In the first blog entry for our Project Joe series with Cobra Puma Golf, beginner Joe Brewin explains the state of his game and gets a much-needed lesson

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Project Joe – Entry 1: Me And My Golf Game

The cameras are set. A crowd is gathered. There’s one final warm-up swing towards the early-morning sun, before I set my stance and prepare to take aim. The fairway is wide open for a straight drive down the middle, begging for an easy stroke to send the little white ball in front of me serenely towards safety. A good start. Easy life.

As is so often the way in golf, though, reality is rarely anything close to the dream (at least in my world). This is the 16th hole at Girton Golf Club, Cambridgeshire – and I am about to embarrass myself.

Reality No.1: the ‘crowd’ is three strong, consisting of a Golf Monthly staffer, our patient cameraman for the day and my even more patient new coach, James Whittemore. Reality No.2: as I swing back, the brainworm ingrained within every beginner golfer niggles away – I’ve got no idea what might happen next.

Wild ‘fade’? Awful slice? God forbid, a good one where I actually want it to go? A troubling top? Reality No.3: it’s the latter. I watch the ball scuttle off left into the undergrowth, and know this is going to be a long morning for everyone concerned. Worse, I reload and do exactly the same thing again. At least we find that one.

As I hack my way to the end of the hole, not a clean strike in sight, the brainworm quickly wins out. As a novice, I know I’ve got no right to be annoyed by my incompetence, but when you’ve previously been striking 60-70 per cent of your shots with a modicum of respectability at the range, it’s demoralising. The course is very different, though: different lies, different conditions, a different mindset… a greater chance of cocking it all up.     

Before I go on, a quick potted history: by day I’m the deputy editor of FourFourTwo magazine, and newly a father of one. (Full-time job, newborn, trying to get better at golf? Good one.) I started playing last July, since when I’ve been to two group lessons and had three solo lessons at the tail end of 2020.

The latter at least stopped me hooking the ball with every depressing stroke, but as I’d later find out, also taught me an unhelpful habit. Either way, moving to a new city and a third lockdown put paid to any more progress there. I’ve played one and a half rounds of golf in total: rough average score around 120 over 18 holes. Really putting the ‘project’ in Project Joe, basically.

When I hop into the buggy with James after the travesty of our first assessment hole, I’m heartened by the fact he’s quickly spotted a pattern of doom. My bad shot throughout was a top – arguably the most humiliating blunder stroke, just behind your classic swing and miss – and largely down to one (very crucial) thing: poor posture.

It’s a big one, and nobody in previous tutorials had ever mentioned it to me before. Perhaps they were getting there, avoiding too much too soon – but either way, it was going to change my entire feel when it came to swinging a club. We keep the tutorials relatively light from there until a lesson after our final hole.

Aiming at some bunkers on the left down the par five (on a good day, my natural shot is a fade) the connection is sweet much to everyone’s amazement and the ball goes exactly where I’d hoped, albeit finishing on an unfortunate slope that makes the second shot awkward. After a wayward hybrid off the deck, we practice some approach shots and chips from the edge of the green, with James tweaking as we go.

Nearly everything I do from here is different – it’s an unenviable task to fix basically everything, but there are chinks of light early on. It’s proof why getting lessons with a good tutor from the beginning is the right way – only someone with a trained eye who knows what they’re on about can fix your swing, not Johnny Vloggins from YouTube.      

In the 30-minute lesson that follows, James suggests six manageable changes almost immediately: my ball position (further back – my brain plays tricks with me here); my club position (ball closer to the toe, face more upright); a stance that involves i) less knee bend, ii) more bum thrust and iii) getting right over the ball; a proper, committed follow-through with my back foot swivelled. Throughout the day there’s no immediate success – he’s not magic, but it’s an important start. 

The short-term goal is to break 100, which will be well in sight if I can achieve the basic task of getting balls off the ground consistently. That (shockingly!) wasn’t always the case when I last played 18, leading to some wayward 10+ holes which obliterated my scorecard.

I’m keeping in contact with James as we go, with the aim of eventually getting in two range trips per week. I like the idea of being disciplined – i.e. enough focus on the short game, rather than mindlessly punting driver and iron shots – with at least one putting session as part of that.

Will that work out in practice? Will this renewed optimism last? Will some new Cobra clubs make all the difference? Find out in my next blog!