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

Reaching my golf potential with Jim Venetos: Book One

So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.
George S. Patton, Jr. / Through a Glass, Darkly

Through the travail of the ages I have walked many golf courses, in many places with many results and I have appeared in many guises. I have been the confident golfer and the struggling golfer. I have been the teacher and the historian. I have been the golf buddy who made the starting time. I have been the son who picked up his father to take him to the course. I have been the single paired the 20 something threesome of college buddies. And, I often have been alone yet never lonely.

Oh I’ve been from Jerusalem to Rome
Now I’m floating through these rooms tonight alone
And looking back on everything
All I ever wanted was a home
Marc Cohn / Olana

Oh I have been from Torrey Pines to Desert Willow
Now I’m floating above those fairways alone
In looking back & looking forward
All I ever wanted was to strike the ball pure
Paul Cervantes

For some golf is like a fraternity. For some it’s an office without doors. For some it’s the oddest kind of pastime; a game misunderstood yet still enjoyed.

For me, golf is the state of feeling close to something yet so far away. It’s the quest for a destination that’s uncharted It’s like being in a dark and unfamiliar room looking for a lightswitch.

It has been ever thus, but…but now time feels so very fleeting.

Get busy living, or get busy dying. That’s Goddam right…
Red / The Shawshank Redemption

Figure this out, or take up an easier game.
Paul Cervantes

Figuring it out doesn’t mean shooting a certain score. It certainly doesn’t mean beating anyone or making money at golf. For me it means finding a haven of effectiveness. It means finding or creating a method of moving the golf club that brings the center of the club face into the ball.

What could be more simple? Still, as I am prone to say, simple is seldom easy.

After last year’s 6 month failed effort I came into this year with a searching state of mind. I kept asking myself, what should I do?

Here’s how I saw my options:

1) Reengage with self-discovery. Hogan dug it out of the Earth and so can I.

2) Look for help. Just because the last pro I worked with wasn’t able to help doesn’t mean you won’t succeed with another pro.

Self discovery is very cool. Others have done it, no doubt about it. But I think it’s a very tricky thing for one big reason.

In golf, feelings often lie.

Also, in trying to do one thing you can end up doing another and that other can really hurt..

For example: If I try to turn my lower body through impact my shoulders spin, carrying the club head over the top. The resulting pull-draw can be played but there’s something unsatisfying about it.

Does this result from my own fundamental lack of flexibility, the same one identified by my Titleist TPI evaluation from years back?

Maybe. Probably.

But, more essentially, it points out that an effort to do one thing can cause another thing that in turn causes a problem. Bummer.

As I was bouncing between the polar opposite perspectives of figure this out yourself or for God’s sake, get some help I happened upon a video at 4GEA.com, one of the older and crustier golf gear enthusiast websites.

The video was 1:13 long and showed a single swing in very slow motion.

My reply: I feel like 1:13 of my life was just stolen.

Later, I watched the video with the sound turned on.

Great idea; it was a big help to actually hear what this guy was saying before calling BS on him.

There’s a chance one (yeah, I know that’s a pretty small chance) of you knows that I edited a book by Tony Manzoni called, The Lost Fundamental. Manzoni opines that the golf swing ought have a single axis or pivot and that point is on the right handed player’s left side.

Now this idea compelled me but I was working on the book so I didn’t want to try it on my game while my head was into helping Manzoni write the book.

Still, long after the book was finished I tried it (especially with driver) and got some very encouraging results. Odd, though, I couldn’t find a way to incorporate the technique into shorter clubs.

I know, this seems like a digression but it’s not.

The Jim Venetos swing is the Tony Manzoni swing on steroids with a shot of spiced rum with a twist of lime.

A left sided swing promises a lot for me (and a lot of other players, too). It promises a quieter lower body. It promises a shorter back swing. Most of all, though, it promises more consistent, and more solid contact.

Ding!

I’ve now enjoyed three lessons with Jim Venetos. He says that after 8 lessons I’ll be on the Champions Tour (Sorry, Jim…couldn’t resist the hyperbole) but even if it takes 10 or 15 I’ll be overjoyed. We’re also having an informalĀ  contest to see who can talk more in the course of 90 minutes and so far we’re in a dead heat. At any given minute he may be saying, Yeah, man, I could see you fighting for stillness there…So, good contact but shoulders were a little open…That was a little fat so what did that tell you?

I can usually heard to be muttering a series of expletives and groans punctuated by the (very) occasional exultation of, I can do this!

The I can do this sound comes after I have actually achieved a small dose of stillness and an attendant sense of my weight staying left throughout the swing. It’s is so far a fleeting feeling that comes and goes. When it comes it feels solid, inevitable and obvious and the strike is heavy and solid.

When the feeling is missing I usually find myself cheating stillness by starting with my weight left but allowing it (and the rest of me) to drift right as the club moves back.

Horrors.

There will come a point where you realize you could have kept your weight still right away, in the first lesson.
Jim Venetos

No, I am not there yet.

Still, the promise of all this is a swing I can take with me into the rest of my 50s, into my 60s and beyond. All promises rely on faith and golf is a game that often seems designed to test our faith.

In Reaching my golf potential with Jim Venetos: Book Two I’ll talk more about my quest and how Jim is doing as my sherpa. What I am starting to feel is a confidence in the method that is very settling. The question remains whether I can (can, as in have the ability) to fully mesh the method with my brain and body. In the law, you take the plaintiff as you find him. In golf, you take the player as you find him. I am who I am.

Without jumping ahead to answer that question in the affirmative, I will say that I intend to continue to strive toward stillness. I hope you’ll follow my journey.

Reaching my golf potential with Jim Venetos: Book One