April 16, 2009

Am I Coachable?

Diary: Approaching his U.S. Open local qualifier, Golf Digest's Max Adler has decided to bring in some outside help

Even a subtle change to Max Adler's grip has resulted in a markedly different ball flight.

Even a subtle change to Max Adler's grip has resulted in a markedly different ball flight.

*Editor's Note: Golf Digest's Max Adler, a former college golfer at Washington and Lee University, is among the thousands of dreamers who hope to qualify for this June's U.S Open at Bethpage Black. In his online diary, he'll take readers through the highs and lows as he gets ready. *

As you may have already read, I'm attempting to qualify for the U.S. Open. If you've seen these swing videos you might be saying, "Who does this guy think he's kidding?"

Or maybe you said about my action, "Ok, a little homemade but I see how he might knock it around alright." Either way, you're skeptical about my chances. But I will pose this: can any swing really look that good set against the browns and grays of this foul Northeast spring we're experiencing? Even the greens at the best local clubs aren't rolling any faster than 7 or 8 yet.

Anyways, about my chances…

I can hit it pretty decent. I never really had much instruction, but as a kid I figured out how to put the club in at least a couple of the right places. Like anyone, I can get self-conscious about my swing when I'm playing bad -- which, like anyone, I'm quite capable of.

In my first-ever college golf tournament I shot 89, making two gritty par putts on the last two holes to do it. But I can play pretty good sometimes, too. Talk's cheap, but I have confidence when people on the first tee ask and I answer that I'm a scratch. Last summer I nearly qualified for the U.S. Amateur, shooting 75-70, and also finished tied for sixth in the Connecticut Mid-Amateur, shooting 71-77-72. Our Editor-in-Chief and my boss, Jerry Tarde, and I won the member-guest at his club Ekwanok in VT (there are worse career moves). And I had one casual round of 66 on a very short golf course.

Not that I go around reciting my modest golf resume, but in this instance its necessary to prove to you that I'm at least capable of advancing past the Local Qualifier. Getting through Sectionals, and so on to the U.S. Open, is another story. Historically, one has to shoot consecutive rounds in the 60's on a hard golf course to even think about making it. I have never, in my life, shot consecutive rounds under par in a medal play competition. Somewhere deep inside I think it's possible these rounds are in me, that it's a matter of conjuring them out. I have to take my game to the next level. So how does one go from playing like a scratch to competing like a +3 or +4?

Well, this was the very question I asked John Strevens earlier this week. Strevens is a PGA Class A Professional, and a Senior Instructor at the SportsCenter of Connecticut, a megaplex that has double-decker turf mats, batting cages, hockey rinks, lazer tag and miniature golf (so far I'm electing to practice my short game elsewhere). For the first 10 minutes Strevens watched me hit balls as he paced around holding his chin, and with his British lilt kept repeating, "Interesting, interesting..."

Overall his diagnosis was positive. My tempo, alignment, posture and club position at the top were excellent, Strevens said. My grip, however, was like that of an absolute chop. Way too strong. Because of this strong grip, I can't swing aggressively for fear of hitting it left, so all these years I've been subconsciously slowing my hands through impact to compensate. By weakening my right hand and strengthening my left (Strevens wants me to see the first knuckle of my right hand, and the first two knuckles of my left), the club feels strange in my hands, somewhat like an object I've never held before. But I can now swing hard and hit shots that fly very straight, with none of my old draw. The prospects are exciting.

If I make it to the Open I hope I'm paired with Danny Lee so I can show off my straight ball. Earlier this year I played with the defending U.S. Amateur champ and he relentlessly made fun of my right-to-left ball flight (see, "Danny Lee Turning Pro").

Like most students after a first lesson, I'm feeling a bit naked and insecure about my swing. So for now I'll let you check out the changes to my grip. I'll hone the swing this weekend so check back next week for new and improved video of the whole thing.