Inside Track: Work on rerouting my golf swing shows promise, but it’s early

Inside Track: Work on rerouting my golf swing shows promise, but it’s early

Field of Swings -- Here's the view from the grass tee at the Roxburghe Golf Course's practice range. Hitting uphill can be a bit of a downer or excellent training for less taxing shots on the course -- depending on your frame of mind.

Field of Swings -- Here's the view from the grass tee at the Roxburghe Golf Course's practice range. Hitting uphill can be a bit of a downer or excellent training for less taxing shots on the course -- depending on your frame of mind.

In my last installment, I shared my growing desire to work on my game. But for that to happen, I’d need a place to conduct this work—a golf workshop, if you will. I am happy to report that I have found just such a place, and it’s a mere three miles from my house.

Talk about a fortuitous break!

Golf courses in Scotland, you see, are not generally equipped with full-fledged practice facilities as those of you in the U.S. have come to know them. A practice green is standard equipment. But anything beyond that is considered a luxury option. With a bit of luck, you’ll find a net to hit into so you can warm up with full swings. Rare is the driving range where you can let loose with every club in your bag. And a thoughtfully designed short game practice area? Nearly as elusive as that mythical sea monster that probes the depths of Loch Ness.

My new home course, Goswick, is uncharacteristically endowed with such amenities. It’s about a 45-minute drive there each way, though, so hardly practical for any kind of regular practice regimen.

But just down the road from our Kelso cottage is the Roxburghe Golf Course, owned and operated by my neighbor—the Duke of Roxburghe. I’ve been told he’s the richest man in Scotland and his golf course—about the closest thing you’ll find in these parts to a posh American country club—reflects his affluence. So perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that it offers not just a 7,111-yard (from the tips) championship course but also an expansive practice facility, at least by Scottish standards:

  • Driving range with grass tee? Check.
  • Dedicated short-game area, including greenside bunkers, to put a wide array of shots to the test? Check.
  • Large practice green with loads of slope and undulation? Check.

To paraphrase Brigham Young when he and his loyal band of early Mormons found their way to Salt Lake Valley in 1847: This is the place!

I’ve been to my new golf workshop three times since my last post, no more than a first step down this experimental path. A combination of iffy weather, day job demands and extra-curricular travel (I’m currently writing this while holed up at the Hotel Bristol in Warsaw, Poland, accompanying my wife on her business trip) has precluded more frequent visits. Rest assured, though, that regular workouts at the Duke’s golf fitness center will become part of my routine over the coming winter months.

I say this with some certainty because: a) my game has taken on a sorry state of flabbiness that—like an honest look in a mirror—can no longer be ignored; and b) the initial sessions have already begun to raise hope of real progress.

Hooked on Golf? -- Here's the shack where you can trade your range token for a bucket of balls. It's adjacent to a trout fishery where fly fishing neophytes practice their casting (thus necessitating the warning sign).

Hooked on Golf? -- Here's the shack where you can trade your range token for a bucket of balls. It's adjacent to a trout fishery where fly fishing neophytes practice their casting (thus necessitating the warning sign).

An Inside-to-Square Swing Path

Specifically, I’m focusing on the path of the club head through the hitting area. My missed shots tend to be either low liners to the left or high floaters to the right. My hypothesis? My swing path as it approaches the moment of truth is too square to the target line or, perhaps, even slightly outside that line at impact. If I release the club head from this position, I’ll produce a Thurman Munson (aka a Dead Yank). Conversely, if I hold off on the release, I’ll pop it up to the right. Only if I achieve perfect timing will I hit solid on-target shots. So the latter is possible, but not at a level of consistency that’s likely to lead to good scores.

To shore up my ball striking, I’ve begun experimenting with ways to reroute the club head so it approaches the ball slightly inside the target line. From there, a full release of the hands is much more likely to square up the face at impact—imparting a slight draw spin.

This might sound odd, but I’ve actually begun working on this shift with my putter. As a wee lad, I always brought the blade back well inside the line and trusted that my natural release would square up the face as it made contact with the ball. And, if my selective memory is to be trusted, most of the time it did. Consistently aligning the putter’s sweet spot with the ball accomplished two things: 1) the ball started rolling on the intended line; and 2) I developed a good feel for the speed my putts. Randomly strike the ball slightly toward the toe or heel of the putter and those two things are virtually impossible. And, as we all know, good golf is a function of just two things: direction and distance. Lock in those parameters and, assuming you’ve read the green properly, the ball will fall into the hole. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

The benefit of relearning this movement with a putter is that, compared with a full swing, everything happens in super-slow motion. I can see and, more importantly, feel the difference. And slight variations in the stroke lead to obvious variations in the results. If I pay close attention to this feedback loop when I practice, slowly but surely I will retrain my body—leading to more satisfying results.

It’s early, but I’ve already begun to transfer the feel of this new path with the putter to my full swing. Many more reps will be required to complete the transformation. But I can sense that it’s there and that more consistent ball striking will follow.

Wedge Work -- Here's a view of the Roxburghe's short game practice area, situated within a lovely walled garden. So far, every time I've come here, I've had the place to myself. Nice!

Wedge Work -- Here's a view of the Roxburghe's short game practice area, situated within a lovely walled garden. So far, every time I've come here, I've had the place to myself. Nice!

A Three-Legged Stool

Now, I should stress that this renewed emphasis on mechanics and performance doesn’t supersede the more compelling reasons for playing this game. I’m referring to such joys as the creativity required to become at one with wind and terrain, the aesthetic beauty of the Scottish linksland and the camaraderie of my golfing buddies—both old and new. The time I spend amid the dunes is deeply satisfying, no matter the numbers on the scorecard. But if, with a bit of concerted effort, I can find a way to hit the ball where I intend with greater frequency, the game will be more pleasurable. As Fred Shoemaker, author of the inspired book Extraordinary Golf might put it, the pursuit of performance, learning andenjoyment is not a zero-sum game. Rather, they’re more akin to the legs of a stool that becomes far more stable when allthree are firmly planted on the ground.

Of course, the proof will be in the doing not the writing. Only time, and several more trips to the Roxburghe, will tell.

The Holy Crail: My 18-year quest has a happy ending at this Old Tom gem

The Holy Crail: My 18-year quest has a happy ending at this Old Tom gem

A Helpful Hiatus: Forced break has me thinking it’s time to work on my game