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Monday, August 13, 2012 - Page updated at 08:30 p.m.

Steve Kelley
Key to learning golf, is to learn it's just a game

By Steve Kelley
Seattle Times staff columnist
SNOQUALMIE — As I continue to rediscover my love of golf, I'm also remembering the frustrations that drove me away. I think that's the nature of this game, and the only way to enjoy golf is to find a way to manage the frustrations.

You have to celebrate the small victories that come along in a round and learn from the batches of mistakes.

Mostly, I've been reminded by my instructor/shrink Luke Brosterhous, the excellent teaching pro at Snoqualmie Ridge Golf Club, that even in the most difficult rounds, when the annoyances begin to build like the first angry tufts of a migraine, we need to tell ourselves that we're still out in the open air, enjoying nature, playing a game.

"The first thing you have to do, before you come into a round, you have to have that general perspective of, 'I'm out here. I'm playing golf. Life is good,' " Brosterhous reminded me. "Sure you want to get better. The point is to score as well as I can. But at the end of the day, it's a game and you have to be related to it in a good way.

"When things aren't going right, kind of jokingly say, 'Am I going to go to Negatown? Am I going to get down on myself?' Step back. Take a deep breath, ask yourself, 'What's the worst thing that can happen in this situation?' The answer is nothing."

I'm getting better. I can tell.

For instance, if you were a new follower of golf and for some sick reason The Golf Channel decided to follow my progress, you might think the object of my game is to hit the ball into the nearest hazard.

I've never found a lake, river or ravine that hasn't greedily swallowed my golf balls. And, when I'm playing the difficult front nine at Snoqualmie Ridge, I'm always thinking about the lake in front of the par-3 ninth hole.

"The lake's hungry," I tell myself, "and my Titleist is on the menu."

But last week, on a spectacularly blue-sky day, after staggering around the eighth fairway like a drunk on a dirigible, I hit a 7-iron that easily cleared the lake and landed in the front bunker. A sand trap never looked so good to me.

It was the shot that guaranteed I would keep pushing forward and told me that I can get better, and like MacArthur, I promised I shall return.

After three intense lessons (check out the video on The Seattle Times' website and also take a look at other Luke Brosterhous videos at www.lukebrosterhous.com) I recently played Snoqualmie Ridge again to gauge my progress.

Brosterhous kept score, using what I believe is his own version of the Modified Stableford scoring system. I played nine holes, but approximating my score over 18, he concluded I shot a 98, compared with the 106 of my first round a month earlier. I hit 12 fairways, four better than that first round. I had two fewer putts and four fewer three-putts. I still haven't hit a green in regulation.

"Baby steps," I reminded myself. "It only has been a month and you haven't practiced as often as you promised yourself you would."

"The amount of practice time you take depends on how much you want to improve, and how much time you have to put into it," Brosterhous said. "For most people, if you can hit balls for an hour and a half a week and if you can pitch and putt for an hour and a half, you'll get better and feel more comfortable.

"You're going to hit some bad shots, but you have to stay committed to what you're focusing on. Make it simple, fundamentally sound (set up, arm position) and intend to compress the ball. Over time, you will get more and more consistent."

Consistency is the elusive butterfly of golf. There were these moments in my round, on the fifth and eighth holes, when I wanted to climb in the cart, give up the game and head for a bowling alley and a beer.

On the eighth I topped, not one, but two hybrids, a club that feels as comfortable in my hand as a wasp's nest. I believe I actually feel my hands swelling when I grip a hybrid.

Patience, Brosterhous preached.

"Improvement is a roller coaster that's steadily going up," he said. "But you're going to have downs. Everybody has a hole or two, even the best players in the world, where they hit a couple of bad shots and they're on the edge of disaster. You learn from it and move on."

I'm beginning to understand.

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

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