The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER Reaches Out His Kind and Helping Hand….by the Sports Philosopher

February 20, 2011
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      Sometimes there’s more to being a philosopher than just turning the occasional artful, witty phrase.

      Sometimes, if he is a Sports Philosopher, he must pass on the fruits of philosophy directly.   To the actual participants of Sport.   In person.   Face-to-face.

      Happened to me just the other day.   I was in a bad mood, struggling with a few of the great and timeless Human Problems we all struggle with during the grim subway ride of our lives (yes I have them and no I’m not going to write about it), and when I’m in a bad mood one of the things I like to do is pound a few dimpled balls.   Golf balls, that is.   So off to the driving range I drove.

The old Sports Philosopher can still stripe it…when his knees aren’t acting up, that is.

The old Sports Philosopher can still stripe it…when his knees aren’t acting up, that is.

      The golf course at Eaton Canyon in Pasadena isn’t too far from my house, so that’s where I went.   It’s a cute little course.   The San Gabriel Mountains are in the near distance, forming a wonderful, picture-frame backdrop for the driving-range folk, and on the range one actually hits his or her shots northward towards these grand, perpendicular, east-to-west mountains.   It’s a beautiful place to pound some puckered balls.

      The other problem I was having that day aside from the emotional is that I wasn’t feeling too well physically either, the usual aches and pains of Middle Age, so I only plunked down three bucks; only enough for a “small bucket”.   I did all right, though.   I was hitting my driver about 250, not bad for an old man, and my irons were more or less precise….more or less being one of those ridiculous, incomprehensible phrases designed to confuse you dear readers into thinking I’m a good golfer.   Which I am not.   I am living proof of that time-honored cliché phrase: “Those who cannot do, teach.”   Indeed, over the years, I have taught tidbits of golf to everyone from my son to my girlfriend to my ex-wife to my sister and even to old friends like LaVerne Online reader John Foran of nearby Glendora.   But never to a complete stranger.

      Which is where the kid comes in.

      Right before I decided that I’d had enough and that it was time to go home and rest my ailing knees, I noticed that there was this young kid (young kid being another ridiculous, redundant, essentially moronic expression) hitting balls in the space right next to me.   Normally I don’t pay much attention to other people at the golf course, but for some reason this kid caught my eye.   I started watching him.   He was hitting his driver.   He had a slow, deliberate, beautiful swing….yet he stunk.   He was lousy.   The more I watched the less it made sense.   He would tee up ball after ball, go through the same careful routine, slowly, deliberately, efficiently, and then employ that slow, deliberate, beautiful swing….and hit one bad shot after another.   And it was always the same shot; either a pathetic ground ball (a “worm burner”, as we duffers call it), pulled hard to the left, or once in awhile a very low line drive hooked and pulled sharply to the left.   Always to the left.   But he never complained.   He didn’t swear or pound his driver into the ground or get upset in any way.   He was calm and composed beyond his years.  

      Maybe his good attitude is what caused me to speak to him.   He was wearing an official “La Salle Golf” sweatshirt, so I cleverly chatted him up about his being on the La Salle High School golf team.  He mentioned how of the 20 or so guys on the team he ranked somewhere near the bottom, being only a sophomore (and because he stunk, I wanted to add), he was a very pleasant kid.   We shall call him Rex; not his real name.   (I just like the intrigue….and I like names with an x in it.)

      But alas, after suffering the watching of about fifteen consecutive drives of his pounded directly into the ground, I couldn’t take it anymore.

      “Want a free tip?”

      “Sure!” said good-attitude Rex.

      “You’re teeing it up too far back in your stance,” I told him.   “This is a drive, the ball is teed up above the ground and you need to lift it, it’s not a ball on the ground that you’re chopping down on like when you hit a short iron.   Your club-head needs time to get further through the swing arc.   So tee it up right off of your front foot, not three or four inches inside of it.”   Rex did exactly as he was told, clearly an intelligent lad, and his drives improved instantly.   Not a lot.   But they did improve.

      So I kept up my didactic diatribe: “Get closer to the ball!” — “Don’t pull your follow-through to the left like you were hitting a baseball, this is golf!” — “Uppercut your swing straight to the sky, like you’re punching someone!” — “Finish with your belly towards the target!” — “Flare your left hip!” — “Lift your head and check your target at least twice before you hit it!” — “Don’t move your head at impact!” — “Don’t forget to watch the ball!”  etc etc etc.   I hit him with everything I had.   And his drives got a little bit better yet.   Not a lot.   But better.

      Perfectionist that I am, I was getting frustrated.   “Gimme your driver,” I commanded.   Little Rex obeyed.   “This thing is enormous!” I wailed.   Because it was.   It was every bit as long as my driver, with a heavy war club at the end of the shaft the size of a large box turtle.   I teed one up, swung my manly arms, flicked my wrists, and with the aid of this futuristic titanium weapon slammed one halfway up the screen.   At least 25 yards farther than my typical drive.   Rex’s mouth fell open, revealing too many teeth and adorable braces….

      “How much do you weigh, young man?” I queried.   “Oh, about one-thirty-five,” he replied.   I frowned down on him like some modern-day Mr. Chips and rejoined, “So I’m eight inches taller than you and out-weigh you by over a hundred pounds—and yet your driver is longer and bigger than my driver.   What do you think about that?”   Rex gaped back at me incredulously.   Perhaps I scared him.    “Sounds pretty bad!” he finally exclaimed.   The boy was clearly a genius.

      “This club is way too big for you, kid.   Choke up on the grip a couple inches and tee the ball up a little higher,” I commanded.   Rex respectfully complied.   Once again his drives instantly improved.   Not a lot.   But instantly.

      But he was still pulling and yanking and hooking everything to the left.   Huge, ugly side-spin.   And no matter how hard he tried—improved or not—even when he avoided hitting a worm burner he couldn’t get the ball more than a few feet off the ground.   I couldn’t figure it out.   I kept watching him, studying him, every nuance, every facet of his set-up, his stance, swing, follow-through, everything.   He was taking all my advice, and he was way better than he was, but he was still lousy.   And still hitting everything low and left.

      Finally I spotted it.   On this one swing, right before drawing back his absurd war club, I finally noticed that he twisted the shaft ever-so-slightly.   Slightly inward.   Causing the club face to go from perfectly perpendicular to his intended target-line to slightly angled; angled downward, and to the left.  I couldn’t believe it.   He was changing the angle of his club-face at the last minute!   No wonder he was hitting everything into the ground or pulling it to the left!   I felt like Newton, or Plato, or Archimedes.   Or whoever discovered the paper clip or found the G-spot….ah, the unparalleled joy of knowledge.   I was finally starting to have a good day.

      After explaining to him what he was doing wrong, I said, “Son, do you think you can concentrate on keeping your club-face perfectly still during the take-away, perfectly perpendicular, don’t twist it at all, while at the same time doing all the other things I taught you to do???”   He said he could.    And I could tell the lad sensed something great was about to happen.   He teed one up.   He teed it up high.   He lined the ball up with his front foot.   He checked his target twice.   He swung.   He flared his left hip and uppercutted his follow-through.   And he kept the club face perfectly, beautifully perpendicular………….

      And it was as if the Heavens opened up and the right hand of God reached down and lifted up that golf ball.   It soared high and straight and true, seemed to threaten the San Gabriel Mountains themselves, finally falling back to Earth and coming to a stop almost two hundred yards away.   It was by far the longest ball the little fella had hit to that point, and the only straight one.

      I started to laugh.   The kid just stared straight ahead, bewildered.   “You think you can do it again?” I inquired in a fatherly tone.   He quickly teed up another ball, did everything right, didn’t twist the club right before take-away, and swung.   And once again the ball rose majestically up into the graying firmament of late afternoon, and split the range in two when it finally fell.   He could not have produced a straighter drive if a Cal-Tech mathematician had drawn his exact target-line with a protractor, and then walked the ball down the fairway himself.   “You’re trying to keep from laughing right now, aren’t you,” I said.   Whereupon, of course, he finally did laugh, giddy with joy.   “It’s like I’m suddenly a totally different player!” he declared.   “I guess I should send your father a bill for around two hundred dollars,” I volleyed back, and now we were both laughing.

      Each of Rex’s final ten drives were nearly mirror images of the other nine.   High, straight, true, gorgeous.    He didn’t miss once.

      As we left the range I wished him luck in the upcoming golf season, to which he rejoined, “After today, I bet I’m one of the top ten players on the team!”   We shook hands as men do.   Rex left Eaton Canyon one very happy young kid….

      I’m not going to get all philosophical on you trying to sum it all up.   I could, but I won’t.   Suffice to say that your friendly neighborhood Sports Philosopher wound up having a great, great day after all.   Because he helped out a complete stranger, I suspect.

      Who knows?   Maybe I’ll become some sort of a middle-aged crusader, one of those wistful, aging guys who wanders throughout the land, going up to random people on the street just to see if he can help them in some way.

      Maybe you should try it.   Maybe today?   (Okay, tomorrow.   Why rush it.)

meet….The Sports Philosopher!image0026

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered fictioneer, and lover of the glorious minutiae of Life.    Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written 4 novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of his best fiction work can be discovered by clicking the delightful yet unappreciated links below: 




One Response to “The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER Reaches Out His Kind and Helping Hand….by the Sports Philosopher”

  1. What fun!


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