Golf in snowtime

I’m taking a few golf lessons. Yes, in February, in Upstate New York, where a heat wave = temps in the 20s.

But in some respects winter is a good time to take lessons, especially if you’re in my situation. I have an old swing habit I have to break once and for all: my left wrist bows at the top of my swing. Bowing one’s left wrist, it turns out, does unmentionable things to one’s club face angle. It also makes it very hard to get the club face back to square at impact. I manage to square the face — sometimes — via a little loop at the top of my swing, kind of like Jim Furyk’s — except unlike Jim Furyk’s mine isn’t particularly repeatable.

So my game had plateaued. I’d managed to whittle my handicap down from the mid-30s a few years ago to around 20, but then I got stuck. I wasn’t hitting enough fairways, wasn’t keeping my ball in play enough with my fairway woods and long irons. Yeah, I know, the easiest way to shave strokes off your score is by working on your short game. Or so goes the “conventional wisdom” whatever that is. Although you may have caught the Golf Magazine article last fall that mentioned than in a typical round, someone who shoots in the 90s wastes six strokes on what a Columbia Business School Professor (Mark Broadie, unofficial title: 4-handicap numbers geek) calls “awful shots” — meaning anything that “advances the ball less than 80 yards,” “results in a penalty,” or “forces a recovery shot.”

Yeah, I see me losing six strokes a round that way, easy.

The worst part, by far, is that I was getting frustrated, and it was taking some of the fun out of playing–and golfing is one of my favorite things to do.

Not good.

So I took some money out of savings and am letting Rob Horak (he used to be the pro at Blue Heron Hills; he’s now at Golftec) pull my swing apart to re-build some better fundamentals. And since it’s February in Rochester, I can’t be tempted to take any of it out on the course. Which is a good thing, because on the course I’d surely backslide. Better off standing in my living room swinging, over and over and over again, at nothing . . .

Time will tell if this is the fix I needed to straighten out my long game.

But in the meantime, I realized something about myself, and my brain, and the way I learn.

I don’t have any idea if I’m alone in this, but I have trouble mapping visuals correctly back to physical actions.

As one example. I’d forgotten this, but I struggled as a kid with learning my right hand from my left. What finally saved me was learning to write. When it was time for the Pledge of Allegiance, I imagined picking up a pencil.  Then I would know which was my right hand.

To this day, I bet if you showed me a photograph of someone with one hand raised, and asked me which hand it was, I’d be unable to answer until I had mentally turned myself around (so I’d be facing the same direction as the person in the photo) and “matched” the raised hand with mine. Writing hand, right. Non-writing hand, left.

And guess where I’ve gotten virtually all of my information in the past five years about what makes a “good golf swing”?

Pictures. The pros on television, pictorials in the golf magazines.

It’s comical, the results, now that I see what I did. I’d constructed a mental model that was basically backwards–the way my body executed part of my swing (the top of it) was backwards. And it worked, part of the time–because I’m a good enough athlete that I could compensate, with my hands, for the shenanigans in my swing–but it had that little goofiness built in, the laying off of the club and the little loop to bring it back that I couldn’t even feel, because I thought I was doing what I saw in the pictures.

So yeah. I’m weird.

Now, fingers crossed, I can smooth out at least a little of my weirdness before the courses open back up this spring . . .

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