Bonding With McCarrol — A Season of Instruction

When I played what could well be my final round of the year on [photopress:rtblocks_1.jpg,full,alignright]Monday, I accomplished something I haven’t done in recent memory — I played the same ball for 36 consecutive holes.

That may not sound like much, but even when I play well I usually dump in a double bogey where a wayward drive bounces into infinity (and beyond!). Not this past week — two rounds, one at Devil’s Paintbrush, one at Eagles Nest. Two scores in the 70s (DP: 78, EN: 74). Very few poorly hit shots, though a couple of putting hiccups and the occasional questionable decision. My handicap came below five for the first time in recent memory.

It is a huge change from the start of the year. At that point I was hitting the ball sideways, with a sporty snap hook making my golf game miserable. You know it is bad when you complain to your wife about the state of your ball striking. Yeah sure, she is going to have plenty of sympathy for your plight.

[photopress:bondheadinstitute_1_2.jpg,full,alignleft]By the time I went to a media day for the launch of the Golf Institute at Bond Head I was beyond frustrated. I was almost psychopathic. The game had deteriorated to the point where I had no idea where the ball was going to go. Worse yet, nothing I did seemed to change that. And to put that in context, I played scratch for part of 2004, the summer my daughter was born.

In what must only be characterized as a golf intervention, Nigel at Bond Head picked me to be the guinea pig in front of my media peers at the opening. I was thrown through the drills and it wasn’t pretty. The hook was prominent and there were clearly lots of problems. Working quickly with physiotherapist Kevin Honsberger yielded enough results in a remarkably short period of time that I was intrigued. I wanted to know more about what the facility could do, and determined to put myself in the hands of Master professional Bruce McCarrol, who I had first met a year previous on a TaylorMade golf event in Georgia.

Bruce McCarrol is, to my way of thinking, the kind of pragmatic golf instructor the game needs. He’s not hooked into a particular methodology, though he does seem to focus a lot on lower body movement. His analysis showed there were a myriad of problems with my swing. The grip wasn’t right (“I don’t think you can have a good golf swing without a good grip,” was the mantra he posited several times), my posture and stance were off (with my weight too much on the heels and not bent enough at the waste) and my lower body was simply far too busy.

We went through a series of drills designed to correct many of these elements and I went hard to work, hitting balls three or four days a week, often for an hour or two at a time. There was also a mental adjustment for me. I decided if working with McCarrol was to be successful, I needed to put myself completely in his hands. If I wanted to get back to playing well, I needed to fully commit to the program I was undertaking. Overall I probably took six lessons with McCarrol (see Part 1 thru 3 of my series on the lessons at the bottom of this column).

The grip was tough. Rotating my bottom hand so it felt more under the club, and being certain the top hand grip was in the fingers was a significant change. The posture was less difficult, and McCarrol encouraged me to feel like I was taking the club away slightly outside of the plane. I wasn’t — but that is how it felt to me. In turn, I added more width to my swing and shortened it slightly. It has allowed me to once again fade the ball and lose the draw, while becoming far more consistent with my driver (12 of 14 fairways at Eagles Nest, 13 of 14 at the Paintbrush). At the same time my power and distance remained consistent.

The game came along slowly, but by the end of July, I was feeling more and more confident and was playing better consistently. The scores in the high 80s disappeared, replaced by scores in the high 70s. I finally broke par at Dundarave, hitting the 18th in two and making an eagle for a 70.

The great thing about the changes was it made for a “get out and go” swing that I hadn’t been about in some years. By that I mean a swing that is ready on the first tee regardless of whether you’ve hit a bucket to warm up.

There were elements of McCarrol’s instruction I found difficult to accomplish. His goal to have me hit the ball on a lower trajectory was something I never pulled off and a late season lesson on wedges (my nemesis by the end of the year) didn’t come together. But I’m convinced it will and that’s enough to encourage me at this point.

Lastly, I sent European Tour pro Alan McLean to see McCarrol. Alan played a mix of Canadian Tour and European Tour this year, and is heading to Q School next week. He typically works with Mark Immelman, the brother of PGA Tour pro Trevor Immelman, but Mark is in the U.S., making it difficult to schedule meetings. Alan went to see McCarrol and was impressed enough to make several return visits.

In the end, I found the benefits of committing to a program and sticking with it, as opposed to searching for band-aid solutions in equipment or the quick fixes that had been suggested to me by a couple of noted Canadian teaching pros. Working with McCarrol was eye opening. Bond Head’s golf institute surely has all the best equipment, but it strikes me that the best part of it, even considering the computers and kinetics machines, is McCarrol. If there’s a better teacher in Canada, I haven’t met him.

The Institute at Bond Head G4G Series

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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