Lessons Learned

By Michael FechterMay 2, 2008, 4:00 pm
Editor's note: Michael Fechter, orphan worker and humorist, has the best job in golf: he's paid to be the Ambassador of Fun for golf courses across America. His 'job' is to make the courses he represents across America more interesting, unique and fun. Enjoy his humorous series on getting back into the game as he struggles to get his game into the shape it was nearly 30 years ago when he won his only personal junior 'major,' the Al Esposito, on America's easiest muni with rounds of 71-71-75.
 
I cant truly claim to be a self-taught golfer, but not counting tips during countless rounds with my father, Ive had three professional golf lessons.
 
When I was 16, and trying to be a Junior champion, Ronnie Smoak at Sedgewood Country Club told me that I would never be a 'quality' player with my very strong grip.
 
I worked to change that grip. Within a year I was regularly contending at Junior tournaments, culminating with my stunning (to those whove ever seen me hit off a tee) win in which I shot 71-71-75 at the 1980 Al Esposito Junior Invitational held at the Municipal Golf Course in Charleston, S.C. By heeding Ronnies words, I have hardly ever hit a hook since 1979. I can also barely hit a driver over 215.
 
My college golf career was, at best, inconsistent. In an attempt to stretch that 215 to, say, 270 (the average drive of my teammates) I went to see renowned teacher, Terry Florence, the pro at Wild Dunes, the first world-class golf course in Charleston.
 
Terry had me warm up on the range, came out 20 minutes later and watched me hit three nearly perfect 5-irons, each about 169 yards with a slight fade. I was giving this man a strong foundation with which to build Supergolfer.
 
Between drags on his cigarette, Terry said 'I hear they are paying you to tell jokes. Keep doing that. Because nobody's ever gonna pay you to hit a golf ball.' That was it. Lesson over. World-class advice.
 
I suppose Terry had something more important to do, like check the water levels in golf cart batteries or tell weekend hacks to keep their heads down when hitting the ball.
 
I cant blame Terry for my losing interest in the game. But, within a year of receiving his sage advice, my focus switched from the course to the nightclub stage, a move that would soon have me performing with Jay Leno, Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Maher and many more of the countrys top touring comedians.
 
Then, last year, I decided to get back in the game to recapture my youth to become a golfer again.
 
I figured that I should get a coach to speed along my golf retransformation. This was a big step. Not only was I admitting to myself that, perhaps my game had slipped from my days of winning the Al, but other than Dad, I'd never had a teacher who stuck with me for more than 10 minutes.
 
I have read that you should always pick a teacher whose golfing philosophy has meaning for you. You should, at least, shop for a coach the way you do a home, car or stereo. You should take your time and really see what is out there so that you don't make a mistake.
 
I did none of that. I went to the muni and had some guy who worked there watch me hit a bucket of balls.
 
OK, 'PGA Teaching Professional', Brian Ferguson is more than some guy. We have a long history going back to when we played in the same Junior golf tournaments. Although, in the days when I shot 71-71-75 to win the Al, Brian was shooting in the high 70s and low 80s.
 
However, in the interceding 28 years, Brian has spent nearly every day of his life teaching and studying the game.
 
Brian understands the golf swing the way I understand rejection from women. As Ben Hogan once said 'The answers are in the dirt.' And Brian had spent more time in the dirt than any friend I know, so I naturally went to him last year looking for swing theory and tips. That, and he promised to give me free advice between paying customers.
 
Brian loves what he calls my 'false finish,' continually derides my astonishing lack of strength, scoffs at my posture at address, but, at the same time, he really does TRY to be helpful.
 
Brian told me that if I was ever to hit the ball, truly smack it down the fairway, I 'have to widen my stance.' As Brian said, 'That narrow stance may be OK for shooting free throws or putting. But it doesn't give you a powerful enough base to pound a golf ball.'
 
So, for a week I worked on that ONE thought. I ingrained it for the longer clubs, lost 15 yards off the tee and promptly quit playing. I couldnt grasp that in order for my game to improve, it might temporarily suffer. Besides, to me, Brians words were those of a friend, and of a kid I used to beat by a dozen strokes. They werent the words of a teacher.
 
Rather than golf, I decided to concentrate on my struggling Orphan work, struggling bank account and struggling divorce. You may wonder how one can struggle with a 'divorce.' Trust me: divorces come in two varieties 'good' and bad.' Mine was going from good to 'horrific' and it has pretty much stayed there.
 
But, this is a new year and I again arranged for range time with Brian. I got to the course about an hour early to hit chips and putt. I went through my bag hitting two or three shots with every club -- hitting the ball pure dead into a stiff chilly breeze. I could not have been more proud of myself.
 
I fanned the club open, just as the ghost of Ben Hogan told me to do and smacked it pure. I wasnt even sure I needed a lesson at this point; obviously the power of my thoughts had transformed me into a skilled golfer...without hardly any practice.
 
I could not wait to impress Brian with my wider stance and solid striking. I hit half a dozen balls for him (and me) to admire. I beamed with self-confidence, positive that Brian would see all the improvements since my brief lesson a year earlier.
 
Without even so much as a hello, Brian said, 'You're reaching way too far out for the ball.' Seriously, was he even watching me hit? I have been working at night, at home, in my living room, on bringing the ball closer to me at address.
 
Brian went on, 'Your posture at address isn't good. Your knees are too bent and it shortens the arch of your swing. Stand up straighter to the ball. You're taking the club way too inside. It really shortens the arc of your swing.'
 
I was, in a word, devastated.
 
Then Brian added the final burning arrow 'And that false finish won't go away.'
 
Damn, I thought I was really accelerating through the ball.
 
We spent much of the next hour, working on my posture, which only got worse and worse. We worked on taking the club more 'outside.' This did not go well, either, as I hit weak cut after cut, often almost shanking the ball.
 
I felt stiff and miserable over the ball.
 
I wasn't learning a thing except that I hate golf, and I wasnt too fond of my teacher, either. I went from feeling great and enjoying golf to being miserable, all in the space of 30 minutes.
 
Brian had me hit half sand wedges with a 6-foot long stick under my grip in an attempt to teach me to rotate my core. It made no sense to me and my swing of nearly 40 years. It did, however, make me look like a fool to others on the course.
 
I am a man that needs VERY simple tips and thoughts. So, I was trying to simplify as Brian talked about 'core rotation' and unwinding of the hips' and a dozen other golf theory terms my father never spoke when teaching me the game. Dear Lord, if I really went to a course with my head full of those thoughts, I would never get a ball airborne.
 
Honestly, after about 15 minutes, I gave up on the lesson and just watched Brian hit my 7-degree Taylor Made Bubble driver with an X-stiff shaft. It is so completely the wrong club for me that I gave it to Brian as partial payment for a lesson that had depressed me like watching 'Saving Private Ryan.'
 
I told Brian 'I can't hit another ball. I just need to go home and think.'
 
After a few hours, I went back to the muni and played three holes on the course, hitting a dozen balls on each hole. It was simply awful.
 
At the end, I just worked on hitting 100-yard wedges to a green so that I could get some confidence back. I hit half a dozen properly and walked into the dark, dark night.
 
I know that even Tigers swing gets worse when hes first working with a new coach, and Ive seen Brian work wonders with some of the other golfers at the club, so I am clearly the problem, not him. But, 71-71-75 feels like an impossibility at the moment. Besides, I just want to get back to being happy on the course like I did before my lesson.
 
Tom Werner contributed to this column.
 
Email your thoughts to Michael Fecheter
 
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  • Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

    The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

    The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

    In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

    Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

    Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

    Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

    By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

    Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

    RISING

    Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

    Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

    Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

    Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

    Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


    FALLING

    J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

    Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

    Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

    DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

    LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

    Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

    Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

    In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

    "Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

    Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

    "The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

    The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

    "Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

    Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

    Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

    By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

    We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

    God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

    We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

    Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

    There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

    It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

    Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

    Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

    BORN IN 1912

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
    May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
    Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

    Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


    BORN IN 1949

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
    Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
    Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

    Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


    BORN IN 1955

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
    Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
    Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

    Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


    WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

    Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
    Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
    Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
    Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
    Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

    A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


    EUROPE'S BIG 5

    Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
    April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
    July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
    Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
    Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
    March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

    The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


    WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
    Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
    May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
    May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
    June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

    Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


    BORN IN 1980

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
    July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
    July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

    Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

    Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.