The Golf Project: 12-months in

July 23, 2017- by Steven E. Greer, MD

I moved to Ohio on July 8, 2016 after living in New York City for 20-years. I moved to New York in 1996 to train at NYU for plastic surgery.

I had been a golfer since I was age-12, achieving decent success. I was the Captain and MVP of the golf team in high school and beat the fancy kids at Dublin one time with a one-under 35.

However, it was not until I was in my thirties and a hedge fund portfolio manager that I realized my swing was all wrong. I would never improve unless I started from scratch. So, I found Jason Carbone at Muirfield Village, back in 2004, and he started to give me proper instructions. This was the early stages of instructors using laptops on the range with video cameras. For the first time, I saw my flaws.

I had gotten some lessons in high school from Jack Grout, Jack Nicklaus’ teacher. But he used no video and I really did not learn much, to be honest.

I tried this approach for two years, flying to Ohio to get lessons, but eventually gave up. It is impossible to be a serious golfer living in Manhattan unless you are a millionaire. So, for the next decade, I did not touch a club.

When I moved back to Ohio last year, I had nothing else to do in my spare time, so I picked up the game again. Jason Carbone had left for Baltrusrol. I was treated rudely this time by the jerks at Muirfield, and went looking elsewhere for instruction.

I was unable to find a teacher that I felt would be suitable. So, I started to search YouTube for golf tips and filmed all of my practice sessions with a tripod and my iPhone. This was a crucial development. I was no longer relying on someone else to show me the way.

From July to December of 2016, I was teaching myself and going to an indoor practice dome almost daily. I was obsessed. But I stagnated and could not improve. Jason Carbone had seen a few of my swing videos and urged me to find an instructor.

The first big tip I got was from Jason who noticed my weak grip from the videos. It took me several months of awkward experimentation to realize what I was doing wrong. I was holding the grip in my right hand with the middle phalanges of the fingers. The proximal phalanges should be the position of the grip. Hogan and Nicklaus talk about this in their books, but I did not realize I was doing his wrong.

It is impossible to make a backswing with a weak grip. The pronated hand means the right elbow cannot bend enough at the top of the swing.

I was on Ohio State’s Scarlet course when I realized that I might want to get involved with the golf program as a supporting alumnus. Despite having famous alumni, such Jack Nicklaus, and one of the best golf courses in the NCAA, the Ohio State program has been mediocre. They have not won anything of importance since 1979 when John Cook was on the team.

I had a meeting with the new OSU coach, Jay Moseley, and that resulted in me getting some instructions from the assistant golf coach, Brad Smith. Brad was a good golfer on the Ohio State team and his family has several PGA professionals amongst them.

We started in the cold winter weather hitting balls from the heated bays behind the practice range at Scarlet. Coincidentally, Jason Day, who lives nearby, filmed a Nike commercial from the same bay a few weeks later.

With proper instructions, I learned some of the very basic aspects of the swing. My shoulders were not even coming close to a proper turn. When my shoulders were positioned properly, I still recall how strange that felt.

Working on the golf swing is difficult because the changes required feel so dramatic. In reality, when one sees the changes on video, they are not that noticeable. What the swing feels like and looks like are two different things.

I made good progress with the new instructions, but once again leveled off in my learning curve and stagnated. At least this time, I knew what the problem was. I was unable to get a complete backswing.

Most people in my situation are told that it is just old age and lack of flexibility. I knew that was not the case, because during practice swings I had plenty of flexibility. But over a real golf ball, I froze up.

I had a revelation when I saw an online video by Chuck Quinton explaining the vestibular system in the brainstem that controls automatically many of our complex body movements based on the eyes. As a doctor, this made sense to me. So, I started to experiment with different mental images trying to loosen up the left side and turn with the right side.

I failed for the most part, and wanted to quit the game. But I would process the failures in my brain overnight and wake up with an idea. Those ideas started to work.

Now, after about six-months of working on obtaining the full backswing, I know how to do it. For me, the trick was to lift the club with my right shoulder and have my right elbow lift higher at the top. For someone who has always panicked three-quarters of the way back and aborted the swing early, it was scary to get the club back this far.

I now realize how important it is to get the left shoulder turned past the chin and to have the back face the target. It sets up the proper series of movements where the legs and hips begin the downswing.

I am currently trying to fix my downswing. Instead of clearing my hips and allowing them to turn and face the target, they get stuck and my spine lifts up on the way down. However, I have made good progress there too on my own. I found no instructor who had any good tips for this. I just made some extremely slow-motion swings with the driver and started to feel what the proper motions felt like.

It has now been 12-months since I moved to Ohio and embarked on this project to become a good golfer. I am proud of myself. When I play the longest tees on the extremely difficult Scarlet course, on any given hole, I can par or birdie with shots that are of PGA quality.

My new custom-fitted Ping driver and shaft smacks drives well in excess of 300-yards. As I learn to not waste kinetic energy, my clubhead speed is improving. However, I still hit huge pushes that go 45-degrees to the right. So, I cannot score well over an entire round yet.

My middle irons are shaping up. I can hit a nice 180-yard 8-iron or a 200-yard 7-iron. My long irons fail me because of my imperfect downswing. One can get away with sins in the short irons.

My gap wedges are quite good now. I turned a weakness in my game into a strength. I have compared my accuracy to the professionals by watching them at the Memorial Tournament or on TV. I think that I can hit a 100-yard shot as well as they do.

My putting is the strongest part of my game. Statistically, I make at least 75% of seven-foot putts on a real outdoor green and am almost perfect indoors. That is better than the 60% average on tour. I taught myself.

The first thing about putting that I learned was from an old YouTube of Seve Ballesteros talking about his style. Once I gripped the club like Seve, with the thumbs going down the shaft and a pronated right wrist, my club head stayed square on the backswing.

I tried the TaylorMade Spider putter used by Jason Day, with a wide stance and pendulum swing. It worked well, but I got even better when I used a traditional putter. I used my old Scotty Cameron and a square stance like Seve, Tiger, or Jordan Spieth. I was having great success. Then, I bought a Ping Anser putter and hit the ball even better. I get great top spin and the ball rolls wonderfully.

I recently discovered a way to have a consistent smooth backstroke. I elevate the putter a few millimeters before swinging back. It eliminates all of the jerkiness of the swing that stars from a grounded club.

When I hit the putt, I am not thinking about the direction of the ball. I am just focusing on a good backswing and on keeping my head still. When I see players use a line on their ball and think about the direction as they hit it, I cringe. They are making it too hard.

Here is where I stand now, after 12-months of golfing and only 6-months of proper instruction:

  • One year ago, I could not hit a 3-wood worth a damn. Now, I hit them well and can reach par-5s with 260-yard shots.
  • One year ago, I chili-dipped my 100-yard gap wedges. Now, I am pretty darn good.
  • One year ago, I had no idea what I was doing with my putting stroke. Now, I think I am better than most PGA players.
  • One year ago, I had trouble hitting a straight 280-yard driver. Now, I hit it 320 because my trajectory is better and the ball rolls farther. But I am too erratic to score well.

It took Greg Norman 18-months to go from a novice to a scratch golfer. Let’s see what I can do over the next 6-months.

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