One Day. Three Clubs. Game Fixed.
Friday, May 5, 2006
Some golf swings are works of art. Others are works in progress. Mine is just a real piece of work.
I hook the ball . . . except when I slice it. Or when I top it, shank it, chunk it, chop it, duff it, or pop it up. Sometimes I miss it altogether.
But optimism is the golfer's curse. The little come-hither voice inside your head telling you you're just a small fix away from being the club champion, or at least the guy with a few captain's choice shots in a scramble.
And so I finally decided last fall to take my first golf lesson (pause for collective groan from the golf-instructor community). When I heard about the one-day, 3-Club Tour session offered by ESPN Golf Schools, I thought I had found the solution. Why spend 12 weeks in lessons when I could solve everything in a day? The course focuses on driver, wedge and putter. I'll master those, I figured, and the rest of the clubs would sort of take care of themselves.
The class, held at Whiskey Creek Golf Club in Ijamsville, Md., began with a shot at duffer glory: a one-swing attempt for a hole-in-one on the par-3 11th, a beautiful hole we were playing from 160 yards away. The reward was a new Lexus.
I was late and ran up to the hole as the others were finishing. Instructor Jeff Crittenden welcomed me with a big smile and said to give it my best shot. Hey, no one else had made it, so I felt little pressure. I grabbed my 7-iron, took a couple of practice swings and stepped up to the ball.
There are moments in golf when you feel in perfect sync with the universe, where the violent act of swinging at an immobile ball feels like poetry. This was one of those moments. Lifting the club back slowly and bringing it down on the ball in one effortless motion, I felt I had made perhaps the most perfect swing of my life.
The ball moved three feet.
My classmates turned without a word and headed to the range. I picked up the ball and followed.
On the range, it was all business.
After standing back and watching me spray a dozen balls left and right, Crittenden's analysis was succinct: "Wow." Wow, indeed. The 35-year-old golf pro saw plenty wrong -- my grip was too strong, I was lunging at the ball, my follow-through was horrendous. But Crittenden went to work like an experienced mechanic on a balky Kia.
He altered my grip slightly (rotate the lines made by thumb and index finger slightly to the left) and adjusted the head position on my club in my backswing to face the target. He told me to slow down my swing and coached me on my follow-through. The new grip felt strange, but the results improved immediately. My drives became straighter, longer, prettier. Could it really be this easy?