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Opinion & Analysis

The power of golf: Life after loss

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By Ed Muldoon

GolfWRX Contributor

“Tom, it’s your mom, I am calling to tell you that your Grandmother has passed, I’m sorry hon.”

It’s early February and the ringing of his cell phone had shaken Tom Haverton to a groggy state of consciousness.  Fumbling with the device his first thoughts were of work and what must be an inescapable reason of coming in on his day off.  In short, he was unhappy.  The sheets had tangled and the first peaking lights of dawn drifted through a gap in the drapes.

“What?”

“I’m sorry honey.  She died peacefully in her sleep.”

Tom slowly lowered the phone and turned to his wife letting the news rush out, like a punctured tire it left him deflated and cold.

Tom’s grandmother was a woman of substantial meaning in his life.  For long periods of time in his childhood she was a caregiver, with two working parents she had acted as a third.  She had opened her home to him and his brother completely and without reserve.  It was his home away from home, and the foundation of many of his favorite childhood memories.  The loss, for him, was considerable.

Tom considered what to do, the funeral preparations are still mostly in the air, and he had been assured that his immediate presence is not required.  After he kissed his wife off to work, Tom sat pensively in the house.

“I was literally at a loss as to what I could do,” recalled Tom. “The news wasn’t completely unexpected, she was sick and eighty-nine, but that does little to soften the blow so to speak.  So I did what I always do during times of stress, I went to the golf course.”

Tom was a lifelong golfer, at a young age his parents had bought him his first set of clubs and he’d been in love since.  Like many men and women passionate about the sport, Tom had spent the majority of his affair with golf on the losing side.  If golf was a fickle mistress, Tom had only seen her less forgiving side.  He chose to go to the golf course that day because it seemed like the right thing to do for him.

“I didn’t tell anyone, because I didn’t think anyone would understand.”

Tom was sure that his decision might seem callous to some, but to him the golf course was an old friend, someone he could lean on.  He could whisper his problems, and the course would understand.  It wouldn’t judge or probe, it wouldn’t console or sympathize, it would let Tom work it out.

“I’m not an overly religious person,” Tom said. “I grew up attending church, but as I got older and moved farther from my family I attended less and less, but if I could call any place somewhere I felt close to God, it would be at a golf course.”

Tom played golf three times that week: once after hearing about his Grandmother’s passing, once the day before her funeral, and once the day after.  Tom professed that golf helped to center him.

“The second time I played golf that week, I played the back nine alone,” he said. “I spent most of that time thinking of Grandma.  My golf game went on autopilot, and I just enjoyed recalling my memories of her.  At one point I looked out across the seventeenth hole, the sun had peaked over the valley and there wasn’t another golfer in sight.  It was a perfect moment, and it felt like she was there.”

Though he grieved her loss greatly, Tom confessed that golf acted as a bulwark.  He used those 54 holes, walking alone, to sort through his jumbled feelings.  He came to terms with his loss, prayed for his Grandmother, and started to move on.  It was moments like on the seventeenth that made the transition into a life without his grandmother a little easier.

“In the passing moments of day to day life, sometimes the grief would seem overwhelming,” he said. “It was surprising, and always caught me off guard.  When I was on the course though, for those four hours, I was centered and calm.”

Each person grieves in his or her own way, and for Tom it was on the course.  Tom hasn’t asked for understanding, but he was confident for those who have lived the game of golf like he has will nod their heads knowingly.  For some golf is more than a game, it is a passion, and for Tom it was a way to move on.

Author’s Note: Tom asked that his name be made anonymous for the privacy of his family.

Click here for more discussion in the “General Golf Talk” forum.

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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: Golf Hall of Fame resumes—what does it take?

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We are back from last week, and Knudson is finally a father! Steve asks what it takes to get into the Golf Hall of Fame, how much do majors count? Knudson talks about his last round and how much fun he had. Finally, we talk about the Rory and Keopka beef that is starting to play out.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Getting more out of your wedges

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When I started SCOR Golf in 2011 and completely re-engineered the short end of the set, I took on “the establishment” and referred to our line of clubs not as “wedges” but as “scoring clubs”—I felt like the term “wedge” had become over-applied to clubs that really weren’t. While I’ve tempered my “respectful irreverence” a bit since then, I still think we are shackled by the terms applied to those high-loft clubs at the short end of our sets.

Think about this for a moment.

It all started with the invention of the sand wedge back in the late 1930s. This invention is generally credited to Gene Sarazen, who famously had metal welded onto the bottom of a niblick to give it bounce, and introduced the basic “explosion” sand shot. Over the next few decades, the sand wedge “matured” to a loft of 55-56 degrees and was a go-to staple in any serious golfer’s bag. In his 1949 book, “Power Golf”, Ben Hogan described the sand wedge as a very versatile tool “for certain shots” around the greens, and listed his maximum distance with a sand wedge as 55 yards.

Even into the 1970s, the pitching wedge was considered the ‘go-to’ club for short recovery shots around the greens. And because the typical pitching wedge was 50-52 degrees in loft, it was very versatile for that purpose. I remember that even as a scratch player in the 60s and early 70s, I would go days or weeks without pulling the “sand wedge” out of my bag—we didn’t have bunkers on that little 9-hole course so I didn’t feel like I needed one very often.

Fast forward into the 1980s and 1990s, people were hitting sand wedges from everywhere and the wedge makers began to add “lob wedges” in the 60-degree range and then “gap wedges” of 48 degrees or so to fill in for the evolutional strengthening of iron lofts to a point where the set match pitching wedge (or P-club as I call it) was 44-45 degrees typically. Along the way, the designation “G”, “S”, “L” and “P” were dropped and almost all wedges carried the actual loft number of the club. I think this was a positive development, but it seems we cannot get away from the pigeon-holing our wedges into “pitching”, “gap”, “sand” and “lob” nomenclature.

So that history lesson was a set-up for suggesting that you look at all your wedges as just “wedges” with no further limitations as to their use. I think that will free you up to use your creativity with each club to increase your repertoire of shots you have in your bag…more arrows in your quiver, so to speak.

For example, long bunker shots are much easier if you open the face of your 50- 54-degree wedge so you don’t have to swing as hard to get the ball to fly further. You’ll still get plenty of spin, but your results will become much more consistent. Likewise, that super-short delicate bunker shot can be hit more easily with your higher lofted wedge of 58-60 degrees.

When you get out further, and are facing mid-range shots of 40-75 yards, don’t automatically reach for your “sand wedge” out of habit, but think about the trajectory and spin needs for that shot. Very often a softened swing with your “gap” wedge will deliver much more consistent results. You’ll reduce the likelihood of making contact high on the face and coming up short, and you can even open the face a bit to impart additional spin if you need it.

Around the greens, your lower-lofted wedges will allow you to achieve more balance between carry and roll, as almost all instructors encourage you to get the ball on the ground more quickly to improve greenside scoring. For the vast majority of recreational/weekend golfers, simply changing clubs is a lot easier than trying to manipulate technique to hit low shots with clubs designed to hit the ball high.

Finally, on any shots into the wind, you are almost always better off “lofting down” and swinging easier to help make more solid contact and reduce spin that will cause the ball to up-shoot and come up short. Too often I watch my friends try to hit hard full wedge shots into our all-too-common 12-20 mph winds and continually come up short. My preference is to loft down even as much as two clubs, grip down a bit and swing much more easily, which ensures a lower trajectory with less spin…and much more consistent outcomes. It is not uncommon for me to choose a 45-degree wedge for a shot as short as 75-80 yards into a breeze, when my stock distance for that club is about 115. I get consistently positive results doing that.

So, if you can wean yourself from referring to your wedges by their names and zero in on what each can do because of their numbers, you will expand your arsenal of shots you can call on when you are in prime scoring range and hit it close to the flag much more often. And that’s really the goal, isn’t it?

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Opinion & Analysis

Autumn golf is the best golf

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For many, golf euphoria occurs the second weekend of April when the flowers start to bloom, courses begin to open, and the biggest tournament of the year is on television. But I believe the absolute best season for golf is the fall.

Let me explain.

SPRING

Spring is the season of hope and rebirth, and for most golfers, it’s the first opportunity to break out new clubs or take the game you’ve been working on all winter to the course for the first time in many months. Depending on where you are in North America or around the world, golf courses are just opening up and the ground is drying out from a winter filled with snow and ice.

Yes, spring is fantastic, you can shrug off the occasional mud ball since it’s probably your first round in four months and you’re willing to cut “the super” some slack for the slow greens, because you’re just happy to be out on terra firma chasing around a little white ball. Your game is rusty. Courses aren’t quite there yet, but it’s golf outside, and you couldn’t be happier.

SUMMER

The dog days. This time of year is when golf courses are the most busy thanks to the beautiful weather. But high temperatures and humidity can be a real deal-breaker, especially for walkers—throw in the weekly possibility for afternoon “out of the blue” thunderstorms, and now you’re sweating and drenched.

Unless you are a diehard and prefer the dew-sweeping pre-7 a.m. tee time when the sun breaks on the horizon, rounds tend to get longer in the summer as courses get busier. And you’ll often find more corporate outings and casual fairweather golfers out for an afternoon of fun—not a bad thing for the game, but not great for pace of play. Summer makes for fantastic course conditions, and with the sun not setting until after 9 p.m. for almost two months, the after-dinner 9 holes are a treat and you take them while you can.

FALL

As much I love nine holes after dinner with eight clubs in a Sunday bag and a few adult beverages in June, nothing compares to the perfect fall day for golf.

The sun’s orbit, paired with Mother Nature, allows you to stay in your warm bed just that little extra, since you can’t play golf when it’s still dark at 6:30 a.m. The warm, but not too warm, temperatures allow you to pull out your favorite classic cotton golf shirts without fear of the uncomfortable sweaty pits. We can’t forget that it’s also the season for every golfer’s favorite piece of apparel: the quarter zip  (#1/4zipSZN).

Courses in the fall are often in the best shape (or at least they should be), since player traffic and corporate tournaments are done for the season. As long as warm afternoons are still the norm, firm and fast conditions can be expected.

Last but not least, the colors—reds, oranges, and yellows—frame the green fairways and dark sand to make them pop in the landscape. Fall is the final chance to get in those last few rounds and create happy thoughts and mental images before the clubs go away for the inevitably cold, dark days of winter.

Fall is meant for golf! So take pictures, smell the smells, and make great swings, because golf season is quickly coming to a close, and now is the time to savor each moment on the course.

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