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The lesson Part I

Posted: March 12, 2009 1:31 a.m.
Updated: March 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Here’s the concept.While being a little self-indulgent, I thought it would be a great idea to get a lesson from one of the professionals on the Champions Tour during the week of the AT&T Champions Classic at Valencia Country Club.

I represent a large demographic — people interested in golf who don’t play, but would like to play without looking like an idiot.

I felt that this might not only help me, but others with an interest in learning the game.

“Like golf for dummies?” one of my co-workers asked.

Yes, and I would be the dummy.

The people at the Champions Tour graciously made it happen and the poor golfer that had to endure this lesson would be Mike Goodes.

Goodes is currently third on the 2009 Champions Tour money list.

The 52-year-old North Carolina native won the 2009 Allianz Championship, so it was a thrill for me to be coached by a champion.

We met up on Tuesday morning, and I would later learn that this wasn’t just a lesson for me and a teaching tool, hopefully to you the readers, but an opportunity to learn about a driven man, a sort of everyman, who is living a dream.

Honestly, I didn’t know a whole lot about Goodes going into the meeting.

In fact, I wanted to avoid calling him by his last name because, at first, I didn’t know how to pronounce it.

My biggest pet peeve is people getting my name wrong, so I didn’t want to do the same to Goodes (pronounced Good-iss).

We met a little after 11:30 a.m. after Valencia Country Club let me borrow some left-handed clubs.

That’s always been one of my hang-ups, I’m left-handed and don’t have my own set of clubs and every single one of my friends is right-handed.

I was introduced to Goodes by tournament executive director Peter deYoung.

I immediately called Goodes, “Sir,” avoiding any mispronunciation.

Goodes had a wide smile on his face, a Southern accent, and a firm handshake.

He asked me if I wanted to putt.

So the lesson began on the practice green just outside of the club’s pro shop.

I was nervous.

I wanted to look like I knew what I was doing, but in fact, I had little knowledge.

There have been two occasions where I have played golf — both at Vista Valencia’s nine-hole par-3 course.

Poor Mike Goodes.

But he was welcoming.

I’d later ask him if he dreaded this assignment and he told me, “No, not at all,” with complete genuineness.

I grabbed a putter, he tossed me some balls and we went to it.

The first thing Goodes talked about was distance.

We were about 10 to 15 feet from the hole, as professionals surrounded us.

Maybe he took it for granted that I had some knowledge about posture and grip.

I faked it enough for him not to say anything.

We started at the putting green because he was already there, but as he would later say, “Putting is where you make your money.”

So it was a perfect beginning, really.

“Your mind calculates how hard to hit it and the more you practice the easier it is for your mind,” Goodes told me.

Basically, I had to feel the distance with my mind and transfer that energy to my body for the putt.

He had me take a practice stroke.

Goodes said he always takes a practice stroke before a putt.

“You let your mind take care of the distance,” Goodes said.

Of course there were a lot of other factors — the speed of the green and any bumps or ridges.

I could feel the soft, short grass and deduced that I couldn’t give it a rip. Instead, I had to gently push it.

But I questioned Goodes about my grip.

My previous coaching was from a 20-year-old kid who played for fun.

Surprisingly, Goodes didn’t disagree too much with it.

I simply wrapped my right hand around the top of the shaft, thumb lined down the center.

Then I took my left hand and wrapped it, the opposite side, around the bottom with my pinky and ring finger wrapped around my right thumb.

(For right-handers it would be the opposite.)

My posture was horrendous.

I was stiff as a wall.

Goodes quickly corrected it.

He had me bend at the hips, butt out, feet shoulder width apart and head down looming over the ball.

Goodes told me to swing like a pendulum, with my arms relaxed.

“Is there a certain way to look without getting laughed at while putting?” I asked.

His advice was to ask a course’s golf pro or get lessons and practice.

Luckily for me, I was getting this advice from an actual touring pro.

“I putt with the ball closer to my front leg because I want to put top spin on the ball,” Goodes said. “I want to hit it kind of slightly on the upstroke. It goes straighter through the bumps with top spin.”

Goodes was great because he used vivid examples from things I would already understand to make the picture clearer.

“It’s just like shooting free throws,” he said of putting. “You shoot and you shoot. It’s a reaction. You’re looking at the rim and you shoot. You’re doing the same thing here. You’re looking at your target, you come back and you stroke it. You don’t need to look at it and come back and freeze.”

Which I did once.

“Speed’s the key,” he continued. “I see so many amateurs that can’t get to five feet of the hole because they’re just wacking it way by or hitting it halfway. Watch that target and let your mind do the work.”

You bet I would hit the ball too hard. My first putt was a rocket.

Luckily, Goodes’ caddy Mike Bracken was behind the hole to rescue the ball.

But after some encouragement, the putts rolled closer and closer to the cup.

I must have putted 20 times on that green and made zero.

But it was a start and the final putt circled the rim.

I was close and putting, as many golfers say, is the hardest part of the game.

I asked Goodes about the mental side of the game.

“In golf, you’ve got to be careful to not let your mind hurt you and you get to start thinking negative,” Goodes said. “If it’s a tough shot and you’re thinking about the bad things that can happen ... you try and stay positive. You need to picture the ball roll and roll and roll and it drop on the hole. Let’s go eat lunch.”

It was around noon and Goodes and I went into the player’s dining area to sit down to eat.

I recognized Fuzzy Zoeller at the far table. I also recognized chicken, potato salad and cole slaw.

I brought the plate back to a table and sat across from Goodes.

As enlightening as the quick putting lesson was, we were only a third of the way done for the day, and this lunch was equally eye-opening.

We didn’t talk golf as much as we talked life.

And Goodes’ life was an amazing story.

I started the conversation asking him if he was a Tar Heels basketball fan.

In doing a little research, I knew he attended the University of North Carolina.

That got the conversation rolling.

Goodes lives in Brown Summit, N.C., just outside of Greensboro.

He’s married and co-owns a business.

Talk shifted to the Allianz.

“I never thought about winning,” he said. “The winning will mean more to me later, I guess, but I still have a ways to go.”

There are a different kinds of golfers on the Champions Tour.

There are past champions who bring name recognition that aren’t as competitive as they used to be.

There are those with name recognition still competing at a high level.

Then there are a few who compete in every tournament to stay on the tour.

That’s Goodes.

He was a long-time amateur who never played on the PGA Tour.

Goodes earned a scholarship to play golf at the University of North Carolina, but only played a couple of qualifying tournaments and stopped because of other interests.

He got into the textile business, then later became partners with a friend on a plastic-recycling business called Cardinal Recycling.

All the while, Goodes was playing golf.

“The last couple of years before I turned 50, I talked with my wife and partner about (trying to play on the Champions Tour),” he said.

Goodes’ efforts weren’t enough as he had to devote time to business and golf.

In 2007, then 50 years old, he made 10 appearances in Champions Tour events, seven through open qualifying.

He decided that he would have to devote more time to golf, and whole lot less on business.

With his partner’s blessing, Goodes did just that.

In 2008, he had to open qualify time after time to get into Champions Tour events.

That meant Goodes had to spend his own money and fly to qualifying tournaments and finish in the top four of those events to play in the Champions Tour tournaments.

He spent his own money on hotels and relied on hope and ability.

The Champions Tour is designed for golfers who were on the PGA Tour, but there are other ways to get in.

The door for such players was opened by Jim Albus, a former head professional at Piping Rock Club in Long Island, N.Y.

Albus, then a non-regular on the tour, won the 1991 Senior Players Championship.

That surprising victory gave hope to amateurs and great golfers alike to battle their way onto the Champions Tour.

Goodes battled.

He qualified for five of the first 11 Champions Tour events in 2008, but never finished above tied for 21st.

Then he caught fire.

He finished fourth at the Regions Charity Classic, tied for sixth in two events and second at the JELD-WEN Tradition.

By the end of the year, he was 29th on the tour’s final money list.

Having finished in the top 30 last season, he earned an exemption for 2009 that allows him to play in every event.

But he has to battle every year to keep playing because in order to get on the tour permanently, he would have to be in the top-30 all-time money list.

“I can’t afford to go through the motions,” Goodes said.

“Mind if I join you guys?” said Joey Sindelar at that point, a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour who finished second last week at the Toshiba Classic. “Oh, you’re doing an interview. Sorry, I’ll get up ...”

“No, no, no,” Goodes and I stopped him and implored him to sit down.

Thank God, because Sindelar would later give more perspective on Goodes.

Part II of “The Lesson” will run in Friday’s edition of The Signal. Goodes guides me on the driving range and we play two holes at Valencia Country Club. Also, lunch continues. Cary Osborne is The Signal’s sports editor. He can be reached at cosborne@the-signal.com. This column reflects his views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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