Mark Townsend: Taking a golf lesson from my pro

The Scoop

NCG deputy editor Mark Townsend has been trying a novel approach to getting better..

In the past 35 years I must have had fewer than 10 lessons which is odd given that a) my handicap has shown no signs of any improvement since I was 21 b) I make the same mistakes as I did when I was a prepubescent and very awkward 12-year-old and c) I spend every poor round rapping myself metaphorically across the knuckles for not having any technical thoughts other than ‘complete your turn’.

And I’m not alone. In the last few weeks I have taken this column to new, spectacular heights and carried out a very unscientific survey – I emailed 10 pros I (sort of) know – and Question 1 of my probing census was ‘what percentage of your members take lessons with you?’

Nine out of 10 came back with the rather depressing figure of under 10 per cent. There were many reasons cited for this – age, lack of ambition, previous bad experiences, ‘their mate Dave, off 6, knows best’, not good enough to merit a lesson, online help available and, simply, ‘they are tight as a camel’s arse in a sandstorm’.

I fall into the online category. I jump around from one page on YouTube to the next trying different search terms to eliminate my most recent problem, the result of which is I spend far too much time listening to the advice of some pro from Arkansas and none with the expert at my local club.

golf lesson

So I decided to put a stop to this, a bold move hastened by my recent experiences. After 10 years of droning and dribbling on about my inability to chip, I’m delighted to report that my problems now lie elsewhere.

I can’t get out of greenside bunkers – is there a term for the bunker yips? – or rather I can get out of them but rather too easily.

Supposedly the ‘long bunker shot’ is the ‘hardest shot in golf’ (I’ll stop putting every few words inside apostrophes from now on) but I’ve got it ‘down pat’ (sorry) being able to find the middle of some undergrowth 50 yards beyond the pin. All of which has culminated in losing more balls from a soft, greenside splash shot than when the driver is unsheathed.

So I booked a lesson. Imagine that. I had exhausted every online avenue and heard all that Tom Stickney Golf had to offer on the subject. It’s quite a simple formula; watch video of around two minutes long, kid yourself that this applies perfectly to your situation, practise it for maybe six shots, hit a couple of good ones and head off to the course in your deluded little bubble that all is now fine again. Then skewer your first effort on the course into the nearest bush.

Yet here, standing right next to you in person and speaking for longer than two minutes, could be your friendly pro. He’ll listen to all the rubbish that spews out of your mouth, he’ll have your medical history noted in his head from your previous encounters and he’ll have decades of experience solving similar idiots’ concerns.

But you still know best and, while he might have helped you to that golden spell in 2011, you haven’t been back.

golf lesson

So I picked up the phone and spoke to my local pro, Oli Hunt at Headingley, and was fitted in just the next day. Even easier than getting a hair cut. Within less than 10 minutes and a handful of shots, my ball began popping out rather than exiting the sand like a startled rabbit. Over the next half hour there was height, an element of control and a much happier member.

And then came the confessional as every online nugget that I had gathered came flooding out and questions poured out as to why these hadn’t worked. I’m not sure what most of us are thinking. Rather than picking their brains every five years we should be inviting them into our home and setting a place round the table on Christmas Day. Nothing can go wrong, he will likely have spent thousands on some fancy new technology to make even more sense of your weak, loopy swing. There will be no grim diagnosis at the end of your time together. Things can, and usually do, get better.

Unless it’s not your golf that is the problem, as one of my brains trust explains..

“I once gave a lesson: one swing, and a small fart. Second swing, slightly more pronounced trump. After the third swing, he waddled very slowly back to the clubhouse..”

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