The Merry Band of Bionic Golfers

If you are anywhere near age 75 you probably remember watching the “Six Million Dollar Man”, a series on black and white television. This “Bionic Man” had been a test pilot in a bad airplane crash, and a team of scientists rebuilt him. His powers were augmented to be far better than before: to run faster, lift more, jump higher and last longer than ordinary humans.

There was no warrantee, of course. This Bionic Man was only a test case. Nevertheless, on TV he became useful in foiling bad guys and Russian spies during a few seasons of TV shows. Then (really!) along came the Bionic Women who could run as fast, lift as much, jump as high and – well – last longer than the Bionic Man… What we don’t remember so well was that this Bionic Man and Woman were also engineered for resiliency against hard landings and various pummelings by Nature and humans alike.

In this built-on resiliency, the Bionic Man was also like medieval knights in armor who jousted in tournaments and thrashed at each other with broadswords on the ancient battlefields. Which brings us at last to you. At 75, you may need several aids for resiliency in your golf game. When you saddle up for golf, you are likely to sling on a protective back brace against the stress and violence of swinging a driver for maximum distance. But that may just be a start.

Alas, the ball does not seem to fly as far for you as it does with younger players. Your challenges are different, but nonetheless real. You need the engineers to rebuild you for performance like the Bionic Man, and to protect you from injury like the medieval knights. Much of what you will need is in a well-stocked drug store, but today you can find much more online. (By the way, the price is way below six million, and you don’t need a horse.)

Here are a few items for your bionic build up at 75 years old, starting from the arms. Some kibitzers will tell you not to bend your wrist when you swing, but stop action on any professional and you’ll see that is pure malarkey. When you contact the ball your wrists become the focal point of your whole body. Wrists are one of the main injuries suffered by professional golfers. Wrist brace devices can be just an adhesive wrapping, or become more rigid – and expensive – with splints build into the front and back. What you will not find is a side brace, or even a pocket for it.

  Your Bionic Knight!

My wrist suffered from what is called Ulnar Deviation injury, which created a painful sprain when I missed the ball. If I hit the ball, it felt fine. Now admittedly the pain itself is a superb training aid, but I created just the right resistance by cutting a piece from a cowhide leather belt, and slipping it under the side of a golf brace in addition to the regular (back of the hand) splint. My arthritis doctor said she loves it when patients create ways to alleviate their own pain…

Going one direction from your wrist, you (or a good friend) must lace thumb braces on you like a Victorian corset. Back up the arm in the other direction, you can support “golf elbows” with stretch bands, or foam sleeves, or supports which wrap separately around your forearm and lower bicep. Usually these elbow braces support your lead arm (left if you are right handed). Also, there are massage therapies for Golf Elbow, as I note in another post (“In Arms Way.”)

It strikes me now that this subject of creating the Bionic Self is broader than just one post, because we still have back and hips and knees and ankles. So I guess we will have to continue with at least one more post. Believe it or not, there is good news here. Younger athletes use supports for various occasional injuries but used together these supports can make an entire suit of armor for we 75-year-olds men and women. Just find “The Merry Band of Bionic Golfers – Part 2”, for a variety of back and hip braces, and then finally knees, and ankles. We’ll even investigate battery-run electronic aids to make you truly bionic in your own home.


Copyright 2020 – David Hon

The Merry Band of Bionic Golfers – Part 2

By now, you must be enchanted by this image of endearing, quixotic 75-year-old golfers – bionic knights and knightesses marching forth on golf courses during everyone else’s work day. If you are not yet thus enchanted, see “The Merry Band of Bionic Golfers”. In that previous post, I talked about enhancements and protections, but mostly about strap-on protections for your back and wrists and elbows.

Thrashing about the golf course can be dangerous work when you are 75, clear down to your hips and knees and ankles. In general, the faster you swing your golf club the further the ball will go. However, the bad news is that the faster you swing the wilder you get. If you clobber your own foot with your fast swing, that can be painful indeed, but it is a great training aid. (If it hurts, we humans try to learn another way.) Golf injuries to your back are rarely original at our age: you’ve probably had a weakened back before at some time. Some back braces are just token – others have fiberboard or even inflatable support. And you may have to adjust your swing – see the post: “Saved By Science.”

Injuries to your knees may come from swinging in the wrong posture, or just walking up too many hills. When my knees really started to hurt was when I began to run the short 9 course, described in “Crucible with a 6 Iron.” I immediately Googled knee braces, and found a cornucopia of knee supports. Some were mere wrappings, and others had steel reinforcements. Some knee braces were even hinged, and were very heavy. Reminds one of how their medieval armor allowed dismounted Knights to creak around like future robots and clang on other dismounted knights with broadswords and swing ball-and-chains.

  Light and Industrial Grade Knees

Back to our future, my arthritis doctor, perhaps amused with these new ways old people destroy themselves, gave me some good advice on knee braces. “Start with the least supportive ones, and try to not to use braces that give your knees too much support.” Easy for her to say…the pain is mine. “If you become too dependent on the sturdier braces, you knees will not build up the body’s own support, in muscles and ligaments.” Turns out she didn’t have kids to send to college with knee replacement profits. But it also turns out that in my case – so far – she was right.

Getting into the VERY Bionic, there are actual electronic wave belts and muscle stimulators that can do something to absolve muscle pain. With double A battery power there may be little they can do to hurt you, and stimulation of muscles feels like something is going on there. If you can buy them at the drug store, they are probably harmless enough. Some people even report that it takes away pain. (Quick note: These devices are somewhat medical. They are NOT the vibrators in online pleasure catalogs you may stumble onto by mistake…)

Lastly, there are true Bionic enhancements for the 75-year-old golfer that really make sense and really work wonders. Here is a short list:

  • Arthritic gloves make it easier to grip the club, and being thicker can keep your hands a bit warmer as well.
  • – Large diameter golf grips can also make gripping and swinging your clubs easier. Try them first on the clubs you use most. Or for a few dollars, just build up the diameter of the club with an overwrap. The tackiness of those overwraps also helps you swing with a relaxed grip that is still a firm one.
  • Solidly-built golf shoes, with studs or cleats. can help older people with their balance issues. Balance is necessary for a consistently good swing. Youngsters can get away with wearing sneakers, but not us. (Waterproof shoes are more comfortable in the morning dew, or in late and early season golf in the slop.
  • – Bryson DeChambeau, a recent tour winner, has friendly manufacturers build all of his clubs the same length. Some experts say that with a longer clubs the same length, your body isn’t constantly modifying posture as you try to hit the ball. If you want to try same-length clubs, my much cheaper alternative is an adjustable-head club in “Demons and Shortcuts.”

However you chose to modify yourself and your golf, we 75-year-old Bionics will recognize each other’s armor. Don’t stand too close, but salute each other with respect for Golf’s life-long quest.


Copyright 2020 – David Hon

The Wasp and I

It is hard to realize that over 70 generations of yellow jacket wasps have bred and deteriorated since they gathered to sting a young boy playing in the woods outside Seattle. Do they carry a genetic memory of the taste of me? I’d almost forgotten that strained relationship until my fairway shot on the 11th hole last week.

At age seven, I of course ran to my mother; she hugged me and put on calamine lotion. There were about 10 red sting-welts on my legs and back. No courage at that age. I broke and ran, and I am sure outran some of them. Nor is there much courage now. That sort of quick-burst running is out of the question these days. And alas, I have no mother to run to.

When I was about 11 however, I became a wasp warrior. I had used some Christmas money to buy a wide-bladed hunting knife and a stone to sharpen it. In my back yard that morning, I was squinting,  holding the knife up to the sun to see if my sharpening was good enough. If it was, that no sunlight would shine on the thin metal edge.

But there was another test. In that moment, my peripheral hearing caught the buzz of wings just before my peripheral vision caught the yellow blur headed, stinger first, toward my right buttock. I whirled and slashed all at once. As if returning as some medieval samurai, I saw my flashing blade in slow motion, cutting the wasp clean in half. I had defended my body…and my honor.

Now the honor of yellow jacket wasps is ordinarily not to be trifled with…except by 11 year old boys with sharp hunting knives. That day I was near invincible…Again and again they wandered into my yard, seemingly to smell the flowers but actually to attack me. The word gets around, you know. They came alone or in pairs, but not in hordes, thank goodness. Sometimes I would take on a single yellow jacketed knight head on, following with my knife point as he twisted his way along a straight dive toward me, wristing my quick thrusts in a way I’m sure this creature never seen before, until now, when it was too late.

Sometimes I would swat the leader of a flying pair with the wide blade, and then circle to excise the wing of the wing-man midair. I received only two stings (neither of them mortal) and didn’t even mention them to my mother. Not until now have I ever told anyone what a hero I was that day. (That’s what blogs are for!)

So we had a sort of history, this ancestry of wasps and I, when one member of the current generation boldly landed on my ball. I was pushing by roller toward the next shot, and saw the wasp about ten feet away. It was crawling around on my ball, smelling out all the dimples which must have attracted him with my body oils. Perhaps there is a memory of enemies that lasts in smell through generations. I’d like to think so, because I was pulling out my three wood as cautiously as a hunting knife. And yet…What had this wasp done to me lately? Better to shew him away. Better to let him live.

However, the wasp would have none of it. He was now possessing my ball. As if he were the avenging angel from wasp-centuries back, the yellow jacket looked up at me in defiance…and waggled his behind. That may be wasp talk for “up yours.”

Some golfer voices on remote sides of me asked me if I was going to hit or what, and I gestured for their silence. They retreated to golf good manners as the wasp and I stared at each other. I did a practice swing a foot from the ball, and the bold wasp stayed put. Nothing I could do would move him…except…OK, that’s it then.

For the animal-cruelty people, I will say I watched until the insect had crawled around to the top of the ball. This way I could hit the ball with him on top of it. And what a ride he must have had! Wham! Zero to 150 miles per hour in one one hundredth of a second.

Up near the green I approached my white ball.  I was truly hoping he’d not wriggled down between the club and the ball in the last millisecond of his life. But there was no splotch of yellow. In the best of worlds he had flown off, light-headed, to tell his family not to mess with me again, not for a few more generations at least.


Copyright 2020 — David Hon

 

Golf: The Last Frontier

At age 75, golf has invited me in, though I don’t deserve it.  All my life I have been leery of golf. To me it was a pastime based on failure, and the measurement of failure and the scoring of failure. What, after all, is Par? It’s a goal that most won’t ever reach, and those who do are always sorry when they don’t go under Par. Because golf seemed such a philosophy of despair, wrapped up in a tortured premise of never-quite-good enough, I enthusiastically rejected golf for most of my life. I am glad I did. By age 75, I had missed a lifetime of frustration.

Many of us baby boomers never played golf, and we probably developed attitude blocks against it by the time we reached age 65. It may have seemed to us that golf was the pastime of the idle rich or those aspiring to be idle or rich. Or golf may have seemed the detour of the non-athletic adults around the rigors of competitive sport. Or golf may have seemed like the business vehicle of the rising middle class, clubs for clubs, so to speak, to fill out your networking dance card.

For the most part, golf did not seem to apply to us. It certainly did not apply to me. I took golf in physical education in 1960 and found it a poor substitute for lawn croquet. Instead I played soccer for the University of Washington and then in city leagues for some time thereafter. Then I played community basketball with a bunch of lawyers on Sunday mornings for years. Finally, in need of less debilitating exercise at about age 55, I came to tennis. It was great fun. Tennis can be as athletic as you make it, but it always has more movement, more speed, and more real play than I would ever see in golf. And yet…

On my 75th birthday I decided to learn golf. It began as a market segmentation strategy…but ended up something else.  Players my age were dropping out of tennis with the accumulated maladies of age. They were becoming slow…fast. Most of those still standing could not move across the court to a well-placed ball. So partners were becoming limited, in doubles but especially in singles. I knew that in tennis I would probably be slowed by age 80, and at best a pasteboard image by age 85. And yet I saw older men – and older ladies — knocking around golf courses at age 95.

So that is why I set out to learn this thing I had rejected in my youth, and yawned at in middle age. And now, at age 75, I realize I have but a short time to learn my way into this new sport. Amazingly, I found that in golf whether you are athlete or couch potato, man or woman, lean or chunky — at age 75 all of your gifts must homogenize into one mindful focus on the ball. Contact is all, and when you can constantly make contact, stick-to-ball, you can create your own game. It doesn’t have to look like the golf that instructors are trying to teach people under 50. It can look like whatever works for you. You don’t need to hurt yourself or twist yourself into pretzels. At age 75 the pressure is off and, like a regression to childhood, with golf you can finally have fun.

I believe I am going to like this golf.

In these blog postings about my meandering path into golf, you may not find an excellent guide to golf, but I hope you can agree that golf means there is life remaining after age 75.


Copyright 2019 — David Hon

 

Demons and Shortcuts

During my 75th year, Golf was waiting patiently for me to get a few things out of my system.

In the 58 years since I had my Physical Education quarter in Golf, I made a few miserable attempts to go out on the course with friends. A few demons emerged that I would have to take care of if I were to start golf at age 75. Since I had been in the high-tech world of Seattle, I thought that (of course) new technologies could take care of all my problems.

One problem in those misadventures was that I continually lost balls off the tee, and spent most of the afternoon flummoxing around the woods and brush which bound the fairways in Seattle. I lost enough balls to dent my next paycheck and held everyone back at almost every shot. They were kind –but it was not fun. Through the semiconductor years and the software development years, I kept swearing I would try golf again if they would develop a signal-emitting ball that I could track with my cell phone via satellite. Actually, for a number of years I felt safe that they would never develop one, since it would also continue emitting signals from far underwater, where a number of my other balls also rested. Who needs a symphony of lost balls sending gargling signals from under the lily pads.

And then someone invented the locatable ball that would beep on your cellphone screen and lead you to itself. It was some British firm (whom Americans inevitably trust) that said they had a start up company and would have the balls for sale in the next spring. However — so I wouldn’t miss out — they would gladly take orders to deliver the first ones them. I gladly put down $36 for six of them, ready to begin golf anew when they were delivered. It has been two years now, and the balls are not here yet. Perhaps they lost my address. I’ve lost their address and the official-looking receipt they sent, so I am hesitant to call it a scam. I would never have started golf again, but a YouTube video showed me how to hit the ball somewhat straighter, and that was better than having a forest locator anyway. (I’m still expecting to see those magic balls in the mail…any day now.)

The other problem I had with golf was dragging 12-14 clubs around, up and down hill and dale. I had yet to learn why they would saddle the novice with all that iron. (I still am not sure why you need that many clubs.) So then I saw the single telescoping club that would fit into a briefcase, and whose head would adjust to every loft, (and even become the putter). I thought that (- wow -) with that freedom, with essentially a single length club, my path into golf would be significantly shorter. There are a few makers of these multiple head clubs, and the Divnick one I got was quite sufficient to learn the game in one stroke, so to speak, just changing the loft to get more distance, or more height, out of the very same club. I do think that adjustable single head and one single club length, accelerated my understanding and made my single stroke a more manageable way to learn.

Not everyone would agree that this was the best way to begin, but I started out in the cold and wet December of my 75th birthday mastering this single club, and making decent progress on the 1500 yard 9 hole “executive” course near my home. I was 75 years old and what they call a “super senior”. That short course costs me $6 even today.  Full of novice gusto,  I even considered running between holes with that one adjustable club, and I understand there is actually an official variation called Speed Golf. But after jogging a couple of holes I realized I was 75 years old, after all, and not half-equipped for this kind of biathlon. (Possibly you won’t be either.)

I don’t regret either of these bizarre avenues for you to get into Golf in your belated years. Later I determined a mix of some traditional methods and many new trade-offs which befitted my age. We’re all different — especially by age 75, and hopefully you will see a path into golf which is not quite so convoluted.


Copyright 2019 — David Hon

 

The Dividends of Grandeur

At age 75, you have probably begun to worry about how you are investing your time. You may not be tracking the investment of time you have left on a spread sheet, but you must have a sense of what is lovely in life, and how you can live out what’s left in the middle of that good life. Friends and family are of course right up there, and if you are very involved with both you are fortunate indeed. There does occur more than a little loneliness in these years, however, and golf can come to the rescue. Aside from the fact that you may develop some golfing friend, golf itself can provide at least two glorious dividends for the time, and some little bit of money, that you put into it. These dividends are yours alone.

In the Candy Store post, I talked about how you can spend money on golf if you really want to, but your beginning – and probably your most significant – steps will be built on Attitude and Desire. I would venture to wager that a good golfer could turn in a decent score using only the 3 wood, 9 iron, and the putter that I suggested would cost $10-15 in a Goodwill store. What money could not buy for that golfer, or anyone else, was Attitude and Desire, and one other investment…Practice Time.

If you are retired, your golden payoff is that you have almost unlimited Practice Time. You have as much Practice Time as touring professionals, and maybe a little more. You will also have some great Senior – and even half price Super Senior discounts in many places, simply because you can occupy a course or a driving range during the working week when few other people are using it. Your low cost clubs and your discounts and your coveted Practice Time can all point you toward Golf’s two great dividends.

  Harbour Pointe – North of Seattle

Dividend #1 – The Gardens of Royalty. Mark Twain, or someone else looking for a laugh, talked of Golf as a “Good walk spoiled.” But there are good walks, and there are GOOD WALKS. Of course the grounds of Versailles or the Czars’ Summer Palace may come to mind. However, anyone walking around a rich country estate (anywhere, US, England, or really anywhere) will find the foliage and the grounds immaculately well kept. The landscaping will take advantage of the broad vistas and the trimmed forests. You will be walking through a natural dreamland that is the best that Nature can present in any area. In a very similar way, golf courses might be considered the jewels in each community. All you have to do to be royalty in the midst of this splendor is to hit a golf ball along. For sure, it becomes your shared country estate.

Dividend #2 – The Grandeur Within. It is one thing to hit a little ball out into the wide green fairways between the trees and ponds and sand – and it is quite another thing to hit it well. At age 75 you have accomplished a few things, but they are fading fast. You may not remember the few remaining people at your high school reunion. You take long flights of stairs with more effort than a few years ago. You have trouble lifting bags into the overhead bin…often people kindly offer to help. All of the things you controlled with your head and your strength…are fading fast.

With golf you are given a rebirth of a human privilege, of improving yourself by yourself. Age seems to take that personal thrill away, but with golf you have new challenges, and time and practice can give you new abilities, new skills, every month. You can get better and for many years, you can get better fast. You have exciting new revelations and new successes as you invest your time, and just a little money, in golf. The rewards are not outside you. They are inside you…and at age 75 they are priceless.


Copyright 2019 — David Hon

Crucible With A 6-Iron

When I awoke New Year’s morning in 2020, I knew I must begin the New Year with something terrifying. 

Since I turned 75, I have backed off some beginnings, things barely begun because failure seems imminent. But this New Year’s I needed a breakthrough, as a sort of mascot standing against things prematurely abandoned. You may remember an earlier post, when I mused about running between holes on the course, but then I quit, remembering that, after all, I was 75 years old.

New Year’s morning it was cold and rainy here in Seattle, and I was 77 years old. It was now or never. Grit your teeth and do your thing for the New Year. I pulled on some golf shoes and rain pants and, armed with only a 6-iron, I resolved to run between every shot on every hole on the long and hilly 9-hole Par 3 near my home.

I had heroic visions of the Winter Olympic Biathlon, where contestants race on cross-country skis between shooting stations, and where – short of breath – they shoot for scores on targets in the snow. Within short seconds they sling their rifles across their back and take off again on the course, pushing and gliding over 12 miles of hills and forest and snow. I have heard in one story that Swedish or Norwegian Army Ski troops developed this training when Nazi (or was it Soviet?) invasions were threatening. Nothing like a flawed metaphoric daydream to get your blood going.

So while the New Year’s Eve drunks snored snug in their beds, I now faced the wet, empty course. I had heard that at one time the golfing legend Lee Trevino had been a pobre in Texas and could only afford a 6-iron. He needed to support his family with whatever he could earn with that 6-iron. I don’t remember if it these were local tournaments or just side bets, but he says he learned the most about golf having to do everything with that one club.

The first tee box was on top of a slope, about 100 yards from the hole, an easy swing with a 6-iron. No one waiting (and no one watching), I swung away. The ball went sailing very high and very straight, arcing up and bending down toward the green. And then I remembered to run…I lept into space from the elevated tee box. With my eyes up to the sky watching that glorious ball, I landed running and almost turned my ankle. I was many yards down slope of wet grass, before the ball hit and stopped on the green, 4 feet from the hole.

Somewhere in those moments I realized I had no putter. As I jogged up to the ball, I reckoned I could tilt the 6-iron and putt with it. Just missed a birdie from 4 feet, but had an easy tap-in for a Par. I conserved my energy by mostly walking between the greens and the next tee box.  On this winter day, the whole course would be about a mile-long slosh over mushy grass that blanketed cold mud underneath.  Every running step sank in a few inches and made a frigid splash. It took straight shots that didn’t get lost. Not only my eyes, but my legs were following the ball in flight. I felt like a kid running after my balls…no…maybe like a dog after a slobbery tennis ball.

By God, I was going to make it through this course in under 30 minutes! I was panting hard and trudging up to the last tee box when I discovered there was someone else on the course, a family of four standing at the last tee box. I would have to stop for them to play that hole. It was a good excuse to stop, and I welcomed it. But the family had looked back before they teed off, and had seen me laboring up the hill to the previous hole. As I staggered up to wait at the tee box, the father said, “Want to play on through?”

I did. Of course I did. They watched as this crazy old man finished his first successful resolution on this cold and drizzly New Year’s morning, and further resolved to start things that were even more terrifying…as soon as he could catch a breath.


Copyright 2020 — David Hon

 

Golf in the Time of Corona

If you are in your 70s in this month of March 2020, you are probably suspected of being infected by the Corona Virus – which brings us, of course, to golf. Daily life for everyone in March is grinding to the halt we elders experience all the time. In many cases they want to forbid us to leave the house. Recreation is generally a no-no.

However, comma, your personal practice does not qualify as “recreation.” Golfing practice is not play; it is introspection, perhaps even meditation. An abandoned football field can be all you need to spend the time they are trying to take from us. Even if you have just a small patch of land to escape to, they cannot shut it down, like they can a real golf course. A lot of park space may be even more empty than on work days. Or a sandy beach can be all you need to perfect shots in your Short Game. (Make a circle in the sand and hit to land within it.) And you don’t have to be in a group. You don’t even need a friend. Your golf club is friend enough.

We have earned that time by ourselves, by mingling a lifetime with the maddening crowds. Now, if we are confined to the house as 70 year olds, we might die safely in our rockers, or see some dear old movies come round again. Those of us with eyesight may rediscover reading. However, it turns out to be a great time to rediscover – and replenish – your golfing skills. There are probably 1000 short, free golf videos that can improve your understanding of parts of your game, and you can even get golf instruction by sending online instructors videos of your swing. There is always living room — or hall way — practice in putting… just find about 10 feet of unobstructed carpet. Many golf instructors say you can improve your overall consistency and club speed by taking 100 swings a day (, in a back yard or alley where you won’t destroy your ceiling).

Or, if you are exceptionally lucky, you may find a golf course open to the public. It may be the ultimate compromise in social isolation. The very threat of flying golf balls automatically keeps everyone at a distance. There are broad, wide open fairways with sweet air circulating freely and filling your lungs and pulsating like the beating heart of God. Only your own golf balls and your own clubs to touch. Vitamin D from the sunshine – even it is a little chilly as it is in Seattle now. But if Seattle can allow its courses to be open, semi-quarantined as we are, then any place can allow golf.

Here’s what our local municipal course is doing: 1. Limiting lines in the golf shop so only one or two players are inside to pay ( – soon that should all be online). 2. Closing the snack shop/restaurant. 3. Closing the driving range because eventually balls touched by one person can carry disease to another. 4. Raising the cups in the holes on every green (photo above), so one doesn’t reach into a much used cup for the ball, or need to remove the flag stick. Because your ball just has to touch the raised cup, at any speed, this should help everyone’s score.

I would suspect that soon they will stop renting germy carts, so everyone will be walking as golf was in its healthy beginnings. As it is, every golfer seems very careful to touch only his or her gear and balls. As far as I can discover from Google, corona virus on shoes and the ground is not an issue since respiratory droplets dissipate in the ground. But that solitary finding was in the China Daily News, so I’ll try to find other scientific opinions.

It may be my last such walk for a while, but yesterday was a glorious day for Golf in the Time of Corona. Minus chunking a few dirt balls and watching a few long slices disappear into thick forests, our outing was as satisfying as the first day of Spring. In fact it was the first day of Spring. So, here’s hoping that that your expansive golfing refuge remains until the scourge passes, when everyone of every age can mingle and joke… and touch… again.


Copyright 2020 — David Hon

 

Golf in the Time of Corona – Part 2

It has been 4 weeks now since our State closed down the golf courses completely, as part of a large shutdown of all non-essential businesses, including restaurants and bars. The reasoning for shutting down all recreation, even when public course operators modified our local golf to keep immense distance between players, and hands off anything touched by anyone else, is a little unclear. One local public health official said shutting down golf was necessary because if the public saw golfers having fun, that public would not think other prohibitions like, say, against arm wrestling in taverns, were actually serious. Golf probably spreads no viruses; nothing at all but joy (and a little disappointment on a few shots). However, now golf has to suffer as well.

Those of us who doubted they could shut down a large golf course pressed our noses against the closed steel gates. Most golfers put their clubs in the garage and turned to TV or procrastinated yard work. .After a burst of activity the state closed off even mountain hiking trails. The officials here in Seattle wanted us to wear masks to go to the stores and doctors’ offices, but still allow us to walk maskless only around the neighborhoods for exercise. That’s when I decided to take my golf to the streets.

If you are in your 70s you can walk with a golf club like a cane and no one knows what roguery you are up to. A couple of balls in a pocket or fanny pack, and you are off on a jaunt through the various small parks in the city. Moving from one to the other, you will most certainly have the opportunity to practice a few shots in most of them. Like any good city park golfer, you must watch closely for baby carriages, or couples sneaking about to smooch behind some shrub. Dogs may seem far away, but nothing attracts them like a ball flying through the air. If they have a lightweight owner, he or she may get dragged for several yards, running after, digging in heels, and maybe sliding on tummies or bottoms behind the romping dog.

For this reason, I would suggest you take only a pitching wedge, and do not hit in any area in which 30-40 yard shot could get away from you. Have a target like a tennis ball that you can toss out that far (but again watch for romping dogs dragging their owners across the grass), and don’t make any swing if you can’t absolutely 100% control. One-quarter swings are best. Work on short distance accuracy in these small parks. Yelling “fore” is not an alternative either. The pedestrian always wins the case against the driver.

A good idea would be to carry a few whiffle balls or sponge rubber balls, which you can buy cheaply online if you’ve never bought any before. Any of these will help you develop a stroke that swoops exactly between the ball and the ground, and lifts the ball up for a short distance from you until some breeze catches it. The best of these “substitute balls“ are foam rubber with a dimple hard shell, and they slice if your usual ball would slice, and fly about one quarter the distance your usual ball would go if you hit it well. It does look like a real golf ball, however, and may well terrify mothers with baby walkers, so be kind.

Just recently they closed off roads into all of the larger city parks, limiting them to walkers, so now without families and their little picnics, I have many more opportunities to hit. Except for one thing. I do not know what action the police or the maintenance people in the parks will take if they see me hitting on a nice expanse of grass. I’m sure their first instinct, if confronted, would be to forbid golf. Actually, I don’t want to be forbidden, so my best bet is to watch out for their vehicles. If they spot me, I start leaning on my club as a cane, covering as much of the head as I can with my hand. It seems to work. After all: who could deny an old man with a cane his walk in the park?


Copyright 2020 — David Hon

 

Golf in the Time of Corona – Part 3

When you are 75 years old, they will first chase you off the golf course…and then chase you off the streets. While walking with my golf club disguised as a cane, I came across several baseball fields. They are ideal for hitting balls up to 80 yards, and some even have fences that protect corona golfers from the intrusion of dogs and kids on bikes and moms with baby carriages. And no one is playing baseball, because even a sandlot game requires 10 players in some proximity. So why did the maintenance crew throw me off the field,  for merely hitting little balls a short distance? I think it was because I looked happy.

H.L. Mencken  observed how with our Puritan streak comes the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. I will add that it seems OK to be working out. However, don’t be caught doing anything that remotely resembles play. (Playing in your 70s is even worse because, after all, statistics say you may die on the spot!)

(You may have seen this coming.) There are basically two kinds of people in the world: those who work out, and those who play. There are those who work out so that they can play better, but they always aim to play. I certainly do. I reveal here that I hate working out just to breathe hard and sweat. I believe I can only play now. Working out for its own sake is often a modern flagellation like those Middle Ages sinners who whipped themselves in penitence to God. Now the sin is being fat, I guess, or worry about getting fat or weak…or old. And in fairness we can remember that the ancient Greeks devised the Olympic Games to keep their soldiers always fit for war.

People also used to walk or run just to get someplace. Catching a bus or a criminal ( or running from a crime, of course). Trekking on trails in the forest. Little of that now, with Uber on our phones and mountain bikes with studded tires. Add to that racers who just like to exceed everyone else…but then that verges on play, does it not?

Then I noticed a little boy, spinning a hula hoop around his waist. This did not look like torture. He didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, either. He was simply defying gravity, for a short vacation. We elders are pretty far from defying gravity by now, but I caught myself wishing he would forget his hula hoop. If he did, then I could hit golf balls at it from 20-30 yards. What fun that would be.

He did forget to take the hoop with him when he ran off to join others, but his mother remembered, and peered at me oddly as she swooped in to rescue her son’s hula hoop (- just in time to vitiate my first shot). Why, I thought, should I not have my own hula hoop? On the way home, I stopped in a nearby “dollar” store. I bought four small hula hoops, each two feet in diameter. I’m going to leave you to imagine what I will do next with these hula hoops. Hula? Hardly. One hint: it will not be working out. It will not be torture. I’m also going to leave you to wonder what people on the street thought when they saw an old man with a cane (or golf club?) carrying 4 small hula hoops in his left hand. Hoops are very hard to hide.


Copyright 2020 — David Hon

 

Fear in the Time of Challenge

 As the Yaki Indian wise man Don Carlos said, the decline of old age is the toughest challenge of all.  I don’t have to tell you that family members are bed-ridden, lifelong friends die off while you still owe them dinner at your place, and events of your early life are a distant muddle but for a few photos. You surely have less bounce in your step – but you still have a step. The challenge of old age is to put any life back in Life, while you are still walking.

So the time is near for you to begin actually playing golf. This could be your way, and perhaps your only way, of fighting back the early withering of your soul. And there are signs already that you may succeed. Hopefully (as I suggested) you have picked up a 3-wood and a 9-iron and a putter – at your local Goodwill store for a total of $15. Hopefully you’ve found an empty field for hitting the 3 and the 9 and a carpet for your putter to get the feel of these clubs. And hopefully you have then with the 3-wood and the 9-iron knocked some balls on a low cost driving range, and the putter on the totally free greens at most public golf  courses.

Life is short and you must now begin golf in earnest. Do not wait for golf to come to you. There are usually pitch-and-putt courses in most towns, and some have holes up to 200 yards. Often their fees for seniors (and super seniors over 75) are extremely reasonable. In more remote locations, you’ll  just have to start on the long course with a nine-hole rate in the off-peak hours midday. However, the longer pitch-and-putt courses (sometimes called “Executive 9s”) are probably your best way to start experiencing real golf.

Do that even before you have tried to master any stroke or any club. Do that if you have a few weeks wait to take inexpensive group lessons. Time may not be on your side. Here is my cantankerous and surely controversial opinion: Even though you may be inept and the experience somewhat frustrating, you need to understand golf in the context of playing golf. Only after you have tried to play will you know what lessons you need the most, what equipment you need the most, and what kind of practice you need to start…now.

We’ll talk about those things in short order. but do not be afraid either of embarrassment or hurting yourself or wasting money or worse, embarking on something so huge you can never complete it…. Many others are as embarrassed as you, you adjust yourself immediately to anything that hurts, you can begin cheaply, and as for something so huge…

To get our attention at our age, it practically has to be huge. I had the good fortune to be at the 2012 Harvard Commencement speech by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the President of Liberia and a Nobel Prize winner as the first female leader of an African nation. She told the soon-to-be-comfortable Harvard grads that they would aspire to goals, but she warned that if they were predictable and safe goals, these would drain their life of passion. She told the soon-to-be-comfortable Harvard grads that their lives would mean little if their goals, right now, were not “absolutely terrifying”, almost impossible to imagine reaching.

Maybe she was not talking to you, or certainly not talking about golf.  Or maybe she was….Without demeaning her message or the potentials of Youth, I think that if you are just starting out on golf then probably it is scary. Scary is probably how a round of golf looks to you. HUGE. Impossible. So this should be of comfort, and be your great luck, in the Time of Challenge. You should welcome this new thing you are afraid of…because by now you are more ready than you know.


Copyright 2019 — David Hon

Saved by Science

At age 76 I thought I had learned golf in about a year. I broke 100 on 18 holes four times (but I was not going to break that to you all in a blog until it was more of a regular thing). It did seem that I had a lot to share with the 75 year-old taking up a little golf…and then I hit the 13th hole. Really, it was the 13th hole…on the fairly challenging West Seattle municipal course.

After I told you all how to save your back by lifting your trailing heel as you follow through. I combined about three different planes of torque in the swing and blew out a disc, there on the 13th hole. Now these were the angular shoulder rotations and horizontal hip rotations and leg-to-leg weight shift that you see from all the young instructors and in most instructional videos. Trying to remember and execute this in 1/3 second makes all this expertise devastatingly, murderously, wrong for a 76 year old.

My back had seemed a little stiff before, but not enough to stop. However, there was a deep gully on the 13th hole that I had to drive across. I made a mighty swing… all wrong. Anyone with herniated discs in their back will tell you they immediately look upon the future through waves of pain they think may never end. After almost collapsing, I created painful baby steps across three fairways to the clubhouse behind my roller/walker, and waited for the others to finish. Perhaps I could get into the car to drive home, but was that the end of golf?

Fortunately, I had been trying to understand the work of Kiran Kanwar, and I had intended to include a link to her interview on Senior Golfer Advisor, which has some great podcasts of general interest. But now my interest was not general. Nothing focuses you like a sheer wall of pain that seems to guarantee you will never lift a golf club again.

Again lucky for me, Kiran was coming to Seattle to visit relatives after completing a  PhD from Texas Woman’s University, doing her studies on the scientific biomechanics of golf at the University of Southern California. She’s getting a lot of attention in scientific journals now because her findings might significantly affect the game of golf. You should listen to her podcast:  Link to Kanwar podcast  or  find a lot more on Kiran’s background and methods .

All of which is to say I think she may have saved my golfing life. When she took me through the proper biomechanics, they seemed nothing like what lessons or numerous videos or champions-in-slow-motion looked like. Nothing whatsoever. But when I swung to Kiran’s precise guidance, there was no back pain. Theoretically (and thank God practically) there probably could be no back pain. And not only that, the ball went higher and straighter than I’d ever hit it before, time after time.

However, I worried. Would this “safe” swing ever give me power? At that point I was allowed to watch some of Kiran’s work with Dean Davison (, whose excellent SeniorGolfAdvisor.com podcast on Kiran I hope you have listened to by now). Dean is a very experienced golfer and instructor over 30 years, and like the Broadway dancer, he could pick up on any new set of steps. He had told me that using Kiran’s system he’d hit his first 16 greens in regulation on his first try. But power? Then I watched as his Driver sent balls sailing out  high and over 250 yards. One after another, Kiran gave some kind of arcane evaluation to each. (For me each of those shots would have made my year…)

So for the 76 year-old with golf delusions and a crumpled back, it seemed a minor miracle. I’m working at it and getting more consistency and slightly more distance…and feeling no pain. For someone who has recently embraced golf, I am awfully thankful. This is what real Hope looks like!


Copyright 2019 — David Hon

To Play, or to “Groove”

By age 75, you deserve to choose the way you like to play. Younger age groups follow a pack, They play tennis and golf and even bowl in leagues. There are rules for scoring and at those younger ages, scores mean a lot – scores are what you are worth. Average scores are what you are worth on the average. That is why the idea of “personal best” is so important in running and archery and golf when you are young, because if nothing else you are competing against yourself. People even obsess over the number of steps they take each day, recorded on their smartphones.

However, humanity is thankfully more complex than to merely have sports as a surrogate for bloody wars. Long before they are age 75, many many people in lots and lots of sports get their greatest enjoyment from simply “grooving” their strokes or other skills. Fathers and sons don’t have to play baseball together: they spend long hours after dinner just playing “catch” in the back yard. Same with kids tossing the football to each other – one spinning a perfect spiral and the other “running out” for a long over the shoulder catch. Soccer players “juggle” the ball, keeping it in the air for many minutes bouncing it off head and knees and feet in the dance of sport. Basketball players shoot alone for hours, pretending to dodge and cross over dribble and fall away for a jump shot. Many long afternoons of satisfaction pass just “grooving those skills” over and over.

Many tennis players just “hit” for hours, moving to the ball and stroking deep topspin shots, over and over. This not simply practice, this is play, this is thrilling to the perfect “groove” to your performance. Not to say this has no bearing on sports performance…but it is a life apart…and a sweet spot free of the intensity of scoring and the shame of losing.

Some people are happiest if they are keeping score, of course. You will learn to keep score in golf soon enough, and if you go around on short nines or long 18s you will be given a score care to remember how well or poorly you did on each hole. It is important to keep score at times, to know how well you are doing against a standard – par. Scoring in golf is much less one-upping the person beside you and much more in assessing your own status in relation to an abstract standard.

At age 75 you can score for yourself on whatever length course you choose, or score against those you are with. Or you can concentrate on “grooving” your strokes, because of the lovely feeling of hitting a “good ball” with excellent contact and straightness and loft, dropping in right into the fairway or right onto the green. It is not trivial or unrelated that well-grooved strokes, flying to the center of the distant green or dropping just beside the flag on the green, often result in better scoring. However, by the age of 75 that score may not matter so much as the “groove” – feel of a great shot.

I have people now who I golf with who just count pars, or who just try to hit every shot at its best, but do not torment over a given score on a given hole. We go out on these manicured playfields and do our best, every shot, to capture the “groove” the shot that feels right and flies right. In our group of elders, every one watches the other’s shot – not in the least because errant balls get lost – but also to cheer on each others’ best shots. We all know what a good shot looks like. And we still, at our advanced age, want to win…but now it is more to achieve the best possible in ourselves and others who are with us. I think that we have learned with age what play should be about.


Copyright 2019 — David Hon

Goodwill Haunting

Sometimes, when you are 75, you find you have more time than money. More likely, even if you have money, you’re not inclined to spend it unless you find some value attached. It is a lifelong habit to pinch dollars so we can retire….and golf can be a pleasure even if you don’t spend $50 or more going out each time. If your game is doing well on lesser courses, though, it may be fun to splurge for 5 hours on a really nicely manicured beauty. For a golfer, occasionally playing that course can be like springing for a Broadway show.

And then, some of us have our “bargain” quirks. We’ll pinch like the worst miser and then see something we must have, and by damn, i’m going to buy that!  I personally find a wealth of history and style and innovation in the golf section of the local Goodwill Store. For instance, the other day I spotted a golf bag… not just any golf bag. I looked it over and found a flawless antique (of the 1930s I think). Back in the days when they wore sweaters with ties and knickers with plaid socks, this consummate bag was totally made of rich burgundy leather, made in the USA by the Miller company. Guess how much at the Goodwill? $9.95. It must have cost hundreds. I felt almost ashamed to carry it away. (But I did…)

You see, golf is a passing phase in many young people’s lives. They buy the stuff at top dollar and in 10 years it is occupying too much space in the basement or the garage. Often you can find 4-5 clubs from the same set…and occasionally you find some little invention that is so useful that you always draw a comment when you take it out on the short 9, with 4 or 5 of the clubs you use the most. This one weighs just a couple of pounds, and sticks in the ground while you make the shot.

You would be amazed at the sheer envy of golfers who usually go out for an hour or two, dragging around a bag with too many clubs they will never use…So many people have asked where I got this device, that I begin thinking of how easy it would be to start a small company to make them. But then… I’m retired, and like it that way.

And occasionally, you will find some little something that will improve your golf by 30% if you’ll just use it for a couple of months. Practice with this little putting kit, over and over. Bring it out every day to practice the distance and the feel of putting. It doesn’t look like much, but this may be one of your most important daily roads to golf, and not only while you listen to the news, either.

Its pieces can fit in any nook if you travel, and you can set it up to practice putting in hotel rooms, airport waiting areas, and even doctor’s offices when they make you wait interminably. See if you can find a long strip of carpet where you live. If you have all wood floors, you can find a twelve-foot by two-foot strip of remnant carpet. The time you can spend practicing putting is golden. If you can absorb  the “feel” of putting golf balls that consistently arrive within a foot of the cup, time after time, you can begin to score well on the greens, where golf games are often won or lost.


Copyright 2019 — David Hon

Taking on the Big Show

When you are starting anything in your seventies, there are so many voices of intimidation. Medical people say your bones are brittle, so don’t risk falling. Younger people all seem stronger, and have more energy and flexibility, and move so much faster. In golf specifically, good golfers hitting 300 yard drives all day can be very intimidating.  If you have been working on your golf strokes, and perhaps playing on short nine-hole courses quite happily, you may not want to subject yourself to an 18 hole course. It is the intimidating Big Show. Beginning golf in your seventies, you may think the Big Show – the four to five miles of an 18 hole course – is beyond you.

Don’t sell yourself short…

Remember that if you pay your money and like to hit the ball toward the hole, you deserve to be on the golf course as much as anyone. Much more than any collection of skills, your attention to the flow of the game and your courtesy toward other players will make you accepted by other golfers. Maybe you never hit a ball more than 70 or 80 yards. You can still play on the same course with “scratch” golfers – who always score in the low 70s. If you work at making good contact on the ball, with cheap but effective methods I’ll describe in further posts, you can begin to feel more comfortable on the large course. And surprisingly, if you work very hard at controlling your time, you can be acceptable by golfers on almost any course.

Try to think of your every move on the course as something that either adds to, or subtracts from, the time the people in the group behind you must wait. You may be fortunate enough to have a tee time with no group directly behind you or ahead of you. However, let us assume the schedule is tight (- some courses recommend only 13-15 minutes per hole). So here are some positive habits you can build, even with your first time on the 18-hole Big Show. The essence, for any player on the course, is to keep the game moving. If players behind you continually see a novice or a senior out on the fairway, fretting about which club to use, or otherwise dawdling about instead of moving to their next shot, your presence will not be popular. Here are some ways NOT to be that fairway obstacle:

  1. Always be ready with your next club. As you are going to your next shot, decide what club you will use so you can pull it from the bag immediately and decisively to be ready for your turn to hit.
  2. When it is your turn, take just enough time to set up quickly, and then calmly concentrate on your shot.
  3. New Golf rules say you only have 3 minutes to look for a ball. Respect that.
  4. Try to adjust your game to whomever you are partnering with. If you hit only 70-80 yards at the longest, offer to hit first so you are ready to start most quickly toward your shorter ball. This is also useful  when you know you won’t hit is as far as the players on the fairway are (and so represent no danger to them).
  5. Continuously move your bag or cart along with you whenever you have hit, so you don’t have to double back for your next club. If you are near the green, take both a short club and your putter.
  6. Before you putt, try to leave your bag (or cart) at the furthest point toward the next tee. Then you will not have to double back for your clubs.

As awkward as I am learning golf in my seventies, these are a few kinds of golf etiquette which are the most important things I have learned about playing with other golfers. I have had times when I was inadvertently paired with experienced players who made incredible shots. Gosh! 200 yard approach shots they dropped right on the green.

Talk about intimidating. And yet I watched as they practiced everything I mentioned above. They do these so naturally it is easy for you to follow and learn. I may just have been lucky, but every time I was miss-paired in this way, they respected the fact this old man was diligent with his game and with their time and they complimented me on me on good shots. From my good fortune, I hope that you will try the Big Show sooner than later. You may even find some Big Hearts out there!


Copyright 2020 — David Hon

 

Mind Your Body

Recently I talked about Speed Golf for golfers over age 75. Seriously, you should not try this at home. By age 75, both men and women have to be wary of what may hurt their bodies. Many women (and too few men) worry about any new activity that can create stress on bones and muscles. Most of these worries have a good foundation, but if you move cautiously into golf, you can avoid causing injury to unused muscles and tendons at the first.

It doesn’t help, of course that most instruction for beginning golfers aims straight at the 20-40 year old group. Thus, almost no golf instructor, and no book, will help you assess potential physical challenges before you start. So at age 75, we just start and try to be like the cookie cutter image of a golfer, and we learn by pain alone. Pain chews us up and spits us out. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you can anticipate certain kinds of injuries that older golfers have, you can 1. Stretch and strengthen 2. Learn a few proper techniques…and 3. Take it easy on yourself at first. I will share a few of these only because the real experts tend to ignore people over 75:

Walking is the key first step. Even if you think you will drive a cart everywhere, you will still need to walk from the cart to the ball and back to the cart. Personally, I have come to prefer walking the course with a push roller. Push rollers run around $100 (and up for bells and whistles). The advantage is not only exercise. If you learn to hit the ball straight, you can make reasonable time even with moderate fairway shots, and go many places a cart cannot go.

And then of course, if the cart is an option you may save about $15 a day in its rental. You will have many chances to travel by cart, but you may come as I have to prefer strolling with a roller. It may come to about 4 miles walking, but for the afternoon you will go about 1 mile an hour, so its not too aggressive for the benefits walking the course gives you. So as far as preparing for the problems of golf to you body, walking at a reasonable pace seems to be OK in most assessments.

Contrary to testosterone-fueled assumptions by many young bucks in golf, swinging a golf club can be a rhythmic and not a violent affair. But if you want to anticipate the common hazards of golf to the you as an older golfer, they do mostly seem to fall in categories related to the swing. I’ll give you what I have learned about the Swing stress on the back, the hips, and last of all the arms, each in a different post, and with some personal experience I definitely want to help you avoid. If I can give you a simple anticipation of new physical demands that your body can easily accommodate itself to, and some gradual introduction of your muscles to the task, then there is a good chance that this abbreviated time we have to learn and play golf will not be hampered by pain at all.

 

Just think…Physical activity without pain after age 75.


Copyright 2019 — David Hon

 

The Future of Your Back

One of my major misconceptions at the age of 40 was that the classic golf swing looked inherently stupid. We who were old enough had seen Bob Hope and Johnny Carson and even President Eisenhower in this sort of bizarre looking position with the golf club over their shoulder and their right heel up, balancing, it seemed, on one slanted toe while the other toe pointed of in a seemingly random direction. Now when I went out to hit a bucket of golf balls one day at age 40, I swore I would never look that stupid playing golf. I set my feet apart in a solid balanced position, and hit about 60 golf balls (a few of them towering out over the range in the way that brings golfers back for more).

I did not walk normally again for several months. Funny enough, only when I reached age 75, and began to learn golf, did I realize I had been the stupid one.

Luckily, golf videos are now rampant on the Internet. As with most of the Internet, some percentage of it must be useful. Whatever topic occurs the most, with the same basic message, appears to have the most credibility. It appeared to me that EVERY instructor and EVERY professional on television seemed to end their swing in the same stupid pose. It looked to me like a silly pigeon-toed pirouette from an old Jerry Lewis movie, but these golf people were not slapstick. They really believed in this pose, and never forgot to end this way. What was the deep secret of ending with your right toe up and your left foot pointed straight ahead.?

At some point my curiosity overwhelmed my incredulity.  I knew your feet and legs started in a strong parallel position across from the ball. I knew to shift the weight from the right foot almost totally to the left as you swing. I then picked up a driver and went slowly through the swing motion as I would  have done natively, and naturally. But even swinging that slowly, there was a slight pull in my lower back.  Remembering I had been almost crippled at the driving range 30 years before, and I sadly suspected this residual quirk meant I would never ever be able to play golf.

So then I tried the swing arc again , shifting my weight as the club swung from left to right. But this time I added the stupid little foot dance. Hmm…no back pressure. Could it be…? That that little right toe lift takes all the strain of a golf swing off of your back? I tried it again, just holding the club with both arms, and letting it drop into a swinging arc, an almost stepping from the right foot to the left so I could get that toe up. Magic. No pressure on my spine.

 

What a secret I had discovered! Wow! With that little right toe move you keep the back muscles out of big trouble. Then it dawned on me that this secret was one I had observed in absolutely every good golfer, clear back to those sepia-toned photos taken some time after Reconstruction where all the professional golfers wore sweaters with ties and ALL of them ended with the stupid toe-up pose. In the whole history of the Ballet, I do not believe more people have held a single position with such precision and fervor.

The secret I am keeping now is how wrong I was for 75 years. I am trusting you not to tell anyone of this life-long stupidity, even if you use the toe-pose perfectly and save yourself a lot of pain. Say you heard it somewhere else.


Copyright 2019 — David Hon

 

Hips in the Swinging Seventies

My next journey in Golf – at age 75 — has been a recent one. It’s all about Right and Wrong. Do it “Right” and you may get excruciating pain that lasts through the night. Do it “Wrong (ly)” and you will survive another day, but perhaps not look like a touring golf pro, in either style or distance.

But first, stand up straight and look at your hips. Now take any golf club and make a very small swing with it, hitting nothing Please. As the club moves from one side to the other, your hips want to follow. It’s inevitable with the club going right to left (unless you stiffen your body and use your arms only, as in putting). The hips are going to want to rotate AND swing from one side to the other.

Perhaps we were originally built to be belly dancers, but a lot of seventy year olds have lost the easy gyration (if not yet the rhythm). When you take a beginning golf class – which you will – then if it is with any mixed group, they will gravitate toward the ideal model. The way the Touring Pros look….The Right way to swing a club. It usually means the correct grip and the selected posture. Leaning slightly forward with your knees bent, they encourage you to dip your lead shoulder and rock the trailing shoulder back upward. Swinging the iron in a downward arc, they want you to hit the ball just before you hit the ground. Some people never quite get it “Right.”

The first time I did it “Right” I fell hopelessly in love. It had taken me a few weeks of trying, of dipping my lead shoulder (left in my case) , of banging the ground first or topping the ball or blading the ball hard forward. When that first Right ball flew off my club face everything was perfect and it flew further and higher than I had ever thought I could hit a golf ball. Later ( after using buckets of balls) I got to where I could hit downward on the ball and feel the perfection again — as long as I was on the mat at the driving range. I’ve not yet managed to go beyond hit and miss with irons off the grass, but I will.  The fond memory is always there: when you hit it Right, life is right.

Except that your quest for the perfect swing may well hit your hip flexors. There is a core muscle, called the Psoas, running down through your body to hold you erect. Some have compared this phenomenon to a tent, with your spine the main tent pole being held in place by stays in the ground around it.

The Psoas is a muscle you may stress outside its comfort zone when you hit the golf ball in the “Right” way. It is hard to describe my own experience, but if your hip flexors, mainly the Psoas muscle, get out of whack, you may have some very bad days until it recovers. If it was stressed enough, there may be days when something inside your hip structure seems to be paining without reason, and without any position of immediate relief.

There are a lot of physical therapy specialists (many under Medicare) who will help you through this. However, for less than a co-pay, I got a set of online videos that showed me how to exercise my way out of this hip flexor hell. A few minutes a day keeps the flexors aligned, or loose, or whatever they want. You can find your own comfortable method, but do assuage that Psoas.

Which brought me to discovering my Wrong way. Some golf writers are even suggesting older golfers should swing more upright, with feet closer together. You will not look like the Touring Pros who are such leaders in golf. I cannot tell you exactly how, but this slightly more upright swing might help you “shallow out” your stroke in a way that sometimes gives you more accuracy and consistency. But even if these new Wrong ways seem logical and helpful, clearly the Wrong way may not be the right way for everyone.

Copyright 2019 — David Hon

 

In Arms Way

Probably the most frequent concerns of 75-year-olds have to do with arms. There is good news and bad news about arms. However, you can certainly do something about the bad news. (I have heard it said that the next best thing to good news is getting bad news in time to do something about it.)

First the good news. Your arms don’t do all the swinging. In the best golf swings, the club is raised and then dropped, like a pendulum or a wrecking ball on a chain.  Theoretically, your arms and hands just guide the downward momentum of the swing to the place the club head impacts the ball. Imagine that you can keep your arms perfectly straight, and just “drop” the head of the club in an arc, that comes back up as “follow through” once the ball has be hit. This is how very small women on the Ladies Professional Golf Tour hit balls nearly 300 yards…further than 90% of your average man playing on weekends, if truth be told.

So the good news is that you don’t need arms like Popeye to hit a golf ball. You need a bit of rhythm and enough control of your hips and legs to assure the club swing comes down in the near vicinity of the ball, and enough body balance to keep your feet in one place without your falling over. Then your arms and hands and fingers take over, and do the last bit of guiding the club to impact.

The little bit of bad news needs explaining. When you are using irons, especially, most teachers will try to get you to hit down on the ball, contacting the ball first before the club head digs into the ground. The perfect downward iron stroke will squeeze the ball against the ground and ball will fly off the face of the club into the air, with a sweet sweet feeling as you watch the ball soar away. Golf instructors will tell you that to achieve this effect with irons, you must always “take a divot,” chopping a little toupee of grass out just after your contact with the ball.

Where the bad news comes in is when your club drives into the ground with your arms holding it. I don’t know what the statistics are, but many Golf Touring Pros — making millions of dollars sometimes – have to take Cortisone for their wrists and forearms. And then as they continue to take divots, hundreds of times per week because Touring Pros practice…a lot…all that Cortisone loses its effect, and that may be the reason a number of Golf Pros retire.  Of course the toll on their arms from hitting down on the ball and digging into the ground for a divot occurs because these Pros are practicing much of their day. Still, you want to avoid this conditions altogether.

So the first prevention for saving your 75 year-old arms is not to take many divots at all. This is possible because of fairway woods and of the advent of hybrids. Depending how you set up your first bag of clubs, you may never have to hit any “irons” (all-iron clubs) with a number smaller than 9. I just found a 9-wood in a Goodwill rack, so all I need to hit are the short distance wedges.

Other golf people will tell you to learn irons as they are classically taught. Some of us may live that long. Meanwhile, I have been interested in learning golf while avoiding injury, and so my methods of entering the golf world may hold some interest if you are over 75.


Copyright 2019 — David Hon

Contact with an Earthly Orb

At 75, or any age, the first thing to realize is that the sport is about contact with the ball. The proper swing which whiffs the ball negates anything else which is good. (Though in scoring, and whiffed ball does not count as a stroke, ironically.) The right position and the right balance and the best grip in the world are never the equal of pure contact with the ball. Though difficult, your contact with the golf ball is the only reason you are out there. Missing the golf ball is not even as good an exercise as going to the gym.

So the Holy Grail for the senior golfer is the “easy swing” that consistently hits the ball. Listen to this podcast philosophy from The Senior Golfer Advisor:

Other sports do have contact that is difficult, and if you’ve played them, you have a big head start. For instance if you have played baseball, you stand still and watch the ball come in front of you at as fast as 100 mph. Then, if your swing’s “sweet spot” is perfect to with an inch, you may get a home run or solid hit. Miss by another inch and you strike out swinging. Tennis does have a few more inches of this “sweet spot” but then you may have to be on a dead run at the same time.

Needless to say, in golf, you get to stand still, and hit a ball which is also not moving. (This is especially important when you are age 75.) However, the true “sweet spot” to contact a golf ball is not much larger than ½ inch. ¼ inch more in any direction makes a poorer contact and a disappointing shot. More than that may be no contact, and certainly no effective shot, at all.

So you must learn several ways to be extremely precise when you start to make contact with the ball. Those are the first things you should work on when you first pick up a golf club. Before you try any more intricacies of golf, just pick up a club. Any club will do, but an iron is best if you have a choice. Now hold it loosely in both hands and reach down to the ground with it. When it touches the ground, keep your hands in the same place but move the club about a foot to the side (right if you are right handed). Then, holding the club loosely, let it swing downward by gravity alone.

If the “gravity swing” drops the club back to its starting position and brushes the ground, you have a great start with golf. Later you will hear the phrase “let the club do the work” and this simple gravity swing is a great beginning to an effective golf swing. Brushing the ground with the easily swinging club head, every time, means you have achieved “finding the ground.” Until you know what “finding the ground” feels like, nothing else you do in golf will matter.  Most of what I will blog here is my own humble opinion (IMHO), but I believe “finding the ground” is a physical fact, a law of the golfer’s universe that no golfer can deny. Most of the rest of what you will learn in golf has to do with finding the ground (and the ball on it) consistently and with some power.

I hope you can follow the rest of these blogs with a grain of salt. They are not a set of instructions (which abound online and in reality) but a result of my explorations –good and bad — as a 75 year old beginner. I am humbled by the vast history and expertise of golf, but I am more humbled by the restrictions of age and even the probability that Death will stop the strides I am making toward being a golfer. Your brothers and sisters and children who play golf will clearly share their excellent knowledge. But here – to our community of 75 year olds — I will try to offer some easier alternatives and short cuts I have tried, though some may seem bizarre, and others downright sacrilege.


Copyright 2019 — David Hon