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...

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