September 12, 2008
The path toward improving one’s golf game is not as straightforward as one might like. With enough effort, however, there should be some unmistakable signs of progress.
A half-dozen practice sessions after my first lesson, I thought I could handle a second lesson from Shawnee Country Club’s golf pro, Devon Peterson.
My first half-hour gave me two swings to practice. For the first one, I take an 8-iron, bring it back to where the shaft is parallel to the ground, and swing forward.
If done correctly, the ball takes off on a tight little draw for about 60 yards or so. If done incorrectly, the ball squiffs along the ground about one-fourth of that distance. With a lot of practice, my good-hit/squiff hit ratio improved significantly.
The second swing called for me to bring my 6-iron to a point where the shaft points straight up, and swing back down again. Hitting decent shots with this half-swing was a lot more difficult, but I thought I was doing well enough for the second session.
Peterson was fine with my 8-iron chipping demonstration, but he winced when I boogered my first attempt to make the 6-iron half-swing. After a few more tries, I started hitting the 6-iron shots better, but it was clear that I needed more work.
The problem was I couldn’t stop the backswing where Peterson wanted me to, because I still had no real sensation of bringing the club to the half-way point.
Peterson began resting another club on top of my 6-iron shaft, as I stood at address. He had me swing forward as soon as he pulled his club off mine, during my backswing. It felt like something between a third- and a half-swing to me, but Peterson assured me that I was actually making a nearly full swing.
Eventually I discovered that I could stop the backswing where he wanted, if I felt my hands reach a point just past my right shoulder.
The next problem was the downswing from that position. On some occasions I was obviously steering the club. On other attempts I was casting the club with even more vigor than usual, probably because I was trying to make up for not relying upon my usual overswing.
I distinctly heard Peterson sighing at this point.
He then gave me a few pointers about feeling my hands pull the shaft down toward the ground, trusting the club to make the turn and pull through the ball at impact. We also worked on ways to keep from casting the club at the beginning of the downswing, and also discussed making a full body turn to maintain a good swing speed and angle of attack.
At that point, the lesson ended. Peterson asked me to continue the practice sessions, combining the first lesson’s swings with the new elements.
I kept up with my practice, but soon learned that I shouldn’t work on these swings just before a round of golf. Instead, I decided to heed the advice found in Golf is Not a Game of Perfect, by Bob Rotella and Bob Cullen. They suggest that golfers should develop a training mentality while on the range, but use a trusting mentality on the course.
It works, During my last round, I focused on maintaining a smooth tempo with a shortened back swing, and trusted my downswing to hit the ball where I wanted. It led to a 6-over front nine, with a triple-bogey first hole and five pars.
The new swing is also improving. During one recent range session, I hit 25 6-iron tee shots as Peterson instructed me. Eighteen of them landed within a ten-foot wide arc, and half of those landed within a four-foot wide space. The other seven stayed within a 30-foot wide arc. That’s a major improvement in consistency for me.
There is still a ways to go. As Peterson suggested, I’m going to set up a mirror in my basement, to help groove a consistent backswing position where it should be. There are also going to be several more practice sessions this fall.
I’m fine with that.