I've made a commitment this winter to hitting golf balls once a week in a simulator. Between putting on my carpet, hitting chip shots around my apartment (with soft golf balls), and these weekly range session, I think I should hit the ground running in the spring when the snow melts and the grass grows.
Simulators are unlike outdoor driving ranges for many reasons. Obviously, not seeing the ball fly through the air is one. For some folks, their outdoor range has grass, which provides a different set of feedback, especially when practicing certain things. Unless you fork over some cash for an outdoor launch monitor, an outdoor session is "data-less." There is no club head speed or ball speed or smash factor. You're basing your distances off of flags in the distance and a map (if you're lucky) slapped on the side of your range bay. Outside, the feedback is based on ball flight, where you struck the ball on the face of the club, and maybe a video if you set-up your phone.
My simulator experience is probably like everyone else's indoor golf experience: There's no one around; I'm alone and able to do drills that might look ridiculous. I'm less vain in the simulator, except when I hit a shank and the ball's tracker zips off to the right of the screen just as someone walks past my bay . At an outdoor range there's a prospective audience. Golfers are packed in on each other, watching. Judging.
There's a concept in writing called the "marathon middle." It's the phase of writing a book when the excitement of starting the project has waned, the end is nowhere in sight, and the reason you started at all is slowly slipping through your fingers.
This marathon middle occurs in a practice session, too. Upon arrival at your bay, indoors or outdoors, there is an excitement. Goals and processes have been put into place. The latest podcast or book chapter or IG reel has spun through your head and you're ready to put into action all that you've been thinking about since the last time you played. You go through your stretching routine - the one you found on Twitter yesterday - and slowly warm up your body and move onto some small swings.
Next, you begin your first drill. You tuck something under your arms or you line up alignment sticks at your feet, or you place something behind you to groove your swing path so it's just perfect. You are dialed in. A golfing machine.
You begin hitting balls in slow motion, setting your club and body in the perfect positions, your body fighting back a bit because it doesn't feel normal. Actually, some of these positions kind of hurt. But you press on, telling yourself that pain is just weakness leaving the body (instead, it's probably your body telling you that you can't swing like Adam Scott).
There's a moment where you feel like you're starting to get it. The ball is compressing on the sweet spot of the iron. These half swings at half speed are giving you hope for the future. No more "aim for the center of green" nonsense. You'll take dead aim and make six birdies a round this summer.
You check your watch. It's been about 10 minutes, but it feels like you've been grinding for hours.
You feel ready for a full swing, just to see how it feels. You make the swing and it feels wonderful. The ball actually flies off the face lower and faster and flies farther. It sails over your target, you check to make sure you have the right club. Yep, it's an 8-iron, but it went as far as your 7-iron usually does.
The 8-iron drags another ball across the mat, pulls back, and lashes through the ball again. This time, it's a little off the toe and doesn't go anywhere near the target.
That's the old swing, you say to yourself, like it's from 10 years ago, not 10 minutes.
Another ball finds it's way into your set-up, you take another full swing, another toe strike. Now you're just wanting to hit a good one before going back to the drill. It takes four more swings.
Finally, you return to the drill. Slow motion, half swings - feel the ball on the club face, compress it, keep those hands forward (you tend to flip at impact...a last minute gasp to save that pesky early extension...you should probably do a little more weight lifting). Each half swing feels more stilted, your brain is screaming at you to use these precious golfs balls for full swings.
"Don't you remember that one amazing 8-iron you hit? Don't you want to feel that again," the golfing devil (we'll call him... Phil?) says perched on your shoulder.
This is the marathon middle of a range session.
It started off with such promise. You were going to stick to the process and not worry about hitting great shots during a range session. You were going to grind, to put in the work that would leave you walking off the golf course in the summer with personal best rounds over and over and again - your pockets lined with cash from another nassau victory.
It's just so difficult, though. You're running out of golf balls and time and self-esteem. Doubt creeps in and you're not even sure if the drill you're working on is the perfect one. Or - even worse - it could be ruining your swing. Which in turn would ruin your summer. Which, ultimately, would ruin your life.
The devil pops back up on your shoulder, "Don't you know golf is all about hitting bombs now. Stop hitting mid-irons and pull out that driver. I bet you can't reach 160 ball speed, you wimp."
The marathon middle has left endless numbers of writer mired in their own self-doubt, slipping drafts into a drawer or leaving them sitting in a folder on their computer. Ultimately, putting an end to the process.
In golf, the range session, or even a long term improvement plan, has a marathon middle. It causes many of us to rethink a plan (which can be fine) or neglect it totally because we don't think it's working or we'd rather try another method.
I am no expert in self- improvement or range sessions, but I do have a draft of a novel stuffed away among my t-shirts.
It's in the middle where we figure out what we need and want. We look down at our compass and determine that we are going in the right direction and press on. Even when it might feel like we're lost or like there must be an easier way.
If you find yourself in the middle of a range session somewhat frustrated or annoyed, it's more likely that you're doing something right and you're improving, especially if you're working on a specific drill.
Keep going because all the marathon middle is doing is proving you've moved away from the starting line, which is a good thing. Remind yourself of why you started in the first place, whatever you personal reason, and then push through to reach the end feeling satisfied, flicking that golfing devil off your shoulder.