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Friday, October 17, 2014

Golf Is Not A Game of Perfect

Me (far right) and my instruction group and our very pregnant
instructor (center) at the LPGA 1-Day Clinic,
Druid Hills Golf Club, Atlanta
Several rounds ago something strange happened to my swing.  I started sending my balls off to the right and the left of my target, into clusters of trees rather than keeping them in the short grass where they belong.

It was a problem that just popped up, and I struggled with low-lying limbs and poorly placed tree trunks as I tried to get back to the fairway.

One of my playing partners, who's fairly experienced at navigating through trees, suggested after the round that I needed to develop an effective punch shot so I could get myself out of tree trouble.

I took the tree/punch shot problem to Tommy and probably made it more complicated that I needed to because, reasoning that it would be helpful to be able to go around as well as under trees, I requested instruction on a punch shot, a cut and a fade.  The punch shot didn't seem so difficult but managing a cut or a fade was challenging.  Tommy's advice?
I know you want to hit the ball like those girls you watched when you were covering the Open at Pinehurst but you need to work harder at hitting the ball straight and staying in the fairway and then you won't have to worry about going around the trees.
So he sent me back to the range to practice my punch shot and my 2nd fairway shot, which was where I was getting in trouble.  There's nothing more valuable than a swing coach who knows you well and can bring the mental and the physical components of your game into focus.

As I straightened out my fairway wood shots I backed off on my punch shot practice and started fretting about a more general and chronic problem, my failure to finish my swing.  I can make a near-perfect practice swing, but when I put a ball into the equation something very odd happens.  I stop my swing on impact.  Bonnie says I'm chopping at the ball.  Wes says I'm losing power and distance.  I already know the problem.  I needed a solution, so I decided to take the problem to an LPGA 1-Day Clinic and see what the LPGA instructors could do with me.

If you're a golfer who struggles with a persistent, stubborn, seemingly insurmountable fatal flaw, I highly recommend one of LPGA's 1-Day Clinics.  They gave my failure-to-finish-my-swing problem their full attention.  My very pregnant primary instructor seemed to take it on as a personal mission.  Eventually there were three of them, verbally coaching, videoing my incomplete swings, and adding trick after trick to my swing to strengthen my conscious awareness of my body and what it was (or in this case, wasn't) doing.
Me, again, finishing my swing on a chip.

They moved me from the tee to the fairway to bunkers to downhill-lie chips, forcing me again and again to think consciously about finishing my swing.  I was determined to get beyond this persistent, long-term, pesky, debilitating problem.  If a woman who's 7-months pregnant can finish her swing -- and she did so with impressive grace -- I decided that I could and I would, as well.

My most valuable take-away from the LPGA clinic was fairly simple.  When I finish my swing I hold my position for a slow 5-count, and during that count I assess where my club finished and where my body finished. With each swing I have a modest goal, assigned by my instructor at the LPGA clinic: get the club higher than my head and my belly button pointed toward the target.

As I practice I'm able to more consistently achieve that goal and I'm also getting more consistent results.  I'm a little bit longer off the tee now, and I'm doing a better job of staying in the fairway.  But guess what else has happened?  As I've concentrated on finishing my swing I've neglected alignment and putting and my short game has collapsed.

Last week I put five 3-putts on my card and I didn't get up and down a single time, absolutely essential for a short-hitter, little-old-lady golfer to stay in the game.  All the long, straight drives and fairway shots in the world don't do a girl any good if she can't put the ball in the cup.

Back to Tommy.  Tending to my golf game is endless, sometimes exhausting and often discouraging.  I do want to strike my ball like those girls I watched play their away around Pinehurst No. 2 last June, but so does Dame Laura Davies, who hasn't celebrated an LPGA Tour victory since 2001 but who's this week celebrating her election to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

I take comfort in knowing that I'm not alone, that at a very different level Beatriz Recari is struggling with the same problem, that the game of golf is fluid and constantly changing, that a shot I've executed with ease for weeks or months or years can disappear overnight, leaving me mystified and confused.