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Forty years of insanity! - by Rohit Varma

Golf Garage

Let me start by saying that I have a pretty decent swing. The reason it is so is because I modeled it on my father’s swing, who was a single digit handicapper in a time when “preferred lies” and “browns” were the norm. So obviously I started playing this game quite some time ago. Forty years, actually. I was nine years old when my father took me over to the Bolarum Golf Club in Secunderabad and handed me three clubs. A 5 wood, a 7 iron and a putter with sawn off shafts. A few “smiley” golf balls were also thrown in. For those who don’t know what a “smiley” golf ball is, it is one which has a cut on it off a mishit of an iron. So, I enjoyed going to the course on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday morning with my father and his friends. Sadly, none of my friends played golf. That was because I started wearing glasses when I was eight and was breaking too many pairs playing football and kabbadi with those friends.

That was the time that I realized that golf was the sport for me. It was a lonely sport, in the literal sense that I was the only one of my age who played it and that you play against the course and battle yourself against your own talent and abilities. But I did okay. As I progressed and grew painful centimeter by painful centimeter, my father got me some more clubs. Finally, when I was 14 years old, I played my first round with my father and a friend of his. Up to now he would leave me at the range with a caddie who would get me to repeat the actions that Papa had taught me. We teed off on a 200 yards par three. I used a driver. It was nearing summer and the ground, like most courses in the country was hard and dry. I must have carried it 170 yards and it bounced, skipped and rolled another 30 to stop about six feet from the pin. I made a birdie on the first hole I ever played with my father.
The clubs that I had by then were his second set. I wasn’t allowed to touch his clubs. Mine were a set of Wilson that he had started with and he now used MacGregor. All these irons were “blades” and the woods were persimmon. He gave me the Wilson woods since he never hit them, ever and a Cobra putter. During those days it was fun and simple. I didn’t know and didn’t care about lie and loft, cavity back irons, fitting or anything. It was just the joy of getting on the course and coming back to eat chicken sandwiches and drink Thums Up. By the time I was 18, I was playing a respectable 14 handicap off the men’s tee. I was frail and built like a reed and weighed only 48 kilos. But I hit the ball pretty straight and kept it in play. All this with clubs that were the length for a man who was six feet tall and I was all of five foot six. A very important element of my golf upbringing was that I never used a glove. The choice was either a glove or six balls every month.

My father passed on to the Great Golf Course in The Sky in 1989 and the family could not afford to keep an additional membership since the ownership and control of the Bolarum Golf Course had reverted to the Indian Army and the Secunderabad Club had other sporting and social offerings as opposed to only golf. And so, I started playing cricket. I also swam hoping to get taller and went to the gym for you-know-what. But none of it went well. I unhappily and with very limited talent stuck with these in addition to occasional sailing and squash. When I turned 29, I decided to take up the sport again. Having given away both the bags that were at home, I started looking for a half set of clubs. A friend put me on to some new clubs from Dyna Tour . My first ever cavity back irons and metal woods. Being an expectant father and a travelling husband didn’t help much with trying to rediscover my game. And those clubs lay around and traveled with me to whichever city we were transferred to.

I was about 34 when we were in Bangalore, a friend invited me to play a corporate tournament. I suspect he did that because there weren’t enough heads turning up. Five years since having touched my clubs, a few plastic tees and a sleeve of balls later, I found myself on the first tee. And I hooked a three iron it into the water. So, we know how this went. I scored a 104 and turned up at the awards ceremony in the evening hoping to win the wooden spoon. Turned out that I wasn’t bad enough for that honour. I went to the driving range a few weeks later and a kind pro asked to change to a neutral grip. And so it went that I rarely and barely played. My golf completely stopped when I was 38 and struggling with professional issues and finding myself single again ensured that the game went off the charts till three years ago. Returning to Hyderabad, and old and very dear friend from school called me and asked if I still played golf and if I’d like to join him and two of his associates at the driving range since they had recently started playing the game. I pulled out my battered bag and somewhat still shiny clubs and proceeded to the range with the lads. There I encountered my first swing coach or club pro.

This chappie was more interested in making money off my friends’ pockets rather than taking strokes off their game. So he gave them wrong swing advice, regularly calling them back for more fixes and mostly selling them clubs. Now being a veteran of preferred lies, browns and smiley golf balls, I tried cautioning my friends, but it was their money and I left them to their devices. I had progressed to such a stage within about a month that I felt the need for a full set of irons. I looked up popular online stores for used clubs and got really lucky with a set of steel shafted Ping G20’s from 6-PW that a naval officer was selling. He also threw in an Aliens 22* hybrid and two Cleveland wedges that looked like you could use them instead of a driver and three wood. A friend from our four ball gave me his old Wilson driver and three wood. We played the course regularly but never kept score. The idea was to go out, try and get the ball in the air and finish the hole.

In the meantime, I got a job with a major motorcycle manufacturer in Gurgaon and found out that they had a tie up with a local driving range. Range time, golf balls and lessons were free and I got my first formal lesson at the age of 46. I was very happy with my irons but decided that since I was hitting them well, I had to upgrade them. With misplaced confidence I got myself a set of Mizuno T-Zoid irons. Obviously, this was a disastrous move. After three sessions at the range I resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t game blades again. I parked my ego in the nearest water hazard and reverted to my game improvement irons. One thing did change though. Over the years, I had gone from being a predominantly “draw” player to being a “fader” because I just did not play enough and had forgotten the mechanics of the swing. While my iron shots stayed neutral, my driver and three wood were going right. By this time, thanks to YouTube, I started looking at golf videos online and came across pros giving tips on swings, errors and suggested corrections in addition to club reviews.

With my iron play mostly acceptable, I concluded that I had to change my woods and I managed to hawk the Mizuno irons. After looking around I encountered a guy selling a set of Ping G15 driver, five and three woods. I did my “online research” and decided that they would suit my game. To my surprise when I received the clubs, there was a set of Adams Pro Idea 4-PW irons in the box. I thought that was a great bargain. With renewed hope I hit the range with my G15 woods and to my dismay I learnt that it didn’t do my cause any good. I compounded my problems by trying to execute all that free advice with my swing. I strengthened my grip, dipped my right shoulder, saw the ball at address more with my left eye, a-la Jack Nicklaus, rotated my hips and exaggerated the release. But nothing worked. I was in for a rude shock when it was pointed out that my woods were forgeries. The Adams clubs were put in the box to cushion the blow. I sold the entire lot to a guy while letting him know that the G15 were fakes.

Just about this time a friend introduced me to Rahul Bajaj, the chap who runs this site and store. I bought a Ping G30 driver and G three wood from him and I still kind of, sort of fade it off the tee and fairway. Now the mantra one should follow is once bitten, twice shy. But no. We’re golfers. And the double-digit handicap variety with delusions of grandeur. The I-can-play-better bug bit me again and this time I bought myself a set of new Cleveland CG Black irons, 5-PW. Stiff graphite, because I was getting older. But still swinging it at about 95 MPH, I realized that graphite shafts are not for me. Five rounds and five range sessions later I have given up the hope of ever being able to hit those clubs. Re-enter Ping G20. These clubs are by now about 12 years old but they do what I want them to do, mostly. The Cleveland clubs will go to my daughter who has expressed the desire to take up golf.

What I have learnt from taking this game up again as a weekend warrior is that there is a set of clubs that is out there that suits your game. And when you find those clubs, stick to them. I have in the last year started recording my scores. I have come down from 113 to 96. I have broken 100 in seven of my last 10 rounds. I play “lake” or Inesis balls, use Inesis shoes and gloves and leave snobbery and ego out of my equipment and game. My current goal is to reach or break 90 and keep it that way for as long as I can. At the end of the day I get to play golf with my chuddie buddies and have a beer afterwards. I couldn’t ask for more than that and to cap off a great or a terrible week while still trying to fix my swing.

Whats in the bag:
Woods and hybrids- Ping G30 driver, Ping G 3 wood, Inesis 19*
Irons- Ping ISI 3, Ping Eye2 5, G20 4 and 6-PW,
Wedges- Inesis 52 and 56*
Putter- Inesis
Rohit Varma is a golf aficionado who resides in Hyderabad. He plays regularly at the Bison Environmental Park and Training Area and EME Environmental and Training Park in Secunderabad and ocassionally hacks at Hyderabad Golf Association course at Golconda.

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