Friday, June 13, 2014

Day six: The takeaway

After five days of doing nothing but hitting golf balls, playing golf, talking about golf, watching golf and reading about golf, you'd think that by day six it'd be time for some tennis. Au contraire. Having arrived a casual golf fan, I'm leaving a little bit addicted.

As far as this experiment goes, it was a success. It wasn't just learning from the pros that's made the difference for me. It was meeting and playing with a great group of people.

I asked Jay what his all-time most memorable round of golf is. After playing for more than 60 years and competing at the highest level, this is what he answered: "Any round with my dad and my son."

This week with my dad was the first time that just the two of us have traveled together since he took me to visit colleges more than 25 years ago. With our busy lives, it's not easy to get away like this, but I'm glad we did. My dad may be a terrible putter, but he's a good guy to play some golf with.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Day five: While the pros tee it up at the Open ...

The U.S. Open starts today, so it was the perfect day to use our new skills in a little competition -- a best ball scramble. Each person in our group hit, and we all played our next shot from the best ball of the group. This was a ton of fun. Everyone got caught up in the competition. Even Leona, who proclaimed she's not competitive, found her inner Tiger Woods. Here she is just missing a putt that would have given our team a birdie on the hole.

After the best ball match, we had a closest-to-the-pin contest. Our whole group gathered around and cheered each player on as he or she tried to hit a 60-yard shot closest to the pin. There were a lot of good shots and with just a few people left to shoot, the ball to beat was 12 feet from the hole. It was my dad's turn. He stepped up and hit his ball six feet from the hole. It ended up being good enough for the win. The Paparazzi swarmed him, and he could barely contain his smile.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Day four: Making the most out of a bad lie

Since today was all about course management, it's a good time to describe the course we've been playing. It's challenging. It's long and there aren't many flat shots to be found. It's beautiful, too, with lots of green mountain views.

Jay took us out onto the course and we practiced shots with the ball above our feet, below our feet and on side-hill lies. I liked these drills because those are actually the shots I find myself looking at when I'm playing. The biggest takeaway was being realistic about how far someone can actually hit the ball on these kinds of lies. Trying to make a perfect shot is just begging for disaster, and the tendency is to swing too hard to compensate. The key is to put yourself in a stance that enables you to use your same old, smooth, relaxed swing.

It was drizzling rain in the afternoon, and my dad and I played the back nine and had the place seemingly to ourselves. As usual, it was a mix of bad shots and good shots, though the good shots were a little more frequent. I'm really focusing on a relaxed grip. That's Jay's mantra.

Dinner is like a therapy session, as everyone rehashes their favorite and least-favorite shots of the day. That's one of the great parts of all Road Scholar programs: being with people who have a shared passion. Another universal Road Scholar feature is having access to experts, like Jay. I sat at Jay's table at dinner and over a couple of glasses of wine he told stories about playing courses the recreational player only sees on television. As good as he is, he's still in awe of Jack Nicklaus and other greats of the game.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Day three: A day at the beach and some happy golfers

A golf club only weighs a pound or two, but after swinging that two pounds 200 or 300 times yesterday I'm feeling it today. Fortunately, we started the morning by learning some golf-specific stretches. Then it was off to the bunkers, where Jay showed us how to hit a sand shot. As usual, what looks easy for him isn't so easy for the rest of us.

After some sand drills, we headed out to the driving range to have our swings video taped. Later, our small group gathered in the classroom to  review the video and have Jay critique our swings. I think everyone got a lot out of this. It really helps to see what we're doing wrong.

After these pointers, we were all eager to get out there again. We hit a couple of dozen balls on the range and then played nine holes. My dad and I played with George and Marilyn. They each hit some incredible shots. Marilyn hit a 30-yard pitching wedge and put the ball literally an inch from the cup. Then my dad and George rolled in putts that were at least 30 feet long. Here's the happy trio after our round.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Day two: Today we met Jay

Today we met Jay. Jay Morelli is the head pro on our program. He looks like Peter Falk, and if his gift in life had been crooning instead of golf, he would have fit in perfectly with the Rat Pack. He has that same easy, laid back charm. When he hits a golf ball it seems effortless.

Jay is pretty modest, and as the week goes by I would love to hear more about his story. This is what he's mentioned so far: He grew up on Long Island, shagging balls as a kid on the range at Beth Page, one of the most prestigious courses in the country. He played golf at Florida State and played the PGA Championship at Pebble Beach in 1977 when Jack Nicklaus was in the field. Pretty cool.

Jay broke our group up into three smaller groups of five or six. Two pros took the other two groups and my dad and I and four others went with Jay to the practice putting green to get started. 

Having never had a lesson, there's a lot to take in. Probably too much. My only hope is to hold onto just a few tips and not try to digest everything. One tip in the "hold onto" category is aiming a putt a couple of inches beyond the hole. A putt hit short will never go in, but if it has enough speed to go beyond the hole, then at least it has a shot to go in.

The next lesson was how to hold a club. What I learned here I think has the potential to make the biggest difference in my game. The transformational tip was how loosely Jay said to grip the club. He squeezed each of our arms with the same pressure that he uses on the club. It seemed impossibly light, the same pressure you'd use to hold a baby bird with a broken wing. A relaxed grip is key to grooving your swing and getting that whip action to generate the most possible club head speed. It also gives you a good feel of the ball hitting the club face.

We went to the range, and I focused on really relaxing my grip. It's no exaggeration to say I hit some of the best balls of my life. However, it's one thing to hit balls onto a flat, wide open range; it's another thing to actually do it on the course. After lunch, we went onto the course to apply what we learned. It didn't go so well for me.

My dad really loved the morning session, and he was hoping for some dramatic improvement on the course (he usually shoots about 110). Instead, somehow, he acquired a sharp hook and a lot of expletives to go with it. What a frustrating game. Thankfully, he ended the day with some nice shots and drained an eight-foot putt on the last hole. A nice way to walk off the course.

Dinner back at the lodge was very nice, with lots of good conversation. The shared experience today has made everyone a little closer. We all agreed we'd sleep well tonight.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Day one: Great expectations, but too great?

What kind of golfer am I? I don't have an official handicap, but I usually shoot around 100. I've got a bad habit of slicing the ball off the tee. My long irons are sporadic, my short irons only a little bit better and my putting is ... off-putting.  What irks me the most about my game is how often I fail to get the ball in the air.

Is it too much to expect that after four days of lessons I'd be able to knock 10 strokes off my score? We'll find out. Today's the day.

My dad drove from his home in New York to the North Shore of Boston, where I live, to pick me up. I said goodbye to my family, and my dad and I hit the road.

It's about a three hour drive to Mount Snow, Vermont, and despite using a GPS, we still got lost in Vermont. It's beautiful country to be lost in, though. Wooden bridges, winding roads, lush woods, lots of rolling mountains.

We finally found our destination. We checked into the lodge and headed over to the golf course to play nine and get the lay of the land. It was an auspicious start to the week. I birdied the sixth hole, probably only one of a couple of dozen birdies I've ever had in my life.

Back at the lodge, we met the rest of our group for dinner. People are from all over. Two friends drove up from down South, there's a mother and daughter from Canada and quite a few folks from New York and New England. There are 17 of us total. Some are just learning to play and others have been playing for more than 60 years. Al, who is in his eighties, can shoot his age -- pretty darn impressive.

I'm eager to see what tomorrow brings.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Here's the experiment

Here's the experiment: What happens when a golfer of middling ability spends five days at golf school learning from the pros?

I'm taking the Road Scholar program "Golf in the Green Mountains: The Original Golf School at Mount Snow."  My dad is attending, too. We signed up back in February, and I've been looking forward to it for months. Now it's just a couple of days away. I bought a bunch of balls, cleaned my clubs and my shoes and got a copy of the USGA rulebook. I'm ready to go.