Becoming Our Own Teacher

After Seeking the Best Advice We Can Find, We are the Next Teacher

In my own profession, I have enjoyed a handful of great teachers, but in every case, I found myself unable to demonstrate mastery over their concepts in the moment. However, without exception I had an instant of waking up, sometimes years later, in which I thought “Oh, that’s what he meant!” or “Oh! That’s what she was talking about!” At that point, what they tried to teach me began to incorporate itself into my arsenal of habits. It was the first stage of both employing the new information, and in acquiring an ability to teach it, whether to myself or others.

When we spend time with a golf instructor, they hand us the resource material with which to improve our track record. Since no physical or mental concept is a one-size-fits-all, we must become the best teacher we can at the time in order to realize its full effects. It’s not just because the pro might be absent or inaccessible. That teacher has done his or her work. Now, it’s on us, until we see them again.

Yesterday, I made my annual early spring trip to the driving range, after a dormant winter of discontent. Usually, this is a painful journey. I feel as though my arms will fall off for the first half hour. This time, however, was different. I recalled the irons lesson I took with my scratch brother in the outback of Bend, Oregon. In yesterday’s epiphany, sure enough I had one of my “Oh! That’s what he meant!” revelations. Intellectually, I understood that one hits a wood and iron differently, but I confess to what is a widespread flaw. Many of us try to pick the ball of the surface with irons as if we were faced with a driver shot for which someone forgot to bring the tees. Play more toward the center? Hands forward? Descent on the ball in a downward impact? Not only was that frightening in predicting the shot, but to me, it looked foolish, and few of us like that. However, true foolishness is trying to look like Ben Hogan at the expense of everything else. We end up not looking like Ben Hogan, and we can’t hit an iron like he did, either.
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Yesterday’s pilgrimage to the range was suddenly no longer torturous. With my hands forward, played more toward center, my backswing was altered without my knowledge. A shorter club played there won’t take the same route as a driver does. The takeaway was shorter, less round, and had a touch of vertical lift. Once aloft, the downward path felt as though I would force the ball into the ground. The resulting ‘pop’ was entirely unlike a wood sound, as if the clubhead and ground squeezed the ball so fast and hard that it popped out, about five or six yards further than mine usually do…at about 75% accuracy instead of 30%, on the first day of spring. It was then I realized that I had become a teacher. I had taken all the information I could from my betters, and was doing my best to take charge of my own destiny on the course. The second unconscious result of these alterations was that I slightly shortened my  backswing, and abandoned the wild man approach of attacking the ball with every ounce of venom my body could muster. I realized that everyone who is in a better place, a more knowledgable place than he was five minutes ago is a teacher to that person of five minutes ago.

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When I switched to the driver and 3-wood, everything was, of course, different. The rest of the session was spent becoming accustomed to switching back and forth without confusion. When I left the range, I was pretty sure that someone should give me an honorary golf college degree for being such a good teacher. No one did, and no one should. However, I did garner some extra satisfaction as I got in the car, thinking of Sam Snead. He was famous for being a ball-stroker, not a ball-striker. In my own little non-pro manner, I drove away thinking, “Oh! So that’s how he felt!”

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