My Journey to Scratch: Part II – Finding a Mentor

PART II – FINDING A MENTOR

Oakridge Golf Club is nestled in a small community east of Toronto. Measuring just over 6300 yards from the tips, it is not a long course but with a slope rating of 142 it is a challenging one.  Oakridge is practically my home away from home and it is where I have met some terrific people.  One lesson that I learned early on is to try and find a mentor, a player that is better than you are and has insightful knowledge about the game of golf. A good mentor will have a number of characteristics: he or she will give you information when you ask for it; tell you to smarten up when needed and will provide the necessary encouragement to try and tackle this great game. The cost of mentorship, however, is definitely not free. In exchange for all that wisdom, be prepared to be on the receiving end of plenty of jokes and jabs. If the game of golf does not humble you, a good mentor most certainly will.

Graham, my mentor, is 70 years old and in better shape than many people half that age. He is a self-described a$$hole and, although that couldn’t be further from the truth, generally, he certainly has that character trait from time-to-time. I met him four years ago when I took the step of joining the Oakridge Match Play League. Since meeting him, I have probably played 100 rounds of golf with him – he knows my game…maybe too well.

BECOMING HUMBLE

The first hole at Oakridge is a par 4 with a slight dogleg to the right. A pond at the end of the fairway greets golf balls from players who don’t check their ego in the parking lot.

The second shot may require an approach over the pond to an undulating green surrounded by bunkers and tall grass. “Should I give you a 5 now?”, Graham will often ask. “5? Why?”, I would reply. “You’ll hit a great drive, a good second shot and then you’ll 3 putt”, he would deadpan much to the amusement of others. My reply would typically consist of two words before I hit my first shot and the same two words when I would walk off the green having just fulfilled his prophecy. “Maybe it’s time for a new putter”, he would say. “I just got this one”, I’d reply.  “I know, and it still doesn’t work” would be his response. He wasn’t wrong.

Confession – my putting sucks. It sickens me that I can cover nearly 300 yards with a drive but from six feet, well you can sit back, relax and watch the adventure unfold. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a talent: I can push it; I can pull it; I can hit it long; I can leave it short.  I’ve used the claw grip; I’ve tried left-hand low; I’ve tried a traditional grip. Hell, I’ve even tried putting with my wedge.  Frankly, for the first two years of playing, there were no such things as “gimmes” –  a fact that may ultimately have been the best lesson of all.

Putting woes are a recipe for disaster at any course but a finicky putter at Oakridge can turn a round in the 80’s to a round north of 95. The eighth hole is a prime example. The tee is slightly elevated leading down into an extremely narrow fairway guarded by two bunkers on the left and a very steep hill on the right.  The green is elevated, guarded by bunkers, and slopes heavily from back to front and left to right.  If I could skip over a hole, this would often be the one. After managing a good tee shot and an approach that made its way to the back of the green, I was left with a daunting downhill putt – which I missed. I then missed the return uphill putt.  When I missed the third downhill putt, Graham asked: “Do you think the hole moved?” I had virtually the same line as my first putt but I didn’t even hit the hole.  My frustration was palpable and my putting certainly didn’t improve the rest of the round. I skipped the post-round beverages and went to the range to hit balls but my mood didn’t improve. I couldn’t understand why my scores weren’t better. I was hitting the ball well off the tee and my approach shots were passable. I knew I had to work on my chipping and putting but neither ever seemed so bad on the practice green. I seemed to be suffering from having an A+ practice game and a “missed cut” actual game. “Why can’t I take my game from the practice area to the course?” I didn’t have an answer and I didn’t realize just how visible my frustration must have been.

THE LIGHT BULB GOES ON

That night, Graham sent me a text message: “Don’t get discouraged. You have the swing and your long game is there. Focus on your putting. Stick with it.” That text message was my turning point and caused me to challenge my ego and catalogue all the things that I had been doing wrong in practice and on the course:

  1. Hitting range balls after a bad putting round
  2. Hitting range balls without a real purpose
  3. Hitting driver off the tee to showcase my length when a hybrid would suffice
  4. Missing the fairway because I chose driver instead of playing smart
  5. Attempting the hero shot instead of taking my medicine and getting back into play
  6. Working on the short game for only a short time

I was determined to fix these bad habits and to start playing smart golf. To do so I had to truly become a student of the game and soak up as much knowledge as I could from those that I was playing with.  On that date, my index was 13.8 and my journey was about to become much more enjoyable.

To be continued…

In Part III, the plan goes into action.

PREVIEW OF THE PLAN GOES INTO ACTION

My next round with Graham was about a week later. I warmed up on the range and spent much more time on the practice green.  Graham arrived at the course and began to warm up with some chipping practice. I watched as he worked to get the ball rolling on the green as quickly as possible – this was the opposite of my style of trying to land it on a particular spot and have it trickle to the hole.  Shot after shot he was getting into tap-in territory. I decided to bank those observations and I would practice that shot.

Next, he began to putt. First with some short putts and then with lag putts. His consistency was remarkable but I didn’t know what he was doing that I wasn’t so I did what so many amateurs seem to be afraid of doing: I asked. True to form he responded with a “How much time do you have?” As it turned out I wasn’t doing very much right when I had a putter in my hand and we took video to prove it.

  

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