Golf in the Elements

If you are 75, you have seen a rainy day or two. And wherever you live, there are usually cold days in some of the year, and you mostly don’t let them get in your way. With snug cars and centrally heated roofs over our heads, it is easy to forget that once upon a time we were tough. Our kids wouldn’t dream of swimming in cold water, but we frolicked in it. Our smartphones know the weather, and so we come to know it hour by hour. It’s a sure sign of sloth, when we can’t look out the window or step outside to find out how the weather really is, because our smartphones will tell us in the comfort of our beds.

No one will question your right to restrict your golfing to sunny days only. It does put you in a category, and it does limit your options. But with so many years of travail behind you, you have the total right to demand that the sun shine on every joy you find, and every day you find it. There are plenty of sunny days for golf, and plenty of golfers of all ages populate weekends on the courses (leaving weekdays mostly to the retired).

But remember this: once we were tough. Once we played our sports in the rain – tennis, with soggy balls and wooden racquets that were warping. Once we played outside all day long because as kids, the outside was ours. The outside was freedom. So even before you venture out to a full length course, you will probably have to decide if you are a fair-weather golfer, or a tough one.

No one is suggesting you go out golfing in torrential rains, or in cold that freezes your eyes and earlobes. However, in golf there are a few advantages to being tough. If you go out on a misty day, you will probably have the whole course to yourself — this is good for beginners not being rushed by impatient golfers behind. If you go out on a cold day, such as most climates experience in the fall, or early spring, you can manage well in 50 degree weather while other golfers are waiting at home for summer. Some northerners even hit colored golf balls into the snow. (They find them, like so many Easter eggs lying about, in the spring).

So your choice is to be a fair-weather golfer, or a tough one. Shorts and sporty shirts and baseball caps are all a fair-weather golfer needs. But the tough ones are out in the grey mist and the cold autumn and late winter days. They need waterproof golf shoes (from England, on Amazon at $29.95) and a rain shirt that keeps you dry and warm while swinging away ($18 on sale online) and ordinary golf gloves, but for both hands.

If you are among the tough ones, you will discover as I did, that you have as many as four more months golfing, with few people on the course. Occasionally there are winter rates, and golf has its “winter rules” which allow you to take a ball from the mud and drop it on about any spot of grass you want. However, to be truthful…when I started golf in December, I had to be tough because I was impatient to get out there and hit the ball.

There is one more advantage to being a tough golfer. When the sun and warmth finally breaks through, all the fair weather golfers are just getting their strokes back. You will be jumping with joy in the pulsating air, and ready to enjoy not being quite so tough. However, you also know you may continue your golfing days a couple more months after the skies turn grey again. Think of it…It is like negotiating four more months of Life every year. Perhaps it is a deal you have with your God…but what a deal!

Copyright 2019 — David Hon

Golfing – A Feminine Frontier

At age 76, there are two things I will probably never be in this lifetime. One is being age 75 ever again, and the other is being a woman. 

I’ve been communicating here about learning golf as a 75 year old, and I have meant to include all of us in that. First, it is good exercise with little chance of falling. It does get you out of the house and doing something that is constantly challenging, and fun. You can play golf with others, or all by yourself. There are lots of ways you can begin inexpensively and then spend more if you get more involved. What you do have, if you are retired at age 75, is the time to explore golf more…whether you have played a bit before or are taking up golf for the first time.

Those are the same for 75 year old men or women. Another thing, almost the same, is how sports you might have played when you were much younger give you a start on the new skills of golf now. Girls playing basketball know where the ball has to go, just as boys know how hard it is to hit a baseball. My wife Brenda had played tennis and field hockey, and most of her golf shots turned out to be straighter than mine.

Of the few things I do know about women, these would definitely recommend a 75 year old taking up golf (as opposed to – say – rugby). First, you are likely to live much longer than men.  Statistics give you four or five more years, as I remember.  You might as well spend that time enjoying golf.

Secondly, a lot fewer women than men say they have ever played golf, but that is a supreme advantage.   Roughly, I remember that about 23% of all women say they have played golf, as opposed to over 60% of men. (Please don’t break my fingers if these are not pinpoint exact. You get the idea and the idea is factual.) If you compare this to the possible gene pool, that means you as a woman will have TWICE the odds of becoming a respectable golfer as any man!

Some other advantages women have over men in playing golf are a little more speculative, but observation will  bear them out.  Good women golfers can often hit a ball 275 yards, nearly as far as a man. Golf observers say it is because these good women golfers have a very smooth and complete swing with their whole body which takes a ball much further than the arm strength of a man alone. The short game doesn’t rely on strength at all. That is why year after year the professional men and women golfers have very similar averages in their tournament play.

However, my own speculation is that women are mostly built better for golf. Their generally lower center of gravity gives women a lot greater balance and stability on their own two feet than men could ever have. This means that their golf swings can be more consistent, and so they can eventually depend on their shots not only being straighter, but that all power of their swing will more consistently strike the ball in the right place.

As a man, I welcome 75 year old women to the world of golf, and I promise not to be too envious of the advantages you bring.

Copyright 2019 — David Hon

The Wellness Club

As you may have noted, all 75 year olds are not built for golf. Some of us, unfortunately, already have to have assistance with activities of daily living. You may have noted at the bottom of this web site that we suggest you mention to your doctor that you want to try golf. They may know something that we do not — and you do not — and they will advise you on that.

However, there are doctors of all opinions. At one time cardiologists thought heart attack victims should spend the rest of their lives in bed. With more research, and some years later, a few modern doctors now have some similar victims running marathons. Some doctors say to go easy on your arthritis and others say exercise those joints or they will atrophy. Golf club manufacturers have arthritic grips so older golfers can still grip the clubs firmly. Special golf gloves make it easier for arthritic fingers to grip clubs as well.

So there are limitations, and there are solutions, but mostly there are attitudes. You may be surprised to know that you do not always have to do as the doctor advises. Doctors ice many “tennis elbows” and tell the tennis players to wait out the healing of ligaments for weeks. However, in one such tennis situation I got a prized appointment to the local professional football team’s chiropractor.  (These football players beat on each other with their arms for a living. )  He said if I could take a few painful manipulations, I could possibly be back playing in a day or so (much as the professional football players are told, I am sure). Well, these bizarre manipulations hurt a lot, but they worked. So much for resting our lives away….

In other cases, back surgeons may advise surgery for backs, but they get 10s of thousands of dollars per procedure, and they may have kids to put through college…Life is crass that way. Always remember: You are the medical consumer and if a chiropractor or an Asian acupuncturist works for you, you are still in charge.  And then, even if you are not hurting, I would say that you might want first to do a self-assessment. Here is a little “wellness exam” to see if you are fit enough to start golf:

    1. Can you tie your own shoes? Tying shoes also has a lot of manipulations involved, and some people over 70 wear nothing but loafers and bedroom slippers, unless they have some help dressing for occasions.
    2. Can you walk one straight mile without stopping? If you can, you can probably play golf, since you will have to do some walking however you approach it. Of course, walking the full course (perhaps with a roller) gives excellent exercise to any age.
    3. Can you pick up a piece of paper from the floor? This requires some balance and agility and of course you will often have to set tees and pick up golf balls.
    4. Can you clasp both hands over your head? Often you are not required to work over head, and shoulders do deteriorate. (Notice that we are NOT asking you to repeat three words we gave you earlier. You can remember score on your fingers….)
    5. Can you pick up a 20 pound suitcase by its handle? A minimum of arm and body strength will be necessary for golf.
    6. Can you climb two flights of stairs without using the railing? Have a railing at hand if you try this, because balancing on one leg as you step to the next step is possibly a difficult set of moves.

I am not saying these are the only qualifications to play golf at our age, but enthusiastic as you may be, a firm self-assessment such as these questions offer will let you move forward with more confidence. If these are easy tests to pass for the Wellness Club, then let’s get going with golf clubs!

Copyright 2019 — David Hon

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

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 tennis elbow classroom. 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 tennis elbow classroom  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

Save Buckets of Money with a Practice Space

Back in the days of the Red Dog Saloon, everyone knew the length of his or her pace and from that could walk off distances. Chances are, if you are 75, you’ve learned pacing at one time or other in your youth, or should have. One pace is two steps, a left and a right. When you are pacing you start on your left foot count every time your right foot comes down. (We used to slap our right leg and count the next number on the way to the destination). Then, when you get to your objective – the golf hole or the edge of the park, you take the count of your paces. Then you multiply it by the length of one pace. The average man has a pace – a left and right step – of about 5 feet.

Don’t spend a fortune in $8 and $12 buckets of balls to develop your shorter shots. Instead, you should find your own practice area for your Short Game and pace off distances within it to practice your shorter “pitches.” This small area of grass may be the outfield of a baseball diamond, unused during the week. It may be on the back grounds of large office complex. Or it may be in a remote corner of a city park. Remember these are unused areas in much of the workweek, untouched and yours to use. One great golfer, Seve Ballesteros, grew up poor, hitting his balls on the sand beaches of his small fishing town in Spain. He became one of the best golfers ever at hitting the short shots approaching the green…especially when he was in a sand trap. (He became no. 1 in the world — and poor no more!)

Hopefully you will find a lonely place with wide open grass, mowed just short enough for you to keep the ball in sight. You claim this territory like the cattlemen claimed grazing land, because you are there first and know how to use it. These spaces can be yours to learn the Short Game – that is everything from 100 yards out, to the green itself. To improve in golf, however, you must have a target, and you must know how far that target is. You cannot learn much if you just hit the ball out into the wide-open space (pleasant as that may be the first few times).

So, one of first things you should learn is how to pace out distances. Here’s why: Much of the delight you will have in golf is the discovery of your own talent, and you will find that in practice, and more practice… every time you have a free hour. For that, you need a solitary practice ground, where you know how far your targets are away from you.

You can continue to work at this practice area only if you use it precisely, with no swing more than a half swing at first. You must hit the ball with very little power until you can always hit it straight. And when you can hit it straight you must pace off just how far you want to hit it, because the second rule is that you must not hit it too far, out of your decided boundaries. Terrified drivers or broken windows in the neighborhood are a sure way to lose your precious space. Do not hit it anywhere near someone walking their dog.

Now you can hit hundreds of balls inside this practice field, and get very good at pitching the ball thirty feet, then 50 , perhaps 100 or more feet – toward a target and hitting precisely, not wildly. You’ll learn to swing methodically and relaxed, and to bring the edge of the club between the ground and the lower half of the ball – lifting it into the air — every time. You will get better and better, and you will do this for Free!

Copyright 2019 — David Hon

Golf Riches For You To Discover

My nephew is about to retire, and he says that although he loves to play golf, it is far too expensive for him to do on a retiree’s budget. Unfortunately, he feels that it is a “rich man’s sport.” At 75, we have to believe that our richness is in years, and in savvy. If you do believe that, you can find ways to make this game of Golf much more affordable.

Let’s start with a statistic (probably Golf Digest…but you tell me): the average golfer now spends $2,700 a year. Given, that is not a figure that recommends itself to the homeless, but on the other hand, people can spend that much or a lot more on boating, skiing, tennis, multiple vacations, or generous Christmas gifts. So before we decide golf is too expensive, let’s say “compared with what – and what level of that what?” Golf trips with all your clubs to Saint Andrews famous course in Scotland could indeed cost you a few dollars (or pounds). But that is not a required level for your golf at all. Much joy can be had on a simple municipal course.

So, if you’ve decided that a little golf might not be totally out of budget for you, let’s start on the American trait of “cost-whittling”.

Time of day: First of all, if you are retired, you can choose your time of day at public courses. The cost usually reflects peak times and goes down from there. For instance, Saturday at 10am will be the most popular tee time. Almost all courses offer discounted rounds to the general public on certain days of the week or times of day. (Ordinary rich golfers DO have to work except for the most popular times…a sad but true fact).

 Your equipment: As I have mentioned in a few posts, at the Goodwill or other second hand stores, you can find a carry-bag and 4 or 5 adequate clubs you need to start for way under $40. Then later add better individual clubs — or even 3 or 4 year old full sets — that you find online for astronomically less than their new price. You should be able to find decent balls for a dollar each. A dirty little secret: Most experienced golfers use only about 7-8 clubs maximum each round, because they discover what works best for them.

Your Age: Almost all courses have a 25-30% discounts for Seniors, but many offer 50% off to Super Seniors over 75. You might say the older you are the cheaper golf becomes. Why should juniors have all the benefits of age? After all, you’ll probably be old longer than they are young.

Trade Volunteer Work: The one special currency that golf course managers have is the ability to grant free rounds to Volunteers. Here’s a notice at one course looking for volunteers. I asked if free courses were given to volunteers who do certain amounts of work, and they said of course.

One very important consideration is that golf courses are small businesses in themselves. You have free time and perhaps some skills they need; they have a golf course they can let you use in exchange. (You’ll have to admit there is potential here.) As in most small businesses, they have limited needs for special skills, and they cannot afford either to employ staff for those small jobs, or pay market rates for part time employees. For instance, if you have been an accountant and can help during tax time, you might get a few rounds as payment.

It comes down to your own creativity and your own moxie. These gifts of yours don’t have to wither with older age. You have the idea and you negotiate the deal. Be entrepreneurial. One short trek through brushy or swampy areas will reveal many excellent quality balls that are too remote for rich golfers to thrash and slog just to get their errant ball. Golf shops can resell these for $1 apiece. They could structure a way for you to bring in these balls for a quarter, or for rounds of golf.  It may mean that you have to fight rattlesnakes in the scrub brush on desert courses, but at least these creatures will not discriminate on the basis of your age.

Copyright 2019 — David Hon