Extreme Makeover, Golf Edition

If you were downwind of me at the practice range today, please accept my apologies. No, not for — well, OK, that too, now that I think about it. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

Doc, my back is killing me. Oh, and for some reason, I've turned blue, and I can see all my internal organs.

No, these emissions were neither silent nor deadly, but they were certainly unmistakable: a relentless barrage of divots and dirt, efficiently and mercilessly sprayed across the ranks of my fellow golfers by way of Saturday’s fearsome, blue-fingered crosswind.

See, one of the presents I got when I turned 40 last fall was a lower back with more twinges and twangs than a Duane Eddy solo. Among the formerly enjoyable things it’s refusing to let me do at present is turn through the ball, forcing an early release and a clubhead that enters the turf somewhere near my back toe.

Somehow, I don’t think this was what Hogan meant by “digging it out of the dirt.” By the time the discomfort had chased me back to the sanctuary of my car’s heated seats, my patch of ground had been reduced – ‘lowered’ might be a better word – to a foxhole worthy of Vimy Ridge.

This is one of the rank amateur’s most cherished and time-honoured game-improvement strategies: it’s called grooving a swing fault.

Nor was my spine the only body part conspiring to make sure I was hitting the big ball first.

'Oh, man ... I don't know how McCarten does it.'

Like many, I have even less in common with Tiger Woods than I did in the days before he crashed the greatest golf career in history into a tree, save one thing: an angry, embittered left knee that can at times make just getting to the ball an ordeal, and getting through it downright impossible.

Incidentally, 34-year-old Tiger — who pulled out of the Players last weekend for a neck injury largely bereft of detailed description — is starting to learn a thing or two about the consequences of getting older, to say nothing of what happens to the human body when it is (ahem) pushed to its limits and made to endure (cough) a disproportionate degree of abuse.

Now, in my defence, Saturday wasn’t exactly a balmy spring day in Toronto — if the temperature were Old Man Spring’s handicap, he’d have had to give me a stroke a side — and playing in damp cold is about the worst thing a person can do for tired, aching muscles. But this was my first chance this season to get in some decent practice, and I wasn’t going to miss it.

In fact, in the end, it probably did me a world of good to be out there, discovering just how spectacularly a 40-year-old human body can fail when it comes to the mysterious art of striking a golf ball. The message of the day was crystal clear: time to shape up or ship out, sonny.

I’ll admit, when it comes to my physical health, I’ve been mortgaging my future. I prefer to walk the golf course and carry my own bag, but that’s pretty much where my devotion to fitness begins and ends.

Years of playing the game Nicklaus-style, with a lot of leg drive and a reverse-C finish, have taken their toll. The knee injury probably has as much to do with my childhood BMX career and a frame one could charitably describe as top-heavy, but a lifetime of twisting and torquing at the top of my follow through surely hasn’t helped.

Another brutal truth: I’ve never met a drive-thru window I didn’t like. (With the notable exception, it has to be said, of Arby’s. Who is keeping that place in business, anyway?)

So, dear reader (and I know you’ve heard this before, but we really, really mean it this time), continue to watch this space in the coming days and weeks as your frustrated, ibuprofen-popping, mad-as-hell-and-not-going-to-take-it-any-more correspondent embarks on a handicap-lowering, weight-shedding, muscle-building, flexibility-improving journey of self-improvement — read: “race against time” — to see just how low he can go before his body gives out.

Don’t hesitate to weigh in and give me hell if you see me slacking off, or if one day you’re minding your own business at the practice range when all of a sudden you have a mouthful of divot. We all have to make sacrifices, y’know.

I wonder if Advil offers sponsorship deals?

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James McCarten

When James McCarten isn't at the Ottawa offices of The Canadian Press, where he works as parliamentary news editor, he's either on the golf course or putting off his latest freelance golf-writing gig to spend time with wife Lisa and school-age kids Claire and Lucas. With 20 years of experience in Canadian journalism, James also suffers from a financially crippling addiction to all things Scotty Cameron.