Walking through the parking lot it is unseasonably warm for April in Arizona. Luckily the covered parking provides a little shade as we walk towards the entrance of the grocery store. We’re used to the heat, being golfers who have lived in the Valley for the last 20 years. But this time of year my dad is usually out of town and my mom is the one making this walk into the grocery store.
This particular grocery store is the Fry’s at Tatum and Shea. Actually, it’s a “Super Frys” with a valet out front that will wash your car while you shop. This Frys has a furniture section. It’s got a pharmacy, a special seasonal section for whichever holiday is coming or going, a sushi station, a bakery, a fresh produce section and a flower department. I could go on.
To put it simply--this Super Frys is the Frys for anything you might need if you live in Paradise Valley, Arizona. On any given day of the week the parking lot is nearly full and the checkout lines are never empty.
“We should not be in this Frys,” was all I could think as I hustled down the aisles in pursuit of my dad. Every ounce of my being told me this was a bad idea. We needed to get home.
“I can come back and get this stuff later,” I continued on in my head, debating if I was going to speak up or let my Father continue on his hunt for Gatorade, ginger ale, and some cookies.
I thought it better to keep quiet and continue walking around the aisles at pace that can only be described as “golf course pace.”
Competitive golfers walk quickly. Their strides are long and hurried from heel to toe with a long gate and then heel to toe again. It borders on a speed walk. Their arms swing aggressively by their sides and their walk has a certain purpose that any viewer will quickly notice.
My Father’s walk has that exact pace and purpose. After all, he was a competitive golfer for much of his life and still walks the fairways as a golf commentator for CBS. Today, this walk’s purpose was to find the ginger ale, among other things. But it could have been anything—he walks fast everywhere.
As we perused the aisles at lightning speed we gradually started to check items off our list. My Dad’s Nike running shoes made it sound like we were on a basketball court when he changed course abruptly. Combine the squeaks with the black Nike gym shorts and grey Nike workout shirt he was wearing, and the casual observer probably thought he had just finished a workout.
“I think we should get outta here,” my dad said turning toward me with an uneasy look on his face.
“I agree,” I replied, glad that he decided on his own it was time to head home. His pace started to increase even more. The countdown was on and instead of slow down because he was starting to feel bad he sped up. We paid for the Gatorade and Ginger Ale but left the rest of the items in the store.
The color began to leave his face. A lifetime of golf lessons given in the sun turned into a pale grey hue. If I hadn’t known any better, it looked like he was just dehydrated from a tough workout and the color had drained from his face.
The fanny pack slung over his shoulder told me otherwise. It had an IV tube connected to a port under the skin of his left pectoral providing him with plenty of fluids.
Unfortunately these weren’t fluids designed to hydrate him.
“Try to avoid over-stimulation,” said Dr. Ramenathen, “You know, lots of noise, bright lights, they’re going to make you nauseous.”
“Okay, sounds good,” Dad replied.
The discharge instructions from the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare were straightforward enough. Sit around, take it easy and wait for the symptoms to kick in.
We had to see how his body would respond to the first chemotherapy cocktail to have any idea what our next 6 months would look like. The effects of the drugs would be cumulative so this first treatment would be his easiest. Each successive treatment would be more difficult for his body to accommodate. That is, assuming he could even make it through all of the treatments on schedule. The doctors wouldn’t let his white blood cell count dip below a certain level. If they did, he’d have to take a break from treatment and let them recuperate to a level the doctors deemed suitable to handle more poison.
The process would, at best, take six months with treatment occurring every two weeks. He opted for the IV treatment route over a pill plan because it shortened the treatment timeline. This was chemotherapy on golf course pace. It would be quick, purposeful, and probably more painful. I wasn’t surprised at his choice—the more difficult test for his body but the most efficient way to accomplish the goal.
“The best thing to do if you start to feel the nausea is find a cold, quiet, dark room and lay down with your eyes closed,” Dr. Ramanathen continued.
“Okay, doc,” Dad said with no follow up questions because he was clearly ready to get out of the chemo center. Despite the marathon iPad solitaire session and visit from therapy dogs, after three hours sitting in a recliner he was bored and ready to hit the road.
“See you on Thursday!” his nurse said as she moved over to another patient with Dr. Ramanathen.
Dad’s treatment included three hours in the chair at Scottsdale Healthcare and an IV fanny pack that was going to be connected for an additional 48 hours as it continued to slow drip another one of his medications. We’d be back on Thursday to get the IV disconnected. For now, he grabbed the pouch with the medicine in it and slung the strap over his shoulder.
We walked down the row of recliners toward the exit, subtly smiling at the people who chose to make eye contact with us. Once we walked through the door we said goodbye to the nurses at the front desk and walked toward the elevator.
“You know—those people were so nice,” dad said. “All of the nurses were happy and positive. That’s one of the first times I’ve been in a doctors office and had such a friendly staff.”
“I know—I was thinking the same thing,” I said.
The car door closed.
I didn’t even ask if I could drive. I already knew the answer. We sat in the car and dad fidgeted with his seatbelt as it came down across the left part of his chest, eventually opting to put the top part behind his back entirely.
“Let’s swing by Fry’s on the way home,” he said. “You’re mom is out of town so we should get a few things while we’re out.”
“Okay, I guess so,” I hesitated. “But, you know I can just go out and get stuff later if you want to go home now.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said.
In the car I couldn’t help thinking about my mom. I wondered how she was handling everything. My Nana’s breast cancer had reinvented itself as bone cancer and she was in the middle of her own chemotherapy treatments. My mom was essentially splitting her time between chemo treatment in Arizona with Dad and chemo treatment in Alabama where my grandmother lived. To have her mother and her husband battling cancer at the same time—hard to fathom. My brother Adam had to be in college at the University of Arizona.
So for this treatment, it was just Dad and I. The way it had been so many times before. Countless hours together on the range at Grayhawk as he taught me my golf swing. A quick nine holes at Whisper Rock on a weekend morning so we could get home in time to watch a football game. Evening golf theory conversations on the couch after dinner. Our life together effortlessly and unintentionally centered on golf. Every range session ended with a hug even if we battled about a few issues. I’ve never had to worry about having an intimate and honest relationship with my Father. This week was a new level for intimate and honest.
I was tasked with the role of caretaker. My mom was gone so I had to look after the guy who always looked out for everyone.
Fifteen minutes prior the Doctor told him to avoid noisy, active places—they’d make him nauseous. So of course, we were headed to a massive grocery store.
“This is my chance,” I thought. “Remind him about what the doc said, offer to go back out and get the stuff after we drop him off at home.”
Nope. No way. After all that Father-Son time there was one thing, more so than anything else, that I had learned about the core of my father’s mindset—he will not accept anything without first experiencing it.
It is this premise that makes him the world-class teacher, commentator, father, and husband that he is today. The will to experience, learn, grow, and understand permeates every ounce of his being. This worldview led him into that Super Fry’s fifteen minutes after his doctor had told him to avoid over-stimulation. That’s why I knew there was nothing I could say to get him home to rest first. He had to experience what would make him nauseous then create a solution for the problem. Sounds like the makings of a great golf instructor. But, it is this desire to experience that gave him the drive to battle colon cancer and be declared cancer free nearly seven months later.
A constant theme of our childhood was to have passion.
“I don’t care what it is,” he would say. “I’ll help you with anything you want—but be passionate about something.”
My father’s passion is learning. Learning to grow through his own experiences even if he isn’t completely sure where they may lead him. It is an unrelenting desire to learn. We hope that the experiences that got him to this point today along his relentless journey help you cultivate your own desire to learn and improve, whether it be in golf or in life which sometimes so closely mirror each other it’s hard to tell the difference.
In the everlasting pursuit for distance there is one common thread: swing harder to hit it farther. This is not inherently untrue. If you swing out of your shoes all the time you just might tag one and hit it out of the park. Keyword: might!
A preferred approach to speed and distance is to think about where you are losing speed rather than how you can create more speed. Always remember two things:
1) A loose muscle is a fast muscle
2) Many poor technical positions are preceded by a clench or grab with certain muscles at the wrong time
To illustrate this point I want you to think of a baseball pitcher. His effortless wind up. His left leg up in the air. His back nearly facing the hitter. The ball coming up out of his glove. In time, his momentum builds. His plant leg starts to fall back to the mound and his arm and the ball are heading towards the catcher then--BAM! He unleashes the ball at the precise point he wants to with the complete sequence of motion built up to that one point where he exerts his effort. The ball is off.
In golf, we have a similar sequence of motion as we turn behind the ball, cock the wrists, swing the arms, and start the downswing. Give it time. Let the momentum build then unleash your effort about one foot before impact. This fluid motion will increase clubhead speed and decrease stress on your body. To work on this idea try two things:
1) Keep your grip pressure constant until right before impact. See if you can start with the pressure relatively light then keep it that way through your backswing and especially during the transition.
2) Get set up with the ball on the clubface. From this static set up accelerate forward and "toss" the ball down the target line about ten feet in the air. If you can't get the ball in the air you're not accelerating your chest, arms, hands, shaft, and clubhead at the same time.
We're looking for effortless power not powerless effort. Let the momentum of your swing build until we're finally ready to unleash it at the right moment--impact!
It is hard to find something more fundamentally important in golf than the grip. Our hands are the only point of contact with the club—they’d better be on there correctly!
The grip can promote or set the tone for so many things in the golf swing both good and bad. For women, children and beginners it is important to begin with a strong enough grip so that they can create the leverage required to cock the club vertically enough in the backswing. A ten-finger grip is also advisable for this type of player to help them control the unfamiliar weight of the club. A weak grip and a forward ball position are recipes for rolling wrist action instead of proper wrist cock. This rolling of the hands forces the student to use their body aggressively on the way through or roll the hands even more on the way through to square the blade up at impact.
Think of hitting a nail with a hammer. You don't see anyone take a full wind up with their body then try to deliver the hammer with speed. They grip the hammer aggressively and use their wrist to cock the hammer back and tap down with efficient power and contact--sounds like qualities we'd like in the golf swing! However, the only thing that can allow you to begin that process is a correct grip. Try putting your hands on the club and pointing both lines that your index finger and thumb create at your right shoulder.
For the first Insight post I think the topic pretty much chose itself--distance.
Everyone wants to hit it farther. How could you not? Good players know the advantage of being able to hit a high 7 iron from 190 when your opponent has to hit 5. Amateurs live for the feeling of that one drive you connect on right down the middle of the fairway. And my buddies basically play golf in a continual long drive match with the shortest hitter always having to endure the most ridicule (to put it lightly!).
The trick becomes, how do I maximize my effort and hit it farther without trying to swing too hard and actually diminish my returns. We call this the "smash factor"--the idea that we want to get more out of the hit with less overall effort. To be clear, the quickest way to improve distance is to improve contact. If you can hit it more solidly the ball will go farther.
Now to improve contact and hit it more solidly we're going to go back to the basics. Watch the clubface actually make contact with the ball. Using your eyes properly in the golf swing can make all the difference.
The last piece of the puzzle to tie everything together is to find the correct effort level. Many people try to hit it farther by swinging harder. Golf is a unique sport. In many regards you have to try hard not to try hard. We're looking for effortless power rather than powerless effort. Start small and swing easy to feel the improved contact then make a bigger swing but maintain that effort level.
It seems counterintuitive but by swinging at a controlled effort level and working on hitting it more solidly you will actually hit it much farther.
Hope this idea helps! If you want more information and a personalized lesson don't forget to call at 602-315-9555!
This is a new section designed to provide a look at the golf world through my viewpoint. There can be discussions about any topic really. However, I'll mostly be writing about golf, instruction, and things that can help you improve your game. If there is every anything that interests you leave a comment and I'll write a post about it. There are interesting things going on in the world of golf every day and I hope you'll find my take on them interesting, funny, and even useful.
Thanks for reading and leave a comment for the first topic or check back soon to see what's going on!