Short game instructors are my Instagram models. I scroll through my feed watching James Ridyard and James Oh hit nippy wedges as I wipe the drool from the corner of my mouth hoping to find the secret to what makes it look so easy. Is it their tempo? Set-up? Grip? Do I need to change my name to “James”? Is it just God-given talent that I somehow didn’t receive? I’ll double tap to like (maybe they’ll notice me…) or sometimes I’ll be so bold as to write a comment.
Turns out I like them more than they like me.
I’ll watch players, amateur and professional, hit wedges from tight lies, deep lies, sandy lies. I’ll study their wrist action and try to mimic it. I’ll close the app thinking I’ve got it figured out. I’ll go to a chipping green before a round and hit a couple good chips and pitches and think I’ve self-diagnosed my problem; this is the day I won’t lose a single shot around the greens, I declare inside my head.
Alas, after a few chucked and skulled wedges, I end up back on the couch scrolling through IG looking for more tips or tricks to turn those bogeys and double bogeys into pars.
Last month I finally took the leap and booked an in person lesson for the first time in probably ten years. With the boom in golf, golf lessons are hard to come by these days, some of the more popular local instructors are booked out for a month, some are even booked 3-4 months out. It would be easier to find a new kidney than to have a golf lesson with quality golf instructor.
The lesson was an eye-opening experience. For years I’ve just watched clips online, grabbed bits and pieces to help put some band-aids on my swing while using the lessons from 10 years ago to try and fix present day issues. My swing had slowly turned into a wildebeest, a rather wild looking thing that looked put together from different philosophies and years of bad habits that friends might try to fix.
I didn’t realize how badly I’d gone astray until this winter when I hit balls on a simulator that had cameras set-up.
After every shot, a replay of my swing would automatically pop-up on the TV screen and I’d watch in horror as my club swept around my body. I knew things were wrong and I thought I could fix them. When I did try to self-soothe, I got a bit more off and my game dipped this spring.
Fast-forward to my lesson. I was excited to learn something in real-time. No screens or passive viewing. Aside from watching Masterclass videos and the aforementioned Instagram tutorials, I hadn’t been a student in quite a while; to have someone to talk with in person was actually kind of wild. Every golfer has a whirling interior monologue about their golf game, and I spun mine around in my head the days leading up to the lesson, trying to think how I might boil down all my thoughts into a few concise, smart sounding questions that would impress my instructor and unlock the key to shooting great scores and help me qualify for amateur events and take my friend’s money in matches.
The lesson started with a simple enough question, delivered in an Australian accent by my new golf instructor: “Tell me a little bit about your game and what you’d like to work on.”
I spewed out a bunch of nonsense that read like a bad Tinder bio. “I hit it pretty well tee to green. My misses tend to be looping draws off the toe or right pushes. But I suck around the greens.”
When the inner-monolgue escapes the mind and become dialogue, the words sound desperate and disjointed. I felt like a blubbering fool in the middle of an out of body experience. But whatever I said, my bucket-hat wearing, instructor must have seen the trepidation in my eyes when I started talking about the short game. He pressed me, “What kind of shots do you struggle with.”
I had to fight to urge to blurt out All of them!
While that’s kind of true, I am an okay putter and a good bunker player, so I said “chipping and pitching.”
He continued to press the issue and asked what I struggle with. I told him I hit all kinds of horrific looking shots and pulled out my wedge to show him my strike pattern. I’ve basically worn out the toe of my sand wedge, the grooves are just as sharp as the day I bought them in October 2019.
That was all he needed to hear. We headed out to the practice green with a bucket of balls and he asked me what kind of shot around the green would give me trouble.
Again, I fought the urge to say All of them!
I picked a spot where I’d have to hit over a bunker to a skinny part of the green (this place had an awesome short game area. A day skulling wedges there actually would be kinda fun!). He asked me to hit some shots, but before that he asked me to talk him through my thought process.
Well, golly, my thought process is, Let’s just get this in the air and avoid making a double bogey. But that wouldn’t be any good, so I babbled my way through what I try to think about as I’m getting into a shot. The negative thoughts tend to hold back any thinking about where I would want to land a shot or how high I would want to hit a shot. That discussion doesn’t happen because I don’t feel capable of pulling off any shot I try to imagine or verbalize.
It’s incredible how much of golf is played inside our own minds. We think about it when we’re not playing golf. We reflect on past rounds and dream about future rounds. We hear small tips and tricks nearly every day that might help solve some problem we think we might have in our swing. The noise is constant.
The shocking thing for me during the hour lesson was how hard it is to thoughtfully verbalize my ideas and thoughts about the golf swing. When my instructor inquired about the things I have tried to work on when I’m trying to solve my own swing issues everything sounded so stupid as it left my mouth and spun back into my own ears.
Experiences as a student are harder to come by the older we get. Yes, we can always learn from books or colleagues or mentors, but those always feel different. Having an hour set aside where you are actually a student who is asked questions while also asking your own questions is eye opening. Golf is something I have been playing since I was 8-years-old. I’ve spent hours chattering about it with friends and teammates and strangers. To feel tongue-tied when trying to speak about my own swing and discuss ideas just drove home the fact that I do need some lessons from a professional.
I wish I booked my lesson years ago. I’m looking forward to my next lesson in July because it won’t be another decade between lessons, I can guarantee you that. I felt reenergized when I hopped in the car and headed home. I felt the way I think I would have liked my students to feel at the end of a day at school.
And as for those IG models? I’ll still follow them, but not with the same lust I had before because I think I might have found the real thing.