Here’s a lesson from Maui, on taking a golf vacation lesson.
Most women I know would sooner cheat on their beloved life partner than take a golf lesson from a stranger. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Let’s say they’d cheat on their hairdresser before straying even once from their regular golf instructor.
I’m in full lesson mode at the moment, working on a new swing that will give me more distance. Consequently, my golf game is a mess. I have so much going on in my head that I can hardly putt. So when I saw that I was scheduled for a lesson with Renee Lee before the first of my five rounds of golf in Maui, I decided to make a strange request.
I asked her to de-lessonize me for the week. “Set me free,” I said. “I’m a decent player, a bogey golfer. I believe in what I am learning and I’m committed to getting longer. But this week I just want to have fun and enjoy these glorious golf courses without working on my swing. Give me a lesson that will help me enjoy golf on Maui.”
Renee is a PGA professional who with her husband, Eddie, and let’s not leave out their 7-year-old son, Lakota, runs the Wailea Golf Academy. She smiled.
“You are not alone,” she said. “Obviously you want to get better, and you understand you pay a price. This week, you’ll go back to being your natural athletic self, and maybe some of what you are learning will find its way in.”
We were standing on the Academy range high above the Wailea Golf Club clubhouse, taking in a panoramic view under a warm drizzle. The Lees and longtime Academy instructor Cathy Torchiana know they’ve got one of the world’s most gorgeous offices.
Lee dropped a ball on the grass and I pured a 9-iron. “That’s pretty much a 10 for me on a scale of 1 to 10,” I said, surprised. I hit a few more shots, trying different clubs in my rental set of TaylorMade M2s. Lee kept smiling and raving about my swing.
“What blows my mind is that people working on their full swing tend to blow chips 15 yards off the green and ruin their round with three-putts,” she said. “Let’s work on short game.”
So we went over to the academy’s two practice greens. There, Renee showed me the two types of grass I would find on the courses and how my shots would react. Then, she showed me how grain, the mountain and the ocean would affect my putts. I also found out how much the previous day’s storm would slow my roll.
In the end, I had three “notes to self.”
- Work on a pre-shot routine that includes a practice swing, and even a second if I don’t like the first.
- Stay balanced on chips, keeping my feet grounded.
- Whenever I’m close enough, notice the grain around the hole.
And then my foursome of blondes hit the Gold Course for some fun.
‘DON’T BE SUCH A LADY’
Jennifer McNally, sales and marketing director for the Wailea Golf Club, had invited Torchiana and one of her students, Emily Hiller, to join us. Emily tends bar at Wailea Kitchen and Tap, where golfers who get their 18-hole scorecard stamped in the course pro shop can get their first drink for the price of their score. She’s a former rugby player with a powerful swing unfolding.
Judging from the round, she’s got the right coach. Torchiana, an LPGA teaching professional who coached golf at USC before love brought her to Maui 25 years ago, has a beautiful swing, perfect tempo and a keen putting eye.
What was her best advice to us on the day?
STICK YOUR BUTT OUT WHEN YOU SET UP.
“If it feels unladylike, you’re doing it right,” she said. From there on out, when a putt would come up short we would sigh and demean ourselves as “such a lady” and when we connected on a powerful shot the compliment was, “Ooh, that was SO unladylike.”
Approaching the turn, we ordered four beers from the beverage cart, which happened to carry Maui Brewing Company Blonde. At the par-4 ninth hole, we drove past the back tees across a wide volcanic ditch to a forward tee set at 160 yards, traditionally a par-3 distance. But the hole plays uphill to a green guarded by deep bunkers, giving women the choice of going for the green at a high risk or leaving the driver in the bag and hitting a club that puts them just short of the sand.
Cathy went for the green and made it. The rest of us had different experiences. At least we had birdie juice already in hand.
MAKE THE GOLF VACATION LESSON WORK FOR YOU
I made some good swings during the round, and chipped and putted really well. The positive lesson feedback allowed me to play golf again. Cathy told me that what helped make my lesson successful and valuable was that I knew what would help me, as unusual as it was. She recommends that students seeing a teacher only one time come armed with a summary of where their game is and what they want from the session.
“You don’t go into the spa for a facial and say, ‘Give me the works,’ ” she said.
Over scallops and salmon that evening at Bev Gannon’s beautiful golf course restaurant in the Wailea clubhouse, my tour host Luly Unemori said many Maui golf students are snowbirds vacationing just before their golf season back home reopens.
“They come here for a tuneup when their course is shut down, and when they get home they’re ready to go,” she said.
Taking lessons on a golf vacation is just like putting on a swimsuit, said Wailea Resort Association Director of Marketing and Communications Kathy Costello.
“We don’t mind wearing a bathing suit on vacation,” she said. “No one knows me here, I don’t care what they think, there’s no reason to feel self-conscious. Same thing with taking a lesson. No one knows you here and they’ll never see you again, so why not?”
So why not try my strategy next time you go on a golf vacation. Start the week with a single golf lesson and be up front about what might help you enjoy yourself. It’s a great way to free the mind and gain a bit of local course insight.
And, shhhhh, your regular instructor never has to know.