I had a golf lesson ten days ago. About time, would be the response of the people I play with, and indeed it was. It had to be. It must have been at least 25 years since my previous one.
The lowest handicap I ever had was 7. That was when I was in my late teens. I was a student. I had loads of time to play – I once did 54 holes in a day – and while my technique was probably pretty crap (certainly my grip was way too strong) the fact that I played so much meant that what passed for my swing was grooved to any least some extent, as were the necessary compensations to get the ball headed in the desired direction. Also, as I said, I was a teenager. I could putt. I was shocked if I ever missed from five feet. If I did then it annoyed me but it didn’t perturb me. That miss was the aberration and normal service would be soon resumed. Of course, the more golf one plays, the more five-footers (and from inside that) one has seen go past the target without even touching the hole. And so it goes…
I am no longer a teenager and no longer even moderately long. I play off 15 but very seldom play to 15. I am overjoyed if a five-footer finds the bottom of the cup. But I still enjoy playing golf so I decided to do something about improving the experience. And, luckily for me, I knew someone of reputation to help me. I have known Denis Pugh for many years, meeting him through David Leadbetter when I was at Golf World magazine. As well as assisting hackers like me, Denis works at a more exalted level of the game. Among the tour players he teaches is Francesco Molinari, the man whose half-point earned on the 18th green in his singles match against Tiger Woods in 2012 secured Europe’s victory in the Ryder Cup at Medinah. So he is distinctly a rather more accomplished golfer than me.
Anyhow, to keep it brief (hearing about someone else’s golf lesson would be more boring than hearing about someone else’s round) Denis said my chief problem – there wasn’t just one, of course – was that I was coming into the ball way too steep, as if attacking it with a feeble swing of an axe. So steep, in fact, that the Trackman technology Denis uses couldn’t trace my path into impact. This is the thing when your game is off. The problem will be your swing, not your equipment. As the old joke goes, one golfer says to another: “You’ve got crap on the end of your club.” Inevitably, the guy looks at the sole. “No,” says his pal, “the other end.”
I’ve been on the practice range a couple of times since the lesson and the modified technique understandably feels a little awkward but the results do look and feel better. But that’s on the range. (One of my favourite driving range stories involves Lee Trevino. He was hitting ball after ball and a woman watching behind him cooed in appreciation at every shot. He turned to her and said: “Lady, I’m the US Open champion. What did you expect? Ground balls?”) It’s easy to feel confident on the range, when it doesn’t matter so much if you comfortably miss your target. But tomorrow I’m playing the Pete Dye masterpiece at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, his Teeth of the Dog course. I’ll have a better idea of how my ‘new’ swing is getting along after that. Whatever, the scenery will be spectacular.
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