April 11, 2018

Good Friday. Everyone at work had bailed by the time my afternoon nap following six very hard hours of work was over. I looked at the clock, saw I had plenty of time to hit a bucket of balls down the street at Kokopelli G.C. and still have time to go over to Lowe’s to arrange the install the last of the plantation shutters in our master bedroom. So that’s what I did.

The Kokopelli G.C. range was mobbed – doesn’t anyone work anymore? – but a guy and his three ghurkins were just finishing up so I grabbed the next to last spot on the left side of the range. A line of scruby pines on a hillside separating the range from the first fairway were filled with the pleasing sounds of cooing mourning doves and squawks and squeaks from a group of comical foo-foo birds. 70s disco music was obviously the choice of the day, and the likes of Donna Summer and Kool and the Gang mixed with the whooshes of fat hits, thin hits, and on-the-screw hits by folks of all ages. I paid for a large bucket with the intent of working on the Paula Creamer wide, low, and slow takeaway that she does so well and walked out into hazy blue skies, a warm sun and the emerald green of the range. I dumped the bucket of balls on the grass by my bag, stashed my wallet and keys, donned my sunglasses and glove, and began working through my session.

Right away I was struggling with my irons, lots of fat hits, then pulled a muscle in my lower abdominal but still kept flailing away. This was my third time out on the range since my three-month sabbatical, and the excuse of needing to “shake the rust off” was getting old, and fast. I didn’t feel comfortable with any of the swings I was making, so about halfway through the bucket I took a break and enjoyed a cold Pacifico.

In the spot next to me was (I’m guessing) a father and teenage son who were sharing a large bucket between them before heading out for a late afternoon nine. The father looked to me like a dead-ringer for Johnny Miller; his son, like most teenagers these days, could hit it a country mile. Unfortunately for him, that meant a country mile anywhere. Curiously (I could tell from their discussion), the son’s bag was filled with half brandy-new PXGs and half brandy-new Pings – high-end weaponry, for sure – and he’d smack a few with one, then smack a few with the other.

It wasn’t just the father’s looks that reminded me of Johnny Miller, it was his verbal demeanor and his obvious knowledge of the game. He didn’t push his son on anything, just offered up helpful advice while taking swings that were gorgeous to watch in terms of style and tempo. He was trying to convince his son (tell me if you’ve heard this before!) to take a little off and stay within himself. “You hit the ball a ton but you’re jumping out of your shoes”, he says. He quoted some Jack Nicklaus book (now I’m rolling my eyes) but encouraged his son to “swing your swing, not someone else’s” – something I thought to be fairly ironic, given what I out there trying.

The father then had his son do something that caught my attention. He used his smart phone to video his son launch a 5-iron over the netting on the far side of the range towards the area where the putting green, chipping area, and 18th green all kind of coalesce together, then asked his son to set up normally and take swings without a ball being there. The son, being the teenager he was, of course protested, telling his dad his idea was stupid, but there was no arguing with his father and the smartphone. I guess comparing the two swings must have resulted in a “come to Jesus” moment for the son (and why not, it being Good Friday!), because starting with the next ball, his swing and footwork all of a sudden became much more controlled. “Nice swing”, said the father, “swing as if the ball isn’t there and you’ll be more than fine.” While the son still hit it a country mile, the change in accuracy and consistency was nothing less than amazing. He didn’t like the whole idea of swinging in a more controlled fashion, but he sure couldn’t argue with the results.

In the meanwhile, I finished my bucket feeling fairly disenchanted and disheartened – not to mention hurting from my pulled abdominal muscle. Driving out of the parking lot, I decided then and there the next time I hit the range I wasn’t going to try and mimic anyone else’s swing but my own. But what exactly was my swing? I decided that whatever swing came out of me naturally would be the swing I would try to commit myself to going forward. I had built my own swing from the ground up last spring (slightly strong grip, irons slightly closed at address with a fairly upright take-away, hybrids and woods square-faced, the take-away flatter than the irons), and that was the swing I would return to and commit to as my own.

——————-

Holy Saturday. My abdominal muscle was feeling much better, and having finished a lunch of Mexican food and a margarita, then looked in on my sister-in-law Tam’s rabbits, I had a few hours to kill before suppertime. My clubs were still in the trunk from the previous day, so I figured I’d head over to my old haunts at Superstition Springs Golf Club and check the driving range out there. Again, it was pretty busy, but I grabbed a slot on the far right side of the range, dumped the bucket of balls on the grass by my bag, stashed my wallet and keys, donned my sunglasses and glove, and grabbed a pitching wedge out of my bag. I didn’t try to mimic anyone’s swing (sorry Paula!), I just did what felt most comfortable and natural.

The first couple were dead pulls, but I then remembered what the father had told his son the day before about swinging as if the ball wasn’t there. And all of a sudden, everything seemed to fall into place. All of a sudden, I was in mid-season form. All of a sudden, all of the confidence I had been lacking in my swing were a thing of the past. My irons became crisper, and my hybrids much more under control and consistent. And whenever I started over-swinging my driver (a tendency I’ll probably always have) I’d take a practice swing without a ball and then replicate that swing and realize quality results. As for Paula, I could keep her putting set-up and stroke (something I’ve grown very comfortable and confident with), but everything else would be home-grown, Great White Shank style.

I’ve had two range sessions since that Holy Saturday session at “the Springs”, and I feel like I’m in a really good place. My confidence is sky-high, and with a little more short-game work I’ll be ready to “take it to the course” for the first time in 2018. Lots of folks go to the range to hit balls; more than once I have found that you can learn as much by simply observing what’s going on around you as you can hitting a bucket of balls. I’m not sure who that “Johnny Miller” father figure was, but I can tell you I learned as much from him as I have any pro I’ve worked with in the past. And I’ve finally come to terms with owning up to my swing. Far better embracing the role of expert with your own swing and its limitations than trying to be something (and someone) you’re not.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 23:56 | Comments (0)
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