Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Book Review: “Let There Be Pebble: A Mid-Handicapper’s Year in America’s Garden of Golf” ☹

I lingered a long time with my fingers poised over the keyboard while I pondered how to proceed with this review. On the face of it there is much to be admired – even envied – about a golfer/golf-writer/wanna-be novelist who ditches his hum-drum life in some Midwestern fly-over state to spend a year in one of the most beautiful physical landscapes on the planet, schmoozing with the best professional golfers in the world, not to mention celebrities from the worlds of sports, TV, movies, and music who also flock to the place. On the other hand, there is also something a bit “Gee, Toto – I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!” about it.

The chronicle of this journey, as related by author Zachary Michael Jack, careers drunkenly back and forth between two extremes. The book frequently lapses into an uncomfortably-adolescent hero-worship of both the place – Pebble Beach Golf Links and the nearby town of Carmel – and the people who live there and/or frequent the area professionally or as tourists; it will then veer off into a coldly cynical assessment of the California-craziness of the place as seen through the lens of a Midwestern upbringing, with long stretches in which the author settles into a naively insouciant familiarity that struck me as somewhat self-deluding.

Jack deserves credit for having the
chutzpah to shoulder his way into the Pebble Beach/Carmel community, like the gawky nerd who crashes a party thrown by his high school social superiors. Taking in four big-time golf tournaments at Pebble Beach during his year Out West, he interviewed anyone who would stand still long enough, from the mayor of Carmel and the people responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Pebble Beach Golf Links, to golf luminaries such as Gary Player, Johnny Miller, and Jack Nicklaus – even the other golf writers who were covering the tournaments. He brazened his way through open houses in multi-million dollar homes on 17-Mile Drive while renting a room in a Carmel bungalow and sleeping on a yoga mat, and took a stab at the singles dating scene in the area. He ventured north, to San Francisco and Sausalito, where he spoke with (and fawned over) Michael Murphy, founder of the Esalen Institute and the author of a book that is simultaneously (and sadly) the worst book ever written about golf, and the one which has probably sold the most copies: Golf in the Kingdom.

Despite the implication of the sub-title, “A Mid-Handicapper’s Year in America’s Garden of Golf”, Jack appears not to have played much golf during his year in Pebble Beach. He refers to only two rounds played, one at Pebble Beach Golf Links itself, and another at “The Poor Man’s Pebble Beach”, Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Links – a fine municipal course just up the road from the high-priced tracks of the Del Monte Forest – which he dismissed as ordinary. He spends nearly as much time dropping names, and describing (and dissing) the politics and social mores of the area as he does talking about golf.

Another reviewer noted that the author of this book seemed to be very fond of the sound of his own voice – and I most heartily second that opinion. His prose is verbose and overwrought, and he revels in inane wordplay and puns of the worst sort (
not that there is a good sort...). To make matters worse, the book appears to have been proofread and edited by a dropout from sophomore English – bad enough coming from a commercial publishing house, but the egregious lack of quality is made even sadder by the fact that the book was published by the University of Nebraska Press.

By way of example:

  • On two occasions in the text, in a reference to a person seemingly suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome (a neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by motor and vocal tics), the person is spoken of as having “Turret’s”.
  • Bushmill’s Whiskey, one of the sponsors of Irishman Graeme McDowell,  the winner of the 2010 U. S. Open which Jack chronicles briefly in the book, is referred to as “Bushnell’s” (makers of precision optical instruments and laser rangefinders for golf and sportshooting).
  • The name of a well-known Bay Area sportswriter is misspelled.
  • He uses, unattributed, the nicknames for Pebble Beach as a whole – “Double-Bogey by the Sea”, and its most difficult stretch of holes  – “Abalone Corner” (the eighth, ninth, and tenth), which were coined by Golf Hall of Fame sportswriter Dan Jenkins.

The list of similar inanities, malapropisms, and flat-out mistakes goes on and on, and they come more frequently the further along in the book one reads, as if the proofreader was skipping along hurriedly in order to get an unpleasant job over with.

I have to admit, I only finished this book to see just how much worse it could get – and the further I read, the worse it got. This is the biggest train-wreck of a book I have read since I put down
Golf in the Kingdom about 2/3rds of the way through. Pebble Beach and the Monterey Peninsula area deserve to be treated much better than they fared at the hands of Mr Jack, and if there were border guards controlling access to the region, they would have the author’s picture in their “Undesirables” file, to prevent his returning and perpetrating any more nonsense of this kind.

The book jacket describes the author as a former newspaper columnist and sportswriter, and his current bio has him writing poetry, and teaching English at a small Methodist college in Naperville, Illinois. Heaven help his students if they retain anything they learn from him about writing.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

High-tech help for your golf game at GolfTEC Improvement Centers

In almost no other sport or game is the quest for perfection so potentially frustrating, if not downright futile, as in the game of golf. Unlike nearly every other major game or sport, golf is played on an ever-changing field of play, with a variety of implements that are each designed to a different job – from smacking the ball 200-hundred + yards down the fairway, to rolling it a few feet, or even a few inches, along the ground on the putting green – and everything in between. Mastering the skills required to use all of these tools correctly, in order to get the ball from the tee, to the green, and into the hole – in the least number of stokes – can be a supremely frustrating journey.

Browsing the shelves of golf books in the “Sports” section at your local bookstore (if you can still find one) or library (ditto…) will illustrate a fundamental truth – something over 90% of the books related to the subject of golf ever published, and many of the bestselling, are instructional titles. The problem is that teaching yourself to play golf effectively, beyond the most basic concepts of stance and grip, is beyond the capabilities of all but a very small, gifted, percentage of the population. For example: professional golfer Larry Nelson, with 10 PGA Tour victories and 19 Champions Tour victories to his credit, including the 1981 & 1987 PGA Championships and the 1983 U.S. Open Championship—didn’t take up golf until he was in his early twenties. Freshly mustered out of the army after a tour of duty in Viet Nam, he taught himself to play by reading Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, the best selling golf instructional book ever published.

For most of us, though, playing golf with any level of facility is going to involve professional help. One of the most common teaching venues is at a driving range – either in a group lesson or one-on-one with a teaching pro – which seems logical. Since the point of the exercise is to produce the desired ball flight, hitting balls at a driving range where the flight of the ball can be observed seems to make sense.

While the satisfaction of smacking balls downrange is enticing, there is no guarantee that either you or your instructor will be able to effectively make the connection between your actions and their result. A more certain method of connecting swing motion with result is to make use of the latest instructional technology, in an indoor teaching facility equipped with video cameras and launch monitors.

One resource that I have recently explored in my own pursuit of improved quality and consistency in my golf game is the local GolfTEC Improvement Center. Started in 1995 by two graduates of the Mississippi State University Professional Golf Management program, Joe Assell and Mike Clinton, in nine years, GolfTEC has grown from modest beginnings to 148 locations across the country, with a footprint covering approximately 70% of the United States.

While other teaching facilities may utilize the same type of equipment that GolfTEC centers do – video cameras, launch monitors, and biometric measurement systems – the heart of GolfTEC’s teaching system, and its greatest strength, is the database of swing motion information that GolfTEC instructors can draw upon to evaluate a student’s swing. Built up over years of measuring the swings of PGA, LPGA, and Champions Tour pros in the fitness vans that accompany the professional golf circuit, this treasure trove of information allows a GolfTEC instructor to compare the student’s body motion during the golf swing to the information compiled from sessions with the finest professional golfers in the world.

After fitting you with a pair of tiny, three-axis accelerometers, one between your shoulder blades and another at waist level, your instructor will film your swing a few times, gathering video and biometric data as a baseline from which to begin your instruction. Then, 
pick a pro golfer to compare your swing to, or more realistically, let the GolfTEC instructor pick one (because, hey – everyone thinks that they swing like Freddie Couples…).

With your data in the bank, your instructor will pull up a video clip of the chosen pro from their extensive database, and show you an enlightening (but often sobering…) side-by-side comparison of your swing and the pro’s, accompanied by the biometric data showing the body motions that affect your golf swing. With the video and the biometrics of your swing as a baseline, your instructor will show you how your swing motions compare to the chosen pro’s, and where your swing can be improved.

Your first session at a GolfTEC Improvement Center is just the beginning of your journey to a better golf game. With just the adjustments in my grip, setup, and swing that I was shown in my first session, I saw noticeable improvement in the direction and consistency of my driving and iron play. Depending upon the level of your desire for improvement, and the amount of time and money you are able to devote to the project, your instructor can lay out a lesson plan that will help you achieve your goals in the game of golf.

If you are serious about improving your skill level, and your enjoyment of the game, you owe it to yourself to check out your local GolfTec Improvement Center.