When the End Draws Nigh A Course Called Ireland Tom Coyne

Personal Accounting

A reflection on how workout instructors, playing partners and community members helped one golfer turn offseason intention into on-course action

Editor’s note: This year, over 4,000 members participated in the inaugural Index Experiment, a year-long community initiative to get healthier and play better golf. One of them was our Senior Editor, Tom Coyne. Below, he recounts his year on the grind (and the Peloton). You can view the full 2023 Index Experiment Year in Review here.

The change wasn’t getting ads for workout shorts on my phone. The change was clicking on them.

Somewhere over the course of my 2023 Index Experiment, I’d come to think of Emma as one of my friends. Hannah, too, and sometimes Christine. I don’t know why I mostly chose Peloton workouts run by female instructors—maybe I felt less judged or more inspired. They seemed to talk about more than just getting fit, and by June I was spending more time with them than anyone with whom I played golf. I knew each of their proclivities for intervals and 80’s playlists. I’d speak to them, sometimes unkindly, as if they might be able to hear the groans from my basement, and I purchased branded gear to take on the road with me as I selected hotels by whether they offered Pelotons in their gyms. Heading off to play Monterey was no excuse to break my streak—I wasn’t about to let Emma down.

Thanks to the Index Experiment, I’d gone from someone who once sold a twice-used Peloton on Craigslist for $300 (size-10 bike shoes included) to someone who mixed AG1 into his morning cranberry juice and swung a speed stick in his garage through a cold, damp spring. I’d never been a big goal-setter (I’m more project-focused—show me the next thing to do and I’ll look up when it’s done) but I’ve always had a thing for people-pleasing (therapy helped, until I started people-pleasing my therapist), and the accountability of the Index Experiment resonated immediately. That I’d have to come clean about my achievements and failures—that got me off my ass and finally turned off-season intentions into off-season routines. So here I am—fessing up about where I reached a summit in 2023, and where my steps came up short.

cameron mccormick
An early-season visit to Dallas for a full-bag tuneup from Cameron McCormick certainly started this year on the right foot. His series of lessons on how to knock down flags from 100 yards, punch draws through the wind, and max out your driver distance are all available on the TGJ YouTube channel.

Lose 25 lbs. Get back to scratch. Win my club championship. I had ancillary goals along the way—gaining some distance and clubhead speed—but those gains were all tied to my big three. And I’m pleased to report that, thanks to my virtual friends in some studio in New York, I reached my first milestone by August, slimming from 228 lbs. to 199 via cardio, reducing my sugar intake (I’d been a family of one when it came to the family-sized Twizzlers bag), and afternoons hoofing the hills of Sullivan County Golf Club in Liberty, New York. Losing weight might not have a lot to do with better golf (how many heavyset champions have proven that one can play well without seeing his belt) but for me, losing weight was going to move a few golf needles: better flexibility, less pain, more endurance, and a mental voyage back to halcyon, flat-bellied days when I once played off zero. Body health begets mind health begets golf health. I couldn’t hit balls every hour of the day, but if I was doing something—anything—to improve physically, I felt as if I was shaving strokes. I don’t know where I can point to saving a shot thanks to losing a pants size, but I felt like I had control of my fitness, far more than I’d have control over the whims of my golf ball.

I checked another box when I won my club championship—albeit not the club I started the year at. I bought a golf course this year and reinstituted its defunct two-day club championship. The Sullivan County Golf Club champions board went back to 1935 with names immortalized in gold paint, but recent years had seen the men’s league winners stuck there on Post-It notes. It felt awkwardly Trump-ian of me to take the prize, but I played alongside my members and holed every putt, channeling the apocryphal Larry Bird quote from an All-Star game of yore: “Well, we showed up. Might as well win the thing.” My prize? An afternoon spent looking up local artists who might whip our board back into shape.

Our home for the summer: Nine holes, a few buildings, and a neverending string of tasks and projects to help polish Sullivan County GC into the jewel that superintendent Shaun Smith and I know it can be.

Scratch remains an Index Experiment goal just beyond my fingertips, which puts me in good company (sending my best to Mike and Eli). I sniffed it mid-season when I revised to a 0.5, but I’m sitting stuck at a 1.2 index as I type. It makes me a scratch player from the member tees at Sullivan County, but I’ve already leaned once that crutch. A few days remain before handicaps close in the Northeast, and with some Florida golf on my horizon, I’m a couple all-time rounds away from a goose-egg before 2024. If I don’t get there, I’ll recall the wisdom of Meatloaf (two out of three, not bad) and be glad for my new approach to improvement, honed via so many Index Experiment talks and podcasts. I had more fun and felt less frustration this year than during past quests, and I chalk that up to our efforts as a group. Three-putting from 15 feet feels a little less lonely when you have to add a dollar to the Broken Tee Society community pot, and somewhere I heard someone talk about the process of better scoring and living in the shot at hand. A former self would abandon a round once it climbed beyond my index, but this year I remembered that a well-struck golf shot is always, always fun, no matter how many preceded it or followed. I gave myself more opportunities at fun than I would have liked this season, but it’s not over yet, and until it is, I’m happy to take a few strokes on my way to next year’s goal—to win the Broken Tee Society Club Championship. 

Why not? Emma says I can do anything.

Sullivan County Golf Tom Coyne
Out for another crack at it, with Shaun leading the way