May 30, 2015

There are all kinds of things I could be doing on a late May Friday in the Valley of the Sun: working (now there’s a concept!), dodging bullets while sketching Mohammad cartoons out in front of a Islamic temple, and working on my Tiki bar roof are just a few options I can think of.

Me, I’m at the far end of the Superstition Springs Golf Club driving range in a tiny little shadowed area in 100-degree heat listening to feedback from my old swing coach Alex Black, who has just watched me hit a half-dozen 7-irons – a couple good, the others not so good. The 7-iron wasn’t my choice of club – I was only there because my inability to hit anything but dead-pull yanks and duck hooks off the tee with my driver had driven me to the point of despair.

“Look, Alex, I’m less than seven weeks away from Goodboys Invitational weekend, and any time spent focusing on anything less than my driver is just a waste of time. Clock’s ticking, dude.”

Alex walked over to my bag and grabbed my 7-iron. “Fine. But first I want to see you hit some 7-irons.”

Which is exactly what the obedient student did. Then the world stood still for a moment.

We watched a couple of players hit their balls from the left side of the range back into play on the 9th hole. A mother and her baby foo-foo bird dropped in front of us, then took off into the phosphorescent blue sky. The earth was quiet, the air still, not even a whisper of breeze.

“I wouldn’t touch your swing”, says Alex, “but you’ve obviously gotten away from some fundamentals we discussed the last time we got together.”

I suddenly knew where he was going. I had a flashback from our last session, even though it was two years ago.

“You’re not taking a divot. Nothing against Mother Earth, but grass was created by God to be scooped out with a divot in front of your ball, not behind it. And judging from the fact that the shots you have hit pure are still being pulled right, I can tell you’re standing too close to the ball.”

Alex demonstrates with the bottom of his hand against his belly-button, his hand sticking out. “I want to see my students with one hand distance with irons, one and a half hands with woods. You’re standing too close to the ball, you’re choking off any ability to let your arms work. As a result, your hands are too active in the hitting zone and the ball is pulled right. You need to give your swing room to breathe.”

He drops a ball at my feet, which, standing further away at address I proceed to pulverize 140 yards. “That’s the best swing you’ve taken all day. And why? Because when you’re goal is to take a divot in front of the ball you have to shift your weight. And the ball went straight because the additional distance between you and the ball – even if it’s just a few inches – allows you to take a fuller swing, generating more power at impact.”

I feel like a fool.

He grabs my driver and has me tee up a ball. Before I even begin to swing he stops me.

“Let me ask you a question. How often do you get to touch your ball on a given hole?”

Now that’s a question even this dummy knew the answer to. “On the tee and on the green.”

“So why don’t you take advantage of it? Let me ask you another question. What are you thinking when you tee up the ball?”

“Not to hit it into the woods or the water”, I reply, knowing that these are very negative thoughts to have. But hey, I didn’t get to be a 27-handicap for no reason.

“What you should be thinking is how to use the ball to increase the chances you’ll align yourself properly.” He grabs the range ball with the three stripes on it and shows it to me. “The best way to ensure you’re lined up properly is to place the ball with whatever the manufacturer has given you to point in the direction you want the ball to go.” He places the ball so that the three stripes are pointed down the middle of the imaginary fairway we have created for ourselves. “What kind of ball do you play?”

“Well, I was playing Callaway Supersofts until I lost all three dozen over the last three rounds of golf I played.”

Alex doesn’t get the joke (which, actually, was no joke at all). “Then you use the arrow the Callaway logo gives you to point where you want the ball to go. You then approach the ball from behind, position your club face behind the ball, then align your body so it is square to that direction. It’s a discipline, I know, but I guarantee if you do that you’re gonna see more consistent results.”

The dutiful student does what he is told, and I’m getting ready to swing when he stops me again.

“You’re standing too close to the ball. Step back.

I move back a few inches.

“Back further.”

I step back another few inches.

“Back further.”

Now I’m so far back that I feel as if my arms are almost straight out.

“Now take your swing.”

My drive hurtles left in long, sizzling arc.

“Hit another one. This time with the ball back 3-4 inches from where you played that one.”

It’s a serious smash, dead center, with a high, lovely arc.

I then proceed to try the same deliberate set-up at address – the placing of the ball just-so on the tee, the club-face placed behind the ball, the squaring at address with the ball not too forward, for a dozen swings. Some are good (actually awesome), some not so (I actually whiffed on one). And when the dread snap-hook shows up I can feel that I never shifted my weight properly. Now it’s just a matter of more reps and getting comfortable with what I’ve learned.

“You know what you need to do, now there’s no reason why you can’t repeat the same set-up before each tee ball”, says Alex. “You can’t control the results you get, but you can control how you set up. And I guarantee you’ll see more consistent results if you just take your time and do what we’ve done today.”

I tell Alex of the problems I’ve been having with my short game, and he only needs to hear what has been happening to deliver his assessment. “I guarantee you’re standing too close to the ball there as well. Take some practice around the green and give your swing some room to breathe and I think you’re gonna find yourself feeling like your old self. You just got into some bad habits, which is why I’m here.”

After Alex leaves I hit a small bucket of balls – with mixed results – but I know where he is coming from. He’s a wonderful teacher and I’m feeling more positive about these next seven weeks than I ever thought possible. I can’t wait to hit the range and really get down to work to solidify the changes he has recommended.

I hit a few chips around the putting green and he was exactly right – not standing so close to the ball I was able to take a little more flatter swing and felt a little more like my old self.

Who knows what the future will hold and if what Alex said will take in this bird brain of mine. But the time was well worth spent.

Now what did I do with the paper and pencils I had? I have some Prophet Mohammad cartoons to draw.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:28 | Comment (1)
1 Comment
  1. I can’t believe you’ve been playing golf this long, and didn’t know to point the company name in the direction you want to go on the tee.

    Seriously, dude?

    Comment by Dave Richard — May 31, 2015 @ 8:40 pm

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