By D.C. Fasciglione
GolfWRX Staff Writer
The old man had been thinking about his luck that day. Rather, he had been thinking about his lack there of.
He was already 4-over and the first nine had yet to be played. The new fangled golf shoes with the so-called high tech soles were burning a hole in his Achilles heel. His daughter wasn’t talking to him on account of the fact he had spent her mom’s birthday money on these damnable shoes and a box of Top-Flite Gamers. And to top things off he got stuck with this guy.
He figured that despite the fact he had to get up twice a night to go pee, he couldn’t find his glasses half the time and he had to sit down to carefully don his socks in the morning, at least he could still count. He also figured his playing partner could, too. Or maybe not. By his recollection good ‘ol Ray should be 6 over.
Ray was a regular at the course. He had played with him once or twice before, but as he was partnered with two others he hadn’t given much thought to the man’s game, let alone his scoring of it. Ray was one of those fellows who thought he might be able to play the Champion’s Tour, with just a bit more practice and some luck. The old man had entertained that thought as well, in between his well-trodden hallway excursions to the head each night he sometimes caught himself drifting into dreamland.
Shiny green fairways and sugar sand bunkers. Tall oaks casting light and shadows in the lush, dewy rough. And there he would find himself, middle of the fairway, 200 yards from the pin, 7- iron in hand…
“Wait a minute. 7-iron my backside.”
New fangled hybrid in his hand.
He imagined, he dreamed, of a supple swing, a towering 200-yard strike to the heart of the green. The tree branch had somehow reached him in the subtle breeze. In his dream he could see the ball, as clear as day, within the leather.
“That’s about right,” he smiled. Damnable tree branch was starting to annoy him. He distractedly fended it off with his free hand, and strode proudly down the fairway, chest out, reaching for his hat. He could just make out the on-course reporters jostling for position to get his interview.
“What’s that? No, no. I’m taken. My, that’s a nice tan, ahem, ‘hem.?”
“Honey, you’re snoring.”?The old man stared at the ceiling of his bedroom, the shadowy green remnants of his dream scattering into the four corners of his darkened room. The back of his wife’s hand was tapping upon his forehead.
Oh well. Can’t hit that confounded hybrid worth a lick, anyway. The very thought of ever making it to the Tour brought a chuckle to him. As he got up to relieve himself he thought it over.
“Let’s see; Perry, Boom Boom, Calc, Lehman, Haas. The list goes on. Before long we’ll see Vijay, Love…” Back to reality.
Reality that day had the old man sputtering between tee box to green, huffing and puffing up the sharp incline of the third fairway of his favorite public track. By the time he had reached the postage stamp of a green at the top of that incline his patience had just about given out, just like his legs.
“Ray, you aren’t 2-over; you’re 6-over, the old man wheezed. And there’s no way in Sam Hill you’re ever going to make it to the Champion’s Tour so quit plumb bobbing and take your third putt.”
He figured it was a good time to have a seat at the next tee and find the moleskin at the bottom of his golf bag. He was irritable. There were few things these days that didn’t irritate him, but cheating took the cake. Ray would just have to deal with it.
“Who does he think he’s kidding? Me? I just don’t get it,” he thought as he heard Ray’s feet shuffle up the crushed stone cart path.
“Made that putt,” Ray mouthed, almost as if to himself. “Ouch. That looks like it hurts,” looking down at the old man’s sockless foot.
“You should see the other one,” he replied. The old man’s feet appeared older than even he. Their weathered, calloused pads had traversed decades of fairways, rough, and cart paths. As a younger man his pocket couldn’t afford riding in a golf cart. As an older man his heart couldn’t afford it and his pride wouldn’t allow it. He would continue to walk.
Ray fished in his own golf bag a moment and took out a small package containing some adhesive shoe padding. He was wearing an untucked red shirt and white sneaker-like golf shoes. His curly, silver hair was thinning. He needed a shave, his whiskers gray over an olive complexion.
“Here ya go. Give these a try.”
The old man took the pads, managed a “Thanks” under his breath, and worked them into the counter of the offending shoe. Surprisingly, they seemed to help. Maybe Ray wasn’t so bad after all, he thought.
By the twelfth hole things were looking up for the old man. He had managed to birdie the 10th, which was a surprise given the fact that at the turn he had downed a hot dog with the consistency of a bicycle seat. He was still belching as his ball found the bottom of the cup.
“Pardon, Ray.” Belch. “That would be a three, by the way.” Belch. “I believe I have the honors.” Belch.
Ray chuckled. “I had 3, too!”
The old man’s smile turned to frown. He was just about to say, “Yeah, three putts,” when the thought occurred to him that maybe something wasn’t quite right. It didn’t make sense. In fact, as he thought back over the last several holes the old man recalled more than one occurrence in which Ray had seemed confused. Between the sixth green and the seventh tee box, Ray had seemed unsure as to which direction he was to walk. A couple holes back the old man became impatient when Ray had apparently become confused with his scorecard. He recalled Ray’s furrowed brow, the tip of his tongue showing, and the short golf pencil poised above the tiny boxes.
“Trying to shave strokes,” the old man had thought. But now he wasn’t so sure anymore. Finally, there was no way anyone would believe he had scored a three on that last hole.
The old man felt a sudden chill.
As the day progressed the early autumn air cooled and the shadows grew longer and darker. The leaves had already begun to fall, and the old man thought about how easy it was to lose one’s ball this time of year, even in the middle of the fairway. Before long it would be cold and he would feel his age in each and every swing.
“Is it getting chilly out here, Ray, or is it just me?” the old man asked of his playing partner. Ray smiled as he pushed his tee into the turf.
“You can’t be a fair weather golfer,” he replied. The old man nodded. Ray was right, of course. You take the good with the bad and move on. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he figured maybe Ray hadn’t been cheating. Maybe he was confused. The old man decided he would keep an eye out.
By the eighteenth tee it was clear to him that Ray had a problem with his memory. The old man had seen it before: confusion with simple tasks, such as when Ray had struggled to get his Titleist out of the ball washer; difficulty in remembering new names, Ray must have asked him his name at least five times that day; a sudden lost sensation, as when Ray was confused on the cart path between holes.
Dementia. Maybe Alzheimer’s, the old man thought. If so, this was early onset. Ray was maybe late fifties.
After the final approach and putts had been made the old man extended his hand to Ray.
“Clubhouse for a cold beer?”?”That sounds great,” he replied. Upon reaching the 1960s era facade of the clubhouse the old man and Ray brushed their shoes free from the course’s turf. They entered through the diner side and walked down a short hall to the bar.
“Hey guys.” The greeting came in stereo from the assistant pro and a woman with dark green eyes and hair dyed a shade too dark for her age. She smiled, held out her hand to the old man and said, “Hi. I’m Sarah, Ray’s wife.”
The assistant pro filled in the details after Ray and Sarah had left. Ray was stage four Alzheimer’s, early onset as the old man had guessed. A couple of the starters knew, as did the pros, and had discussed with Sarah and Ray safety concerns and possible accommodations. It was unclear how the disease would progress; each person reacts differently. Ray would continue to golf and dream about making it to the Champion’s tour, of course.
The old man thought he might, too.
The following links are to the National Institute on Aging- Alzheimer’s, the Alzheimer’s Association, and the Alzheimer’s Foundation.
The Gear Dive: TrackMan’s Tour Operations Manager Lance Vinson Part 1 of 2
In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with TrackMans Lance Vinson on an all things TrackMan and its presence on Tour. It’s such a deep dive that they needed two shows to cover it all.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
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