I recently sold my sailboat because my balance could not keep up with the swirling seas. It happens in your seventies. Standing by the rail heeled up with one foot on the wheel became scary rather than exhilarating. It was part of the reason I’m taking up golf in my seventies. But alas, even golf is not without concern for balance.
Reminds one of the poet Henry Reed, who wrote the classic poems in his series: Lessons of the War. He was a rather unwilling draftee into WW1, and these are the wanderings of his mind as he goes through training. In “Unarmed Combat”, he tells us that all of his wars were cosmic from the start, but concedes that his drill instructor has a cosmic point. The most important thing is:
“The ever-important question of human balance, And the ever-important need to be in a strong Position at the start.”
To the 25-year-old golfer, or even to many 50-year-olds, this is a silly worry. Most people trip up and down stairs and reach up to change light bulbs and their balance is always as dependable as breathing. However, if a 70-year-old is trying to swing a golf club, to some degree that golf club is swinging back, attempting to modify the elder golfer’s weight distribution – foot-to-foot and heel-to-toe.
You might see something in common by watching your favorite athletes closely. The tennis player drops into “split step” after hitting a return volley, equally ready to change weight in either direction. The shortstop tries to land squared to the hot grounder, ready to move with any awkward bounce. The running back keeps his driving knees a foot or more apart, so he can stay stable as monsters grab out for him with monster arms.
At this point you may wish to insert a snarky muse: “but in golf the ball isn’t moving”. However, the Earth is still moving. When you swing your club, gravity tends to pull you off balance, and that gravitational pull modifies where you strike the ball. Even an inch off can dig up ground or “top” the ball. Two inches off and you may be swinging hard at pure air. Makes the game discouraging if you cannot hit the ball squarely every time.
I recently learned something when I landed in front of a female golf instructor. It became apparent she was used to seeing old men fall on their faces trying to batter the ball long to impress her. She gave me a pattern to use always — before every stroke with every club. It’s a pattern of 6 swings, three in each direction. (Most other players won’t even notice.) It takes about 6 seconds before each stroke, but it lets your 70-year-old body make effective, dependable golf shots.
Stepping slightly back from the ball, you swing the club through the spot where a ball might be, and then you swing the club back in the other direction as if the phantom ball is also being hit from that position. Think of yourself as a switch hitter in baseball, or a hockey player who needs a quick-scoring back shot off the wrong leg. In your case, you premeditate the degree your swing with the golf club will pull you out of balance, and will cause the inner process of your body to make minor compensations so you won’t tip forward or backward or to either side which might change the relation your club should have with the ground.
It really works. Try it. It works because your body is always ready – in a way like the body the tennis player or shortstop – to adjust your weight shift to catch the ball each time in its sweetest spot. And that makes golf a sweeter spot in your golf life…Less swearing, more sighing.