Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 17, 2017

The Links at Crowbush Cove in Morrell, PEI.

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PEI's Canadian Golf Academy

Think outside the box and get into the swing of things

My first golf experience on Prince Edward Island last summer aptly illustrates the genuine laidback hospitality of islanders. On the third hole of Eagles View Golf Course, my friend Shirley and I had both sliced our balls over a pond and into the woods. As we were foraging for our Titleists, a fellow who introduced himself as Frank hopped off his golf cart and joined us in our search.

In Toronto, Frank would be called a marshal, and, instead of helping us look for balls, he’d be admonishing us for not keeping pace with the foursome in front of us. In PEI, Frank is called an ambassador and since there’s no foursome in front of or behind us, he’s not about to make us hurry.

In fact, we got to chatting about lobster and, the next thing we knew, Frank was calling his buddy, a fisherman, and arranging for us to pick up a couple of cooked one-and-a-half pounders after our round.

When it comes to golf, Canada’s tiniest province is (pardon the pun) no small potato. The island boasts close to 30 golf courses. At the rate new fairways and great value “stay-and-play” packages are sprouting up, golf might well have become a greater draw for visitors than Anne of Green Gables and those postcard-perfect beaches.

What’s especially nice about this easy-going island is that nothing is too far away and the traffic jam has yet to be discovered. This means you can plan a golf getaway and still have lots of time to explore and enjoy the laid-back maritime hospitality.

Actually, in addition to some great value stay-and-play packages, it was Anne that lured Shirley and I to PEI — not the feisty redhead of literary fame, but Anne Chouinard, the petite blonde dynamo who is director of the Canadian Golf Academy.

Quebec-born Chouinard is LPGA Tour Player Lorie Kane’s swing coach. Coincidentally, Kane grew up in the century-old farmhouse that is the Academy’s headquarters. Chouinard and her staff of teaching pros bring impressive credentials to a world-class teaching facility. Certainly one of the best in Canada, it includes a 425-yard driving range with five targets, covered hitting stations, putting green, bunkers, nine practice holes, indoor training facility with state-of-the art video analysis, pro shop with club fitting and repair, snack bar, lockers, and classrooms.


Zen and the Art of Golf

I’ve discovered that no one is ever satisfied with his or her golf game — not even Tiger or Annika.
Given that relentless pursuit of perfection, fellow
fanatics continue to invest in new clubs with bigger sweet spots, balls that promise more distance and even high-tech performance clothing that’s supposed to keep us cool and dry. You can spend a fortune on golf equipment, but if you don’t fix your swing, you’ll continue to be frustrated. In fact, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the layperson’s definition of insanity.

But I didn’t need a psychiatrist; I needed a swing doctor, and I had signed up for the Academy’s three-day clinic. Shirley,
my old high-school pal and ex-roommate (whose game is the envy of all her female friends) planned to explore PEI while I was banging balls. Later in the week, our goal was to binge on as much golf and seafood as possible.

After devouring every morsel of those succulent lobsters on the deck of our cabin at the Rodd Brudenell Resort, Shirley and I tucked in early. Next morning, I jogged over to the Academy where I was greeted by Chouinard, who explained her teaching philosophy.

“No two golfers have the same strengths, physique or flexibility, so we don’t have one set plan. I want to work with what people bring to the tee,” she said. “We suggest ways to improve your game. But, if you only practise once a week, we can’t turn you into a Tiger overnight. We want you to have fun — golf should not be stressful.”

I was introduced to my fellow students: Mary, Joan and Charlene, three feisty gals from New Brunswick. I knew immediately that in their company there would be lots of laughs, no pretenses and very little stress.

Our instructor, Jeff Donovan, took us over to the putting green where we spent the better part of the morning on drills for aim and distance as well as reading the slope, grain and speed of the greens. A particularly good exercise involved lining up a series of balls, shutting our eyes and putting. You’d be surprised what a confidence builder this is.

After lunch, Jeff brought out the video camera and filmed our swings from different angles. Individually, we were taken inside for the dreded on-screen analysis.

I say “dreaded” because a picture really is worth a thousand words. Just when you think you’ve got a proper stance, a smooth takeaway and a balanced finish, you look at yourself on the computer screen and reality hits you square in the face.

The video with Jeff’s voice-over comments and instructions, plus a three-ring binder filled with drills, strength-building exercises and nutrition tips, was ours to take home.

We spent the afternoon practising the full swing and chipping. Jeff seemed to have a drill up his sleeve for every idiosyncrasy. Because I have the nasty habit of
lifting up before making contact with the ball, he had me hitting into a heavy leather bag to get the correct feel at impact.

After class I caught up with Shirley, who’d hiked part of the Confederation Trail, and shopped for dinner in nearby Montague. We had a couple of “toddies” with our New Brunswick pals and then threw some steaks on the barbecue.


Swing Outside the Box

It was raining buckets the next morning so we began class with mugs of hot coffee and Golf Psychology 101 inside the Academy farmhouse. They say that 99 percent of your golf game takes place between your ears. Developing a confident attitude and good practise habits can really improve your game — from head to toe.

Jeff introduced the concept of the “think box” and the “play box.” Your pre-
shot routine is a sequence of events (physical and mental) that leads to the execution of a golf shot. It is in the “think box”
that one should formulate a plan based on
the layout, weather conditions, lie, landing area, grain, break, distance, and so on.
Based on these observations and while
still in your “think box,” you then formulate a plan by deciding on a target, the type of shot and the
right club. Try to visualize the height, shape and trajectory
of the shot. Once you have committedfully to your plan, it’s
time to step up to the ball in the “play box.” From this moment on you are to rid your brain of all mechanical thoughts. Visualize your perfect shot. Take a practise swing. Feel the tempo. Now pull the trigger. Trust it and let it happen.

Jeff also shared some of the relaxation techniques some of the pros use between shots. Fred Couples likes to let his eyes wander around the outline of a tree. Lorie Kane counts backwards from 100.

After lunch, the rain let up and Jeff took us to the Academy’s nine-hole, par-three practise course for some strategy. The results were not pretty. So much for psychology 101; we were frustrated.

“I’m worse now than I was before I came here,” complained Charlene.

Jeff consoled and assured us that everyone fresh out of lessons plays badly on the course because you are thinking about and practising so many new things. He reminded us that it takes about 10,000 muscle repetitions before you “own” a new movement.

On day three, things were looking up. Jeff demonstrated how to deal with bad lies, such as balls buried like fried eggs in bunkers, and how to set up for awkward up, down and side hill lies. The targets for our chipping contest were Canadian flags.

The previous day Jeff had touched upon the benefits
of club fitting. I was intrigued, so I arranged for a one-hour
session on the driving range. After experimenting with six-irons from a few top manufacturers, I decided that I preferred the feel of the TaylorMade. Jeff measured my swing speed. It’s slow, so he recommended a lady’s flex graphite shaft. Next he measured my grip. I have long fingers so
he noted two extra wraps on the club-fitting form. My five-foot six-inch height meant adding an extra quarter inch
to the shafts. Jeff stuck a strip of white tape to the sole of the six-iron and I hit a few balls off of a Plexiglas fitting board. The scuffmarks on the tape revealed that I needed a two-degree upright lie angle.

Then we experimented with various lofted drivers. I
hit best with the 12-degree r5 Dual, also by TaylorMade. In
fact, never had I hit such a series of fine shots. Justifying
a new set of irons and driver was even easier when Jeff quoted me a price considerably lower than what I’d costed out at a golf equipment shop back home. He explained that the Academy has no overhead and no stock: they carry only demo clubs from top-of-the-line manufacturers. Once your club-fitting specifications have been recorded, the form is sent to the manufacturer. I should expect to receive delivery of my new, custom-fitted babies in about 10 days.

New clubs, new swing, new confidence — I’ve just run out of excuses.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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