Yup, another oldie, this time from back in 2007. No, I never did qualify for the US Amateur Public Links. Coulda, woulda, shoulda…
Sorry that I couldn’t come up with a more clever title and that I had to resort to a cheap take off of a miserable movie called My Dinner with André that I hope never to see again. I know you’ve all come to expect more from me. Anyway, taking a golf lesson is a lot like going to the dentist: No one goes because they want to.
I never had any delusions about becoming a great player. My own playing ambitions are really pretty modest. I want to hit the ball solidly and I would like to qualify for the US Amateur Public Links. To do this, I’d have to shave enough strokes to get my handicap down to the mid 8s from the mid 10s.
But, I digress…
My game fell apart right around the time I got divorced, though I cannot be sure of any direct association. The horrors came on fast and hung on tight. Out of nowhere I lost my backswing. It almost felt like someone else was taking the club back for me and not the way that I wanted. It felt like the top of my back swing got lost in the woods and it quickly became impossible to find a way to start the down swing toward the ball with any kind of flow. That’s a lousy feeling. Once your back swing is lost it takes so many corrections to re-simplify that which has become all too complicated for the result to be a solidly struck ball.
Amazingly, some balls were hit solidly. Still, the entire event became so convoluted that swinging the club had become a genuinely painful process. Playing a round was possible, but not enjoyable. Practicing,however, was impossible. The feeling of physical madness that had contaminated my full swing was quickly making its presence known in simple practice swings, and shorter shots. At times, I could even feel it during chips and long puts. I kid you not…
Part of the problem is that we tend to muddle on. Golf imparts an odd mixture of fatalism and optimism. Players really believe that they can figure out their flaws but somewhere in the depths of their souls they know that other, possibly more serious, problems will always be lurking nearby.
Finally, and out of desperation, I tried a couple lessons. I was looking for someone who not only knew the golf swing but also had the conversational skills to clearly convey what he knew and also to understand what I was saying to him. So much of my life is about words yet I know that words can often get in the way. Still, words are indispensable tools in both golf and life.
I took lessons from two local guys. One is something of a local legend and the other is a humble pro from a local executive course. The legend was useless though I say that with no rancor. He was simply a guy who had decided long ago that he was going to give every golfer the same prescription. He had found his nectar and poured it freely.
The second guy was a gem of a person, though he just couldn’t get me going in the right direction. We could have talked for hours about golf and life, he was just such a fine and genuine guy. Somethaing about the evil move that had taken root in me just escaped him. He could almost see what was going on but it just couldn’t find a way to address it. It was frustrating to both of us. He really wanted to help and I really wanted to be helped. Still, he is a man that I happily count as a friend and a really good teacher of the game.
For months I tried to dissemble my swing in the backyard. I learned some interesting things. I learned that a comparatively weak left hand (the hand itself not my left hand grip) made me tend to open the blade far too quickly on the way back. I learned this when I realized that if I tried to hit chips with my left hand only I would usually shank the ball. When I focused on keeping blade square, just few inches longer, I developed a whole new feeling for the position of the left hand as it moves away from the ball. I also learned that my balance had been compromised and I have started to work to increase my lower body stability and regain as much balance as I can.
Still, I gradually became aware that the basic fault was far too ingrained for me to beat it by myself. My greatest fear was that the fault would become a permanent effect and that I’d be just another guy with a game shattering fault who just scraped it around. I had heard about Roger Gunn quite a bit over the years. He’s about my age and played a lot of competitive golf in the Los Angeles area. Roger has taught PGA Tour players and Hollywood types but would he be up to the challenge that I brought to him?
Roger teaches out of Tierra Rejada in Moorpark (you can read my review of the course elswhere in the blog) which is one of the newish breed of let’s build a golf course on a mountain type of courses that have become so prevalent in Los Angeles County over the last decade or so. Whatever your take on Tierra Rejada as a course, the have an excellent practice facility. I met Roger out there last Friday morning and I was very impressed with my lesson and with Roger.
After we shook hands and began to chat, Roger took an informal inventory of my bag. He took stock of clubs and their condition and examined their faces and soles. He reminded me of a doctor who asks you what you did over the weekend while he looks into your ears. Of course, I had to present a dissertation on my problem that would have bored lesser pros to tears but Roger listened intently and that meant a lot.
Finally, the fateful moment arrived. I have hit the ball like this for so long that I have almost gotten used to it, but it stills feels lousy and the balls flies without verve or purpose. I half feared that I would hit a couple OK and that it would throw him off the scent. I needn’t have worried.
After just a couple swings Roger began to speak about the importance of plane and path. Of course, I head heard and read the stuff he was saying a thousand times before. But, Roger gave a few simple examples that brought the essence of the problem to me clearly. For the next few minutes we worked on a very basic correction that involved him guiding the plane of my back swing. He reiterated that without the proper plane and path issues like tempo were irrelevant. His efforts allowed me to feel where the top of my swing had to be so that I could freely get the club on its way back to the ball.
A real strength that Roger has is to doggedly stay on point. When I asked him whether it might be helpful to work on my transition, he gently reeled me back into the issue of plane and said that if the plane was right the transition would take care of itself.
After my lesson with Roger I felt more than a glimmer of hope for the first time in a long time. I had a simple issue to work on that was basic to my swing. I also had an idea of how I had gone so far astray. It is well known that we all learn to play golf differently. Roger combines clear verbal instruction with an amazing ability to get to the most essential problem first. It would have been great had I found Roger a long time ago. I could have been on my way back to playing the way I know that I can a whole lot sooner. That said, golf is a lot like life. Sometimes we have to suffer through things for a new and better path to be clearly revealed. I’d like to thank Roger again and recommend him to anyone looking to rekindle their passion for the game. I’ll be working with Roger again soon.
I need to make up for lost time if I’m going to qualify for the USGA Publinx!