By Tyler Olson
“There’s only one other acceptable theory about how to hit a golf ball… Grip it and rip it.”- Roy McAvoy
“Grip it and rip it.” It’s a novel idea and something we golfers like to throw around all the time, yet nobody ever actually does it. Golf is such a complex game that we think there’s no way some catchphrase can be the end-all-be-all to our ball-striking woes. At least for us mere mortals. Maybe freaks of nature like Bubba Watson and John Daly or fictional characters like Tin Cup can get away with it, but not us. So we never try. Well, I have tried “grit it and rip it” in earnest and I’m here to tell you that it works. Let my story be an example to all you frustrated hacks who think the only way to master the game is by memorizing countless swing thoughts and trying to cram them into a one-second stroke. You don’t need to. It really is that simple.
In early May of last year, I was playing the best golf of my life. Every element of my game from my driver to my putter was clicking and seemingly only getting better each day. In order to improve my previously non-existent flexibility and increase my distance, I had also been lifting for a year (Olympic lifts can do wonders for your golf game). Therein was my downfall.
I was going for a PR in push press, and like an idiot I was doing it from the rack rather than on the platform. For those of you not familiar with meathead lingo, you can do push press from a rack, where the bar is already at your shoulders where the push press lift starts, or on the platform, where you first have to do a clean (a lift in which you basically throw the bar from the ground to your shoulders) in order to get to the starting position for push press. The advantage to push pressing on the platform is that if you mess up, you can simply drop the bar down to the ground and step out of the way. This greatly reduces the risk of injury compared to using the rack. Because I was lazy and wanted to bypass the clean, I chose the rack.
I had three spotters; one behind, one to the left, and one to the right. I approached the bar, picked it up, stepped back, and gave it my best heave to thrust the 175 pounds above my head. I almost got it, but just before I could lock it out gravity took over and the bar came falling back down towards earth. The spotters swooped in to help out. The guy behind me put his hands on my elbows to steady me. The spotter on my right grabbed the end of the bar to reduce the impact of it on my shoulders. The guy on my left, however, missed the bar. It landed with some force on my shoulder. If it had stayed where it landed, I could’ve simply walked the bar back to the rack, reloaded, and tried again. Unfortunately, it didn’t. When the spotter on my right, unaware that the bar had not been secured by his counterpart on the other side, started walking towards the rack, the bar rolled backwards on my left side, pinning my arm nearly behind my head. Every ounce of the 175 pounds was now forcing my shoulder into the most unnatural and painful position you could imagine. Then I heard a pop.
Eventually, the spotter on my left grabbed the bar and helped return it from whence it came. Once it was back on the rack and I was finally free of the weight, I heard another pop; my shoulder returning to its socket after it had been dislocated.
To make a long story short, I tore my labrum in the process and was going to be unable to play golf until after I had surgery then did a six-month rehab process. That was unacceptable to me, as our school’s fall golf season started in just four. My other option was to go through extensive physical therapy and hope I’d be functional enough come August to swing a club. I chose the latter and to put off surgery until after the season.
After spending most of my May, June, and August in a sterile PT office while all my friends were out doing summer-ey things, I was able to take full swings by our first match. Well, kind of. After just a couple holes, the endurance in my hobbled shoulder gave out and every shot longer than a chip from the fringe hurt like hell. To compensate, I didn’t hit any range balls at all and gave up taking practice swings all together.
At first, I hated it. As a pretty cerebral guy, I always wanted to make sure I had a couple good strokes in to get the feel for the shot before I stepped up to the ball, so it felt like I was going into every shot blind. After a couple ugly scores in the mid 40’s (in Maryland high school matches are nine holes) and a couple matches where I managed to put up a respectable 37 and 39 thanks to impressive putting performances of 11 and 13 putts each, I resigned myself to the fact that my scores would come and go with my short game. I stopped worrying about my ball striking. I stopped thinking about draws, cuts, wind direction, and everything else. I went with the grip it and rip it approach on every shot.
That’s when things changed. While I still had a few matches where my shoulder just wasn’t feeling it that day and it impacted my ability to even get the ball off the ground, when I could move my shoulder as I liked and wasn’t in severe pain from the first tee, my ball striking improved. It wasn’t as good as when I had a fully functioning anatomy, but compared to when I clouded my head with so many extraneous thoughts, I was hitting a significant number of fairways and greens.
The best example of the success of this approach was our final match. The first hole was a 330-yard par four with OB right and bunkers scattered everywhere if you missed the fairway. I grabbed my driver out of the bag, set my sights in the general direction of the green, and thrashed at the ball. It carried about 290, hit the downslope of one of the sand traps, and bounded all the way to the green. I missed the eagle putt but tapped in for birdie. The third was a par three over the water with a front left hole location that was clearly a sucker pin. I aimed right at it, guessed what club I should hit (the entire season my iron distances fluctuated constantly with the strength of my shoulder on any given day) and let her go. I stuck it to five feet and made the putt. I proceeded with that approach the entire round and it worked just as well (except for one hole where I caught a flier and sent it into a lake that was beyond the green). I tapped in on the eighteenth for my fifth 37 of the season- I never could get to even par.
All in all, I finished the year with my second consecutive All-County first team nomination, the first ever county championship for our school, and a cool 40.1 scoring average (the 53 I threw in there probably didn’t help the cause). I stopped taking practice swings out of necessity and took on the grip-it-and-rip-it mentality out of frustration, but now I can’t imagine playing any other way.
Golf a complex game if you let it be, but it’s possible to beat the system. As long as you have a semi-fundamentally sound swing, any swing thoughts can be a detriment. Taking practice swings just slows down the group and ticks off your playing partners. If you’re looking for a change of pace in your game, both literally and figuratively, maybe it’s time to really give “Grip it and Rip it” a try.