I enjoyed the company – which included my poor caddie, Jamel – and the beauty of the course during the humid 18-hole walk, but my game was a complete disaster. I’ve never had a game that drew any attention – breaking 100 is a really good day for me – but on that particular day I would have been lucky to break 200. My drives all went right, I couldn’t get my irons off the ground and my putts – well, I didn’t putt that many because I had usually picked my ball up before I reached the green in order to keep the speed of play moving.
I was grateful for the incredible opportunity of playing in the event. I was appreciative of my playing partners and caddie for staying patient with me, and I really admired Haas for taking his time along the way to give me a few tips. But most of all, I was ashamed with the way I played. I had played in the Pro-Am in 2017 with Harold Varner III, and although I didn’t break any records, I didn’t completely embarrass myself the way I did a year later. So, as I boarded the van back to the clubhouse, I made a vow to myself that I wouldn’t let that happen again.
When I got back to a computer, I immediately sent an email to Billy Winters, The Director of Golf Instruction at The Greenbrier Golf Academy. “Help,” I said in my email. “When would you have time for a quick lesson? I’m desperate for some help."
And that’s where this journey began. Winters quickly answered my plea for assistance, and before long we had formed a plan. He would give me instruction once every couple of months, and I would chronicle the journey on this blog. If he could fix me, he could surely fix anybody. It was time to find out if the man voted West Virginia’s top golf instructor by Golf Digest really was a miracle worker.
Lesson 1 – August 16, 2018
The lesson began without any instruction. Instead, Winters simply stood and watched my swing to find out exactly how much work he had ahead of him. My group from a month earlier would have been surprised. I was actually getting the ball in the air – most of the time – although I wasn’t always sure where it was going to go.
My instructor stood and watched, giving a few words of encouragement, before finally bringing the painful display to a close.
We started with the grip, which he actually approved without adjustment. But I have to confess. He had actually given me a couple of grip pointers when I first started my job at The Greenbrier, so I was a little ahead on that one.
We then moved to alignment. Winters explained that the ball was much too close to my front foot. For the 8-iron I was hitting, he explained, the ball should be much closer to the middle of my stance.
The next step was getting my back aligned. He explained that my spine was curved more than it should be, and that it instead needed to be more of a straight angle.
With those tips in mind, I went back to the ball, but Winters quickly discovered another problem. I was gripping the club like a steering wheel during a West Virginia blizzard. He told me to ease up on the grip so that my hands weren't turning blue.
It didn’t take long for his tips to make a difference. Sure, I was still topping a few and some ran off to the right faster than a dog chasing a tennis ball, but there were some good, straight shots with distance in there, as well. Something positive was happening already.
Then Winters pulled out his iPad. After assuring me he wasn’t trying to win money with a clip to send to America’s Funniest Videos, Winters captured some footage of my swing that we took inside the Golf Academy for some analysis.
With quality video, slow motion and tools to write on the screen, Winters showed me what he meant about the C-shape with my spine. He pointed out the positives in my backswing and follow through, and he also noted all that went wrong on my downswing. He explained in easy to understand terms what was going wrong and exactly how to fix it. The video evidence was eye-opening, and as we headed back to the range, I tried to correct the mistakes as I stepped to the ball.
Again, not every shot was perfect. But the good shots were already starting to outnumber the bad ones. I began to get excited about what was possible with a little practice on the tips I had received. I had been with Winters for just 30 minutes, and already I had begun to convince myself that there was hope.