No Pain, No Gain: Did my new swinging motion strain a muscle in my shoulder?

No Pain, No Gain: Did my new swinging motion strain a muscle in my shoulder?

Swing for the Fences -- From my assigned stall on the third of four decks at the Jingu driving range in Tokyo, you can easily hit it over the wall but -- due to the netting -- not out of the park.

Swing for the Fences -- From my assigned stall on the third of four decks at the Jingu driving range in Tokyo, you can easily hit it over the wall but -- due to the netting -- not out of the park.

If you’ve read this site’s “About” page, you’ll know that my Scottish nickname—Wee Egg Mon—owes its existence, at least in part, to Ben Hogan’s Scottish nickname—Wee Ice Mon. It turns out that might not be the only thing I have in common with arguably the best ball-striker the game has ever known.

No, I’m not talking about my ball striking. Far from it.

Rather, Hogan is also known for allegedly discovering a “secret” to the golf swing that transformed the once journeyman pro into one of golf’s all-time greats. I say “allegedly” because Hogan never divulged his secret. So no one knows for certain if it really did make all the difference or if, for that matter, it even existed.

But it sure makes for a good story.

Meanwhile, my story, at least of late, is that I’ve stumbled upon the teachings of Ernest Jones. Not a secret, exactly, but certainly exceedingly obscure. It’s still too early to say with conviction, but it seems his “swing the clubhead” theory could well be the secret to transforming my game from hapless hacker to modestly competent amateur—making the game a pleasure again.

There’s just one problem: As I type this, I am physically unable to continue with the experiment. I currently cannot swing a golf club, at least not in the way that would make Old Ernie proud.

Tee Tech -- Hit this ball and, before you know it, another will automatically appear from below the mat.

Tee Tech -- Hit this ball and, before you know it, another will automatically appear from below the mat.

Bad Timing

What’s up?

One week ago, I awoke with a stabbing pain in my right shoulder blade. At some point and in some way, I strained a muscle—apparently rather severely. I’ll spare you the details except to say that I’ve had one session of physio therapy and might need a follow-up in a couple of days to fully release the tension.

The good news? The pain is subsiding, albeit gradually.

The bad news? My annual reunion with 24 of my best buddies from the US and UK is approaching, all too quickly.

The first wave shows up Thursday morning. I’ll be chauffeuring them from the Edinburgh Airport to Dunbar Golf Club to immediately commence with the preamble to the main event—a weeklong golf fest at Machrihanish Golf Club on the Kintyre Peninsula along Scotland’s west coast. Sitting this trip out is not an option. The only question is if I’ll be playing with pain or without. But I will be playing.

That’s the short-term concern. It’s the longer-term that’s more troubling.

What if this muscle strain is a direct result of my new golf swing? If so, can I eventually build up my increasingly creaky body to withstand this alternative motion? And, if I can’t accomplish that, what then? Is it possible that I’ve stumbled upon the equivalent of Ben Hogan’s “secret,” but I’m just too dang old to take advantage of it? What kind of twisted joke is that?

Trust me, I’m not laughing. This is a serious business that, one way or another, will resolve itself. But I’m holding out hope that it’s little more than a bump on the road to more life-affirming golf—and someday soon I’ll look back on this diversion and have a right good chuckle.

I say this, in part, because I am by nature an optimistic person. But I also base my hope on tangible evidence. The fact is I’ve been experimenting with this new swing for more than a month now. Yet, this is the first time I’ve experienced any pain. If my physique simply couldn’t handle the torque, it seems like I’d have discovered it in the early going.

So maybe, just maybe, the root cause has nothing to do with golf. The physio guy thinks it could just as likely be too much hand-to-computer-mouse combat. I’ve certainly had my share of that lately.

Quality Rental -- With my Mizuno irons back in Scotland, imagine my delight when I hired a 7-iron and they handed me this shiny new stick.

Quality Rental -- With my Mizuno irons back in Scotland, imagine my delight when I hired a 7-iron and they handed me this shiny new stick.

Stress Test

I’m also heartened when I recall the practice session I managed to sneak in during a trip to Japan in March. The two-week holiday was a gift to our youngest daughter in celebration of her earning her undergraduate college degree. We had a wonderful time, from visiting with my wife’s family (her mom was born and raised in Chiba), to touring the ancient shrines of Kyoto, to walking the atomic bomb site in Hiroshima to taking in the many sights and sounds of Tokyo. My take on it all? Japan is, by far, the most foreign country I’ve ever been to. Yet it is also the most orderly, strangely quirky and endlessly fascinating place I can imagine.

My two-hour stint at the Jingu driving range on the west side of Tokyo serves as a case in point. The facility is one of several venues that comprise Meiji Jingu Gaien Park. In addition to the golf practice facility, the park is home to baseball diamonds, a baseball batting cage, tennis courts (including a members-only lawn tennis club), an indoor ice skating rink and a network of paths for walkers and runners. Basically, if you’re looking for physical recreation in the heart of this megacity, this is the place.

What makes the golf range unique is that it’s been built within the confines of a baseball stadium. Now, golf and baseball are two of my favorite things. So I was immediately intrigued that the Japanese had the vision to marry the two together.

I suppose it shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise. After all, space is at a premium in Japan, an island nation. The Jingu range demonstrates just how clever the Japanese are at making the most of every square inch available to them. Four decks of tee stalls fit where, in a normal baseball stadium, you’d find the spectator seating. Metal caging extends upward from the outfield walls, catching golf balls that carry more than 170 yards. The pitcher’s mound is covered with an artificial green to serve as a short-range target. Other targets are strategically placed about the outfield turf. It’s all very cozy and entirely functional—except, of course, if there’s a baseball game on. When such a conflict arises, the golf patrons can retreat to a compact hitting area that’s also fully encased in fencing—kind of a hybrid between a full-sized range and a backyard net.

For about 3,000 yen ($27), I purchased a range card worth 100 balls as well as the use of a driver and a 7-iron. In addition to being a bit odd, Japan is also a bit pricey. Sure glad I live in Scotland!

I took the elevator to the third floor and made my way to my pre-assigned stall. The Japanese fully embrace hi-tech and this range is no exception. A bucket of balls? That’s so last century. Here the balls appear like magic on a rubber tee that pops up through a hole in the mat. Pressing buttons with up and down arrows allows you to fine-tune the height of the tee to your personal preference. Or, if hitting an iron, you can simply roll the ball off the tee and onto the mat. Either way, the rubber tee doesn’t stay empty for long. It automatically drops back down below the mat, only to reemerge seconds later with another shiny clean stripy. Works for me.

So, after a bit of stretching, I commenced to hit balls—or I should say swinging the club—reengaging with my Ernest Jones’ inspired motion. I am happy to report that it works just as well in Japan as it does in Scotland. The laws of physics apply on both sides of the planet.

I must say, though, that pounding drives off the mesh wall in center field was especially satisfying. I mean, who among us, while attending a major-league baseball game, hasn’t fantasized about what it would be like to stand at home plate and knock golf balls into the bleacher seats like some a cross between Babe Ruth and Jack Nicklaus?

With plans to meet up with friends for dinner, I had a limited amount of time for this golf infusion. When the rubber tee popped up empty, I knew my range card had been exhausted, too. And I was OK with that. Truth be told, I was kind of swung out. A ball per minute is more than enough for this more-than-middle-aged body of mine.

Golf Crazy -- Japan might be even more ga-ga for golf than Scotland, though for many of the locals beating balls at the range is their only experience of the game.

Golf Crazy -- Japan might be even more ga-ga for golf than Scotland, though for many of the locals beating balls at the range is their only experience of the game.

It’s a Mystery

I mention all of this because: a) it was a cool experience; and b) I woke up the morning after without a hint of a hangover. No muscle soreness. Certainly no muscle strain and pain. My body passed this stress test with flying colors.

And yet, here I sit, about to embark on what could be as many as a dozen rounds of golf in eight days, uncertain if my new swing caused the injury and/or I will only make it worse by continuing to let ‘er rip.

Maybe this whole business isn’t a secret. But, for now, I’d say it qualifies as a mystery. Hopefully by the time of my next post—from Old Tom Morris’ magical linksland—all will be revealed.

Until then…

Okham’s Razor: Or how the simplest solution to my game could prove to be the best

Okham’s Razor: Or how the simplest solution to my game could prove to be the best

Buried Treasure: Can Ernest Jones’ little book rekindle my love of golf?

Buried Treasure: Can Ernest Jones’ little book rekindle my love of golf?