Golf is a difficult game even for the best in the world. So it should [photopress:bondheadinstitute.jpg,full,alignright]come as no surprise that it is difficult for me, someone who spends an awful lot of time behind a keyboard.
Lately, as I mentioned earlier in a post last week, the game has become even harder than it has been in the past. Draws have become hooks and fades have become cold blocks. I can still muster the occasional good game — I did manage a solid 74 last fall at Western Gailes — but my play is erratic at best, painful at worst.
In order to try to deal with that, I’ve begun a series of weekly instruction sessions with Master Professional Bruce McCarrol at the Golf Institute at Bond Head, a state-of-the-art training facility that includes kinetics analysis, physiotherapy with Kevin Honsberger and biometric analysis. I was really blown away by the facility when I went for the media launch earlier this month, and after a discussion with Nigel Hollidge, who runs the two course operation, it was determined I’d spend several weeks working at the Institute and document my progress. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do every Friday for the next month. The concept is to give golfers a sense of the best that’s being offered in instruction — which is what I think is happening at Bond Head.
McCarrol is a friendly, thoughtful fellow who I first met last year while on a trip to Georgia to see TaylorMade introduce its new ball. He’s also an instructor with quite a reputation, having been named one of Canada’s Top 10 golf teachers by the National Post magazine. At the time I first met him he was working at King Valley with ClubLink. Earlier this year he made the move to Bond Head, lured away by Nigel and the promise of a state-of-the-art instruction facility.
Typical of me — and perhaps more typical of Toronto — I was running late when I finally arrived at my appointment with Bruce. That didn’t seem to phase either one of us. Though he’s clearly a fastidious teacher, who a critical eye to details, McCarrol comes across as warm. It is an interesting mix in a personality and meshes well with me.
While warming up with some half wedges, McCarrol began our session by asking me questions about my game. It is safe to say I play a lot and have for several years, but the truth is my foundations in the game are shaky at best. I grew up playing baseball, not golf, and didn’t truly take up the sport until I was in Kingston, Ont. a decade ago working at the newspaper.
It would take an additional two years before I saw my first instructor and began working through issues of fundamentals. Even today after having been privvy to playing with numerous professionals, I occasionally encounter a part of the game that I have never had any instruction in. The hardest part for me is when something breaks down in my swing — as it has this Spring — because I simply don’t have the basis to self-diagnose my issues. I have a sense of what might be wrong — but realistically it could be one of a dozen things. The truth is that golf writers are better at interpreting and communicating the instructions of others — they aren’t as good as figuring it out themselves. Even more truthfully, few golf writers play very well. Many are terrible, though there are some exceptions.
McCarrol carefully documented my golf biography, noting that I have some physical issues, including the lingering effects of two broken hands and a shoulder with scar tissue, the remanents of years of abuse from teenage curveballs. Oh, a nice young teenager decided to write off my car last fall — an accident that certainly didn’t help me any.
In many ways our introductory lesson involved establishing a “base of operations” from which we could expand. The “base” concept was pretty fundamental to the remainder of the lesson. McCarrol quickly demonstrated that I simply had too much lateral movement in my legs, and set about trying to show and teach my body how to lower my center of gravity and stabilize the legs and feet in order to focus more effectively on my core. Basically this was about structuring my stance properly to generate power through my core and not through my arms.
I must admit to being particularly surprised when McCarrol brought out some foam blocks with rounded bottoms and asked me to balance on them. When it comes to balance, no one at Cirque du Soleil has to worry about me. There’s no tightrope walking in my future.
But the body and the mind quickly adjust, and it didn’t take long to even hit balls off the blocks. The notion was to demonstrate how little leg action it takes to strike a golf ball well if you utilize your shoulders and hips, as opposed to trying to drive with your legs. My leg use stems, I’m pretty certain, from the six years I spent as a competitive pitcher. Legs are power to hard throwing ball players — and my tendency as a long ball hitter in golf is to use them too much.
In order to build me back up, this foundation has to be solid. When I wasn’t trying to avoid falling on my head while hitting balls balanced on blocks, McCarrol was grabbing my club from the front and the side in an attempt to demonstrate how effective a proper centre of gravity could be. It was an interesting exercise, and one that cemented the basics that I had never considered.
We also worked on a basic notion of a setup. The concept seemed easy enough — take a club, place the grip under your nose and the shaft flat against your chest. McCarrol’s notion saw me bend slightly at the knees, tilt my upper body forward until my hands hung naturally near me knees and take the club in hand. The concept is developed to get your chest facing the ball, resulting in a more circular move that drives the energy of your core and the club into the ball.
Nothing is immediate in golf. It takes time for the body to forget about ingrained habits, bad posture and bad swing thoughts. Similarly, the notion of altering my setup will take time to implement. However, the huge pull hooks I’ve played with over the past two years are starting to dissipate. Hopefully I’ll soon have seen the last of them.
I can’t admit to keeping a full card in the two games I’ve played since starting my time at the Institute at Bond Head, but one thing is certain: Though the results may not be consistent, they are beginning to materialize. I had a five foot putt for eagle at Islington late this week, and shot 84 in my round at Bond Head North this morning. More importantly, there are shots coming back into my game that had disappeared, including a high soft draw with my driver and a higher, smartly struck long iron. Nothing is consistent, but I’ve got a basis to start working from.
Next Up (Friday, June 1): McCarrol tries to fix my “good golfer’s problem,” of an overly inside swing path, with Honsberger doctors my physical woes.