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-uping 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

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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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Golf Elbow and Your Bag O’ Tricks

If you arrive at 75 and still want to strive at being alive through sport – then you probably have a bag of physical tricks to get your body through the next mile, or the next match, or the next day. A friend of mine just introduced me to lavender oil on the bottom of the feet to promote sound sleep. He handed me some. I tried it. I slept nicely. I’m not selling it, but I like you because you read this blog, and so I pass the trick on to you. But, of course, not all tricks work for all people.

When someone hands you a new trick, it is usually not medically dangerous. Common sense can make you wary enough. Snake venom may cure something or other, but I am not about to try it. Surprisingly enough, most doctors don’t know all the tricks, and are usually curious to learn from you. And of course, you can mention something you are thinking of doing and a doctor will dissuade you if he or she has knowledge.

When it comes to muscles and bones, you can usually try a bit of the latest trick and see if you feel better. Ibuprofin, for example, is often prescribed for inflammation pain but eats at my stomach. Once again, common sense. But healing, healing is another matter. Take an example from tennis. Just for your information, the number of tennis players over 30 who experience tennis elbow is massive. The number over age 60 is epidemic. At age 75, most tennis players are ready for the glue factory – not in small part because of their tennis elbow. Once when I was sailing, I let a taut line jerk my arm at an awkward angle, and immediately I had tennis elbow that ran up to the shoulder.

I wanted to play tennis, and yet could barely lift my arm to play. I wandered the internet and found this guy who has tenniselbowclassroom.com The non-pretentious narrator shows you the basic anatomy, and then just sits on camera and shows you on his arm how to rid yourself of most tennis elbow problems. No pain, just extremely effective manipulation on yourself. It worked, and I was playing at 90% within a week. Maybe it was just luck, but what can I say?

No tennis elbow problem has laid me low me since I subscribed to that site. There I collected a marvelous bag of tricks for tennis, but the reason I mention it here was that the underside of your forearm is the area which is prone to Golf Elbow.

Almost on schedule, in my first few months’ trying to swing a golf club I developed Golf Elbow in my left arm. I remembered I had the subscription to tenniselbowclassroom  and immediately tried the Golf Elbow videos. There is one bump of ligament and bone that is the central point of most Golf Elbow. After about a week’s work with the therapy video, I have not experienced any Golf Elbow since.

At the moment, my bag of tricks badly needs a new trick for back pain caused by the gyrations they say are needed to hit the ball further or straighter or higher or whatever is your ego’s main need. To continue golf – and thus this blog — it is beginning to look like this 76-year-old may need to learn a new stroke entirely, one that avoids pressure on the lower back. That’s OK, because I just started golf and I am malleable as butter if I can slip past a crippling slipped disc . Of course I will keep you posted, but read the medical disclaimer at the bottom of this blog page. (Again: Not all tricks work for all people.)


Copyright 2019 — David Hon

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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 SeniorGolferAdvisor.com, 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 Callifornia. 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

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