April 27, 2013

Friday afternoon at the Superstition Springs driving range. The weather is perfect – 85 degrees, tho’ the sun on the skin makes it feel hotter than that. But that’s OK, I’ve lubed up, am wearing white sneakers, white ankle socks, white shorts, a white Hynson Surfboards t-shirt, and a white floppy hat to protect my ears.

I’m dressed for work.

Not the kind of work you get paid for – I left that twenty-five minutes ago after a long, hard week – this is work I believe (not hope, believe) will take me to the next step of my golf reclamation project: that of a bogey golfer, although bogey and a half will do just fine.

The driving range is virtually empty – there’s only three or four guys hitting, lots of empty stalls. The putting green is empty. I mean, empty. Heck, if it weren’t for the fact the Pinnacles I’ll be hitting are all marked up I might have thought I was hitting balls at my own private club range.

I make my way over to my typical spot at the far left end of the range and take a couple of practice swings. One thing I’ve always found interesting about the driving rane (at least for me) is that you pretty much know how you’re going to hit ’em by your first couple of practice swings. And today I just knew I had the mojo going, for my first four pitching wedges are pure perfection, pro-like shots two-hopping the 100-yard stick in front of me.

But I’m not here for pitching wedges (although I admit it’s great to see that I haven’t come to the range by myself – tempo has come along with me), I’m actually 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 doing it with my driver, 3-wood, and 5-wood. As strange as it might sound to my Goodboys friends and cohorts (they’ll never believe it’s me who’s saying this!), The Great White Shank has moved far beyond what he once was. No longer some pathetic creature looking for something, anything that he can take to the course to help him survive at the game of golf, I’m an aspiring golfer no longer satisfied with just making good contact and moving the ball forward, I’m now all about hitting good golf shots and my targets.

At least that’s my goal.

Which is not to say I’ve discovered some magic pill that will make all the demons go away – after all, as Dr. Jim Suttie says, golf is hard – incredibly hard, in fact, when you’re screwing around looking for a swing or hoping some golf god will come down and bless you with a natural swing that makes courses beg for mercy and scorecards cry with astonishment at the numbers being recorded on them. That’s not me. I’m just a hacker who finally found an instructor that unlocked a couple of key swing thoughts and changes that someone with my ability (or lack thereof) could implement fairly quickly and easily. I now know that what I want to achieve in terms of my golf game (bogey and a half golf) is only achievable with work and focus, and lots of it.

I like the far left side of the Superstition Springs range because it has a natural narrow fairway created by mounds and trees separating the range from the #2 hole on the left, and yard markers lined up on the right. The grass out there is pretty brown, and there’s a six yard-by-six yard dark area 190 yards out, smack dab in the center. That’s my target for today. I will either bounce balls over it, paint it, or carry it – nothing else will be considered satisfactory. And I find myself doing all three, and regularly.

I play games with myself. I pretend one of my Goodboys friends says to me, “OK, let’s see this swing you’ve been writing so much about” as I tee up my 3-wood. Or, I visualize myself on the tee at hole #3 at Trull Brook – a tough, uphill par 4. Or, my favorite head game, three shots in a row dead center or I start over again. I do that with my 5-wood, my 3-wood, and my driver. It takes a while to make that third shot as good as the first two, but I’m able to move on with each club.

A slight breeze stirs and I take a Zen break, a few minutes to absorb what for me has become a ritual feast for the senses. I drink in the blue sky, the green grass, the red graphite shafts of my Callaways, the white practice balls, the orange balls I’m about to head over to the putting green to chip and putt with. A mix of suntan lotion and meat cooking at the snack shack grill creates a lovely summer fragrance. I hear the thwack of golf balls being hit by that Asian guy down the line who’s here every Friday – he’s got a big, athletic swing I wouldn’t dare try to copy. The ice water I sip is refreshingly cool to the tongue and body. I feel so much at peace and at home at this lovely place. A brown bunny rabbit scampers out from a set of bushes and I watch him munch grass until it’s time to get back to the business at hand. I imagine a scene similar to the last scene in Jaws, where Chief Brody and Hooper are swimming in after Brody has blown up the shark, except this time it’s me and fellow Goodboy Steve “Killer” Kowalski, and we’re talking hitting golf balls, not the ocean:

The Great White Shank: “What day is this?”
Killer: “It’s Friday, I think.”
The Great White Shank: “I’ve got another bucket of balls in front of me.”
Killer: “Keep hitting.”
The Great White Shank: “I used to hate the driving range.”
Killer: “I can’t imagine why.”

I bang balls for a good 45 minutes and spend the next hour by the putting green doing some putting and chipping. While my short game is showing improvement every time out, I know I need to tighten it up a little if I’m going to improve my scoring out on the course. I’ve got the whole putting green to myself except for another guy on the far end, so I practice all kinds of chips from impossible angles with various ball positions to see how the trajectory changes using the same swing. Four chips followed by four putts every time, the goal being no more than one putt from where I chip the ball to. If I two putt it’s back to the same position and do it all over again. That doesn’t happen often. I’m especially satisfied when, attempting chips from thirty yards away, I one putt all four balls, the furthest from sixteen feet away.

(Of course, this is Arizona and not New England, where the grass and the greens are totally different in terms of texture and speed. But I’ll worry about that later.)

I finish up back at the range with a few pitching wedges and 3-woods of varying degrees of accuracy and walk away 2+ hours later feeling physically tired but emotionally satisfied. I think back to last year and how I would never be able to pull this kind of thing off. Oh sure, I could hit balls pretty good one week, but then I’d go back the next and be totally lost again. No more. The difference in my swing and my approach to the game from even two months ago is like the difference between day and night. While my scoring in rounds I’ve played since my lesson isn’t where I’d like it to be yet, I’m confident it will come, and very soon. Still, I’m not going to push it – I don’t want to ruin what these Friday afternoon practice sessions have become for me: an escape from work, daily life, and all the crap going on in the world. Amazing to think there was a time, and not so long ago, where I couldn’t even begin to imagine the driving range as escapism – after all, why would I want to risk making myself more miserable with a crappy range session? Golf is now a completely different game to me now. Oh, it’s still hard work, but for me it’s now fun work and satisfying work, something my fellow Goodboys could never, ever imagine me saying.

Goodboys Invitational weekend is less than three months away, and I’m right where I want to be.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:38 | Comments (0)
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