There are golf lessons, and then there are golf lessons.
More than a few years ago, in the days of persimmon woods, and when the Ping Anser was high-end technology, I took my first golf lesson. To be accurate, it was a group golf lesson, but still, it was my first lesson.
I lived in Cookeville, Tennessee, and the lesson was with Bobby Nichols, owner and golf pro at Ironwood Golf Course. Bobby and I became friends over the years. [For the record- this is not the Bobby Nichols who won the PGA Championship in 1964, although they both fought confusion of being professional golfers with the same name all their lives]. But at that point, we were acquaintances only.
So here I was, on the driving range with Bobby and 10 or so others there for the lesson. Even now, I distinctly remember being one of the better golfers in the group; but I also remember a few of my fellow lesson-takers being confused as to which end of the club they were supposed to hold, so the bar was kind of low.
That didn’t matter to me. I had unlimited range balls to hit and an opportunity to work on things, plus an inexpensive lesson with a golf pro.
Bobby mentioned it looked like I had played some golf, and therefore he wouldn’t need to spend much time with me. After some tweaks to my grip, posture, stance, alignment, take-away and tempo, ball position, and set-up, he said I’m in good shape. I hit a few shots. The tweaks had not improved my ball-striking quite like I was expecting. Line drives, a couple of shanks, then a pull hook followed by a push slice, etc.
The pro did what golf pros do, which was to encourage and say it will get worse until it gets better, and suggested a playing lesson sometime soon. I agreed, so we set it up.
I scheduled the lesson for a weekday morning so I could play nine holes when it’s not crowded, and get back to work after lunch. We -meaning I- played a few holes, and it was clear the old habits had crept back in, so he “re-tweaked” my grip, stance, etc. The re-tweaks re-introduced the line drives, pull hooks, and shanks to return.
After a few not-so-great shots, I slammed the club down in frustration. I may have said a few things, too.
I’ve taken lessons since then. With pros at a course, with golf instructors at indoor ranges, with scratch golfers who are good enough to give me tips on certain aspects. All have helped. But at that moment, 25 or so years ago, Bobby Nichols gave me the best lesson I’ve ever received, and the one that over the years has (mostly) stuck:
“You aren’t good enough to get that mad.”
It was a matter-of-fact comment. As an uncle might comment to his nephew on the range. He added: “Unless you’re willing to practice 8-10 hours a week pretty much for the rest of your life, you’re not going to be a great golfer. So enjoy it, don’t get upset by it.”
All of us can remember the lesson or lessons that really have made a difference in our games. Many-maybe most- times, they are technical in nature. Possibly, that tweak to your grip really did help. Maybe it was closing your stance and flaring your front foot.
In my case, it was a lesson in attitude. I was playing competitive softball 25 years ago. We played almost every weekend, plus twice a week. I played pickup basketball one night a week, and it hadn’t been that long before that I had played AAU basketball after college. Golf was another opportunity to be competitive in a different sport. Hearing, “…unless you’re willing to practice 8-10 hours a week…” was a wake-up call: I would always be an average recreational golfer, so I should enjoy being one.
THE BALANCING ACT
I still take lessons. I still go to the range- in fact, I go to the range now more than I ever have. I enjoy hitting balls and working on drills and technique. I appreciate the challenge of getting better, and, I’m a better golfer now than I’ve ever been. I’m proof that “Growing older, golfing better” is not an oxymoron. The golfer’s omnipresent balancing act of practicing and getting better, vs. playing and enjoying, will always be there for me. But I look at it as a win-win, regardless of which I choose today.
I know that, sooner or later, and most probably sooner, I will start to noticeably get worse. But now, and later, I hope to remember Bobby’s lesson:
“You aren’t good enough to get that mad.”
Time to go. I’m heading out to the range.
Until next time, Thanks for reading, and Enjoy SHOOTING YOUR AGE!