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There’s only one way to go from here

Editor’s Note: This is part three (read part two here) of a year-long series tracking our editor as he attempts to reach a 10-handicap. As of this writing, Wall Street insiders are shorting his stock. – Tom Coyne

Frank stands next to her, his back 2×4 straight. He removes a small cup of tea off the platter and, ever so delicately, places it next to her plate. Slowly, deliberately, he walks around her husband to the other side of the table, sets the platter down, and, carefully, sits in his chair. Success. Frank has performed this entire ritual blindfolded.

The husband, stone-faced, eyes his cup of tea. Then, without warning, fires the back of his right hand toward the young blindfolded man’s face. Frank, somehow, catches his arm. He never flinches. The husband—Frank’s trainer (his “shidoshi”)—looks at his wife and grins. The student has passed another test. Frank Dux is almost ready for battle. Synthesizer music pumps in the background.

The training montage in Jean Claude Van Damme’s 1989 classic Bloodsport is a pillar of the genre. From the moment Sylvester Stallone summited the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1976’s Rocky—with the world shouting “GETTING STRONGER!”—training montages have become a sports movie staple. They are so beloved that they’ve spilled into most action and thriller flicks. They’re even vital to golf coverage—no major Sunday viewing is complete in my house without watching the opening montage.

The montage is a progression. It quickly takes us from rock bottom to challenger status: Our hero can, in fact, do this. In his 2017 love letter to training montages for The Ringer, Andrew Gruttadaro summed them up perfectly: “the person who just seconds ago looked pitiful—the down-and-out boxer, the guy who just watched his brother die—starts to puff out his or her chest like a warrior who can accomplish anything. Push-ups turn into lifting boulders; the light jog turns into an unceasing sprint.”

All of this is to say: For the last month on the golf course, I have been the pitiful person. After one excruciating afternoon where I posted a completely helpless 49 over nine holes, I threw my clubs in the back of my SUV and just sat in the back, staring off into a cloudless Florida sky. Ivan Drago had just killed Apollo Creed. Daniel La Russo just got his ass beat by Johnny Lawrence. Johnny just told Baby she couldn’t even dance the merengue. The mountain of reaching a 10-handicap never looked higher.  

I understand this is a process. Tear it down, get rid of the bad habits; then build it back up, ingraining the good ones. According to my ever-patient, ever-positive coach Mike, we’re good! He likes my grip and address, and the new wider, more fully turned backswing is right where it needs to be. Now, the bedeviling part: solid contact. Currently, I’m “stuck.” I can’t get my hips and hands through fast enough, resulting in a cavalcade of spinny right flares. Since I am the most kitted-out bad golfer on the planet, these flares come out at all kinds of terrifying speeds and distances, turning 160-yard par 3s into titanic battles ending in dramatic 8-footers for double. By some minor miracle, I can still putt, and haven’t yet killed any bystanders.

Another battle I’m currently losing: time. Mike and I started off hot—meeting weekly and making steady progress. Then, real life. There are three golf courses within the gates of Sawgrass: TPC Sawgrass, home of the Players Championship; Dye’s Valley, host of multiple Korn Ferry events (and this one time when my friend Reimer made a hard left turn in our cart and threw me and a full cocktail into the 13th fairway); and The Yards, a fantastic 12-holer and host of my insane journey. The Players is in March, and it’s kind of a big deal here. So, while I was able to steal nine bumbling holes at the Yards (45. Ug.), Mike and I were both swamped and lost a week of practice.

I followed that up with a ski vacation to Big Sky, Montana, where all physical and mental efforts went into staying upright and uninjured. I managed to pull that off, but also discovered the grip technique of white-knuckling a ski pole is much different than the one it takes to fire a 45-degree slice into some poor bastard’s lanai.

Upon my return, I had to get to the range. I interpreted this as a good sign: Better to feel the drive to get back on the horse rather than an impulse to give up completely. 

So, armed with a full bucket and ear buds, I found a home on the far left side of the range near the first hole, knowing that my case of the rights made the folks teeing off 100% safe. The first 20 minutes were awful; an occasional top-spin worm-burner the only interruption in a steady rain of banana flares. I closed my eyes, Skywalker-style, listening for my Yoda. Mike’s instruction is so plain and soothing. “You’re not trying to kill it. Just be easy.” Then came a better swing. “Just gotta feel like you’re throwing the club through.” Shank. Yeah, I definitely feel like fucking throwing something. “Like a pendulum.” Suddenly, a good 6-iron. Then another. Then a great one.

Six balls left. I grabbed a wedge. Four of the last six had to be good, playable golf shots. Time to throw on the Frank Dux blindfold. 

First ball: I took more time than usual, plotting every motion, and unfurled a gorgeous, straight arc over my palm tree target. 1 for 1.

Second ball: Top-spin ground ball steaming pile of garbage. 1 for 2.

Third ball: I forced myself to let go and concentrate on what was in front of me rather than what just happened. Another solid one. 2 for 3.

Fourth ball: Didn’t overthink it, just tried to do what I did on the last one. Perfect. 3 for 4.

Fifth ball: I felt a twinge of nerves; this could be the winner. But it was more excitement than fear. The best one yet. 4 for 5.

I stood up, 2×4 straight. Success. I left the last ball on the ground, picked up my bag and walked off the range. Synthesizer music pumped in the background.