Follow the process, they say. It'll pay off in the long run, they say.
It's tough to believe those words when I'm picking up another massive divot after another chunked iron shot falls short of the green. It's even tougher when the numbers on the scorecard begin to add up a little higher than I'm used to.
The term "new swing" might be the dumbest one in all of golf. It gained steam in the 2000s when Tiger Woods decided to deconstruct his swing in some masochistic chase for perfection in the face of boredom. Suddenly, every golfer on every range and every 19th hole had a "new swing" every month; they were working on their takeaway or their grip or staying on plane. The truth was their swing was basically the same, and over the course of a round their "new swing" turned into their "old swing."
What golfers, especially amateur golfers, don't do is find a "new swing." Instead, they fiddle and stick band-aids all over it until they look like a six-year-old that dove into a briar patch. The smart gofers might seek the help of a professional and pay for some lessons to find a few things to work on over the period of time.
Ah, the process. It's wonderful and frustrating at the same time. We marvel at professional golfers that step deep into the wilderness, lost for whatever reason: the yips, the pressure, off course distractions, injuries. They all force a player to reassess what they are doing or players double down, digging deeper because they know the answer is at the bottom of the hole. We watched clips of Jordan Spieth stand over his driver for 30 seconds on the driving range less than a year ago. It made me nervous just watching. He stuck with his process and is suddenly back to his old tricks. He was steadfast in his self belief. Rickie Fowler has also reentered the game after a few tough years and missing The Masters, he's popped up on leaderboards again, most recently at the CJ Cup in Las Vegas. Yes, it was an easy course where one player of the 72 shot over par (shoutout Charl Schwartzel). But he worked his way into contention, but just couldn't close the deal on Sunday. Rickie likely sees the entire CJ Cup experience as a positive one. He found himself playing high level golf and figured out how his body reacts to it. His 71 on Sunday wasn't what he hoped, but he's back on our radar because he stuck to his guns and the process. He's no longer in the wilderness. And don't even get me started on Rory (just go read Kyle Porter's piece).
In September I went back for a second lesson with Luke (here's what I wrote after my first lesson). He transformed my short game attitude and philosophy, giving me one simple thing to focus on - keeping my damn elbows jammed into my ribs and moving my torso. It's mechanical, but I am so much better around the greens. Not great. Just better.
My second lesson was all about the full swing. Luke asked a question that caught me off guard, he started by asking, "What would make this hour a success."
In my mind, I was thinking, "I'd like to leave here with ten extra yards off the tee and Morikawa-like iron accuracy." After I realized I hadn't rubbed a lantern, I told Luke I wanted two things, and just two things, to think about and work on. Some "condo-friendly" drills would be nice, too.
We proceeded to spend the next 60 minutes grinding on my takeaway and setting the club at the top (I come across the target line). My body felt awkward and I was engaging various muscles that typically had the day off when I played a round of golf.
I've been trying to practice when I can, but it's tough living in the city. A range can be as difficult to get to as a golf course. I try to do a bit of mirror work in the condo, usually when my wife isn't around...
Finding little glimpses of hope while in wandering through the darkness of the process is so important. The shots I hit with this technique are better than the old version; in the long run, I believe I'll be more consistent under pressure. My round this past weekend at Blue Hill CC was a lesson in continuing to grind and not allow the temptation of breaking my new habits interrupt the process. My front nine was dotted with shots that felt different, they would have made Luke nod his head in approval. No flipping hands at the bottom because I was set better at the top. Or so I think...
On the other hand, the back nine turned worse and worse with every hole. I had lost all sense of what my body was doing. The toll of a long walk and focusing on two specific feels in my swing caught up with me. A myriad of bad shots added up over the course of the nine holes: fat, thin, off the toe (thankfully nothing off the hosel...).
How do I measure my improvement right now? Is it score? Is it keeping track of the good shots? Do I fill in my scorecard with smiley faces?
One thing I have always tried to do when I think back on my round during the drive home, is to just find a few positives. For instance, this weekend I hit a few solid pitch shots off tight lies, but I had to hit those shots because my iron shots ended up 15 yards short of the green. During the process, the good comes from the bad. A par save comes from something odd happening somewhere on the tee box or fairway. The tough part is, the bad can compound a lot faster.
Trying to play for score, or at least keeping score, makes me feel a bit of pressure throughout the round. It forces me to focus and deal with the frustration of a streak of bogeys while trying to change the momentum of a round. Over time, trying to be mindful of what I'm shooting with a swing that feels like a folded lawn chair could force me to be more of a golfer. I can focus on what Luke has taught me while also learning, or relearning, how to just get the ball in the hole in as few strokes as possible when I'm around the green.
Needless to say, my short game is going to be under pressure for a while. Truthfully, that's a good thing. As I'm improving my swing, I have to sharpen other parts of my game in order to feel sane.
You won't find me at the bar talking about my "new swing" but you might find me using one of the mirrors to show someone my backswing.