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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Gradually Things Got Worse: Rory and Me

Greg used to tell me that I had 14 weapons in my bag, and if one wouldn't do the job there was always another one that could and would.

But over the past few months, several of my weapons have gradually become less effective than they once were, and some of those shots that were once reliable and predictable have turned downright nasty.

I blamed: (1) my knees, which are old and sometimes don't like it when I make them pivot; (2) my hips, which are also old and also don't pivot very well and sometimes hurt even when I'm not making them pivot; (3) the weather, which has been, first, cold and dry and then warm and then wet and hot; (4) my right hand, which has been having some trouble holding on to the club because -- well, you get the idea.  I blamed everything I could think of to blame, outside myself.


I tried to follow Greg's advice and increasingly turned away from my 6 or 7 iron, and pulling out my 4 hybrid to move the ball 100 yards or so.  We all know that's too much club for that distance -- it's just not the right tool for the job -- so I adjusted by choking down on the hybrid and shortening my swing; and then with that adjustment, I seemly forgot how to get the full capacity out of the hybrid when I needed it.  In other words, gradually things got worse and I eventually make so many accommodations and tweaks to my game that I ended up with a mess.

I asked Beast Miller what I should do and she told me to keep my head down and stop dancing around after I hit the ball.

I asked Barb what to do and she told me to find an instructor who uses videotape so I could actually see my swing.  You'd be horrified if you could see what you're doing, she told me.

I offered to let her video my swing with my iPhone and she told me neither of us would know what to do with what we saw.  You need somebody who knows what they're doing, she pronounced, shaking her head sadly.  That helped a lot.

I considered cashing in my annuity and going to golf school, but ruled that out as an option when I fast-forwarded to the moment when I would have to go live with one of my kids or go to a shelter because I'd spent my money on improving my golf game.

Then Rory McIlroy shot 79 in the opening round at Muirfield, sent a putt off the green and into a bunker, had what should have been an easy chip onto the green roll back to his feet, and couldn't seem to play his way out of his months-long slump.

I felt so less alone.  Rory's situation reminds me that when we're out there on the course we're dealing with an invisible dimension of the game that's locked inside our heads.  We talk about the mental side of golf, but we don't often take that side apart and have a look at it.

I decided to spend some time with my original instructor and good friend, Tommy.  We talked about things.  I showed him my most recent scorecard.  He tossed it in the trash.  I shook my 6 iron at him.  He challenged me.

When are you playing again with Wes? he asked.

Three weeks, I told him.

Tommy knows that my golf matches with Wes are loaded with a thickly textured tangle of emotions.  I love playing golf with my son.  I love beating my son at golf.  I secretly love it when he beats me, but only if it's by a few strokes.

But a round of golf with Wes is so much more than a round of golf.  I feel great pressure to perform well when I play golf with Wes.  I'm afraid he's secretly monitoring my golf performance and using it as a barometer of my aging.  When will he suggest that maybe I'm too old to play golf, or travel to Central America and ride around on a public bus with a back pack, or live independently?  I need to keep my handicap down and keep beating him.  It's my edge against the inevitable.  Tommy knows these things.

So Tommy threw down a couple of range balls, pointed to my 6 iron, and said, Hit it.  I hit it.  Not exactly. I hit the ground behind it.  I hurt my hand, again.  I didn't hit the ball.

The ball, not the ground, Tommy reminded me of the obvious.  Put Wes's face on that ball and hit it.  Spank it. Take your club to the target. Don't think about your arthritis.  Think about beating Wes.  Think about hitting the ball and taking your club to the target.  Your body will follow.

I followed directions.  I looked at the ball and saw Wes's face, smiling at me, grinning at me, challenging me.  I hit the ball and took the club to the target.  The ball and my body followed the club. I did not hit the ground.  I made a divot in front of the ball, rather than behind it.

It took months for my game to get into it's current state of disrepair.  Rory's been struggling with his game for months as well.  One trip to the shrink or one session with the instructor who knows my insides as well as my outside isn't going to reverse those months of mental deterioration.  I think I'll have to play my way out of my current slump the same way I played myself into it, one shot at a time, one round at a time.

But I also know that in 3 weeks I will tee off with Wes.  I want to be ready.