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 DR FELIX SHANK

Do you have a golf problem that’s keeping you awake at night?
Is there some aspect of your game that you simply can’t sort out?
Stop worrying because Dr Felix Shank, a more or less genuine expert on all aspects of the game, is here to help.
Illustrations by Tony Husband.

I have a problem that is threatening to ruin both my marriage, and much more importantly, my chances of capturing the forthcoming Spring Meeting (handicap Division Three). Throughout my entire golfing career, I have thrived on swing thoughts, triggers, twitches, go signs and mechanical contortions. Just this morning, I was at the range working on a couple of key moves – the takeaway and transition – focusing on keeping my hands inside the body as I turn back, club outside and shaft plane pointing approximately three degrees inside the ball as I reach halfway, shifting pressure onto my left side as I approach the apex of my swing and initiating my signature thrust onto the left leg before the club reaches parallel at the top. I find this really helps to turn my trademark weak slice into a more authoritative block push. My problem is this. As my wife grows increasingly incensed with the time I'm spending working on my swing, so her demands for me to help around the house have increased and, God help me, her instructions are starting to creep into my swing. For example, in last month's medal, just as I was concentrating on really loading my right hip as my wrist began to hinge, I suddenly heard her bawling: "Get on with the washing up!" and proceeded to shank my tee shot into a bush. On the next hole, while my attention was focused on separating the knees as I moved into the downswing, I heard: "Put the damn shelves up!" and I executed an awful top. It seems that at moments of extreme pressure, for instance when trying to turn a double-bogey into a bogey, the advice given to me by my pro and the instructions barked by my wife merge into a hideous montage. A messy divorce, attractive though it might be, would leave me penniless and unable to afford the subs at my club.

Bobby Greenberg, Beaconsfield

The truly great golfers have an extraordinary ability to compartmentalise their lives to the extent that they can adopt a completely different persona on the golf course to their ‘normal’ self. It could be argued that Colin Montgomerie’s inability not to be himself, as it were, on the course may have cost him dear. The slightly irascible, readily distracted and easily riled Monty was always less likely to win a major than a relaxed, focused and calmer version of himself. I therefore strongly urge you to develop a strong and unmistakeable golf persona that is entirely separate from your meek and obliging domestic self. To reinforce your assertive golfing personality, you need anchors to remind you out on the course of who you are and what you’re being. Remove your wedding ring before stepping onto the first tee and instead put a tee-peg behind your ear. A close acquaintance of mine even re-christened himself ‘Silky Swing’ to help establish a distinctive golf persona. You, too, should adopt a new name and insist that others use it when you’re playing golf.

My very lovely sister married a quite obnoxious fellow called Graham who plays off a handicap of nine and tells everyone who’s prepared to listen how good he is at golf. Because they live in Tenby, my wife and I only get to see them once a year when they either visit us or we them. Although I would love to see my sister more often, I’m grateful that I don’t have to try and be pleasant to Graham more frequently than once every 12 months. Anyway, it’s become something of a tradition that he and I play a round of golf annually. Although I’m a fairly decent 12-handicapper, he almost invariably wins and gloats about it for however many days of the trip are left. My dilemma is this. The first thing he asks me when we meet is what my handicap is and whether or not I want shots. If I take the shots and lose, which is quite likely, his bragging afterwards is even more relentless in the style of, “I gave him three shots and a thrashing!” If I forego my shots, I’m obviously more likely to lose but at least I deny him the pleasure of beating me despite having given me shots.

Harold Noble, Hythe

What a thoroughly odious character this Graham fellow undoubtedly is. Much as I would like to say take your shots and do your best to beat him, I can see that such a strategy often leads to the worst possible outcome. If you don’t take your shots, you’re more likely to lose but at least you do so with your honour in tact, so to speak. Although it may sound rather negative, I think you must approach this problem from a somewhat negative perspective and accept that you’re probably going to lose. So how you mitigate this defeat becomes the principal issue. I suggest that when at the beginning of your trip he asks your handicap, you tell him it’s eight and absolutely insist on giving him a shot. You will almost certainly lose, of course, but then you can say how different it might have been if only you hadn’t been obliged to give him a shot. The other thing I suggest you do is delay playing the game for as long as possible so as to shorten the period during which he can boast about beating you.

My smart golf club is owned by a rather brash Argentine called Leonel who made a fortune manufacturing corned beef and, perhaps understandably, walks around the place as if he owns it. Anyway, he and I met last month in the semi-final of our big summer knock-out cup. Our match was all square coming up the last when he sliced his approach into a thick copse to the right of the green. Although we found his ball, it was in an almost unplayable lie. Walking across the fairway to my own ball, I turned back and saw a hand throw his ball onto the green. So shocked was I that I hit my eight iron approach into a bunker and eventually ‘lost’ the hole. Before shaking hands, I commented that his miracle recovery was extraordinarily reminiscent of Diego Maradona’s ‘hand of God’ goal in the world cup. “Are you accusing me of cheating?” he fumed, “If so, I will throw you out of my club.” We didn’t shake hands and he stormed off. The club is only a half-a-mile from my home, I love it and am now afraid to go back lest he bans me. It’s the custom of the club that the loser writes the result up on the sheet but I couldn’t bring myself to insert his name. My regular playing partner informs me that the result of the match has still not yet been filled in.

Jack Cobb, Stonegate, Leicestershire

Tricky. Not even a cheat likes to be accused of cheating and Leonel is almost certainly embarrassed that he’s been caught red handed, so to speak, and that explains why he reacted so violently. I suggest you email him, tell him you’re unwell and that’s why you’ve not been to the club recently. Ask if he would kindly put the result up. Leaving it to him allows him an honourable way out. If he puts your name into the final that would be brilliant and the end of it. If not, I suggest that, for the sake of your future in the club, you silently bite the bullet.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

 
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