Slice of Life
I don't know what I enjoy more: the Masters or the anticipation of the Masters. I'm mindful of the story of how the young Jack Nicklaus annually prepared for Augusta by visiting in Florida his long-time teacher and mentor, Jack Grout. The Golden Bear would have Grout carefully study his form, making sure all the fundamentals of grip, address, stance, posture fell into championship form. One time I read a quote from Nicklaus where he said in effect: "When my playing days are over, I'm not sure what I'll miss most about the Masters: Augusta or preparing for Augusta.
Bereft of a Grout in Palm Beach, I'm left to prepare for the new golf season here in Michigan by a few visits to a dome. I slap a few buckets of balls off a mat and wonder at the end of session if I ever hit one solid shot. In fact, I harbor doubts whether or not I'll ever regain a sound swing for the coming season. How corrosive is this rust and is it terminal? It's about then when I pull out my trusty "Little Blue Memo Pad." Not to be confused with Harvey Penick's famed "Little Red Book," the best-selling instructional book chock-full of pithy swing tips and life lessons, my "Little Blue Memo Pad" is where I modestly record some swing thoughts, cues, and tips. Most of the time, I transcribe them after some tip, lesson or something I've read (and yes, I still read the instructional columns to fight bouts of insomnia) has worked well out on the course. Even for one round. Anyway, my "Little Blue Memo Pad" is my personal one-on-one with Jack Grout, Rick Smith, David Leadbetter et al to get ready for spring and the coming season. Let me cite a few examples:
Loren "The Boss of the Moss" Roberts urges more practice on lag putting. Better lag putting means one's second putts will be shorter and hence result in fewer three-putts. Also, practice more three-and four-footers. Goal: to be nicknamed "Shop Steward of the Putting Surface."
On fairway woods, work on a low, one-piece takeaway. Don't pick up the clubhead on the takeaway. In clubhouse after the round, don't pick up bar tab unless it's in a one-piece, smooth takeaway.
On wedges, stand taller and don't collapse on impact like a Yugo in a head-on with a SUV. Try to avoid the word "collapse" and erase it from my late-round vocabulary. Instead use such words as "sink," and "sag." Read somewhere that Mr. Tiger Woods stays behind the ball better on drives by simply moving his right foot wider in the stance. Be mindful that after a mishit drive of maybe 143 yards, my entire body is still behind the ball as I pick up the tee.
Improve posture: butt out more at address, bend from the waist, keep knees flexed. Also, while paying off partners in the lounge after Saturday's game, sit up taller in the chair.
In the sand, keep weight on forward foot, open hips, open face of wedge, and pretend one's head is on a shelf through the shot to avoid dipping. If I leave first attempt in the sand, harness temper my being kind to the "inner battered child."
Sweep irons back and widen my arc. Try to feel at the top the back is pointing at the target. Or visualize my back is a big buck on the first day of deer hunting season. Wear something in orange.
Stay loose at address. Low and slow going back. Get left shoulder behind the ball in the backswing. Head behind and down through the ball. Keep chiropractor's pager number handy.
Try to eat smart and eat better on the course. Prepare snacks and half-sandwiches for quick energy during the round. Goal: Be well nourished while chili-dipping.
On putts, position eyes over the ball. Focus on a spot on the ball. Don't watch the putter going back. Don't watch the putter going back. I'm getting very sleepy.
When faced with a short pitch over a bunker to a green, recall the words of course architect Art Hills after he promptly dumped a ball into the sand: "That's the easiest shot in golf."
Just re-reading some of these tips gives me renewed confidence for the 2001 golf season. Just how far is it to Augusta, Michigan?
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