body. Second, the weight left coupled with the goal of keeping weight there brought about an episode of plantar faciitis the like of which I have not suffered in 20 years. This result may be a coincidence but I rather doubt it. Loading the front side of the body while mass (comprised of the arms and club at least) goes rearward is very difficult to do without some painful tweakage. It took my left foot no less than two months to heal and even now it’s still a bit tender.

During my lessons, Venetos was big on saying that his method negates the need for rhythm, tempo and timing. I was always surprised at his use of these terms (since I never had mentioned them). But, the more he mentioned them over time the more I reflected on two simple facts. The first is that when I have played my best golf my swing felt possessed of rhythm, tempo and some element of timing. The second fact is that a swing, as a kind of arc, takes place across a given area of space and over a given period of time. The length of the arc can be measured from a number of different points; the hand’s arc travel a lesser distance than the club head, for example. To put it simply, no matter what, tempo always matters (again, at least to my game). I admit that it can be an amorphous and difficult issue to train, but it’s still an inevitable and irreplaceable part of every athletic process I can think of. To contend it doesn’t matter is dubious at best.

It’s odd to me that the rhythm, tempo and timing thing became such a big deal to me after I had taken my final lesson with Jim Venetos. It came me on day when I was playing quite well after a day that found me playing horribly. One day everything was a blur (except for the ball coming off the face) and the next day all was nearly languid (yet the ball flew with snap and authority).

What was different? Many things, perhaps. But, to me, to the golfer writing down his score, the difference was in the meter and pace of my swing.

Years ago, there was an internet video that showed a bunch of players doing their imitations of different tour players and even of their own buddies. What was funny was that their imitation swings looked just like their actual swings.

Consider this example number 48 of feel isn’t always real.

Point taken (my own, ironically enough), but in the end, we have to be sensitive to the pace of our swings, especially when we don’t play or practice as much as we would like. How many rounds are ruined by the rush and fractured tempo that comes from a last minute dash from the car to the first tee? The doomed swing isn’t really so very different but its fundamental tempo is MIA.

Now, my swing mantras are these: Pace, posture and poise. Pace addresses my need to balance the speed of my back swing relative to the speed of my forward swing. When I play well, their paces feel as though they match and it doesn’t matter if I’m hitting a drive or a putt.

Since my flexibility is only slightly better than a rod made of glass, it’s not easy for me to maintain my posture; I have been known to come out of my posture on putts, for God’s sake.

Poise goes back to that coaches of coaches, John Wooden. He prized players with poise. When I make a swing I covet the poise that comes in the form of the kind of balance that can be seen and felt over the entirety of an athletic movement.

A golf swing, even my golf swing, is an athletic movement. It starts, moves and finishes in a given space and over a given time. The idea of ignoring at least a sense of that time is anathema to me.

I have gone back to go forward. Looking back got me looking at the writing of Harvey Penick and his advice to practice swinging the club with your eyes closed. Doing this makes me acutely aware of how my swing is and is not balanced and paced. I have also gone back to the most influential golf book I have ever read, Nick Price’s, The Swing. This book was my golf-bible many years ago and I now wonder why I ever set it aside. If you’ve never read it, read it…

Let there be no doubt that I admire and like Jim Venetos. If he ever called me up to have a beer, I’d be there and the first round would be on me. But, I am fundamentally unable to make his swing work for my body and my game, and that’s all that counts when it comes to grading the validity of a swing technique or method; it’s simply my only measure of relevance.

Still, I don’t regret the time and effort I spent working on Venetos Method or the money I spent on my lessons with him; both were well spent in my opinion. Golf is a game of endless realizations. That essential nature make some people take up bowling. The truth is that I have stared hard into the abyss of giving up the game more than once over the last year or two. Of that fact, I am neither proud nor ashamed. All I can do is continue to strive, and that’s something I know Jim Venetos will encourage.

Reaching my golf potential with Jim Venetos: Book Three

Reaching my golf potential with Jim Venetos: Book Two

Looking north from Crystalaire Country Club
Looking northwest from Crystalaire Country Club

I’ve been driving the 80 miles to Crystalaire for my lessons with Jim Venetos. At first, I rather dreaded the drive; it’s a long way for a golf lesson. But, to quote Venetos, “It’s a chill drive.” It’s especially nice on a late Saturday morning to hop in my car and head to the desert. I’m kind of a desert guy at heart and Crystalaire looks across the Antelope Valley toward the Tehachapis and my beloved Eastern Sierra.

This was my fifth lesson with Venetos and I’m pleased with my progress. My initial goals were: 1) To hit the ball more solid more often. 2) To shorten my back swing. 3) To quiet my lower body on the full swing. The Venetos swing makes all those things happen with but a few “thoughts.” Venetos would say there’s only one thought needed…stillness…but I’ve never been a man of so few words.

My job of the last dozen years is coming to an end at the end of July, so my work with Venetos has come at an interesting time. It feels like a time for change in more ways than one. I plan on playing a lot of golf through the summer and into the fall. This is a rare opportunity and I know that once I’m back working it will, again, be hard to play and practice as much as I want.

I have a week of golf coming up the second week of June and a big golf week planned for September with one of my favorite cousins. We’re not sure where we’re going to meet…could be Vegas or it could be Scotland but I know it will be a trip for the ages.

Here are a couple thoughts about the Venetos method as regards some questions raised here and elsewhere:

Distance is the same or a tad more with all clubs, I was hitting 9 irons about 135 yards with my idea of a 3/4 swing. Venetos said I should consider that distance a full 9 and that 3/4 swing a full swing…he saw no need for a 9 iron to fly any further. Point taken.

The shift into set up feels natural quite very quickly though I do not close my shoulders as much as Venetos would like. To me, that’s the only element of the swing that feels like a physical challenge.

I hit a draw 90 percent of the time and with the Venetos swing I hit it about 60 percent of the time. The address position gets rid of some movements and some of the movements that have been eliminated were the timing elements I used to make the ball work right to left. When I do it right, the balls draws the same amount with the Venetos swing as my previous swing.

The weight-left swing tires my left leg out by the end of a Venetos 90 minute lesson which always lasts for two hours. I have taken to practicing standing on one leg whenever I’m standing in line or riding the subway. It’s good for my balance and my sense of left side stillness and stability. I can hike all day at elevation but I get worn out hitting a lot of golf balls in a two hour lesson. That’s just me…

Venetos added a goal I had not considered. He said he’d like to see my handicap drop from 10 ish to a 5 ish. I am not so sure. I ain’t getting any younger or any better looking. Still, it’s nice that Venetos sees that kind of improvement as a possibility. I putt well and have a good short game so any drop in my handicap will have to come from how well I strike the ball.

Reaching my golf potential with Jim Venetos: Book Two