Due for some driving lessons
April 16, 2012
by Ivan Raconteur

It may be time for me to take driving lessons – not the behind-the-wheel kind of driving lessons – the kind that one takes with a golf club in one’s hands.

It has been several years since my last lesson, and something tells me it is time for a tune-up.

The golf swing is a complex operation. There are very few ways to do it right, but there are an almost limitless number of ways to do it wrong. I am pretty sure I have been guilty of all of them, sometimes all at once.

The problem, as I see it, is that after a gap in our golf adventures, which most of us in Minnesota experience each winter, it seems that one instinctively remembers the things one was doing wrong the last time out, but forgets what one was doing right.

Because of this cruel trick of fate, it is important to refresh one’s memory in terms of what one is supposed to be doing out there.

I don’t recall offhand how many elements there are to a proper golf swing, but I do remember that trying to remember them all at once is enough to make one’s head explode.

I have several books on the subject, and I try to arrange myself in the same general attitude as the subjects in the diagrams and illustrations, usually with limited success.

One has to get the setup right, use the proper stance, and take a firm, but not tight grip on the club.

One has to think about ball position, and make sure the sphere is not too far forward in one’s stance and not too far back.

One has to consider one’s position in relation to the target and the angle of the club face at impact.

One has to keep one’s head still and one’s eye on the ball, while at the same time shifting one’s weight and coiling one’s body on the backswing like loading up a spring.

One has to get the tempo right, finish with one’s belt buckle facing the target, and hold the finish.

These are just a few of the things one has to consider while preparing to hit a shot, and that is only the basic formula. One’s position on the course, the lie of the ball, and other factors introduce a host of new variables to which one must adjust.

I enjoy watching golf on television because it provides images of what a golf swing is supposed to look like. The pros are remarkable athletes, and I am amazed at what they are able to accomplish.

Even though most golfers appear to be likeable people, I must confess that, while I wish them well and hope that they will find success, I secretly rejoice when I see one of them knock the pellet into the woods, or lose it with a splash in a pond.

I am delighted by these misadventures not because I bear the victims any ill will, but because these are the times when their game most closely resembles what I am doing on the course. These are the rare occasions when an uninitiated observer could tell that we are playing the same game.

The difference, of course, is what happens next.

A professional can take a ball that is lodged in a difficult lie behind a tree and out of sight of the green, and somehow contrive to miraculously drop it within a few feet of the pin.

The difference between a pro and a duffer is that the pros have a better imagination and better execution. They can visualize not only the result they hope to achieve, but how to accomplish it.

Pros, of course, also have a great deal more experience and talent, and they have spent thousands more hours practicing their craft.

That, perhaps is one of the keys.

I know from experience that taking a few lessons helps me to focus on doing at least a few things right, in terms of swing mechanics.

I also know that the only way to do those things consistently is to put in a lot more time on the driving range and on the putting green.

Understanding what we are trying to accomplish is important, but actually going through the motions and building the correct muscle memory is also important.

Golf is a game of numbers. It is about doing what one can to increase the odds of hitting that one sweet shot in a round when all the stars align and we strike the ball crisply and cleanly, and send it rocketing toward its destination, exactly the way we visualized it.

For a high-handicap golfer like me, shots like this are as rare as steak houses in Mumbai, but these are the shots that give us hope and inspire us to play another day.

Perhaps a few lessons will help me hit more of them.

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