March 16, 2013

With apologies to Van Halen for the post title

“That’s a good looking swing, want to make it better?”

I had just smooshed a 3-hybrid straight as an arrow and split the imaginary fairway I was targeting at the my now-familiar stomping grounds of Superstition Springs Golf Club driving range. Never mind the fact that grass here seems non-existent, or, that rarely does the ratio of cattle grass to sand exceed 50/50. Nope, it doesn’t bother me at all, for I find myself enjoyong the recreational life of beating golf balls on Friday afternoons as (my Goodboys friends would never believe I’m saying this) a stress reducer and enjoyable “me” time. A couple dozen balls – no more than that – followed by an hour of chipping and putting around the practice green has become something to look forward to, a reward for surviving yet another hard and stressful week at work.

One of the faces I’d come to recognize at the range is Alex Black, the PGA professional there. As a lefty, I usually try to take the furthest left stall so I don’t bother any of the righties who are hitting and they don’t bother me. It just so happens that stall is next to Alex’s lesson area, so we’ve exchanged hellos and he’s even seen me hit a few balls from time to time. A few weeks ago, he was waiting for his lesson to show and I took a few swings for him. While complimenting my set-up and swing, he wasn’t afraid to suggest he could make my swing better. Our brief conversation was as much me asking Alex about his style as he asking about my goals and expectations. He was right up front about his style of working with the swing you have and not changing it to some alien, preordained style unnatural to you. I was up front about my own golf expectations: I wanted to play between bogey and bogey and a half golf (that’s shooting in the 90s). We agreed to a lesson.

We got together under a warm afternoon sun. Placing a guiding stick at my feet for direction, Alex videotaped my from his phone camera as I hit a few 7-irons (none of which were all that bad as far as I’m concerned). We retreated under the canopy where a table with a laptop and a flat-screen TV was set up for viewing. It was cool looking at my swing on tape, not nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be. Alex was very complimentary about my set-up and backswing, but noted some areas that needed immediate correction. An immediate small change was to pick my chin up slightly so my head was not so low. A larger issue was that my weight shift not being where it should be – I was hanging too far back on my back foot and not driving through the ball to finish strong on my right side. But overall, Alex felt these were problems easily resolved.

We went back out in the sun, and the first radical change was the ball position in my stance – we moved it forward a good six inches from where I was used to hitting it. Alex felt I had “alligator arms”, and I wasn’t giving myself enough room to swing. He also demonstrated the divot marks (The Great White Shank? Divot marks??) I would make as I increasingly drove my back leg (and therefore waist) towards and through the target. He had me hit a few 7-irons, and the difference both in the quality of contact, ball flight, and the sound of ball off the clubface was nothing short of incredible. I mean, I had had three – count ’em, three – lessons in my first seven years of golf, and no one had ever shown me this kind of stuff before. Back again under the shade of the canopy, we viewed the video of my modifications, and it was really something to see the comparison between before and after.

The second half of the lesson was devoted to hitting my 3-wood. Once again, we set up under the sun with the guiding sticks at my feet. While he videotaped, I smacked some really lovely shots down the same make-believe fairway I use as visualization whenever I’m hitting in my usual spot in the range stall just twelve feet away. It might be twelve feet, but today, I might as well have been miles away, for on this side of the range I was in a laboratory with a camera and no place to hide. I thought hit some nice shots, actually, but back under the canopy and reviewing the results, Alex was concerned with the yards I was giving up because my swing cirle wasn’t being extended as it could be, and I wasn’t “snapping” my wrists through the hitting zone. On top of that, my weight shift with the longer club still wasn’t where it needed to be.

Back out into the sun again. Alex had me take some swings without a ball and, after imaginitive impact, had me lift up my back foot off the ground to measure just how well I was coming through the ball on impact. During these swings he also had me check my right hand after coming through “the ball” to see if we could see a couple of my fingers: if I could, I was snapping my wrists through the hitting zone, if not, well, I wasn’t. We teed some balls up aiming for that same imaginative fairway. The first hit was thin, I was trying too hard. The second was a near-whiff (not something entirely alien to me), but Alex made no comment, no criticism – he just teed another ball up. The the third was a gorgeous power-draw (something I’ve seldom hit before) that made a sound off the clubface that was completely alien to me, splitting the “fairway” and running forever. I could almost hear my 3-wood say, “OK, who are you, and what have you done with The Great White Shank? A couple more followed that were nearly the same.

Time was up. Back under the canopy, and Alex is writing down the particulars of our forty-five minutes together:

Doug – Lesson Notes – 3-16-13

Set up
* Ball position move forward
* Reach back, club low to ground
* Chin up

Backswing – keep it up!

* Left leg leads + drives
* “Go get it” w/ body
* Sanp + roll wrist
* Reach out on finish

Before our lesson, Alex had asked how many putts I made per round. I told him somewhere between 30-40. He tells me his goal is that his students never make more than thirty putts a round. Wow. I’m drooling with anticipation.

“Do you ever three-putt?”, he asks.

“Not that often”, I lie. Hell, I’m a three-putt threat whenever I’m being ragged by the Goodboys during a friendly match or during Goodboys Invitational weekend when one is constantly reminded that a three-putt means you’re wearing a Viking hat with horns or a naked chick top-hat on your head, or hanging some big rubber snake out of your pants while putting until some other unfortunate in your foursome does the same thing.

“Let’s plan a session around a couple of greens on the course when you’re ready. I know can help you there, too.”

I hand him sixty of the best dollars I’ve ever spent in my life and start walking back to the driving range as his next lesson makes his way towards the same canopy I was just under a minute ago. Finding an empty stall, I pause for a moment and see Alex at work. I miss the laboratory already – it was such a high and a hoot to have someone so supportive and so quick to identify those areas where you could make yourself crazy (as I have) trying to them out for yourself.

I grab my 9-iron out and hit the best 9-iron I’ve ever hit.

I take my 5-wood out and duff a couple before striping one deep and long.

I spend the next hour chipping and putting around the practice green, and I’ve got some great tempo working for myself. Golfed out, I take the first steps towards the parking lot and my car, but now I see a range ball sitting there all white and lonely on the grass. I look back at the range and see a few empty stalls. I pick it up, grab an 8-iron and walk back to the range. The closest stall available has no grass at all, it’s just dirt. Undaunted, I toss the ball on the ground and set it up forward in my stance just like Alex told me. I take a swing, and it’s pure right off the clubface. A little fade, it drops from the sky and runs just sort of the 125-yard marker.

A nice way to end off a great lesson and a great day at the Superstition Springs driving range.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 21:53 | Comments (3)
  1. Lying to your golf pro?

    SHAME! 😀

    Comment by Dave Richard — March 17, 2013 @ 7:52 am

  2. […] shot – it’s vindication of all the hard work and dedication put into my game since that first lesson with Alex back in mid-March. Since that time, because I’ve shared my golf ups and downs so publicly, […]

    Pingback by GoodBoys Nation - Archives » Vindication — July 27, 2013 @ 6:21 pm

  3. […] here with a purpose in mind. It’s not just to make good swings or perfect the swing changes Alex Black identified for me six weeks ago. No, I’m here to work on visualization, hitting targets I’m picking out for myself. And […]

    Pingback by GoodBoys Nation - Archives » Will Work For Bogeys — July 27, 2013 @ 6:53 pm

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