I have a funny golf swing.
First, from address position, I “break” my wrists so the club points back, level with the ground, with my hands still in front of me. There, I stop and check that the clubface is aligned on the proper swing plane — steeper for a shorter club, like a wedge, flatter for longer clubs like a 3-wood or a driver.
Then I make the next move back, turning my shoulders away from the ball as far as I can while still maintaining that desideratum of a good swing, the straight left arm. That’s not very far these days, old and stiff and sore as I am. At that point, I stop again and check my position once more.
And at that point, all would look fairly normal, assuming that I have an elaborate pre-shot waggle, or warm-up move.
But no. From there, with my arms extended back and shoulders turned, having made two stops along the way, I give a little hitch and turn to the left, doing my best to forget about my arms and shoulders altogether, and I swing and hit the ball. And if it all works right, I have aligned my swing path so well that I can whang away and not even bother looking at the ball — it’s going to be right where my swing goes. I hit a pretty fair number of my shots awfully straight, if not terribly long these days. And I’ve got a nice trajectory and shot shape.
In this process, you see, I have eliminated two maddeningly troublesome variables: the backswing, which has tended to knock me off balance, pull my swing off line, loosen up my arms and wrists, make me floppy and sloppy, etc., etc.; and my eyes, which don’t work all that well anymore. The golf ball on the ground, at a distance of about five feet from my nose, lies just beyond range of my reading glasses and just inside the discomfort zone of my distance glasses.
At my last lesson, my instructor Chuck laughed and said, “Well, at least I can see exactly what you’re doing.”
Which is more than I can do.
THE MYSTIC ARCANA OF THE GOLF SWING ASIDE, all golf courses are different. Some you know well, and they appear to be a certain length. Others you play for the first time, and you read the yardage markers with disbelief, the holes seem so long. At these latter courses, there is nothing to do but accept the evidence of your instincts and play that way. You’ll never get to a par four in two shots. Just give up. If you can normally hit a 5-iron 150 yards, accept that it’s going to go 120 and live with it — until you play the course a lot, at which point your normal distances will return.
I cannot explain this, except to note that it affects even low-handicap amateurs, but not pros. One of those psychic wibbers the game throws at you.
Like the constantly shifting — and generally losing — battle between control of your long game (tees and fairways) and your short game (chipping, pitching, and putting near or on the greens). Sally and I have been playing a toughish local course 10 minutes from our house during the New England season. After some diligent work with Chuck on my swing, I found I could reach every green on Far Corner’s front nine in regulation (two shots for par fours, three for par fives, one — of course — for par threes). Mentally, I rubbed my hands together. Now I could do some real damage.
I did indeed reach every green, or at least the fringe, in regulation. And a distressing number of times took four strokes from that point to get into the hole. I had been accustomed to thinking myself a good chipper and putter. And now it was gone.
But still the game gives you blissful moments, no matter what you score. If you shoot your own best, if the ball comes sweetly off the clubface and flies beautifully in the air, if there are several shots you can remember that you hit just right, if you’ve rolled in a couple of good long putts, it puts a beatific smile on your face.
On our first day in Florida last week, I played nine holes at our familiar resort course in 47. That’s the best round I’ve had in a long time. My over-the-winter swing realization worked. I sank a 20-footer for par on the last hole. I lay on the bed in our room, reluctant even to move or open my eyes, and I could not stop smiling.
Greg Norman couldn’t have been any happier.