January 4, 2010

The (trick) shots I should've been practicing

I've taken a lot of golf lessons over the years, and, I now realize, I've wasted my time. Instead of working on putting, iron play, and driving, I should have been studying something truly important: how to bounce a ball on the face of a wedge. Recently, I watched a pro doing it between his legs, over his shoulder and into his pocket, and I felt like a 50-handicapper. His best trick was to make the ball spin in one direction, then spin in the other, then stop on the face of the club. Then he flipped it up and caught it by pinching it against the shaft with his thumb.

Part of my problem is that I took up golf in my mid-30s, by which time I had used up almost my lifetime supply of hand-eye coordination. My little brother was lucky. He had the kind of childhood where your mother drops you off at the club before sunrise and picks you up after sunset. During lightning storms, when juniors weren't allowed to play, he and his friends would hang around the golf shop, dribbling balls on their wedges. Now he can do it without thinking. He can also slightly reduce the height of a teed-up ball by giving it a tap with the bottom of his driver.

He once bounced a ball 500 times in a row while watching television.'

I've been working on my ball bouncing in my office, and I can now do about six in a row before catching an edge and blading the ball into my desk, my computer or my exercise bike. Two of the keys, a good player told me, are moving the wedge mainly with your shoulder, rather than your elbow, and keeping your eye on the ball, rather than the club. Those tips help, but I wish somebody would make a wedge specifically for bouncing. It would have a sharp leading edge, so that you could easily slip it under a ball in a tight lie, and the face would be extra large and slightly concave, to keep the ball from squirting. I would gladly get rid of one of my hybrid clubs to make room for it in my bag.

During the winter, a young player taught me an easier trick that looks almost as impressive: You put the toe of your right golf shoe two inches behind a ball, lift your heel and smack the ball toward your toe with the face of your driver, so that the shoe acts like a ramp. This pops the ball into the air, and you catch it with your other hand, amazing players who don't know how to do it. Best of all, I seldom have to rush across the tee box to save my ball from rolling into a pond.

I once had a caddie scoop a ball off a green with a wedge, give it a couple of bounces and then pop it toward its owner. He said he once bounced a ball 500 times in a row while watching television. I asked him what the secret was, and my heart sank when he told me: "Practice."