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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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The Wedge Guy: The 5 indisputable rules of bunker play

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I received a particularly interesting question this week from Art S., who said he has read all the tips about how to hit different sand shots, from different sand conditions, but it would be helpful to know why. Specifically, here’s what Art had to say:

“I recently found myself in a few sand traps in multiple lies and multiple degrees of wetness. I tried remembering all of the “rules” of how to stand, how much to open my club, how much weight to shift forward or back, etc. based on the Golf Channel but was hoping that you might be able to do a blog on the ‘why’ of sand play so that we can understand it rather than memorizing what to do. Is there any way you can discuss what the club is doing and why you open the club, open your stance, what you’re aiming for when you open up, and any other tips?”

Well, Art, you asked a very good question, so let’s try to cover the basics of sand play–the “geometry and physics” at work in the bunkers–and see if we can make all of this more clear for you.

First of all, I think bunkers are among the toughest of places to find your ball. We see the tour players hit these spectacular bunker shots every week, but realize that they are playing courses where the bunkers are maintained to PGA Tour standards, so they are pretty much the same every hole and every week. This helps the players to produce the “product” the tour is trying to deliver–excitement. Of course, those guys also practice bunker play every day.

All of us, on the other hand, play courses where the bunkers are different from one another. This one is a little firmer, that one a little softer. So, let me see if I can shed a little light on the “whys and wherefores” of bunker play.

The sand wedge has a sole with a downward/backward angle built into it – we call that bounce. It’s sole (no pun intended) function is to provide a measure of “rejection” force or lift when the club makes contact with the sand. The more bounce that is built into the sole of the wedge, the more this rejection force is applied. And when we open the face of the wedge, we increase the effective bounce so that this force is increased as well.

The most basic thing you have to assess when you step into a bunker is the firmness of the sand. It stands to reason that the firmer the texture, the more it will reject the digging effect of the wedge. That “rejection quotient” also determines the most desirable swing path for the shot at hand. Firmer sand will reject the club more, so you can hit the shot with a slightly more descending clubhead path. Conversely, softer or fluffier sand will provide less rejection force, so you need to hit the shot with a shallower clubhead path so that you don’t dig a trench.

So, with these basic principles at work, it makes sense to remember these “Five Indisputable Rules of Bunker Play”

  1. Firmer sand will provide more rejection force – open the club less and play the ball back a little to steepen the bottom of the clubhead path.
  2. Softer sand will provide less rejection force – open the club more and play the ball slighter further forward in your stance to create a flatter clubhead path through the impact zone.
  3. The ball will come out on a path roughly halfway between the alignment of your body and the direction the face is pointing – the more you open the face, the further left your body should be aligned.
  4. On downslope or upslope lies, try to set your body at right angles to the lie, so that your swing path can be as close to parallel with the ground as possible, so this geometry can still work. Remember that downhill slopes reduce the loft of the club and uphill slopes increase the loft.
  5. Most recreational golfers are going to hit better shots from the rough than the bunkers, so play away from them when possible (unless bunker play is your strength).

So, there you go, Art. I hope this gives you the basics you were seeking.

As always, I invite all of you to send in your questions to be considered for a future article. It can be about anything related to golf equipment or playing the game–just send it in. You can’t win if you don’t ask!

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Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Task to target

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