“You’re not squashing the bug, Doug. That’s a really fine swing there, I’m really proud of the progress you’ve made, but you’re not squashing the bug.”
It’s back to school for The Great White Shank, and the chipping area just right of the mounds on the 9th hole at Superstition Springs Golf Club is the classroom. The intent was to work on tweaking my short game, but after a few attempts at pitching to thirty yards and sixty yards, my swing coach Alex Black has noticed a problem.
“What did you say you shot last week with those three sticks?”, he asks.
“A rocking chair 110″, I respond.
I can tell Alex’s eyes behind his shades are full of concern. “That’s too good a swing to be throwing up chump numbers”, he says plainly. I want to see your set-up. We’re going to resolve this issue for you once and for all.”
I set up with a 7-iron and hit a few balls. The first thing Alex notices is that my shoulders are open at address. He asks me to pull my back elbow in just a little bit and turn my front shoulder to the ball. The results are nothing short of miraculous. The fade I had is gone, my ball flight trajectory suddenly looking like it has gained a little Bubba Watson oomph.
“That’s better, he says. Now I want you to start taking a divot”. He puts a ball way in front of my front foot. “When do you take a divot?”, he asks.
“The only divots I usually take are six inches to a foot behind the ball”, I answer sheepishly.
“Not any more”, he says confidently. “I want you think, whether your ball is teed up or not, I want you to think of ripping that tee right out of the ground from under the ball. That’s how you go get it. That’s how you squash the bug.”
As someone who has always prided himself on sweeping the ball off the turf this is a real challenge for me. But if there is one thing The Great White Shank has always been good at is following instructions – you never have to ask me the same thing twice. (I just wish my India team at work was the same way, but that’s another subject entirely!) I respond to Alex’s instruction with gusto. As he expected, I hit a couple of balls thin, but my third ball is positively crushed, right on the screws, a small patch of dirt where the ball once was.
“How far do you normally hit your 7-iron?”, he asks.
“125″, says I.
“You just hit that ten yards further and straighter than your previous balls. You’ve got too good a swing to be giving away yards like that. You square your shoulders and squash the bug like you’re doing there, expect 10-20 more yards on every iron.”
I then confess to Alex the move I discovered virtually by mistake last weekend, the day after my implosion at Trilogy Power Ranch with the sticks. I had spent most of that day hitting crappy duck hooks and shanks with my 3-wood and 5-wood, so on Saturday I headed back out to Superstition Springs with just woods in tow, bought a large bucket, and tried all sorts of set-ups and finishes until by accident I found a set-up that returned me back to pounding the ball long and straight. Not trusting myself, I did the same thing again on Sunday at a different range I happened to be passing by, and the same set-up that worked so well for me on Saturday repeated itself on Sunday.
“I’m setting up square just a little right of target and opening my club face up just a tad, and I find myself able to come through the ball easier and finish at a better location”, I tell him. Alex throws a few balls down at my feet. “Let me see”, he says.
The first couple of balls are really tattooed – solid hits with beautiful trajectories. The third is an ugly duck hook.
“Whoa. Where did that go?”, asks Alex. “You’re doing the same thing with your woods. Your set-up is OK, but your shoulders need to square up; otherwise, it’s too easy for you to be finishing up at three o’clock when you should be finishing up at one.” He uses his driveway marker stick to show how open my shoulders are at address. “Square those shoulders up and pull the trigger, and don’t be surprised if you not only hit it straighter, but get another 15-20 yards off your hits.”
Once again, the results are miraculous: big, solid hits with a trajectory no one familiar with The Great White Shank’s golf game would ever believe their eyes to behold.
We then head over to the putting green where Alex makes a couple of small recommendations about my chipping and putting, but overall he’s quite complimentary. “You’ve got a well-rounded game there, Doug. I’m very impressed with the progress you’ve made since our first session. The changes I’ve asked you to make today are nothing more than simple tweaks, really – you already know how to do them, now you just have to incorporate them into a repeatable set-up you can make over and over again, whether you’re at the driving range or playing a round with a bunch of sticks.”
I hand over my $60 to Alex and he starts collecting balls around the green in advance of his youth clinic starting in a few minutes. I take about twenty balls and go back to the range. As good as I thought I was hitting my woods and my irons prior to our lesson, the tips Alex has given me is like applying 5-Hour Energy to every club I hit. I’ve added yards and find myself making even more solid hits. I note the takeaways from today’s lesson:, broken down by woods and irons:
With my woods it’s all about set-up:
1. Pick a target and aim slightly right of center, open clubface ever so slightly.
2. Square up the shoulders.
3. Pull the trigger, emphasizing Alex’s power move driving my back leg forward and turning through the shot.
4. Finish at one o’clock position.
…and with my irons it’s all about contact:
1. Pick a target and square up. Ball forward in stance.
2. Square up the shoulders.
3. “Squash the bug” by hitting down on the ball. Take a divot and knock the tee out of the ground.
Out in the parking lot, I’m putting my gear away and a guy drives in next to me. He’s getting his gear out of the trunk, and I tell him the range and putting green are virtually empty.
“You’ve got plenty of room to hit balls to your heart’s content”, I say.
“That’s too bad”, he says, “I hate the driving range.”
“I can’t imagine why”, I say, and drive away with a big grin on my face.
My tee time next Friday at Superstition Springs has already been made. It will be interesting to see how my game compares to the last time I played there, back in February first time I teed it up