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B a l l ' s - E y e  V i e w
I took up golf again a couple years ago, after trying (and failing) in my 30s. My friend Henry dragged me to the range one day. I was totally useless - hit like crap, balls bouncing off the dividers, whiffs, etc. But he persisted, so I thought I ought to give it a good go this time around. I have little to no natural athletic ability - I'm a brains guy. Let's see whether that will let this old dog learn some new tricks...

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2012-04/05 Earnest Again


The new season started, a bit late, and I was out again hitting, hitting, hitting. And watching people. And the sky. Around 2pm a red plane makes a pass over the refinery area that's been airbrushed out of the graphic above, checking air quality. On various days airplane contrails stripe the skies - I've counted up to 8. The geese migrate from the Beaver Hills in swarms, like flocks of starlings. The fly as a flock, swirling like a dark mass a few hundred feet in the sky - you can hear the honking even from so far away - and some break off into Vs to head off to other wetlands for the summer.

Learning to golf is not the only reason I go out whenever I can. The range is like a park, except this one has gasoline distillation columns and a storage tank in view to the east, and a plastic comapny to the south. To the west, behind me, is a hilly grassy area concealing a playground that children seem to hardly use. Or only quiet children - in two-plus years I've hardly heard or noticed any.

Last year I fluked a ball into the bucket (a rusty 40-gallon drum about 50 yards away) on my 4th ball. This year, my first time out, there was a box of a dozen new balls sitting right on the path along the tee boxes. Just sitting there. I took them to Jesus, who manages the range, and he told me to keep them until someone asks him. No one did.

The range is a park that's mostly my own, so lightly used except on the weekend. I buy a coffee for $1.51 from a 7-11 run by what looks to be Somali refugees and there are two benches to choose from and if not, I have my own fold-out chair. Sometimes, for brief periods, I'm the only one there. I usually hit 3 sets of six balls, and then sit to enjoy my coffee and have a smoke.

There are regulars that I get to recognize, and who recognize me. On weekends I see Dads, sometimes single Dads I think trying to reconnect with their sons and daughters on their weekend time. Sometimes Moms, but less so. Even a lesbian Mom with her son one Sunday. The tattoo on her arm of two interlinked female signs over an Irish flag, and her build, were a giveaway.

Old guys and their old clubs, young guys and their graphite-shaft fat-headed clubs and golf wear, young couples, groups of young guys, probably from somewhere else here for oil-related jobs chattering about hot girls and trying to crush the ball (badly), a few old couples where it's obvious she's humouring him and keeping her phone handy for a 911 call if need be - all kinds of people go to a driving range.

2012.06.01 Mill Woods Spoiled by Loud Mediocrity


Ottewell Curling Club was closed for a dog show, so I went to Mill Woods Golf Club. Big mistake. Though they have a new putting area, a new chipping and sand area, and new mats, they insist on blaring Top-40 Loud Mediocrity all over the practice area. When asked, the pro said he usually plays rock. WTF? Over a practice area? It's like practising in a muffler shop or a beauty salon. Avoid this place if you want serious practice. Or bring earplugs. I choose the former.
2012.06.09 Three Thousand


balls so far this season. At $248.75 (approximately - I've been given a couple left-over buckets) that's 8 cents a ball. I'll have to remember that every time I shank one.
2012.06.14 Caddy Hack


I signed up to be a caddy for the ATB Financial Classic, one of the only pro tour events that comes through town. Probably the only time I'll ever be on the Windermere Golf and Country Club, nevermind playing it. Fortunately for me (and the player I'm teamed with), no actual caddying skills are involved beyond being able to carry a bag for 18 holes. Whew! Caddies get paid $35 a round - money for the range fund for me. Players come from around the world so I'll get to meet some new people, and maybe some serendipity will follow.
2012.06.19 Duck, Duck, Goose!


Two geese seem to have taken up residence on the range. I think they have nested in a grassy hollow just along the right-side yardage markers. They were totally unfazed by the dozen balls I sliced (not on purpose, PETA!) their way.

The skies were intermittently dark and rainy, and it scared off the whackers, so at one point for at least a half-hour it was just me and the geese out there as showers came and went. Since I have to learn to hit in the rain and a coat anyway, I stayed out. A wet tee-box mat is an excellent indicator of a too-early wrist unhinging, as the club spiffs up a spray of water from the mat before getting to the ball.

2012.06.21 Caddy Hack - First Round


My ATB Financial Classic assignment - Tyler Aldridge (also PGA profile). Young fellow (28) trying to get back to the PGA Tour. Has a wife and 3 kids, laminated pictures of the newest in various adorable poses hooked on his bag.

We were told to speak when spoken to unless the pro is talkative. Tyler isn't so much. He's pretty good, rather intense, but got rattled by the Marshal telling us to hurry up or we'd be on the clock - unfairly as it turned out and another Marshal apologised later. A couple times he beat himself up (loudly-ish) over a missed shot. He edged two (three?) holes on putts. I figure he left 3 strokes on the course because of that. He finished 1-under.

8:20am tee time, I had to be there an hour early, it takes a half-hour to get there. Anyone who knows me knows I'm serious when I do anything as serious as walking 18 holes before noon. The morning was cool to start but warmed up quickly, though the grass was wet for the first nine at least. Lovely day, but long - 5 hours on the course, at least half that in wet shoes.

Still, I went to the range after, hit 6-dozen balls and pondered the experience. What stood out most is Tyler being rattled vs the pictures on his bag. It seemed to me that he was missing a tremendous amount of mental leverage from those visual talismans, and though they may be there as passive good luck charms, they would be an excellent active tool for centering one's mind.

Golf is both mindful and mind-less. Mind-less in that it's a body activity - it must become part of one's body, no matter how much the mind understands it. Ask a nerd who's all mind, like me. :) Golf is mindful in preparation and strategy, but also mental calmness that lets the body do its job - the ability to push aside the last shot or what the Marshal said and find clarity for a new start on a new hit. The last shot has been shot. Like rolling dice, the next numbers come up as though the previous never did.

Tyler is 28 and trying to get back on the PGA tour. Age-wise it's an uphill journey. He's got the physical skills, but he's rounding the turn on 30. Like this old geezer, it's the mental game that will make the difference from now on. Those pictures of his little muffin could be an excellent centering tool to sweep away distractions like the last bad shot and clear his mental deck for the next shot.

2012.06.22 Caddy Hack - Second Round


We're off at 1:20 today. So far, Tyler has made the cut so I have to be prepared to use my Old Man Power to get through the next 3 days. Better shoes and lighter clothes are in order, and now that I have bulled my way through one round, I'll need more smarts and less grunt, especially in the heat. Summer has arrived just in time for this tournament.


Well that was a brutal day. A stoppage for a looming thunderstorm that interrupted us on the 3rd green, then a 4-hour rain delay wait after. The course was wet again and the humidity went to 99% and we slogged through wet grass and damp us. Tyler just couldn't read his putts, rimmed at least 3, and missed the cut by 1 stroke. I winced each time, poor guy, he was just snake-bit.

While that's real disappointing to most of me, my feet are rather grateful - holy crap they took a beating. My trusty deck shoes failed me on the first day in the wet, and a pair of CAT-branded outdoor shoes did likewise. The latter are trash now.

Tomorrow I will go to volunteer to be a Marshal - it's a standing or sitting job and I don't think I can walk another 18, nevermind 2 18s. I'm not sure I'll be able to even walk tomorrow morning, but we'll see what Old Man Power can do. I want to go to the volunteer party Saturday night, and meet some people - that's what this whole experience is about.

2012.06.25 Caddy Hack - Final


Days 3 and 4 were spent as a spectator. My feet just weren't up to any amount of lengthy standing and walking, so I dressed to look club-ish, tucked my lanyard card into my pocket, and limped/glided around as though I belonged. Started my days with a nice brekkie in the player's club, grabbed a coffee to go, then off to be a PGA tourney spectator. I mostly set up a comfy seat in the shade at the 18th green, though Sunday I was a bit more mobile.

Not only Tyler missed putts by a smidge - it's a feature of the pre-Tour nature of golfers at this stage. That and shot management. As I am finding with my own fumblings, there are two important targets when acquiring and exercising any skill: 1. knowing your abilities and limitations, and 2. applying them reliably.

Sunday I took a bunch of pics, to practise some action shots. They look like any that could be found from any tourney, but this one is the only one worth showing:

My First PGA Caddying Cheque

The money will buy me 14 buckets, enough for 2 weeks of afternoons, but it's more about the George Plimpton experience of it all and something for my life scrapbook.

This tour won't be back here for a couple years - I wonder if either of us will be too.

2012.06.29 Five Thousand


balls so far this year. My irons are getting pretty reliable and comfortable and hit longer. Woods are still coming along slowly though because I've used them so little from lack of confidence mostly. I've been changing that, and hitting lots more balls with my higher clubs. And I've been actively trying to take my arms out of my swing, so I've been backsliding some as I adjust. But hitting further as I dial it in. I figure it's best to remove some bad habits now and become more of a swinger than a hitter. I'm more of a swingin' kind of guy anyway. ;)
2012.07.02 The Eyes Have It


"If you see the ball you will hit the ball." That's pretty standard golf (or baseball or probably soccer) instruction. For golf, keeping your eyes on the ball until after you hit it means your shoulders are square to the ball at impact, which keeps your shot straighter. Neurologically the input from your eyes (in the Visual Cortex) is coordinated with your muscles (via the Cerebellum) through the Basal Ganglia (and other pathways). This is why you don't have to think too hard about touching what you see - it's all coordinated automatically.

In fact, for some activities like carrying a tray of fine malted beverages or tasty snacks it's better to let the Cerebellum do its job managing the muscles in your arms and wrists while the Visual Cortex takes care of getting you to your hungry/thirsty guests - your Visual Cortex is much too fast providing feedback for your Cerebellum and the muscles in your arms to keep adjusting. Too much mind for your body.

However, golf ain't toting beers - you need to keep your eyes on the ball. Despite knowing and thinking I was doing that, and still progressing fairly well, I was suspicious because I thought I was too busy doing everything else to remember seeing the club head hit the ball. I just trusted that I did. So, for 2 large buckets (about 14 dozen) I slowed down and made sure I saw the ball get hit. Usually whenever I focus on one part of my swing lots of the other parts go to hell as my weaknesses are exposed. That's learning. Since I was pretty decent with the rest of my swing already it didn't take long to feel like an idiot for all the bad shots that preceded me paying attention to this one detail.

Duh! Once I got a handle on that little wee detail... I'm not half-bad! All my prior nerdery paying attention to making a good swing with my body got properly connected-up to my eyes and my shots were straighter, more repeatable, and even longer.

- - -

Found another worthy training reference: Perfect Golf Swing - a review of teaching methods and biomechanics, definitely nerdly, lots of material and analyses. I read a little bit about something before I go to the range, but not enough to get all messed up.

Tyler Aldridge, the fellow I caddied for at the ATB Financial, finished tied for 6th (9 under, his best score of the season) at The Syncrude Boreal Open the following week. Must have found his putter (or had a useful caddy)- Congrats! Next up, the Dakota Dunes Casino Open in beautiful Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

The full 2012 Canadian Professional Golf Tour schedule.

2012.07.29 Jesus Was My Salvation


Jesus (pronounced Hay-Zeus) is from Spain, and runs the range I use most. I give him money for buckets of golf balls I hit into an old sports field that he then picks up to exchange for my money again the next day.

The range is bordered by a fence and some rolling hills, which makes it hard for a truck-pushed ball-picker so it's necessary for Jesus or someone to walk the range perimeter and knock balls in to where the picker can get them.

Lately I have been tending to go there later in the day, to avoid being irradiated quite so much by the high afternoon sun shining through clear prairie air. Come July, as much as I like to be outdoors recreationally, I become rather blasé about summer and care less about being out in the sun. So, I go to the range after rush-hour traffic has thinned, when the air is still warm but softer, and the sun less intense.

One Saturday evening, Jesus asked if I would have some time to help him by clearing the perimeter. Free balls - who could say no?

So I grabbed my pitching wedge and headed out over the grass, hit about a hundred balls on the flat, inclines, declines, picking different targets, trying different stances, whiffing fewer and fewer, not caring if I did, just approaching, addressing, and hitting over and over and over. The day had been hot, and as it cooled the humidity rose, especially out on a big grassy field that had been soaked by multiple rains in the weeks before. So I was hot, soaked sweaty from the hitting and the humidity, and had crossed into a new zone in the evolution of my swing. I had the swing in my body and not so much in my mind.

  • Eyes on the Whish
    On the mat, there's only the ball to focus on, and our tendency is to follow the ball with our eyes as it's hit, which tends to be too early. Hitting off grass, the eye can focus on seeing the 'whish' of the grass rising up as the ball is hit, keeping focus on where the ball was for a little extra to keep the shoulders square to the ball. This worked wonders for me.
  • Loose Wrists Sink Chips
    Hitting a ball off some field that isn't groomed in any way other than having the grass cut made me fear jamming my wrists from whatever was in the grass, especially on the hills, so I kept my wrists looser and let the club do its work.
  • Easy Does It
    There were a lot of balls to clear, and I'd already hit a couple buckets and didn't want a hard work-out, so that suggested leveraging the physics of my swing rather than physical force. Fear of jamming my club into the grass reinforced this.
  • Approach, Address, Hit
    Balls were spread thickly and thinly in spots, and it's amazing where people can slice and hook them. Where they were close together it was possible to take a step, set up and hit ball after ball. Where they were spread farther apart each shot was more like from a fairway.
  • Matter Over Mind
    Less thinking, more hitting. As I progress from over-thinking nerd to natural swinger, getting my mind out of the way is becoming a good thing to do. I dawdled at first, like I do on the mat, but as I saw Jesus clearing with the picker I thought he'd finish before me so I stepped up the pace and trusted what I'd practised for so long on the mats and coupled with the items above hit A LOT better, reliably, for the first time ever.

Since that evening I've helped Jesus a few times - he appreciates it and I certainly do. I even clear during the day when I wouldn't be in range of any wild hitters. I take a different club out and even lost my fear of hitting with my fairway woods. I swing and hit differently now, on or off the mats, even to the point where I can concentrate on one particular part of my swing and trust the other parts will hang together naturally.

I was raised Roman Catholic but left the church and religion behind many decades ago. Never thought I'd be thanking Jesus for something!

2012.08.08 Five Lessons from a Good Friend


My friend PM who joins me at the range sometimes surprised me with a copy of Ben Hogan's Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, a reprint of a collection of five articles Ben wrote for Sports Illustrated in 1957 upon which all golf education is based. Hogan was a golf nerd: from the age of 12 he studied and practised and made notes and competed and investigated with a nerd's zeal the game that made his life. It's a thin book, only 127 pages, but Hogan captured the essence of what it takes to hit a golf ball with a golf club in a thorough, direct, and always-optimistic way. Even though he never actually taught much, he aimed to be a sincere practitioner and communicator of his insights, all presented in a very easygoing and humble yet forthright manner.

I've read a lot of online material that always references Hogan's material, but having the source material in a slim volume I can keep in a pocket on my bag is a real bonus.

2012.09.18 Fall Looms


Jesus closed up the range for the season last Friday, marking the beginning of the end of the season. There are a few other options around town, but they're moot since my car is broken and I've been too otherwise-engaged to get it fixed.

I did take the fundamentals of the Hogan book from PM to heart, and finally have a swing I can rely on, though I have to say I still either don't get the swing in my body, or my mind still gets in the way.

My swing hasn't been tested except on the range, which is enjoyable enough, but it'll be time to test it on the course, and start the most-expensive part of the activity: course fees. $30 for 9 holes low-end buys a lot of range balls, but without the challenge and variety and proof that I'm any good at the actual activity.

I hit over 10,000 balls this season, peaking at 3,000 in July, for an average cost of 7.5 cents per ball, or just over $800 to-date. I could probably have hit over 12,000, but I took a little trip at the end of August and haven't hit much since I got back. When I do hit now I feel like I have the basics in me, finally, so I have something to work with next season.


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