Gimme Three Strokes:~Let the Games Begin

For the last few months this column has been reserved for finding ways to keep your game sharp and your game improvement plan organized during the winter. While temperatures are still frigid in my hometown, I’ve started my golf lesson program and have taken my first step toward a single-digit handicap.

Stuff’s about to get real, yo.

In choosing my instructor for what is sure to be a study in golf sadism, I turned to the exceptionally talented teaching pro Greg Baresel near my hometown. Now out of Cantigny Golf and Country Club, Greg is a young pro focused on analytic results and less on forcing a player to fit a specific swing mold. He and I have worked together in the past, and I immediately connected with his teaching mentality and overall personality – two very important factors when choosing a golf instructor.

On a blustery 22-degree day in Chicago – ideal golfing weather, mind you – Greg and I met at his studio to undergo my initial swing screening. After discussing my goals and aspirations of achieving golf Valhalla, Greg introduced me to what will undoubtedly be my nemesis for the next few months: the Trackman.

For those unfamiliar, the Trackman golf radar is a handy little system used by amateur and professional players across the globe. The system “tracks” each shot you hit during a session, providing incredible data and analysis of your ball flight, spin rate, shot dispersion and a litany of other stats I’ll probably never need to know. If you’ve ever attended a professional golf event and noticed a small orange square near the teebox, then you’ve seen Trackman radar.

The Trackman Combine process is both unique and incredibly humbling. Greg had me hit golf shots from varying distances from the warm garage-like enclosure out onto Cantigny’s frozen tundra. Starting with a 60-yard shot and building up to my driver, each shot was executed by feel as opposed to aiming for a specific flagstick on the range. My task was to dial-in each distance as accurately as possible without straying too far right or left from a pair of orange stakes out in the distance. Each shot would then be assigned a point value based on proximity to the midline and overall distance.

The combine takes roughly 45 minutes to complete – three shots per distance increment – while Greg offered consistent shot feedback he recorded via the Trackman radar. After accounting for distance loss due to the cold weather (and not at all due to my girly-man weakness) I was able to hit each distance consistently over time. I received a final score of 56 for my efforts, which was slightly higher than the average amateur score of 50. And the people rejoiced!

What I liked most about the Trackman was the My Trackman profile. My combine results were uploaded to the radar’s website, which collaborates and stores data from any player who completes a session each month. That includes touring professionals.

Greg explained that Tour pros usually score closer to 90 points for a combine session, which absolutely blew me away. It’s one thing to watch players hit shots on television that you could only dream of; it’s an entirely different animal when you see how these same players perform compared to your work.

After reviewing my combine results and discussing potential areas of improvement (I performed the best from 80-90 yards and the worst with my long irons and driver), Greg and I agreed to meet weekly in order to achieve my single-digit handicap goal. Like any good teacher, Greg also promised a great deal of homework each week that I could complete during practice sessions. Oh darn, another reason to go to the golf course.

While my first session was completely improvement-free, the information learned from my current swing patterns and tendencies will prove to be vitally important to gauging my improvement over time. This is important to understand for those of you who are thinking of golf lessons and expecting immediate results. In order to improve your game, you have to understand the current state of your game as detailed as possible.

Over the next few weeks I will do my best to chronicle my journey to a single-digit handicap while working with a certified PGA Teaching Professional. With any luck, you will pick up on a few areas or techniques that can help your game by reading the torture I am about to subject myself to for the foreseeable future.

Besides, even if you don’t learn a damn thing from my experiences, you can at least have a good laugh at my expense.