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July 31, 2012 | 04:44 PMI have been doing my golf column for a few summers now.
Whether it was playing with my former boss, a college golfer or a golf pro, I was always at an inherent disadvantage with my inconsistent, sometimes laughable, downright stinky golf game.
I'm always interested in firsts, and Friday was a refreshing change of pace.
Playing at the Hawk's View Barn Hollow Course, a challenging yet beautiful 18-hole par-3 which complements the two full-sized courses, I had the privilege of playing with a first-time golfer. But this wasn't just some average dude. It was my boss, Lake Geneva Regional News General Manager and Editor John Halverson, who was finally getting around to his first golf round at the tender age of 65. (Pick up a copy of this week's Regional News to get Halverson's side of the story).
There was the pressure of playing golf with my boss for the first time and impressing him. Also, I was coupled with a golf rookie, so my comical skills and limited knowledge of the game were all Halverson had to work with.
Though Halverson hadn't played an actual round of golf, he "hit the ball around" some 40 years ago, and someone gave him a lesson back in 2000. Also, I was under the impression he played a few times in the past, but when we got to the first hole of the front-nine, Halverson informed me he was a golf newcomer. He even threw in that he was "lousy" at mini golf.
Could I, a person who routinely loses golf balls in hazards and threatens those around him with erratic play, actually teach someone how to golf? "I don't want to fail at a new sport," Halverson said while we waited for a foursome to play through. Well, we had to try first. I recently learned from playing with golf pro Jim Gaugert, and my friend Shawn may have recently corrected my "baseball" golf swing into a real golf swing. So I felt like even if I played badly Friday, I could at least sound like I knew what I was talking about to Halverson.
Playing right after four 10-year-olds who made us look like 5-year-olds, Halverson and I finally teed off on the 75-yard first. To make things as easy as possible, I picked the par-3 course, and we usually teed off from the closest tees. That's right, two adult men were starting from the same place as 8- and 9-year-olds. But Halverson was grounded in his approach and didn't expect much.
With a high backswing that almost hit him in the back of the head, Halverson's baseball swing shot the ball straight to the right and directly into a bunker. He hit the ball about 60 yards, and I was impressed by his contact.
I tried to teach him the Gaugert way of exiting a bunker, opening the face and hitting the sand beneath the ball. But with wet, matted-down sand, Halverson got out of the hazard on his first try. Unfortunately, the ball rolled across the green and into the opposite rough. After another powerful shot (he was swinging too hard), Halverson got to his putt game, which needed a major overhaul. He was winding up and giving a full swing with his putter, which caused the ball to speed past the hole several times. I taught Halverson to swing his putter easy like a pendulum, and he eventually two-putted. He finished the hole with an eight.
I shouldn't talk. My tee, though majestically high and straight, landed in tall grass beyond the green. I smashed out of the grass and onto the green, but three-putting gave me a five. My new "golf" swing marked a major improvement in my game.
For our second hole, we were encouraged by an employee to move to the back nine, most likely because we were taking so long. We heeded his advice and drove over to the 10th hole. Playing from the 79-yard red tees, Halverson went through some growing pains. After topping a few shots and chunking another, he finally relaxed and wound up on the green. Halverson said he was concerned about the water hazard to the right of the green. Sometimes, you have to just say screw it and hit the ball without thinking so much. The more Halverson trusted his swing, the more success he had on the day.
I hit from the 106-yard middle tees with a 9-iron and smacked my best shot of the day, which landed roughly 20 feet from the hole. My notorious slice was almost gone thanks to my new golf swing. I used a lot of torque on my shot and finished high with my chest facing the flag. Then, I read the green well and sank the birdie despite a steep left-to-right slope. It was the second birdie of my life, so naturally I was jumping and shouting and high-fiving Halverson, who shared my excitement.
Though it took him about four shots to get on the green, we counted his "good" tee shot as his first shot. He couldn't yet shake the hitch in his swing on the green. Instead of lightly tapping the ball, he was swinging for the fences. A four-putt left Halverson with a five.
By the third hole, the 103-yard 11th, Halverson was improving his short game. After a 50-yard tee shot that landed in the bunker, Halverson made it two-for-two on sand blasts. With steel nerves, he used his "hazard-schmazard" mentality and hit a nice safety shot about 30 yards back onto the fairway and just short of the green. Halverson was on the green in three, and he three-putted to a solid six. Halverson choked up on the club when putting instead of swinging and let his wrists out a bit more. He said he felt more in control. I could tell my shot-in-the-dark tips were helping.
Once again, I was on the green in one thanks to a solid tee shot. However, my putting was awful and I finished with a four. My slice was nowhere to be found, and I was making solid contact with my irons. I was beating Halverson, and though it was only his first time, it still felt good because normally my playing partner embarrasses me.
On the 80-yard 12th, Halverson had his shining moment. After three unsuccessful drives, it was time to get hands-on with my teaching. I warned him I wasn't trying to be "awkwardly on him," but I felt compelled to stand behind Halverson and literally guide his arms through his tee shot. His backswing was knocking him off-balance and causing too much body movement. I taught him to not swing so far back on his backswing, and it corrected his hitch. Halverson started back slowly, but exploded through the ball with a controlled, relaxed swing. His tee shot went straight at the hole and came within inches of the flag. Hallelujah! He looked like a pro, and I couldn't believe I actually taught someone a correct golf tip.
However, Halverson was back to his crushing ways on the green and finished with a five. But it didn't matter because his tee shot was a thing of beauty.
I continued looking like an entirely new golfer. My tee shot was straight and stopped on the green, and I two-putted for the par. Although I was playing par golf for three holes, I knew the roof would cave in soon.
Unfortunately, that roof started weakening on the next hole, the 68-yard 13th. Halverson and I both drove the ball way to the right, but he was about 10 yards further than me. We faced a difficult second shot, with an uphill lie on the green. But if you hit it too far, you would roll down a steep hill.
Halverson's approach landed on the green, and he was in good shape. "I'm starting to understand what I'm doing wrong," he said. "I found a sweet spot between relaxing and too tense with my grip."
I felt Halverson on my heels and hit my second shot way too far and wound up down a hill behind the green. I salvaged the hole with a decent chip onto the green. Then, Halverson and I both three-putted. He finished with a five, which beat my six. Finally, he beat me on a hole, which proves I'm as bad as I always was and he's a fast learner.
Our final hole, the 89-yard 14th, was a complete disaster. We both agreed it would be our last hole. Halverson got little to no distance on four tee shots, and I took five tee shots. Two went in the water hazard to the right of the green, and the others were weak ground balls. Only one of mine was a good golf shot, which hit the green first before bouncing into the drink.
We wanted to keep playing, but when we saw the group behind us waving at us and basically telling us to hurry up, we knew it was time to pack it up. We quickly gathered our six or seven "misses" and called it a day.
Unofficially, Halverson shot a 29 in five holes. I finished with a 20, including a birdie and a par. It was probably some of the best golf I've ever played. My tee shots weren't slicing, and my putting was generally accurate. My new golf swing, with more torque and a higher finish, was paying dividends.
As for Halverson, I was impressed by his willingness to learn and steady improvement throughout the day. His tee shot on the 12th was a straight-up miracle, and he hit well out of the bunker. His middle game was solid, as he was comfortable chipping. However, his putting is quite unorthodox and resembles his drive a little too much. But his putt grip and swing improved tremendously throughout the day.
Above all, we had a great time. Halverson enjoyed my positive encouragement after bad shots, and we both enjoyed the calm, peaceful setting of Hawk's View. Ice-cold beverages helped mask our failures and accentuate our successes. For my first time in a "teacher" role, finally I didn't feel like the worst golfer on Earth. I had the rookie Halverson to shoulder that burden. Just kidding, John.
Halverson showed great potential. He already wants to play again, so I may have achieved my goal — turning a non-golfer into a recreational golfer. And, most importantly, I got to tell my boss what to do for a couple hours, and he could do nothing but listen. Priceless.