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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Jul. 1, 2020 3 months ago

COLUMN: A layman learns golf | Part Two — Keep your head down!

An ongoing column where this oft-described “redneck” learns to play the gentleman’s game.
by: Troy Herring Sports Editor

The alarm on my phone goes off, but I’m already wide awake.

It’s 7:35 a.m. Friday morning, and by some act of Cthulhu, I am actually alive and not comatose like I usually would be. I guess my level of excitement is high, given the thought of waking up before 9:30 a.m. normally gives me hives.

Fast-forward an hour, and I’m meeting my friend-slash-impromptu teacher Thomas Lightbody at the driving range at Orange County National Golf Center & Lodge. It’s 8:30 a.m., and somehow it’s already hotter than the lowest level of hell — which, I assume, is where people who put pineapple on pizza go.

But here I am, stepping into a golf facility for the first time with a set of clubs that I’ve only picked up in my backyard. We walk over to the office to get a couple of buckets of balls, before trekking what felt like a marathon to get to the range.

Lightbody tells me to grab my pitching wedge to start with some chipping, telling me where I need to place the ball in front of me.

“If you have a driver, it’s going to be off your heel, and as your clubs get bigger — 3-wood and into your irons — it comes back,” Lightbody said. “For your pitching wedge, it hardly ever goes past center. The only time that it would go past center is when I’m using my pitching wedge and I’m not in a full swing — I kind of have an open stance.”

After going over a few other things — grip, position and all that good stuff — I walk up to the tiny white ball in front of me.

Everything for which I had been “preparing” these past few weeks comes down to this first swing. I rear back and drive the club down toward the ball. I make contact! And when I say contact, I mean the ball dribbles a few feet in front of me as I let out an audible  “ugh.”

It’s at this point where I learn something that I would hear at least 100 more times during the day: “Keep your head down!”

“One of the fundamentals of all golf swings is to keep your head down,” Lightbody said. “You can feel where you hit the golf ball. … You’ll be able to go like this and know, ‘OK, I pulled this to the right,’ without ever taking your head off the spot. I would say it is probably the No. 1 thing that new golfers do.”

Sure enough, on the very next swing, I lobbed a ball out into the sea of green grass in front of me. Several horrendously inconsistent shots later, I switch to a 7-iron and I still have similar issues — my head wants to stay up, and I lack body rhythm to a point where I’m surprised I can functionally walk.

“One of the fundamentals of all golf swings is to keep your head down. ... I would say it is probably the No. 1 thing that new golfers do.”

— Thomas Lightbody, friend-slash-impromptu golf teacher

By now, we are a solid 20 to 30 minutes in, and not only am I digging a few craters into dear Mother Earth, but also it’s 150 degrees and there’s no shade to be had. I realize I’m horrifically out of shape and have the endurance of an obese geriatric whose favorite fruit is deep-fried ice cream.

I continue on with my 7-iron, before I finally decide to pull out my driver. This is the moment I’ve really been looking forward to, because I’m hoping to blast some golf balls into orbit. As I learned, hope and reality are often two different things. 

“I’m going to miss this one, I can feel it,” I said as I step to the ball. I didn’t miss the ball, but watching it struggle-roll a few feet in front of me was highly agonizing and incredibly funny. Also — once again — my head was up.

But then, something truly magical happens. Several attempts in, I connect on a drive, sending the ball hurdling through the air. I slice the hell out of it, but hey, it’s better than throwing out my back by totally missing the ball — which I’ve done multiple times already.

All of a sudden, I feel like a golf god — shoot, put me in the PGA right now. But as soon as that high hit, the next attempt brought me back to level as I almost start a brush fire with the friction created between by club and the Earth. It’s that up-down nature that makes it both the best and worst thing ever, Lightbody said.

“Golf is like a drug,” Lightbody said. “You’ll be like, ‘I don’t like this,’ and then you get one good hit and you’re like, ‘I like this sport — this sport is great.’ Then it sucks you back in.” 

After another 30 minutes of knocking around golf balls, shooting the breeze and pouring cold water onto newly formed calluses on my left hand, we decide to pack up and head home. 

I’ll keep working on my long game, but next week’s lesson will be a foray into putting, which I’m sure will be super easy and won’t lead to me breaking a club …

Troy Herring is the sports editor at the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Mount Olive (BS '12) and the University of Alabama (MA '16)....

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