Every December, my wife and daughters ask the inevitable question, "What do you want for Christmas?"
I always reply, "world peace." Otherwise, I've been blessed with an abundance of stuff. No sense adding to the pile.
But this past December, I actually got something that transcended a want.
It was a need.
Golf lessons. Like, from a pro.
I've been chasing the little white pill around the pasture for 40 years. I'm selftaught and it shows. I picked up a club and started swinging it and pretty much took it from there. Along the way, I resisted technology upgrades. I played with the same irons (Haig Ultras), woods (Powerbilt) and putter (Ping Anser) for at least 30 of those years. I would show up for outings where guys would look into my bag and shudder.
I finally began the switchover to the modern stuff about five years ago. Now, I've got one of those high-tech, big-headed drivers, Hogan Apex irons and an Odyssey putter.
Yet, I'm still lousy. Well, most of the time. As with many hackers, I am consistently inconsistent. I'll lace a drive straight and 280 off the tee. The next drive will be a weak slice. And the next one after that a pull hook.
Iron play? It's the same. I'll hit one flush and my partners will go, "ooooh." Then I'll hit a flub and my partners will go, "arrrgh."
With the putter, the only tour I'll ever be on will be titled "Magical Mystery." One round I'll make almost everything I look at. The next, I can't find the hole within 3 feet and wouldn't even if it had a backstop.
Last October, when I put the clubs back in the garage, I was coming off one of the worst rounds I could remember. It was time for pause and reflection. I love golf, but I hated playing it-at least that way.
Now I should also note that, during those 40 years, while I resisted technological advances, I also refused to avail myself of knowledge and instruction, at least, any more than I could glean from the pages of Golf Digest. I had participated in one group lesson about 10 years ago, and that was it.
Anyway, right before the holidays, I received an e-mail from Sam Foley, the director of golf at Brickyard Crossing and also a teaching professional. No. 1, Sam's a great guy whom I have gotten to know. Easygoing and laid back and funny. He'd also given lessons to one of my co-workers whose game had really improved.
Sam was pitching lessons as a holiday present. Perfect timing. I'd finally come to grips with the fact that the issues with my game weren't the tools as much as the guy who was wielding them.
After 40 years of trial and error-mostly error-it was time to try to learn how to play the dadgum game. So there, under the tree last Dec. 25, was a gift certificate for lessons from Sam.
Fast forward to June. Because of the rain and my work schedule, my appointments with Sam have been sporadic at best. To his credit, he's been patient as we try to, as he said, "get rid of 40 years of muscle memory."
The worst of my habits is that I swing too hard. Grip it and rip it. Those one in three times when I catch it, I really catch it. But the other two times, something bad usually happens.
So tempo has been a key in my instruction. Sam can demonstrate that the more you take a nice, smooth, controlled swipe at the ball, the farther it will go. It doesn't make sense at all, but it works.
He's also worked to change my swing plane, my posture, my grip and my turn. Again, like most hackers, I hit a fade or a slice (left-to-right flight pattern) most of the time. Sam wants me to hit a gentle draw or a hook, even though I'm reminded of the phrase, "You can talk to a fade but a hook won't listen."
For sure, I'm a work in progress and, again because of the rain, work schedule and home projects, I've had little opportunity to "road test" my swing changes on the golf course.
But I know I'm on the verge of a breakthrough. All I have to remember is: knees flexed, chin up, left shoulder rotating under the chin, full turn, reach back, thumb flat at the top, release and roll my wrists on the downswing and slooooowwwwww throughout.
Simple %$#@ game.
Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.