Upon further review
Using a cellphone to help build a better golf swing
Published on Wednesday, Aug. 08, 2012 03:41PM EDT
In my brief but tumultuous golf life, I have hired six men to teach me this game.
Some have achieved a measure of success, helping me rise to unprecedented heights of mediocrity. Others made only the slightest dent in my rather thick skull.
While all had their skills, I do not hesitate to say that the best of the unfortunate lot charged with this unenviable and onerous burden is the current victim, er, coach: Bradlee Ryall.
The head of instruction at Mississauga’s BraeBen golf academy has the perfect personality and approach for a quest to turn a bad middle-aged golfer into a decent golfer before he hits old age.
Whether or not he can actually accomplish that Herculean feat is still unknown, but there’s a reason why Bradlee’s operation was named Ontario’s top coaching facility in 2011. He seems to know the right time to encourage and the right time to face facts and has actually gotten some results – though the guy I almost hit with an errant shot at the driving range last week may disagree.
But, with all due respect, I have to say the man is not perfect.
He does have a serious problem with watching videos. Now, I’m not talking about anything X-rated, though the ones he watches should at least carry a parental warning.
Bradlee has an annoying habit of using his cellphone to film my various flaws in order to make his points. While the video evidence of my imperfections may eventually turn me into a better golfer, they also produce frequent nightmares – including one featuring Richard M. Nixon.
The latest horror show came during a lesson this week when Bradlee used cellphone-induced shock treatment to answer my question about why I was hitting so many bad shots after opening the session with two of the best I’d ever taken.
As Bradlee explained, before showing me the digital evidence of my ineptitude, there was so much action in my swing and so many differing angles of attack that any result was possible: both good (occasionally) and horrible (mostly).
Then, I saw Exhibit A. Even on a tiny screen, it was clear that despite many hours on the practice range, I still have a long way to go.
I looked like a guy swinging a golf club in a phone booth.
In my attempts to change my swing, I had inadvertently developed an overly short backswing accompanied by a floppy downswing and a high follow-through. My arms collapsed faster than Toronto FC’s playoff hopes.
Worse yet, the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw myself was Nixon.
Years ago, I had seen video of the worst president until George W. Bush attempting to play golf and realized that Watergate may not have been his biggest problem. His constricted swing was the ugliest I had seen – until now.
Great, I thought. Now I’m Richard Nixon, minus the jowls.
But, as Bradlee has told me more than once, rebuilding a swing is a long process that has to be taken in stages. Just ask Tiger Woods, who may not have as many things to worry about than I do.
But Bradlee doesn’t take these videos for his own amusement or to use in a Most Frightening Golf Swings Ever DVD series. He does it to show his students where they’re going wrong.
In this case, it appears I’m being too cautious. Instead of hitting through the ball, I’m trying to guide it.
Bradlee told me that with enough practice and enough rounds of golf, I could break 80, even with this Nixonian swing. But breaking 80 once a year isn’t going to make me happy if triple-digit scores surround those rare events.
To develop that consistency, I have to develop a more consistent swing. That will help me hit the ball with the clubface square, thus eliminating those sideways shots that have plagued me and endangered fellow golfers for years.
So, after improving my swing plane and downswing earlier this summer, I now have to work on widening my swing and finishing smoothly with my arms pointing toward the target instead of in the direction of the crab nebula.
To that end, Bradlee introduced me to a tool that will help get me there. It looks like a duffel bag full of laundry, basically a soft vinyl container filled with old clothes.
Then he had me whack at it with a full swing, making sure that most of my weight was on my front foot at impact, my hips were open and that the back of my left wrist is flat. The result should be a square clubface.
The other objective, at least for me, is to make a big sound on impact – something that can be accomplished only if I’m using my wrists properly.
Once I get that feeling, things can only improve.
It’s something I can practise at the range or in my backyard – neighbours have been forewarned about even more sounds of violence than usual. (I can get quite ruthless with certain weeds.)
At the BraeBen range, I alternated hitting the bag five times with hitting five balls. Within 30 minutes, I was hitting the ball a lot better.
So problem solved, right?
PROGRESS REPORT: Four sessions at the practice range last week produced encouraging results, especially with the driver and wedges. The latter translated to the golf course, the former not so much. I shot 92 at Tam O’Shanter last Saturday, skillfully avoiding a trip into the 80s by triple-bogeying the last two holes. My putting was generally good (four one-putts, though three three-putts) and my wedges saved me more than once. But despite hitting 75 per cent of my drives near the target on the range, I found the fairway only one-third of the time on Saturday.
Thin edge of the wedge
Golfer heal thyself
Seeing the forest through the trees
One game does not an improvement make
I am certifiably insane
Turning the corner?
Mirror, mirror on the wall
All part of the learning process
Practice what you putt
Nothing easy about my swing
The Cadillac of golf testing facilities
First date jitters
Miracle worker or victim No. 5
Getting to the root of my rot
Why doesn't golf love me back?
Chris Zelkovich has accomplished many things in a journalism career that has spanned almost 40 years. He has worked as a reporter, editor and columnist for a variety of newspapers and his work has appeared in several magazines. His 12 years in golf have been somewhat less distinguished.
Bradlee Ryall is a Class 'A' member of the CPGA and Director of Instruction for the Braeben Academy. Nominated for the Ontario PGA Teacher of the Year award in 2009, Bradlee has studied and trained with some of the best golf instructors in the world at the David Leadbetter Golf Academies and served as teaching professional at some of the greatest golfing destinations in the world including the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta, Canada.