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

Haunting the Goodwill Golf

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

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

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