Monday, June 14, 2010

Putting Trip

Throughout the spring, Sam has sruggled with his putting and his nerves. While he continues to resist seeing a sports psychologist, he is more than willing to visit a putting psychologist.

“The best putting coach in Europe is Phil Kenyon,” his coach tells him.

Sam does some research and finds that Kenyon works out of Southport, England.

“Where’s Southport?,” I ask. It’s near Liverpool, Sam tells me, and we begin to plot how to get there. There are no flights between Brussels and Liverpool. There is a flight to Manchester, but its expensive. We decide to go to Scotland, drive south, and turn it into a golf weekend.

In Southport, we find a fading Victorian summer resort. Phil Kenyon works out of a small office in back of a row house. Could this be Europe’s putting mecca? Yes, it is.

Within a few minutes, Kenyon has analyzed what’s wrong with his putting stroke – and with his mental approach to putting. He checks his eyesight and shows that he is left eye strong, requiring him to stand over the ball at the front of his head. Wielding a sophisticated computer, he shows Sam how his stroke is too left to right and needs to be more straight back and straight though. He also works on his breathing and his “attitude” when he stands over the ball on the green. Sam gets a putter fitted for him and he no longer has any excuses.

Sam leaves understanding what was going wrong and he has a path to work on the problems. It was the first time that he was given such a clear explanation of his putting woes.

Beyond putting, Kenyon impressed He spoke clearly. He dissected Sam’s problem and explained how to fix it with concrete solutions. By the end of the lesson, I believe Sam has not just gotten a lesson in putting, but a lesson in how to tackle many tough problems in life. Get good data. Analyze the problem. Work hard – and be optimistic.

In the afternoon, Sam and I discovered that the Southport area is sprinkled with great links golf course after links golf course. Royal Birkdale, home to the British Open, looks magnificent, but costs almost 200 pounds a round. Hesketh, less spectacular, but still terrific, is our budget choice and we are delighted. I play terribly and lose a dozen or more balls.

But the next day, we play a lovely course called Formby Ladies. Formby also has a distinguished men’s course, but the ladies’ one is cheaper and uses the same terrain. I play a lot better, shooting a proud 77.

Sam is two over until the final two holes when he loses his concentration. Playing with Dad is just not a serious pursuit, like competing in a real tournament. His putting is not perfect. He still pushes a ton of balls right of the hole. But he also sees to be gaining in confidence on the greens. “I feel like I know what to work on now,” he says afterward.

The next day, we board the plane in Scotland and spot two Belgian touring pros, Guillaume Wattremez and Pierre Relecom. They were returning from the Challenge Tour event in Macdonald Spey Valley in northern Scotland.

"Where were you?," they asked.

"Seeing a putting coach," Sam responded.

"Oh, Phil Kenyon," Relecom answered, without hesitation. "He's the best. A real guru. He doesn't just teach you about putting. He teaches you about psychology."

So Phil, watch out. You may be getting a call from Relecom.

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