Following A Dream: A Mid-Amateur's Diary (Part III)

By Robert Williams

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of first-person articles about one man’s quest to compete in a USGA national championship — the U.S. Mid-Amateur

Chapter 3 – Homecoming

It is a beautiful May day at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J., and my golf journey that began in 1985 has come full circle.

If it weren’t for the two men standing in the newly restored museum and Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History that I helped to build, I would never have played golf. It was through my friendship with Ashley Brasfield that led his father, Ken, to introduce me to Jim Bender, the head professional at Ardsley Country Club, which led to my employment in the bag room, caddying and access to golf. Over the course of many summer evenings, Ashley and Jim taught me how to play the game. My sunset matches with Ashley gave rise to the on-course rivalry and camaraderie that we enjoy to this day.

Following a tour of the magnificently renovated museum, a nine-hole match on the new Pynes Putting Course just outside the museum’s back door put Ashley and Ken to the test. It was a warm-up for our afternoon game at The Architects Golf Club, down the road a bit in Lopatcong, N.J. My partner for our afternoon match was David Normoyle, the assistant director of the USGA’s Museum.

The reason for our afternoon match was twofold: to help prepare me for my upcoming Mid-Amateur qualifier and to vanquish Ashley. While our rivalry is no Palmer vs. Nicklaus, there is no person I enjoy beating more than Ashley, and I think he would say the same of me. Hitting balls and playing by yourself is not going to prepare me to make putts under pressure, but making 5-foot putts to beat my archrival will.

Our team match stayed close through the middle of the back nine, where Ken made clutch pars on each of three very tough par 4s to close David and me out. I also lost my individual match with Ashley. Just competing when it counts focused and sharpened my game. The loss inspired me to play well at two one-day member-guests over the past two weeks, where I had the low individual score at each event, with rounds of 74 and 71.

To give credit where credit where is due, the improved play resulted from a video lesson with Jim Bender. My rounds are generally made or broken based on my play from the tee. I went to Jim to develop a more controlled ball flight to ensure I keep the ball in play. This will cost me a few yards, but with par being the goal for qualifying, I am looking to eliminate the big miss that leads to a big number.

So, I returned to my home course of Ardsley Country Club in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., for an early season tune-up with Jim. His game and teaching style is much more “shotmaker” than “bomb and gouge,” which is very sympathetic to USGA’s course set-up philosophy. We went to work with video rolling, and quickly Jim was able to show me that while my fundamentals were sound, swinging the club back above my shoulder plane was creating a very steep angle of attack coming down, producing a high ball flight. A high, ballooning trajectory normally is not a problem in calm weather conditions, but add some tournament pressure and/or wind, and a too-steep swing with the driver makes it very easy to miss both ways.

With what felt like a significant change in position at the top, but in reality was only a minor adjustment, my ball flight changed dramatically, starting lower and climbing late. It was a trajectory that I could instantly see provided much more control and a swing whose misses were less severe.

We worked for about an hour grooving backswing and impact positions, which gave me some very solid thoughts and feel on swing-plane positions. The video will also be critical in being able to view the “right” positions, as I continue to practice. As the summer progresses, I hope to visit Jim a few more times to make sure I am on track. Video is great, but it is the human element of the PGA pro that builds confidence.

It will take some concerted effort in the living room grooving this flatter plane swing, not to mention trusting it on the course, but will be critical to keeping the ball in play and keep the “big miss” at bay. For the qualifier, I want to be focused on both managing the golf course and hitting shots. The last thing I want to do is be preoccupied with swing thoughts. My next step is to go up to Hartford, play Gillette Ridge and develop a strategy. This I will fit in when I’m not working, or changing diapers, or reading to my 2-year-old, or catching up with my wife, or sleeping. But really, who needs sleep when golf is an option? Maybe they have midnight tee times -- I could play between feedings.

To read Robert Williams’ previous Mid-Am diary entry,click here.

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