When he was smacking old golf balls with old clubs into the Arizona desert with buddies, Alex Eichman never imagined he one day would become a PGA professional. At that point, he hadn't actually played the game on a golf course.
As Eichman headed off to Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Mo. on a partial golf scholarship, he had thoughts of teaching and majored in education. Still, he had no clue it would be golf he would teach for a living. He wasn't good enough yet to entertain such an idea, averaging 80 as a senior in high school in Quincy, Ill., four years after taking up the sport.
By the time Eichman was a junior in college, his average score dipped below 74. He says his game has had another recent growth spurt.
Eichman, 28, has been the head pro at Alvamar Golf Course since April 8, 2005. He lived in Phoenix before moving to Quincy, just before starting high school. Shortly after the move, Eichman replaced soccer, his old athletic passion, with golf.
As Eichman joined me on No. 6 to play four holes, naturally, my first thought was defeatist: If he knew he one day would have to teach such a golf-challenged pupil, he never would have taken up the sport.
On the contrary, he embraced the challenge and quickly made a major adjustment. As I stood up to the ball on the eighth tee, driver in hand, he went to work.
"Your feet are pointing to the right, your shoulders are pointing to the left, and there's no telling where the golf ball's going to end up," he said. "The only way you can hit it straight is if you make a mistake in your swing."
He closed my left shoulder, moving it up and in, closer to the ball, making my right shoulder further from the ball. He had me move my feet to where it felt as if I was aiming left, though he demonstrated by laying a club across the front of my shoes that my target was dead-center. His last words: "Trust it."
Bam, 215 yards dead-center, which for an aging 28-handicap is as good as it gets. As I addressed my second shot, he stopped me and asked, "Where is your target?"
- By Alex Eichman
- Develop a pre-shot routine and make sure to do it before every shot. Here is my pre-shot routine - this might help you develop one that works for you. After I figure my yardage and choose my club, the first thing I do is stand behind the ball and visualize my shot. Then I walk to the ball and begin to check my body from the ground up, beginning at my feet. I make sure my feet are shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, back straight and arms hanging toward the ground. I never want to feel like I'm reaching for the ball. I look at the ball, pay close attention to my target, then pull the trigger.
- - Tipster Alex Eichman is the head pro at Alvamar Golf Club. He can be reached at aeichman@ alvamar.com
"Just to the left of that barren tree," I answered.
He laid down the golf club to reveal where I actually was aiming, which was way right, directly at a house.
"One-half to two-thirds of the people I give lessons to have alignment issues," Eichman told me. "In your case, you have to feel like you're aiming left to be aiming at your target. I'm the same way."
End of similarities. He is 6-foot-2, 170 pounds. I'm shorter. Let's just leave it at that.
On No. 7, Eichman read the break perfectly and dropped a 20-foot putt. On No. 8, he slammed a 265-yard 4-wood off the tee. He carded a one-under par 4-3-4-4, compared to my 7-5-6-5, seven-over par.
Eichman, whose wife, Anne, teaches government at Southwest Junior High, is like most pros in that he's too busy manning the pro shop, filling purchasing orders, balancing the books and giving lessons to knock off 18 holes often. He estimated he was able to play 18 uninterrupted holes roughly once every three weeks.
He's had a love affair with the course since he first stepped on it in college during Baker University's tournament, in which he finished third and fourth.
"I had fond memories of the course," he said. "I tend to like courses I do well on. So when I saw the job opening, I went for it."
Words of wisdom
"My best score ever was 103, but I've only been playing for 15 years." -Actor and former NFL lineman Alex Karra.
Club professionals are able to stay sharp despite not logging a great deal of time playing, Eichman said, because they constantly preach golf fundamentals to their pupils and are reminded of how they can do a better job of practicing what they preach.
Eichman has a sharp eye.
"I'm impressed with your putting," he told me.
I didn't have the heart to tell the long-ball hitter: "Drive for show, putt for dough." He's young. He'll learn in time.
This week in golf:
- No. 6, Alvamar Golf Course
- Par: 4. Yards: 444 (championship tee)
- It's the No. 1 handicap hole on the course, which means it's the toughest to par. If the tee shot is not hit far enough to reach the plateau, because of the slope of the fairway, the ball is below your feet, which leads to a tendency to fade the ball off to the right. It's difficult to stick a shot in the middle of the green because of a ridge that runs from the front left to the back right, which forces the ball either to the front or back of the green, depending on which side of the ridge it hits.