With the PGA Tour shut down indefinitely and the coronavirus pandemic raging, it may be, to paraphrase Larry David, a pretty damn good time to get the sticks out and head out to your favorite course. Makes sense, really. The Golf Channel’s got nothing much going, and even if you’re in self-quarantine, playing a round of golf seems like one of the safest places given the likelihood of community spread of the virus. Just don’t shake hands or stand too close to playing partners. Even Trump has started to use the Wuhan method of bumping elbows instead of shaking hands. It’s also safer than the gym for exercise, if your gym is even open. In fact, the gym is probably one of the more likely places for contracting or spreading this virus. With a virus that seems to thrive on indoor venues, playing golf in the great outdoors is a pretty damn good idea for fun and exercise during these trying times. Sure beats Netflix, Facebook, Solitaire, or dancing with your spouse in the living room to old Beach Boys tunes (think, “Fun, fun, fun, ’till her daddy takes the T-bird away”). Although the later is a pretty damn good idea as well!
The real question is, after a long, lingering winter (it was snowing hard outside our place in SW Washington this morning!), is are you ready to play? I’ll leave you to answering that question yourself. But personally, I’m itching to try out some swing theories I’ve been working on at the range. Things look promising at the moment, but there is that bugaboo of taking to the course what is working on the range. I’m tired of the bloody range though, and my back is balking at the hammering of shot after shot, mostly on unforgiving mats or grubby, patchy grass/dirt. My range, too, makes Tin Cup’s Texas digs look like Augusta National. No armadillos, but huge puddles instead of grass in the landing area.
So I’m planning to play next week when the temps are predicted to rise into the 50s and even low 60s. Given I’m still recovering from several serious medical conditions, I’ll go nine at first with a pull/push cart, if possible. To bring you up to date, my new one plane swing is still working in regards to my bout with the shanks. I hesitate to jinx myself, but I haven’t shanked a ball in some half a dozen visits to the range. But I’m still not hitting the ball as crisply as I’d like. It’s a challenge to modify my swing this late in the game. The body likes those comfortable default positions it seems to gravitate to. Moe Norman hit 500 to 600 balls a day for about seven years before he found his swing. My body, at this point, won’t take that kind of practice. And that’s a factor we older golfers must face. So, as per my Buddhist training, I look for a middle way between no change and drastic change.
I noodle around with the position of my lead wrist at the top of the backswing. Cupped feels comfortable but flat (which is what Moe did) feels powerful. As for bowed, ala Brooks, Jon Rahm, and Viktor Hovland, figetaboutit. Can’t do it. With a flat wrist, the backswing feels too short, and the release of the club too soon. It’s a timing thing and takes work, lots of work, to get it right. And, at times, I do get it right, but not with the consistency I’m looking for.
Then there’s the start of the downswing. Moe insisted on a kind of sliding of the hips just before the backswing is completed, not so much to induce power but to set a firm lower body foundation for the hands and arm to whip through impact with full extension. Not easy. Not impossible, but not easy. His idea was that power came from the arms and upper body and not so much the hips and legs. Controversial, as many players and modern day teachers claim just the opposite. My recent experiments lean towards the later with a few explosive drives well over 200 leading with the hips. Never having been a long hitting driver of the ball, and losing substantial body mass due to chemo and heart failure, those longer drives stick in my mind like a hot fudge sundae. So that downswing start is still a work in progress.
Impact is also quite different, involving keeping the body’s tilt about where it was at address, and the trail foot just about flat on the ground instead of letting the heel come up. Moe claimed this helped keep the upper body and head from coming up at impact, and I think he was right about that. But it’s not an easy move to pull off. It takes a lot of concentration to break the old habit. This too goes against many of the modern pros, particularly Justin Thomas, Lexi Thompson, Bubba Watson, and just about all of the long drive competitors. When I can remember and apply it, the move does help me stay down and on plane.
Well, I’ve probably bored you enough with all this, but not as boring as any of the sports channels these days. Back to my original purpose of this blog, I think playing golf these days would be absolutely therapeutic in coping with the stress of this pandemic and all the closures and cancellations (as well as the scarcity of toilet paper lol!).
If you’re in a position, and the weather is cooperative, go play (as the great Gary Player might put it).
Mitch Hayes says
Great plan Stephen…and one which I also have adopted (getting out in the beautiful mud, and Goose-crap of the golf course that is!!). Adopting the Moe Norman swing however, is far too ambitious this late in the game for me…best of luck to you on that. I have made some changes on the range as well (and too have tired of hitting off mats). The cold wet mud and solace of the golf course is also the perfect recipe for me. Thanks for the words…
Stephen Altschuler says
Ah, mud, beautiful mud: I know it well, Mitch. And I admire your embrace of it. I’d advise winter rules- the recreational golfer’s salvation. As for the Moe Norman swing, I agree: It really is late in the game to take it on, but given my physical limitations, it’s worth a shot, at least for me.
Glad to hear you enjoyed the post, and will soon enjoy “the solace of the golf course.” Well said.
Good health, Mitch, and good golf.
Phil. Russell says
Steven, your right that it would be great to go out and golf. Right now in my area Albany we are waiting to see what develops as far as being able to play.
Stephen Altschuler says
Not sure which Albany you’re in, Phil, but if courses are open, be extra careful around social distancing compliance. The more I’ve thought this through, the more I think it unwise to play at this time anywhere in the world. You have to really up your awareness quotient. For example, out of habit, when one player is teeing off, the others are usually standing closely next to each other, waiting their turn. It’s something we all take for granted but could lead to transmission of the virus. There are other examples like this, as well. My question is: Is playing right now worth the risk of getting infected? We’re just learning about this virus and how it’s transmitted. I say let’s be patient and wait until we’re sure it’s safe. In my state, Washington, all nearby courses and ranges are closed. It’s an absolute bummer, but so be it. I’m watching a lot of YouTube videos and doing some indoor practice swinging. You know, Hogan used to practice in front of a mirror in his hotel room during a tournament, so there’s something to setting the right swing image in your mind. We can still do that amidst this awful and terrifying pandemic.
Stay safe and healthy, Phil; and thanks for commenting.