Learning to Play Golf #5: The golf bug

John Hobbins and Paige Sellers during a golf lesson 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.

T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land said that April is the cruelest month, and I'll just add "for golf" to the end of that because we're anxious for the weather to warm up so we can get out to a course. We've got the golf bug. The Georgia weather for the Masters was sunny and breezy, and bright and colorful. At least it looked that way on TV in our cramped apartment in New York City. Here the weather's been pretty darn dismal. There have been spells of warmer days here and there to momentarily dispel the gray chill, but those warmer days never seem to be the ones that we have on our calendar to walk over to the Chelsea Piers driving range to hit some balls.

Paige and I have had five lessons from the teaching pro John Hobbins at Chelsea Piers Golf Academy. We're getting a whole lot better. Making contact with the ball. Turning our attention to the nuances in our swing motion, good and bad. And I'm anxious for my swing to be everything I want it to be for this, my first season playing the game.

There are other signs of April — we saw a club out on the Astroturf fairway. Thrown in frustration? Someone upset that there was no Tiger-Phil finish in Augusta? Reminds me of the video where Top 100 Teacher Charlie King shows us how to throw a club. Paige was the one to spot it: "Hey, look at that club out on the fairway. Somebody threw it out there."

John said, "Yeah, that happens frequently."

"That's exactly what I feel like is going to happen if I loosen my grip."

"With your death-grip? Not a chance!"

Though she has a death-grip, Paige's swing is getting better. It's less exaggerated. She says she's doing better on a 9 iron than a seven. For the large part of a lesson, John had her swing on probation: only waist-high swings. This was to help her change the somewhat horizontal turn of her shoulders (like a carousel) into a tilted plane (like a Ferris wheel). This is a refrain we've often heard. Paige and I both have this issue, and it seems to be common for new golfers. John held up two quarters, holding one flat and the other upright on top of it. The top quarter, he said, is the rotation of your shoulders. The bottom one is the rotation of your hips.

John put my swing on camera, and, it being the cruel month of April for me, I was clearly doing a bad job of it. John highlighted with lines and circles a number of problems. On my backswing I've been shifting my hips to the right. I wonder if this is the butterfly's flapping wings that have caused my sprained thumb (read about my sprained thumb in Learning to Play #3). This makes me turn my shoulders more horizontally and use my arms too much in the downswing. When I backswing without shifting my hips, I'm more tightly wound. The swing is less effort. I can feel that it's my core strength pulling down the club. In the Masters last week, I was closely watching the unique swings of Angel Cabrera and Kenny Perry, and watching Tiger's swing closely since I read about the evolution of Tiger's swing.

After our morning lesson on a gray Saturday we walked over to the West Village and had a lovely brunch at the exquisite and intimate Cafe Cluny. They have a Tiger Woods cocktail: an Arnold Palmer spiked with Stoli citros vodka. An enormous driftwood roach, about as big as me, was stopped in time on its way across the ceiling — really, it's a big bug carved out of pieces of driftwood. An odd but awesome piece of art. Symbolic of the golf bug? Over coffee, Paige and I were reviewing our progress learning golf, poring over all the great stuff John has taught us. And making plans for our next visit to the driving range. I had the brioche French toast with fresh berries — remarkably fresh-tasting blackberries as big as my thumb — and thick, tasty maple syrup. Lifting my cup of black coffee for another gulp, it occurred to me that maybe April wasn't so cruel after all.

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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