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Originally published July 15, 2012 at 8:50 PM | Page modified July 16, 2012 at 9:45 AM

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Columnist Steve Kelley tries to rediscover his golf game

Can a golfer on the back nine of life rediscover what once made golf so much fun? Columnist Steve Kelley will take a swing at it, with help from a teaching pro and sports psychologist.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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SNOQUALMIE — Where or when my golf game started going south, I'm not sure.

Maybe it was that round I played in Kabul a few years ago. I was in my backswing on the third tee when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw that my caddie was carrying an AK-47, as well as my clubs.

I didn't know whether to continue my swing, or drop my driver, put my hands in the air and plead for mercy. The pro at Kabul Golf, with whom I was playing, started laughing.

"You need protection when you play golf in Kabul," he said.

The course was littered with old Soviet war machines. An armored personnel carrier, left by the Soviets when they evacuated the country, was tipped over alongside one of the fairways. The pro told me it was "lateral hazard."

And I was told during that trip that Afghanistan was one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. When I settled into the sand for a bunker shot, I decided against exploding the ball out of there.

Or maybe it was six months later, when my colleague Greg Bishop and I awoke before sunrise and ran from our hotel to the nearby clubhouse at the TPC at Sawgrass.

We explained that we were sportswriters, America's guests, and asked if we could grab a cart, rent a few clubs, drive over to the 17 with its fabled island green, and hit some balls at the flag.

The pros were gracious. They gave us everything but the balls, figuring most would be sent to watery graves. They were right. As the sun came up, my game went down.

I was 0 for 10 and each swing was worse than the one before it.

At Sawgrass in 2005 I developed what I figured was a permanent case of the yips. More like the yikes. My game hasn't been the same since.

Finally, about five years ago, I gave it up. Golf had ceased being fun.

At my best, which was in my 20s, I was somewhere between a 15 and 18 handicap. But I always enjoyed the game. Even the most chewed-on public courses had their challenging, quirky personalities.

And courses such as TPC Snoqualmie Ridge are spectacular. Just walking Snoqualmie Ridge, which I've done often since the Boeing Classic began, feels like a hike in a national forest. And walking Augusta National is a religious experience.

As the years have passed, my golfing jones slowly has returned. And this spring I went looking for someone who could make me believe that golf could be fun again.

I've seen so many older pros enjoy a rebirth on the Champions Tour. Bobby Clampett, once a young phenom who lost his game on the PGA Tour, has rediscovered it after age 50. Michael Allen, who never won on the PGA Tour, has won twice on the Champions and qualified for this year's U.S. Open.

I wanted my own limited rebirth, so I arranged a meeting with Luke Brosterhous, who not only is a teaching pro at Snoqualmie Ridge, he's also a sports psychologist. I figured even if he couldn't fix my swing, Brosterhous could fix my head.

My first question to him is one I think a lot of golfers my age (63) have asked: Can a player past 50 or 60 rediscover enough of his game to enjoy golf again?

"For anyone, I think that enjoying the game is definitely attainable no matter where they are," he said. "Setting reasonable goals on just how good you want to get depends on how much you're willing to put in.

"It absolutely is possible for you to play great golf later in life. Look at all these players on the Champions Tour right now who are just resurging their careers who were mediocre (PGA) tour players for a long time. I think it's a matter of coming at it with the right approach and the right approach depends on how much time you have and depends on what your expectations are. Making sure they are realistic."

I told Brosterhous, I simply wanted to have fun, keep the ball in the fairway as much as possible, eliminate the embarrassing shanks and stop freezing over the ball. Sure I wanted to string together par after par, but first things first.

In the weeks leading up to the Boeing Classic at the end of August at Snoqualmie Ridge, Brosterhous has agreed to play a couple of rounds with me as well as give me a few lessons. We'll chronicle my "progress" in columns over the next six or seven weeks. We'll also post a lot of video on our website.

The idea is to help every Everyman and Everywoman to maybe discover a key or two that can help them with their games.

Mostly, I want to get to the point where my game is so sharp I won't even notice if my caddie is carrying a rifle.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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