I should have known that writing about Kevin Na’s troubles at the 9th hole a week ago Thursday at the Valero Texas Open was going to infect my golf brain in some way. But let me tell you a story about the maturity of The Great White Shank when it comes to his golf game:
(I know, I know – I can almost here the sound of visitors to this blog saying “oh, for gawdsakes…” and clicking away to something else, but what can I say? This blog is me, and I’m just a slave to its own whims…)
It may have been 44 degrees at Fenway Park a week ago Saturday during the Red Sox 4-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, but it was around 90 when I headed over to Superstition Springs G.C. to hit a few balls at their driving range. Unfortunately, when I got there the place was mobbed – they were hosting a large golf tournament of some kind, and there was no way I was going to find a spot at the driving range or a place to chip and putt with all the people there – so I decided to run a few errands instead.
When I returned later in the day (about 1 1/2 hours later) there were spots at the driving range but by then it was around 95 degrees and all the spots were pretty bony after the heat of the day. Right from the start I felt out of sync, but I couldn’t figure out why – I was hitting all my clubs really thin except for a 5-wood that I absolutely crushed with a bit of a hook (something The Great White Shank never, ever does). I was glad I only took 25 balls from the machine – I shanked twenty and chunked four along with that pulled 5-wood.
In earlier times, I would have felt very discouraged and allowed the range session to set my mood for the rest of the day. I might have even allowed it to carry over far beyond the driving range and perhaps impact my next session or next round. But this is 2011, and The Great White Shank knows – unlike John Lennon – that there will always be days like these, and days that are opportunities for learning, growing, and maturing as a golfer.
It felt blisteringly hot by now, so rather than chip and putt as I had intended I figured I’d just head home. I poured myself a Sprite Zero with a little cranberry juice mixed in and thought about my session: why was I so out of sync? What was the diffrerence between today’s session and last week’s when I was hitting the ball so well? Something told me I had gotten away from my usual set-up and address (which, arguably, has always been a flaw I’ve struggled with ever since I took up the game), and that I needed to go back to basics and break it all down so I could start up again.
(This kind of reassessment, BTW, is not something new in the human experience – I mean, look at St. John of the Cross (my favorite saint) and St. Teresa of Avila leading the Counter-Reformation back in the 16th century. I’m not sure how many people have ever equated their golf games with Church history, but on the cusp of Holy Week, that’s just where my mind happened to be at that point in time. It’s all good.)
Feeling a little dehydrated, I laid down for an hour and then, feeling a bit more refreshed and clear-headed, got up wanting to face my demons head on. I knew my set-up and address were at issue, and one of my goals for 2011 has been to acquire through practice a rock-solid set-up and address where I can always feel comfortable over the ball and know the feeling I want to achieve for whatever shot I need to hit. I walked outside into the late afternoon heat and opened up the garage door to fetch the clubs that has treated me so rudely just a couple of hours before.
I grabbed my 8-iron, and took a few easy practice swings on the front lawn. Suddenly, it occurred to me that by our living on a cul-de-sac I had a natural spot for practicing the kind of swing and contact I hoped to achieve…
Gradually working on my posture and set-up at address, I was able to once again feel the weight of the club in my hands. If you look at the picture above and below, I’m aiming just right of that light pole sticking up out of the green tree at the end of our road. I marked it off – it’s 107 yards away – but you don’t want to carry or bounce the ball over the wall into the next sub-division (where the property values are at least double ours, given that they live on a man-made canal that makes it look as if they live in the Florida Keys); you take easy 3/4 swings, try to keep the club infront of you, and just work on making good contact.
Choking down on the club and finally getting my posture right (legs slightly bent, ass out, shoulders erect and not too hunched), I started to find the sense of balance and centeredness I had been missing back at Superstition Springs. (I would ask y’all to focus on the club position and not the fact that I’m going bald, with a rather prodigous crown starting to reveal my advanced age):
What did show was the fact that you could throw a large blanket over where all seven balls landed:
After about 45 minutes I was satisfied I had a good foundation to take to the next driving range session (whenever that would be). I felt it was so different from days past: taking a poor driving range session and turning it into something positive. I had worked up a pretty good sweat, so I walked into the house, poured myself a glass of Pinot Grigio, and took my first swim of the year in the pool to the sounds of Caribbean music being played through my new patio speakers:
An hour later I was dining on Omaha Steaks tenderloin rubbed with Montreal steak seasoning and sauteed vegetables watching the full moon rise above the palm trees to our east:
…and I once again realized just how lucky I am, being able to have all of this around me. Like I’ve said before, I’ll never buy totally into the whole Southwest desert kind of existence, but believe me, it ain’t bad at all. I am one fortunate individual.
Kevin Na should be so lucky. Well, that’s not true – after a nice weekend at The Heritage, he probably knows he is.