Is your knowledge of golf basically Tiger Woods’ love life? Do you like the look of the duds, but have no earthly idea what to do when you get on the course, other than to stand there?
Or maybe you tried miniature golf once and thought: Big Whoop. This is it?
I never understood what all the fuss was about, either, but thought millions of fans couldn’t be wrong. So I decided to take a crash course.
Went right for one of those chichi golf resorts that cater to the serious and those without a clue. If you’re really hopeless, there are a million other things to do. Like bellying up to the buffet, and then detoxing at the spa. Or hanging at the pool.
The advantage of a resort versus a standard golf course is, if you’re paying good money to be there, you’re generally entitled to be on the course. But — and this can’t be stressed enough — you owe it to yourself and everyone else to get at least one serious lesson under your belt.
This I did at the Turnberry Isle resort in Miami. What’s unique about its two famed courses is that they’re smack in the middle of a planned community, steps away from the beach and a gargantuan mall that’s an attraction in its own right.
I warned my instructor — Hiro Suzuki, the head golf pro — that all I knew about golf was that you somehow had to get the ball into a hole in the ground with as little effort as possible.
Poor guy, having to deal with the likes of moi.
But even this gentleman could relate, though he had to think way back in time. Hiro started learning his craft more than half a century ago, in Tokyo, when he was 10. From a Chinese teacher.
He patiently explained how the game worked and familiarized me with the course. I now knew what words like par and handicap, the rough, the green, the fairway, and bogey really meant.
He took great pains to explain the basics, down to which club to use. So that’s what a driver was. And how to hold them.
Much to my surprise, it wasn’t as simple as just giving the ball a good thwack. What Hiro told me had me so captivated, I momentarily forgot my chin was melting onto my knees in the searing summer sun of Miami.
I now had an inkling of what Tiger Woods knows: Like any other champion sport, golf isn’t just standing there, striking a pose. It’s a game of precision. Where things like grip and posture can make all the difference.
“The golf swing is using a lot of physics. The club has to move freely. Can’t grip the club too tense — you’ll decrease the speed,” Hiro explained. “The swing is coming from your center.”
And this memorable reminder to stay loose: “Arms can’t be like 2-by-4; they have to be like al dente pasta.”
More talk about working the upper and lower body, and I was maneuvered into a stance that reminded me of the emphasis on alignment in yoga.
And like yoga, the mind is also key to this championship sport.
It may look easy but golf is difficult, says Hiro. Even after all this time. For guys like him, like Tiger, like everybody. To play a good game time and again ain’t easy. Especially with such challenging courses.
That’s why golf is a game of persistence, and a big mental challenge: “Golf the game is 60 percent from between your ears,” he says. “You need confidence and self-esteem to be sure to hit the ball.”
And the more you can approach it with an uncluttered mind, the better: “No room for Type A [personalities] in golf. [Could he possibly mean me?] The more you think, the less you can swing the club.”
Something else that surprised me. For purists of the game, it’s really about overcoming obstacles. And not just challenging others, but challenging yourself.
And if you bomb? “Golf is like life. You cannot recover so quick. Live with it, be patient with it.”
As a yoga fan, I got it. Be in the moment. Get the grip and the stance as best you can, and then try not to obsess.
I was amazed I hit the ball almost on the first try since my depth perception ain’t great. No excuse, said Hiro, since the blind play. And do it well. This guy’s tough.
Besides being a klutz, I wasn’t totally on my game for many other reasons.
For one thing, the courses. Pure paradise.
With waterfalls …
… And lagoons with big-game fish that sometimes mosey in from the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s a sanctioned bird refuge — with flamingoes that showed up one day and never left.
Birds, birds everywhere.
I confess I was paying as much attention to the wildlife (at one point I was chasing an iguana that got away) as I was to the game.
No matter. I didn’t expect to be a pro on the first try. Hiro says if I practice a lot and get scads better, “golf is a game for your life.” As proof, he mentioned a 96-year-old member whose golf score is in the 80s — lower than his age. Even I now know that’s a good thing.
Here are some other top-notch golf resorts that don’t mind beginners. Double-check before you book. And make sure to grab some lessons first.
1. Make sure you’re properly dressed. That means a tucked-in collared shirt and no short shorts. Tuck your collared shirt in. Women get a pass on the collars.
2. Keep quiet while it’s somebody else’s turn.
3. Always stand to the right of a golfer. Don’t get in the way.
4. Watch where the ball’s going, especially if you don’t have a caddy.
5. Last but not least: If you’re holding things up, step aside and let the other guys through.
And this from the Planet Lippstone Rules of Order: When done, kick back at the pool cabana, with post-hat hair. Ahh…