Learning to Play Golf #3: Swinging through injuries and dismal weather

Christopher Shade learning more about the swing from John Hobbins at Chelsea Piers Golf Academy.
Christopher X. Shade

Christopher X. Shade has been GOLF.com's technology executive producer for nearly two years, but he'd never picked up a golf club in his life before this spring, when he and his wife, Paige Sellers, signed up for lessons at Chelsea Piers, a multi-tiered driving range in Manhattan. He is writing about their attempts to learn the game in a series of articles on GOLF.com.

I like to swing confidently, and when that rare shot from the hitting stall at Chelsea Piers Golf Academy lands on one of those artificial greens in the distance, I make a point of glancing at Paige and our teaching pro, John Hobbins. I nod, as if to say, yes, I felt it that time. I made it happen. I was completely aware of how all my movements worked together to create that swing. But the harsh reality is, I have no idea what worked. I'm completely overwhelmed with all the minute body movements that must come together to form a swing.

We've now had four lessons. I'm bruised and battered. My back hurts. My thumb hurts. Yes, I sprained my thumb. It happened one night, about 10 o'clock, while practicing at Chelsea Piers. In my mind, that's a great time to go because there are fewer people to see how poorly I'm swinging. It's silly, but I can't help but imagine that everyone around me is noticing my stooped posture, my tight grip, my closed clubface on the backswing — not to mention all the bad shots. John doesn't have an explanation for how I sprained my thumb. Who knows? I'm guessing it's because I'm swinging the club like a baseball bat. That's a carousel motion, John says. We want a Ferris wheel.

The day after our third lesson, Paige said her shoulder, side and arm hurt, but she still felt well enough to shop. She loves the adidas golf line by Stella McCartney, which doesn't come cheap. I was warned about this by my guy friends. This past Saturday, while we were "picking up a few things" in the adidas store in SoHo, I said to her, "Maybe we should tone down the enthusiasm." I don't think she heard me. I was outside her fitting room, speaking from behind a pile of Stella outfits she'd already chosen. Fortunately she didn't take this pile to the register — a budget disaster averted.

And we haven't even started looking at shoes yet. All this shopping is for our first round on a real course, the one we haven't scheduled yet. I'm looking for just the right people to fill out our first 18-hole foursome. Maybe another nice married couple who won't sigh with exasperation every time we slice one into the trees. I can't help but wonder how many times I'll lose the ball during my first game. Even Tiger loses his ball, right? In this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, Tiger lost it in the grassy bank of a water hazard. So I guess it happens to the best of us.

Paige said to John, "I'm going to buy some golf clothes."

John said, "Please don't."

Her fashion is much more urban East Village than bucolic country club. At our fourth lesson, it was really cold, and Paige was sporting knitted arm warmers. "Look at that blue!" John said. She caused quite the fashion stir on the range. Yes, she knitted them herself. Had anyone heard of knitted arm warmers for golf? "I might start a new fashion trend for women's golf wear," Paige said. Watch out, Stella McCartney.

John says that most people slice when they pick up the game. He said I'm learning to hook, which is better because it's a solvable problem. A slice is closer to an incurable disease. My downswing was getting better, but I was still going at the ball from the outside. Arms and shoulders and body were not working together. John said to keep my arms in closer to my body. I swung and hit one low, smacking the rubber tee and Astroturf with my club. The ball did an embarrassing little hop toward the fairway. Trying to turn attention away from that shot, I asked John, "Has anyone ever broken one of these tee things?"

John said, "No one has yet." I think he expects me to be the first.

John had me stop halfway through my backswing. He walked over and pushed my arm, pushed my shoulder, and stretched and twisted my torso a little further past the point where I thought it could go. I gasped — not in pain, exactly, but I thought I might break in two. Apparently I need to take yoga more seriously. I came out of it and said, "Wow, that's quite a twist."

John said, "After this lesson, you won't notice your thumb. Your back will hurt."

The next one started a little right and came back left, landing on a far-away green on the range. I had felt it that time, again, but I was still at a loss for how I had made it happen. I think the mystery has something to do with yoga. John says, "You're doing many things really well."

After our morning lessons at Chelsea Piers, Paige and I like to go to brunch. Here's where we've been:

• We walked a few blocks over to Pastis in the Meatpacking District. I had brioche French toast with fresh fruit and maple syrup. Quite the scene. Everyone was sure I was Timothy Hutton. I get that all the time.

• We hopped in a taxi to SoHo and walked to Once Upon a Tart. I had black coffee and pastries. There were two guys and a girl filming on the sidewalk outside the cafe. I was taking photos of them, and they caught me on camera doing that.

• We hopped in a taxi to SoHo and shopped at adidas (again) and then walked over to Great Jones Cafe for brunch. Paige had Eggs Tulum, which is a scramble with cheddar cheese and cilantro in a flour tortilla and topped with sour cream and black bean salsa, with cornbread and grits. I've never been so full in my life. I spent the rest of the day walking through the city so I could stomach another big brunch on Sunday.

Check back for more articles by Christopher X. Shade on learning to play.

Related Links:
Read the other articles in this series by Christopher X. Shade
Chelsea Piers Golf Club | see Chelsea Piers on a Google Map
John Hobbins and the other golf pros at the Chelsea Piers Golf Academy
Become a Fan of Golf Magazine on Facebook | Follow GOLF.com on Twitter
Become a Fan of Chelsea Piers Golf Club on Facebook | Follow them on Twitter

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