Foooooouuuur! (200th new thing).

November 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

On Day Two Hundred I volunteered with Ahimsa House at the East Lake golf course for the PGA Tour Championship. Or playoffs. I’m not really sure what it was, just that a lot of famous golfers were playing the game, a game which I had never before seen professionally played, especially not live.

I parked at Turner Field and caught the free volunteer shuttle to the course, signed-in and walked over to the Ahimsa House concessions where about fifteen other people had also congregated to help out. We were introduced to our tasks for the day by a concessions employee who explained each position. There would be people in charge of grabbing the beverages out of the cooler, pouring beer, making the hot dogs and hamburgers, and a pair of bodies on each register, one who would ring up the order, and the other called a runner who would gather all of the items ordered. When we were asked which station we wanted to be at, I quickly moved to the registers. I would do anything, but preferred not to be the one touching hot dogs and hamburgers. I figured my people skills could be put to use.

I walked to the front of the house section and met Kat, another person on her own avoiding the food-preparation table. We decided we could partner up and she would run and I would ring. We worked well together and served the line of people as the day progressed quite quickly. We even collected a good amount of tips for the Ahimsa House and had one guy inquire into donating his Hilton Head timeshare. We also saw a ton of golf attire. I have to admit, I grew to love some seersucker.

Once the crowd thinned out in the early afternoon we took a break to watch a little golf. The concession stand was situated between the ninth and tenth holes, so we meandered down with a thin crowd of people to some action at the tenth. We saw a pair of golfers and their caddies making their way to where we sat just off the putting green. I was amazed at how the crowd of spectators lined up along the fairway, moving down with the professionals. It all seemed a bit boring to me, but maybe this was in part because I had no clue who anyone was.

We watched the first pair of players finish the hole and then waited a little longer for the next two. One was Phil Mickelson, whose name I recognized from lazy weekends where my dad dozed on the recliner as the golf played quietly through the TV. I was going to call him up and see if he was watching, but PGA spectator rules are incredibly strict. You can only use your cellphone in designated areas and photography is forbidden, or at least strictly frowned upon. I didn’t take any pictures; I didn’t want to risk being kicked out of a volunteer gig.

Phil Mickelson

After Mickelson and his golfing partner headed to the next hole Kat and I went back to our posts behind the concession tent. Before I knew it, it was time to head back home. I wish I had gotten to see more of the golf, but I had a great time. Maybe slinging hotdogs and beer was more exciting than the game.

Although seersucker could look good on me. Maybe.

One Hundred Nine. Nine Holes with Dad.

July 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

In high school I had tried to tag along with my dad and uncle one Saturday morning to play golf, but the strictness of the rules of attire found me inappropriately dressed in my collarless shirt and jeans. I had my second chance when one Day One-Oh-Nine I played nine holes of golf with my dad and uncle. And I almost won too.

Dad selected a par three course that wouldn’t be crowded as a perfect first golfer experience. Plus, neither he nor my uncle had played for over a year, so they weren’t exactly eager to clog up the fairway for the more professional golfers lining up behind them (and mostly me).

Lucky Number 13

We arrived at the course at the bright early hour of seven thirty and waited for my Uncle Rob, who was also carrying my aunt’s clubs which I would be borrowing for the day (Thanks Aunt Caroline!). After we had gotten the carts (another first; I’d never driven a golf cart) and stopped them near enough to the first hole on one side of the parking lot, I had a chance to check out the foursome in front of us. I could see why Dad didn’t want to have people queueing up behind us. The men had pretty short shots down the lane and I mentally critiqued their stance and swing based on the teachings of golf pro Ned. Because I just knew I would nail it on my first swing.

My father and uncle went first from the second to last  box, and I set up the same. They encouraged me to take a couple of practice  swings so they could marvel at my form, which was stilted at best. I set up according to my training and let loose on the ball. Except I never made contact. Laughing nervously I joked that I was just taking another practice swing. After a couple more tries and a ball that merely dribbled off the starting tee green space, I finally sent the ball somewhat toward the hole. We all climbed back into the carts for the second shot.

Second Hole Swing

I pulled out the nine iron for my next swing, and managed to pop the ball towards the green. Shot three got me onto the green and it took four and five to sink the ball. But I was in good company as we all scored a five on that first hole, my score being fairly generous based on my tee performance.

The second hole had the ball sailing from the tees over a small tree-filled ravine. I think that was the point that I realized how hopeless I was with a driver. I tried three different clubs (including my dad’s pricey three wood) and lost several balls into the abyss. Finally my family decided to just set my ball down on the other side.

Where I found the women’s tee box.

At first I was annoyed that the makers of golf courses believed that a woman would need to start from so near a distance to the green compared to men, but by the end of the day those little red painted balls were such a relief. I still scored six strokes on that second hole, but that was more a testament to my poor putting skills than anything else.

Uncle Rob Swinging

The next few holes found me making a few good swings with my irons and pitching wedge, but on the whole not performing as well as my golf mates. However, they did have more experience (though never any lessons).

Until the sixth hole. Where I parred. Since discovering the closer tee, which I had used previously for the second and fifth holes, my game was vastly improving. I was able to omit the dreaded driver from my bag of tricks and begin with a hybrid or six iron. On hole six I think I started with the six iron and sailed the ball over a small tree filled gap and straight onto the green. My dad and uncle were both more surprised and more enthusiastic than I was. It was kind of an awesome feeling. And not only did I par, but I also beat the two of them, which added to the excitement (at least on my end).

Dad's Drive across the Sixth Hole (where I parred)

From then on it was forward tee for me, and I fared quite well for my first nine hole outing. I parred again on the eighth hole and finished with a respectable score of 43. The men tied for first with a score of 40 each, but I really did feel like the winner that day.I wouldn’t call myself a golfer, but am certainly en route to at least becoming an enthusiast.

The Scores

One Hundred Six. Putting and Chipping.

July 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

On Day One-Oh-Six I had my second golf lesson. My driving range experience the day before had raised a couple of blisters on my non-gloved right hand, and my body was quite sore from hitting all of the balls from the large basket. I was secretly hoping for a thunderstorm to cancel my lesson, but the weather held until after my class.

I began with the 9 iron again and proudly proclaimed that I had practiced. Ned gave me more tips and I tried to remember them all. Handle of the club angled toward my left thigh. Shoulders slanted to align with the club. Head slightly behind the ball. Keep the left arm straight. Follow through and hold. The memory of hitting twenty something balls in a row the day before quickly vanished as I swung and missed the first ball. Maybe the second as well.

Once I had mastered the club enough to progress, we moved to a driver- the three wood. Although I missed a few times, I did manage to get in a few good hits (is it called hits in golf or just baseball?) and felt good about myself. Then it was onto the chipping and putting.

We headed to the little putting area at the side of the driving range. Actually, we drove there. Because according to the Groupon I purchased for the lessons, the second class involved riding in a golf cart. We only traveled a total of a couple hundred yards in the thing, but I suppose they added the rental into the value of the deal. The journey saved us about a minute total.

Once we got to the green Ned asked my to pull out the pitching wedge to practice chipping. He set the ball down in the small amount of rough at the side of the smooth grass and demonstrated how to chip. Ball aligned with your right foot and swing down, to send the ball up into the air. My first attempt sent the ball high into the air and well over the destination hole. It landed near a girl practicing her putting. The next couple did the same and I think Ned was getting a little annoyed at having to run after the fly away balls. I stifled a giggle which he did not find amusing. After a few more swings I managed to lead the ball where I wanted, so we moved on to putting.

My only experience with this stroke was on putt-putt golf courses as a child, but those were pretty fun so I mistakingly assumed that putting would be a breeze. Apparently people take lessons solely on sinking the ball in the hole from the smooth green, as Ned informed me. I swung way too hard on the first several balls and the instructor begrudgingly had to retrieve the little white sphere  from near the teenager practicing. The next few came up short.

I never really mastered the putt, only being able to sink the ball from less than a foot away. But the lesson ended and I headed off, excited about playing golf with my father that weekend. Maybe outside of the lesson environment my skills would improve.

One Hundred Five. Driving Range.

July 13, 2011 § 2 Comments

In anticipation of my second golf lesson the following day, I headed to the driving range as a new activity on Day One Hundred Five.

I was able to borrow a nine iron from the nice pros at the Georgia Trail. I bought a large bucket of balls (at the recommendation of Ned, my golf pro) and headed down to the driving range.

A large bucket of balls is a lot of balls. I teed up with the scrap of a discarded wooden remnant I found along the path and tried to remember everything I had learned in the past class. My grip seemed to be a learned activity by then, so it was mostly a matter of remembering to keep my arm(s) straight and left leg planted firmly on the ground as I swung back. And then the whole hip-pivot-facing-the-target thing at the follow through.

I missed the first ball. The club sailed right past it. I mean, I was really just practicing my swing. Yeah, that’s it. Regardless, I looked around embarrassed, but fortunately no one was looking at the sweaty girl with the bad swing. I reset my stance and tried again. Contact.

And from there on out it was hit or miss (pun intended). I did manage to make decent contact with twenty-three balls in a row right before a nice older gent came over to give me some tips about aiming. He described the technique of seeing your target and tracing an invisible line back to the ball. Along that angle you found a leaf, or distinguished blade of grass, and squared up parallel to that line. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that simply making with the golf ball was my main goal. That and following all of the specific motions coach Ned had set before me.

I used his line technique and managed to sail the ball in the general direction of a specific point. It was something.

By this time I had gotten through about two-thirds of the balls. I was sore from shoulder to hip and regretted purchasing the extra-large basket. Maybe small would have been more my speed, and I could have spaced out the strokes further apart. I had been whacking the little white globes mostly to get through the bucket of balls, and I knew taking more time to set up was paramount to improving my game. I looked around for anyone who would like my remaining complimentary driving range balls to practice with, but the sole soul around was a golf attire clad man at the far end of the range. I buckled down and set to making good contact with my remaining wards.

Once I had finished with the basket, I gathered my club and headed back to the pro shop to return the nine iron. Blisters bloomed on my right un-gloved hand. I had been gripping the club too tightly. I was half proud of my practice. While I had blatantly missed on several swings, I had made fantastic contact on others and watched the small sphere go sailing into the range. Remembering those hits made me understand both the frustration and exhilaration of this weird sport. 

Ninety-Nine. A Lesson in Golf.

July 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

On Day Ninety-Nine, I took my first golf lesson. I purchased a Groupon about a month earlier good for three lessons and 18 holes at the Georgia Trail near my workplace. I was planning on visiting my parents for my dad’s birthday, brother’s birthday, and Father’s Day a couple weeks later, so figured if I learned how to golf in time I could play a round with my dad. He seemed pretty excited about the possibility too.

I called to schedule the lesson a week earlier and self-consciously asked about the dress code. As a teenager I had tried to go along with my dad and uncle on a Saturday morning golf excursion and ended up being dressed inappropriately, and thus unable to play. I was devastated, partly because I wasn’t ever invited again. Poor me, I know. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn that golf attire as I knew it had been relaxed in the fifteen odd years since my first attempt at the game. A plain t-shirt and bermuda shorts with sneakers should fit the bill for my lesson.

I arrived to the course and headed into the pro shop. The attendant inside told me I would be training with Ned, in the red shirt, who was down at the driving range in preparation. I nervously made my way down through the hot sun and picked up some borrowed women’s clubs. We started with the grip, an uncomfortably positioned arrangement of my hands. It felt as if my left hand was unnaturally twisted around the club, but Ned assured me that with practice I would become accustomed to it. He used an abundance of metaphors and similes for how to position yourself and swing the club.

“Your body is like a clock, with your hands like a pendulum. Get it?” I nodded. “But faced slightly back, so the face of the clock is tilted, right?” Sure. “The club head is a target and the ball the arrow. You want to hit it center. Ok?” Yup, got it. “Keep your left arm stiff, it doesn’t bend until you come all the way back, like at one o’clock.” Stiff as a board. “When you finish, you should tilt your body around so your belt buckle is facing your target; it’s a shining light flashing the target.” OK.

Remembering all of the tips and rules and grips and positioning was fairly difficult. But the first time I made contact with the golf ball Ned was uber-excited. “High ten!” he exclaimed holding a single hand up in the air. I wondered if I was supposed to slap his palm twice or just give him a high five. It was the latter. I didn’t match his enthusiasm which I think disappointed him a little. My mind was still reeling from all of the specific body poses I had to make before I even swung the club.

When I tried to joke around with the pro, he didn’t seem especially receptive. I jested about golf not actually being a real sport to see Ned’s face fall in shock. I quickly grinned and explained that I was only kidding. I don’t know if he believed me.

I tried to hit a few more balls, with a tip after each swing, whether I missed the ball or not. “You lifted your chin. You took your eye off the ball. You bent your arm. You didn’t hold your follow through.” It was hard. I was tiring rather quickly. At the end of the lesson, I dragged my sweaty self back up to the pro shop with the promise to come back to the driving range to hit a bucket of balls and practice.

I had a lot to think about and vowed to remember my grip and tilt and follow through and all the rest. I wondered how people who didn’t take a golf lesson learned the game sport.

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