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Learning a lesson on the links

June 19, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer

I am not Tiger Woods.

No, I'm not even the Tiger Woods who looked pretty horrible this weekend at the U.S. Open.

For my first task I wanted to tackle in this series o' fun, I thought I'd go to the links and learn the correct way to swing the sticks.

Watching golf on TV, it looks so simple that sometimes I even wonder how these guys can make the same mistakes over and over. Isn't the basic premise to just take a club and hit the ball as straight as you can and try to knock it in a little hole?

I always wondered why a professional golfer couldn't hit the ball straight on every swing. You often see those guys pulling it to the left, shanking it to the right, knocking it into the sand trap or into the drink. But why?

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Well, after a couple lessons I realized golf isn't as easy as it looks.

I took two lessons with two golf pros, one at the Del Rio County Club in Brawley and the other at the Barbara Worth Golf Resort near Holtville. I really don't want to say one or the other was better for me because both were totally different situations.

The first came June 10, which was 8:30 a.m. on a Sunday. I think that in itself worked against me because I'm not really a morning person.

I remember calling to the golf shop at Del Rio to set up something and the guy asking me if I'd played golf before. I said, "no." Then he said, "Oh, OK, so you're a beginner." I remember kind of flinching a bit. There's just something about the term "beginner" that to me is kind of disparaging. I really prefer "novice."

Anyway, I headed out to Del Rio and met Ryan Maring, a 26-year-old golf pro who's been teaching for about 4 1/2 years. One of the first things out of his mouth was, "Oh, so you're a beginner, huh?" I thought to myself, "No genius, I'm a novice." But in reality I said, "Well, let's just say I have no bad habits."

To my surprise he said that was a good thing. He said most people start playing golf and play for about two years before realizing they need lessons. By that time they've developed enough bad habits to ruin much chance of correcting them.

The first thing he taught me was the correct grip. He said if anything, correct grip is the most important aspect of the game.

First, you have to place the golf club head down on the ground as if you were setting up to hit a ball. Release your right hand so that only your left hand is holding the grip and adjust the club so the grip isn't in your palms but in your fingers.

Adjust your left hand so your thumb is heading straight down the grip. He said there's supposed to be a V where the thumb and finger meet. That angle should be pointing to your right shoulder. He said you pretty much just throw your right hand on there for the ride, but make sure your right thumb isn't running straight down the club but is pointed slightly toward your right shoulder.

After "mastering" the correct way to hold that bad boy, I was ready to grip it and rip it. Not so fast, though. I still needed to learn to swing the stick. I had an idea of how to swing it because I'd seen enough golf on TV that it kinda rubbed off.

I got my backswing down pretty good. It was following through with which I needed a little help. My teacher said following through is pretty important. It's swinging all the way through with your head and right shoulder pointed in the direction of your target that will provide distance and keep the ball straight.

After a whole bunch of technical babble I was ready to take at it. Ryan gave me a target. He said just go for the 100-yard marker.

I thought to myself, "100 yards? Dude, watch me send this thing about 250."

So I was all set. I wound up with my backswing, came through and ripped that thing. As I looked in the distance for my ball, all I heard was, "That's OK, that's OK. A lot of people miss on their first swing. Try it again."

So I tried it again and again the whiff. Apparently when you swing a club your body's mechanics want to pull you back a few inches and in golf a few inches back means a swing and a miss.

It wasn't until my third swing that I actually made contact, but the ball went about 50 yards to the right. That ended up being my problem the whole lesson. I kept shanking it to the right.

It wasn't until my second lesson that I actually fixed that problem. According to Barbara Worth golf pro John Hildreth, what I kept doing was opening the face of the club, which pretty much meant the face of the club kept turning to the right. Therefore, I wasn't hitting the ball on the club's sweet spot.

After working on rotating the club to the left during my swing for awhile, I started connecting and knocking the ball a little straighter. I still had the same problem, but at least I knew how to correct it.

I think having two instructors worked out best for me. Ryan taught me the basics and the most important things I needed to know and John fine-tuned my game.

If there's one thing that really stuck with me, though, it was something Ryan said to me when I was done with my lesson. He said I shouldn't take golf seriously because if I do, I'll end up hating it.

I hated it for awhile when I was out there, but I guess it ain't so bad after all. I'm actually looking forward to going back on the links and swinging the sticks some more.

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