Improving Your Swing
Pulling up to the Stratton Mountain Golf School, we are met by a group of very friendly golf instructors dressed in snappy -- and identical -- golf outfits.
Though the instructors are trying to make us feel comfortable, I feel more like a kid on the first day of school -- awkward and shy. My husband John can barely get out of the car.
We join fifty other students in a room for a briefing on what to expect. Although we're a physically and geographically diverse group, we share a common goal -- vast improvment in a game that requires a mysterious blend of patience, focus, and discpline, traits neither John nor I posess in great abundance. At the very least, school director Rich Setter assures us, we'll get in plenty of practice over the next two days.
I can't help but find humor in the time and money we've all comitted to improving our ability to move a small, dimpled ball around approximately four miles of perfectly mowed grass.
We are divided into groups based on ability, except when golfers request -- as John and I have -- to be together. John has played golf for ten years. He's an average golfer, happy if he scores in the eighties. I began playing golf about a year ago. I'm better than awful but still not very good. The third member of our group is conveniently named John and has a 22 handicap similar to my John. The theory, according to our instructor Rick Clark, is that I'll rally to their level and they won't stoop to mine. Rick, like most golf instructors, loves to compare golf to life. I like him instantly.
Golf is a game of ever-changing shots. Some must be hundreds of yards long, others just feet or inches. Some need to pop up into the air, others must curve and arc slightly to the left or right. A good golf course is filled with obstacles such as water, sand, hills and valleys--and every golfer knows that the deceptively pristine grass can be a nightmare: fast, slow, thick, rough, ball gobbling and Velcro-ish. To prepare our games for the maddening diversity, every 45 minutes we move to a different station at the several acre golf school that simulates some moment in the game. Eventually we traipse over to the driving range to practice clocking the ball off the tee--golf's important and dramatic opening long shot. One I mostly stink at, and due to some mysterious recent ailment in his swing, John is haunted by.
I'm reminded of John's naked remark when Rick videotapes our swings and brings us into an austere room for blow-by-blow analysis. An effective but excruciating process.
The camera justifies Rick's decision to introduce a new and beautifully effective alteration to my back swing. Much to John's dismay, Rick changes the way John holds his golf club. Changing something as fundamental as a golf grip is very disconcerting. At lunch, John tries hard to rally.
When school is over for the day, John and I take our unending competition to Stratton's golf course. We are mentally and physically exhausted and our usual ribbing takes a dangerous turn toward digging, so, after nine holes we decide to call it a day.
Lying in bed the next morning, we talk about golf the way most couples talk about the night before.
Although day two of golf school is similar in content to the day before, the drills are more personalized as Rick zeros in on banishing our bad habits and fortifying the good ones. There is a profound feeling of satisfaction as it all begins to gel. John's grip change has given him a whole new reason to live.
When the final bell sounds everyone lingers at the practice area trying to cap the experience by hitting one more beauty. Our instructors herd us indoors to fill in evaluation forms and give us post-mortems.
We are sent home with the advice to go easy on ourselves, Rick tells us it takes 21 days of daily practice for new information to penetrate the musculature and there will be set-backs. As we drive home we talk of golf ad nauseam. We can't wait to get out on the course. In a gentle moment, we confess our dedication to continuing to play each other. After all, it's only a game -- not.
In Vermont, I'm Pippin Ross for The Savvy Traveler.
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