“Whoa. I see it.”
There we were, my swing coach Alex Black and me on a shady corner of Alex’s instruction area just starboard of the 9th fairway at Superstition Springs Golf Club, my home away from home for the past four months. The heat being what it has been this week, when I dialed 911 requesting a session to try and resolve my tee game inconsistency he thought it best for an early start. My choice? 7 AM or 9 AM. After asking if he was serious, I gulped hard and went with the 9 AM slot.
That, my friends, is what dedication to your golf quest is all about.
Quick thought: There ought to be a law against any kind of golf activity before 10 AM – at least that way you have time for an eye-opener to take the edge off. Heck, the clubhouse restaurant isn’t even serving mimosas at 9 AM.
But I digress.
My first thought as we disembarked from Alex’s golf cart was that I didn’t recall ever seeing shade at this area of the range until I realized it was so damned early that the sun was still low enough for the spindly trees to actually create shade. As Alex set me up, I told him my concern: a very inconsistent tee game featuring lots of right side of fairway (and beyond) hits: pulls, draws, and ugly snap hooks. I told him how I despised being on the right side of courses from start to finish – over the years I’ve developed quite a fondness for playing the left side of the fairway and would love to get that that lovin’ feeling back. But above all else, I needed to hit the ball straighter and more consistent.
I hit a few 3-hybrids for him and actually was smacking them pretty good for the first half dozen or so balls. Fortunately, Mr. Snap Hook decided to make a cameo and that’s when Alex yelled out to me that he saw something and asked me to hold my finishing position.
I froze like a statue.
“I see what’s happening here. Now, don’t panic at what I’m about to tell you because I think it’s an easy fix. The saying goes never fool with someone’s grip but I need to have you try something.”
Now, conventional wisdom says that messing around with someone’s grip can lead to all kinds of trouble – everything from losing one’s swing to losing one’s sanity, family, home, and everything else one holds dear. But I’d come to trust Alex’s judgement implicitly (heck, even with my tee game woes I’m still hitting the ball better than I’ve ever dreamed) so I didn’t bat an eyelash and simply said, “tee it up”.
One thing about Alex is that he gets very excited when he’s got wisdom to pass along and in this case his excitement jumped from sub-light impulse to warp factor 6 in less than 2.4 seconds. “I see two issues here that I think are easy fixes for you. Set up at address as you normally do.”
Alex pointed out that my right hand grip was very strong – 3.5 knuckles worth. Not sure when that started happening – I’ve always played with kind of a neutral grip, but then again, when it comes to golf I’m as ADD as one can get. He asked me to weaken my grip a tad, down to two knuckles. His next comment took me by surprise, but if there’s one thing I like and respect about Alex is that he’s honest about himself as an instructor.
“Take a look at where your thumb is, it’s over the down arrow of the Callaway grip. A few years ago I realized I was teaching my students wrong, telling them to cover that arrow with the thumb; I came to realize that contributes to a closed club face at impact. So between your strong grip and that thumb over the arrow you’ve got a really shut face at impact.”
As the saying goes, light dawns over Marblehead. And now it’s confession time to my golf priest. “Which explains why I’ve been so inconsistent off the tee – I’ve been going against your instruction from our very first lesson to release my hands as I come through the ball. Instead, I’ve been telling myself to keep my hands quiet at impact to keep the club face from closing too much. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Alex knows a successful intervention when he sees one. “Exactly!” He has me place my bottom hand so the thumb is just left of the arrow on the 3-hybrid’s grip. I also weaken my grip just a tad as he instructed. But he’s not done yet. “There’s one final thing I want you to do: I want you to lengthen that swing on the take-back and the follow-through – you’re picking the club up a little quick – probably a result of your strong grip. I want you to focus on expanding the circle of your swing. And don’t keep those hands quiet – swing hard, release those hands, and make a good shoulder turn so that your left shoulder gets into the game.”
It sounds like a lot, but the instructions are actually pretty simple and make sense. By weakening my grip just a little I can take the club back on a flatter plane; by releasing my hands instead of keeping them quiet I’m making a fuller, more athletic swing with a more pronounced shoulder turn and making the A-flex shaft I’ve gone to whip through the ball, giving me more distance. The best part of it all? I can swing just about as hard as I want to. Like they say, grip it and rip it, let the shaft do the rest.
Alex tees up a ball and points out a generous fairway he wants me to aim at, between an electrical box and a couple of yard markers, and I take my address. For a few seconds, the world becomes what God originally planned: wars cease, lions lay down with lambs, the hungry have food and the thirsty have water. Marco Rubio halts his plan for immigration reform. Harry Reid says something nice about the Tea Party.
As I come through the ball, the strike is solid, the trajectory high and with – lo and behold! – a slight fade from right to left. Alex tees up another one. Same result. He tees another one up. This one is pulverized, long and straight as an arrow.
“That’s a beautiful swing there, Doug. Let’s try the driver.”
The results with the “big dog” are remarkably similar – lovely little fades interspersed with occasional bombs, all falling within the fairway Alex created. I’m in love. He then shrinks my fairway by 50%, but it doesn’t matter – it’s as if in just five minutes I’ve gone from a defensive golfer into an offensive powerhouse of accuracy. Not to mention gaining some extra yards along the way. He shrinks the fairway by another 50% and asks if I can try and get another ten yards off my drives.
As his obedient servant, I oblige, hitting two towering blasts with just the hint of a fade. Alex is pleased. “You can play that all day. Great job.”
We go back to the 3-hybrid and play the same shrinking fairway game. Rather than that damned snap hook, my miss is now to the left, and I know when that happens it’s simply because either my weight isn’t shifting forward enough or I’m quitting with my hands. This I can handle, because there’s no playing around anymore with trying to keep my hands quiet – everything is now about making a powerful move to and through the target.
“I’ll bet you’ve been hitting your irons to the right as well, though not as bad, correct?”, he says as we head back out into the sun and into his cart. “Do the same thing with your irons and I think you’re going to be very pleased.”
Our work is complete. As he drives me to my car, it’s nearly ten and you can already feel the heat of the day building. We say our goodbyes, but Alex reminds me he’s always around the regular range on weekends and expects an after-action report from Goodboys weekend. He reminds me that my original goal expressed to him back in March was that I wanted to play bogey-and-a-half golf – say, 96 to 99 – regularly. “The way you’re swinging you can do better than that – you can shoot low 90s easily. It’s now all about having confidence in yourself and your swing, making more putts, and managing your game and the courses you play. You have the tools, now go and do it.”
We’re less than four weeks away from Goodboys Invitational weekend, and for the first time I feel I’m not near where I need to be, but exactly where I need to be.