Now that I am healthy enough again to swing a club fully, I wanted to establish a baseline for my current abilities. I went to the practice range last Saturday with the intent to hit a few balls with every club in the bag, in order to see what I could and could not do.

I started with the putter. They've filled the holes on the putting and chipping greens (winterizing?), so I had to improvise. I keep a loop of cord in my bag to use as a landing target when chipping and putting. I pulled it out and practiced putting into it, starting close and moving further away bit by bit.

I found I was tending to hit a bit long. However, it was kind of hard to judge my attempts as "failures," per se: I was imagining a hole in the middle of the loop, and a lot of the shots I hit through the loop passed right through that imagined hole. It's hard to see a sunk putt as a failure.

I didn't practice beyond medium distance (~15-20 feet) but I was pleased with how I did. My putts tended to be on line and rarely far enough away that I wouldn't expect to sink the come-back putt. When I wasn't on line, it was pretty easy to figure out exactly what I'd done wrong. All in all, I think I've got a good putting base to work with.

Next I practiced a few chips and pitches. My best chips and pitches put my ball within easy one-putt distance. My good chips and pitches leave me a reasonable two-putt. On my bad shots, which comprise about a quarter of my attempts, I either decelerate through the ball and strike it feebly so it dribbles forward only a few feet, or else I top it so it skitters all the way across the green and into the rough on the other side. Thus, my worst shots improve my position not at all. Again, that's very useful to know as a baseline--it's clear what I need to work on.

I also noticed something important about the difference between "best" and "good." Here's what a "good" chip looks like: I visualize the shot I want to hit. I see the landing point of the ball and the roll. I hit the ball. It lands within inches of the target point, but then either rolls too far or not far enough. It's hard to see that as anything less than a very successful shot. My "failure" there is one of imagination, of experience. The distance between that shot and a better one is a better ability to visualize exactly what the ball is going to do once it hits the target point and starts rolling. I don't know a path between where I am and improvement on that front without more experience to point to a more "correct" imagination of what's going to happen.

After chipping, I went to the range. I started with a pitching wedge and moved to longer and longer clubs. Here's what I learned: I can hit a wedge and a nine-iron. Each went straight, on my aimed trajectory, with a nice loft. Though maybe they didn't travel quite as far as I'd like, they were good shots.

Anything longer than a nine-iron I couldn't hit at all. I even offered myself a 100% success rate by defining success simply as making contact (useful for this exercise but not likely to lead to much improvement in my game). Amusingly, I actually didn't manage 100% success by that metric--I took one wild swing and missed the ball entirely. As that was pretty funny, I didn't think of it as too much of a failure--anything that keeps me smiling and laughing in an athletic endeavor I'm happy to define as a kind of success.

My best shots, after the nine-iron, were with my five- and three-woods, which flew straight with good trajectories, but traveled no more than 150 yards. I found the lack of power pretty demoralizing.

I finished by hitting about a dozen shots with driver. The only conclusion I can draw is that I don't know anything about hitting driver.

So as of early November 2015, that describes my baseline abilities. Based on that, I should be able to play a full 18-hole round, score no more than 170, and then throw my clubs into the pond in frustration.

In case anyone thought that Jerry and I had set this project up to be a quick success, now you know better. At my current level, not only do I play poorly, I won't even have fun.

Now it's time to get to work.

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