It rained recently in Baltimore, and it was the kind of rain that lingers like a bloated literary novel, one that isn’t subtle, or particularly well-reviewed.
For days, it was heavy and intense, then it would lighten up for a few hours, only to return to its previous parade of miseries. When it rains for days on end, that’s when I tend to miss golf the most. When it snows, I retreat into a state of resignation and acceptance because I know I won’t be hitting putts any time soon, but when it rains, I often look out the window and tell lies to my golfing soul.
If it just lets up just a little, I tell myself, I could throw on my rain gear and pretend like I’m in Scotland. I could throw some darts at the soft greens. I could have the course all to myself.
This time, however, I couldn’t even fake it. There were several small rivers forming in my driveway, and a fetid swamp forming in my backyard. By nightfall, my wife had informed me that our basement was leaking, and the mountain of boxes on the floor that I had spent months promising I would deal with were about to meet their predictable, perhaps literary end.
We spent a full Saturday sorting through the mess, building shelves and swapping out soggy cardboard boxes for military-grade plastic bins. As the day went on, I realized that in addition to old newspaper and magazine clips, the time had come to deal with another haunting element of my past:
The overflowing, embarrassing box of golf training aids taunting me from the corner.
If you’re a golfer and you’ve spent any time on Instagram in the last few years, there is a 100 percent chance the algorithm has tried to get you to buy a training aid of some kind. If you’ve never purchased one, you’re made of smarter stuff than I am, and I recommend you don’t give in to the temptation to do so. Think of them like an addictive drug. It might be fun for a while, but it will fade, you’ll feel compelled to chase that high, and you might end up doing more damage than good.
The people who make them — the instructors who swear by them — know this, even if many of them swear they have good intentions. It’s why they keep churning out new training aids every year.
A 10-handicap and his money are soon parted.
Second and third homes have been paid for by suckers like me, the kind of foolish golfers who cannot resist believing that someone has invented a magic wand — typically made out of plastic, fiberglass and velcro — that will turn them into Adam Scott with a little solitary practice.
In my basement, I have training aids that are supposed to help keep my left arm straight, ones that promise to help me bow my wrist, and others that have something to do with radial or ulnar deviation (I can never keep them straight). There is a belt with fabric boxes attached (it sounds insane just typing it) meant to help me rotate, and a boot that looks like a medieval torture device vowing to help me load weight into my right side. There is another belt — yes, a second golf training belt — with rubber tubing attached to it that I’m not sure I could even bring through TSA without ending up on a watch list. There are tempo trainers and putting mirrors and inflatable beach balls attached to a lanyard that you wear around your neck like you’ve won the Olympics of Shame.
Remember that scene in Tin Cup when Kevin Costner has the shanks, and Rene Russo catches him in his trailer, shamefully draped in the same training aids he took from her during their very first lesson?
Hi. I’m the problem, it’s me.
I don’t know when that sickness overtook me, but I do know I’m not alone. My colleague Cody McBride suffers from a similar affliction, and he’s a far better golfer than I am. We are drawn to snake oil, and on the Gram, there is always a charming Harold Hill-figure in a half zip promising to unlock something in us. If we click twice and use Apple Pay, a package will be on the way (probably from Taiwan) almost instantly.
I recently had a marketing person slide into my DMs and offer me a free training aid, the kind you stand on and use to help you shift pressure to your left side during transition, and I had to sheepishly admit that I couldn’t accept it. It wasn’t because I had ethical qualms about getting one gratis.
It was that I’d already purchased one, months prior.
On our Goals Podcast this year, D.J. Piehowski said something that made a light bulb go off in my brain, and I knew he wasn’t just speaking for himself, he was speaking to thousands of idiots like me: Hey, what if I stopped trying to WebMD my own golf swing every year and actually sought out professional help?
I never imagined I would be the kind of adult male who was stubborn enough to believe I could fix things I did not understand. I never liked the cliche about men refusing to stop and ask for directions, but I understand it now. I realize that I buy golf training aids for the same reason I occasionally walk into a hardware store and politely decline when someone who works there asks if I have any questions.
I’m here to buy grommets, I want to tell them, and even though I don’t know what those are — or where you might stock them — it will somehow be more satisfying to me if I can locate them myself before I contemplate purchasing at least three of them, all of them different sizes.
There is something alluring about trying to be your own savior, but I never understood how the companies who make training aids preyed on the insecurities of people like me until I added up the wreckage of the last five years.
There had to be more than $1000 of plastic and velcro and misery buried in my basement. Had I really purchased all this crap because I felt uncomfortable getting a series of golf lessons? That I didn’t want to ask an expert for help because I was embarrassed that they would judge me as they tried (likely in vain) to help me?
If I’m being honest with myself, the answer is yes.
It turns out, rather than doing one hour of golf therapy, men will literally go to the driving range with an inflatable beach ball dangling from their neck, and stand on a bright orange seesaw.
I want to believe that all changes this year. I may never have a pretty golf swing, but this is the year I stop looking for the answers on YouTube and Instagram. I’m going to find an instructor, so pray for the both of us. It’s time to unload these fantasy fixes on someone else, likely for pennies on the dollar. If you’re in the market for a G-Box or a G-Snap or a ProSendr or a Pressure Plate or a Tour Striker or an Orange Whip or an Impact Snap or a SmartBall or a Pivot Pro, you might be in luck—caveat emptor.
I might keep one training aid, however. I have a set of yellow pool noodles attached to a tripod that was supposed to help establish a path that would shallow out my swing. I think it’s called a Chili Wacker, though I’ve long since lost the box. It cost about $175 and it was totally worthless, but I feel like the pool noodles could still come in handy if my next basement flood turns biblical.
Kevin Van Valkenburg is the Editorial Director of No Laying Up.
Email him a email@example.com.