May 16, 2013

2:30 PM on a Wednesday afternoon. It’s just me at the Kokopelli Golf Club driving range – well, not really, it’s just that the only other person there is several stalls down and hasn’t hit a ball in the last half-hour as he’s busy negotiating some big business deal from the sounds of it. Eddie Money’s “Two Tickets To Paradise” is blaring over the loudspeaker, the skies are a blistering azure, and there’s a hot wind blowing out of the south. I was about 90% through my bucket of balls before I took a break to work on my short game and a hour’s worth of chipping and putting on the practice green. With no one else out there I’m practicing every kind of pitch and chip one can think of, and my short game has never been this good.

I head back to my bucket, grab my 9-iron, and practice “squashing the bug” just like Alex Black showed me the other day. Before I took my break I could tell I was over-swinging and getting just a bit too aggressive, but the chipping and putting has created a sense of inner calm and peace, so this time the 9-iron is hit perfectly and with a perfect trajectory, landing softly about five yards past the 100-yard marker. After two more identically-perfect swings, I grab my eight-iron and do the same thing. I finish up by practicing low driver “stingers” that center-cut the imaginary fairway I’ve envisioned in front of me.

That’s three buckets of balls in five days, the best practice sessions I’ve had so far this year.

As self-satisfying as a practice session like this is, it’s also the loneliest of pursuits – something not unusual in the world of golf. I recall a passage in Tom Coyne’s Paper Tiger, where, upon meeting his girlfriend after months of banging balls in his pursuit to qualify for Q-School he finds there’s really not much to tell:

There is plenty about [Coyne’s pursuit] that only I will ever know about, that I cannot re-create for her or even in these pages for you – it’s the aspect of the game I care for least. Some consider it golf’s greatest mystical asset, but I think it’s the part of the game that can leave you the emptiest. Every so often, you hit that pure shot – I make the perfect move Doc [Jim Suttie, his swing coach] has been imploring me to make, I pinch a ball off the center of a six-iron, it flies at a controlled, cannon trajectory, effortless and exact, and in that moment I know I have changed. I have reached a place where I never honestly believed I would touch – a part of me can strike a golf ball as well as I will ever need to, as well as anyone, anywhere playing the game.

I see a lot of myself in Coyne’s words, because there are times I feel the same way. In golf measurements, while it’s been less than three and a half months since my first round at Superstition Springs this year, I ‘ve traveled light years in terms of my swing and overall abilities, to the point where I don’t even feel like the same person anymore. It’s not just that, with the help of Alex Black and no small amount of work on my part, my golf swing has changed, I’ve changed as well. As someone who – rightly or wrongly – always expected too much of myself, put too much pressure on myself, and never felt adequate when it came to trying this game called golf, I’m at a point where I’m both comfortable and confident in my golf skin. When things go wrong, as they did my last time out with the sticks, I’m able to make the necessary corrections and stop further bleeding. It’s a direct result of that round at Trilogy that I discovered the set-up that was the final missing piece of the puzzle I’ve been working on, and I’ve found the confidence I’ve always lacked whenever a golf ball was put in front of me.

It occurred to me while watching Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer the other night that the same sensation I’ve encountered on the driving range these past few sessions is not unlike the kind of experience surfers have when they encounter that perfect wave or perfect wave experience. Consider this quote by big wave surfer Greg Noll, from Susan Casey’s fine book, The Wave, where he talks about being “in the moment”:

That rush! I can’t explain it. When you blow down the side of a wave and the thing’s growling at you and snorting and all that power and fury and you don’t know if you’re gonna be alive ten seconds from now or not, it’s as heavy an experience as sex! If you surf, you know. And for all the rest of you sons of bitches, I feel sorry for you.

No less an authority than Roy McAvoy has been quoted as saying, “there’s no greater feeling in the world than a well-struck golf ball”, and he’s right.

A recent incident remains fresh in my mind: I’m hitting balls at Superstition Springs last Saturday when a guy from a couple of stalls comes over and says to me, “I’m about to be the worst kind of driving range visitor. There’s something I saw in your swing…”

I cut him off at the knees. Politely but firmly, I say, “thanks for your concern, but I know exactly what I’m doing out here and what I’m trying to do.”

And then, while he’s still watching me, I hit a seven-iron on the screws, really put a twist on it. It takes a lovely trajectory, fading ever so slightly over the 120-yard marker, coming to rest near the very same patch of dark sand I had picked out just seconds earlier.

“Any questions?”, I ask.

This is something I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined myself ever being able to do. It’s not just brushing off a “helpful Henry” – you see these guys at the range all the time – and it’s not the first time I’ve politely declined the help of a stranger. It’s the ability to make a confident swing with good – OK, great – results with a stranger staring down at you. Being able to do this is not just un-Great White Shank like, it’s positively otherworldly, as if some golf alien has taken up residence in my body. This is not to say I’m not going to make bad swings or even have bad rounds; what’s completely different is the resilience, discipline, confidence, and ability I’ve brought to my game with the help of Alex and my de facto mental guru Dr. Bob Winters.

Friday and my next round, at a very challenging Superstition Springs, awaits.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:43 | Comments (3)
  1. Shot me a 53 – 46 = 99 at Countryland yesterday, Doug.

    Rusty on the front nine (and still trying to get the feel back in my pitches around the green after 2 years without golf), but recovered nicely on the back nine. Par’d the 125 yd Par 3 10th and the 175 yard Par 3 15th (even if I needed a great up and down to make that happen on 15, but the pitch feel was coming back to me by then).

    Might have shot a few less, but the greens were horrible on the back nine – mostly stubble and sand with the ball hopping all over the place.

    Countryland is a short track at only 5500 yards, but has wicked ups and downs worthy of the North Georgia mountain area in which it resides. Heck, the Par 4 18th has about 1/3 as much elevation as it has in length; a killer finishing hole if ever there was. Bogeyed that bad boy on the way in to the clubhouse.

    Tee to fairway I’m doing better than ever, especially with those hybrids in my bag, but I won’t be sure about my putting until I get on better greens, and I still need some work around the green on chips and pitches, but the game is coming along sweet! 🙂

    Comment by Dave Richard — May 16, 2013 @ 6:23 am

  2. you need to write golf romance novels…all that is missing is the gratuitous sex and I am sure that you can arrange that on some soft, enticing putting green that is aglow in the fading sunset…or something like that.

    You actually have me reading about golf!!!! GOLF!!!! I am reading about someone with a skinny stick, hitting a small round ball to get it to land on a patch of grass. HELP!!!!!!

    Comment by Jana — May 16, 2013 @ 9:10 am

  3. To Dave Richard – that’s a good round, bro, keep up the good work and the progress!

    To Jana – Why heck, if all golf was about was hitting a little round ball to get it to land on a patch of grass with a skinny stick I wouldn’t bother playing the game. 🙂

    Comment by The Great White Shank — May 16, 2013 @ 5:29 pm

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