Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Golf is hard and so is Pool

Golf and the Yips

One of my favorite quotes about golf is from Winston Churchill. Sir Winston allegedly described golf as “a game where you attempt to send a small ball into a small hole using implements wholly unsuited to the purpose.” I can’t think of a better
...and tomorrow
I shall be sober
description, frankly.

There have been times when I felt as though I could do anything I wanted with a golf club and the ball would react as I envisioned. I recall playing a round of golf with a non-playing girl friend riding along with me in the cart. I had badly hooked my tee shot on a par 4 and the ball had come to rest in the middle of a parallel fairway about 170 yards from the green with a large stand of trees between the two of them. She asked me what I was going to do to remedy the situation. As I took my stance, I said, “I’m going to hit a high fade over the trees and it’s going to land right on the green.” I’m pretty sure her response was something like, “Yeah, right.”

I took a swing and the ball took off, rose up over the trees, turned right and fluttered onto the green about 10 feet away from the hole, exactly as I’d seen it in my mind’s eye. I walked back to the cart to put my club back in the bag, feeling pretty studly, as the young lady asked me, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just hit it down the middle of the fairway, first, instead of having to go over the trees?”

That’s golf in a nutshell; momentary flashes of brilliance surrounded by longer periods of abject stupidity.

My putting suffered from the yips for a number of years. For those of you unfamiliar with them, the yips are a psychological problem that infects a part of your golf game, usually putting although Charles Barkley 
He actually poses
like this during the swing
suffers from it in his full swing. (There are videos on YouTube but I don’t recommend watching them if you play golf. The yips transfer through the eyes. You have been warned!)

For about seven or eight years, attempting to putt in the 20 – 30 foot range was very uncomfortable. I’d pull the putter back and then twitch as I was about to hit the ball. As you might imagine, the ball didn’t do what I was hoping it would, most of the time. The result is that one begins to feel it coming on and can only just watch and hope for the best as if having an out of body experience with a golf club in ones hand.

It was so bad that I almost gave up the game. Somehow I managed to push the yips out of my putting so that, nowadays, I’m regarded as a very good putter. I don’t recall how I accomplished this; probably better off forgotten anyway.

Unfortunately, the yips now inhabit my chipping and short game. Typically, the ball will either travel about three or four feet because I’ve hit the ground behind it
(golfers call this the chili-dip or the Hormels after that famous brand of chili) or it will run quickly across the green, missing the hole by a wide margin and into a much worse location because I’ve bladed the ball and it didn’t get off the ground at all.

When my best friend plays with me, he will turn his head when I’m about to play a short shot around the green. And encourage others to look away. I can’t blame him but it must be very hard to do. Like not looking at a traffic accident as you drive slowly past it; don’t you just have to look?
Operators are standing by!

The good news is that this past weekend, I played 9 holes with my best friend and found a method for swinging that doesn’t hurt my arthritic wrists! There may be hope that I can continue playing this great game. And hitting the ugliest chip shots with a smile on my face.

Or maybe I’ll have the time to devote to fixing it.

Pool and the Yips

I play pool, I think, for many of the same reasons that I play golf. It’s difficult. It’s mentally challenging, probably more than it is physically challenging. And since the player is the one that is solely responsible for success or failure, I don’t have anyone else to blame for a poor shot. All of that appeals to me. Along with the fact that you can drink while playing, I suppose.

I usually get an hour or two on Sunday afternoon to practice my pool game. I spend the time doing some drills for speed control, quality of stroke, and to cement my pre-shot routine. I also spend time doing something called a Q-skills drill which is a semi-scientific way to track progress over time.

My practice sessions over the past month or so have been really good and I feel as if I’ve reached a new level in my game. That makes last night’s occurrence all the more disturbing.

Monday night is league night for me. I play in an 8 Ball league at one of the few remaining pool rooms in the area, Diamond Billiards. It’s a BCA league (for all of you that care about such things) and is very competitive. My team is made up of 5 people, and we’re all pretty fair players. Halfway through the current session, we’re in first place.

In my first match last night, I broke dry and my opponent scratched on his opening shot giving me ball in hand anywhere on the table. I set up for an easy shot in the side pocket with just a touch of angle on it so as to play position for the next shot, slightly down table. I went through my pre-shot routine, got down on the shot, went through my mental checklist and shot. The object ball hit the point of the side pocket, ricocheted over to the other point of the pocket, rattled back and forth and did not fall. I had managed to miss my opening shot with ball in hand!
Just a bit outside!

I was so stunned, I don’t remember walking back to my seat. My teammates were all staring at me, wondering what happened. I was trying to determine what I’d done to miss that easy of a shat (truly, the easiest possible shot). The only thing I could come up with was that I’d been trying to cheat the pocket and had over-done it, causing the ball to catch the edge of the rail by mistake. Meanwhile, my opponent was running the table and played a safety with 2 balls left. I got back to the table with almost nothing to shoot at, managing to make a couple of shots before missing a very difficult safety of my own and my opponent ran out.

In league play, when you do something dumb like this, your teammates are there to pick you up, and cover your errors.  Or, they abuse you relentlessly for the next 30 minutes or so, just to help you remember that stupid stuff isn’t tolerated. Whatever. I’m guilty of it, too.

I managed to get my groove back a little bit in the second game although the other team kept getting these silly rolls when they would miss and leave us with really bad position from which to shoot. I lost that one, too.

In the third game, I broke dry and my opponent was running out when he rattled a ball and left me a shot. I ran the rack out, making some very difficult shots and playing some pinpoint position. I felt like I was back!

In the last game, my opponent ran down to the 8 ball before snookering himself. When he fouled trying to hit the 8, he gave me ball in hand. I didn’t even think about what had happened in the first game as I plotted my path to run out the rack. (Having very short memory is essential to confident shooting.)

I set up my first shot, made it and got perfect position for the next one. I ran every shot just as I had drawn it up in my mind and it was a difficult layout with a tight cluster of 4 balls at one end of the table that required a break out shot to enable the run out.

With only the 7 ball and the 8 left on the table, I was set up for a very simple touch shot in the corner where the cue ball would strike the 7, make it in the corner pocket and then roll forward about a foot for position on the 8 in the other corner. The shot required a gentle stroke with just enough speed to accomplish everything.

I got down on the shot, went through my mental checklist and shot. The object ball, I could immediately see, was slightly offline and hit the point of the pocket. It rattled back and forth, and stayed up on the table.

The cue ball rolled forward into perfect position…..for my opponent to shoot the 8 ball into the opposite pocket to win the game.

Yep, did it again.

Some rather colorful language came out of my mouth, quietly, as I slowly walked back to my seat amongst my teammates. They congratulated me for the great run, even if I did choke on the most important shot of the game. (These words were said with a smile, at least.) I truly have no idea how I missed that ball. Probably a tiny eye movement at the last second.

Now these two shots, that I went brain dead on, aren’t really the yips as the yips are typically a constantly repeated, psychologically driven phenomenon. And I didn’t see them coming, as you can when you really have the yips. But damn. They hurt just as badly.

I guess it’s back to the practice table again this weekend.  Good thing, too, since it’s Labor Day!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ruminations on Truth

Goodbye and RIP to one of the funniest people ever.

Monday night, I was at pool league and thumbing through Facebook between matches when I saw someone post that Robin Williams was dead. To say I was surprised would have been the understatement of the night; I was shocked and horribly saddened, especially after hearing that suicide was suspected. How awful must it be that someone who is that incredibly funny, who causes people to smile with just a facial expression or a change in accent, suffers so much inside that he can only say, “Check please!” to life.

Many people talk about what a genius he was on stage, and he was. But he was also a workingman’s comic, bringing labor to the craft and not just relying on pure adrenaline and chutzpah to carry the performance. I once watched him riff on what comics are thinking about while doing their act and was completely transfixed in watching the only version of meta-comedy I’ve ever seen! What it took to prepare that routine must have been exhausting and I was in awe.

He was also a cyclist and a big fan of bike racing, occasionally showing up at local crits and big events wherever he was. Performance Bike had a post this morning that he once showed up for one of their group rides at the home office when he was on location for a film in Raleigh. Evidently, they’ve never been the same. I can only imagine him riffing on the thoughts of a bike racer…..

That we have a huge record of his talent is comforting, in a very small way, that we can go back and catch some of his stuff. That we’ll never get to see anything new from him, and he still had legs, is very difficult to imagine. I hope, Robin, that your pain is now gone as our own – over your loss – will eventually subside. You were a master funnyman, sir. Rest well.
Going to try for Almighty laughter.....

Ruminations on Truth

It’s been crazy at work lately so I haven’t had much time to write.

It’s also summertime and there are so many things to do. There’s my bike to ride as often as possible; three times this past weekend, alone! There’s the lawn to be mowed and ours is three acres so it takes about 2 ½ hours to cut. There are projects out in the shop that people are waiting on for completion, trophies, and mantles, and music stands, and I don’t know what all. There’s golf to be played with my friends. And besides all that, beer!

Bike Truth

The truth is I haven’t ridden my bike nearly as much as I would like. I’ve managed to accumulate over 1200 miles so far this year but I wish I had more under my belt. I’m riding in the Tour of Richmond again in October and that’s a century ride. I don’t want that to be another Tour de Cure where I was gassed at the 30 mile mark and had to limp back to the start. (I didn’t even post a ride report on that one, I was so upset. On the bright side, because it wasn’t about me, my teammates and I and You raised over $9500!) So, I pretty much have to be diligent in riding 3-5 times a week for the next two months in order to make the entire 102 miles.
Fast Eddy - Showroom pose

I did follow my son’s advice and purchase a Brooks Saddle for Fast Eddy in an effort to improve my ride by reducing the dreaded numbness. According to all the experts, any saddle can be made comfortable simply through fitting properly and then adjusting it until it’s just right. This strikes me as testing to see if you’ve broken a finger by smacking all of them, one at a time, with a hammer until you find the one that hurts the worst. That’s the broken one!
Joy for my tuschis!

But the Brooks Saddle, made of top grain leather, is very firm. With only three rides on it, so far, I can tell it’s going to be a winner – once I’ve broken it into my behind. Or my behind breaks in, whichever comes first.

Lawn mowing Truth

The next truth is that I’ve mowed the lawn exactly twice this summer. MB typically does it but has also been pulled in other directions so I’ve had to jump in and do it a couple of times. I hate to cut the lawn so it just seems like a lot more than only twice. And we have a John Deere riding mower so it's not physically demanding or anything.
It's got a cup holder!

When I was twelve, I had a lawn service in my neighborhood. Every week, I’d cut the grass at 18 or 20 houses and get paid anywhere from $3.50 to $5.00 for it. I was the richest twelve year old in the county! But after a few years of that, my love for cutting grass disappeared and remains missing to this day. It doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the look of a well manicured lawn, I just can’t be the one do it. At least not any more than I have to.

Shop Truth

I finished the trophies for the Virginia State 9 Ball Championships again this year, an event I usually play in. This year, it was scheduled to coincide with my and MB’s wedding anniversary and we went out of town for that so, I didn’t play.

The mantle was completed months ago, a piece in beautiful cherry that was great fun to design and build. The music stand is for MB to hold her flute and piccolo when she is playing in our church orchestra / band / music group. I made one that, unfortunately isn’t exactly what she wanted so that one will be moved into our music room (since our last daughter moved out, we’re re-purposing some rooms in the house) and I’ll make another version based on her feedback on the first.
I have a large pile of maple out in the shop waiting for me to turn it into a stand for music leaders during church services and I’ll need to get to that in the next month or so. I have a design in my mind and I just have to execute it, some future weekend.

Golf Truth

This one pains me. Literally. I haven’t played a single round this year. Haven’t even swung a club in anger. Every time I think I’d like to go play, or even hit some practice balls, I tweak one of my wrists and remember that I have arthritis in both of them. And it hurts. It especially hurts to swing a golf club. And it hurts my soul that the game that I’ve loved my entire life is no longer a part of it.
I miss this pose.

The next time I think about it, and it happened this past weekend but I couldn’t connect with my buddy Clyde to go, I’m just going to go do it. Pain be damned. I’m going to push through it, much like you do when learning to play the guitar and you just keep forming chords until the blisters turn into calluses and it doesn’t hurt you any longer. I’m not sure my wrists will go numb like my finger tips did, but I’m going to find out.  Dammit.

Beer Truth

An old saying going something like this, “There’s a whole lot of lies in a full bottle of scotch and a whole lot of truth in an empty one.” The same could be said of beer but it takes more than one bottle.
Yum. A small flight!
Beer is one of the big stories in Richmond this year as we’ve suddenly become the cool place to open a craft brewery. In the past 2 years, about 8 new brewers have set up shop and are brewing some of the best, ingenious beers you can drink. And if you include Charlottesville, an hour to the west, that number almost doubles. It’s a wonderful thing.

And that’s the truth!