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Back To School

Aug. 1 2017, Published 6:40 p.m. ET

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While I’ve improved enough over the past two seasons so as not to be a complete embarrassment, I’m not getting “good,” which is antithetical to my competitive nature. Frustrated, I recently asked a few vets around the clubhouse how they’d improved their games, hoping they’d share some magic cure-all. Their advice kept coming back to the same two infuriating answers: “play multiple times per week” and “take lessons.”

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Ten yards. What the hell? “Take a mulligan!” called my friend Ellie.

With two small kids multiple rounds per week isn’t going to happen, and so I was left facing the other option: lessons. For me, the unnerving part about lessons is this idea that I’m going to have to re-learn everything. After all, I KNOW that the shots in my arsenal are a patchwork of Band-Aids, small adjustments to cover the deficits in my game. I fix my sliced drives by turning slightly to the left. My pitching game is a non-starter so I’ve learned to putt from 25 yards out… You get the idea.

A ski instructor once told me that women in their 30s are the most difficult demographic to teach because we can’t relax and are overly afraid to fall. Only now, at 35, can I empathize with that and see how it might translate to any unfamiliar experience. By this point in our lives we’ve been conditioned to hold it together—to be an A+ wife, mother, friend, co-worker and so on—and the only way we can do that is to exert control. When I considered that maybe I’m so averse to failure that I won’t take action to better myself, I decided that I needed to bite the proverbial bullet and call a pro.

I deferred to the professional as we stripped my entire game for parts and started from scratch.

So there I was, feeling like I might throw up on my new Lunar Empresses (I mean, I can at least dress the part of a competent golfer, right?) and along comes the pro, Frank. He wasn’t intimidating at first glance but I was predisposed to dislike him because I knew that he was going to dismantle me—I mean my game—in about 30 seconds. Even as a moderately confident adult there’s something scary in exposing your weaknesses, and mine were on full display.

Perhaps sensing that, Frank was friendly and cracked a few jokes to put me at ease, then he asked me to tee up some balls and said he’d watch to gauge my baseline. I advised him to set his expectations to zero because nerves=shanks, and predictably I grounded my first few drives. Finally I got hold of one, which I deemed a moderate success at 80 yards. “Hmmm,” Frank remarked. “Let me see your grip.” Well, crap.

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For the next 30 minutes Frank taught me the interlocking grip—new to me, and it felt like permanently losing at Thumb War—how to drop my right shoulder, where to place the ball between my feet in the set-up and 87 other things I immediately forgot. All of my fears of inferiority were coming true: my stance was wrong, my left arm was wrong in my backswing, I was bending my knees too much, I wasn’t bending them enough, my hips weren’t pivoting correctly and my center of gravity was off.

They say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it—but what if everything is broken? Privately, I’d rather have focused on addressing one or two issues, but I deferred to the professional as we stripped my entire game for parts and started from scratch. Over the course of the lesson and under instruction I was actually able to get off a few decent shots.

“You must have been an athlete,” Frank commented, and I flushed with pride and conceded that yes, at one point in my life I was a pretty handy on the tennis court. Later, it occurred to me that he almost certainly uses that line on every student as a means of upping his returning client rate.

Golf is a lifelong sport and I should (pardon the pun) play the long game.

The next week I was ready to put my newfound skills to a trial-by-fire test. I called up a few of my girlfriends and we met for our usual Thursday nine. As I walked up to the first tee, I went through a mental list of steps Frank had given me to memorize. I checked and re-checked my grip, stance and ball placement. I visualized making contact and was about to align my chin with that of the ball when I realized I’d been up there for about four minutes while the girls patiently waited. Quickly I got myself into position and ripped it. I did, because that’s how we roll. This time I just wanted to hustle up so I didn’t slow our game. I did my usual five-second set-up and produced my typical 100-yard slice.

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We moseyed through a few holes and I played the way I always did, mixing a few decent shots with a bunch of junk. I thought about why I’d taken the lesson; what was my end game? I know golf isn’t a sport where I’m ever going to perfect the art. But I want to enjoy it along the way and there was no point in consulting a professional if I wasn’t going to implement what I’d learned.

Change isn’t comfortable, but neither is my ineffective use of a pitching wedge. I could also analogize golf lessons to my oft-laid diet plans. Every time I start eating healthier and going to the gym, I expect to see immediate, spectacular results. When I haven’t lost eight pounds in the first week, I’m devastated. Likewise, I shouldn’t assume one lesson would transform me into an LPGA prospect. Golf is a lifelong sport and I should (pardon the pun) play the long game.

On the 6th hole I took my time, thought through my tips from Frank and got down to business. It helped that we’d rounded the halfway house and everyone was now relaxed with a beer, so I wasn’t bearing the burden of playing quickly. That pinky/forefinger thing was still feeling wonky but I did it anyway. I wasn’t bombing any of my fairway shots, but I did notice a slight increase in yardage when I applied some of my new techniques.

After the round, back in the pro shop, I ran into Frank. “How’d it go?” he asked. I honestly answered that it had taken me awhile to get into the groove of using his advice and that the results were mixed. “So, I guess I’ll book you for next week,” he replied with a grin. Point to Frank.

Whether you’re a veteran golfer, a professional, or a novice like me, may you face the new season with a mindset of constant improvement. I’ll be out there for sure, trying to ratchet down my handicap one lesson at a time.


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