Sunday, October 4, 2009

Month Five - My Breakthroughs

It was a long arduous road from the day the thought of playing golf occurred to me and the first swing I took in an actual game. I learned a lot during that four months. I made some breakthroughs and I want to share those breakthroughs with you.

The best thing to happen to me during this period of time was the improvements in my physical conditioning and the loss of weight. This was a breakthrough! During this four month period I lost 26 pounds and four inches off my waist with no dieting or change of my eating habits. The only difference was I was much more active swinging the golf clubs. I made it a point to swing the clubs 3-4 times a week. Either in the yard with plastic practice balls or at the driving range. The weight loss aside, I couldn’t believe the changes in my physical conditioning. This alone was worth the thousand dollars I had paid out to this point. It was certainly cheaper than a heart attack!

Also, this was one exercise I would actually do. I have spent way too much money on unused work out equipment. Let me think, there was the treadmill, the cross country ski machine, the weight bench(s), the glider and the cross country trainer. The universal gym was my favorite. With it’s multiple work out stations and over head gizmos and gadgets you could hang a lot of clothes on it! Then we had the bikes and they were great fun, but they were a pain to load up and unload and load up and unload each trip out and back. My point is, this is one exercise I will actually do! And I can do it almost anywhere. I can even do it sans-ball in the parking lot beside my car at lunch.

The stretches I do before playing were very helpful. As a matter of fact I try to do them every morning. There are just three stretches I do. I found them in a free publication I got when I subscribed to Golf Digest magazine. The pamphlet was called “Breaking 100-90-80”. These stretches were referred to as the “only three golf stretches you need to know”. And I believe it. Doing these stretches properly takes about 6-8 minutes a day. Time well spent if you ask me.

According to my chiropractor I have two minor misalignments in my spine. One is in the thoracic region which is between my shoulder blades. And the other is in my lumbar region or my lower back. It had been months since I was at the chiropractor’s office and I was in need of a tune up. The third morning I did these stretches I felt my spine shift a bit between my shoulder blades. I had felt this sensation before during the adjustments I had received from the chiropractor. A week later I felt the same thing in my lumbar region. I am not a trained medical professional, but these stretches, done carefully and properly, were good for me! The realignment of my spine was gradual and natural so do your stretches regularly.

Another breakthrough I had was when I was overwhelmed and forced to break down the swing into pieces. I worked each piece until I had that piece down consistently.

Getting the grip down solid was a big step. I use a modified Vardon grip. There are basically three types of golf grips. The Vardon (hands overlapping slightly, pinky and pointer interlocked), the modified Vardon (same grip but not interlocked) and the baseball bat grip. When I got the grip down my ball flight consistency really improved.

Next I worked on my setup. Specifically, how I addressed the ball. I worked on the distance I stood from the ball. I worked on how far forward or back in my stance I placed the ball. It varies according to club selection and lie angle. When using the driver the ball needs to be farther forward. When using irons and wedges the ball needs to be further back.

Learning to keep my wrist flat in the downswing was another breakthrough. Again it added consistency to my swing especially on the longer clubs. Absolutely work on this.

Take a couple of practice swings before you hit. Just take a couple of them though, three at most. Try to swing like you are going to hit the ball. Concentrate on smoothness, smoother is farther.

Work on your short game. Chipping, pitching and putting. It’s a lot of fun to rip the big dog and watch the ball fly downrange. It’s hugely rewarding. But I am reminded of the golf adage, drive for show but putt for dough. You only hit your driver once on a typical hole. As a beginner you will hit your putter at least twice each hole and probably more than that. So practice your putting. Progress on putting will help to lower your score.

Do you know the difference between chipping and pitching? I didn’t. Gary McCord describes it this way in his “Golf for Dummies” book and I paraphrase. Chipping is low and mostly on the ground. Pitching is high and mostly in the air. Practice these aspects of your short game.

I use a nine iron for chipping, thanks to my son’s advice. Club selection for chipping differs from golfer to golfer. Some players even use clubs specifically designed for chipping called, believe it or not, chippers! Use the same club for chipping each time. Get used to how it feels and plays.

I use my lofted wedges for pitching. This part of the game still alludes me so I won’t pretend to offer any advice other than this, work on the things you are worse at. These are the things that we need to focus our attention on the most. It is our nature to want to do the things we are good at and to avoid the things we are not good at. So work on the things that need attention.

Also try to develop a pre-shot routine. This was huge for me. A pre-shot routine is preparing to strike the ball. Do this consistently each time. Approach the ball the same way. Line up the same way. Step up the same way. Get your grip the same way. Waggle the club the same way. Sole the club the same way. Watch the pro’s on TV or the internet, they will all do these things the same way every shot.

As far as equipment goes, get a set of clubs. Any set of clubs. Get an interim set of clubs to learn with. Use these clubs to learn and develop your skills. Then later, work with a pro to get a set of clubs that are right for you, clubs that fit you. I wish now I had stayed with my old clubs longer and gotten a pro’s advice before purchasing my new clubs. Work on your conditioning and swing first. At our level of the game the club is not as important as learning the fundamentals of your swing. When your true swing develops, then you can talk to a pro about the clubs you need. He will know if you need offset clubs, standard length or lie, which grip and shaft is right for you, etc.

And lastly, take lessons from a local pro if you can. I have not started my formal lessons yet due to scheduling conflicts. But I will and I’ll relay those experiences to you when I do. There is no substitute for professional one-on-one instruction for faster game improvement. Any golf shop or course will either have an instructor or will know where to send you. Don’t be afraid to ask for credentials. The pro at the driving range I frequent has been a huge help to me, offering some free advice.

That will about do it for this episode kids… I have some other topics planned for the blog. I’m going to post a “What’s In My Bag” blog describing the brands and type of gear I use. It is just about complete. I have some other ideas in progress, too. One describes my first golf outings and what I learned from them. Another is on the current state of my game… that should be good for a few laughs!

Thanks for following me and I hope my posts help you. Hit ‘em straight!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Month Four - D-Day looms...

It was two weeks before my son was due in and there were a few things I wanted to accomplish before he arrived. One was to ask the pro at the driving range if my clubs were the right fit for me. Again this is something I probably should have done $769.96 ago. I also wanted to work on my aiming issue.

I loaded up my irons and my battlewagon, er..., my lovely bride, Big Red, and drove to the driving range. Actually it's funny, she asked to accompany me to the driving range. A thought that should have struck me as odd, but was immediately lost in the cacophony of my A.D.D. eddies and currents.

At the driving range I found the pro and asked him to look at me and my clubs and see what if anything needed to be done. After hitting some balls he determined that my lie was all that really needed tweaking. ($5 a club, tally total $809.96, and I still haven't hit a ball in a game) My clubs came from the manufacturer with a 3 degrees upright lie. I needed a -1 degree flat, or 4 degrees difference. What this all means is the bottom of the club or sole of the club does not rest flat on the ground when I address the ball. (Dear Mr. Ball, I am fine, how are you?) The end of the club head, or the toe, is upright or off the ground. Flattening the club head so the sole rests flat on the ground when at address puts the sweet spot on the club face at ball level. It also keeps the toe of the club from opening or closing during your swing, helping to fix hooks and slices. The Pro put my club in a machine and cranks on it actually bending the club head hosel, the part that the shaft goes into.

"Here, try this..." he says, handing me the club. I hit a few more. "Keep your head down and still" he says. Yeah, yeah, yeah! I know already! I try harder. "Slow down your back swing, you don't have to kill it, it's already dead." Huh? What was that? Slow down my back swing? Hmmm, ok... slowly back... slower... WHACK!

10 minutes of work, and two sentences from this man have done as much for my golf game as all the money and time and sweat and pain I have experienced and expended to this point. I am not easily amazed, but in this case... "Do you give lessons?" I asked, full well knowing the answer. "Yep, the package includes 5 private one-on-one one hour lessons, one a week, including video of your swing progress and launch monitor sessions with a complete club and ball fitting, and a free extra large bucket of balls to hit each week while you take lessons." ($275, total tally $1084.96) I look at Big Red expecting the wrath of Kahn and instead I hear her say, "Can I try to hit a few balls?" Huh!?

We spent the rest of the afternoon hitting balls. I taught her everything I knew. That took less than ten minutes. The rest of the time we blissfully whacked away at the little white demons.

I had read that my aiming issue was a classic newbie mistake. We newbs tend to line up to far to the right of our target and then swing from the outside in across our bodies to compensate. So I picked a spot on the driving mat that was online between my ball and the flag, about a foot or two in front of me, then I lined up on that spot. When I lined up on the spot it felt way to far left. I step behind the ball and double check. It was right in line with the flag, just as I'd left it. OK then! I hit a bunch of balls with my new lining up technique trying to teach myself not to believe my eyes. It works! I can't say I hit every ball where I was aiming, but I can say I hit a lot more balls where I was aiming! Cool, I began to work this into my pre-shot routine. Yes, dear readers, I have a pre-shot routine and you should, too! What lining up like this does for you aside from obviously pointing you in the right direction is it tends to correct your outside in swing. It seems to make you swing more around rather than looping the club at the top of your swing and or trying to correct on your downswing as you try to compensate. Try this easy fix for fast easy improvement.

My son drove in from Norfolk and arrived around midnight on Sunday night. Before day break on Monday morning we sat on the deck, drinking coffee and making plans for our first outing together. Here was our plan. When I got off work I'd call him and we'd hit the local muni-course. We'd play nine and then the other nine if we had daylight enough. But the golf gods must have been angry. My son had been on duty all day Sunday then drove most of the night and had been up all day. He was sound asleep when I got home. That explained why my phone calls had gone unanswered. Oh well, I had waited this long. Another day wouldn't kill me.

Tuesday evening, I beat feet home from work and we loaded our clubs into the car. I felt much more comfortable going to my first golf game with my son who had played twice a week for months now, than I would feel going alone and getting paired with strangers. I was nervous with anticipation. I was excited with the thought of finally playing my first game after so long being absent from the game. I was proud to be sharing this day with my son, a real hero.

We got to the golf course and paid our monies. We loaded up the cart and down the hill we flew to the first hole, a 350 yard slight dogleg left. When we got to the tee, I reached in my bag and pulled out my #3 hybrid. I glimpsed a raised eyebrow from my son. I explained that in my humble opinion, 180 yards in the fairway was better than 230 yards in the bush. He tee'd up and drove a rising fast ball with a slight left shape 230 yards and more. Sweet! I tee'd up. Man it was hard to get the ball to balance on those tiny tee's. I was used to the rubber driving range tee's.

I took a couple of practice swings. The first practice swing hit the ground 8 inches behind my ball. I took a deep breath. The next practice swing was about 5 inches off the ground, a perfect whiff, if there is such a thing. I recognized the bobble-head problem. This was going to be a long evening. Then I remembered the other reason I picked this club. The last ball I hit at the driving range was with this club. And I had clobbered the ball an easy 180 right up the middle, straight as an arrow. I stepped up, ignoring my previous attempts at practice swings. Sometimes you just have whack the ball. I sole my club behind the ball, bend my knees and inch forward just a bit lining the ball up just outside the hybrid's hosel.

Then from out of nowhere and before I can protest, my backswing starts all on it's own with no input from me whatsoever. Stop, stop! My brain yells to myself, I'm not ready! The club starts slowly back, then my waist and shoulders start to turn on their own. Stop! No! Wait, wait! I feel the club head top out on the back swing. Oh boy! Too late now!

I perform a panicky systems check... well... things could be worse. There's the ball right over my left shoulder where it should be... what the hell! My brain reports ready for lift off but again I am behind the curve because my waist is already turning toward the ball. My shoulders unwind and my arms follow. As my hands start down the swing plane I decide that at this point I should probably play along. I start tracking my left wrist keeping it flat as my body accelerates the club head, my wrists working now. Eye still on the ball I see the club head coming into view from the right. Then WHACK! In a flash the ball is gone and I am finishing my swing completing my turn. The feel of the impact arrived in my brain just as my hands come up towards the target then continue around behind me. My buttocks turned to face the clubhouse, where the golf demons, now temporarily at bay, were peering at me through the club house windows. I murmur under my breath to the devils, "Oh yeah...? KISS THAT!"

My son, having faced his share of demons and with a knowing grin asks, "Say something Pops?"

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Month Three -Topping off the bag...

Sometimes things are inevitable. You just know that an outcome is eminent. And I bet if you do the math you can guess what is coming next. No, not that math, I''ve done that math for you. I mean the math that says all the clubs in my bag are new except for my woods... and the putter.

I mean, it would be nice to have a new matching set of woods. My old driver and woods are current production but they are cheap! If you go to the sporting goods store and look in the clearance bin you will see these clubs, brand new and already discounted. You can buy them online by the dozen. Literally.

And my son was telling me about his new driver and fairway woods. He really likes them and he hit's them very well. I looked up the driver online and list price is $299 but I found a deal! ($113.95, total tally $617.95) I take the new driver to the range ($8, total tally $625.95) and I make better contact with it than I did with my old driver. I found out after 9 of the 10 dozen balls I hit that day that I hit it even more consistently when I remember to keep my left wrist flat. And all the shots I hit were sky balls. I don't really think it's a talent to hit sky balls, but I didn't see anyone else at the range that can hit a golf ball 150 yards straight up!

Now all I needed to make my clubs all new clubs, ready to be dirtied and dinged by me and me alone was a fairway wood or two. I am not one of these everything has to be Adams, or everything has to be Callaway or Nike types of golfers. I want my tools to be effective, not color coordinated. So sticking with any of the 4 or 5 major brands I thought was a good idea. I do however for consistency sake want my driver and fairway woods to match. Don't ask me why. It just seemed like a good idea. So back to the world wide web I go to my favorite online discount golf site. I order the matching hybrid 3 and 5 fairway woods. ($144 for both including shipping, total tally $769.92) And they arrive safe and sound in a few days.

Now I am the proud owner of a brand new set of golf clubs. (except for my putter) New irons, new woods and new wedges. Great! Now all I need is to learn how to hit them. Back to the driving range ($8, total tally $777.92) I hit the large bucket of balls starting with my wedges then moving on to my small irons (p-7) then to my mid irons and hybrids, then my fairway woods and lastly the driver. I focused on keeping my head still and keeping my grip consistent and making good contact with the ball. I learned that if you are a bouncing bobble-head your arms and hands tend to follow your head and upper body. This bouncing caused me to alternately whiff the balls and hit the dirt 5 inches behind the ball depending upon which direction I moved my head. I still struggle with that, but I know now how to recognize and correct it.

I also fixed my hitting sky balls with the woods problem. That was caused by having the ball tee'd to high and or to far forward in my stance. After a few trial and error adjustments, I found just the right spot in my stance and then started tweaking the tee height. Once done I was hitting the driver 225 yards with a slight draw or fade, again, I had no idea which. Then I found that by keeping my grip VERY consistent (modified Vardon grip) each time I touched the clubs that my shots became fairly close in direction. The draws and fades eventually drew and faded away.

Wow! This was coming together and fast. I was cautiously optimistic about this whole golf thing. Maybe there was hope for me, after all. True my balls were flying straight now but I still had a lefty-righty issue. My aim was off to the right it seemed... Hmmm, another problem to solve!

As fate would have it my son called the very next day. He was coming home in a few weeks for a week long leave period. He wanted us to play golf while he was home. Could it be? Maybe! Would I finally get to experience the game first hand? Maybe! Was I ready? No! But I was determined! I was going to play golf anyway. Sometimes you have to put away the books and the videos and the dvds and just whack the ball. Sometimes you have to just go out smell the fresh air and just whack it. I was not as prepared as I would have liked but my days as a range rat were numbered. I did not pine to be a driving range rat. I did all this to be a golfer!

By the way, as an aside, I am now down 2 inches in my waist and have lost a total of 20 pounds! This unexpected benefit is now an encouragement to continue this journey.

D-Day looms... Will he ever get to play a real game of golf? Will his side ever stop hurting? Will his wife, Big Red, ever speak to him again? Stayed tuned dear readers... High drama follows!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Month Two - What was I thinking!

A funny thing happened on the way to the driving range. On Saturday as I was getting dressed I accidentally cinched up my belt an extra notch! It took a moment for that information to sink in. I had lost weight! Curious! I felt fine so I wasn't likely to be dying from a rare disease! Maybe it was all the exercise I had been getting in the yard. Hmmm... Now that was unexpected. I pondered the realization. If you think about it, the current trend in exercise seems to be centered on your core. Or your midsection where your good health originates. And what better way to exercise your core than swinging a golf club? And the walking you do chasing the ball is chocked full of health benefits. This WAS unexpected and welcome. I convinced myself to step on the scales. I had lost 12 pounds in a month just by being more active. Cool!

I got to the driving range early Saturday morning, unloaded my clubs and found a space under the covered shed and set my clubs down to mark my spot. I went inside and asked the man behind the counter for the extra-large bucket of balls. ($8, tally total $233) I went back outside, picked up my clubs and moved them from the left handed "only" stall where I had set them down to a stall marked for right-handers. I don't think anyone noticed.

My son had told me when I went to the range to start with the short clubs and work my up to the woods. He had been playing golf 30 days longer than me, so I took his advice. I started whacking the pitching wedge. I was immediately impressed with the energy the ball had when it left the club face. Please remember this was the first actual golf ball I had hit in 20+ years. I still had no idea where the ball was going, but I was impressed. Man, can you say whack! About a dozen balls later I started to hurt a little under my right ribs. I guess I was hitting 3 to 4 balls a minute. I was excited!

I knew better than to try to hit the woods. My plan was to hit the irons because my track record with the woods in the front yard was spectacular and not in the good way. But I was just so curious... By the time I was done with the last ball, 10 dozen of them I think, I couldn't take a deep breath. Man my right ribs really hurt!

I did manage though, to catch a few balls in the sweet spot. I hit a 7 iron past 150 yards! And twice shots off my driver rolled past 250. One of these was straight and left 100 yards off center and the other shot was a cork screw right, then left, then right 100 yards off center in the other direction, but man they really flew. The funny thing, as bad as I was, I knew that when I solved the whole lefty-righty problem and was making better ball contact I could make the distance! Cool! (call me the optimist!) Did I mention my ribs hurt like hell on the right side!

OK, what did I learn from my first outing to the driving range? First lesson, if some activity hurts you stop doing it! Seriously, when you feel any abnormal pain stop what is causing it, no matter how many balls are left in the bucket. Luckily nothing was broken, I just strained the intercostals, muscles in my chest that support my ribs. It was nothing that a couple weeks off from swinging the club, Ibuprofen and muscle relaxers wouldn't fix, if you take enough of them.

Consulting the best golf instructional manual ever, I also learned that you swing the club as much with your hips and body as you do with your arms. It seems that swinging too armsy and/or too hard can injure you. Hmmm, again, I am behind the learning curve. Secondly, you have to warm up your muscles, especially if you swing hard like I do. Take the extra five minutes to stand in the parking lot and stretch your major muscle groups, your back, hips, legs and arms. There are hundreds of examples of proper golf stretches on the web. Third lesson, hit the balls at a slower pace. Take 3-4 minutes between balls. Analyze your last shot. Watch the ball flight path, see where it lands, see how it acts when it lands, see where your hands are when you finish your swing, take a drink of water. Do whatever you need to do to pace yourself. Remember you are going for quality not quantity.

Sitting there at home in the evenings recuperating, wishing I was hitting balls in the yard, I began to think about my pitching wedge. I hit it 50-100 yards, and I never knew which distance it would go, when I caught it sweet. But it was the shortest distance club in my new mega mart bag. What if I was actually playing a game of golf and had a shorter shot? Maybe it was time to look at those wedges. I visited a discount golf store online and found a set of wedges that were normally $45 each and were now heavily discounted. I checked the manufacturer online and they were still in business and these were their current production wedges. $80 for three. What a deal! ($80, total tally $313) They were great! When I was able, I got back out in the yard and hit them. They felt great!

My next trip to the driving range, ($8, total tally $321) after I warmed up stretching and swinging easy, I was nailing the new wedges. I could really feel the ball. 15 - 50 yards was now covered. It was at that moment a thought crept into my consciousness. If these current production wedges feel so good and perform so well, what would current production irons feel like and play like? Dang! There it was and I couldn't undo it. A thought is like an off-handed comment, once it happens, it becomes history and you cannot take it back. Like a seed in the garden (a weed seed or crabgrass seed) once it see's the light of day it blooms and flourishes with it's own will to survive. And no amount of Round-Up can kill it. I go back online for more research.

I had already decided I wasn't going to buy big box store golf clubs. There is nothing at all wrong with these clubs. They are great clubs for beginners. They just did not appeal to me. Even though my goal, nay my dream, was to someday become an occasional player, I didn't want to look like an occasional player. Yeah true, I had the big box store golf bag, but I considered that analogous to a demure looking automobile with a huge honking engine under the hood. The big box bag was fine for the understated look I was going for. But I still wanted the huge honking engine under the hood. So I began looking at the different manufacturers. All of them seemed to have the same marketing to a skill level strategy for irons.

At the high end were the Tour models, marketed towards players who wanted to play what the PGA Tour Pros played. Even though, at my level of limited knowledge of the game, I suspected that the tour models offered had very little in common with the clubs the pros used. The pro's clubs were probably hand built for them. At the mid level was a little lower performance club built to a couple of price points for mid level players. They offered better performance with more forgiving designs. At the low priced end was the club that was designed to be the most forgiving and was marketed more to beginners of the game, but also able to carry them to the next level of play. I decided that was the type of club for me. Back I went to the online golf discounter's web site.

Three days and $167 later ($167, total tally $488) I am in possession of a new set of name brand hybrids/irons. Retail was $299. What a deal! A word here, if you buy golf equipment online make sure you do business with established business'. I read somewhere that 70% of the golf gear on eBay was counterfeit. As much as I like to save money (tightwad) the cheapest is not always the best. So be careful. But I digress, my new clubs are current production and includes the 3 and 4 hybrid clubs. Hybrid clubs are clubs that are versatile, forgiving and contain a certain level of coolness.

Back to the driving range I go. (8$, total tally $496) The new clubs swing great. They seem to be easier to control but don't hit as long as my other irons. I think that makes them easier to hit shorter distances more accurately. They make a funny vibration in the grip if I don't hit the ball flush, but I like the clubs, a lot. After another week of hitting them in the yard with plastic whiffle balls and another trip to the range ($8, total tally $504) I am getting used to them. I am eight weeks into this golf gig and still don't want to go play until I am confident I won't make myself look like an idiot (Oops, again, too late!)

Check back for more...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Month One - The beginning of the end...

Making the decision to play was simple enough, and telling the wife I had acquired a used set of golf clubs was surprisingly easy. "You don't even play golf!", she said. I could hear her eyes gently rolling over the phone connection because... well, I didn't want to tell her in person.

There was a guy I knew, who knew a guy that sold used clubs. My thinking was that as long as I had a set of good condition, fairly modern, usable clubs then I could use them to play golf with my son on his semi-annual visits. Used clubs would be fine. I could limit the cost to a used modestly complete set. I paid $140, just in case you are thinking about taking up the habit and want to keep a tally.

There are two things wrong with this early decision in my golf career. First, I was not thinking about my competitive personality. There was no way I would ever be happy with a set of 10+ years old used golf clubs. Remember my mantra, if I can't do it well, I don't want to play.

In hindsight it should have been blatantly obvious. I know now that golf is largely a game of confidence but at the time I was thinking about going cheap. The used clubs would be fine if I really only wanted to play once every month or two. But for someone who wants to be competitive and who wants to play the best you can play, even if you only play once a month, and remembering that golf is a game of confidence, you don't need to start off with an equipment handicap, albeit real or imagined. At least that's what I understand now.

Secondly, I was not aware of the gains in equipment design and the glut of good quality golf clubs made available to the recreational player in the last few years. Since about 2007 monumental gains have been made in club design and manufacture. Hybrid clubs, square clubs, adjustable clubs, wide soles, offset, oversized, perimeter weighted, weight down low and back, extra weights, adjustable weights, light weight shafts. I even found full sets of titanium and 431 stainless steel clubs, with hybrids and a bag, from modern designs, brand new from respected dealers, selling online for under $160, delivered. All this combines to make golf affordable, enjoyable, competitive and attainable to most of us working stiffs. This is all good information to have, and it would have been good information to have had a few weeks earlier before I laid out the $140.

Believe it or not, my first golf upgrade was at my wife's suggestion. We were at the big blue mega mart store and I wanted to take a stroll through the golf aisle. Understand, I never go to the big blue mega mart store with my wife. But I knew they had a golf aisle, so in this case I made an exception. When we accidentally stumbled upon the golf aisle I suggested we have a look. She noticed a nice new red golf bag and said, "This one is pretty, yours looks old and dirty". I checked it out... She was right! It did look a lot better than my used bag and I loved the built in drink cooler. OK, we'll take it. ($40 + tax. Total tally $180) I also picked up a golf glove, short tee's, what was the deal with these long tees anyway, and whiffle practice balls. ($25. Tally total $205)

At this point I was still thinking I was fine with the used clubs and my wife was right, they looked great in the new golf bag. I also knew that I would need a set of wedges sooner or later. The used set of clubs I purchased was a driver, 3w, 5w and 3-P irons and putter and did not include gap, sand or lob wedges. I could wait until later, maybe when I was ready to go play I would look at a set of wedges.

My plan for getting "ready to play golf" was to hit some balls in the yard, first just getting a feel for the clubs, learning to make ball contact. Then I could move up to the driving range when I thought no one would laugh at me. ('sic) There I could refine my skills, working on driving, irons and chipping. Then some day, some wonderful day, I could then transmute to the golf course amidst streaming sunshine, fair shots and angels singing and... oh, sorry, I got carried away.

Every evening I started hitting those hollow plastic whiffle balls out in the yard. It was a LOT of fun and it was great exercise. I came inside after a couple of hours in the July heat wringing wet with sweat and grinning from ear to ear. And sometimes after I'd spend a couple hours hitting whiffle balls I'd notice some improvements. I'd catch the ball just right once every dozen or two swings and it was a sight to behold. The plastic whiffle ball would arc gracefully in an inspiring draw or fade, travelling 30-40 feet. The problem was I didn't have any idea if it was going to draw or fade when I hit it. Nonetheless, those shots were to me no less than amazing! My excitement continued to grow along with my very meager golf skill set.

I knew that before long I would need to go to the driving range and hit real balls and see the payback from all my hard work and to correct what I was doing wrong. There was no way I wanted to play a real game at my current performance level, holding up the other golfers, getting frustrated, being rushed, getting laughed at... so the driving range was the next step in my plan.

I am a thinker. At this point I was devouring every bit and byte of information I could find on the subject of golf. Do you have any idea how much has been written on the subject? Hundreds of years worth of data existed, most of it contradictory. I read magazines, I watched DVDs, I went online and watched videos, read about the history of the game, learned some basic points on getting started in the game. I love to solve problems. Maybe that's why I like golf so much. It presents me with so many problems to solve.

I got online and found a book. It was billed as the best golf instructional manual ever. ($20 with shipping from, Tally total $225) And it was an excellent book! It was really a great resource, containing lot's of information. Lot's and lot's of information. Too much information, in fact. Especially for a thinker who wants to learn to play golf. I was overwhelmed. I tried the closed grip, the open grip, feet shoulder wide, feet close in, ball forward, ball back, wrist flat, knees bent, head still, head down, hips inside, hips outside, flaps down, wheels up, rudder midships, it was awful! I felt like I was drowning in a sea of instructional golf information. And obviously with all the variations in my swing, grip, stance, etc. I couldn't hit squat!

But I kept working it, picking only one thing at a time to work on. I'd work on the grip for a week, then the stance, then the hips, then the swing plane, working each issue until I was seeing some real improvements. And from time to time I'd drive by the local driving range, wanting to stop but still afraid of looking like an idiot. (Oops, too late!)

One thing I did notice during this time, I was amazed at how much impact on the balls flight a simple change to your swing made. Consistency was the key. One simple grip change and it was like swinging a different club.

Then one day I was sitting in the parking lot of the driving range watching the golfers practice their games, trying to work up my nerve and I realized that some of them... a few of them... ok, this one old dude was doing worse than me!

Confidence boosted I was ready to go for it. I drove home and announced to my wife I was going to the driving range on Saturday. She was not as impressed as I thought she should be, after all this was a big step in my plan. This was really really big for me and my golf game! Instead, she was doing our bills and inquired about a $20 payment to

Stay tuned it get's worse before it get's better...

Friday, September 25, 2009

To golf or not to golf... now what was the question?

It all started innocently enough. My son Chris called and said "Hey Dad, let me tell you a story" The innocuous nature of that simple phrase concealed the repercussions it would have on my life.

He went on to tell me the story; it was about a friend who wanted him to go play golf. My son is in the Navy, and he is stationed in Norfolk, VA. To my knowledge he had never been interested in golf. As the story was relayed to me, my son had borrowed a set of clubs that belonged to another friend who had transferred out of town and had left the clubs in my son's storage shed. When my son got to the golf course he grabbed a club and that's when he was reminded that his friend, and subsequently the borrowed golf clubs, were left handed. After a laugh and surviving the grief he took from his new golf buddy he went on to play, sharing his friend's clubs. And he loved it.

As we talked, he went on about each hole and each shot and how he needed to do this and his friend told him to do that. I think he told me he shot 120 something. But he was hooked. When we hung up he was talking about getting his own clubs.

Something else happened that day. As he told me about his first time out playing golf, I remembered my first golf outing. Much like his, it was on a lark. A neighbor asked me to go play. I went, club less and clueless. Using the clubhouse rental clubs I whacked my way around the Lake Junaluska Golf Club in eastern North Carolina. And I loved it. I went back a couple weeks later and played another round lowering my score by 10 strokes.

I knew I had to get my own set of golf clubs, and since the game had also tweaked my competitive side, I knew I needed to take some lessons to play my best. I had no dream of turning pro; I just wanted to play the game to the best of my ability. I was hooked.

The thing was, I had a young family to support on a working man's salary. I also knew that to play my best would cost more than my meager blue collared remunerations would support. Another trait of my personality is, if I can't do something well, as a rule I don't do it. It's a curse I know, but I really want to be able to do things to the best of my ability. Eventually, I threw out the golf magazines along with my thoughts of playing golf.

Fast forward 20+ years. 50 years old now, kids grown and out of the house and doing marginally better fiscally, the conversation with my son sparked an ember that had been smoldering in a deep dark place in my soul. It was an ember that had been suppressed so long that it was now suppressed largely out of habit. I asked myself what's to stop me from taking up the game now. The main reason I could think of was time, or lack thereof. But time was manageable.

My son and I talk several times a week when his duties allow. His conversation of late, and fine by me, always turned to golf and his last outing, his new clubs and his latest scores and the wedges he was thinking about purchasing. And in one conversation he said them, the words I knew he would eventually say, the words I secretly hoped he would say, "Hey Dad, you need to get a set of clubs so we can go play when I come home..."

I thought, ok, why not?

To be continued...

My first blog post, I am so excited...

Here it is. What no fanfare, no marching bands...!?

Given the subject matter of this blog, I'm not sure congratulations are in order. Indeed, plant your tongue firmly in your cheek and experience with me my trials as a beginning golfer.

The goal of this blog is to share with you my experiences as I try to learn the game of golf. My hope is my experiences will help you through your own trials. After all, misery loves company!