Background: I played golf once about 10 years ago. Was I bad? Very. Did I have fun? It was a riot.
The Challenge: Noel Jablonski, an ex-English teacher and 16-year veteran golf instructor, agreed to see how much progress I could make in five lessons over a 10-day period.
Location: Oak Marr Every Body Golf School in Oakton (703-255-5396).
Cost: $200 for five half-hour lessons.
Lesson 1: Monday, March 22, 2 p.m. Day 1 is all about putting. Why? That's where the majority of your game is played, says Jablonski, one of Golf for Women magazine's top 50 teachers in 2000. The principles learned in putting (aiming, grip, sweet spot) apply to other shots, and putting makes it easier to feel successful.
Using a reverse overlap grip Jablonski arranges for me, I try to make an imaginary string pull my ball victoriously into the cup. When lined up correctly, the ball would almost effortlessly push off the sweet spot of the clubface, "where all the percussion is," at its center, Jablonski says. I hardly feel it. (Of course, it's 40 degrees with slicing wind, so I don't feel much.)
According to Oak Marr administrator Jim O'Hara, a genial retired postal worker, I will know if golf has bitten me when I dial my grandma in Chicago (a golfer for over 50 years) after making a great shot. After Day 1, no calls yet.
Lesson 2: Wednesday, March 24, 9:30 a.m. Today we work from the fringe of the green to learn chipping. Using a club with some loft, you use a stroke similar to a putt and try to bounce the ball on the green so it rolls close to the hole. Jablonski sets me up about 10 feet off the green, 40 feet from my target hole. She arranges my hands in a 10-finger grip. I hit.
The ball barely leaves the ground: a "worm burner," Jablonski calls it. But after repeated attempts I do hit the sweet spot, and the ball pops up gracefully and rolls near the hole.
If I chip right, she says, there will be dirt and grass residue on my club. A redeeming bit of turf no bigger than an M&M finally sticks: my gold star for the day.
Lesson 3: Thursday, March 25, 11 a.m. I sway. I bend my left arm on the back swing. I neglect to keep my left foot pointed slightly outward. I take my eye off the ball.
But I have fun on the driving range. Jablonski offers some insightful techniques -- swing with feet and legs firmly together to kill the swaying. I keep working at it.
"That sounded good -- where'd it go?" asks Jablonski, while starting her next class.
"Out there!" I say, pointing to my first far-off-ish landing, straight and about 100 yards out.
Lesson 4: Monday, March 29, 9:30 a.m. I finally wear the right shoes (or at least better ones): Aasics running shoes instead of my European comfort Danskos. It's a good thing; Jablonski videotapes me today.
Flanked by two computer monitors -- me on one and pro golfer Patty Sheehan on the other -- I compare our swings. Sheehan's is awesome (though I didn't have a clue who she was until then): So effortless and polished, she almost seems to be dancing with her club. My Gumby left arm would have dropped my partner to the floor.
Jablonski drew a red line on top of my head on the screen. My head should have stayed put during the swing. It didn't. Back on the range I start to visualize the line. This helps fight the tilt, a little.
Lesson 5: Wednesday, March 31: 9:30 a.m. To really build your confidence, Jablonski says today, sit behind the range and observe: No one strikes the ball well every time.
My first drive today -- using a driver for the first time -- is a hit. If I had teed off at Oak Marr's nine-hole course, my 100-yard effort would have put me on the green (if I aimed correctly). But my last drive falls right into the "no one strikes the ball well all the time" category.
So: Ten days, five lessons, 21/2 hours of instruction. Am I ready to play, Noel?
"Absolutely. You did very well. You would be able to play on a nine-hole course," she says.
I am a little skeptical. I imagine myself at the first tee, spraying a succession of worm-burners. Fear not, she says. If things go badly, just pick up the ball and set it near the green to chip and putt. "Just enjoy being out there and enjoy the walk," Jablonski says. (She doesn't do carts.)
I feel like I learned, most importantly, how to practice: Focus on the sweet spot, a straight left arm on the back swing and the twist at the waist. And I have plenty of time: Jablonski says it takes about three seasons for a beginner to get comfortable with the game.
But I already put in the call and arranged a golf date with my Grandma.