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Hit it like you're whackin' a guy with a pool stick: Bad Golfer's first lesson

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,

RIVERIA MAYA, Mexico - P.B. Dye sizes up his pupil one more time, no doubt wondering what Faustian bargain he'd struck to end up in this moment. Moving dirt as P.B. calls it, getting rich being flown across the world in richer men's private jets to sculpt their earth, knowing all the while his golf courses will be compared to his Ruthian father's designs, is one thing.

Trying to improve this nincompoop with a notebook's golf game is quite another.

I am that nincompoop.

More on that later. Right now, I'm busy being yelled at by one of the most inventive golf architects in the game.

"Hit it like you're hitting a guy over the head with a pool stick in a bar fight!" P.B. bellows.


Dye shoots me the kind of look usually reserved for a 4-year-old who should know better, not a 2-year-old who's still a little clueless. A 4-year-old who should know better.

"That's how you'd hit a guy in a bar fight?' Dye says, more exasperated than upset. "Guess you'd be the first guy down. You'd better hide behind the bar."

Now, this is getting good. This is what I had in mind when I cajoled P.B. Dye into giving the first golf lesson of the ultimate Bad Golfer odyssey. Actually, it didn't take much negotiating. Just lined up next to P.B. on the driving range at the sneak peek of his new Playa Paraiso Golf Club and the swing did the rest. Let me explain. My swing stands as the equivalent of a spectacular roadside car wreck to golf industry types. It's horrifyingly repulsive and yet impossible for them to turn away from at the same time. They're drawn to it like moths to a light, going whether they really want to or not.

That's how I find P.B. Dye stalking up in his big man's cowboy's gait (picture Danny DeVito with John Wayne's walk) and eyeing my Pee Wee Herman stance. Thankfully, he restrains himself from asking if I'd been a Special Olympics alternate.

"Let me see that swing again,'' P.B. drawls.

This is like asking Bruce Willis to see his hair, Carson Daly to see his talent, Lorena Bobbit's ex to see his ... well, you get the idea.

P.B. takes another look at The Swing and quickly glances away as he mumbles like a doctor delivering a terminal diagnosis who cannot quite make eye contact. Still to his everlasting credit, P.B. Dye barrels ahead with the challenge.

"OK, pick the club up."

Take that, boss! Yes, as most unpleasant things in life do, this quest began with a directive from the boss. In my case TravelGolf.com Managing Editor Mark Nessmith, a particularly dastardly form of the species who sits in his castle in Europe and fires off angry e-mails to minions like me starting around 3 a.m. U.S. time. You know, when most of us at BadGolfer.com are just stumbling back from the bars. Can't tell you how many blissful buzzes this Nessmith has ruined.

This time Count Bossman had the audacity to call me on something I'd written. Apparently, Nessmith remembers my rant on golf instructors standing as the modern day equivalent of snake-oil salesmen or chiropractors (one of my most brilliant points, if I do say so myself). Anyway, Nessmith cannot let this go. His brother-in-law must be a PGA pro or more likely a chiropractor (these guys aren't just quacks, they're vicious -- check out this mail bag).

So Count Bossman decided to punish me for daring to upset his family dinner dynamic by ordering me to take a golf lesson.

Now, no one can accuse me of not doing everything I could to avoid this fate. Following the lead of the draft dodgers, I fled to one of the most remote areas of Canada. Tracing the trail of many an embezzler, I drifted into Cancun. In fact, I think I deserve a Hogan's Hero award for resistance.

But alas, every good run must come to an end and so here I am on a driving range in Mexico, getting an impromptu, anything-but-David-Leadbetter-approved lesson from P.B. Dye.

When P.B. tells me to swing the 3-iron like I would a baseball bat, I don't have the heart to inform him that I was one of those kids who couldn't even hit in tee-ball. That I could literally swing and miss, swing and miss, swing and miss at a ball standing motionless in front of me on a tee. Believe I still hold the national career tee-ball strikeout record. Some of us are done in by the curveball. Some by the tee.

Still, it isn't unsettling childhood memories that have me freaking out inside when P.B. urges me to take swings at an imaginary baseball with my 3-iron, pretending it's a baseball bat. For my taste, this is way too much like one of those golf instructor exercises where you swing a porcupine to get a better feel for your club. Come on, P.B.! I turned to you because you weren't one of those certified new age mumbo jumbo PGA pros.

You're P.B. Dye! The most down-to-earth celebrity golf architect ever. The guy who visibly cringes when the PR lady on the press trip informs you that the Iberostar resort where we're staying requires long pants for dinner. If I'd wanted to hear some funky advice on the restorative powers of crystals, I would have sought out Robert Trent Jones II.

Get a hold of yourself, man!

Oh wait ... those ridiculously overpriced Nike distance balls I purchased to make myself look cool actually have ... some distance. My 3-irons are going 180, 200, 210 yards, right at the driving range flag. One, two, three, four straight.

"Have you ever hit the ball like that in your life before!?" P.B. roars.

"Never,'' he answers himself, a little too quickly for my taste.

P.B. is practically beaming. He didn't look this proud of himself when he showed us around Playa Paraiso for the first time. His wife Jean looks over, perhaps concerned he's gotten too much sun. But P.B. seems to recognize the monumental achievement in this task. Remember, he's seen my swing.

The low irons have been the bane of my golfing game, the lowest of the low, and when we're talking my game no limbo contest can compare. I could have the most perfect fairway lie ever and still not be able to get the 3-iron lofted with any distance. Only after a half-hour session with P.B. Dye, the club feels like butter.

It turns out I was going way too fast on my windup and way too slow on my follow through. Or something like that. That's another thing about P.B. He has no uses for fancy swing-analysis either.

"Stop thinking so damn much,'' P.B. demands. "Just play. A lot of these guys get you thinking a million things about your feet and your shoulder position. ... Just swing the club."

It works too. Well, it works until we get out onto the course for our scramble and P.B. and I are on different teams and those driving-range shots turn into a series of shanks, pop-ups and slices. P.B.'s team rolls to the win.

Back at the clubhouse, he's beaming again. "Who's telling you to make swing changes right before a tournament?" someone else laughs.

Okay, maybe I'd been had. But in the long run it works out. A few weeks later, I use P.B.'s 3-iron lesson and my natural herky-jerky, jabbing putting-stroke (more on this in future episodes) to stun an obnoxious funeral director who has a putter with a clubface that's a coffin and the attitude his profession's cool now that it's been on Six Feet Under.

Maybe, this taking lessons thing isn't all bad. As long as you avoid the actual golf pros and their chiropractor ways.

Next time, I turn to the hottest LPGA players I can find for pointers. Hey, this is BadGolfer.com.

Until then, I have the perfect swing thought for my game.

You'd better hide behind the bar.

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.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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