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The lesson Part II

Posted: March 13, 2009 1:48 a.m.
Updated: March 13, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
The Champions Tour set Signal Sports Editor Cary Osborne, an inexperienced golfer, up with professional Mike Goodes for a lesson. This is the second part of a two-part story. Part one ran in Thursday’s edition of The Signal.

I’m sitting in the players’ dining area at Valencia Country Club on Tuesday.

Champions Tour professional Mike Goodes has just given me a lesson on putting and his golf colleague Joey Sindelar has joined us.

Goodes and I will go out after lunch to the driving range then play a couple of holes.

But I am beginning to learn more and more about Goodes.

He’s had to earn his way onto the Champions Tour by grinding.

A lifelong amateur, the North Carolina native had to qualify to get on the Champions Tour and has to continue to succeed if he wants to remain playing with the likes of Hale Irwin, Gary Player, Mark O’Meara, Nick Price and company.

I ask Sindelar, who had his own run of success on the PGA Tour, what he thinks of Goodes’ story.

“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “He’s very thankful to be here. And it’s not like a lottery.”
Sindelar implied that Goodes belongs.

“There’s this raging debate over who (the Champions Tour) is for,” Sindelar continued.

The Champions Tour is primarily made up over-50 PGA golfers who had their heyday on the regular tour. The Champions Tour gives many of them an opportunity to stay competitive.

Then there are those like Goodes, who never played on the PGA Tour.

Golfers who have had to work their way onto the tour by other methods.

Goodes went to qualifying school, succeeded, then went to qualifying tournaments, succeeded, then made enough money in 2008 on the tour to gain an exemption for 2009.

“Mike is what makes (The Champions Tour) great,” Sindelar said. “There are other avenues possible.”

Goodes won the 2009 Allianz Championship and is third on the tour’s money list this year.

Sindelar said it made Goodes’ story even more special.

“No one wants to get beat by anybody, but when a guy wins that you’re happy for, that’s great stuff,” Sindelar said.

“Thanks Joey,” Goodes said, humbled.

Sindelar then asked Goodes about what it would take for him to become a regular on the tour.

Goodes explained that he basically has to keep winning.

And he can’t settle.

“I can’t break my arm patting myself on the back,” Goodes said.

Then talk turns to the love of the game.

Sindelar explained how you see that love in Goodes.

Both said they see golfers on the Champions Tour going through the motions.


“I still love it,” Goodes said. “I love playing.”

Lunch ended soon after that.

Goodes and I headed out to the driving range, and I was chomping at the bit.

Having only played a nine-hole par-3 course before, I had never swung a driver.

Goodes probably didn’t know this.

So I wanted to just knock the dimples out of a golf ball with a driver.

But Goodes was patient.

He stretched.

So I halfheartedly mimicked him.

“Let’s start with an iron,” he told me. “And let’s aim for that flag over there.”

I’m not very good at distance, but I figured it was a good 50 yards away.

As I did with putting, I asked Goodes about form and grip.

Just like with putting, he made sure I bent at the hips, butt out, arms relaxed, head down.

“Most people have the same kind of bleed over,” Goodes said.

But instead of hovering over the ball, he had me stand back a couple of feet.

“My dad taught me how to play golf. I take the club and I keep it square,” Goodes said. “Get the club square.”

My dad taught me baseball, and it was always my sport. I explained this to Goodes and he related golf to it.

He had me swing the club like a bat, aiming for an imaginary ball on an imaginary tee.

I just had to lower that swing to smack the golf ball.

My feet were to be shoulder-width apart.

He wanted me to shift my weight from my back hip to my front hip, but I couldn’t step.

I was ready.

The Signal’s photographer Francisca Rivas was there to capture the action.

I told Mike, “I hope I don’t miss the ball on my first swing.”

“You won’t,” he said, with clear confidence.

I missed.

“Did you get that?” Goodes asked Francisca.

We laughed, then he got me right back on the horse.

The shots progressed, from a hard grounder to consistent shots that caught air and grabbed some distance.

Goodes was encouraging the whole way.

Then we shifted to the driver.

Same concepts.

But shot after shot curved left.

Three went over the netting on the far left side.

“Foul ball,” I kept saying.

There was already a big hitch in my game.

Actually two.

I was so rigid when I swung.

I had Frankenstein arms.

Goodes had me get in my stance, while the shaft of the club rested against my waist. He told me to relax my arms then grip the club.

It was a huge help.

Then we went onto the course to play holes No. 10 and 11.

As we walked onto the tee box on No. 10, I asked Goodes if he was concerned.

“No,” he said, elongating the “O” with his Southern accent.

That little bit of confidence helped me tremendously on the par-4, 470-yard hole.

My drive stayed on the course, but it was an ugly duck that barely caught air.

His was perfect — right down the middle — about 250 yards farther than mine.

We took our next shot from where his last one landed.

He had me pull out an iron and allowed me to shoot first.

It caught air, of course went left, got some distance, and dropped just slightly off the fairway.

“There you go,” an excited Goodes said.

Then he gave me a fist bump with a wide smile on his face.

I chipped onto the green on my next shot and he again fist bumped me.

We were both on the green and I missed my putt, but I was in the neighborhood on it.

We then walked to the par-4, 400-yard No. 11.

He told me to compensate for my shots going left and had me stand slight right with my sight on a tree in the distance.

I drove, still hooked it left, but it least it got a little distance this time.

Goodes’ shot again was perfect.

We found my ball off the fairway, but again took our shot from where his last one landed.

He had me take out a 9-iron and aim for a white post just to the right of the hole past the green.

I remembered the posture, the grip, to relax my arms, to keep my eye on the ball.

I swung and the ball flew, slight left again, but it was a good shot, nearing the green.

“A star is born,” Goodes exclaimed.

Then another fist bump.

“It was all the teacher,” I said.

He asked me if I wanted to take the next shot, as the ball rested in some semi-rough.

I wanted to tackle it.

I chipped it onto the green and he got fired up again.

“There you go,” he said.

Goodes had his caddy Mike Bracken line up the putt for me.

I had to pull it slight right over a bump so it would come back left to the hole.

I putted and it went nowhere, so Goodes told me to try again.

The next putt was perfect, right where Bracken was standing.

Yet he was a couple of feet from the hole.

I then sunk a five-footer to end the day.

I asked Goodes how I was.

“Not worse than 99 percent of the guys who play in a pro-am,” he said.

“Whew,” I thought.

We rode back to the clubhouse and I asked for a critique.

“You’re a typical beginner,” he said.

“Let yourself be more athletic,” he then advised. “Watch yourself in a mirror swing. You’re a good athlete. But you’re not letting yourself get a good athletic swing.”

We shook hands and I wished him luck.

If he didn’t play well this weekend, I told him to blame me.

“I will,” he joked.

Later that day I remember something he told me.

Goodes said his father once said, “You meet the best people on a golf course.”

He was right that day.

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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