“Why golf?” my friend inquired. I could have responded with “I’m 57, and golf seemed like a safer choice than hang-gliding or surfing (I don’t swim).” The simple answer, however, is that was the most logical choice. We’ll explore that choice, but first, a little personal background.
As a youngster I played first baseman on a little league baseball team. Since we lived in a small town in North Dakota where there wasn’t much else to do, it’s a good thing I enjoyed playing baseball. In high school (larger town), I played basketball, ran the mile in track, and bowled in both a school league and a men’s league. In Minnesota, I bowled in both a men’s and a coed league, and was an official score keeper for bowling tournaments. In Colorado, I played coed softball, pitched a lot of horseshoes, and spent many happy hours hiking in the mountains, accompanied by my best friend – my Nikon camera.
Now I’m in Seaside, a resort town on the north Oregon coast, where I own and operate a small gift shop. I spend about 80 hours per week in my store, so I needed an activity I could more easily adapt to my schedule. I tried walking on the beach, but although the beaches here are pretty, they really don’t excite me.
Golf was the logical choice because it provides me the walking exercise I wanted, and I can do it in the morning before I open up my shop. Unlike most team sports, golf can be enjoyed year-round (weather permitting). It also affords me the opportunity to indulge in one of my life-long passions – data collection and analysis.
I was in a sporting goods store last August, and noticed they had a price reduction on some of their golf clubs. I decided that my timing was fortuitous, purchasing a #1 driver, a 5 iron, and a putter. About a week later, on a business trip in Colorado, I had some time to kill near Grand Junction, and I decided to investigate the availability of local driving ranges.
My First Bucket of Balls
I opted for the large bucket. Developing muscle memory is all about repetition – I’ve found that to be the case in all of my sporting endeavors. With a ball on the tee, I grabbed my #1 driver, then took a practice swing. Seemed okay, so I moved closer and prepared to hit the ball for the first time. I had already decided not to use a full swing, so hit the ball with about 2/3 power. It went a little past the 100 yard market, most of that on the ground. The next two balls I topped, followed by a hook to the left. Ball number 5 was similar to #1. Ball 6 was an important lesson, though purely by accident – the ball traveled further in the air.
Addressing the Ball
After ball six, I held the club next to the ball, and noticed how the angle of the club face as compared to the vertical plan through the center of the ball would change slightly depending on whether the center of my body was aligned with that plane, or whether I was a little forward of behind the ball. Because I had been standing slightly forward, my first balls went more downward than they should have, and since the angle on the face of a #1 driver is not designed for hitting the ball very high in the first place, that was an important lesson learned.
Okay, here’s the thing – golf clubs get shorter as you progress from #1 to #9, and the head of a #1 driver is considerably larger than that of a 5 iron. On my #1 driver, you can hit the ball a half inch off center and still do okay – the same cannot be said of the irons. Also, with the driver, I had been hitting off a tee; the iron was used with the ball on the ground. I topped the first two balls, the third hitting the outer edge of the club and departing at about a 30 degree angle. Another tiny fraction of an inch and I might have hit one of my fellow golfers (though fortunately the driving range was sparsely populated in that early evening). Being mindful of the golfing exploits of a former vice-president, I thought to myself, “What am I doing wrong?” The answer was quick in coming – muscle memory. I realized that because I am a tall person, I would have to adjust my posture while swinging the 5 iron.
Keeping Your Eye On the Ball
The other thing I realized was that I would have to focus my attention on the ball while swinging, and to continue that focus until the ball left the tee. I noticed that focusing also seemed to help the ball go straighter – with not as many hooks or slices.
The Practice Green
I spent an hour on the practice green, attempting long putts and the shorter leftovers. My theory was that more often than not, I would have a lengthy putt to attempt, and in order to keep my score lower, would have to hope to limit myself to 2-putt holes. I discovered that on a putt of 25 to 30 feet, it wasn’t easy to get closer than 3 feet, and therefore avoided a somewhat testy 2nd putt. The pros make putting look easy, but I’ll bet that’s accomplished via many, many hours of practice.
Return to the Range
Before my second outing at a driving range, I obtained a #3 driver and a pitching wedge. I was actually hoping for a #9 iron, but the store I was at had no cheaper #9s available. The face angle is not much different, and anyway, I’m a beginner, not a finesse-shot golfer. My second bucket of balls went much better than the first, plus an increase in confidence about hitting the ball allowed me to increase the power of my swing. My distance with #1 driver edged pasted the 150 yard marker. I also noted the arcs of the balls with the various clubs, and also what happened if I hit the ball improperly, especially if I topped.
I hit several more buckets of balls during September before deciding it was time to try it for real. I also started wearing a glove on my left hand. I have mild arthritis in that hand. The glove improves my grip, which in turn helps the ball go straighter. We’ll get to that eventful day in Part 2 – first, let’s review what I learned about golf.
#1 – If you check around, you don’t necessarily need to spend a fortune on clubs.
#2 – Practice is important for muscle memory, which helps develop consistency.
#3 – You must address the ball properly.
#4 – You must maintain focused concentration on the ball as you swing.
#5 – When the ball hits the sweet spot on the #1 driver and goes over 200 yards (straight), that’s a golden memory.