Monday, May 16, 2011

The Old Dog Project: Progress, in spite of everything

(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 feel more like a metropolis) but a lifetime, because of course when you think you’ve figured out one part of the swing or the game of golf, 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 on The Old Dog Project, I imagine being able to check back with Dr. Tom for a tune-up, 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 and family, life and health. 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.

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