Breaking 80: Nothing easy about my swing
If there was one pro golfer I yearned to emulate, it was Ernie Els.
I longed for his fluid swing and despite all evidence to the contrary, I honestly believed that when I swung the club I did it as rhythmically and effortlessly as the guy they call The Big Easy.
But after viewing the unimpeachable video evidence provided by both TaylorMade's lab and the TrackMan system at BraeBen Golf Academy, I know there is nothing easy about my swing.
The Big Easy? The Big Queasy is more like it, with the actions caught on slow-motion and stop-action video resembling a cross between a frenetic break-dancer and a victim of multiple Taser shots.
In real time it's not quite as horrifying to the untrained eye, but the evidence provided by last week's TrackMan session revealed the ugly truth:
- An inconsistent swing path that has the club head following one route on the take-away and a different one as it heads toward the general direction of the ball. This problem results in balls that go straight, left, right and possibly even down.
- An even more inconsistent club-face angle at impact, ranging from 9 degrees open to almost 2 degrees closed. That may not sound like much, but from what I could see on the TrackMan screen, 9 degrees open is enough to send the ball on a path that would eventually land it behind me if I hit it well enough.
- A steep angle of attack with the driver, which wouldn't be so bad if the club wasn't designed to hit the ball on an upward stroke. The result is a dizzying array of drives that often went so high they could have come down with snow on them. Needless to say, distance was somewhat of a problem.
But it wasn't all bad news, which no doubt brought some relief to the guy charged with the unenviable task of improving my game, Academy director Bradlee Ryall.
My angle of attack with my irons was not only consistent, but at 4.3 degrees matched the angle of many pros. Take that, Mr. Els.
In a revelation that may yet make Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, my accuracy from 80 yards out, at 70 per cent, matched the average NCAA golfer.
Scholarship here I come.
"This is all great information," Ryall told me after a "TrackMan combine" that involved me hitting 60 balls from various spots ranging from 60 to 200 yards.
"Having played with you and seen this, I now know you as a golfer. I can't coach you unless I know you."
But is to know me to love me and my game?
The information included every excruciating aspect of my game, a series of measurements from the aforementioned angles to the frightening-sounding side-spin to vertical launch to club-head speed and, I'm pretty certain, my credit rating.
The TrackMan, which uses doppler radar to track my every move, did it objectively and, fortunately, without laughing at my worst shots. Amazingly, so did Ryall.
His biggest test came when I was trying to hit accurate 180-yard shots (a project known as Mission Impossible.)
Ryall had me hitting off a plexiglas platform, partly to aid in accuracy and partly because a series of fat shots had dug up so much turf I swore I could see bicycles deposited here back when BraeBen was a garbage dump.
As I lined up my shot, I announced I was using my 5-wood, basically because it was my best club.
Seconds later, I hit "my best club" so far behind the ball I sent the platform flying down the driving range. Though it had a slight hook to it, the platform outdistanced the ball by 10 yards.
But it paid the price for its moment of glory with a large dent that will surely hasten its retirement.
How my prospective teacher contained tears of laughter or tears of grief at the prospect of what lay ahead for him is beyond me. The man is made of steel, I tell you.
What this exercise showed wasn't a total surprise. My short game isn't bad, though I have plenty of evidence to indicate that this high rating was simply the case on that particular day. My long game is awful, and I have a lifetime of evidence to back that up.
I didn't need a high-tech computer program to tell me that any more than I need an aerial photograph to tell me I'm losing my hair.
Combining this data with what he learned from playing a round with me, Ryall can now set out a lesson plan. Though he's still working on the details, possibly in consulation with the Vatican, he's got a pretty good idea of where to start.
The best way to get things rolling, he told me, was dealing with the start and finish.
He'll develop a series of drills to get me hitting up on my drives, thus eliminating those infield pop-ups that too often barely make it past the ladies' tees and at least getting me off to a decent start each round.
He'll also design some drills to get more consistency on my putts, which I tend to pop up as well.
No matter, it's easier than a trip to Lourdes.
PROGRESS UPDATE: I am now experiencing the Fifth Immutable Rule of Golf: The very second you even consider taking lessons, your game starts falling apart. In my first full round since hurting my back this month, during a visit to my hometown of Thunder Bay, Ont., I failed to break 100 in a round with my brother Tim, who unlike my pro couldn't always contain his laughter. An interesting course called the Northern Lights Golf Complex proved too much for me. Of course, I haven't much experience golfing in such high latitudes, so that probably explains it.
Chris Zelkovich has accomplished many things in a journalism career that has spanned almost 40 years. He has worked as a reporter, editor and columnist for a variety of newspapers and his work has appeared in several magazines. His 12 years in golf have been somewhat less distinguished.
Bradlee Ryall is a Class 'A' member of the CPGA and Director of Instruction for the Braeben Academy. Nominated for the Ontario PGA Teacher of the Year award in 2009, Bradlee has studied and trained with some of the best golf instructors in the world at the David Leadbetter Golf Academies and served as teaching professional at some of the greatest golfing destinations in the world including the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta, Canada.