Merri Daniel and I stopped by the PGA Village in Port St. Lucie, Florida and did something we have never done before—a couples' golf lesson.
How did we get to this point in our golfing relationship? Should we be more mechanical or passionate in our form? How do we find the right golf professional? After all, you can't do a threesome with just anybody. What's next, a couples' massage? Everyone knows it's Florida Swing time on the PGA TOUR, but it is really time to swing better with your own golf game and partner.
Join Merri and I, who some now call The Swinger & The Hooker, as we visit a place where anyone can learn, improve and celebrate the game of golf, especially golfing couples!
"What was I thinking, how did I get myself into this?" That is what I thought Merri was thinking. Everyone knows me as the analytical type, always thinking and planning, whereas she is "The Swinger." She does it naturally, without effort, carefree, living and swinging in the present moment on and off the golf course. Everyone knows me as "The Hooker." I go left, left and then further left. Most people hit condos when they play in Palm Springs, I hit Jack's house on the ninth hole when I play at Muirfield Village.
The Florida Swing has been around forever. Like the song lyrics "Aruba, Jamaica, Bermuda, Bahama, ooh come on pretty mama" but in golfing tempo, the PGA TOUR swings around Florida—PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Doral in Miami, Innisbrook near Tampa and climaxes at Bay Hill at Arnold Palmer's tournament.
What people don't realize is what is at the center of all that professional golfing activity. It swings around the heart of golf, the organization of golf professionals from your home course—the PGA of America. Their flagship facility is the PGA Village in Port St. Lucie. Like the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, it is right off I-95, but another 200 miles south, below the frost line, a half hour north of West Palm Beach.
This was no "Hope Springs Eternal" couples venture, as we don't see ourselves going down the road of Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. We stayed where people usually stay when they visit the PGA Village—Hilton Garden Inn, which is literally right across the street from the PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance.
As members for a day, we had dinner at the Champions Grill at the Clubhouse at the PGA Golf Club which is located within the PGA Village. Totally misnamed as a grill, this was a dining experience to remember. Chef Juan Serrano prepared a tasting of all the new dishes for 2013. Starting with a grilled caesar wedge (what was grilled was chicken), we sampled eggplant milanese, healthy primavera (grilled vegetables with whet penne pasta) and lobster mac and cheese (secret is gouda and sharp cheddar cheeses).
Other than the fabulous desserts, what stands out at PGA Village and the Champions Grill is the friendly, professional and personalized service. With their innovative name tags, we will always remember that Jessica's passion is her three kids.
After a scrumptious dinner and restful night, we played the Wannamaker course as a warm-up to our afternoon lesson. Who has a concierge waiting for you when you enter a clubhouse? PGA Village does, and she was quite helpful pointing us in the direction of a sale with complimentary wine and cheese. Though a bit too early, I was impressed with the "Shop, Eat, Drink & Be Merri" signage. We all want to be like Merri!
Merri was impressed by the temporary bridge over a wet area (it rained the night before) leading to the forward ladies tee on the third hole. Thus confirms my suspicion that for women golfers it is all about the shoes and keeping them clean. We were a bit confused over which green and flagstick (checkered blue left or yellow right) to take aim for our approach shots on the eighth hole. We figured out the cart GPS number was the one to the right and played that green (it was also easier).
Merri revealed her pre-shot thoughts on the 13th tee—"just swing, just be free, just breathe" and then whacked one long and straight down the middle on the par-five 13th hole. A hole we both parred but she won with a stroke. How do you tell a woman she is getting too many strokes and you are not getting as many as you need? Does she really win the match when after being two-up she takes a cell call and does not play the last two holes?
Needless to say we needed some kind of therapy—I mean, couples' golf lesson. Our teaching professional for the afternoon was lead instructor Eric Hogge. He let us decide whom he would work with first. The lady had the option but deferred to let the man go first. We were present for each other's instruction, taking notes and as the lesson went on we were both participating whether student or observer. We are sure Eric is a marriage counselor on the side but won't tell anybody at PGA Village.
The Hooker (Andy) went first. What's your miss? On a good day it is a slight draw, on a bad day it is a pull hook that is difficult to find. Quite quickly, Eric determined that I "was feeding the monster." To keep from hitting it left I would align and aim more right. More left, more right. Perception is not reality when it comes to self-alignment.
After a few adjustments and doing everything swing-wise to not hit it left, I started to hit the ball consistently straight and even with a little high-power Nicklaus-like fade. Longer term I need to work on my posture a bit (yes, Merri was right, is always right and never wrong) and make some changes to transition from a timing-based, hang back and flip my wrists to a more repeatable movement.
The Swinger (Merri) went next. What's your miss? I feel like I take it back too far, don't get my lower body into my swing or release the club. Eric connected with Merri quite quickly and used baseball and boxing analogies to make certain she understood what he was saying. He is not big on using props, as they may hide the something else that is allowing the fault to happen. He demonstrated how a pitcher pushes off the rubber and then, surprisingly to me, had Merri start punching him to get a feel for releasing her lower body power yet still be balanced. The last thing I want is to encourage Merri to take a few swings at me. Longer term, Merri needs to feel more tension in her swing and have her weight moving forward while making her turn to the impact position.
Our best takeaway tip from Eric for couples playing golf together is that a good playing companion is like a good caddie—shows up, shuts up and keeps up. If she or he hits a bad shot, wait for a few holes to offer suggestions if warranted. After all, I am not trying to be the golf coach—I want to be the boyfriend. Better to leave the instruction to professionals like Eric Hogge at PGA Village. Maybe hope does spring eternal. In our opinion, Eric is as good as Steve Carell and deserves a golf Oscar for our lesson.
Taking a couples' golf lesson was an endearing and useful pursuit and has increased our enjoyment of the game and of each other. And, by the way, we did do the couples' massage thing at The Spa at PGA National Resort during the week of the Honda Classic. That was a foursome to remember for sure. We have to reflect on when it is appropriate to moan, groan and speak during a couples' massage before we write that article. Suffice it to say it is endearing to both the relationship and the golf game.
Gary Player says that "if you love golf, you got to go to the Hall of Fame." Merri and Andy, a.k.a. The Swinger and The Hooker, say "if you love your golfing partner, you got to go get a couples golfing lesson at PGA Village and a couples massage at PGA National Resort and Spa."
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer and a broadcast assistant for the various golf networks.
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