Summer in the Shenandoah Valley

Golf Things Considered column by John Rogers
JSpencerRogers@msn.com  

The Valley has been changing, and the daylight stretching out, as the solstice draws near. There’s a fullness along the country roads where trees recently bare take on a middle-aged kind of thickness, swaying contentedly with the last of spring breezes. The cacophony of cicadas, tree frogs, crickets and a million other mate-seeking critters makes such a steady droning that you actually have to think about it to hear their song. And along the Shenandoah, tawny bales of fresh-hewn hay spot the fields like Civil War infantry frozen in time.

Things change at Lakeview Golf Course, too, as summer arrives. These are the middle days; days that separate seasons and school years, and split calendar years into halves. June means my junior golfers start showing up on a daily basis having taken final exams, except when they disappear with the family for a week on the Outer Banks.

Even a teaching pro who has crossed the halfway point between age 20 and 50, who shockingly realizes he remembers his parents at his age, can still catch a little of the spirit of summer when the juniors arrive. Life and golf still have a measure of novelty.

My first lesson yesterday was with Jonathon, 8 years old, visiting the Valley with his family from Portsmouth, Ohio. It was his first formal lesson. We talked about the grip: point the “v” to the right collar bone and hold the club like a tube of tooth-paste with the cap off. We made his posture like a “sharp S.” We learned to aim like we were standing on a set of railroad tracks, and we learned where to put the ball.

Then we made a “letter L” in the backswing by cocking the wrists and learned a balanced magazine pose at the end of the swing. Jonathon and I laughed at some of the bloopers and shared a high-five when he hit the cone that was his target 75 yards away.

So we passed an hour together on the driving range where recently clouds of yellow pine pollen would go billowing whenever the wind stirred; where soon the June bugs will swarm in a chaotic, kamikaze fashion, their little wings adding a different note to the droning summer whir.

It was unusually cool for this time of the year, but Jonathon stopped once or twice to sip the Gatorade his dad bought in the clubhouse. Since we did not have grape, Jonathon had to choose from a handful of other colors. I hope it was the toughest dilemma he faces all summer.

Apparently Jonathon gets one souvenir on each family trip. He selected the junior nine-iron we borrowed from the pro-shop for his lesson. He’ll return to Ohio a golfer.

My next appointment was an hour split between Sam and Max, two young brothers and the great-grandsons of Sam Snead. Little Sam and I worked on his backswing and getting what I call “sneaky power,” which is when you allow the club to accelerate naturally, rather than with brute, sudden force. The original “Slammin’ Sammy” said he liked to swing with Waltz tempo, or ¾ time, and young Sam likes learning in the style of his namesake.

Max is the younger of the boys, and this is his first season with real lessons. We worked on his chipping, and as always I made a skills challenge, which earned each brother a snack from the clubhouse. Max likes the honey buns, which used to be my favorite, too, but I’m trying to steer him towards peanuts, or sunflower seeds.

When the brothers left to go see a movie, I prepared for my Tournament Players’ Series group, which is made up of junior golfers who play (or want to play) competitive golf. I hosted a nine-hole mini-tournament.

During the tournament I played a few holes with the high-school guys, because they were a twosome. For the first time, Isaac, who just finished his junior year, hit a few drives as far as I did. Likewise, Erik flew the green a few times with clubs that did not used to go so far.

Robbie almost made an improper drop on the second hole, but I arrived in time to remind him. Ted had a chip-in, and young Nathan won the Net Championship in his first appearance in one of my tournaments. After the round, we posted the scores, had awards and shared a couple pizzas, the boys talking about their memorable shots and favorite holes – just like the older guys do after playing in the morning gang.

This is how it goes as summer sneaks up on the Shenandoah. Even though it’s my busy time of year, the juniors remind me of carefree days, hot days filled with leisurely hours pervaded by a beautiful sense of freedom. Summer. These are the middle days. The kind of days when one realizes it’s all right to live vicariously through younger people, and younger golfers.

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