Learning to Play Golf #4: A falling leaf swing

Learning to Play Golf #4: A falling leaf swing

John Hobbins describing a swing's shoulder rotation to Paige Sellers 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.

My wife Paige and I were in Colorado for ten years, and we tried out all the winter sports. We love powder. We couldn’t get enough of it. For me, one of the more difficult sports was snowboarding. I expected it to be the easiest thing in the world — how hard could it be to stand up on a board? — but after a lot of expensive lessons I still couldn’t carve gracefully down a slope. Paige was a quick learner. When she was roaring back and forth down her first run, I was still tumbling down the bunny slope. She’d picked up the s-turn.

In learning to play golf, it’s been the other way around — I’ve been the one to pick it up more quickly. Our teaching pro John Hobbins at Chelsea Piers Golf Academy says I’m doing just fantastic (okay, those weren’t his exact words…). My swing is really coming into form. My shoulders are turning on a more vertical than horizontal plane. The bottom half of me is cooperating. Though I do continue to re-injure my thumb at least once per practice session, which everyone agrees is a goofy injury.

In snowboarding, I stood “goofy” on the board, which means that my right foot was forward, and all I could do was “falling leaf”: slowly gliding back and forth downhill. It took me forever to get down. But the moment I’d try an s-turn, pushing one end of the board too far downhill, gravity would take control. I’d start zooming down at an alarming speed, waving my arms in full panic. I’d crash, snow spraying, and come to rest with the board pointing up in the air. Long-haired boarders would glide over — they seemed to float on their boards across the snow — and they’d say, “Dude, are you, like, all right? Man, heavy.” And they’d ask, “Are you sure you should be goofy?” Well, looking back, something was definitely goofy about the way I was learning to snowboard.

In golf, it seems that I’ve started out a little bit goofy, too. I’ve had four lessons with John and the longest club I’ve swung is a 6. And what do I get for being so cautious? A silly sprained thumb. But I do feel like I’m doing the equivalent of the s-turn in golf: I can swing a wedge and hit the ball out over a hundred yards to that center green on the Chelsea Piers Astroturf fairway.

For me, learning a new sport has always been fraught with injury. My first time snowboarding on a green run, the easiest slope, started out bad. I was getting off the lift with one foot fastened on the board, as boarders do. In the moment I touched down, I was supposed to stand on the board and glide away from the chair. But when I put my other foot on the board and stood up, I guess I glided forward about twelve inches before I fell backward, and I hit my head hard on the unforgiving ice. And then I, lying there in pain, was in the way of other skiers coming off the next chair — and they were unforgiving, too. I can only hope my first experience on a golf course green will be nothing like my first green on a snowboard. I’ll probably still be guy who’s in the way, but I’m not expecting any head injuries.

In my mind the biggest goof I made with snowboarding was not investing enough time and money in learning it. We’d go out for a daytrip or a weekend getaway. We’d take yet another intro lesson, and hit the slopes. It was like learning it again from scratch, every time. If I’d invested a week or maybe even just four straight days of focused learning and practice, I’m convinced I’d be able to do the s-turn today.

One of the really appealing things for us about golf is its convenience — it’s an easy twenty-minute walk to Chelsea Piers Golf Academy. So it’s easier for us to invest time in learning. And there are lots of courses within easy driving distance of New York City, and lots of folks who are dying to get out and play a round.

In snowboarding, the slopes were just so far away. All the winter sports were a two-hour drive from downtown Denver (ah, memories of I-70 weekend traffic). There’s not much you can do when you’re stuck at home — though I do remember once I tried out my snowboard techniques on the ironing board. Of course I tried this when Paige wasn’t home. I jumped on the ironing board and pretended I was executing perfect s-turns. Admittedly it required some imagination.

Now that I’m learning to play golf, I find myself practicing my swing without a club. The air guitar version of golf. I’ve seen guys air golf my whole life, at the oddest times. Really, what possesses us? Well, I guess I’m one of those guys now. You’ll see me practicing around the office, in line at the grocery store — at the oddest times. And last week at home, I found our broom in the closet and tried some swings with it. Thank goodness Paige wasn’t home — by accident I knocked a few things over in the living room. When we have our next lesson with John, I’ll have to tell him I’ve been swinging too much on the inside.

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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