Time again to practice golf

by Rob Tiller

This weekend, after a spell of unseasonably cool weather, it finally started to feel like spring, and time once again for the game of golf. It’s a noble and beautiful game, played in lovely green gardens with flowering trees and streams. It requires strength and strategy, finesse and delicacy, repetition and creativity. There’s keen competition and also warm friendship. It is always challenging, and at times amazingly frustrating!

I’ve been re-reading my favorite golf instruction book, a book that changed my life, Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons (co-written with Herbert Warren Wind, the great New Yorker golf writer, whom I crossed paths with back in the day). It is remarkably careful and thorough, dissecting the intricate mechanics, helpful for beginners, but also with many details that will be understood only by more advanced students. It inspired me to check the details of my grip. Non-golfers, and many golfers, may not realize how intricate a matter it is to hold the club properly. Hogan (and Wind) realized. Anyhow, I decided to switch from the interlock grip to the overlap, with a view to hitting the ball farther. Will it help? We’ll see. For putting, it seemed promising. In practice I rolled in my first two hard breaking ten footers.

Practice, they say, makes perfect. An overstatement, of course, but practice is the way to cultivate a complex skill, like playing an instrument or a sport. I credit my early music training with instilling in me a belief in practice as a road to accomplishment. (Some of my thoughts on piano practice are here.) Fortunately, I actually like to practice golf. When things are working well, and the ball is flying high and long, it’s immediately satisfying. And when things aren’t, it’s an interesting puzzle: what’s not working properly? You can change a little of this and try again, and if that doesn’t work, try something else. It requires perseverance. It also requires patience. It takes time.


On Friday (a holiday), I took a couple of hours to practice each of the basic skills — short irons, medium clubs, fairway woods, drives, finesse pitches, chips, and putts. (I didn’t have a chance to do sand shots.) In the full swing shots, I was focusing on getting more of my body into the shot by leading with the hips. Some were flying too much to the right, but I tagged a few quite properly. My sight problem made it difficult to see where the balls landed, but didn’t hinder my hitting.

On Saturday I played my first eighteen holes of the new year with friends at Raleigh Country Club. A lot of the grass was still brown, and the greens were bumpy from core aeration, but it was still good to be back. My playing was uneven, and the score was disappointing, but there were some good shots, and hope for the future.