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Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

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Like so many golfers playing this confounding game of ours each time I tee it up I am hoping to get better. We think that this time, this round, this shot is the moment we will find that perfectly grooved swing. This is finally the time we will get it.

Each season I hope that my game will measure up to my dreams and my play on the course would come close to those rounds I picture over and over in my mind.

Ah, but even the best laid plays of mice and men often go awry…and golfers too.

But this year I made a change. I pledged to myself that I would take action beyond hitting range buckets, reading tips in magazines and watching instructional videos. This was the year I would take a golf lesson.

Now, we’ve heard that phrase “go see your PGA pro” time after time but while I have thought about it for years I never acted on it. This year was going to be different.

I went about researching potential candidates that would help me on my journey to improve. Since I am a public course golfer and play at various courses I had no “home pro” to consider but many possibilities.

I had a few criteria which I considered critical. First the pro had to be someone willing to work on my swing and not try and get me to swing like Adam Scott or Tiger Woods. I am 62, a fourteen plus handicap, been hacking it around since my mid-twenties and there is no way this old dog could change ever hope to match that.

I also wanted a pro with some personality that didn’t take himself or me too seriously. I wanted this to be fun…productive fun, but fun. I never wanted it to feel like a chore.

And finally I wanted a good practice facility available for the lessons. I play at many courses with decent pros but the facilities are lacking in some instances. After checking out many possibilities I decided on Pat Sullivan, a PGA Professional and head pro atThe Links at Union Vale. The Links, as we call it is an upscale, semi-public course on a former farm in Dutchess County, New York and a great course with a nice practice facility.

It was Pat’s reputation as a solid teacher, genuine person and good practice facility that won me over and I couldn’t be happier with my choice.

Honestly, I was anxious about our first lesson as putting my ragged game and self-made swing on display isn’t tops on my golfer’s wish list. But after just a few swings Pat had me at ease and I knew immediately we were a good fit.

Now, I am not a neophyte when it comes to the golf swing. I have been a student of it for a long time and I have a wall full of books, old and new on all aspects of the swing. I have plenty of videos that I’ve watched and re-watched and of course, there’s YouTube and the Web, always full of swing tips and instruction.

So I showed up on that practice tee with a swing and grip that was decades in the making. I, like so many golfers think: I know what I should be doing and just need to do it. But it’s never that easy.

Since I started this game, the slice has been my downfall. And I mean the big slice. But over the years I have found ways to combat that banana ball. I have moved my feet, strengthened my grip, tried to swing inside to out, hit on the inside of the ball….etc, etc, all the things the books, videos, articles and Golf Channel talking heads have instructed us to do. But even on my best days, my slice would just be a fade. Left to right was my ball flight and some days it was more right than others.

So as I started to hit some balls in front of Pat and had explained my history to him and after just a few swings he made a change to my grip. I had always thought I had strengthened it correctly with my left had showing a few knuckles and my right matched up against it. But, ah-ha, this is where to eye of a professional pays off.

Pat pointed out that while I had moved my left hand over to a very strong position my right hand was still too much on top of the club. I hadn’t moved my right hand to a strong position. It was still weak and counteracting the strong left hand. And all this time, I thought I had made the correct changes.

After he had me rotate my right hand to the right (stronger) and actually weaken my already (too) strong left hand he asked me to focus on the “v’s” created by my two thumbs, to keep them parallel to each other and pointing towards my right shoulder.

Of course, any grip change is uncomfortable at first and difficult to adhere to but after a few swings my banana ball had morphed into something foreign to me: a draw. Yes, the ball was moving right to left.

A very subtle change, a movement of my right hand that maybe was less than half an inch had the ball traveling in an entire different direction.

And it took Pat barely five minutes to notice. I knew I had made a good choice right then.

My first lesson was a great success as I had made a positive change in ball striking, finally making better contact with the ball moving to the left rather than my weakly struck fades. Plus, Pat and I had hit it off as he is as big a golf junkie as I am.

He left me with some “homework” to do as now we have to reel that big left turning shot into something I can control and execute on command.

I couldn’t imagine my first lesson going any better and over the next few weeks I’ll be documenting my lessons (progress hopefully) as Pat and I move forward to try and improve my swing and game.

But after only one lesson, from a seasoned instructor I know I made the right choice by choosing Pat and investing my money in instruction rather than an overpriced driver.

You can teach an old dog new tricks.