A long time ago, when I was still young and stubborn – as opposed to today, when I’m old and, I hope, a little wiser – I took a lesson from a local pro.
He was a respected guy. He had seen me play. I had seen him play. He played very well. I wanted to listen to him.
But then he told me something I didn’t want to hear. He said I needed to shorten my swing – a lot.
I tried it, but the results that day weren’t very good. Undaunted, he urged me to consider it. He had noticed how wildly different my results on the course had been thanks to my unmanageably long swing, and he was sure I would play better and, more importantly, score better, if I got it under control.
I walked away feeling strangely indignant. Give up distance? Are you kidding? To me, that was one of the best things about our great game – hitting the ball great distances. I liked being on the offensive all the time. I liked hitting 8-iron on a par-3 when everyone else in the group had a 5-iron in their hands. I liked being called “Kong.”
As I read those words, I couldn’t feel more foolish. Talk about ego getting in the way of common sense.
Still, it took me nearly four decades and a lot of unforced errors to realize how right he was. Age isn’t the only factor that has shortened my swing – so has my brain.
Today, I routinely reach for an extra club or two and just try to smooth it on every shot. Now it’s all about the defense. It’s about keeping the ball in play and minimizing mistakes – which should have been my mindset all those years ago.
I have no interest in hitting the ball far anymore. I have seen what little payout that has. Sure, it stings a little when a younger player blows it 30 yards past my best drive, but I realize that I can’t hit with him anymore no matter what I do. Father Time has won again.
Heck, I even was OK with it when a younger woman in our group hit it past me the other day. I hit a good drive. A really good drive. Got it all. She was hitting from the same tee and also smoked one.
As we came up to our balls, which were about 5 yards apart, I just naturally assumed that she would be hitting first. I’ll admit I was surprised when she looked at the first ball and said, “That’s yours.” Good for her, I thought. She’s long. At least I’m in the fairway.
But I’ve got to wonder how many older players – especially those who could move the ball a long way back in the day – have come to accept their newfound distance mortality. I hear a lot of people complain about how the ball doesn’t go as far as it used to, and it seems counter-intuitive to shorten your swing when you’re faced with that reality.
Look at it this way: You’re simply not as flexible as you used to be. You’re not as strong. You’re not as powerful. Chances are, you’re packing some extra weight.
And if you think swinging harder is going to improve your game, you know better. At least I hope you do.
The other day, I went to the driving range to work on one thing: Hitting a 3-wood with a much shorter swing. I had wasted eight shots in my last round by hitting the 3-wood off line, and I concluded that I no longer can have a short swing for irons and a long swing for woods. It needs to be the same.
We’ll see if I can bring myself – and my ego – to do the same thing with the driver. That’s the ultimate test.
But finally, after all these years, that pro has convinced me that he was right. I never forgot what he said. I just didn’t give it a chance until now.
The lesson is clear: If you respect someone’s advice, listen to it. Apply it. Give it a full opportunity to succeed.
Especially if you’re young … and stubborn.