Fore! First-timer let loose on range |

Fore! First-timer let loose on range

Susan Wood, Tribune staff writer

NAPA — I took the golf club with no expectations.

It was the first time I held the tool players rely on to play a game that is often wrought with frustration.

I knew I would eventually stand face-to-face with an iron to take my first golf lesson — ever since an encounter I had with a golf ball as a result of an errant slice at the Torrey Pines driving range years ago.

The ball skipped over four lanes of traffic and onto the sidewalk where I was walking. It stopped in front of me as if to give me a sign — come golfing.

I must admit I initially imagined my first encounter would take place at a driving range that would more closely resemble a scene from the movie “Tin Cup,” not the Silverado Country Club and Resort where football great Joe Montana and actor Michael Douglas have graced the grounds.

I knew I’d never see its 36 holes. But with the help of instructor Matt Munoz — who’s taught at the Napa resort since 1998 and started golfing at age 4 — I knew I was in good hands.

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From a beginner’s standpoint, his primary point in the lesson revolved around keeping my eyes firmly planted on the ground — even through the swing. I realized why I received the instruction. The tendency was strong to lift my eyes in a peek-a-boo posture. And therefore, my body followed the swing. The key to hitting the ball with any kind of accuracy and distance is to do the opposite.

I truly enjoyed the openness of the course, which was lined with old oak, cypress and willow trees, and hawks circling overhead.

Forget watching the sky. My first mission was keeping my eye on an isolated area of green in front of me.

Munoz gave me the three fundamentals of a successful swing: grip, stance and aim.

“If you have those down, everything will come easier,” he said, adding golfers with amnesia must return to the basics.

Munoz told me the professionals hit eight of 10 shots with confidence. Amateurs average three. Improving in the sport means working up to the level of the pros but letting go of unrealistic expectations.

“Your main concern is getting the ball in the air,” he said.

After choosing a grip and nailing my practice swings, I stared at that little, hard, white ball, trying to release my thoughts from all those horrible miniature golf games.

This time, the Zen of it all made me one with the ball.

The ball soared and I forgot all about that golf course etiquette I had heard about. I jumped up and down, encouraged by Munoz’s outburst — “beautiful.”

I soon learned why he’s worth $44 for a half-hour lesson. And the hands-on instruction was helpful, too.

-Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at