On the Precipice of Quitting, a Golfer Discovers Hope

With four of the nation's top 50 instructors and a long list of PGA professionals that train there (e.g. Davis Love, Brandt Snedeker, Zach Johnson, etc.), if this golf school can't fix me, no one can.
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You arrive on the first tee filled with excitement, anticipating a flawless performance. Four hours later, you walk off the 18th green utterly deflated, wondering why you waste your time playing this game. Sound familiar?

For me, this recurring collision between high expectations and inconsistent execution is followed by short bursts of depression, intense swing analysis and the delusion of having discovered 'the fix'. Like Groundhog Day, the cycle repeats itself over and over. After 23 years of this twisted ritual, I contemplate walking away. But before abandoning a game that is the primary focus of my OCD, I make a last-ditch effort. I head back to school.

As an advanced golfer (four handicap), I knew I'd need a more tailored experience than most golf schools offer. What I envision is the golf equivalent of House MD where a team of experts closely examine my swing, chuckle behind my back, brainstorm their way to a brilliant diagnosis and, ultimately, fix me. What I find is The Sea Island Golf Learning Center. With four of the nation's top 50 instructors and a long list of PGA professionals that train there (e.g. Davis Love, Brandt Snedeker, Zach Johnson, etc.), if these guys can't fix me, no one can. I pull the trigger on a customized three-day program.

On day one, I meet Jared Zak, one of the nation's top 40 instructors under age 40. Naturally, I'm intimidated. He regularly works with top players and I secretly fear what a comparison to his star pupils will reveal. Thankfully, his breezy southern accent and polite manner put my insecurity at ease. I describe the overriding problem; semi-thin iron shots resulting in a weak ball flight. Jared sets up a camera and I duly expose my flaws. A few swings is all he needs to see.

We head inside a small, windowless bunker on the range. Within seconds of playback, Jared says, "you're an early releaser." Thankfully, only a golf-related problem but it's no wonder why my relationship with golf is so testy. To illustrate the point, I find myself standing side-by-side with Davis Love -- on the flat screen, that is. If you've been to a PGA event, you've heard the 'thwack' and penetrating ball flight synonymous with a compressed golf ball. It's the direct result of the pros maintaining a 90° angle between their leading arm and the club and then releasing that angle at the right moment, the 'smash' factor. Unfortunately, I'm plagued by impatience and not even my golf swing can escape its grasp. But seeing a direct visual comparison with Davis is a great learning tool and an even better motivator. We head back to the range to see if I can quickly learn some patience.

A few minutes prior, my shots sounded of a single penny bouncing around a tin can. Now, with Jared's adjustment, I'm taking perfectly shallow divots accompanied by my own powerful 'thwack' and a laser like ball flight. I'm smashing it. As our session ends, I'm giddy.

Exceptional teachers have the ability to look past the minor issues and identify the root cause. And that is exactly what Jared's sharp eye and exposure to instructing top players enabled him to do. Over the course of the next two days, we focus almost exclusively on creating the angle, holding the angle and releasing the angle at just the right moment and our efforts remarkable results. Simply put, it's a game changer.

My putting and club fitting sessions offer equally profound discoveries.

Mike Shannon, the putting guru, shares the good news first, my mechanics are almost on par with tour professionals. The bad news, I can't see straight, literally. Linear putters see straight lines and non-linear putters see curves. I fall in the non-linear camp and people who see curves are particularly bad at aiming to points on a straight line (e.g. a cup outside the hole). Heady stuff but Mike boils it down to basic rules. Look only at the hole when aiming and pretend the cup is a clock face and see the ball falling in the cup at a specific time. I find it challenging, almost painful, at first but, of course, it starts to produce results.

Curtis Leggett, one of the club fitters at Sea Island, is a numbers guy. Some he likes, others he despises. With Curtis at his laptop and me on the range, we move with alarming efficiency through all of my clubs and their potential replacements. Sometimes after only one swing, he proclaims, "too much spin, I don't like that one at all" or "launch angle is way off'. After two hours, he's identified a driver and a 3-wood that fly 20 yards farther and irons that fly 10 yards farther. He calls it 'legal cheating' but I call it common sense.

I left NYC prepared to call it quits. Now, sitting in the Jacksonville airport terminal watching Jared's analysis of my original swing and my new and improved swing, I'm brimming with hope. All thanks to finding a golf version of House MD, with all of the expertise and none of the drama, except for the dramatic effect to my game.

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