|at the driving range
|I played golf as a kid. I had a decent game.
This was in Buffalo. Later I moved to New
York. In New York there was no golf. Other
interests took precedence. I wont labor this
one. There is only one thing that can induce
a golfer to set the game aside and I leave it
for you to figure out what that thing is.
I lived in NY and moved to LA. Still--no more
golf. It was one thing or another thing and
none of these things was golf.
Time passed--30 years.
I got a call from Amy.
She said: “I just bought a golf club at the
swap meet. I have always wanted to hit
balls at a driving range”
She didn’t know I was an ex-golfer.
Out we went—to the Korean Range on
Olympic and Normandie. We split a bucket. I
gave her a few simple pointers by way of
grip, stance, backswing.
In the next stall I banged away with this
rental, not a bad club, a Mizuno three metal.
I banged away-—up, down, over here, over
there. A few of these pop-ups would have
brought down one of the 707s making their
approach on the flight path into LAX
I banged away. Then I nailed one—-on the
last ball. It is always nice to nail the last one.
Pinned to the net at the far end of the range
are some canvas sheets painted with red
bulls-eye targets. And here goes the shot,
the last shot, right on the button, starts out
low, to the right, begins to rise and draw
left and smacks into the red bulls-eye target
painted on the canvas.
Amy was watching. she was stunned and
amazed. She said: “not bad!”
And that’s what did it—-that last shot with
the three metal, right on the button, the low
rising screamer from right to left—-the draw
shot-—complete with that little shivering jolt
of pleasure that travels up the arms and
scores a bulls-eye on the golf part of the
sporting equivalent of an orgasm.
The next day I went out to the range at
Wilshire/Harding in Griffith Park and
bought a used 3 metal wood and 7 iron at
the pro shop and hit a few buckets. Not bad.
I smoked a few, including a terrific shot that
caught on the fly a piece of netting
stretched across the range at the 200 yard
stripe. Not bad.
I went home and got on the internet and
punched up the website for LA public library
and ordered a few golf books and videos to
be delivered to the neighborhood branch.
I read a book by Trevino—Groove Your
Swing My Way. I always liked Trevino. He
seemed to be enjoying himself out there.
And there was something about that swing.
The golf commentators are fond of talking
about the “homemade” swing. A homemade
swing is the opposite of the textbook
swing—the Fred Couples swing, the Sammy
Snead swing, the Tiger Woods swing. It’s
the swing of a guy like Trevino, a poor
Mexican kid, self-taught, who learned the
game hanging around the driving range in El
There is a classic story about Lloyd
Mangrum, a pro from the forties and fifties,
a salty cigarette-smoking dude with a
narrow forties moustache who, playing a
recreational round with some local, had a
short putt that did a 360 around the rim of
the cup before finally dropping in and the
local made some crack about the feeble
quality of this stroke and Mangrum said:
“Are we playing how or how many?”
What the pro looks for in a swing is
“repeatability”—the same swing every time.
That’s Trevinos swing. It repeats itself
perfectly—every time. With this swing you
could hit a grape off the tee
Trevinos swing is designed to produce a
controlled fade—the left to right shot.
Nicklaus also favors this shot. Johnny Miller
hits the draw. This is their natural shot—the
bread and butter shot. That’s what I was
looking for: my bread and butter shot.
So there I was taking up the game 30 years
later and I decided to try a few things. Why
Trevinos swing is tight--compact. There is
an advantage here: errors of timing are kept
to a minimum. Its bogey proof. He
establishes an open stance at address and
takes the clubhead back on an outside path,
away from the intended line of flight. The
golf books all agree that by doing this you
are asking for trouble. It’s a long story. The
short version is: the clubhead goes back on
the inside. But Trevino has his reasons and
there is a perverse sort of logic operating
here as he explains it.
The club goes back there is a little looping
sequence at the top, the hips clear out and
he drops the club into the slot hammering
into the ball on a shallow angle driving hard
into the left side and gets his ass into the
shot. You must get your ass into the shot.
Its that little looping action at the top of the
swing that is the key—that delivers the
clubhead into the ball at a shallow angle
keeping it on the intended path of flight just
a fraction of a second longer and accounts
for the uncanny way he is able to control the
The idea was clear. I address the shot. Bend
over with the back straight, stick out the
ass, weight forward on the balls of the feet,
aim left of the target, the 150 yard sign, a
little wiggle-waggle of the club to relieve
tension, draw back—low and slow and wind
up and fire--down and into the ball and solid
through impact with a good release of the
hands and the head stays down, nailed to
the ground and there is full extension of the
arms as the right shoulder comes up and
under the chin just like in all the golf books
and the follow through with good balance.
There goes the shot—high to the left and
now it starts to fade, to curl in, and it hits 3
feet in front of the sign takes a bounce and
hits the sign.
That is a true story.
Back to the apt. I holed up with my books
and videos. I never read golf books as a
kid—or hit the range either. I just played.
But now was different. I became a student
of the game.
There are a lot of golf books out there. I
read some good ones, some bad ones,
some in between ones.
I read a book called Unlocking Your Golf
Potential by David Leadbetter—the guru of
gurus. He has also been called the Einstein
of the golf swing. This is incorrect. Some
people understand Einstein. I read the
Leadbetter book and my head was spinning
with phrases like “elbow release angle” and
“reverse pivot axis” and “backswing trigger
point”, etc, and I went out to the course and
sat down and tied my golf shoes together.
I knew what I was looking for–a little
common sense. And I found it—in a book by
Jackie Burke Jr—old timer I remember from
the fifties who had a reputation as a
teacher. The book was called Golf the
Natural Way. Its a short book—always a
good sign. Jackie Burke said an interesting
thing: par isnt 72. Its 72 for the pros. But
for you–no. Par for you is 75 or 85 or 105.
Play those long par 4’s like a five and some
of he 3’s like fours and you will get share of
He also said: the course is not the place to
be tinkering with your swing. The tinkering
is done on the range. Once you arrive at the
course to play the round all you can do is
relax and leave it to Allah—-the blind fate
concept. If the problem hasn’t been solved
at the range its too late. Forget it.
I read a book by Ken Venturi who said: the
swing is the same for all clubs.
I watched a Johnny Miller video. Here was a
guy with a great swing. He just wound up
and fired. That’s what I was looking for:
wind up and fire. Its easier said than done.
There was a lot of criticism of Millers swing
when he hit the tour in the early 70’s. He
had the early wrist cock, uneven tempo,
reverse pivot problems and a few other
Three years later he won nine tournaments
in one year, including 4 in a row, finished
first on the money list and the criticism had
toned down a bit
I liked that action with the early wrist
cock. It was cool.
Back to the range. The range is a funny
place. I wrote a letter to a friend and said: if
they ever need a new method of ID to
replace DNA they can go with the golf swing.
The golf books love to use the word
“visualize”. Visualize is their favorite word.
For example: at the address to the ball
visualize yourself sitting down on a bar
stool (Curtis Strange).
Example: To hit the draw shot visualize
bringing the right shoulder down and whip
the arm through like the windmilling motion
of a softball pitcher (Jack Nicklaus)
Example: the trap shot. The trap shot is
executed with a delayed release of the right
hand. Visualize a waiter carrying a tray in
his right hand. (Johnny Miller)
Out at the range at Harding/Wilson they
were visualizing the beating to death of a
One day I watched this guy hit balls. He was
a big guy with a big swing that produced a
big slice—the banana ball. This was a double
banana ball—two bananas end to end.
Out went these shots, ball after ball. Tee up,
swing, hit the slice, watch the slice, bend
over, tee up, hit another slice.
The golf books all say the same thing: ball
flight is your clue. Ball flight identifies the
problem. If you are slicing there is one
explanation—the clubface is open-—angled
to the right—-at the moment of impact and
to correct this there are half a dozen things
you can try doing. You try them one by one
until something works.
That is the purpose of the range: to identify
the problem and work the problem out.
This guy had a different idea: divine
intervention--the fervent hope that Allah
would step in and lend a hand here.
Allah never showed. The guy hit two full
buckets--180 balls—-all slices, he packed up
I spent a month at the range with the used
three metal and seven iron hitting balls. I
tried this, that and the other. I was
experimenting, with the Trevino swing, that
I combined with the early wrist cock a la
johnny Miller and there was a Tom Watson
tip, relating to the rotation of the left
forearm, (visualize arm wrestling) etc and I
was trying some different shots, the high
fade, the draw, the little punch and run shot
on the seven iron—-very cool--and from
time to time these shots actually occurred
I spent a month and $300 hitting golf balls
at the range. I was ready for clubs. There is
a course on the way to Palm Springs, Oak
Valley, just off Interstate Ten outside
Yucaipa—-a beautiful course--and there is a
range with grass tees. I was in the area and
stopped by to hit a few buckets and got
talked into a lesson from the pro and this
led to being fitted for clubs. I wound up
with Cleveland Quad-Pro irons, and Adams
Tight-Lie metals. I bought a putter and sand
wedge. I bought a bag, cart, shoes, glove,
balls, tees and the little wire brush/ plastic
squirt bottle combo to scrape clean the little
grooves on the clubface. I handed over the
credit card for the charge—$1400--he threw
the lesson in gratis and I was in business.
Back to Griffith Park. I had my clubs. I
could get serious about this game.
Time passed. I was enjoying this scene at
the range. It was a little world you could
enter and when you did the blinkers went
on and everything else got blocked out.
I got chummy with a few of the regulars
and we sat around watching each other hit
balls and we talked golf talk: courses,
We spoke of the golf swing. There is a
subject—the golf swing. There is not enough
time in a lifetime to exhaust this one.
We spoke of Tiger. There was a lot of Tiger
talk. It was Tiger, Tiger, Tiger. Well—why
not? The kid was doing something we hadnt
seen before. I was 62--the same age as
Nicklaus. I stopped playing golf but I
continued to follow the game and I never
thought I would see someone come along to
dominate the sport in this way. Now we
were seeing it-—and then some. At the
Buick Open he played a 520 yard hole by
hitting a drive and a wedge. He was hitting
the ball 4 miles and the putting was
I was talking to Phil-—from Philly. Phil said:
“we need to get the old man—Earl the Pearl—
to masturbate in a tube and find out whats
in this guys sperm”.
Not a bad line--Phil. That’s what we
needed—someone like Phil doing color on
TV—and maybe the golf ratings wouldn’t be
in the toilet.
I worked on my short game—chipping,
pitching, putting. The short game is boring.
I preferred—as do we all—-banging irons
and metals off the mat at the range. But the
short game is where the strokes are. You
can bang balls off the mat at the range until
you drop dead and you are never going to
regain the distance you had as a younger
man. But you can always improve your short
Lets talk about putting. Putting is a mystery.
And it will always be a mystery. The golf
books cant help you here. Putting is
confidence—100% You make putts because
you have the confidence and you get the
confidence by making the putts. That’s the
In 1963 Dave Stockton won the US Open. He
banged in a 15 foot putt on the last hole to
win by a stroke. Stockton had a reputation
as a putter. He was “The Boss of the Moss”.
There he is on the last hole studying the
putt, not an impossible putt, fairly straight
and so forth, but--15 feet. The odds at
best—pressure aside—are 50%. Already
some of the gallery, anticipating a playoff,
start trudging over to the
first tee. Stockton—The Boss of the Moss—
turns to his caddie and says: “Those people
are wasting their time”.
I was starting to get golf mail—catalogues,
brochures, flyers, etc. There is no sucker
like the golf sucker.
How about the Peter Jacobson swing jacket
for $149.00. You velcroed yourself into the
jacket and started swinging and your
golfing problems were solved. And if the
swing jacket didn’t solve them you could try
the strait jacket version.
How about the Ben Crenshaw training iron
with the swiveling shaft. The shaft was in
two pieces connected via a swiveling joint
halfway up. You took a swing with this
device and if it was a good swing everything
was cool. If it wasn’t a good swing a
collapsing effect occurred that wrapped the
club around your head.
How about the frictionless tee at $1/per.
The ordinary wooden tee costs 2 cents—or
zero cents if you preferred to scrounge for
your own on the course. But the ordinary
tee didn’t feature the frictionless concept,
the little plastic
bristles—the hairbrush effect, upon which to
perch your ball. The choice was yours.
In Buffalo I played with a guy named Alan
Baer—a friend of my Dad. A funny man with
enthusiasm to burn. Most of the enthusiasm
was devoted to playing golf. He took the
game up late—in his 30’s—and was making
up for lost time. Al played to a 15 handicap
and to shave a few strokes off this number
he would try—and buy–anything. He called
me one day and said:
“Come over. You have to see this”.
I went over. Here was this device bolted to
the wall. What kind of device? Two giant
leather pads resembling catchers mitts
driven via some sort of crank operated
levering or cam mechanism.
Al said: Its for golf—a training aid. I got it
through a golf magazine.
It was a device designed to prevent head
movement. This was something the golf
magazines were always hammering you
with—head movement. It was the first
commandment of golf: Thou Shalt Not Move
You spread the mitts and inserted your head
which was locked into place via a few turns
of the crank and you were in business—with
a vengeance. An earthquake could occur
and the entire house collapse and you would
still be standing there with your head locked
into place between the pads of this device.
Al demonstrated. In went the head,
between the pads, the pads levered tight
and he takes a swing. His head didn’t
budge—not a centimeter. Now his feet were
all over the place.
When I stopped laughing I said: “You look
like a retard.”
Time passed. I still hadn’t played. Maybe I
wouldnt play. Maybe I would just hit balls at
the Range—like in Japan
But out I was one day and over the PA
system the starter said: “Anybody want to
play golf? I have an opening for a single at
This was my cue. I was there, it was
twilight rates, I had practiced enough . I
was ready to play.
I handed my ticket to the starter and
introduced myself to my playing partners—-
3 Koreans. There is no fanatic like the golf
fanatic and there is no golf fanatic like the
Korean golf fanatic. The word fanatic is a
I stepped to the tee. This was an interesting
moment. The casual observer of this
moment would consider nothing unusual
about it. it would strike them as quite
mundane--or even banal—as banal as you
can get: a guy about to tee off on the first
hole for a routine weekday round of golf—
twilight rates—with three Koreans.
But not for me. For me the moment was
different. It was charged—-with excitement,
suspense, anticipation. There was drama
here: my first round of golf in 30 years.
The first hole at Harding is a par four, 410
yards, handicap rating 6—-the sixth
hardest hole. Its starts off down hill and
then levels out, bit of a roller coaster effect
here and then you return uphill to the
green, bunkered right and left. Not an easy
4. The key is the drive—to land you in the
level area with a 5 or 6 iron to the green.
Wouldn’t it be nice to ace this one—my first
hole in 30 years. Smoke the tee shot and
nail a five iron, a gorgeous high fade a la
Trevino and stick it on the green for an easy
two putt for the par—-or even better--to hit
the approach shot stiff—and drill the putt
for the bird!
The Koreans hit first. Three hackers. The
first guy snap hooks it into the brush—
rattlesnake country, the second guy goes
the opposite way, towards Glendale, and
the third guy hits a dribbler, off the tee for
50 yards and dribbles up
to the down slope and dribbles over the
edge out of sight.
This takes some of the pressure off-—
playing with hackers--but you play to the
level of competition.
I tee up. the books all say the same thing.
the grip and addressing the shot are 50 per
cent right there. The hackers have never
figured this one out. That’s why they are
hackers. There are three grips: the weak
grip, the neutral grip, the strong grip. Its a
long story. David Ledbetter said he could
write a book about the grip alone and has
threatened to do so.
I address the shot. You must be comfortable
over the shot. Ken Venturi says you must be
so comfortable over the shot you cant wait
to pull the trigger. You are chomping at the
Im not at that point. Im at a different point.
Im wiggling and waggling but it doesn’t feel
right. Im not at the range in a nice groove
hitting ball after ball. Im hitting an actual
shot, one only, off a real tee, to a fairway
with a green at the other end, not a sign, I
have 3 Koreans watching me and I am
completely lost up here, something I had
not anticipated. It’s a pisser. Is this why I
have spent two months and $400 hitting
balls at the range?
But so be it. As Jackie Burke says: this isnt
the time to start thinking about your swing.
Hit the ball!
I take my swing and hit the ball—-a
mediocre shot, very—the thin shot, straight
and I get the ball airborne but there is no
power. You must get your ass into the shot.
It sails out there and disappears over the
edge of the downslope.
Off we go
I arrive at my ball. I don’t have a 5 iron to
the green. I have a five wood—metal, I
could hit a three iron but I have more
confidence with the metal—the forgiving
club. the Koreans are playing along, hacking
away, here, there and
I address the shot. It’s the same thing like
on the tee. I am stumped. I don’t have a
clue. I just don’t feel right. There is some
perverse psychological obstruction
operating here. Im not on the range. That’s
the problem. I need to “visualise” hitting
the ball off a mat-—or maybe bring one
along with me.
I bang the shot--not a bad shot, solid, high
and straight, right for the green. But then it
poops out and lands short. But—not bad.
The greens at Harding are big—huge. I am
five yards short of the green, 60 ft to the
pin. This is why you practice the short
game—to get up and down in two and
salvage the par.
There are two theories to chipping. Nicklaus
prefers to use a single club, the pitching
wedge for all chips. Its simpler, in Jacks
view, to master a variety of shots with one
club than vice versa. Ray Floyd, considered
one of the best at this part of the game,
uses every club in the bag. He has used his
driver to chip.
Either way the idea is the same: you figure
the carry to the green based on the club
you are using and the amount of roll you can
expect once the ball lands and you run
these two calculations through the golf
computer located in the golf part of the
brain and select a small target area on the
green to land the shot. That’s the idea.
I took an eight iron and went through this
little mental drill and addressed the shot
and hit a chunker, the fat shot, the ball
carries the green, but barely, lands, rolls 10
I am lying three with a 40 footer. We take
our putts, me and the Koreans. One of the
Koreans gets lucky and nails a nice putt, a
I read my putt, or try to, address the putt,
take a few practice strokes. What does
Crenshaw say here--pull back with the left
hand and then push with the right--or is it
vice versa? I stroke the putt—short. I have
a 5 footer left, miss wide, tap in for the six
There is a good story Ken Venturi tells about
Ben Hogan. He and Hogan were paired
together on the first day of a tournament.
Hogan takes a seven on the first hole—a
triple bogey. Hogan had a reputation for
iron nerves—well deserved—and he had
another reputation as a man of few words.
The sportswriter Red Smith said: “He has a
powerful capacity for silence”. Now Hogan
and Venturi are walking to the second tee--
following the triple bogey—and Hogan says:
“that’s why we play 18”.
He goes 7 under for rest of the round and
finishes with a 68.
Back to Harding. Over to 2, another par 4. It’
s a short 4, 320 yards. You can hit a three
wood off the tee and still leave yourself a
short iron to the green. I go with the driver
and hit a looping hook that lands me behind
a tree in some light rough. I have a possible
shot with a six iron around the tree if I can
hit a perfect draw-—the right to left shot.
The golf books all agree on this one:
percentage golf. The pros play the shot
they know they can hit. I take a 7 and
punch one back into the fairway—not a bad
shot. Now I have a nine iron to the green.
The green is huge. Stevie Wonder could hit
Next to smoking a drive off the tee the most
satisfying shot is to hit a fairway iron, a
medium or short iron, and throw up one of
those fat divots like the pros do it on TV. I
could walk over to the practice tee right
now and hit 25 9 irons and 20 would be
perfect. But Im not on
the practice tee.
I hit the shot thin, it sails along a few feet
off the ground for 50 yards, hits, runs,
dribbles into the trap.
Ill leave it there-–in the trap.
I took a seven on the hole.
The first two holes were a taste of what was
to follow for the next 2 hours. I hit a few
good shots and one unbelievable shot I will
get to but it was mostly more of the above:
the thin drive off the tee with no power, the
snap hook into the rattlesnake nest a la Mr.
Kim, the thin iron, the fat iron, etc and my
short game was in the toilet.
So it went. Ill spare you the details.
Now for the unbelievable shot—a shot
Tiger himself would be proud to include in
his highlight reel. It occurred on 12, a
beautiful hole, short par 4, 340 yards,
dogleg left to an elevated green with all this
undulating business on the flanks--a PGA
type hole. You must fly the green on your
second shot or you have problems. The key
to this hole is the drive, a draw to work the
dogleg—-the high sweeper.
But its no dice. I hit the opposite shot—the
banana ball right. I wind up in the adjacent
fairway with the green blocked by a stand
of trees that divides the fairways. I cant go
over, around or through.
There is a narrow gap between two trees if I
can hit a low punch but it’s a threading of
the needle shot. I am fucked—in the land of
But I have no choice. I have to thread the
needle. My only thought is to get the ball in
play. I take out a three iron, next to the
driver the most difficult club in the bag, and
address the shot, ball back in the stance,
closed club face, flatten out the swing and
fire away. I hit an amazing shot--the Tiger
woods shot--low and straight with power--a
By now its starting to get dark (we’re
playing twilight rates) and I cant see the
result. I figure I have hit the upslope
protecting the green and the ball has
implanted itself 4 inches into the side of the
hill. But—a terrific shot.
I start walking. There are no balls in sight
and the guys I am playing with are all over
the place and no one has seen my shot.
Maybe I am on the green. I could be over
the green--way over. I climb the hill and
reach the green and there is a ball, hole
high, 8 feet from the pin--my ball. It must
have hit the upslope and kicked onto the
green and it rolls up hole high.
I wait for everyone to play up and I say to
them—in case they think I am lying 4--”I am
That is correct.
Now for the putt--not an easy putt. Bit of a
break, downhill, and caution is advised or
you could have an 8 footer coming back. I
have to cozy it somewhat. But—don’t be
short. Not for the bird. I want that bird.
I read the putt, address the ball,
concentrate on my stroke. What does
Mickleson say here--about the follow
through? The follow through mirrors the
backstroke. OK Phil.
I stroke the putt, a good stroke and there it
goes, on line with good speed, not too fast
and it takes the break perfectly and rolls
true into the center of the cup.
All drugs share two things in common: they
are expensive and humiliating. We enslave
ourselves to them because we crave the
rush. In golf the rush comes when you
hammer one off the tee—the high hard one—
or the low bullet with the three iron a la
Tiger Woods--or to dunk a brilliant putt for
This is why we play—to ignite that charge—
that splendid moment of intense pleasure
that erases some of the miseries—of
aggravation, frustration, mortification—the
in such abundance. We come alive
And that was it. we were playing twilight
rates and twilight was here. Another hole
was a possibility but it was tossup. The
Koreans decided to go for it. They are hard
I packed it in. Quit while you are ahead. I
birdied the hole--a great feeling. I could
play the next hole and get a triple bogey--an
I shook hands with my mates and thanked
them and said goodbye in Korean and
started for the clubhouse.
But the day isnt finished. I am trudging
back to the clubhouse in the semi-darkness
crossing the 4th fairway and here coming
towards me is a golfer-a strange dude-very.
I know he is a golfer because he is carrying
a golfbag. He is wearing a long coat I would
describe as verminous, an overcoat or
raincoat, with a hood flopped over his head.
He is puffing on a cigar-a stump.
He stops, lays down the bag, takes a poke at
his ball and chunks one, 30 or 40 yards. It’s
the 4th fairway. But he isnt playing to the
green. Hes playing sideways across the
fairway to the adjacent fairway-the seventh
Whats going on?
He passes me by and I note the hood of his
coat ripped open to reveal the back of his
head and here is another hole--in the
bottom of the bag and a few clubs are
sticking out dragging along behind on the
He continues on, in the semi-darkness,
night fallinq quickly now, puffing on the
stogie, with his sticks falling out of the bag
dragging along on the ground behind, stops,
chunks an iron, continues on.
What is this? I know what it is. In 30 years
in LA I thought I had seen it all. I havent
seen it all. Now I have seen it all: a