Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Learning from one of the best

by Mike Ramczyk

July 19, 2012

Finally, my summer golf column is back.

But, things are just a little bit different.

Gone is former editor Lisa Seiser, who has taken a new position at a daily newspaper in Kansas. For the past few summers, Seiser and I tried our golf luck at area courses in a fight to the finish.

Grand Geneva, Geneva National, Prairie Woods, Hawk’s View, even Nippersink. You name it, we’ve pretty much played it. What was intended as a friendly competition became very lopsided time after time. Basically, Seiser schooled me week in and week out, and I made a fool out of myself. I hit the ball in any hazard I could find and almost hit other golfers, both on foot and on cart, on several occasions. Solid golf shots were few and far between.

Once and only once did I tie Seiser. I shot a 52 in nine holes a couple years back at Lake Lawn Resort, one of my favorite courses.

So this year, with Seiser out of the picture, I have had to do a little improvisation. And what better course to start with than the site of my best nine-hole outing, Lake Lawn. With beautiful, lush greenery, breathtaking views of Delavan Lake, and a brand new clubhouse, Lake Lawn is one of my favorite area golf courses. And its relatively straight fairways help out my always unpredictable golf game.

This year, I’m looking for new playing partners along with ways to improve my game. What better person to recruit than golf guru and longtime pro Jim Gaugert. On Friday, Gaugert and I played on the front nine at Lake Lawn in an attempt to figure out my poor golf game (I probably average a 60 in nine holes, ouch). And it probably didn’t help that Friday was my first time golfing this summer.

A Lake Geneva resident, Gaugert’s resume stacks up with the best. He played golf at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has been a PGA member since 1987. Gaugert was a golf pro and operating partner at Hillmoor Golf Course from 1989 to 2007. After years as an assistant golf coach at Badger High School, Gaugert is taking this next school year off since his kids, Alex, Austin and Annie, are all in college now. All three are playing Division 1 golf. He is just recently getting back into playing after taking 12 years off from competitive golf. He is a coordinator at Lake Lawn, and his golf game is off the charts.

But he still loves to give lessons, and I played the role of sponge Friday afternoon. On the first hole, Jim preached concentrating on the feel of the game instead of my mechanics. As a typical golfer, I tend to think I can change one thing in my swing, and I will instantly be great. That’s not how it works.

With my opening tee shot, Jim stressed visualization. He said golf is “not easy, but extremely simple.” Before I even played, I developed a routine. Jim had me pick a focal point of where I want to aim the ball, mark it, and swing my club through to the spot. I started behind the ball and visualized my shot. He also stressed grip pressure. Jim said to hold the grip the club as tightly as you need at a 45-degree angle, and that grip pressure should be used for every swing.

Knowing I slice the ball, Jim had me aim a bit left on most shots. So on my tee shot on the first hole, a par-4, I picked a target, relaxed and swung with confidence. Boom. Straight down the fairway and 205 yards. Jim’s tee shot was perfectly straight and roughly 275 yards. The drought-like conditions made for a fast and firm course with plenty of roll.

“A tee shot should be effortless,” Jim said. “You want to line up your spot and not over-think it.”

Although I hadn’t played all summer, I wanted to impress a golf aficionado like Jim. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of such an accomplished player. But Jim said a lot of people get hung up on being too perfect.

“I try to teach people physically and emotionally,” Jim said. “When you haven’t played, don’t expect anything.”

My beginner’s luck continued on my second shot of the day. I used a 6-iron and hit a beautiful, looping ball 10 feet from the green. My old ways returned as I three-putted, and Jim scored a par. The tricky green sloped back to front. For putting, Jim taught me to line up the tiny arrow on the golf ball with where you aim your shot, similar to the way you visualize, or line up, a longer shot.

On the par-3, 165-yard second, despite a tee shot which I skulled (my new favorite golf term courtesy of Jim), I wound up just left of the green and finished with a bogey. I maintained my routine, visualizing my shot and following through with a nice, relaxed swing. Jim fired a dandy off the tee, ending up 18 feet from the cup. He polished it off with a birdie.

Next, on the par-5, 513-yard third, I swung in rhythm with a relaxed grip rather than trying to kill it and hit a 225-yard shot down the middle of the fairway. My second shot was a beautiful, straight knock, but it splashed forcefully into Delavan Lake. I tried a re-do but went for a swim again.

Jim proved even a golf pro is human as his third shot caught sand in the bunker. But just as he had hit out of long grass on his previous shot, Jim proved a hazard is nothing but another shot. He opened the face of his club and hit directly under the ball with a full swing. The idea is not to hit the ball at all, just the sand. I always thought you simply had to hit the sand in front of the ball, and the ball would hop out of the bunker.

We skipped to the fifth hole, where I enjoyed my third straight strong tee shot, my fourth good shot in an hour. Hey, I’m used to losing three or four balls in the woods on one hole, so I’ll take it. Jim said each shot is “all about rhythm and flow.” I was following my routine and simply hitting the ball, not worrying about the consequences, and it was working.

Jim’s tee on the fifth went a booming 305 yards with a nice roll. He almost sank a birdie putt from 20 feet out and finished with a bogey. After a few poor shots, I recovered by two-putting and tallying a seven.

I know, my game is sounding surprisingly normal so far. But the flood gates really opened on the 407-yard sixth. My tee sliced hard into the adjacent fairway, and I came oh so close to another group of golfers (the place was packed, give me a break). Jim said I simply swung inside the ball too much. I tensed up just before making contact, and my body raised and threw me off balance.

I topped the second shot and skulled the third one, and I was suddenly in no man’s land. Jim said I was gripping the club too tightly, and I was tense in my swing. I was trying to be perfect and kill the ball instead of letting the club do the work. I was back to square one.

We finished the day by returning to the second hole and teeing off downhill. I stuck to my routine, visualizing my shot and aiming for the bunker directly to the left of the green. I swung with rhythm and ease, hitting a majestic blast that landed directly in the left bunker. Bull’s-eye! I had never been so happy to hit into a bunker. Although bunkers are generally a bad thing, Jim was impressed by my shot.

After getting out of the bunker, Jim promised a free golf lesson if I two-putted. I focused, using my principles of routine, visualization and grip pressure. I lined up the arrow on the ball with my target, playing the sloping green left to right. My first shot set me up five feet from the hole, and I calmly sank the final putt to earn my free lesson. But who was I kidding? Jim schooled me with plenty of lessons all afternoon.

My game is changed for the better. No, I’m not going to shoot a 39 in nine holes overnight, but with the principles of routine, visualization, see feel touch, grip pressure and posture, I may be on my way. I saw first-hand that Jim is the real deal on the course, and his positive vibes and encouragement definitely helped me along the way. In my competitive nature, I wanted to play better, but mostly I was looking to improve and learn the “right” way to play the game. I had plenty of fun, hearing terminology like “skulling” (really?), but most importantly, I learned valuable golf lessons from one of the best players and teachers I’ve been around.

Being the nice guy he is, Jim finished the day with an assessment of my game.

“You are a typical golfer because you get hung up on mechanics and being perfect,” he said with brutal honesty. “But you showed great improvement. Be free and have fun. It’s a hobby. See, feel and trust.”