An Old Dog progress report: The swing is getting there

March 29, 2011 

Even the most open-ended endeavors need a point of reckoning, a time to briefly hit the pause button.

Calling this a mid-term evaluation is a little like calling a 56-year-old man “middle-aged,” and when the project is making sense of the golf swing, it takes not a village (the thoughts filling the player’s head make it feel like a metropolis) but a lifetime, because of course when you think you’ve figured out one part of the swing or the game, another part squeaks for attention …

The above sentence is crowded and maybe even contradictory, the way a golfer who’s thinking too much feels when he stands over the ball, and you’ll note that it doesn’t have a period at the end.

I can imagine a time when Tom Staskus throws up his hands and says he can’t teach me anything more, for one of several possible reasons: 1) he’s sick and tired of me; 2) he’s got better things (or students) to give his time to; or 3) like the werewolf’s hair, my swing is perfect.

(Mid-term quiz: Which of the three answers above is least likely to be true?)

Even when we do put an end to The Old Dog Project, I imagine being able to check back with Dr. Tom for a tuneup, a chance for the teacher to admire his handiwork or despair at the deterioration once he let me out of his sight.

In the several months since we started the Old Dog Project, we haven’t gotten together as often as would be optimal, for mundane reasons – work, family, health and life.

Nor, from one lesson to the next, has the student practiced as often as he or his teacher would have liked. They say practice helps.

Still, against the odds, progress has been made.

More than once in the process, the student has laughed and shaken his head as a simple thought hit him again: It’s easier to do it right than do it wrong.

It’s easier to get to the right place at the top, to return to the ball on the same path as you took it away; easier to swing the club through the contact area; easier to shift the weight smoothly and finish in balance … than to sway back and lunge forward, to drag the hands through the hitting area, to snap, jerk and flail at the dimpled innocent, the golf ball, that deserves no such indignities.

All of the right ways have good physics reasons for why they work. But only some other science discipline could explain why all the wrong things are hardened into place – and so hard to dislodge.


Last week, for the first time, we videotaped The Old Dog’s golf swing, and if it’s not a thing of beauty, at least it’s watchable

“Thank god we didn’t take pictures of you originally,” Staskus said. “I would’ve had to go out and get a drink … Now I’m ready to take videos because I can handle it.”

We were able to laugh about it, because the swing we watched was not so funny, so ridiculous, as when we started in December.

Of all the swings we taped, more often than not I was too steep at the top, but on a few of them I still managed to get back to the ball and through it with some authority and finish in a balanced position.

It didn’t look so tortured as it must have looked when we began. Oh, still so much work to do. Mid-term? We’re still in freshman acclimation … but early and promising is better than late and hopeless.


All of the above was written before The Old Dog took it to the golf course again. It might be better to live in the illusion that you’re getting better than to play an actual round and find out how far you still need to go.

How many ways are there for a swing to go wrong and a scorecard to balloon out of control? I won’t say it wasn’t frustrating.

But look at it this way: I wasn’t reporting to work at a crippled nuclear plant in Japan, doing a dirty and dangerous job that seems little short of suicidal. Those people are heroes, and they didn’t get to play golf.

I’m not hungry and living on the street in Haiti, more than a year after that country’s earthquake.

And I didn’t have to spend my Monday, like my friend Mark Clemens, in major surgery, and wake up to face a daunting recovery.

Golf is a part of life, my life, and we can trot out all those “bad day of golf beats a good day …” clichés. But golf isn’t life itself.

Olympia freelance writer Bart Potter can be reached at

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