Phillips Navigates Curves On Golf's Road

Back in March, we profiled Dr. Jim Phillips, a retired 20-plus handicapper, who had set out to qualify for the U.S. Senior Amateur. We didn’t see his name at any Florida qualifying and wondered if he had really been just tilting at windmills. We caught up with the good doctor last week. Good news for all you Phillips-philes – the journey continues.

The past few months have been an awakening for Phillips and when he awoke, he realized that the swing he brought to this project made it like going to a gunfight without bullets. Things had to change and the swing was the thing.


“I definitely knew I had to make changes,” he said. “I wasn’t getting either the distance or accuracy I needed to get where I wanted to be. I decided to go with a flatter swing.”

While this change may not be of Tiger-esque proportions, remember, this man is attempting a complete swing overhaul at age 61. Didn’t anyone tell him how difficult this would be? He found out on his own.

One of the first things he’s found is his handicap has dropped from 23 to 13 and is trending toward 12.

“I started with the wedge and found it to be much more accurate,” he said. “As I worked back through the bag, I found that I was hitting the ball longer, but my scores were going up. I saw enough positive things to keep with it and the scores and my handicap started to go down.”

Phillips also noticed other differences. This self-professed nerd also was changing physically, which happens when you play and/or beat balls five or six days a week.

“I’ve definitely become more flexible since I’ve gone to the flatter swing,” he said. “That swing requires a lot more flexibility. It’s a lot more taxing on the body. It makes you more flexible.”

Okay, this undertaking can improve one’s physical well-being just by being pure exercise. By the same token, it can lead to mental and emotional breakdowns of epic proportions. Golf courses are littered with broken dreams and abandoned hopes of ever mastering the hardest game of all.

“What has happened,” explained Phillips, “is that I’ve come to realize more than ever that my goals are available to me. I now have a clearer picture of what I’m going to have to do to get there.”

This doesn’t mean there haven’t been setbacks because there have been both on and off the course. It’s the latter that has caused a disruption in the schedule.

During the past summer, Phillips’ mother was injured in a fall and passed weeks later. This is the type of event that derails the best of plans. Phillips spoke of his mother.

“She was an amazing woman,” he said. “She went through nursing school and had a career in nursing before deciding she wanted to do something else. She wanted to become an outdoor photographer.

“Back then, there were very few people who did that, so she taught herself. She had always lived in the mountains of north Georgia and she would go miles into the back woods and work at refining her work.

“There was no digital photography back then. It was rolls of film. When I cleaned out her house, I found some amazing pictures she had taken. I’m going to build a website and put them up.”

As Phillips related the anecdote about his mother, there immediately came to mind an amazing parallel.

Let’s see: A woman, who had a medical career and then became a successful self-taught outdoor photographer through hard work and dedication, has a son, who has had a successful medical career as well as one in the legal field and is now pursuing mastery – or at least a successful standoff – with golf.

An accident? It sounds more like an accident of birth.

“I guess you could say that,” Phillips said with a chuckle. “That might explain a lot of things.”

Phillips was speaking from a hotel room in Vero Beach where he was helping an old friend set up a law practice, but even that wasn’t going to keep him from his golf pursuits.

“I’m going to look for a driving range to go to tomorrow morning, so I can get my practice in,” he said. “I still love golf and I love to hit balls. This project has been wonderful. I’ve been able to meet so many nice people while I’m going through this. That has been great, and like I said, I’ve learned that my goal is available to me if I put in the effort.”
There can be no doubt. The doctor is all in.

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