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Misfires On The Lesson Tee

Andrew PennerBy Andrew Penner,

With no verbal communication, the human race would be reduced to monkey-look-a-likes foraging alone in boundless territories and fleeing from species more advanced. They would be bound together through primitive ways of transferring information, which would include yelping, squealing, and peeing on things. Thankfully, unless you've just had six root canals done, humans are able to talk and can communicate. Why, even golf pros can communicate effectively with their students...sometimes.

It seems to me that the majority of the human race would benefit from good communication. The problem, of course, is that sometimes this communication is partially or completely misunderstood. Sometimes this can have a far-reaching negative impact.

Take, for example, the case with the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Everything was going along quite nicely for the Valdez, i.e. no icebergs, no "perfect storms," etc. But then, as rumor has it, some pimple-faced high school dropout was told to turn up the volume on the radio as Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" was playing. Only he turned a dial that said, "Open The Flood Gates And Kick The Crap Out Of Every Living Organism Within 1,000 Miles" instead. As it turned out though, he recovered quite nicely for himself with the heartfelt apology, "Oops, sorry 'bout that boss."

Good communication is also very important in jobs where the information being conveyed will have a direct influence on say, how well someone will be able to hit a golf ball. Enter my responsibility when it comes to clear diction, thorough and understandable explanations, and proper selection of words. Unfortunately, at times there have been some fairly significant misunderstandings on the lesson tee, as information has not always been conveyed as planned...

Misunderstanding #1

On a fine, spring day a few years back, I decided to enlighten a relatively new golfer on the art of "the release." "On the downswing," I explained, "the club approaches the ball from a path that would be inside of the target line. The hands stay in a hinged position, which would provide some 'lag,' and just before impact, the club is released," I stated with confidence. "This proper release creates plenty of clubhead speed and power in the shot," I finished, thrilled to hear my own voice so eloquently describe this imperative fundamental.

"OK, I think I get it," the old boy replied (come to think of it, thundering into town with his pickup truck, tin of Copenhagen, and cowboy boots a few minutes earlier, I doubt he'd ever seen a clubface that wasn't smeared in cow dung). He took a mighty back swing and with every joint, muscle, tendon, and ligament exactly where it shouldn't be, he made his assault toward the ball. Just as I had instructed him, he released the club...fifty yards down the driving range. The perfect helicopter-like flight of the club and the loud "swooshing" sound indicated without a doubt that the club was thrown with much passion. "Got a chew?" I asked, in a bit of a stupor.

Misunderstanding #2

I'm a big fan of making the game as easy as possible for people just starting out. That's the major reason why I recommend that beginners practice with short irons - as opposed to the tougher-to-hit woods and long irons. One day a middle-aged man, who worked as a computer engineer, showed up for a lesson. Fittingly, he also came in wearing the "I-build-rockets-for-a-living-type garb," i.e. hard collar plaid shirt with four pens protruding from the front pocket, six-inch thick glasses, white with blue striped running shorts, and white socks pulled up to the knees.

Now don't get me wrong, the guy was extremely smart and I'm sure that back in the early 80's the girls would have been drooling over him. Also, I have no doubt in my mind that he could have made a space station out of pile of Commodore Vic 20's. Interestingly, for him, the concept of the "short iron," was taken quite literally. So...when I asked him a week later if he'd been practicing with his short irons, he proudly pulled out his four-year old's two-foot driver and gave me a resounding, "You betcha!"

Misunderstanding #3

There are a number of important "positions" which comprise the golf swing, none of which involve tendons separating themselves from the bones. The four most talked about positions are the set-up, the top of the swing, impact, and the finish position. One of my more interesting lessons took place a few years ago with an elderly, but quite distinguished Scottish lady who, by her own admission, knew less about golf than the Easter Bunny. At any rate, I was explaining the "finish position" to her, i.e. weight on the front leg, body facing the target, natural height, etc. After my marvelous soliloquy, I asked her to demonstrate the "finish position" upon which she immediately became rigid and turned to stare down the range (perhaps her hearing aid had a meltdown?). Bringing her right hand up over her eyes to mimic shielding the sun and straining her neck forward to watch the flight of the ball, she warmly responded "Get over the water you piece of crap!" "It appears as if we've had a breakdown in communication, but I can definitely relate to the language," I replied.

Besides the human race's ability to harness the power of fermentation, communication is likely our greatest asset. People of every creed and every business use numerous strategies and spend billions of dollars on good communication. Unfortunately, when things are not communicated properly - the world could blow up. Or, almost as bad, we might decapitate a fellow golfer with a released "short-iron."

Andrew Penner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Calgary, Alberta. His work has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout North America and Europe. You can see more of his work at www.andrewpenner.com.

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