Several members of the Free State and Lawrence High golf teams took turns dunking on the adjustable hoop beside Kyle and Renee Green’s driveway. The last thing they needed was for some hack from an older generation pulling them into the backyard, one by one, to dispense golf tips that will divulge the secret to consistent ball-striking.
Raised to respect their elders, they obliged, talking golf near a fire pit that produced the cracking and snapping sounds that called to mind the backdrop on Neil Young’s recording of the song “Soldier.”
“Keep playing,” said Alex Green, Free State’s No. 1 player. “Don’t let one bad shot affect the rest of your round.”
His swing thought is simple: “Keep your head down. Don’t look up. Make sure you swing through the ball.”
Logan Henrichs, Lawrence High’s No. 1 player, expressed a similar sentiment about burying a bad shot in the past and offered a putting tip.
“Always keep your head down,” he said. “Keep your head as still as possible.”
LHS junior Brett Van Blaricum stressed, “Keep a steady tempo. Slow yourself down. Don’t get into a hurry. Take your time on each shot. Think about each shot. Don’t just go up and hit it.”
His LHS classmate Cole Cummins shared the most helpful tip he received: “Standing over my putts more, instead of standing way back, helped me putt a lot better.”
Firebirds junior Wilson Hack said, “When I start swinging bad, I resort back to my tempo, and that kind of fixes everything for me. I just try not to swing too hard. I don’t try to slow the clubhead down because then I’ll probably lose distance, but just mentally trying to slow everything down and trying not to swing too quick, too hard at it. Just let it flow.”
Free State freshman Matt Siler on putting: “Follow through. Keep a good, solid stroke.”
Firebirds sophomore Hunter Dedloff, coming off playing nine holes with friends from both schools, said: “Swing slower, keep my head down. I swung pretty hard today. You feel like you need to crush it, especially on the tee. And I topped like four drives today. I didn’t follow this tip today. That’s why I’m saying it now, trying to get it in my head.”
Firebirds frosh Austin Kastl doesn’t believe in cluttering his head with too many thoughts: “Whatever you think you can do to hit it well, just do that. Everyone’s swing is different.”
His chipping pointer: “People who don’t follow through have problems chipping. As soon as they hit the ball, they stop.”
On the green, Kastl said, pick your line first and then think about nothing but speed.
LHS sophomores Taylor Grob and Narito Mendez weighed in.
Grob: “Getting too fast was my main thing, so I need to slow down and keep my head down through impact.”
Mendez: “No penalty shots or anything like that. No three-putts and no two-chips.”
Firebirds junior Matt Soto added an important thing to remember on the “keep your head down” tip echoed by so many.
“Not only down (as in) up and down, but minimize your head movement left-to-right as well,” he said. “You don’t want to be swaying with your body.”
The best young golfers in Lawrence marvel at how far Free State senior Colin Becker launches a 3-wood off the tee, especially when he doesn’t try to blast it. He credits teammates with urging him to swing slower, and when he has the discipline to follow that advice, he said he hits longer drives. Becker said when he fell into a rough stretch of slicing the ball during his junior season, Green and Hack told him to stand farther from the ball at address, and it became the key for him to stop slicing the ball — which robs distance and invites tree trouble on the right — and start drawing it, which adds distance.
“Scoot away from it, be confident and roll your wrist right after contact,” Becker said.
Firebirds senior Levi Baker doesn’t claim to rank at the top of the city’s high school golfers, but he does profess to have a special talent for bringing out the worst in opponents by asking a question on the first tee box.
“I ask what the course record is, especially if they’re from the host school,” Baker said. “Most of the time they say, ‘You’re not breaking the course record. That’s not happening.’ It helps me relax because then I think they’re thinking about me. If I can get them thinking, ‘This kid’s a stud,’ then I can relax and play my game.”
Other than Baker’s creative approach, most of the tips centered on basic fundamentals. That in itself was illuminating and begged the question: Could it be I’m thinking too much? Could be. As a Hack who is anything but a hack said, “Just let it flow.”