Practice the Madras model of learning

City golfer Ishwar Achanta is the only one from the country who has been invited to the international panel of referees for the marquee professional tournament.
Low handicappers practising at the range, Ishwar Achanta outside Madras College
Low handicappers practising at the range, Ishwar Achanta outside Madras College

CHENNAI: THE historic 150th edition of The Open got under way on Thursday at the Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland, and there is a Madras connect, ancient and modern. City golfer Ishwar Achanta is the only one from the country who has been invited to the international panel of referees for the marquee professional tournament.

A couple of days ago, when Achanta posed in front of the Madras College at St. Andrews and shared it on social media, he highlighted a century-old connection between the city and Scotland. The Madras College was founded on the ‘monitor’ system of education that was followed in Madras and Dr. Andrew Bell, who was then employed in the East India Company, replicated it in Scotland on relocation. The Madras system is a method of teaching where an older student teaches the newly enrolled ones.

In a sense, this tradition of passing down of knowledge and wisdom is followed in golf as well. Seniors are known to help the below average players aspiring to climb the ranks. And, all of them will emphasise the importance of hitting the range and practicing regularly.

Bharathan Padmanaban, a veteran golfer, advised a new player to spend three months on the Kodai Golf Course during the off-season to take her game up a few notches. “There is no one on the course and you can play three or four balls, practising each shot several times,” was his way of getting the player to a certain standard.

SERIOUSLY? DOES IT HELP?

Given the difficulties in gearing up to play the sport and the time it takes to excel, one way to improve one’s game is to hit the practice range often. Here, one can play 50 or 100 shots from set positions, focusing on perfecting the swing and generating the required torque for the ball to travel the distance.

One may wonder how this can help. It is quite evident that any art or craft is perfected by the effort put in by the individual. Muscle memory is a physiological fact. You repeat an activity enough number of times, it becomes so routine that you can do it without even thinking about it.

The muscles do it themselves and hence the tag ‘muscle memory’. Coaches use the term promptly after you hit a great shot, saying, “Remember how you felt when you played the shot? Remember it and repeat it.” You swing correctly once, see the ball going where you wished for it to go and repeat the swing close to a thousand times, and then the swing is yours. You can repeat it whenever it is required – most times without even thinking about it!

How often should one practice? That would depend upon one’s age and aspirations. Coaches recommend bi-weekly practice for high handicappers. Professionals and those aspiring to become one spend practically all their waking hours on the course. What works for a player therefore is a very personal choice.

Once you gain some proficiency and get going, many things happen to your game, notably the see-saw. “Initially, my chipping was very good, but the fairway shots were nothing to feel proud of. When I focused on the long hits and gained a reasonable amount of control, my short game went for a six. And, it is back to practising the approaches and the chips,” is a common lament. Practice leads to more practice!

“Music cannot be a profession. It should be a way of life,” observed Daniel Barenboim, the virtuoso pianist. Musician Sudha Raghunathan once told me, “The lesson I learnt from my guru ML Vasanthakumari was not only to keep practising but also to keep thinking of music all the time.” This lesson is applicable to golfers as well.

(The writer is the Lady Captain at TNGF)

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