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Golf Boot Camp lifts a lousy golfer to grand, new heights

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,

MESA, Ariz. - Sweat's pouring out of places I didn't even know could produce sweat. A tall man is pushing down on my shoulders, making my back feel like it's headed straight for the traction ward of the nearest hospital. My legs feel as steady as Pauly Shore's career.

At one point it gets so bad I imagine having to throw myself at the mercy of a chiro practor quack with a rolling skeleton as a last resort.

The next thing I know, I'm snapping to at the trendy James Hotel in downtown Scottsdale. Time to make a phone call to my brother, an ex-Marine recruit who went through the paces at Parris Island, S.C..

Bro, you want to talk boot camp. I've been to boot camp. Forget that swinging on a tire high above a mud pit, climbing up rope ladders faster than most mortals run obstacle course thing. Try moving a two-by-four with a 9-iron!



If you'd like to make a call please hang up and ...

Hey, just because you're in the same family doesn't mean you can recognize brilliance. This is a bad golfer vision, a quest to turn a putrid swing pure. One that's inspired like never before. Maybe, it was Creston Golf Club Head Professional Randy Panton asking in all earnestness a few holes into our round, "You don't get to play very often, do you?" and me having to sheepishly reply, "Only six times this week." Maybe, it was Conley Resort owner Wayne Conley deadpanning after watching another Unmentionable Hole: "Bowling? Have you ever thought about taking up bowling?"

Okay, it could even be the fact my deranged boss, Mark Nessmith left his European castle, headed across the pond and threatened to recruit four Americans with SUV-sized rear ends to sit on me if I didn't take his golf lessons order more seriously. Nessmith's big with the Cheesesteak Mafia.

Apparently, he does not think getting pool-hall analogies from celebrity golf architect P.B. Dye and closely watching LPGA star Paula Creamer's legs - I mean hands! - intently qualify as "golf lessons" either. Just your typical boss, so limited in his thinking. This is the guy who won't even let me expense Jack Daniel's as a swing aid.

So, it's off to boot camp. Golf boot camp.

Golf's drill sergeant

My drill sergeant is not exactly the stuff of the spit-spewing screamer from Full Metal Jacket. He's a tall fellow with gray hair in a yellow polo shirt who carries more props around than your average magician (more on this later). His name's Chuck Evans and he runs his boot camps out of the Mesa Golf Center, a place so grueling that the practice range spritzes you with water when it gets too hot.

Don't let the man or the setting fool you, though.

Evans may be more scientist than solider, talking about "the physics of golf" and the "geometry of the swing plane." And sure, he sounds like a new-age Tony Robbins self-help guru with his "to change your golf swing, you've got to change your perception."

But don't let the grandfather act fool you. Evans is as mean as Barry Bonds caught without his Clear cream. He will cut you up quicker than Edward Scissor hands.

"We've got to get you in preschool before you can graduate to kindergarten," Evans shoots back when I ask why he's only letting me hit 10-foot chip shots.

That comes early in the day when Evans is still feeling good about transforming the worst golf-playing golf writer in the world's game. Later, the gloves go flying off. These aren't any dainty golfer gentlemen gloves either.

"The instructor's job is to observe and educate," Evans explains. "The pupil's job is to observe and apply. In other words, you're not doing your job."

Ouch. And you think your wife is deadly with the well-placed zinger?

Evans means business. He does not call his program boot camp just for marketing kicks.

"I want golfers to know that we're going to work them and work them some more," Evans says. "You don't get better without sweating a little."

Who knew pushing a two-by-four with a nine-iron could be so damn difficult?

For this is the drill that nearly leads me to fling my entire set of clubs in frustration (of course, Evans would only let me fling them 10 feet). Rocking side to side with a tennis racket in either hand to simulate swing speed (or some twisted workout video Richard Simmons talked Andre Agassi into, I can't remember which) comes almost naturally. Hitting a golf ball placed between two bamboo sticks is almost fun. Knocking Titleists off the end of a geometry ruler almost makes sense (it's hot, desert hot).

But nudging along that two-by-four in a straight line? Now this, this, is torture akin to being tied down to watch a "Saved by the Bell" marathon on TV.

When Evans guides the two-by-four with his iron it walks a straighter line than a Buckingham Palace guard. When I push it with my iron, the wood board swerves like Lindsay Lohan's dad after a night on the town.

"We want your follow-through position to be down and out, not down and in," Evans sighs for about the 100th time.

Now I know how Ralph Macchio felt when Mr. Miyagi told him to stand on one leg and flap his arms like a bird.

Finally, in about Hour 15 by my heat-stroked count, I push that board straight a few feet. And damn, if I don't feel like letting loose with a Tiger Woods fist pump. Forget Michelle Wie's Nike contract, I'm going for a deal with Home Depot.

When Evans steps away to take a phone call, the guy a few feet down the range, the one puffing on cigarettes and letting loose driver bombs during my whole boot camp, turns to me in conspiratorial concern.

"Dude, how's that going to help you?"

Some people are just unenlightened. Think man, think. I just pushed a two-by-four with my nine iron. Straight!

Video Vexing

Just when I'm envisioning a Billy Casper Masters moment - a 34 over par could be within my reach - it's back to the video corner. This is the spot in the Mesa Golf Center clubhouse where Evans really gets into "the science of the swing."

He puts the footage he shot of me hitting every kind of fat, top and whiff shot known to man up on a standard TV screen, starts drawing yellow circles and red lines around and through my image with his computer program.

"This is what's called the geometry of the swing," Evans says, his range drill sergeant aviator sunglasses replaced by a pair of professor's specs. "There are two lines in golf. A target line and the angle you're swinging the club. We're going to get a lot more into this.What a lot of people don't understand, is that hoop extends ..."

This is fascinating stuff, I'm sure. The key to my swing, secrets to a life of golfing happiness, could be revealed in the next few minutes. And yet I cannot hear any of it. The image on the screen's delivered a brain freeze 100 times the strength of any Chilis' margarita.

Do I look fat? Man, do I look fat. Like tubby-boy fat. It's true what they say about the camera adding 10 pounds. Or maybe that's 20 pounds. Yeah, has to be 20 pounds. Maybe I could use Hefty Mickelson's personal trainer. You know, I look fat.

"... This is what we would call a lack of compression."

Looking up with a start, I realize Evans is wrapping up. He's shifted from holding the remote to manipulating a black barebones metal doll with the tiniest Mickey Mouse head stuck on its oversized body. It's supposed to show proper swing motion. It looks like a golf voodoo doll though. (Be careful, Mickey!)

Soon, this is the least of my worries. "We'll leave this on for your friends to watch."

Evans has the tape of my unintentional Tim Conway Dorf On Golf routine running in a continuous loop on the TV in the clubhouse. Forget drill sergeant. Evans carries the heart of an Abu Ghraib prison guard.

Anyone who walks into Mesa Golf Center is greeted by a 5-11 guy who looks like he's determined to hit golf balls like a Hobbit, swinging overhead. Coming back into the clubhouse later, there is kid who looks about 8 telling his mom, "No, I don't want to hit balls today." Certainly the child took one glance at me nearly toppling over on two straight attempts and decided right then and there to spare himself a lifetime of shame.

If there's any way he could end up looking like that dork on the video screen, he wants no part of golf ever.

No time to dwell, though. It's on to boot camp graduation for me. Evans gives me my homework: 60 repetitions every day for the next 21 days of the follow-through hand position he tried to drill into me. He hands me a copy of the offending videotape session for review. He throws in some kind words, an "all in all you've got several good things going on" - the golf instructor's version of that classic "It's not you, it's me" dating dump line. (A little late, Chuck!) He tries for one last Zen connection.

"It's sitting in your incubator," Evans informs gravelly. "When you're ready to absorb what you learned, your brain will be able to do it."

The Aftermath

It turns out my brain works as quickly as some coma patients' when it comes to golf. Which doesn't mean that videotape hasn't been put to good use. Every time I attempt to do my boot camp homework and put it in, it puts me to sleep. Like The Clapper. Turns out that watching the worst-playing golf writer in the world can cure the nastiest case of insomnia. Coming to a late-night infomercial near you for $19.95 plus a small shipping/handling fee.

As for improving my swing? Well, that quest continues.

If you need to move any two-by-fours though, I'm your golfer.

This is the third in a series of stories 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.

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Boot Camp

    Ronnie Stonestreet wrote on: Feb 24, 2008

    The deal is there is no golf swing, just a ball,stick and Hand eye coordination. You just need to change your concepts.


  • Drop and give me 20!

    Chuck Evans wrote on: Oct 14, 2005

    You accomplished what 90% of most golfers NEVER will....you executed the drills, were compressing the golf ball - (when you left that day)and hit shots that sounded like WHOOM insyead of poof!
    Keep doing your "15 Minutes a day" with the dowels and racquets and you won't lose that feeling.
    Of course, it's easier to nothing but then you get what you've always gotten!
    Let me know when you're back in the area and we'll get together again,