Richard Stroud

Grove Sun

After my first golf lesson with Patricia Island instructor Steve Pace, I couldn’t wait to get out and try what I had learned.

 With visions of birdies, or at least a few well-played pars, in my head, I made my way to the Tahlequah City Golf Course.

I teed off on the first hole. The ball, apparently unaware of the vast stores of knowledge that I now possessed about how to make it fly farther and straighter, flew about 20 feet straight up into the air and landed no more than 15 yards to my right. But, after teeing it up again, I split the fairway with an excellent drive.

That pretty much summed up the rest of the day. I managed to make four pars out of 18 holes. Four pars, on a course as wide open as a pasture and with greens as flat and level as your living room floor. It was only partly encouraging.

It took Steve about two minutes on Tuesday morning to point out what I was doing wrong. Or at least one of the things I was doing wrong.

“You can never be too close to the ball,” he muttered. So that was one problem solved.

We began the morning back inside Steve’s metal building next to the driving range. After some more video analysis we headed out to the range.

Steve’s overriding mantra in all of his teaching is for the golfer to have a simple, repeatable swing that will work with any club in almost any situation. There was a heavy emphasis on fundamentals and on process over results. According to Steve’s own reckoning, probably 90% of golfers are unable to break 90. Based on my own experiences, this is largely due to inconsistency in the swing.

So instead of letting me get the driver out of my bag and see how far I could mash the ball, Steve made me get out the pitching wedge. And even that he wouldn’t let me hit very hard. Pointing to the nearest flagstick, which was only about 60 yards away, Steve told me to hit it halfway there. He demonstrated how this should be done, taking the club back to the seven o’clock position, then the eight o’clock, then the nine o’clock, demonstrating how to add distance by adding more backswing, instead of swinging harder.

After a few half swings I was allowed to shoot at the nearest green, with mixed results. Most of the shots squibbed harmlessly to the left, with one occasionally shooting off to the right just to keep things interesting.  This waa mostly because I seem almost incapable of keeping my elbows straight. Steve told me to try and hit one good shot out of three.

“That’s what I do,” he said. Either his standards for his own game are really high or he was being sarcastic. As a teacher, Steve seemed to have an almost infinite supply of optimism and patience, and was quick to lavish praise on the most modest successes.

After an hour Steve went to tend to another student, leaving me to finish my bucket of balls. Of course, after dutifully doing the drills Steve showed me for a few minutes, I had to get the driver out and see how far I could hit the final five. Hopefully Steve didn’t see me.