Better Late Than Never?

Has this ever happened to you?  You are in the throws of a terrible range session leaving yourself physically and mentally spent and then you find something on the last ball?  What do you do?

It happened to me last Saturday.  I was looking at dead yanks with everything from the short irons to the driver.  I had started out working the Nine-Shot drill but had to abandon as the controlled fades became straight yanks and the draws were pull hooks.  Finally at my wits end, I tried something that worked and nutted a driver dead straight on the last ball.  How many of you would chalk it up to a random cosmic accident and head for the parking lot and how many would go buy another bucket?  As it turned out, I was exhausted but with the prospect of teeing it up the following morning and having to sleep on such an awful session, my curiosity got the best of me.  I went up and down the line scarfing a couple balls here and there from my fellow range rats; just enough to validate.  Turns out the swing fix straightened out the driver but not the irons.  Better late than never?  Absolutely!  I feel it’s essential to leave the course after play or practice with some form of hope that tomorrow will be better than today and it worked.  My round the following day was a solid ball striking one propped up by a mix of drivers, 3WD, and 3-irons off the tee.  Definitely a more conservative approach than normal, but there’s a lot to be said for getting the ball in play when you’ve got swing foibles as serious as I had lurking just beneath the surface.

What’s your strategy for playing after a shaky range session?

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2014 Masters Picks

Masters LogoThe Masters green prognostication jacket is out of the closet.  Ready for a changing of the guard?  It’s here and this year’s champion will be a first time major winner.

First, the usual suspects.  Tiger’s body is breaking down and he’s withdrawn.  Phil’s body appears to be giving him more difficulty than in the past and while he’s overcome some significant arthritic issues, age is becoming a factor.  I love watching Phil compete, but he is 43 and will turn 44 in June, and from a major winning standpoint, players hit the wall at 44 (see data from golfmajorchampionships.com below).  Phil still has game and usually turns it on at Augusta no matter what type of form he’s showing in the preceding weeks.  That being said, of all the majors contested since Willie Park won the first Open Championship in 1860, only eight have been won by a player older than 43, making Jack Nicklaus‘ victory in the 1986 Masters, at age 46 all that more impressive.   Look for a top-10 finish for Phil.

MajorWinners Augusta National is the premier horses-for-courses venue and picking the winner is the easiest of all the majors because course familiarity is a huge advantage and some of the entrants are aging past champions who have no chance  The contest also boasts the smallest field of all the majors with 97 entrants in 2014.  The other majors routinely field more than 150.

I love the newer younger cast of characters because they all have great ability and are dynamite when they get hot, but each has a distinct weakness that prevents dominating performances from week-to-week.  Come Sunday evening, the tournament will pit four players head-to-head:  Rory McIlroy, Matt Kuchar, Adam Scott, and Jason Day.  Let’s take them in reverse order.

Jason Day will win The Masters this year.

Jason Day From golfdigest.com

Jason Day
From golfdigest.com

He’s been so close with a 3rd in 2013 and a T-2nd in 2011 and it is now his time.  Jason hit’s it a long way, knows the course very well, and has finally got his mind right.  I loved the way he kept his cool and closed at the WGC Accenture when Victor Dubuisson kept getting up-and-down out of trash cans, dumpsters, and desert cactus against him in the final.  Day’s weakness is his ability to control his distances under pressure.  He’s adjusted with a repeatable pre-shot routine and doesn’t deviate based on the situation.  Alan Shipnuck’s piece at Golf.com on Day is must reading for students of the mental game.  Day’s visualization techniques are more in-depth than any I’m aware of.  His fascination with Navy Seals training and affinity for hitting the gym are sounding Tiger-esque and I would caution him about taking too extreme an approach.  But for this week, as long as his sore thumb holds up, he wins his first major.

Adam Scott and Matt Kuchar will tie for second.  Scott is the horse for this course, has Steve Williams on the bag for steadiness and sense of purpose, and has the full compliment of tools.  He’s susceptible to getting on bogey runs which are protracted and seem to come at terrible times under pressure.  Yes, he pulled through last year in an epic moment for self and country, but his fellow Aussie will edge him out.  In the back of Scott’s mind has to be the upcoming ban on anchoring and how he will adjust.  Is it starting to affect his current work with the flat stick?

Kuchar plays well at Augusta, knows the course intimately, and has the temperament.  He won THE PLAYERS Championship, which is just as hard as a major, and is also ready.  Kuchar’s achilles heel is his driving distance.  He’s also mediocre in GIR and the fact that he’s so highly rated year after year in scoring average is a testament to his lights out short game and putting.  This new closed stance and slightly over the top move is supposedly getting the job done, but doesn’t bode well for the right to left ball flight needed at Augusta and will be just enough to hold him back.  Down the line shots at Shell indicate he’s made a slight correction from last week at Valero but still looks too closed to me.  Hopefully it helps him.

Rory McIlroy finishes alone in 4th.  The Northern Irishman is starting to look like Phil Mickelson from a roller coaster perspective.  When hot, there’s nobody better, but when his driving is off, it affects his mindset and his total game suffers.  Physically, he’s got the tools to be the best player in the world and is a multiple major winner.  He’s still young and it still may happen.  Now I need to see a serious run with no final round collapse.

Value picks for your Calcutta.  Look for Zach Johnson to make a run.  The 2007 champion had a great 2013 season, is hitting fairways and greens in 2014, but has slipped to 68th in total putting.

Nobody wins in his first attempt at Augusta, but I look at these three making their Masters debut to have an impact.  Jordan Spieth has the guts and the game to win a major-now.  Billy Horschel got real hot this time last year and has the confidence to contend.  Harris English has all the physical tools but needs more time under the gun.  Missing from the conversation is Jimmy Walker who’s leading the Tour in FedEx points and has three wins under his belt.  He kills it of the tee, putts great, but is only 86th in scrambling, which is a must have around Augusta.  While he’s shown steady improvement over the last five years, I don’t look for him to make a move in his Masters debut until he gets some experience chipping to these greens.

Masters Sunday is one of my favorite days of the year.  Play golf in the morning and settle into exciting final round coverage in the afternoon; I can’t wait.  Good luck in your pools!

 

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Do You Plan Your Practice?

Are you one of those individuals who loves spontaneity and enjoys flying by the seat of your pants?  Or are you always calculating and feel compelled to plan out every activity for which you participate?  Count me in the latter group.  And for those ultra-organizers out there, you understand the trait is both a blessing and a curse because while you’re always organized, others start to expect you to organize them as well.

So for the organizers, a couple tips about practice.  First, you get much more benefit if you have an idea of what you are trying to accomplish and how to get there.  I’ve tried it the other way (just show up and bang balls or chip and putt) and it doesn’t work.  You don’t have to plan out minute by minute or ball for ball, like Tiger Woods (read Max Alder’s April Golf Digest Column), but structure your time according to your objective.  Last weekend after my disastrous opening round on Saturday, I headed out Sunday morning and videoed myself hitting the 58 degree wedge shots that I had struggled with the day before.  I planned what technique I was going to work on and stuck to it.  The film review and planning were great because I uncovered a couple flaws and didn’t have to stew all week on my mistakes.  Thanks to Vetforgolfing51, for suggesting that the best time to practice is as close to after your round as possible.

Second, introduce an element of game simulation into your practice.  On full swing, work your technique, and then play an imaginary nine holes at your home course.  Use different targets and shot shapes on the range.  Don’t get stuck raking balls after a bad swing; move on to the next shot and try to hit the recovery as if you were on the course.  For short game, play nine holes (or 18 if there’s time) of Up and Down.  Drop balls in various lies and use different clubs to go after holes requiring all the techniques you’ve been working on.  Count each hole as a par-2, with a chip or pitch in as the only way to make birdie.  Mark and clean your ball just like you were out on the course and even write your score on an old card.  See how close you can stay to even par.  I usually score about four or five over and it’s a wonderful challenging game to build nerve and technique.  I always wrap up my short game sessions with Up and Down.  Today I was even par through seven and the pressure was intense!  Great stuff for transitioning practice to the course.  I bogeyed #8 but my one-over score was the best I’ve had in years and left me filled with confidence and feeling like my practice time was well spent.

A final word about Tiger’s practice habits.  Yes, the guy is quite anal but he’s been the greatest player on the planet for the last 15 years and you’d be smart to emulate some of what he does.  I’ve been using the Two Tee drill, that he implemented while under the tutelage of Butch Harmon, to practice putting before rounds for the last couple of seasons and it really promotes a solid putting stroke on the short ones.  More advanced players should also copy his use of the Nine-Shot drill to build confidence and add different options to your repertoire.

Got any tips for good practice?  What’s your most effective technique?  Please share!

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What Good Can Come From A Bad Round?

Today was my opening day for the 2014 golf season.  :) John DalyI was going to write a post on the entertainment value  John Daly provides to golf, and about how ridiculous the 90 he shot in the second round of the Valspar Championship was, and how that included an octuple-bogey 12 on the 16th hole, and how that was the 16th time that he’s carded at least a 10 on a hole in his PGA Tour career. . . that was until I carded a 92 today in my season opener.  I did not get the number of the truck that just ran over me but I am still reeling.

We played in brilliant sunshine with heavy wind, and my game was just horrible.  The score was my worst since a 98 on November 23, 2011 and my first time above 88 in two years.  So who’s worse off, Big John or me?  I don’t have the fame, fortune, two majors, and all the notoriety that he does, but he’s clearly worse off.  Golf his his day job and just a hobby here.

Can you find a nugget or two in bad rounds?  Absolutely.  The company of my friends was great and just getting out of the house was wonderful.  With the golf, I only took 28 putts. . . even if it was an artifact of only hitting two greens.  And I managed to shape/place about five or six tee shots using the ball flights I’ve been practicing from the Nine-Shot drill, but that was it.  The irons and wedge game were putrid and I made several rookie mistakes like trying to curve balls playing directly into a strong headwind.

I kind of saw this coming because we moved opening day up from tomorrow when D.C. is supposed to get another round of snow and ice.  Saturday is usually practice day with Sunday being game day and I felt completely unprepared out there.  In fact, past rounds moved to Saturday without the benefit of a prior day’s practice have yielded similar results.  At least J.D. gets to practice before game day.

I’m not too worried about the bad start because it was the first round after a four month layoff imposed by a particularly brutal winter, and it was played in very difficult conditions.  The good news is that there’s nowhere to go but up and we’ll be back at it next weekend!

BTW:  I’m keeping 2014 season stats off a new page on the blog’s main menu.  Check back anytime to see my latest metrics.

So I’ll probably head out in the cold tomorrow before the snow starts to try and correct some of the short game problems experienced today.  They will be hard to live with all week if I don’t fix them.  Finally, I can take some encouragement from past history because back in 2011, I followed up that 98 with a 70 in the very next round.  Weird, but here’s hoping history repeats itself.  How was your opening day?

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Sunday Is Opening Day!

What do you look forward to most about your opening day of the golf season?  This year’s round is about three or four weeks later than my traditional opener as the bad weather has been prohibitive.  Honestly, I’m just glad to get out.  My opening round is usually one of the most enjoyable of the year because there’s no mental baggage buildup.  Just a clear head and go.

There’s a fair amount of angst this time because of the off-season work I’ve been doing with the Nine-Shot drill.  I’ve used it over the past six weekend range sessions and am comfortable moving the ball in both directions off a mat with my irons.  Haven’t focused on tee shots or hitting off grass yet, and last weekend I first tried to play a simulated round shaping shots and found it a bit uncomfortable.  Transitioning from “hit it and hope” to a serious dedicated effort at better course management will probably take time, but I’m attempting this because it’s the right thing to do.  Actually, I am chomping at the bit to battle test it; good or bad and with opening day in mind, I actually worked in some putting practice last weekend.  I couldn’t hit water from a boat; it was just awful, so I’m not going to concern myself with score too much and will focus on taking the correct mental approach towards shot placement, and hopefully shaping a few as desired.

We all want to improve and at the end of the day, if you keep practicing the same way and getting the same results year after year, doesn’t it makes sense to change your approach?  Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results sounds something like Einstein’s definition of insanity.

I will be adding a new menu section to the blog starting this week to provide transparency into my scoring and performance metrics and I’ll trust you’ll send me feedback if you spot some trends good or bad.

Hope your season is a great one; let’s get it on!

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Hit Rewind On The 2014 Season Kickoff

Charlie BrownThe weather in DC has been bad this winter but I’ve been able to get out every weekend for the last four to practice my swing and a bit of short game.  Last weekend I managed to get myself thrown off the practice green at my local muni when the greens keeper spotted me chipping and putting on a partially snow covered surface; OOPS!  Today was different with everything open I got in a couple hours of good practice, but alas old man winter is scheduling a visit of 8-12″ on Monday.

I’ve been careful this winter not to make the mistake of 2012 when I read the Stan Utley short game books and changed too much during the off-season and came out like a basket case in the spring.  Only fundamentals are on the 2014 pre-season practice plate, with a focus on shot shape controlled through alignment and ball position, and attention on maintaining a consistent pace with the putter and crisp contact on chip shots.

I actually feel a little ahead of the game, but the pending snowstorm has got me bummed because in late February, I’m used to dedicating time to play and practice, but the off days have given me the opportunity to watch more golf on TV.  A couple random musing from today’s PGA Tour Honda coverage:  There’s a reason Brendon de Jonge doesn’t win; that over-the-top swing is ugly and needs a fix.  It’s a mystery how he finished 10th in GIR last season – weird.  Also looks like Rory McIlroy has his act together – finally.  Looking for a big year from him.

Finally, check out this inexpensive little device that just came in the mail.  TripodIt works great and the video does it justice.  http://www.amazon.com/review/R1N63DN32MM9PJ?ie=UTF8&videoPreplay=1 You can attach your iPhone and clamp it right to your golf bag or any stationary structure for instant on course slefie video analysis!  Looking forward to my first film session after the white stuff melts.  How’s your winter practice coming?

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Put That Cellphone Away!

Now that the 2014 season is upon us, I’d like to poll the group and get your views on a somewhat sensitive topic; cellphone use on the golf course.    As far as my use, I’ve had a smartphone for a couple of years and the prehistoric predecessor about eight years prior.  Not once have I made or taken a call during a game of golf.  I have my phone on vibrate in the bag and occasionally pull to take a few pictures or video, but that’s it.  I view golf as my time and if you need to interrupt me it better be important, otherwise it can wait until my round is finished.  In my view, it’s a breach of etiquette to whip out your phone and make calls from the sanctity of the course.  I know many golf GPS apps are available for smartphones, and I’m fine with folks checking for golf, but I draw the line at yardages and hazards.

I draw my bias from a time shortly before I owned a cellphone when I played in a 9-hole captain’s choice golf league after work.  The competition was friendly, but everyone tried hard to win.  One lady on my team insisted upon making work calls during our matches, and on one hole actually had the phone between her ear and chin while trying to chip for the team’s eagle on a par-5.  I called time and read her the mini-riot act.  What blew my mind is that as a seasoned golfer she had no idea she was doing anything improper and was a bit embarrassed when I called her on it.

The one time I wished I had a cellphone on the course was when my lovely wife called the pro shop and had the marshal come out to pick me up because she had locked herself out of the car.  He drove me in to take this “urgent” call which of course had me worried, and as luck would have it, I was threatening to shoot the best round of my life.  Having just completed 15 holes in 3-under par, by the time I got to the phone in the golf shop, my wife had the emergency resolved.  The marshal returned me to my group and I promptly finished bogey, triple bogey, double bogey.

I wouldn’t dream of traveling without my phone because of the GPS, internet access, conveniences, and the security blanket factor but do you really need a phone to interrupt your game?  My God, how did we ever golf before cellphones!  What are your thoughts?

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Do You Confuse Effort With Results?

After watching the Jeremy Abbott saga at the Winter Olympics, I’m reminded again how athletes at every level often let their mental state affect performance.

Jeremy Abbott from ABC News

Jeremy Abbott from ABC News

Watching Abbott in the moments before his short program skate, you sensed his incredible nerves, saw the tension in his face, and I remarked to my wife that I thought he was going to blow it.  Didn’t take long for him to fall apart right from the start, but what happened after the big fall?  Abbott got up, dusted himself off and finished an otherwise flawless performance.   This was clearly a choke and we’ve all done it.  You let your brain get in the way of your capacity to produce.  Abbot finished strong because he knew there would be no medal and the pressure was off.  He relaxed.

What could he have done differently?  I suspect he let the four-year build up of pre-Olympic preparation and aspirations create a level of expectations that were too high.  He confused effort with results.  If I were Abbott, and I can’t skate a lick, I would have told myself, “There are many excellent skaters in this competition.  On any given day, anyone could win the gold.  I’ll focus on giving my best effort and if I win, great; if not, I’ll heartily congratulate the champion.”

Athletes who relax, enjoy the moment, laugh at the nerves, and embrace these opportunities as nothing more than life’s great experiences, have a better chance for success.

T.J. Oshie

T.J. Oshie

See T.J. Oshie before and during the shootout in today’s USA 3-2 victory over Russia?  He was smiling, enjoying the moment, embracing the challenge.  I had confidence in him and he managed to perform at his capacity.

How can these lessons help us on the golf course?  I’ve read all the books by Dr. Bob Rotella and there are many nuggets you can get from him or other sources on the web.  Invest time in developing a good pre-shot routine, simulate game conditions during your practice, visualize the shot before you play, and don’t take a lot of time over the ball.  They’re all good advice, but the best way I’ve found to not confuse effort with results is to remember two simple things.  Try your hardest on every shot and remember to have fun.

Golf is a game and we are humans.  Sometimes we play great and other times we blow it and that’s okay.  What are your keys to perform your best?

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10,000 Hours Of Practice?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, he postulates that to achieve mastery in any field requires 10,000 hours of practice.  If I were to take up golf at the age of 15, and practice for two hours, three times a week for nine months of the year, I would be an expert at the age of 61.  For sure, I have not practiced 10,000 hours of golf in my life but right now I play to a five handicap and would guess that my skill level is higher than 95% of the world’s playing public.  But do I feel like an expert?  Certainly not, and more like a bumbling malcontent on my bad days.  Golf is truly humbling and regardless of how I define “expert”, I’d still like to improve my game and am wondering if my approach to practice is correct.  Conventional thinking is that given limited time, dedicate 75% to your short game.  I’ve taken that approach and it paid dividends, but I’m in a routine where I spend most of my practice on short game and feel the strategy is second nature.  Last year, on a suggestion from Vet4golfing51, I spent more time playing than practicing which also helped.  But I’d like to think more about efficient practice which requires answering a key question:

Given limited practice time, do you work to further develop your strengths, or improve your weaknesses?

We all like to practice our strengths because it’s easier.  Oddly enough, I can say with certainty that to become a better individual in the work place, I’ve tried both approaches and learned that focusing on developing your strengths is the superior strategy.  If you continually build on what you’re good at, job satisfaction, attitude, and drive are peaked.  You focus on weaknesses and you’ll generally max out at mediocre.

Conversely, on the PGA Tour, players have thousands of hours of time to practice and you hear countless stories of their dedicating time to fix weaknesses.  The best players address their deficiencies head on and solve because if they don’t, they pay a dear price.   It seems the two strategies are at loggerheads.

For us guys with a desk job, what do you think the right strategy is for practice; focusing on developing strengths or fixing weaknesses?

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Slice Of Heaven – Corner Of Hell

heaven and hellQuick pop-survey:  How many of you have shanked your first five balls in a driving range session and left the facility feeling great about your game?

The marvelous thing about golf is that you can experience firsts at any age or stage and this was mine today.  I think ex-heavyweight champ Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until you get hit in the mouth.”  Well my plan today was to leverage all the good swing habits I’d built through my off-season indoor workouts into some solid ball striking.  If five straight shanks to start your season don’t hit you in the mouth, nothing will, and I was lucky the pro didn’t throw me off the range before I put one in someone’s eye socket, but I managed to right the ship and here’s how.

Readers of this space know I’ve been experimenting with the Nine-Shot drill in an effort to add shots to my repertoire.  Admittedly, this is not an easy practice technique since it requires you to work the golf ball in both directions with multiple launch angles, all the while using a variety of clubs.  You must steel yourself to move onto the next shot when you mishit one and continue to focus patiently on ball flight.  This drill saved my range session and my discovery is important.

Normally during a bad range session, you end up trying too many fixes, usually out of frustration or desperation and hope to stumble upon the right one; we’ve all done it.  The beauty of the Nine-Shot is that you are focused on executing a shot with a particular shape and trajectory, not on mechanics.  However, to make the shots, you consciously alter your ball position, alignment, and swing path.  In the event that one of these fundamentals is the cause of your original fault, you are likely to stumble upon it simply executing the drill.  Today, I found that when I moved the ball position forward, my contact immediately improved and the shank move was gone.  Why?  Because the forward ball position changed the bottom of my swing arc and forced me to move a little weight backwards on my back-swing.  Yes, the shank move was being caused by a reverse pivot.  Where that came from I do not know, but once I identified, all sense of normalcy returned.

The “ah ha” moment happened when I left the course and realized that I had solved a serious swing flaw without even trying.  I’m confident that this drill has value and you should give it a try.  Yes it’s hard to do but the benefits are worth it.  I can’t wait to battle test it during a warm-up session before an actual round.  I suspect it’s a big confidence builder and confidence usually leads to a good day on the course.  Good luck if you try it!

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2014 Golf Resolutions

freezingI think the cabin fever is finally getting to me.  Either brought on the recent sub freezing temperatures in the east, or dramatic views from Torrey Pines on TV last week, or maybe that we’ve just booked our June golf trip to Myrtle Beach, or perhaps the Grateful Golfer’s recent post on Time For Golf really hit home.  I have been thinking more and more about the 2014 golf season and what to target for improvement, but right now, I don’t care about fixing anything, I just want to get out of the house!

Today, with the thermometer in the mid 40s, I got out the driving range mat and hit about 50 magnolia bombs in the back yard which felt great.  Tomorrow is supposed to be mid-50s and a trip to the range for some work with the nine-shot drill is certainly in order.  Couple that with a few hours of Phoenix Open golf coverage before the Super Bowl, and I think I’ll be alright for the next 36 hours.  The forecast for snow on Monday does not bode well.

I want to return to a point about reducing television viewing mentioned in the Grateful Golfer’s post and how that hits home.  Recently I’ve been guilty of feeding my addiction for televised Baltimore Oriole baseball games.  I probably watched 140 games last year end-to-end and many of these start at 7:00 p.m. which is right in the prime weekday post-work practice window (PWPWPW).  All this TV cannot be good for me.  My new job and commuting schedule has also cut into my morning fitness workout routine.  I’m struggling and need a plan for fitness and practice.  I’m thinking I’ve got to get some golf in one weekday evening before setting foot at home, and another two days of immediate workouts before dinner or watching any baseball.  This will be the toughest because as soon as I get home, my butt likes to hit the couch, and it’s all over.

East Potomac Golf Course has a practice facility and is located very close to my office near Reagan National Airport.  Anyone have a quality report on this course?  I think this may be part of the solution.  Also, any ideas on how to get motivated to practice and workout in the evenings if the mornings are not available – please share.  Thanks!

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Assult The Bucket List – Golf Trip To The U.K.!

Union JackAfter thumbing through the pages of the February issue of Golf Digest and finding nothing of value from Phil Mickelson’s latest bomb your driver tutorial, or Billy Horschel’s lesson on twisting and contorting your 20-year old body into the purest iron shots, I stumbled across the latest rankings for the World’s 100 greatest golf courses.  Wow!  With 32 of these residing in the U.K. or Ireland, that’s a mighty tempting target and I’ve decided to start planning the golf trip I’ve always dreamed about.

I’m reaching out to my readers for help on this one because while I’ve got significant experience traveling for golf in the United States, the British Isles is brand new to me.  I haven’t traveled to the U.K. since 1983 and that was not for golf.  In an earlier trip as a teenager, I actually had the pleasure (torture) of playing Carnoustie as a beginner.  My sole recollection was shooting something over 130 and getting yelled at by some elderly ladies for playing too slow.  In retrospect, seems like a waste, but the thought of a rematch is intriguing.

I will assume this trip of a lifetime will take careful planning and am thinking the summer of 2015 is a good target.  I’ve just changed jobs and cannot dedicate that much time to travel this year, and would guess that to get on the greatest courses in the world you may need to book tee times over a year in advance.

So where to start.  Key questions:  Do I book this myself or through a tour operator?  What is the ideal number of players for such a conquest?  How about the ideal length of a trip?  How much should I expect to spend?  Do I keep it on the mainland or travel to Ireland?  The Old Course at Saint Andrews is THE bucket item; is that a must have for any trip and if so, what are the constraints?

Any guidance you can provide is welcome, thanks!

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Try The Nine-Shot Drill For Confidence

From zimbio.com

Hank Haney and Tiger Woods
From zimbio.com

It was 55 degrees and sunny today; perfect time to resume working on my golf game.  I went to the range and tried out the Nine-Shot drill which I had just learned about in The Big Miss.  This is the drill used by Tiger Woods while under the tutelage of swing coach Hank Haney.  Nine-Shot works you through a swing matrix for high, low, and medium trajectories with fades, draws, and straight shots.  There are nine different combinations and the thought is to rotate through every club in the bag.  Hitting all 13 clubs would take a significant amount of time and concentration so I modified the drill to accommodate a 50-ball range session.

Not having hit a ball since November 10, I found the drill difficult because I was rusty, but beneficial because my ability to concentrate was better than during a boring old range session.  There was an unintended side-benefit as well.  There are several ways you can approach this drill but I elected to order my shots by first hitting medium-straight and then going to high and finally low, and then worked the same order for the draws and fades.  I did not try to mix the draws and fades and to keep this as simple as possible I only varied my alignment and ball position and did nothing with grip or swing speed.  Using a PW, 8-iron, 6-iron, 4-iron, and driver, I rotated through 45 balls and hit a five ball warm up with my PW.

From rotarygolf.com

The Nine-Shots
From rotarygolf.com

The unintended side benefit was that by changing ball position and alignment, I was able to correct a swing flaw.  While trying to hit the draws with the 8-iron, I smother hooked a couple and when I switched to a fade, my shots flew straight.  This information indicated, I was taking the club back too far to the inside.  I made the adjustment and contact improved immediately.

I also decided that next time I’m switching out the Driver for a 3WD.  Hitting low cuts and draws with the Driver is just too difficult, and it’s easier to curve a ball with the 3WD because of the increased loft.

This drill requires discipline when you hit a bad shot.  The natural tendency is to rake another ball and try the same shot, but I steeled myself to just move to the next shot.  I found this alleviated frustration as there was no urgent need to fix; just move on.  The potential is excellent to use this for pre-game warm-up as well.  Trying the nine different ball flights should allow you to settle on a comfortable one for your round.

The Nine-Shot passed the smoke test today.  It’s going to be 65 tomorrow and 70 on Sunday; perfect to fully develop the concept.  Good luck if you give it a try!

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Book Review: The Big Miss by Hank Haney

The Big MissJust finished The Big Miss by Hank Haney (Crown Archetype Publishing – 2012) and readers who are looking for an inside look at the world of Tiger Woods need to get this book.  Haney has been criticized for writing a kiss and tell book but I found the insights into the inner workings of Tiger Woods profoundly interesting.  After the well reported sex scandal broke in 2009, Tiger has been so reclusive and withdrawn it’s almost maddening to watch an interview with him and try to learn anything of substance.  His guard is always up and the book digs into some very good detail behind the scenes.  Strangely enough, even Haney admitted that while Tiger often referred to him as his close friend, he often felt shut out as Tiger rarely opened up to him.  But for the casual golf fan, the insights go way beyond what we are fed by the mainstream media.

I had always thought the title of the book referred to the concept of what went wrong (Big Miss) with Tiger’s career after the scandal broke, but the term “Big Miss” is used by both Haney and Tiger to describe a golfer’s worst shot.  That Haney used the term for the book is interesting because it may be prophetic in the higher sense when Tiger’s career is eventually summed up.  Haney doesn’t actually focus much on the scandal and thankfully keeps golf as the subject.

Some of the content I found most interesting:  The work Haney and Tiger did to avoid the ‘Big Miss’ off the tee and how Tiger actually feared using his driver in clutch situations.  It was great to get inside the brain of one of the world’s best golf coaches.  I also found Tiger’s fascination with Navy Seal training interesting and how detrimental it may have been to his career and health at the time.  The section on how his team prepped him for play while on a broken leg at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008 was fascinating.  A lot went on behind the scenes to make that victory possible that the general public is completely unaware of.  I also found it interesting that Tiger, and many other tour players work on their swing mechanics right up to tournament time, and then between tournament rounds as well.  This is diametrically opposed to the theories of Dr. Bob Rotella, where he espouses removal of as many mechanical thoughts the closer one gets to competition.  I’ve never found it beneficial to work on my swing, or think mechanics that close to playing on the course, but heck, I’m not a touring pro.  Still, you would think that as human beings, we’d be more effective without mechanical approaches at game time.

The only part I didn’t enjoy was the book’s ending where Haney compares his record to that of Butch Harmon as Tiger’s swing coach.  It seems he’s trying to justify the approach he took and the decision to quit when he did.  His analysis of Tiger’s “Big Miss” with his driving is way off too.  At the time the book was written, Tiger had just started working with Sean Foley in 2011 and Haney points to Tiger’s ranking of 186th in Total Driving in 2011 as proof that Foley’s swing changes will not work.  Now I’m no Sean Foley fan because I think his approach is too mechanical, but Tiger’s Total Driving stats were 5th in 2012 and 17th in 2013 which speaks for themselves.

Most of all, we learn in the Big Miss that Tiger has made many significant sacrifices in his life to achieve his level of greatness.  What will be interesting to see when his career is over is if those sacrifices are judged to be worth the ultimate record of accomplishment.  Get the book; it’s a good one.

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2014 Winter Golf Tune-Up Plan

Winter Golf From pga.com

Winter Golf
From pga.com

One of my favorite pastimes is reading golf books over the winter and trying to find a nugget to put into play the following season, and this year is no exception.  Two years ago, I made the mistake of reading both the Stan Utley short game book and putting book and putting mechanical changes in place without sufficient runway to practice before implementing in the spring.  Come March, my short game was in ruins.

This year, I am determined not to make mechanical changes but have landed on a practice tip I just love and think will be very beneficial.  Has anyone heard of the 9-shot?  I’m currently reading The Big Miss by Hank Haney, and 9-shot is the drill that he introduced to Tiger Woods to improve his confidence in ball striking.  The drill is to take nine shots with each club in the bag and vary the curve and height pattern on every ball.  Basically, you hit three fades, three draws, and three straight shots and try to hit them with a low, medium, and high trajectory.  My driving range sells buckets of about 50 balls and the thought is to try the drill by warming up with five balls, then hit the remaining 45 in five groups of nine using a PW, 8-iron, 6-iron, 4-iron, and Driver.  I’ve noticed that on days when I warm up well, I’ll try to work the ball on the last few shots and it infuses me with tremendous confidence to be able to curve it on demand.  This drill seems like it will help with concentration and focus on every club in the bag.  Anyone tried the 9-shot?

It’s going to be in the high 50s on Friday and I’ll give it a go and report back.  Gotta love the opportunity to bang some balls outside in the winter.  By the way, a full book review is coming on The Big Miss so don’t miss it!

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Why The Game Of Golf Is Unique and Special

Last week I participated in a market research forum where Golf Digest executives hidden behind a two-way mirror observed my dialog with five other hard core golfers.  We were conversing about magazine content, photo shoots, and covers for upcoming issues.  Golf DigestIn the course of our discussion, it became apparent that our game is very unique because there is so much more material published on a weekly and monthly basis compared to other sports.  How many periodicals cover the technique of turning a double play or properly executing the read option from the quarterback position or the intricacies of running a match-up zone in basketball?  None.

One overwhelming observation was that there was almost too much instruction in golf magazines and that consumers of everything often find tips and recommendations with fully opposite techniques for the same shots, and these are often contained in the same issue.  With all this opposing information, it’s no wonder so many golfers are mental basket cases at the amateur level.  We all know how difficult the game is when our swing goes bad and we start thinking of mechanical fixes during play.

But, imagine playing the game as a professional and struggling with the same mental foibles.  Professional golf on the PGA Tour is special because there are no appearance fees.  Either you play well or miss the cut.  There are no guaranteed contracts.  No payouts of hundreds of millions of dollars where you can ride out a slump or a bad year.  Just play well or don’t get paid.  Sure, a select few at the top make enough money on sponsor’s endorsements to sustain, but the vast majority need to get by on skill alone.  I was saddened to read David Duval’s comments on Twitter this week indicating he may retire if he can’t perform in 2014.  Has another guy fallen as fast and as far as Duval?  Ian Baker-Finch comes to mind but he didn’t stick around as long as Duval.  It’s amazing how bad it can get for some of these professionals when the physical skills remain but the mental circuits are shorted out.

Professional golf is a tremendous sport and a great meritocracy.  Despite the struggles of many to remain exempt, it’s refreshing to know we are always watching the cream of the crop every week.  Who else do you recall has fallen as far as Duval and couldn’t turn it around?

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Off-season Biodegradable Golf Practice

Hey gang, just wanted to post an idea for those of you who are getting antsy in the off-season, and need a convenient environmentally safe way to practice.  Ever worked on your swing hitting magnolia fruit?

Nature's golf balls

Nature’s golf balls

These are truly nature’s golf balls and the idea came to me a couple years ago after I had bought a hitting mat and Callaway driving net and became frustrated with the deployment.  I discovered the net was a pain to keep setting up and taking down, and it didn’t behave well on windy days.  Plus, when the ground froze, you couldn’t get the tie down metal stakes in.  Just a poor labor intensive solution.

I took a look around and realized I have fruit bearing trees in my yard, including several black walnuts and a 50-foot magnolia.

My magnolia tree

My magnolia tree

My magnolia doesn’t accent the property like the many on Magnolia Lane at Augusta, but it is a beauty and she drops fruit pods from October to December which I have harvested over the past few years.

If you’re like me, you often wonder what different objects would behave like when struck with a golf club, and maybe you have tested your ideas from time to time.  So I tried out these fruit pods and they work perfectly.  They come complete with a stem (tee) that dislodges on contact, and can be placed directly on the ground or fit neatly into a rubber tee on a driving range mat.  They weigh about the same as a tennis ball and are constructed solidly enough that they will not break when hit with a driver.  A well struck magnolia pod will fly about 75 yards and of course, will biodegrade over time so there is no clean-up.  Just find an open space and hammer away!  Here’s a demo:

Finally, a word of caution; black walnuts (green shell when they drop in the fall) explode upon contact despite their solid feel.  Avoid at all costs.  I hit one last year and after the disintegration, was covered with green juice that stained my clothes badly.  Maybe the nut from inside the shell would be a better play; I’ll try that next.

Black walnut fruit

Black walnut fruit

Try this out and I’ll bet the next time you’re in the produce aisle of your grocery store you’ll start viewing the spherical shaped fruit and nut offerings in a different light.  Good luck!

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2013 Golf Season Wrap-Up – 2014 Goals

Looking at the advanced weather forecast for the D.C. area in December, I see nothing but cold and wet.  There is no more golf to be played in 2013, so it’s time to call it a season and review the yearly KPIs.  The data:

Year

Number of Rounds

Scoring Average

GIR

Putts per round

2013

40

80.25

8.15

32.35

2012

34

78.85

8.74

31.88

2011

35

79.60

8.74

32.86

2010

28

79.54

8.32

32.14

2009

27

78.22

8.70

31.81

On thing that immediately jumps out is the consistency of results from year to year, especially with ball striking (8 GIRs) and putting (32 ppr).  While average score nosed up a bit in 2013, the most positive takeaway is the steady increase in number of rounds.  I am playing more golf!  Despite the slight bump in scoring average, my handicap  remained at 5 and what’s painfully evident is that at mid-single digits, the effort to shave a couple strokes off requires a level of play and practice that is difficult to devote to.  This is probably true of most weekend players, or at least those with a handicap below 20.  Have you experienced this?

2013 was also a transition year.  Early in the spring, I was in a prolonged slump, primarily due to the lack of play during the preceding fall and the change to new irons and wedges.  I did not get comfortable with the equipment until early July and then I sustained a hip injury that set me back another three weeks.  But upon returning, the quality of my ball striking improved which was largely due to the fitness work I had done while recovering and the concentrated drilling to correct my spine angle problem.  Thankfully, the improvements continued through the end of the year and I continue to work the hip and back exercises as well as the spine angle drill.  I’ve also fallen in love with the Mizuno JPX 825 irons and Cleveland G16 wedges, but it took some time.

2014 is going to play out differently.  I am transitioning into a new job which will require my undivided attention in the early part of the season.  I doubt that the new gig will afford the opportunity to take two week-long golf trips that I managed in ’13, but I will attempt to make it to the 12-round slug-fest over six days in early June in Myrtle Beach.  I learned this year that play was more important than practice for me, and will continue to leverage that as much as possible, but may not be able to squeeze in the late day emergency nines with the new job.

So for 2014 I’ve set some modest but achievable goals.

  1. Get stroke average back under 79
  2. Get GIR average to 9
  3. Get PPR in the 31.5 – 32.0 range
  4. Keep working out three times per week

What are your goals for 2014?

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Prospect Bay Country Club – Course Review

Summary

IMG_0665

We played Prospect Bay Country Club in Graysonville, MD on Sunday, November 3, 2013.  When you look at the scorecard, the course doesn’t appear to be that challenging, at least from the white tees which measure 6,196 yards and play to a course rating of 69.5/125.  We played with temperatures in the low 50s and a sustained 1-2 club wind which made it feel colder, and the little track played difficult.  I’m going to file away one key thought from my first round:  you must position your tee shots to the correct length for comfortable approaches.  Prospect continually tempts you with seven par-4s between 290 and 370 yards.  My driver was out and wailing all day but after leaving myself with odd yardages on flip wedges that I haven’t practiced, I failed to get any close and was left with the distinct impression that this course could be had from your favorite distance.  Mine is 100 yards, but it’s difficult sitting on the tee of a 290 yard par four knowing you should lay up with a four iron.  After botching approaches in the 40-70 yard range, the strategy became clear.

Par-4 8th at Prospect Bay

Par-4 8th at Prospect Bay

The front nine is out in the open and exposed to whatever winds are blowing in off Prospect Bay but the back is extremely tight off the tee and the holes are well protected.  Despite the sqeeze on the inward half, I preferred it as the shots fit my eye well and I enjoyed the challenge without being buffeted by the gusty winds.

Keep these two tips in mind and you’ll be fine.  Unless you practice partial wedge shots and are comfortable from all distances, layup to your preferred yardage on the little par fours.  On the par five 4th, keep your approach below the hole.  If the pin is cut in front, do not leave your ball on the upper part of the mammoth hump in the green – you will three putt.

The beautiful 10th hole at Prospect Bay

The beautiful 10th hole at Prospect Bay

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

Prospect Bay doesn’t publish their greens fees because of the semi-private nature of the facility however I found information on the 2012 fees on Golf Digest and based on these figures ($55 weekeday / $65 weekend) that include a cart and complimentary range balls, this is a pretty good value.

Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)

Prospect had a nice clubhouse and restaurant that was a medium cart drive away from the pro shop, but I wouldn’t say it was convenient.  The pro shop is not much more than a small double wide trailer with a few retail items for sale.  The driving range was all grass and was in good shape but only had room for about a dozen players.  There was a medium sized putting green and a small chipping area at the end of the range.

Out on the course, we found a mixed bag.  Playing conditions through the green were excellent, with the bentgrass greens running very smooth and fast, and the fairways in very good shape.  Unfortunately, the cart paths were in need of major repairs.  Seems like they hadn’t been worked on for quite some time and were fraught with crumbling concrete and holes galore.

Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)

When we arrived at the course, we were met at our car by an attendant who loaded our clubs on a cart and then left it there for us.  Not the usual drop at the curb service, but effective just the same.  There was no food available in the pro shop and we drove our cart to the clubhouse only to find it just opened for business at 11:00 a.m.  So we shoveled down some decent tasting pre made sandwiches and were on our way.  I imagine the full service grill would have been open on a nicer weather day and earlier in the golf season.  Our round was paced only by our struggles with the wind, and we navigated a mostly empty golf course in 4 1/2 hours.

I’d like to come back and play Prospect Bay armed with my local knowledge, and in some calmer conditions.  For the record, I played the white tees at 6,196 yards and shot a 10-over par 82.

Overall Rating (3.0 out of 5.0)

The range at Prospect Bay

The range at Prospect Bay

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Baywood Greens – Course Review

Summary

Clubhouse at Baywood Greens

Clubhouse at Baywood Greens

We played Baywood Greens in Long Neck, DE on Saturday, November 2, 2013.  What strikes you about this course is the aesthetics and attention to detail with regard to the landscaping.  Baywood is known for its floral arrangements and during the growing season, they purport to have over 200,000 of the most beautiful flowers, plants, shrubs, and trees adorning the course.  With everything dormant in early November, you could see where the pots and boxes were, but could only imagine playing in a floral paradise.  Around the clubhouse and pro shop, the various appointments and touches were very nice and exuded class.  What I found a little awkward were several gazebos positioned at various points on the golf course.  In these structures were couches and big comfy chairs and I was left to wonder if a group is supposed to pause in route between holes and rest in one of these structures.  Wouldn’t that slow play down?

The course is a distinctly different play from front nine to back.  The outward half has more of a parkland feel with tighter tee shots framed by tall trees and on the back, lots of water comes into play.  I found the back more scenic with many of the shots fitting my eye nicely.  I was able to relax and strike the ball well off the tee and the course is not long so a good ball striking day can lead to ample short iron approaches and opportunities to score.

Conditions were very good but not perfect.  The bentgrass greens were running smooth and medium-fast but a couple of the tee boxes were a bit chewed up with divots (see the photo of me on the 18th tee) and probably could stand to be rotated more frequently.  Otherwise the course was a delight to play and I only suspect heavy play throughout the summer and fall took it’s toll on the tee boxes.

18th tee at Baywood Greens

18th tee at Baywood Greens

Playing Tips (from the white tees):

  • We were fortunate enough to be paired with a very friendly club professional (Tony) and he had lots of good information on where to position your tee shots which was great.  Without that local knowledge, us first timers would have had a tough day. Thanks Tony!
  • It took me nine holes to figure out that pin-hunting was ill advised and some of these greens have a lot of slope.  I started aiming for the fat parts of the greens and kept it below the hole on the back nine which helped take pressure off my putting.
  • #1 is a short par 4 but you don’t want any part of the fairway bunkers framing the hole.  Take a 3WD off the tee and you’ll avoid the trouble and have a short to medium iron in.
  • The par-5 5th hole is very tight in the landing area for a driver.  I didn’t know this until I watched Tony tee off with a 3WD or utility club.  It’s a three shot par-5 so just get it in play.
  • The par-4  fourteenth hole has an island fairway that plays straight out and a chicken fairway that veers right and offers a much longer shot in.  Again, I took 3WD and nailed it deep into the island and left myself with a 110 yard shot in.  Driver could carry through the landing area so leave it in the bag.
  • #16 is a risk-reward short par 5 that plays 452 yards from the white tees.  If you bust your tee shot and want to go for it, you better make it on the fly because water sneaks in from the left and protects the green almost all the way across the fairway.  If you’re going to lay up, lay it back on the face of the hill at about 100-125 yards out.  You cannot see the water on the second shot.
  • On the par-4 18th, aim farther left then you think.  The left bunker or the cart bridge in the distance is an excellent target.  Otherwise, water creeps up fast on the right!

Value (3.0 out of 5.0)

High season prime time greens fees will set you back $129 if you want to golf on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.  It drops to $109 in mid summer and only eases up after October 27th when the weekend rate drops to $59.  If you want to play in the summer, best to take advantage of the after 1:00 p.m. rate of $79.  Your greens fee includes complimentary range balls, use of the practice facilities, and GPS on carts.

Facilities (4.0 out of 5.0)

Baywood Greens has a large pro shop and an extraordinary sized clubhouse/restaurant where parties and weddings are a regular occurrence.  The white pillared driving range was a beautiful building that had many indoor – outdoor stalls.  We were hitting from mats but there were ample stations to hit from grass, when the tee was open.  There were two putting greens of adequate size and a smallish pitching green with adjacent practice bunker.  While we warmed up, I observed that only two players could comfortably use the pitching green without getting in each other’s way.

On the course, #1 and 2 were playing cart path only, which precipitated a slower than desired start and I wasn’t sure why these holes were roped off.  Elsewhere, there were very few areas to enter the fairways off the cart paths which felt a little awkward but wasn’t too much of an inconvenience.  The “no cart” signs extended way back from most greens, so if you were within 75-125 yards, you needed to grab a stack of clubs and head out on foot.

Finally, we observed that nine holes were being constructed across the street.  The goal is to make Baywood a 27 hole facility, but apparently the construction has been going way longer than expected, and while the appearance of readiness from the road looks close, there is no imminent date to open these extra holes.

The range at Baywood Greens

The range at Baywood Greens

 

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

When we arrived at Baywood Greens, there was a small traffic jam at the bag drop and the attendant didn’t proactively take action to move things along but we eventually dropped after a five minute wait.  When we completed play, the gentleman taking in carts was friendly and cleaned our clubs promptly.  As I mentioned earlier, we played with Tony the pro and he was very hospitable and made our afternoon enjoyable.

The process of teeing off is a little different at Baywood Greens, with the starter coming to get you at the driving range, and you following him in his cart to the first tee.  I suppose that controls traffic and keeps groups from backing up at the tee.  Golf carts are equipped with coolers and fresh ice, which was nice.  The GPS measures your position to the center of the green, but not the flag stick.  The GPS did have helpful playing hints on every hole, but I needed my laser rangefinder to get exact distance to the flags.

I would like to come back and play this course in the spring or summer and fully enjoy the landscaping in all it’s glory.  It was an enjoyable day and having Tony as a playing partner made it extra special.  For the record, we played from the white tees that measured 6,088 yards and I shot a 6-over par 78.

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

View of the 12th green at Baywood Greens from the 13th tee.

View of the 12th green at Baywood Greens from the 13th tee.

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