Benjamin Button Goes to First Grade

First Grade is a long time back when you are 75 years old. (My first grade was at Woodlake School in Minneapolis, and I’ll bet you can remember yours. Did you have inkwell holes in your old school desks? ) At any rate, it was for sure a time you did not know what to expect, or how you should relate to others, or even what basics you would be learning.

Your first golf lessons may be like the First Grade. You may be taking just one lesson at a time, or a series. If you take group lessons, they are usually in a series and MUCH less expensive. I personally favor the cheapest group lessons, as the instructor is forced to relate the basics in a way the whole group can understand. Also, even though you may be the oldest, you can usually find someone in the group who is worse than you are, and this helps give you immensely more confidence. Remember though, gloating is really unattractive in older folks.

Undoubtedly the instructor(s) will start out teaching you the full swing. Their objective is to have you standing in a balanced position and swinging the club in a consistent manner. When you can stand balanced on two feet and make a big swing of the club in a manner that merely brushes the ground in front of you, the thinking is that you will hit the ball consistently as well.

Until I actually started to play golf, it seemed like hitting the ball as straight and as far as you can with every club was going to be the key to playing golf.  But is that the key to anything but getting a buzz out of a long smack? What if, at the end of all your mighty swings, you can’t neatly deposit it into one little hole?

If I had paid for individual lessons and knew enough to structure my own learning, I would have started it all out with a putting lesson. You can then practice putting at free putting greens at municipal courses, or even those inside most golf stores where you can try out every putter they have. No one will ever bother you at any of these places…stay all day. Learn to “lag” the ball from 30 feet away and end up so close to the hole you can tap it in. You can even practice putting on your carpet at home, if you can clear away about 10 feet of clutter. As my golfer son-in-law says “Drive for Show, but Putt for Dough.”

The Short Game is the most difficult to master but probably easier for the 70 year old than long driving and long fairway and approach shots. There are lots of instructors who secretly agree, but the promo pictures are always of pro golfers in full swing, and most lessons seek first to satisfy that golfing urge, it seems. However, the most fantastically talented of pro swingers often — incredibly often — wilt when they have to get the little ball into the little hole a few feet away.

So take it from me, starting with the whole Short Game would make the most sense. First you concentrate on putting the ball into the hole from various distances and with various ‘breaks” in the surface of the putting green. That could take weeks (or months). Then you work backward to chipping and then pitching with quarter swings, again looking to put it straight into the hole. Then you learn half swings until you can land it close to the hole most of the time from 50 feet away.

Most experienced golfers will tell you this Short Game is the study of a lifetime.  if you learn things in this reverse “Benjamin Button” order, then by the time you get to a full swing, you are already a golfer.


Copyright 2019 — David Hon

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