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
 
Related Links:
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  • Greenway Golf
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    Snedeker still in front on Day 3 of suspended Wyndham

    By Associated PressAugust 18, 2018, 11:21 pm

    GREENSBORO, N.C. - Brandt Snedeker held a three-stroke lead Saturday in the Wyndham Championship when the third round was suspended because of severe weather.

    Snedeker was 16 under for the tournament with 11 holes left in the round at the final event of the PGA Tour's regular season.

    Brian Gay was 13 under through 12 holes, and Trey Mullinax, Keith Mitchell, C.T. Pan and D.A. Points were another stroke back at varying stages of their rounds.

    Thirty players were still on the course when play was halted during the mid-afternoon with thunder booming and a threat of lightning. After a 3-hour, 23-minute delay, organizers chose to hold things up overnight and resume the round at 8 a.m. Sunday.

    When things resume, Snedeker - who opened with a 59 to become the first Tour player this year and just the 10th ever to break 60 - will look to keep himself in position to contend for his ninth victory on Tour and his first since the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open.


    Wyndham Championship: Full-field scores | Full coverage

    Current FedExCup points list


    The 2012 FedEx Cup champion won the tournament in 2007, the year before it moved across town to par-70 Sedgefield Country Club.

    Snedeker's final 11 holes of the round could wind up being telling: In seven of the 10 previous years since the tournament's move to this course, the third-round leader or co-leader has gone on to win.

    And every leader who finished the third round here at 16 under or better has wound up winning, including Henrik Stenson (16 under) last year and Si Woo Kim (18 under) in 2016.

    Snedeker started the day off strong, rolling in a 60-foot chip for birdie on the par-4 second hole, then pushed his lead to three strokes with a birdie on No. 5 that moved him to 16 under. But after he sank a short par putt on the seventh, thunder boomed and the horn sounded to stop play.

    Gay was 12 holes into a second consecutive strong round when the delay struck. After shooting a 63 in the second round, he had four birdies and an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole. He placed his 200-yard second shot 10 feet from the flagstick and sank the putt.

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    Lexi charges with 64 despite another penalty

    By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

    Lexi Thompson ran into another awkward rules issue while making a bold charge at the leaders Saturday at the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

    She hit a speed bump at Brickyard Crossing Golf Course when she was assessed a penalty for violating a preferred-lies local rule.

    Five shots off the lead at day’s start, Thompson birdied six of the first nine holes, making the turn in 30 to move two off the lead, but that’s where she got her second education this season on the implementation of local rules.

    At the 10th tee, Thompson blew her tee shot right, into the sixth fairway. With preferred lies in effect, Thompson picked up her ball, cleaned it and replaced it within a club length before preparing to hit her second shot at the par 5.

    According to Kay Cockerill, reporting for Golf Channel’s early live streaming coverage, LPGA rules official Marty Robinson saw Thompson pick up her ball and intervened. He informed her she was in violation of the preferred lies rule, that she was allowed to lift, clean and place only when in the fairway of the hole she was currently playing. She was assessed a one-shot penalty and returned her ball to its original spot, with Robinson’s help. The local rule was distributed to players earlier in the week.

    Cockerill said Thompson handled the penalty well, shaking her head when realizing her mistake, and chuckling at her gaffe. She then crushed a fairway wood, from 215 yards, up onto the green. She two-putted from 50 feet and walked away with a par.


    Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship


    “Thankfully, Marty intervened before she hit her next shot,” Cockerill reported. “Otherwise, she would have been hitting from the wrong spot, and it would have been a two-shot penalty. So, in a sense, it saved her a shot.”

    Thompson is making a return to golf this week after taking a month-long “mental break.” A year ago, she endured heartache on and off the golf course, with her competitive frustration having much to do with being hit with a controversial four-shot penalty in the final round of the ANA Inspiration. She appeared to be running away with a victory there but ended up losing in a playoff.

    Earlier this year, Thompson got another education in local rules. She was penalized in the second round at the Honda Thailand after hitting her ball next to an advertising sign. She moved the sign, believing it was a moveable object, but the local rules sheet that week identified signs on the course as temporary immovable obstructions. She was penalized two shots.

    In her pretournament news conference this week, Thompson shared how difficult the ANA controversy, her mother’s fight with cancer and the death of a grandmother was on her emotionally. She also was candid about the challenge of growing up as a prodigy and feeling the need to build a life about more than golf.

    Saturday’s penalty didn’t slow Thompson for long.

    She made back-to-back birdies at the 13th and 14th holes to post a 64, giving her a Sunday chance to win in her return.

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    U.S. Amateur final comes down to Devon vs. Goliath

    By Ryan LavnerAugust 18, 2018, 9:45 pm

    PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – On his family’s happiest day in years, Nick Bling stood off to the side of the 18th green, trying to collect himself.

    His oldest son, Devon, had just advanced to the U.S. Amateur final, and he surely knew that, at some point, the question was coming. Of the many members in the family’s boisterous cheering section that came here to Pebble Beach – a clan that includes Nick’s brothers and sisters, his in-laws and the teaching professionals of his hometown club – one person was conspicuously absent.

    So for 22 seconds, Nick couldn’t utter a word.

    “She’s watching,” he said, finally, wiping under his sunglasses.

    His wife, Sara, died in February 2013 after suffering a sudden blood clot that went to her brain. She was only 45, the mother of two young boys.

    The news took everyone by surprise – that day Nick and Devon were together at a junior tournament in southwest California, while Sara was at home with her youngest son, Dillon.

    “That was bad. Unexpected,” said Dillon, now 16. “I don’t even want to think about that. That was a rough year.”

    Sara was a fixture at all of the boys’ junior tournaments. She organized their schedules, packed their lunches and frequently shuttled them to and from China Lake, the only course in their small hometown of Ridgecrest, about two hours north of Los Angeles, where they’ve lived since 1990.

    An engineer at the Naval Air Weapons Station, Nick picked up the game at age 27, and though he had no formal training (at his best he was a high-80s shooter), he was the boys’ primary swing coach until high school, when Devon was passed off to PGA instructor Chris Mason.

    “Devon has world-class raw talent, and there’s a lot of things you can’t teach, and he’s got a lot of that,” said UCLA assistant coach Andrew Larkin. “But his dad looked at the game very analytically. He was able to break down the golf swing from a technical standpoint, and I think that has helped him. His dad is a brilliant man.”

    Devon watched his dad hit balls in the garage and, at 18 months, began taking full swings with a plastic club, whacking shots against the back of the couch. Once his son was bigger, Nick put down a mat and built a hole in the dirt on the family’s property.


    U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos


    Once it was time for the next step, there was only one option in town. China Lake is more than 300 miles from Pebble Beach, but in many ways they’re worlds apart. The course is dead in the winter, picked over by the birds in the spring and baked out in the summer, with 110-degree temperatures and winds that occasionally gust to 60 mph. Devon still blossomed into a well-known prospect.

    “Growing up in Ridgecrest,” Devon said, “some could say that it’s a disadvantage. But I could use the course and take a shag bag and go out and practice. So I used it to my advantage, and if it weren’t for that golf course, I wouldn’t be here today.” 

    Nor would he be here without the support of his family.

    Asked how they survived the tragedy of losing Sara so suddenly, Nick Bling said: “Brothers. Kids. Friends. Half of Ridgecrest. The town. They all came together. What do they say, that it takes a village to raise a boy? It did. Two boys.”

    Devon carried a 4.2 GPA in high school and played well enough to draw interest from UCLA. He played on the team last season as a freshman, winning a tournament and posting three other top-10s. The consistency in his game has been lacking, but the time spent around the Bruins’ coaches is starting to pay off, as he’s developed into more than just a swashbuckling power hitter. He has refined his aggression, though he’s offered more than a few reminders of his firepower. Last fall, the team held a Red Tee Challenge at TPC Valencia, where they all teed off from the red markers. Bling shot 28 on the back nine.

    In addition to his awesome game, Larkin said that Bling was one of the team’s most mature players – even after arriving on campus as a 17-year-old freshman.

    “I think his mannerisms and his charisma really come from his mom,” Larkin said. “It was a super hard time in his life, but I think it helped him grow and mature at an early age. He’s such a good big brother, and he took a lot of that responsibility.

    “There’s a blessing in everything that happens, and I think it made him grow a little young. I think he’s the man he is today because of her.”

    In his player profile, Bling wrote that his mom always wanted him to play in USGA championships, because of their prestige, and she would have loved to watch him maneuver his way through his first U.S. Amateur appearance.

    After earning the No. 41 seed in stroke play, Bling knocked off two of the top amateurs in the country (Shintaro Ban and Noah Goodwin), edged one of the nation’s most sought-after prospects (Davis Riley) and on Saturday traded birdies with Pacific Coast Amateur champion Isaiah Salinda.

    In one of the most well-played matches of the week, Bling made six birdies in a seven-hole span around the turn and shot the stroke-play equivalent of a 65 to Salinda’s 66.

    The match came down to 18, where Bling bludgeoned a drive over the tree in the middle of the fairway, knocked it on the green in two shots and forced Salinda to make birdie from the greenside bunker, which he couldn’t.

    Bling was a 1-up winner, clinching his spot in the finals (and the 2019 Masters and U.S. Open), and setting off a raucous celebration behind the rope line.

    “He played as good as I’ve ever seen,” Larkin said. “The talent has always been there, and I’m glad it’s coming out this week.”

    Another difficult opponent awaits in the championship match. It’s a mismatch on paper, a 36-hole final between Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, ranked fifth in the world, and the No. 302-ranked Bling. Hovland had won each of his previous two matches by a 7-and-6 margin – the first time that’s happened since 1978 – and then dropped eight birdies on Cole Hammer on Saturday afternoon.

    But he’s likely never faced a player with Bling’s resolve – or a cheering section as supportive as his family’s.

    “This means a lot to us,” Dillon said. “It was finally Devon’s time, and I knew one day it’d come down to the finals. He’s been playing awesome. Mom is probably really happy right now.”

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    Report: Fan hit by broken club at Web.com event

    By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 18, 2018, 9:12 pm

    A fan was hit by a broken club and required stiches Friday at the Web.com Tour's WinCo Foods Portland Open.

    According to ESPN.com, Kevin Stadler slammed his club in frustration causing his clubhead to break and it struck a fan in the head.

    The fan required six stiches and was released from the hospital.

    Orlando Pope, a Web.com Tour rules official, spoke with ESPN.com:

    "It was a very freakish accident. Kevin is devastated. He had trouble trying to finish the round. He was quite worried and felt so bad.''

    Former PGA champion Shaun Micheel was in Stadler's group and posted this message on Facebook:

    "One of my playing partners played a poor shot with a 7 iron on the par 3 fifteenth hole this morning. In a fit of anger he slammed his club against the ground and the side of his foot which caused the club to break about 6” from the bottom. I had my head down but the clubhead flew behind me and hit a spectator to my right. It’s been a while since I’ve seen so much blood. We stayed with him for about 15 minutes before the EMT’s arrived. The last I heard was that he had a possible skull fracture but that he was doing ok otherwise. [Stadler] was absolutely shattered and we did our best to keep his spirits up. This was not done on purpose and we were astounded at the way the club was directed but it shows you just how dangerous it is to throw or break clubs. Each of us in the group learned something today!"