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The Steve WenPetren Project

I suck at golf. That could very well be the title of my memoirs, but the actuality is that I’m taking the first step and admitting I have a problem in hopes of eventually not being the worst golfer on the course whenever I’m playing.

I do have some moments of glory on a golf course, and I still subscribe to the belief that you need just one good shot on the first nine and second nine holes to have a successful day, but when it’s one good shot, mixed in with 60 bad shots, it can become frustrating after a while. And while being outdoors in nice weather, driving a golf cart, having a few adult beverages (is it ok to drink and drive on a golf course?) and the occasional cigar is a great way to spend a few hours, it’s time for me to expand my skill set, or in this case, have a skill set.

Sadly, I think Charles Barkley has a better golf swing than me at this point.

Thankfully that’s where my buddy Steve WenPetren comes in. Steve is the new Director of Instruction at Woody’s Golf Range in Herndon, VA, and prior to that he spent over six years as the head golf pro at Sterling Golf Club. He’s also a way better golfer than I’ll ever be, but together, we’re going to attempt to work some magic and make me a respectable golfer. For ten weeks, once a week, I’ll be taking lessons from Steve and writing about the results here, and hopefully come 10 weeks from now, I’ll be a positive success story thanks to Steve’s tutelage.

LESSON #1 – Grip It But Don’t Rip It

I showed up at Woody’s last Thursday to meet Steve for our first appointment and he has a pretty cool studio setup studio outdoors there at the range, complete with a motion camera connected to a laptop to monitor and analyze golf swings. Quick tip for all those looking to take lessons, if you’re left-handed, let your golf instructor know ahead of time, so they can reverse the setup prior to beginning the lesson (sorry Steve, my bad).

Once everything was adjusted for the one thing I have in common with Phil Mickelson’s golf game (that’s me being left-handed, and not having man boobs), we were all set to start.  My first instruction was simple, hit some golf balls with my 7-iron so Steve could measure a few things about my swing (club speed, ball spin, distance hit, etc.).  Now here’s where my need for lessons comes in.  For those familiar with Caddyshack 2 (and my apologies for those who are), there’s a scene towards the end where Jonathan Silverman (brother of Sarah) tells Jackie Mason that he has “the worse slice in the history of golf.”  Check out the clip, right around the 3:30 mark or watch the whole thing if you feel like you need more time to digest this movie.

Little known fact, that storyline was based on my golf game.  Every single ball I hit just took off to the left, except for those that I hit as dribblers for like 30 yards in front of me.

So I tried the driver, and the results were the same.  And then the pitching wedge.  Left every time.  It’s one thing to be consistent in golf, but this might be taking it a bit too far (left, that is).  Unfortunately, not a single shot registered on Steve’s machine since I didn’t hit one ball close to correct or straight.

This is what the machine should look like when a proper ball is hit.

After about 3 dozen swings, Steve then brought me over to the computer to analyze my swing.  Let me count the ways I was doing this all wrong according to Steve – my stance was incorrect, my hands were behind the ball, my posture was terrible, my head moved all of the place, all my weight was on the wrong leg on both the backswing and ball contact, I didn’t rotate my hips, I didn’t turn my hands over on the follow thru, and I was using a turkey hoagie for a golf club.  Ok, the last one wasn’t true, but I ate a turkey hoagie for lunch that day, which also was a bad idea.

Honestly, it was embarrassing to see that many mistakes in what should be one simple swing.  But Steve was very thorough about each component of the swing and using the electronic tools of this computer program to break down where I was making my mistakes, how it should look, and how we’ll eventually go about correcting everything.  It wouldn’t get done in one lesson, but over the course of a couple of months, hopefully the only thing I will be doing wrong in my swing is feeling the effects of another eaten turkey hoagie.

So why “Grip It But Don’t Rip It”?  Because lesson #1 wasn’t going to be about hitting golf balls necessarily, especially since I’d proven that to be a difficult task, but instead it was going to be about the basics.  Steve needed to rid me of all my bad habits and it was going to start with the most important basic to him in his teachings, the grip.  Without following his direction of how to properly hold a golf club, the rest of his lessons would be hard to take.  Little did I know, I’ve been gripping golf clubs wrong for the past 15 years, opting for the more of a baseball bat style grip/swing.

Before I could take another swing, Steve gave me a practice grip, which might resemble a ladies’ “special friend” (and if you need me to explain what that means, I opt not to do so, just look at the picture below).  My homework was to take this grip home with me and practice holding it whenever I could, so I did.  Brought it to work, brought it into bed (get your mind out of the gutter people) and even used it when stopped at traffic lights in the car.  I was basically Omar Epps in The Programwhen he has to carry the football around with him everywhere he goes to get over his fumbling issues.

Ribbed for her pleasure?

Once I felt comfortable with the practice grip, which was hard to do, since I was starting anew and not used to placing my left middle and ring fingers directly on the shaft, it was time to move on to the second half of the first lesson, the stance.

Steve broke this down into five parts for me that I had to repeat over and over again every time when I would go to address the ball.

1) Place the club flat on the ground right behind the ball and lined up with the sweet spot on the club (my clubs have a sweet spot?)

2) Move the top of the shaft of my club so that it was in a direct line with the ball itself (I’ve always had this behind the ball)

3) Grip, as recently taught

4) Separate feet shoulder width apart, keeping the ball in the middle of my feet (I’ve been playing the ball in the front of my stance).

5) Deep breath and swing*

Why the *? Because as typing this I realized there were several other factors at play here that Steve mentioned that I’ve omitted. 

1) I need to bring my club back so that my hands are in a straight line with my club head halfway thru my backswing (which I struggle with). 

2) I need to rotate my hand during my follow thru (which I really struggle with). 

3) I need to have the same follow-thru finish every time, with my weight on my front leg, my back foot pointed on the ground and the club sitting on my back (struggle, struggle, struggle).

Steve had me take many practice swings without a ball with the purpose to be just to get the five steps down of my stance/approach and to take a good swing that would allow me to work on those additional three things I struggle at, and after a while, I actually felt comfortable and thought I was approaching and swinging well.

The real test though came when I needed to do all those things now with a ball.  So with a new grip, a new stance, a new appraoch, a new backswing and a new follow thru, would I be able to hit a golf ball now?  Sorta.  The good news is I was hitting them a little cleaner and getting more distance on my swings and that I was adjusting to the new grip (which had originally hurt my fingers, but not as much now).  The bad news was I was still pushing the ball to the left, but not as much as previously (need to turn my hands over more).

All in all, a great first lesson, I was really afraid it would be difficult to start fresh and strip me of all my bad golf habits, but thanks to Steve’s teaching and my really wanting to not suck at golf anymore, I have confidence that this will be a worthwhile experience.  Stay tuned….


The Steve WenPetren Golf Academy is a great place for golfers of all ages and experience (or lack there of) to learn how to become a better golfer.  For more information or to book a lesson, please check out www.stevewenpetren.com

4 Responses

  1. Very cool!

  2. this is the most interesting thing you’ve written in months. good luck!

    i eventually have to break down and do this too.

  3. […] those who missed it, check out Part 1 of my series on how to stop being a terrible […]

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