PUMPING IRONY: Swing Shift

Golfing has been mostly a social exercise, but what happens if I suddenly start hitting it straight?

At my age, golf is considered sort of a de rigeur form of exercise. On most weekday afternoons, the links around here are populated with advanced middle-agers like myself, expending a bit of energy chasing a small white ball on a well-manicured stretch of grass. I enjoy the game in moderation — maybe four or five times a year — and have never felt the slightest urge to improve my technique in order to lower my score. It’s really more social than serious, an excuse to spend four hours driving cute little electric carts around, drinking some beers, cheering on your compatriots and occasionally hitting the ball where you’d like to see it land.

This is a fine approach to take when you can’t play the game very well. You know, lower the bar to prevent disappointment and frustration. Accept the big handicap and run with it. But the last time I was out on the links, I hit it just well enough that the Three Old Guys who govern my golfing forays began to encourage me to ramp up my game with a new set of woods before our next outing.

I’m not so flush with cash or infatuated with golfing that I’m going to drop a C-note (or more) on some titanium driver; I like my 1960s-era Ben Hogan woods just fine, even if I can’t hit the ball straight with them. But I did mention to my all-around fitness guru, SW, that I might be ready to actually pay some attention to my golf game, and — true to form — he responded by offering to give me a little tutorial.

So, last week, we met at the local driving range, where we spent a pleasant hour or so dissecting what passes for my golf swing. (Check it out here: IMG_0512) SW is a very patient and compassionate fellow, so there was no chortling as I sliced drive after drive to the east. He simply observed my mechanics and fairly quickly determined the various problems I needed to solve in order to succeed. First, I needed to learn how to swivel my torso in order to generate power and a consistent motion. Next, I needed to get accustomed to transferring my weight from my back foot to my front foot during my swing. And, finally, I needed to learn how to keep my damn head down.

I suspect that this is old news to those of you who know how to effectively wield a golf club, but it was a revelation to me. And when I was able to incorporate that information into my golf-swinging motion, the results were quite gratifying. Until the next morning.

Golfers will tell you that navigating 18 holes on a hot afternoon — even if you’re propelled from location to location in a cart — is a decent workout. There’s a whole lot of bending and crouching and twisting, not to mention the traditional 12-ounce bicep curls. (Experts suggest that it only counts if you walk the course.) But after my lesson last week, it’s clear to me that if I’m hitting the ball the way I’m supposed to be hitting the ball, I’ll be doing some serious ab work. My midsection is still complaining after all that twisting last week.

But I’m encouraged by what I learned and ready to try out the new techniques later this month, when I hit the links with the Three Old Guys for probably the last time this year. I’m not going to stress about the outcome — or start thinking about a bigger driver — but it’ll be interesting to see if I can harness SW’s sage wisdom and knock a few shots off my score. Who knows? Maybe some day I’ll take up the game for real.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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