Challenging conditions for most, but inspirational for North Idaho College golf coach Russell Grove, who is known to dabble in creative trick shots.
“You have to have the right conditions,” Grove recalled thinking on the tee box.
Grove choked down on a driver and aimed so far left that the edge of the tee box, ocean waves and grey skyline were the only things visible in an iPhone video. He teed the ball up on a pencil – pro tip: removing the eraser keeps the ball in place – and hit a soaring, massive cut.
The ball boomeranged over the ocean, rode the wind, landed softly on the back side of the green and trickled down 20 feet from the hole. Two earlier attempts U-turned over the big water hazard and narrowly missed the green left.
How far did the shot actually travel from Point A to Point B with the detour over the Pacific? Longer than the hole itself? Maybe 75 yards over the ocean before venturing back to the putting surface?
“Don’t know,” Grove admitted. “It was almost like it was coming backward toward the end. It would be interesting to see it on shot-tracer.”
That parabolic shot joined 20 trick shots posted on Grove’s Instagram page with the caption: “Just a heads up on #11 at Pacific Dunes from the green tees (131 yards), full driver is the play.”
A few of Grove’s trick shots have been shown on Golf Channel or reposted by Golf Digest. They are essentially a hobby for Grove, who has stayed busy despite the coronavirus pandemic largely applying the brakes to competitive golf.
He’s an accomplished player with three consecutive PGA Pacific Northwest Section player of the year awards. The 34-year-old believes he’s getting better and hasn’t given up on his dream of playing on the PGA Tour. He’s an accomplished coach, guiding NIC’s men to the past three NWAC titles and the women to the 2016 crown. He’s also a budding real estate agent after earning his license last winter.
Grove remembers watching the 1999 Nike commercial featuring Tiger Woods juggling the ball with a wedge – slow, fast, behind his back, etc. – before smacking the ball out of midair.
“That was probably where it all started,” said Grove, a Coeur d’Alene High and University of Idaho product. “In high school we all started doing that once it was a thing.”
Grove enjoys trick shots because they serve as a study break – something to fend off the monotony after 25 consecutive practice chips from the same spot – and require him to think outside the box and manufacture an imaginative shot.
One of his recent trick shots probably has the oldest roots, dating back to his days as a youngster scooping up range balls at Avondale. The goal: With a 64-degree wedge, send the ball over a pole perhaps 50 to 60 feet high from six feet away.
“I remember as range kids we used to try to do it,” he said. “I just thought maybe try it, because I can swing the club a lot faster now.”
Playing the ball off his front foot, Grove shifted most of his weight on his back foot, took a mighty swing and the ball soared virtually straight up, clearing the pole.
He tagged Phil Mickelson in the post but didn’t hear back from the wedge maestro. Mickelson has famously attempted backward shots from severe uphill lies in competition and a British Open practice round.
“I’m catching it on the upswing, ball up in the grass, and I’m leaning so far back and flipping so hard with my hands,” he said. “There’s no way you could hit it that high hitting down on it.”
Ideas pop into his head when he’s standing over a shot that could be executed dozens of ways, or to clear his mind during a practice session. Hence, the double chip-in that required 30 to 40 takes during the first week of quarantine.
Grove stacked two balls on top of each other – not a gimme in its own right – chipped the bottom ball toward the hole, and with a second swing did the same to the top ball just before it descended to the ground. The bottom ball dropped into the cup, with the top ball following suit a second or two later.
Grove found out later somebody had posted something similar, showing how hard it can be to generate unique ideas.
“I guess when I’m sick and tired of hitting the same chip shot, I’ll think of something and try to do it,” said Grove, whose first tournament this summer is expected to be the Washington Open in late June. “You can literally hit any different shot a million different ways: high, low, left, right.
“That’s probably one of the reasons I love golf and I’m not tired of it. There’s so much to it. You’re not just shooting the same basketball into the same hoop over and over.”
No, his target often is quite a bit smaller: a 4.25-inch diameter cup or his cellphone camera. The latter was the objective at Hayden Lake with a low 5-iron from 50 yards that sent the ball skipping across the water – think of a skipping rock – before rattling his phone, protected by a metal block with a camera cutout.
Sans the skipping, Grove doubled the distance for a scenic shot across the Coeur d’Alene River. He lined a 4-iron stinger angled over the river at his phone roughly 100 yards away.
The setup alone took a while, and he fired numerous failed attempts before pulling it off. If you’re thinking he lost a bunch of balls in the outtakes, you’d be wrong. The misfires landed strategically in a large dirt mound behind the target.
Grove takes precautions to keep his clubs and phone safe and to limit the number of lost balls. He broke a backup driver at Twin Lakes before pulling off a shot he captioned “Pretending to forget a tee.” Grove walked onto the tee box, casually popped the ball off the front of his shoe, bounced it off the top of a driver and belted it out of midair down the fairway.
Grove said his most enjoyable trick shots involve friends or family. There’s one on a Hawaiian beach where he juggles the ball somewhat erratically with a wedge, building up spin on the ball and popping the cap off his father’s beer. (The cap had been unsealed and lightly reattached, because shattering a bottle isn’t recommended).
Even the family’s golden retriever, Macy, gets into the act. In a cleverly edited Instagram video, Macy hops into a golf cart, appears to drive to the store and comes back with a package of toilet paper on day seven of quarantine.
Grove hasn’t attempted a trick shot in competition “per se, but you’ve got to be creative. One that comes to mind was at Wine Valley (in Walla Walla) and instead of hitting a traditional chip, I played it off a back slope and had it run back down.”
Several of Grove’s earliest trick shots came in Arizona when visiting friends Taylor Robert and Mike Damm. Both are competitive dirt-bike racers – Robert has won X Games gold – and collaborated with Grove on elaborate trick shots, including a few staged on Damm’s backyard track and obstacle course.
Grove hits two stacked balls off a practice mat, sending one forward and the other about 25 feet in the air. Just after impact, Robert nose-wheelies his motorcycle to a near stop in front of Grove, who pulls a club from Robert’s backpack and clobbers the second ball with a baseball swing as Robert rides off.
Grove considers it probably his toughest trick shot. It was made tougher by Grove having to shuffle several steps backward before launching the second shot.
His favorite trick shot? The open-faced driver on the par-3 at Pacific Dunes on the Oregon Coast. He demonstrated he can work the ball right-to-left, too, on a par 3 at Kapalua with a 7-iron that sent the ball toward a watery grave in the ocean before making a left turn and landing on the green.
Grove has a few more trick shots in mind, but usually it’s the setting and conditions sparking the visualization that leads to an innovative shot.
“Eventually I’m sure I could,” Grove said of possibly making money from producing trick shots. “That’s not really my goal. I just do it for fun.”
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