Reaching my golf potential with Jim Venetos: Book One

So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.
George S. Patton, Jr. / Through a Glass, Darkly

Through the travail of the ages I have walked many golf courses, in many places with many results and I have appeared in many guises. I have been the confident golfer and the struggling golfer. I have been the teacher and the historian. I have been the golf buddy who made the starting time. I have been the son who picked up his father to take him to the course. I have been the single paired the 20 something threesome of college buddies. And, I often have been alone yet never lonely.

Oh I’ve been from Jerusalem to Rome
Now I’m floating through these rooms tonight alone
And looking back on everything
All I ever wanted was a home
Marc Cohn / Olana

Oh I have been from Torrey Pines to Desert Willow
Now I’m floating above those fairways alone
In looking back & looking forward
All I ever wanted was to strike the ball pure
Paul Cervantes

For some golf is like a fraternity. For some it’s an office without doors. For some it’s the oddest kind of pastime; a game misunderstood yet still enjoyed.

For me, golf is the state of feeling close to something yet so far away. It’s the quest for a destination that’s uncharted It’s like being in a dark and unfamiliar room looking for a lightswitch.

It has been ever thus, but…but now time feels so very fleeting.

Get busy living, or get busy dying. That’s Goddam right…
Red / The Shawshank Redemption

Figure this out, or take up an easier game.
Paul Cervantes

Figuring it out doesn’t mean shooting a certain score. It certainly doesn’t mean beating anyone or making money at golf. For me it means finding a haven of effectiveness. It means finding or creating a method of moving the golf club that brings the center of the club face into the ball.

What could be more simple? Still, as I am prone to say, simple is seldom easy.

After last year’s 6 month failed effort I came into this year with a searching state of mind. I kept asking myself, what should I do?

Here’s how I saw my options:

1) Reengage with self-discovery. Hogan dug it out of the Earth and so can I.

2) Look for help. Just because the last pro I worked with wasn’t able to help doesn’t mean you won’t succeed with another pro.

Self discovery is very cool. Others have done it, no doubt about it. But I think it’s a very tricky thing for one big reason.

In golf, feelings often lie.

Also, in trying to do one thing you can end up doing another and that other can really hurt..

For example: If I try to turn my lower body through impact my shoulders spin, carrying the club head over the top. The resulting pull-draw can be played but there’s something unsatisfying about it.

Does this result from my own fundamental lack of flexibility, the same one identified by my Titleist TPI evaluation from years back?

Maybe. Probably.

But, more essentially, it points out that an effort to do one thing can cause another thing that in turn causes a problem. Bummer.

As I was bouncing between the polar opposite perspectives of figure this out yourself or for God’s sake, get some help I happened upon a video at 4GEA.com, one of the older and crustier golf gear enthusiast websites.

The video was 1:13 long and showed a single swing in very slow motion.

My reply: I feel like 1:13 of my life was just stolen.

Later, I watched the video with the sound turned on.

Great idea; it was a big help to actually hear what this guy was saying before calling BS on him.

There’s a chance one (yeah, I know that’s a pretty small chance) of you knows that I edited a book by Tony Manzoni called, The Lost Fundamental. Manzoni opines that the golf swing ought have a single axis or pivot and that point is on the right handed player’s left side.

Now this idea compelled me but I was working on the book so I didn’t want to try it on my game while my head was into helping Manzoni write the book.

Still, long after the book was finished I tried it (especially with driver) and got some very encouraging results. Odd, though, I couldn’t find a way to incorporate the technique into shorter clubs.

I know, this seems like a digression but it’s not.

The Jim Venetos swing is the Tony Manzoni swing on steroids with a shot of spiced rum with a twist of lime.

A left sided swing promises a lot for me (and a lot of other players, too). It promises a quieter lower body. It promises a shorter back swing. Most of all, though, it promises more consistent, and more solid contact.

Ding!

I’ve now enjoyed three lessons with Jim Venetos. He says that after 8 lessons I’ll be on the Champions Tour (Sorry, Jim…couldn’t resist the hyperbole) but even if it takes 10 or 15 I’ll be overjoyed. We’re also having an informal  contest to see who can talk more in the course of 90 minutes and so far we’re in a dead heat. At any given minute he may be saying, Yeah, man, I could see you fighting for stillness there…So, good contact but shoulders were a little open…That was a little fat so what did that tell you?

I can usually heard to be muttering a series of expletives and groans punctuated by the (very) occasional exultation of, I can do this!

The I can do this sound comes after I have actually achieved a small dose of stillness and an attendant sense of my weight staying left throughout the swing. It’s is so far a fleeting feeling that comes and goes. When it comes it feels solid, inevitable and obvious and the strike is heavy and solid.

When the feeling is missing I usually find myself cheating stillness by starting with my weight left but allowing it (and the rest of me) to drift right as the club moves back.

Horrors.

There will come a point where you realize you could have kept your weight still right away, in the first lesson.
Jim Venetos

No, I am not there yet.

Still, the promise of all this is a swing I can take with me into the rest of my 50s, into my 60s and beyond. All promises rely on faith and golf is a game that often seems designed to test our faith.

In Reaching my golf potential with Jim Venetos: Book Two I’ll talk more about my quest and how Jim is doing as my sherpa. What I am starting to feel is a confidence in the method that is very settling. The question remains whether I can (can, as in have the ability) to fully mesh the method with my brain and body. In the law, you take the plaintiff as you find him. In golf, you take the player as you find him. I am who I am.

Without jumping ahead to answer that question in the affirmative, I will say that I intend to continue to strive toward stillness. I hope you’ll follow my journey.

Reaching my golf potential with Jim Venetos: Book One

Eureka! I have found it! A look the fleeting nature of the Aha-Moment in golf

Everyone who has ever played golf has experienced his share of Eureka moments. You know…when some little, seemingly insignificant move or feeling leads to a streak of ball striking that would make Hogan envious. The question is what makes the feeling (and the glorious results) go away?

Was it really just a feeling; some phantom perception the brain tricks the player into believing is real?

Or, was the feeling genuine but merely based upon a movement, or position, that could not be sustained over time?

Or, speaking of time, was the good play the result of an increased yet transitory sensitivity to rhythm? If it’s this, it’s all the more surprising that it goes away. Once we learn the meter and rhythm of a dance step, we’ve usually got it for good.

Beyond these questions, is whether the same discovery can come back and work more than once?

Fortunately, there are people who know a lot more about the golf swing than I do and are far better able to wrestle with these questions. Two of them are PGA professionals I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Tony Manzoni is the author of The Lost Fundamental (www.thelostfundamental.com) and Kathy Cho (www.kathychogolf.com) is working on a book called, From the Hole to the Tee, an instructional book especially for children and the adults who teach them.

Tony was a tour player and is also one of the founders of Callaway Golf. For the last 40 years, he has been one of the most sought after teaching professionals in the California Desert. He has also coached the College of the Desert golf team for the last 25 years, leading them to dozens of league championships.

Kathy is both a Class A PGA and LPGA professional. She has been the head coach of Pasadena’s First Tee program at the city’s legendary Brookside Golf course for the last five years. She has been teaching the game she loves since 2003.

For Kathy, “The Eureka moment is a beautiful thing. It’s just the game of golf. Part of golf’s challenge is that it can be so frustrating.” The question for Kathy is how the player deals with frustration when it comes. She says, “Relax, and use quality practice to rebuild your confidence. We’re all looking to stay in the zone when we get there, but tension and frustration are the enemy,” Kathy warns. “The player who has lost his way needs to be positive, patient and be ready to play well again.

One point Kathy made I should have anticipated but didn’t, was perhaps the most obvious: Take a lesson. Your local PGA pro may be able to recognize what has gone wrong with your swing and will save the player a great deal of frustration, let alone time.

Kathy also thinks it’s a good idea to have a check list of sorts that details what was going on when the player was in the zone as well as when he lost his swing. Kathy says, “Ask yourself if you’re feeling OK? Have you been staying healthy? Are you practicing good course management or have you been playing golf the hard way?”

Kathy wants her students to think about the basics. “The golf swing has too many parts for us to think about everything that’s happening. Also, it’s easy to try too hard and to over swing when our game takes a bad turn.” Instead, Kathy advises players to, “Think about the basics like good balance, keeping a steady pace; that includes keeping control of your breathing.”

Few in golf have accomplished what Tony Manzoni has accomplished during his storied career. He has enjoyed success as a player and an entrepreneur. Tony’s also given back to golf with his long and impressive tenure as the Director of College of the Desert’s Golf Management Program and as a teaching professional. Golf is Tony’s game, but even someone of his stature can occasionally be made humble by this game.

“Everyone who has played golf for a good number of years has shared this common experience, or Eureka moment; when a swing idea, or maybe a thought from the past, surfaces and all of a sudden we are hitting the ball like we always dreamed we could. Sometimes it happens on the driving range or when you are out playing, and generally none of your buddies are around to witness this state of Hoganism. You can’t wait to utter the forbidden phrase, I’ve got it, to anyone in sight.”

“I’ve had those moments when the game seemed so easy I’d start fantasizing about winning the next tournament. I could hardly sleep at night anxiously waiting for daybreak to hit the links and show the world the new me. Then, like a puff of smoke the spell is broken. No matter how hard a player tries to re-create yesterday’s results nothing works. Then you’re left to wonder: how can the golf god’s be so cruel?”

“I have seen grown men weep over this frustrating dilemma; it`s like God has let them see golf heaven for just a moment and then shut the door. I’ve had students come to me and say, Coach, I hit it so good yesterday but today I stunk up the place, what can I do?”

“My answer may be difficult to swallow. Golf is a game of feel, not a game of purposely doing something. When you feel like it’s going to be good prior to doing it, the magic happens. When you are trying to make it happen, good luck. It is far easier to blueprint the feel of a mistake than to anticipate perfection. Pressure is the manifestation of doubt. If we can, we feel the positive outcome beforehand; pressure or doubt does not exist. When the Eureka moment happens enjoy and remember the feeling. It is internal and not meant to be talked about or displayed.”

I have to admit these two pros may see things a bit more clearly than I can. Me? I’ve had my share of Eureka moments, but I now work hard to ignore them. I try to work ceaselessly and ploddingly on what I believe to be fundamental, but that’s not always easy. Still, this practice keeps me from getting too worked up over something that probably won’t stick around.

It is difficult to resist telling our golf buddies about our latest discovery that has us reconsidering our career choice and dreaming of a trip to Q School. As I said, that’s a lesson that took me many years to learn. It will always be hard for our drive to excel to coexist with the wisdom of being reasonable when it comes to expectations about how well we play. It’s often more difficult to be fair to ourselves than it is to be fair to others.

With any luck, my next Eureka moment is coming along soon; but I won’t be telling anyone about it when it arrives!

Eureka! I have found it! A look the fleeting nature of the Aha-Moment in golf

Golf’s technogurus & losing the elegance of self discovery

When Jon Fitzgerald reached the age of 40 he embarked on an all-too common quest; to make his golf game as good as possible. His film, The Back Nine, chronicles his project. The story starts with a brief personal history of Fitzgerald, his life with his father and stepfather, and a look back at his youthful athleticism.

Like most of us, Fitzgerald has to keep a lot of plates spinning in his life. He has a wife, a job and, at the start of the film, one child. I was interested to see what Fitzgerlad’s effort at the age of 40 would look like compared to mine at nearly 50.

It was quite impressive if at the same time more than a little dismaying.

Fitzgerald started out, as do so many golfers (myself included) by seeking the help of a professional. Now, seeing a golf teacher is far from odd, but what Fitzgerald did went far beyond working with a pro. Rather than just a golf teacher, Fitzgerald started out with a visit to a Yoga/Golf guru in Arizona. She then referred him to a strength coach, who referred him to a swing coach, who referred him to a guy who uses a battery of imaging devices, including a vest with embedded sensors, that would allow Fitzgerald to have his progress monitored via the internet.

There is a part of me who envies the resources Fitzgerald employed, but there’s a bigger part of me who finds it all rather sad. Every player thinks he should be better. They think they should hit it further, straighter, and they should make more putts than they do. There’s something about the attempted blending of golf and technology that suggests to average players that they really can be better if they have all of the information they need. Of course, this is nothing new. Ben Hogan started a good deal of the madness with his now ubiquitous references to pronation and supination in his classic, Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.

I can’t prove it but my guess is that Hogan, with his undeniably modest education, didn’t know what either word meant until his co-writer, Herbert Warren Wind, told Hogan what they meant. I also can’t prove that Hogan’s use of those two words caused far more confusion than they did understanding over the last few decades. But, they surely have caused a lot of confusion.

Wrapped up in nearly every technological breakthrough in golf instruction is a basic fallacy; that knowing will always make you better. Knowing begs the question of knowing what? In Fitzgerald’s case (and mine, too) the most profound if sobering knowledge is that we’ll never be all that good. We lack the basic ability to be very much better than we are. Fitzgerald’s swing at the end of the films looks pretty much like his swing at the start. He has rather a notchy backswing and can’t quite clear his hips coming through impact. I have the same problems and lots of others.

Do I seem pessimistic? Or, do I seem envious?

No matter what I am I will admit some players get better, I’ll even allow they get better because of solid instruction. But it seems to me there’s a difference between one on one instruction and the technological phalanx Fitzgerald subjected himself to. Players who get better in golf usually do it through a series of hard-won self discoveries. The purveyors of technogolf would have us believe that they know what we might never discover on our own. Fitzgerald discovers he needs orthotics since his left foot pronates (there’s that word again).

Really?

I’m glad some great players with somewhat unusual swings didn’t live in an era when the technogurus could have screwed them up. Honestly, what would these guys have done with Lee Trevino’s self-discovered practice of aiming left while swinging right? If he were young enough, he would have probably listened to them, adjusted his stance so that it looked and measured parallel to his intended line of flight. They would have also shown him that his head dropped 6″ from address to impact and they would have fixed that, too.

And, Lee Trevino would have vanished into golf’s abyss, never to be seen again.

For already accomplished players technogurus may not do too much harm, then again maybe they do. At age 35, Tiger Woods is rebuilding his swing for the third time. I am certain that each time a technoguro convinced him, arguably the best player ever to play golf, that technology proved that his swing needed a substantive change.

Of course, no swing stays the same, and even golf’s old timers sought help in formal and some not so formal ways. But, it’s my contention that one of the reasons contemporary players can fall so fast and so far is from their growing reliance on the certitude technogurus offer. Think of the declines of Chris Riley, Ty Tryon and David Gossett to name only three. Did their games really decline or were they let down by the relentless analysis of technogurus?

At UCLA’s Royce Hall there is a quote from Plato that goes something like this: Education is learning to use the tools which the race has found to be indispensable. The tools championed by the technogurus are genuinely impressive but whether they are indispensable, or even truly helpful, to players is far from certain.

I’m busy writing an golf book for women. In it, I use this phrase: You will also never master this game. You will, however, go from discovery to discovery for the rest of your life.

Golf is a solitary game of self discovery. The congregation of golf’s technogurus may honestly believe in what they do. But, that’s not really what matters here. What matters is that the elegance of self discovery remains at the heart of golf.

Golf’s technogurus & losing the elegance of self discovery