I admit it: I’ve bought some ridiculous things during the pandemic.
When my gym was closed for an extended period of time, I skipped the Peloton and went with a home steam room, which was really just a tent hooked up to a pressure cooker-type device that heated up the water to create steam. It melted once, so I bought a new one.
I got so annoyed listening to ads on my favorite podcast that I paid $10 extra per month to skip them. That probably sounds efficient until you realize that my favorite podcast is about recaps of wrestling shows from my childhood.
Oh, and I went on a Cal Ripken-esque streak of ordering breakfast, lunch, or dinner (sometimes all three) on various food delivery apps every day for what seemed like months. And that was before I discovered Gopuff, which lets me order popsicles and potato chips whenever I want.
I buy so many stupid things that a dramatic reading of my bank statements on TikTok could make me an overnight sensation. But the only thing I’m truly ashamed of buying is the golf stuff.
I took up golf before the pandemic, but I promised myself I’d get serious about the game when it appeared to be one of the few safe things you could do outdoors during the spring of 2020. By serious, I mean that I just wanted to be good enough where I wasn’t always risking the chance of an involuntary manslaughter charge for hitting someone in the head with an errant drive.
With so much time on our hands over the past 18 months, I wasn’t alone. Just about everyone I knew picked up some hobby related to self improvement. Online cooking classes. Virtual book clubs. Extreme weight-loss challenges. Me? After a few attempts at betting on Russian table tennis, I focused on hitting a little white ball better.
Being bad at golf is a lot more expensive than I realized. I’m no fancy schmancy country club member, but I’m fairly certain that I could purchase a home steam room for everyone in my neighborhood if I kicked this golf habit.
There are the replacement clubs that I had to buy when I lost or broke the originals. I’m more of a loser than a breaker, which I’m told is normal for players who spend 25 percent of their time trying to hit balls out of the sand. (I typically throw my sand wedge in disgust and forget to pick it up after putting.)
There are all those balls that I’ve donated to Triggs Memorial Golf Course in Providence over the past year – expensive, cheap, multi-colored ... heck, I even tried women’s balls because I heard they were softer. I know. Sad.
And then there are the many training aids that are supposed to fix my flaws – the “impact” mat that is supposed to correct my swing, the alignment tool I found on Facebook that promised to correct my swing, and special hand grip trainer that is, you guessed it, designed to correct my swing.
Nothing worked, not even the matching head-to-toe Nike outfits that I purchased when Under Armour wasn’t producing my desired results.
I’m a stubborn person, so I can’t just quit the game. Instead, I decided to hire a coach.
A few weeks ago, I was in the middle of losing a few dollars during a round with my friend Dan Yorke, the WPRO-AM radio host who I’m pretty sure would rather talk about the role that hip rotation plays in a golf swing even more than the latest kerfuffle involving Mayor Jorge Elorza in Providence.
As I was explaining how I’d probably played 80 times this year and just couldn’t find any consistency in my game, Yorke asked me how many lessons I’ve taken in my life. I mumbled, pathetically, “none.”
“I have no sympathy for you,” he said, scolding me like a father whose son just told him that he failed a math test because he didn’t study.
Luckily, the third member of our group that day was an affable guy named John Simmons. He’s a PGA Golf Professional who played competitively in the 1990s and has become one of the top coaches around. But I mostly like him because he gave me some free advice about aligning myself before I hit the ball and I started hitting it straighter and further than I ever have in my life.
That newfound super power lasted about three days, and I was back to slicing the ball, which means no matter how hard I try, my ball ends up 100 yards to the right of the target. It’s a common problem for amateurs, and as I’ve learned, there are no true quick fixes in golf.
Now I’m challenging Simmons to take me under his wing and give me a few lessons that will stick, a few tips so that I can challenge Governor Dan McKee to a round and have a chance against him.
So can it work?
I should state here that I fully understand that there are really important issues facing our state and the country right now, especially with COVID-19 cases again spiraling out of control. But we all probably deserve a little more me time, and playing golf sounds a lot more appealing than bowling. Or running.
Simmons has been brutally honest with me so far. On the good side, I’m pretty confident in my shots from about 130 yards and in, which he says is because I put myself in a better position looking over the ball. On the negative side, he said that I should be hitting the ball close to 300 yards, but instead I’m so bad that I’m usually scared to use a driver.
“You’re suffering with something that you don’t need to,” Simmons recently told me. We haven’t even started talking about putting yet.
We’re starting out with five lessons, and I’ve got a major goal in mind.
I usually consider it a success if I shoot around 100, which means it takes me 100 shots to finish an 18-hole round (and believe me, my favorite two words to hear if I’m anywhere near the hole is “you’re good”). Reasonable players shoot in the 80s. For any of the courses I play on, a professional would be embarrassed if they didn’t shoot in the 60s.
After lessons from Simmons, I want my score to begin with an eight. That means 80 would be ideal, but 89 would still be a success. On Saturday, in blistering heat, I scored a 99. A day later, I shot 108.
“I think this is realistic,” Simmons told me.
I promise that I’m not suddenly transforming this column into a golf column, but there’s no better accountability measure than telling the world about my plans.
So far, I find Simmons to be a little more trustworthy than the random teachers on YouTube who I spend too much time watching.
My only question for him is, if I don’t reach my goal, can I have my money back?