Lessons to be learned

A lot of the people I play with don’t believe in having golf lessons. They have their own peculiar swing, they take the rough with the smooth, the ups with the downs, and they play golf for fun. Yes, fun.

But that’s not for me and those other misguided individuals who treat golf as a sport and who – in face of all the accumulated evidence – cling to the belief that they can improve at it. Or, at the very least, not get any worse. So we have golf lessons, sometimes as often as once a month. That’s what I find about right in allowing a candid eye to be cast over what bad habits I have been slipping into and to have tenderly applied the appropriate piece of sticking plaster to hold my swing together.

But lessons don’t provide all the answers to all the questions we bring to the pro on the range. Mostly it’s a question of taking their analysis and advice and methodically applying it to the current problem that’s holding your game back until you put your own finger on the cause or the solution. Which doesn’t always happen immediately. As witness the slightly startling fact that in just over a month I have had three lessons and only now do I feel I am close to fixing the problem.

Fixing is perhaps the wrong word, as I am a firm believer that once you know what – for you, at least – constitutes a good swing, you shouldn’t be trying to fix things when it goes wrong, rather simply making sure you actually do the right things. Which is not as easy as it might sound, of course.  Anyway, my problem was a loss of competence off the tee with my 3 wood, previously as reliable a part of my game as there can be said to be. I would either slice it way right or hook it low and left, or if I hit it straight, it was too high and lacking in distance. And when you are punching it out sideays from under a tree or hacking it out of the long grass behind the ladies’ tee, that makes good scoring even less likely than usual. So something needed to be done.

Having had a lesson focused on my teeshots only last month, here I was again, with things having gone even further downhill. It soon became clear that I was consistently – now that’s a first! – hitting the ball out of the heel of the club and that was the root of my problem. But what wasn’t quite so clear was what the solution might be. Standing further away from the ball might have seemed blindingly obvious as the answer, but my best attempts to apply this principle resulted in even greater consistency in hitting out of the heel. As the face tape was only happy to confirm for me.

A couple of fruitless visits to the range later, I ventured on to the course only to find that my newly acquired but unwanted consistency acccompanied me to just about every tee box. I can recall two tee shots with the 3 wood that did the old straight and narrow routine, but as for the rest ….. Immediately after that round I decided to seek out further advice and have a fresh pair of eyes take an objective and unbiased look at my frenzied efforts to find the sweet spot of my X Hot 15 degree. That lesson (my third in the space of 5 weeks) was a fairly cryptic experience which, among other things, revisited the standing too far from the ball scenario, but which had the added benefit of subjecting my swing to video analysis from four different angles. Frightening.

Having swallowed hard at seeing the true awfulness of what I had thought was a swing, I gave the whole situation some more thought based on what had come out of the lessons, and I am pleased to say I think I can put my finger on the cause of my heel shots. In an attempt to stand tall and athletic at address, I have been exaggerating this and stretching upwards too much, with the results catalogued above. I knew something must have changed in my address to cause the change in my strike pattern, and, thinking about it, that’s the culprit.

I didn’t find the answer in the lessons. I had to work towards it myself, but without the lessons I couldn’t have cracked the conundrum and found a way forward. Or maybe it’s the way back. Whatever, the moral of this story is keep taking the lessons, but don’t expect them to provide all the answers. Golf makes you work for those.