Confessions of a Hacker - Volume 1

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From Hacker to Hero in 3 Months (and six years)

Almost five years to the day after taking up golf, I had every shot in my bag. Top it, whiff it, chunk it, blade it, hosel it…if there was a way to screw up a golf shot, I owned it. To cap things off, I had a monster slice off the tee or with anything longer than a 5 iron – the kind of slice that starts in California and lands in New York. The only reason I ever broke 100 in a golf round is because I quit counting at 99.

The fact is, I never planned on taking up golf. I mean, for real, I had been a pretty dang good athlete my whole life – golf seemed like that old saying, “Those who can do. Those who can’t golf.” I wasn’t ready to become a weekend warrior riding to battle in an electric cart. Besides, who has 4-5 hours to waste chasing a little ball around knocking it into a gopher hole for no good reason?

However, I had been elected to the Board of Directors of a national trade organization and their main fundraiser was their annual golf tournament. What the heck? I could put together a foursome and go whack the ball for an afternoon. I had an old set of Big Berthas that someone had traded me for some work and, well, heck, how hard could it possibly be?

I still cringe thinking about that afternoon. Never in my life had I been so miserable or been the absolute worst at anything I’d tried. It was five hours of the most grueling, seemingly never ending agony I had ever endured, with my playing partners trying to be nice about how badly I sucked while I tried to get drunk enough to forget the day had ever transpired. What was this? Was it that humility thing that I had heard people speak of? I didn’t like it one bit.

Now, I wouldn’t call myself a very competitive person, however, for some reason when I say that out loud people backwash drinks through their nose and laugh ‘til they cramp. Anyway, I had no intention of ever sucking that bad at anything again, so the day after the tournament I signed up with a golf pro. Six weeks of lessons? That should do it. I’m in shape, I’m athletic, I’m a quick learner…

Yeah. Not. 

What was already a crappy swing got worse. What the hell was this guy telling me to do? I didn’t know the sport, the vocabulary or the vernacular, which provide me the foundation to do nothing but spit and cuss every time I swung at the ball and got the wrong result, which was pretty much every swing. And, the more frustrated I got, the worse I got – and that I would never have imagined possible.

Had to be the golf pro’s fault, I figured, so I finished out the lessons and set out on a quest to learn the game on my own. Hit the driving range three to four times a week? That should do it... 

Yeah. Not. 

Sure there were times I had great range sessions. But, it’s easy to fool yourself on the range. Hit a bad shot? That’s okay, line up another one and try again. Got it down the pipe after a few tries? Cool. That club’s dialed in – let’s grab another club and work on that one. 

Eventually, I became a driving range hero. Guys sometimes would literally stop swinging and look at some of the boomers I would hit. Husbands trying to teach their wives would point and whisper, “See, just do what that guy’s doing!” The oohs and aahs were soothing – music to my ears. I even managed to fool myself, week after week after week. “Wait ‘til the boys see how I hit ‘em this weekend,” I would think to myself. Too bad my awesome range game never translated to the course. 

And so it went for about 5 years. At around the 4 year mark, I took up more lessons. I had become a student of the game, and had gotten barely respectable enough at it that I figured, this time, the lessons would take. And, this time, they were no ordinary lessons. Every swing I took was in front of a high speed camera. I could swing, stop, rewind, replay, assess, evaluate, and then, with guidance from my golf pro, ostensibly, fix the flaws. That should do it…

Yeah. Not. 

The only problem with the video concept is that what my swing looked like isn’t what my swing felt like. I mean, I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing and then I would re-wind the video and it wasn’t right. And, the more I contorted myself to make my swing look right on the video, the worse my swing felt. 

Thus started the dark ages of my game. Six months of dedication to the latest round of lessons, daily practice, video assessment, pro tips and I was worse off than the day I started. I was wearing a brace for the tendonitis on my forearm, taking four Advils a round only because I didn’t have access to anything stronger. My back was outta whack and my knees were starting to crumble. And, every time I lined up over the ball, a tremor of resigned trepidation shuddered through me – I literally had no idea what was going to happen when I swung. Top it, whiff it, chunk it, blade it, hosel it. Hell, I would have been happy if even those shots were consistent.

So, what had never been a fun game for me now became a game of dread. To tell the truth, I had pretty much hated golf from the day I started playing it. Mostly because I hate sucking at anything and, good, sweet Jesus, there’s no way to fool yourself into thinking you’re any good when you’re a bad golfer. The only redeeming thing about the game and probably the reason I stuck with it was the fact that I literally thought of nothing else while on the golf course. Oh, and the buddies. Hanging out with the Bros, drinking beer and whacking away at that monstrous little ball took my mind off of everything else. So, yeah, my game sucked, but, oddly enough, my stress level reduced and it showed in my business and personal life. And, Happy Life, Happy Wife…or something like that. 

That still didn’t ameliorate the fact that I was so bad at the game that I couldn’t even exercise proper strategy on the course. I mean, I knew intellectually that if I was 250 yards from the pin, I should hit my 170 club to put me in perfect position for my 80 yard sand wedge. The problem is, I was never sure if my 170 club was going to work right, so, of course I would pull out the longest club in my bag, pray for a clean hit, and deal with the odd yardage if it became an issue. And, if I didn’t hit it right, hopefully I could get the ball to trickle far enough to get me within decent range for my next shot. 

It wasn’t even fair to say my game was broken. It had never worked. But, after 5 years of struggle, study, practice and self-loathing, things were about to change. Join me in the next installment where I’ll talk about how I found the path to mid-80’s golf.

Cheers, my friends! - The Foodie Whisperer

Read Volume 2 HERE