|Mel Gibson's golf tutor one day, bad golfer's the next. (Courtesy photo)|
CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. - My new swing coach has stories about Mel Gibson eating sandwiches. When you have stories about the man who got multi, multi mega-rich off Jesus involving deli meats, you're a golf instructor with connections.
Do you think the guy making $8.50 an hour down at the local muni, picking up errant driving-range shots between quickie lessons, has Mel Gibson experience? Please.
"Mel Gibson is just like you'd expect him to be," Tim Hurja says, dropping into a virtual circa-Lethal Weapon imitation. "He's all fast talking in bursts. We go to grab a bite to eat and he orders the filet mignon sandwich. He's like, 'What do you want? The filet mignon sandwich is great. Why don't you go with the filet mignon sandwich!?'
"I'm going to disagree with Mel Gibson? So I order the filet mignon sandwich and this thing is huge. Huge. Mel's done with his in about two seconds. I finish half of mine and Mel looks over and is like, 'Are you going to eat that?'
"I shake my head. He picks it up and eats it right off my plate. Mel Gibson."
Hurja laughs, slaps the table. We're at a sandwich shop. The first lesson hasn't even started yet and I'm hooked.
Yes, I know I've called golf instructors the modern equivalent of snake-oil salesmen and, worse yet, akin to chiropractors. And yes, it's true, my own dastardly European castle-baron boss Mark Nessmith - think Dr. Evil's mind crossed with Craig Stadler's physique - needed to order me to take golf lessons before I submitted to these quacks.
But this - this is different. This Tim Hurja guy's tutored Mel Gibson and self-help guru Tony Robbins on their swings, given tune-ups to Sandy Lyle, the rare European golfer who could kick U.S. butt in the majors. Finally, I feel like I'm in my league.
Though I do wonder why Hurja finishes his whole sandwich this day. What about my Mel Gibson rights?
It's off to the practice range and Hurja's putting a weed whacker in my hands. No, not my wedge, which has whacked more weeds, rocks, cart paths, garden gnomes (like I'm taking a drop!?), swimming-pool flotation devices (likewise), dump trucks (what can I say, there's a lot of construction going on around golf courses) and Christmas lights (just because it's on the roof doesn't mean it's unplayable) than anyone could possibly imagine.
An actual weed whacker.
Hurja hands it over with the kind of solemnity usually reserved for a knighting ceremony. I wait for it to light up, emit some electronic beeps, produce the perfect cup of coffee out of its side, heck, to save me a bunch of money on my car insurance, but no - it appears to be a genuine weed whacker. About as modern as Strom Thurmond.
Holding the bulky alien device, I hear Hurja say, "Who hasn't whacked weeds in their life?" How does he think Michelle Wie and I were raised? Come on, man, whacking weeds? You've got to be BMW kidding me.
Still, if the weed whacker's good for Mr. Passion of the Christ's swing, it's good for mine. This is how I find myself on the driving range at Cimarron Golf Club in greater Palm Springs, swinging a weed whacker back and forth, golf clubs forgotten.
"Cut the grass," Hurja encourages. "We're just cutting grass. Cutting grass."
Actually, I'm mostly missing grass. Swinging this heavy instrument back and forth, I'm about as much danger to the driving-range grass as Bill Walton is to Howard Cosell's legacy. It's a good thing Hurja has wrapped heavy tape all around the weed whacker's blade, though. Otherwise I could definitely be cutting off toes.
The purpose of this drill is to simulate a nice, easy swing, to get the focus away from the ball fixation many hackers develop. Or maybe to humiliate the worst golf-playing golf writer in the world. Not sure which. Though the hottie in capri pants at the other end of the range does seem to be checking out this bad golfer's weed-whacking action.
(Then again, this is the home of Dinah Shore. You can never really be sure. Can't tell you how many "lesbians" this bad golfer's run into over the years. Sure, most of them ended up getting married, having kids and never dating a single woman, but they must be lesbians to have turned down this un-sweet-swinging package ...)
"Cut the grass," Hurja breaks through my reverie. "We're cutting grass."
Soon the weed whacker's replaced with a 9-iron. The objective's now to brush grass and as Hurja puts it, "happen to hit the golf ball in the way." Dude apparently doesn't know my swing or he'd understand that every time I hit the ball is pure happenstance. And damn, that brunette's left the range!
Hurja's dealing with a pupil with the attention span of your average circus chimp. When he started teaching Tony Robbins how to play, he told Robbins to practice a particular swing move. A little after midnight that night, Hurja received a message on his cell phone. It was Robbins, screaming how great it was to be getting better. He drove shots into the night, illuminated by the headlights of his Bentley. After my lesson with Hurja, I slept in till after noon.
Yet Hurja's just so damn enthusiastic you cannot help but get caught up in the moment. He doesn't just look at things through rose-colored glasses - he actually has rose-colored glasses. (No joke, that's the color of the lenses. Hollywood types!) My celebrity swing guru desperately wants his pupils to get that "breakthrough," the eureka moment when everything comes together and you're suddenly smashing 280-yard drives down the center of the fairway. Hurja may have taught Tony Robbins golf, but there's definitely a lot of Tony Robbins in him as well (he's been through "The Program," as Robbins devotees call it).
Hurja tells the story of a guy named Frank (no, not Sinatra - believe me, I asked) who had a harsh reaction to the weed-whacking drill. "He's losing it. Losing it," Hurja recalls. "He's yelling, 'Why are you making me use this thing? My father made me clear whole fields with a weed whacker.'
"Later he hits a sweet shot, the kind of shot he's never hit before. And he just breaks down crying. Crying. 'Now I know why my father made me clear those fields. He was teaching me how to play golf!'"
Hurja beams. That's a breakthrough.
Haven't reached that level myself. Though I am sort of pissed that my dad made me take the trash out every other week and clean up my own room, come to think of it. Was he trying to teach me how to play backgammon?
I'd love to claim that a yearning for personal enlightenment is what drew me to seek out a second lesson with the celebrity swing guru. Yes, I'm breaking my own guidelines and going back to the same quack - err, golf professional - twice. But no higher purpose here (sorry, Mel). Hurja's promised to tell me how Sandy Lyle taught him to use Desenex as a swing aid. Yes, that Desenex, the jock itch/athlete's foot spray. Wait, do I want to know this?
What the heck, the weed whacking worked out great. People tend to give you all the strokes you ask for in a golf bet when your 14th club is a weed whacker sharpened by Sling Blade. And I've never found better shot lies in my life.
Desert bush covering your ball? Whack. Dangling tree branch obstructing your shot? Whack.
This is the fourth in a series on the worst golf-playing golf writer in the world and his attempts to revamp his swing, explore the Cart Girl phenomenon, push back last call and avoid the wrath of a crazy man in Prague. Not necessarily in that order.
January 25, 2006
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Forget all the lessons you took from golf pros. Forget the straight left arm, proper posture, head still, full shoulder turn, pronate, supinate, belt buckle to target, complete follow through, right elbow in pocket and the zillion other things some guy charged you $40 a half hour to remember. There are only two lessons you'll need in order to be a good golfer.
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