Monday, February 24, 1997
Golf is not rocket science;
it's actually much harder

BY PAUL DAUGHERTY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Because you asked, I have a theory about my golf game that goes like this: I never want it to get so good that I have a bad time when I don't play well.

The shrinks would call this conflict avoidance. Good for them. I call it a perfectly legitimate cop-out.

That doesn't mean I don't work at golf, however. Not long ago, I discovered a hotline manned by teaching professionals, to help miserable hackers overcome the sad torments of their pathetic games.

You call. A pro gives you a ''tip.''

Except most golf tips fit like O.J.'s glove. What's easier: Perfecting a proper swing-plane arc, or translating the Iliad from Latin?

Here's a handy-dandy tip, titled ''The Science of Weight Shift'', from the January issue of Golf magazine:

''Address the ball with your spine tilted approximately 10 degrees to your right. Bend the right elbow, cock the wrists vertically and raise the arms until they are the same height as - and in line with - the right ear. Turn the shoulders until the left shoulder is even with the right hip socket. Now most of the body's weight is on the right foot.''

Uh-huh.

(Then place your left index finger to your left temple, curling the last three fingers of the hand, while forming an ''L'' with your thumb and index finger. Flex your thumb. Say ''bang!'' really loud.)

Poor, poor pitiful me

The author, one Michael McTeigue, includes this bit of useful contortionism in a book called, I'm not making this up, The Keys to the Effortless Golf Swing.

Give me a teacher who doesn't make me feel like I could build a rocket before I could hit a good sand shot.

This month, a guy in Golf magazine asks me to put a two-by-six in a sand trap, draw a line across its middle, create a lump of sand ''the size and height of a chocolate brownie'' and practice until I can ''toss the brownie off the board.''

I think they do it on purpose. The pros, the instructors, the magazines. They conspire to offer hieroglyphic instruction, so as to keep our swings forever screwed up. And, thus, in need of their service. Because if we weren't awful, they'd have nothing to do.

We return to them again and again, worthless and weak, prattling about open club faces and passive right sides. Lamenting our pitiful 10-degree spine tilts.

In his recent book, Golf Dreams, John Updike writes, ''I'm on my 412th lesson, and my irons still take the divot on the wrong side of the ball.''

Tip to John: Don't do that anymore.

Updike honors the King's English. But he can't play golf worth a damn. At least he can deal with that, without professional help.

''My romance with golf,'' Updike writes, ''stood revealed as hopeless.''

As does mine. I called the hotline anyway. Why? Because I play golf. Because I've been a little worried about my shoulder-turn calibration lately. Because I've got to, mister.

Top tip: Ignore tips

I said, ''I have a nasty fade off the tee.''

The pro on the other end, Jimmy Day from Baton Rouge, La., said, ''On a fade, the spin of the ball is a clockwise spin, created by an improper swing and an open clubface. You with me?''

''Oh, yeah,'' I said. ''Absolutely.''

Then Jimmy said, ''If we create a circular swing arc with the clubhead, (it) should allow the clubhead to travel from the inside and around, through the ball. If you produce an out-to-in swing, the ball is going to go to the left. So you open the clubface (giving) you an open-faced sidespin.''

This is when I knew that either (A) Jimmy was on a psychedelic trip or (B) I am not one of those people helped by tips.

My game is best left alone, untreated. It's incurable. I like it that way.

When spring arrives, I will resume playing golf as badly as I want. My spine will tilt any damned way it pleases.

As for golf tips, here's one: Let's be careful out there.

Golf is a simple game. Until you play.

Call Paul Daugherty at 768-8454.