Why I Gave Up on Self-Taught Golf

Boy Meets Golf

I’ve been a casual golfer for a long time. It started almost thirty years ago, though the exact date is hard to pin down. I remember buying a set of Ping knock-offs at the local Golf Discount and an Odyssey Rossie II putter that I still use. My first boss at a small internet start up liked to play and he dragged his young crew out from time to time to Lakewood Golf Course in Fenton, MO. Generally, three or four of us would walk the nine hole course, hacking dejectedly at the balls and cussing mightily when we chunked, topped or shanked them, which was often. (Lakewood closed in 2006, replaced by a subdivision of vinyl clad McMansions.)

I was encouraged by my late father-in-law, Jean Thierry, who was an avid golfer. He and I would sit in his living room and watch golf on Sunday afternoons. Jean would smoke cigarettes and drink Pepsi; I would just drink Pepsi or maybe a beer. He hooked me on watching golf, something that I had no interest in growing up. He spent many days of his retirement hanging out at Pro-Am Golf, a bygone driving range in South St. Louis County and I enjoyed hearing him tell about his golfing exploits.

Frustrating as those early days were, I loved it and secretly told myself I could be a decent golfer. I remember getting a few lessons from a pro, though those memories are also fuzzy. He told me the most important thing was lag, which isn’t wrong, I suppose, though he didn’t tell me how to achieve it. I also remember practicing a lot at the old Tower Tee driving range in Affton, MO (it has since closed and re-opened in a much more impressive state) and being able to hit the ball fairly well if I practiced a lot. Soon after, my son was born and, though, I watched golf a lot, but played and practiced only occasionally.

Golf Activity

Over the years, I heard several people say “you have to play a lot to get better.” It made sense. If I only played a few times a year, I couldn’t hope to improve much. A few years ago I started playing more and found to my annoyance that I wasn’t improving. In fact, I was getting worse. It began with a weekly par 3 outing with a friend. Sometimes I played all right but I was very inconsistent. He introduced me to folks who host a nine hole game every Sunday morning. They get a few tee times at a local course and send out an email to anyone who wanted to join them. They always walk the course, which I also enjoy. It’s very informal and relaxed and they play year around. I like getting out in winter, weather permitting. All that said, I was still having a lot of bad rounds for all the usual reasons. I started tracking my progress with a golf app on my phone but there was very little progress to track. A good round was in the high forties and a bad round as fifty or over. I decided I would have to try and improve or give it up.

Quit or Fix it?

I thought about taking more lessons many times over the years but had never got around to it. And why should I? They’re expensive and YouTube is lousy with golf pros giving endless tips. Danny Maude, More Pars (Christina Ricci) and Martin Chuck were some of my favorites. They all promise to get you to golf’s promised land. I’d watch a bunch of videos and take notes, then run to the range and try to do what they said, but nothing stuck.

Something Happened

I started thinking I had to break down and get a coach and began looking into it but didn’t find anyone that I thought was a good fit. I talked to one guy who gave me his card like it was a big chore. Sigh. Then, one day I was at the range when I ran into my neighbor from across the street. He said he had started taking lessons from Tom DeGrand, an old pro who had a golf shop the next town over. When I got home I mentioned this to my wife and she said the name was familiar; she was pretty sure her dad knew Tom. After several more months of procrastinating, I called Tom. “Does the name Jean Thierry ring a bell?” I asked. “Ring a bell? He was one of my best friends!” What a dinky world. I signed up for three lessons.

How It Works

Tom teaches in a video bay with two cameras, one head on and one down the line. The video records continuously so you can watch every swing. Right away he said I was too hunched over and had me stand taller and straighten my back. He pointed out my excessive left leg motion and tweaked my grip. I saw results immediately. I also learned why I was hitting all my clubs the same distance. It has to do with swing path and timing. Timing (or sequence or rhythm) is everything. If the timing is right and the club face is positioned correctly you get that little draw that everyone wants, but few achieve. The video is high(ish) tech but he’s also old school. He writes notes on paper that I take with me as practice cheat sheets. This is what YouTube golf videos can’t do: you need personalized analysis! Yes, I know it sounds blazingly obvious, but I was resistant for a long time.


My scores started improving, slowly at first and then faster. The first time I shot a 41 on a nine hole course with no mulligans and no lost balls, I was really happy. That’s decent mediocre golf, which is all I am after. (I joke about mediocrity, but most golfers are straight up bad; being mediocre puts you in the top ten percent of weekend warriors.) My driver went from being my enemy to being my friend. I was hitting it straighter and farther then before. Seeing a drive that doesn’t slice gives you a sweet kick of endorphins that makes you not miss the dough you spent on lessons. My mid-irons are a work in progress but I expect to up my game there, too. We just started working on pitching and chipping. The first time I saw the video of what I thought was a decent chip, I was appalled. I was standing up midway through and exposing the hosel to the ball. Aha! That’s why I hit the occasional shank! I won’t be doing that again. If you’ve been hesitant to get a coach, I can’t urge you strongly enough to get over the hump and make the call. I expect you’ll be as glad as I am!




Posted on: May 27, 2022, by :