me, zane and brookside
zane, 8 handicap
This was 4 years ago. I was visiting my
friend and her son, age 17, recent high
school grad about to enter the university.

I was on my way to Brookside in
Pasadena for some golf and  Zane said: I
have always wanted to  hit balls at the
driving range.

So I took him along. I stood him up in
the stall with  some simple pointers by
way of grip, stance, backswing, etc. Im  
a six handicap which puts me in the top
3% of the 240,000,000 people who play
the game. The average hacker, if such a
person exists, is a 25 handicap and his
most  urgent fantasy in life is to break 90.

Nicklaus says: in the beginning just let
them bang away and have some fun.
There is plenty of time later on to work
out the many problems of control and
rythyms of the swing and the design of
shots, etc

So he banged away. Hes  tall with long
arms and he took a mighty swipe at the
ball and it looked OK. He was a good
athlete, a baseball player and  an
advantage here because a similarity
exists between the swings. Take a
baseball swing and to gradually lower the
swing until you are swiping the ground
and you have a golf swing

We split a bucket and  another. We
finished and he said: can we do this

So next day it was more of the same.
And the day after that and after that.

Already I could see signs—of the golf
virus—about to claim another victim. As
a kid I played baseball— a wonderful
sport. Then I discovered golf and baseball
disappeared from my life. It no longer
existed. Why? Because golf is a virus—for
which a cure has yet to be found. It goes
into remission from time to time but its
always there--to escape from remission
at an unexpected moment to spring
vividly back to life—with a vengeance. It
happened to me. I played golf as a kid
into  my twenties, when it went into
remission for 30 years and then broke
out-—with a vengeance.

So it went for a month—out at the range.
He had a set of clubs, handed down from
the grandfather. We went every day or
almost. Meanwhile he was looking around
for a summer job but the pickings were
slim and I said to his mother: he is much
better off with me learning to play golf
than flipping burgers at  McDonalds for

He was pestering me to play a round and
at some point you must take the plunge
so out we went.

This is how you play Brookside. You fork
over $9 for  the super twilight rate and
another $5 for cart rental. The starter
says—what about him—your playing
partner. You say: he/s looping it.

You jump in the cart and drive to the first
tee to tee off, your pard tees off, you zip
off in the cart and your pard to loop it
with the bag until once safely out of sight
of the starters shack and in he jumps
alongside and gives you $2.50.

The test of a good course is a course you
never tire of playing. That’s Brookside.
There are two courses--1 and 2. Both are
great. I have played the course 500
times and every time I do I look forward
to it.  

The first round.

We got in 15 holes. He collared a few 7s
and 9s and zero pars— and the usual 3
putts on the green and a juicy  four putt.
He said: putting is a bitch!

No kidding.

I said: its putting that separates the men
from the boys

I played well—3 over with a couple
birdies. Later he said to his mother: Jack
is awesome

Driving back in the cart we passed along
side the range that adjoins the first
fairway and  another important lesson
followed: how never again to pay for a
bucket of range balls

The range divides itself from  the first
fairway by a tall fence that has seen
better days. It was sagging and torn in
many places and the result was dozens of
range balls scattered at the edge of the

For this purpose I carried a ball retrieve
gadget used for practice—-a long metal
sleeve with a spring type trapping
mechanism at the business end and over
the ball goes the sleeve and to push
down on the ball and it inserts itself up
into the sleeve. The sleeve holds 22 balls
and on a good day I could scrounge for 2
or 3 sleeves easy. In my garage I had
two milk crates full of range balls from

I showed him the drill with the metal
sleeve. He said: cool!

The second round

The second round was more of the
same—the double bogey, the triple
bogey, the quadruple bogey, etc.

But then on 12, short par 4, he
hammered one off the tee—the high hard
sweeping draw—a Tiger Woods shot-that
left him 20 yards short of the green. He
was tall with these long arms, the rules
of physics apply, to create good clubhead
speed and when he ripped one it covered
some ground. Then for his second shot he
blades one over the green, chips back on
and three putts for the six—-double bogey

But it was the drive that fired him up. He
said: I love the draw shot.

I said: everyone loves the draw. But
they/re not too fond of the hook that
frequently occurs instead. I reminded
him of a famous quote by Trevino: you
can  talk to a slice but a hook dont listen.

The third round

It was during the third round that he
collared not his first par but a birdie and
it occurred on atough hole—14 on the #1
course. Its 440 yards, par 4 and I myself
play it as a 5. I hit driver, 5 metal and
lob wedge to the green and if I get down
in one putt for the 4 I count that as a bird.

Zane hammered a drive and now he
takes out a three iron, a difficult club and
creams one, a gorgeous shot, a Jack
Nicklaus shot, the high fade with the
long iron that plops softly down onto the
green 20 feet from the flag.

Now for the putt—not too bad, bit of a
swinger from left to right.

I said: how much break?

He said: a foot.

I said give it two. 95 per cent of all
golfers underestimate the break of a putt
by twice the amount.  I said: give it 2
feet and don’t worry about making the
putt. Forget the cup. Putt to the break.
All putts are straight putts. Putt to the
break and make a good stroke and leave
the rest to Allah. That’s the key.

OK jack

So he gave it 2 feet for the break and he
makes a good stroke and it starts out on
a good line with  perfect speed and takes
the break perfectly  and rolls dead center
into the cup. Birdie.

He went nuts. And I went nuts.

I said to him: I myself have never birdied
this hole!

So it went. We played golf. It was golf,
golf, golf. His mother was amazed and
amused and bewildered and  she couldn’t
figure it.

I said: don’t even try.

He was a good athlete but there was
something else: he was smart. He had a
good mind and—very important--a sense
of curiosity about things. I gave him a
stack of golf magazines to read and we
played golf and talked about golf and
watched golf on TV

Nothing is more boring to watch on TV
than golf. Unless you play golf. Then it’s a
different story. Its exciting, there is
suspense, also hilarious. Why hilarious?
Because the pros, the best players in the
world—miss the same stupid shots—duck
hook into the duck pond, the fat shot out
of the bunker that fails to clear the
bunker, the three, the four, and yes, the
5 putt green.  Like with  Phil Mickleson
last year at the Honda Classic, cruising
along at 16 under going into the final
round--on network TV—and on 12, par
four, he/s on in 2 putting for bird and
takes 5 putts. He had a long lagger of 60
feet and lag he does, to leave short by 12
feet and its downhill, a curler, vicious and
he trickles it down and it trickles down
and continues to trickle down and past
the cup it trickles down to the edge of the
green and by this time he is so rattled by
it all he loses concentration and takes
another 3 putts from there and add it all
up and you get 7--triple bogey. It was
brutal. It was brutal, it was without pity,
it was hilarious.

I said to Zane: you can learn a lot by
watching these guys on TV. Golf isn’t
instinctive—its analytic. The pro golfer is
an anal compulsive type—orderly,
methodical, correct in behaviour. You can
see it in the pre-shot routine. It’s the
same routine every time for every club
and you can time it to the mini-second.
Even someone like Daly who looks like
he was born sitting in front of the tv
nursing a six pack is very clear in his
mind about what it is he is trying to do
out there.

Summer ended, school began and he was
off to UC San Diego. I rang him up one
day for a chat and he says: I played
Torrey Pines.

Torrey Pines has been called the poor
mans Pebble Beach In golf, Torrey Pines-
wise, poor translates to a $120/round.
But he was  a student, eligible for the
student discount, it was twilight rates and
he played for $17. He shot 96—not bad
for someone 3 months into the game on
a championship course.

He said: jack—its awesome.

I was jealous. I never played Torrey
Pines. I played Pebble in the old days
when the rate was $25. Now it was $450.

I spoke to his mother.

She said: all he talks about is golf.

I said: why not? It beats Fluidity of

She said: if he flunks out of engineering
school I am going to strangle you!

Time passed. Summer rolled around,
summer #2, and he got a job, part time
with a friend of the family—a dry wall

He said: its brutal

But there was plenty of time to play and
play we did. I took him to Empire Lakes,
Palmer course out by Ontario with a nice
range featuring grass tees. There was a
north range where you paid $10 a bucket
and down at the other end, the south
range you paid $20 to hit unlimited balls.
You could start at 6am and keep going
thru lunch and dinner until closing.

I said: this is the place to  work on your
game. Out on the course is not the place
to fart with your swing. Its done on the

I mentioned the 9 shot drill. The 9-shot
drill goes like this: take a club, any club,
and hit 9 shots. Start with the draw—the
right to left shot. Hit a high draw, a low
draw, a medium height draw. Now hit the
cut shot—the left to right shot. Do the
same—the high cut, low cut, medium
high cut. Now for the straight shot—high,
low, medium. These are your 9 shots.
But the drill is this: if you miss a shot you
dont repeat the shot. You move on to the
next shot. That’s the drill. Then when you
are able to hit all 9 shots consecutively
without a miss you are ready for the tour.

I showed him a shot—high cut with the 5
fairway metal—a la Vijay—a gorgeous
shot. I said: the pros all have a preferred
club or two they favor to spend a little
extra time with. For Vijay it’s the 5
fairway metal. Tiger hits that stinger with
the 2 iron and Phil loves the little flopper
from around the edge of the green with
the lob wedge. But that’s the idea—to
cultivate a preferred club you can depend
on with some extra confidence.
Confidence is the key.

We went to the practice green for a drill.  
I said: take an odd number of balls—lets
say 11 balls, and practice some pitch
shots from  20 or 30 yards out. Why an
odd number? Because after hitting the
balls go to the green and remove the five
balls farthest from the flag and the five
balls closest to the flag and the ball that
remains is  your average distance to the
flag  with that particular shot. Now when
you practice that shot you know exactly
what you are trying to do which is to
reduce that distance.

We hit shots from the bunker. The
bunker shot is the hackers curse.  The
pros can hit the bunker shot with their
eyes closed. Its called practice. When
Gary Player broke in on the tour in 1955
he was dead last in bunker play. He
spent the next year hitting 500 balls a
day—every day including Christmas—
from every conceivable lie--the good lie,
the bad lie, the ugly lie--and a year later
he had gone from dead last to #1. Thats
the story.

So it went out at Empire Lakes  We hit
balls for 5 hours. At some point it passes
from a recreational activity to into the
realm of manual labor.  I was exhausted.
But Zane was just getting warmed up.

He said: I love this!

Time passed. Into the third summer. By
now he was breaking 90 regularly and
flirting with 79. 79 is the magic number in
golf. It is the dream—or maybe fantasy--
of every hacker to break 80.

I remember a guy saying to me: I dont
care how easy the course—if you can
break 80 youre playing some good golf.

But now into the third summer and
something clicked—in the golfing part of
the brain. All the  work he was putting
into the game started to pay off. He was
finding more fairways off the tee and
hitting more solid approach shots into the
green and in the short game dept--
pitching, chipping, putting—where the
strokes are—he took a quantum leap.

It just happened. One day he was
shooting 90,92,95 and the next day he
was shooting 83,85,87.

We played a round and I lifted four clubs
from his bag—the 3, 5, 7, 9 iron.  I said:
why am I doing this? It will add a
dimension to your game.  For example:
you/re 150 yards from the green—
normally a 7 iron. But you don’t have a 7
iron. You have a six iron—or you can go
with the 8. Those are your choices. To go
with the 8 you must close down the
face—to de-loft the club and hit the shot
that way. Or if you go with the 6 you
must open the face to hit the high shot
and ease off a bit. It all depends on the
shot—pin location,  slope of the green,
bunkers and greenside rough, etc and
wind and wind direction. But either way it
obliges you to learn a new shot with the
club and one day this will profit you. Play
a few rounds in this way and then do the
other-to lift the even numbered clubs
from the bag. Are you following me?

Yes jack.

Soon the inevitable occurred as I knew it
must: he beat me.  It was twilight rates,
we got 15 holes in, he was playing well
and I was playing like a chump and he
beat me and, to tell the truth, it was
annoying. He not only beat me he offered
a tip. He said: I think you/re swinging too
much with your arms and failing to clear
with the hips and thats why you/re
yanking everything left.

I wanted to strangle him.

But that wasnt the last straw. The last
straw was still to come. It came some
months later when he was back at school
and I got a call from his mother.

She said: Zane got a hole-in-one!


I said: I have been playing golf 40 years
and never got a hole-in-one!

She said: he was at Torrey Pines with
two friends and they see the ball land on
the green and roll down into the cup.
They went nuts. They got to the green
and he retrieves the ball from the cup
and they went nuts for the second time
and he whips out his cell phone and calls
me right from the green.

I said: now we know why the cell phone
was invented: so you could call your
mother from the 12th hole at Torrey
Pines where you have just scored for a
hole-in-one and you’ve only been playing
for two years!