June 19, 2017

I’m at the driving range at Kokopelli Golf Club, ten minutes from my house. It’s a bright, sunny late Saturday morning, the temperature already hovering around 100 degrees, and there’s just me and another guy four spots down hitting balls.

The goal of my session was to try and figure something out with my hybrids and my 5-wood. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’d hit them miserably during my round at Lone Tree, and I was determined to at least get to the bottom of the problem if not fix it altogether.

I wasn’t making a whole lot of progress. The 4-hybrid, in particular, was abysmal. I tried playing the ball forward in my stance, back in my stance, in the middle of my stance. Didn’t make any difference. I tried choking down on the 5-wood, playing that in the middle of my stance, then forward in my stance. Didn’t matter – just when I thought I’d found something, it seemed I’d scull the next two balls. Thin hits. Deep-trench fat hits. It was all weight shift, I knew – or at least I thought I knew – but I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. After one particularly ugly swing, I slammed the club on the ground then cursed myself.

The guy who was out there with me didn’t believe in taking his time between balls. I was probably halfway through my bucket when I saw him heading back into the pro shop to have his bucket refilled again. I’d already seen him hitting balls out there by himself as I walked from the parking lot into the pro shop, then I passed him as I walked out with my bucket, he walking inside to get his bucket refilled.

It was getting hot, so I set my club down, grabbed my towel, wiped my face, drank out of my bottle of water.

“You’re not keeping your ‘V’s, mate!”

I look up and see the guy who was hitting balls walking towards me.

“Your ‘V’s are breaking down, mate. I can see it from where I’m hitting.”

Now (at least in my mind) there’s an etiquette out on the driving range that I would never, ever consider breaking. As far as I’m concerned, you keep to your own shit no matter what else is happening around you. I’m not a great golfer by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve seen beginners hitting balls next or near to me, flailing away hopelessly, and even though I know I could help them with a simple recommendation, I would never consider invading their space. To me that would not just be improper, but rude. I mean, who do I think I am, David Leadbetter?

But here he is, David Leadbetter, or someone who looks like a dead ringer for him, walking towards me. He certainly looked the part: tall, sunglasses, wide-brimmed straw hat (it wasn’t Callaway), that Aussie accent and him calling me mate. Were there other people there I think I would have handled it differently. But since we were the only ones out there, I resisted the urge to say, “Thanks for your concern, podna, but you’re not exactly lighting it up out there yourself from what I can see. If you had, I doubt you’d be on your third large bucket, correctamundo?” Instead, I decided to allow him some of my space.

“I can see why you’re struggling, mate. It’s your ‘V’s. They’re breaking down. Here, let me show you.”

He demonstrates his swing to me, tries to show what it is I’m doing wrong.

“Y’see, if you’re not keeping your ‘V’s, then that makes it tougher to stay on top of the ball. If you’re not staying on top of the ball, then it’s much harder to transfer your weight from back to front. And it’s damned near impossible to make consistent contact with the ball. Let me demonstrate…”

He took one of my balls – I started to raise my hand in protest – but he was on a roll now. “See, this is what you’re doing…”

He takes a swing with his hybrid and stripes it down the middle, 190 yards.

“…well, in this case I guess I made up for it. But what you want to do…” He takes another of my balls, then takes a couple of practice swings “is this…”

He drubs one down the middle about thirty yards.

“OK, well that wasn’t so good.” He then takes another ball of mine and hooks one into the far left side of the range, just next to the first fairway. He then goes into a long spiel about his swing from the ground up, then from the top down. Tells me he used to be a boxer in Melbourne, and that he learned his weight transfer from learning how to throw punches.

“But you have to always be careful not to over-swing. Even if you’re keeping your ‘V’s it won’t make any difference if you over-swing. I’m tellin’ ya mate, you keep your ‘V’s and don’t over-swing you’ll be fine.”

While he’s talking I’m only half-listening, drinking from my water bottle. He’s tall and sun-burnt. When he smiles he has what looks like a gold or wooden tooth in the front. I reach out my hand, ask him his name.

“It’s Matthew, mate.”

I ask him why he’s hitting his third large bucket on such a hot day, and he tells me he’s working on a move where, at the top of his swing, he then turns the shaft slightly to closed before starting his downswing.

“I’m already getting ten more yards with that move.”

I thank him for his time, tell him I’ll definitely take a look at my ‘V’s.

Matthew goes back, yanks his next shot way left into the first fairway. I pick up my towel, wipe my face, take another sip of water. I grab my 5-wood, put the ball slightly forward in my stance, then focus only on keeping my ‘V’s and shortening my swing. Clean contact. The ball takes off like a rocket, 180 yards or so down the middle of the my make-believe fairway. I drop another ball, same thing. Drop a third ball down, same thing.

I look at Matthew, give him a thumbs up. He smiles, drops another ball and hits a big push into the netting separating the driving range from the putting green and chipping area.

It would make for a great story if I said that every ball I hit thereafter was striped down the middle. They weren’t. But I’m guessing the ratio was 70/30 good hits and sculls. And even with the sculls I could immediately feel that I had strayed from the program. I went back in, got a small bucket and started working my hybrids into the same program. Again, 70/30 decent shots to crap sandwich.

Halfway through my bucket, Matthew grabbed his now-empty large bucket and headed for the pro shop.

I went out on Sunday with just my hybrids and 5-wood, this time at the Papago Golf Club range. Different day, different range, different conditions, little bit hotter. I followed Matthew’s advice to the ‘T’ and found myself hitting the same ratio of solid hits to poor hits – something like 70/30. More importantly, I committed myself to two very simple, easy to understand swing thoughts: keep my ‘V’s and don’t over-swing. The idea being, if I do that everything else will fall into place all by itself. Thanks to Matthew, I’m starting to gain confidence in clubs that, just a little more than a day earlier, I had zero confidence in.

Sitting in the cool, dark Mexican restaurant over a margarita afterwards, I thought back to Saturday. I had finished my small bucket, and the heat was really starting to come on. Walking back to my car, I stopped and turned around to look in time to see Matthew, the only soul in sight, stripe a hybrid down the middle, then yank the next one into the first fairway.

Matthew may not be David Leadbetter, may not even be a good golfer, but as a golf instructor he’s good enough for me.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:50 | Comments (0)
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