Ted Bishop: The Latest 140 Character Casualty

By now, most of you have learned of Ex-PGA President Ted Bishop’s dismissal for making sexist remarks while criticizing Ian Poulter on Twitter.  Countless celebrity types have quit social media for the same reason and there’s a lesson to be learned:  You need to keep it positive and clean when using social media.  It’s astounding that so many folks do damage to their reputations, lose jobs, and feel forced to disengage because they cannot filter their brains before firing off a 140 character vent.

Putting this in perspective, look at Bishop.  As of this writing, he had 4,246 Twitter followers.  Twitter purports to have 271 million active users world wide.  Let’s assume 200 million are real, so the math still indicates that 99.99% of Twitter users don’t care what Bishop thinks about or has to say.  Bishop is not a celebrity but a well known individual, and yet he managed to get himself fired based on a random thought consumed by one of the 00.01% of worldwide users who cared to follow him.  The thought is sobering.  It’s not about the content of his comments (many of us have thought and expressed much worse in private), but how such a person of prominence could get himself dismissed for a relatively innocuous muttering.  If he’d have made it in private, there would be no issue.  If he’d have called Poulter and had it out directly, again no issue, but put it out in public with no context, and the damage was done.

Those of us who use Twitter, Facebook, and various blogging tools like this one should be careful.  You may think you’re relatively unknown, but the wrong post can do damage.  Personally, as a user of all three tools, I prefer to blog because your thoughts can be explained in depth and with greater context.  It’s also a forum for folks to respond/rebut, and as an author, you can moderate the conversation.  So whatever tool you use, be mindful to keep it clean and stay civil.

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Whipping The Dreaded F.U.A.B.

from pinterest.com

from pinterest.com

You’ve just drained that curling 20-footer for birdie and you’re on top of the world.  Brimming with confidence and positive momentum, you step to the next tee and whack your drive out of bounds.  What happened?  Nothing is more frustrating then the dreaded F.U.A.B., but why do we do it?  F.U.A.B (Expletive After Birdie), as it is known in my playing group, is a physical breakdown caused by an altered mental state.  Your mind has relaxed too far and rendered your body incapable of execution.  The PGA Tour doesn’t track F.U.A.B. for obvious reasons, but the Bounce Back stat is tracked.  Bounce Back is the opposite of F.U.A.B. and captures how often a player can post an under par score for a hole after an over par hole, and is highly valued by tour professionals.

We see the manifestation of F.U.A.B in team sports all the time.  A football team takes a huge lead into the locker room at halftime only to melt down in the 3rd quarter as they relax and think they’ve got the game won.  Or the same team has a lead late and employs the prevent defense (failure to attack and stay aggressive) which is a different flavor of the same disorder.  In either case, the team psyche is devastated.

As I work through my fall golf season, I’ve been employing different drills to help steel my game against these breakdowns and I’ve got a good one for F.U.A.B. avoidance.  The key is to pressure yourself after a good shot and condition your mind against relaxation.

The drill:  Get to your short game practice area when it’s not crowded.  Take two balls, three clubs you like to chip and pitch with, and your putter.  First, play 9-holes of a two-ball, best-ball scramble.  Take two shots from every position alternating clubs and using easy, medium, and difficult lies.  Take two putts from the better of the chips and try to get up and down as much as possible and record your score.  This will get you comfortable with technique and build confidence.  Then play 9-holes of a two-ball, worst-ball scramble.  You’ll notice the pressure get’s ratcheted up immediately as you always have to play the more difficult result.  The urgency of playing good shots AND following up a good shot or putt with an equally good effort is the key to F.U.A.B avoidance.

The results: Yesterday, during the worst-ball game, I chipped in on a hole with the first ball using my pitching wedge.  But the pressure remained intense because the chip-in meant nothing; I had to execute the next shot without relaxing.  I found this aspect of the drill difficult but very beneficial.  Using par as two strokes per hole, my best ball score was one-over par and my worst ball score seven-over.  While seven-over doesn’t sound that great, I was fairly pleased because none of my over-par holes were worse than three strokes and with the exception of the hole out chip, my second chips were usually better than the first.  I concentrated reasonably well on the worst ball game but did let my mind wander a bit on a couple of second putts, after the first putt had been holed – need to work on this.

Today, I get to test this on the golf course.  We’re scheduled to play in 10-20 mph winds so it may not be a great test (I don’t imagine too many birdies will be carded) and I may need a new drill for mental toughness while playing in adverse conditions.  Give this F.U.A.B. Avoidance drill a try and let me know how it works for you.  Good luck!

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Is Losing Becoming A Habit?

from golfweek.com

from golfweek.com

The fallout from the U.S. Ryder Cup Team’s defeat has settled, but theories of defeat are still abound as new details come out regarding behind the scenes team dynamics.  Let’s give Tom Watson a break, forget all the crap, and simplify:  When a team loses in golf or in any sport, the reason is usually that they have inferior players.  When losing is systemic in an organization, always look to the highest reaches of the organization for the answer.  In this case, the highest levels are the PGA Tour and the process it uses to select players.

All things being equal, the U.S. Team should have an inherent advantage year after year, being able to stock their roster with the largest pool of talented golfers in the world.  Yet they continually go down to defeat.  I propose that it’s time to remove the earning of qualifying points, over a two year period, and jettison captain’s picks.  Put the selection in the hands of the players.  Every U.S. professional with current year’s PGA Tour exempt status be allowed to vote on their Ryder Cup team representation, with the stipulation that they cannot vote for themselves.  The vote would take place one month in advance of the competition and would ensure the best and hottest players at tournament time would complete the team.  Imagine if we elected our political leaders on the polling results they accumulated over their last two years in office.  That’s crazy, and is why we have Election Day.

And someone please explain why being elected and serving as a Ryder Cup team captain is so important and is considered a full time job for two years?  If the player’s elect their own representation, you take the onus off the captain and let him focus on more important things like selecting the best and most colorful rain suits and focusing on how many gluten free options will be on the menu at the team meal.  All these guys should really be doing is working the line-up cards during the competition and keeping their players on an even emotional keel.  Seriously, how much preparation can you do over two years for a three day golf tournament?

The Ryder Cup will be at Hazeltine in 2016.  I’ll be watching and hopefully we’ll get it figured out by then.

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The U.S. Will Win The 2014 Ryder Cup!

2014 Ryder CupOkay, here me out before making my reservation for a suite at St. Elizabeth’s.  Right now the British bookmakers are sending the European Team off as an overwhelming 1:2 favorite in the 2014 Ryder Cup.  These are the same guys who had Tiger Woods at 16:1 for the 2014 Open Championship, and those were phony odds.  These are phony as well and are simply the reflection of the betting public’s irrational biases.

The miscalculation is being driven by the recent whippings administered by the Euros.  Since 1985 they are sporting a dominating 9-4-1 record but this year will be different.  A quick look at the data yields an interesting revelation.  The secret to Euro success has been their team approach to competition.  No individual is above the team.  They also enjoy terminal underdog status and have leveraged the American’s penchant for individual play over team.  Nobody epitomizes the “me first” mentality on the U.S. side more than Tiger Woods.    Is there a more narcissistic player on the planet?   The American’s have followed the lead of their best player and got caught up in the individual career achievement mentality, so much so that they struggle with the mindset of placing the team ahead of themselves.

Since 1985, the Euro’s hold a 58.5 to 53.5 advantage in points in foursomes (alternate shot) and a dominating 65.5 to 46.5 advantage in four balls – the two team formats.  Even as they have been dominated, the U.S. has still been able to maintain a slight edge in singles play (84.5 points to 83.5).  It’s clear they prefer singles to team.  With Woods off the U.S. team the mindset will change.  Forget about the big names on the Euro side, or lack of on the U.S.  I can’t wait to see who the U.S. version of Ian Poulter is and I don’t think the Euro’s are comfortable in the role of overwhelming favorite.  The huge underdog U.S. squad will get it done.

Throwing Tiger under the bus one more time, I’ll make my Final prediction:  U.S. 14 1/2 – Europe 13 1/2.

How do you think this plays out?

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Managing Golf Burnout

thechallengesofmentalillness.com

thechallengesofmentalillness.com

Most of us absolutely love golf and can’t seem to get enough.  But have you ever burned out on golf because of too much play or practice?  I was last burned out a long time ago.  1986 to be exact.  I was working as an assistant club professional and my typical work day started at 6:00 a.m. and ran through 3:00 p.m (Tuesday -Sunday).  Every day after work, I’d  play with the members until dark, so I was at the course for 13-14 hours.  On Monday, my one day off, I spent my day practicing.  The over-saturation was suffocating and I was so spent that I hated the game for a period of time.

This week, Phil Mickelson hit the point and withdrew mid-tournament from the BMW Championship siting mental exhaustion.  Sergio Garcia skipped the Deutsche Bank Championship to stay fresh, even though it’s the middle leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs.  Martin Kaymer has articulated how difficult it is to play for six consecutive weeks and how he dislikes living on the road for so long.

If top players can skip events because of burnout, and remain in overall contention, you are jeopardizing the integrity of your competition.  Imagine a star NFL quarterback skipping a playoff round because he was mentally fatigued – it would never happen.  I share The Grateful Golfer’s call for a format change, and to be honest, wouldn’t mind if they eliminated them all together.

The tour has taken it’s lead from the NFL and is attempting to make competitive golf a year-round cash cow.  The FedEx Cup transitions smoothly into the overlap schedule which is the start of the following year’s Tour schedule, complete with official money rankings.  This time used to be called the “Silly Season” and top pros still regard it as such.  Sorry, but my interest level drops after The PGA Championship is contested, and top players pulling out because of burnout should be a warning to the PGA Tour that they’ve exceeded the point of diminishing returns.  Their season is too long, they’re cheapening their product, and they need to scale back.

As mentioned, I haven’t been burned out for many years, but occasionally will lose a level of focus and desire.  It usually coincides with the start of football season (now) and it’s a sign for me to take a few weeks off – usually until I start to miss the game.  That’s exactly where I’m at right now and will taking a break until early October.

Have you ever been truly burned out on golf?  If so, how did you handle it?

 

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What The Foley Firing Means

In short, nothing because Humpty Dumpty has already fallen.  Lanny H Golf nailed the motivation behind the timing of the firing with his piece today  and how it’s midway between the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup.  Tiger, being the narcissist that he is, couldn’t stand to stay out of the limelight for too long and kicked Sean Foley to the curb just as interest in Woods was waning.  What I found more than coincidental is that Foley also coaches Hunter Mahan, who just won The Barklays, and the dismissal came not one day after his victory.  Really Tiger?

Looking at the merits of the firing, this should have been done several years ago, but now it doesn’t matter who’s trying to put the pieces back together.  Readers of this blog know that I think Sean Foley’s approach is very technical, so much so that his students play golf swing; not golf.  The most casual observers of Tiger’s play under Foley could pick up the overly mechanical approach and it has devastated Tiger’s previously superior golf mind.

Again, it’s too late, but if Tiger even thinks he has a shot at resurrecting his game, I would advise a series of appointments with a Bob Rotella type to first get his mind right, then think about a swing coach.  Tiger is damaged goods and no top flight swing coach should think of taking on this rebuild project.

 

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Tour Tempo – Book Review and Road Test

Tour TempoI checked out Tour Tempo by John Novosel from the community library a couple weeks ago and have been on a recent test drive.  Authored in 2004, I was completely unaware of the Tour Tempo series but after reading, am adding this to my golf library.

Many instruction books and tips espouse a secret or magic move to better ball striking which can be attributed to one tour pro or another.  Novosel’s “Last Secret Finally Revealed” is completely non-mechanical and is backed up by a solid investigative approach and detailed film analysis.  His premise is that tour players are in “The Zone” much more often than amateur golfers and what’s consistent about Zone ball striking is rhythm.  If you can duplicate a tour player’s rhythm, not his swing speed, you can dramatically improve your ball striking.  Think about which tour player has the smoothest, slowest, and most effortless swing.  Many would say Ernie Els.  Novosel shows that Els’ swing is actually faster than Greg Norman’s, but the key to Els’ smooth appearance is timing.  He compares and times swings of top pros from Sam Snead to Tiger Woods and finds that almost everyone has a 3:1 ratio of backswing to downswing.  Yes, some pros swing faster than others, but the ratio is always the same.  If amateurs can duplicate the ratio, their rhythm and balance will improve dramatically, even if their strength and fundamentals don’t approach tour standards.

The book comes with a CD containing video and audio tracks.  The audio files provide three different swing speed mantras which you can listen to before hitting balls or warming up for play.  You use the mantras to adjust your timing and get to the 3:1 ratio.  For most, it will feel like you are moving incredibly faster than your normal swing, but the adjustment period is short.  I tried it and needed to speed up my downswing a bit, but saw immediate positive results with my driver last weekend, and got a feeling of rhythm and balance I hadn’t felt in about 20 years (when I used to drive the ball much better.)  Imagine my excitement!   At the range today, I warmed up with Tour Tempo and was hitting it pure.  I did not have as good a round as the previous week, but did hit some very good shots.  The best part has been my non-reliance on swing keys or mechanics.  For the last 36 holes, I’ve played with one swing thought; the Tour Tempo mantra, and love the simplicity of the approach.

There are tips and WOOD band-aids that we golfers play with all the time, and true to form, they usually only do Work Only One Day.  But when you are on to something fundamentally correct that is consistent from day-to-day, round-to-round, and practice session-to-practice session, you need to grab hold of it and go.  Tour Tempo feels like that fundamental change.  It’s simple, easy, and it works first time out of the box, and since you are making no mechanical changes, is very low risk.  I highly recommend you give it a try and let me know how it works for you!

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Are you “Golfing” if you relax the rules?

A recent segment on The Golf Channel’s Morning Drive  broached the subject of playing golf with a relaxed set of rules, and it’s fostering a spirited debate.  The question:  Are you playing golf if you aren’t abiding by The Rules of Golf?  RulesGolf is a unique sport because we referee ourselves, but I believe you can play golf by a different set of rules depending on the venue and type of competition.   The most important rule is that everyone in your group or the competition play by the same set, even if you are in technical violation of USGA or R&A standards.

The most common rule players break is rule 1-1 that states you must hole your ball with a stroke.  Essentially when we take putts, we are in violation.  Weekend golfers take putts.  The second rule most folks break is the various permutations for lost balls.  Most just drop  as close to where they lost it and count one penalty stroke.  I believe, if agreed upon, this is permissible, because it speeds the game up.  If you post a handicap round that included a lost ball that was played in this fashion, you are posting for a lower score than you actually shot, which is the opposite of sandbagging, and again, I have no problem.

Where it gets dicey is for folks who don’t play the ball down.  I play it down and many of my weekend partners do not.  You gain a huge advantage of improving your lies in the rough, as well as in the fairway.  If there’s no money on the line, I’m fine this transgression, but it’s where I draw the line for personal integrity.   The other relaxed rules about picking up after double par and limiting searches for two minutes make sense as well.

I have played in sanctioned Mid-Atlantic PGA events, Pro-Am competitions, club championships, member-guests, outings for charity, weekend money matches, and just for fun.  Each of these games was played by a different set of rules (some with a local rules sheets, others without).  Each time I believe I can state I was “playing golf” even though I may have been in technical violation of some USGA rules.  Generally, the  more serious the game, the more closer you’ll usually have to conform to the official Rules of Golf.

Do you believe in relaxing the rules?  If so, which ones to do you bend or break most often?

 

 

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Golf Course Meet-Ups and Conversation Starters

I was going to write a course review for Eisenhower, a muni we played last weekend in Anne Arundel County, but the course was just ho-hum and not worth the writer’s block.  However, the playing company was outstanding and got me thinking about the most notable cast of characters I’ve ever met on the golf course.  Here are some of mine, who are yours?

Last weekend:   My partner and I roll up in our cart and are introduced to the twosome paired with us.  One middle aged fellow has a Philadelphia Eagles hat on, tattoos up and down his arms, and is constantly out of breath.  I strike up a conversation, “So are you from Philadelphia?”

Not our guy, but close. From deadspin.com

Not our guy, but close.
From deadspin.com

He says, “No I’m from across da  riva in South Jersey,” – as if I couldn’t tell from the accent.  We dialog the Eagles, Redskins, and baseball for a hole and a half and on the third tee, he asks, “Hey, you guys aren’t priests or minsters are you?”  He reiterates, “I’m from South Jersey and you’re gonna hear some F-bombs today.  Hope that’s not a problem.”  The rest of the day we were entertained with tales of glorious bar fights, driving his car through the corn fields of south Jersey at 110 mph, and hoping he didn’t pass out from retrieving his ball out of the hole.  I’m no stranger to salty language on the course, but if the U.S. Air Force had dropped all the F-bombs coming out of his mouth.  Nice guy though.

Character number two:  78 year old guy playing at my local muni on a 95 degree day in June.  He’s carrying his bag and swears to me as we’re walking down the first fairway that he does 100 push-ups every day.  I’m thinking who is this guy, Jack Lalanne?  Then we are waiting on our second shots in the first fairway and he drops and gives me 30 right there.  Must have finished his daily allotment during the rest of the round.  Hope I’m that physically fit at 78 – although mentally, not so sure.

Character number three:  A few years ago, my friend and I are paired up with a young soft-spoken guy at Clustered Spires in Frederick, MD.  He doesn’t say much to us all day, but is 4-under par on the backside alone, and I’m thinking we’re playing with the club pro.  So on the 17th tee I ask him what he does for a living.  He replies, “Nothing.  I’m on parole and have been in prison for the last 18 months.”  He goes on to shoot 5-under 66 and seems irritated because he played bad.  We leave with our jaws dragging in the parking lot.

My greatest thrill in golf.  Met The King in 2010 at Bayhill!

My greatest thrill in golf. Met The King in 2010 at Bayhill

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the chance encounter – meet up with Arnold Palmer on the course at Bay Hill  with nobody around but my son and his playing partners.  I’ve written about this before, but it remains the most profound experience I’ve ever had at a golf course.  What are yours?

 

 

 

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Eliminating My Big Miss – The Hank Haney Experiment

I am 1,100 swings into my Hank Haney experiment.  To review, Haney recommends for the time challenged golfer, to take 100 practice swings per day in your back yard (merely a 15 minute time commitment).  In week one I took the first 500 with a 5-iron.  In week two, I split the balance between a 5-iron and driver.  The last couple of sessions I have felt particularly strong and enjoyed some excellent rhythm and a confidence boost.

Yesterday, I changed things up and went to the range in the afternoon to see actual ball flight with the 5-iron and driver.  Smother hooking 40 balls will humbly reminded you why golf is such a damn hard game.  Just when I thought I was on to something good the pendulum of bad habits swung in my direction.  I left the practice tee discouraged but knew that I had a round to play the next day, and figured I’d better work some short game.  I finished up with a pretty good session on the practice putting green.

Now I am one of those players who generally plays like he practices, and the prospect of teeing it up a day after facing down a bucket full of Big Misses felt like crossing the U-boat infested Atlantic Ocean in an unarmed merchant ship.  I was dreading the surfacing of the Big Miss and can’t remember being less unenthusiastic about the prospects of playing a weekend round of golf.

I arrived at the course early this morning and headed immediately to the range, and figured it’s best to face your fears head on.  The warm-up was pretty good and I maybe saw five Big Misses out of 40 swings; a much smaller percentage, but just enough to keep the threat lurking.  Incidentally, I was hit by this same swing malfunction about a month ago in another pre-round warm-up, but a playing partner spotted my physical error and helped me with a band-aid fix before play, so I was armed with this little bit of knowledge.

I piped my tee shot on #1 but The Big Miss surfaced on the #2 tee shot.  Somehow I managed to save bogey and then it mysteriously disappeared and I played the rest of the front nine and the first two holes on the back striking it solid and straight.  Then BAM!  Four Big Misses in a row led to two straight double bogeys (the second of which was nearly a triple), and I though I was done for the day.  I stabilized with the band-aid and managed to birdie #16 and #17 with some solid swings and limped in without killing anyone, and carded a six-over 77.  Despite the strong finish, I am questioning the wisdom of the daily practice swings.  Should I continue if there’s a chance that I’m practicing a mechanical fault with no ball flight feedback?   I did hit 11 GIR last weekend and 12 in today’s round, which is over my season average of eight.  Maybe it’s working and I can’t see the forest of incremental progress from the trees?

Any thoughts or recommendations to stay the course or abandon for something else?

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Bang! Woosh! End Of An Era

That sound is the deflating golf bubble, as we know it today, and much has been made of the recent decline in the industry.  Nobody likes to see 500 PGA professionals get fired at Dicks or five million fewer participants, but we are simply at the end of a massive market boom known as the Tiger Woods Era. While the economic impacts are real and unfortunate, they are not a terrible cause for concern because the underlying market factors are natural.

As in any sport, interest is driven by three entities: Domination, Rivalry, and Disaster, and when they are removed, interest wanes. While Tiger was the face of the sport, all three were in abundant supply. Now that he’s a middle-tier, often-injured shell of himself, the draw is gone and the vacuum hugely noticeable. Tiger still drives TV ratings when he appears, and the mainstream media bend over backwards for a smidgen of real time coverage, but between the injury time, scandal time, and missed cuts, air time is rare. Broadcast of his arrival in a SUV for a PGA practice round was silly/obsessive and reminiscent of another guy driving his SUV down the freeway in 1994.

Try this quick exercise: Think back to the half dozen most riveting golf moments you’ve ever seen on TV. Mine; in no particular order:

  • Nicklaus wins the 1986 Masters – “Yes Sir!”
  • Tiger drops the huge curling chip on #16 at Augusta in 2005
  • Justin Leonard sinks the bomb to win the 1999 Ryder Cup
  • Jean van de Velde at the 1999 Open Championship
  • Greg Norman’s historic collapse to Nick Faldo at the 1996 Masters
  • Phil crushing Tiger head-to-head by 11 in the final round at Pebble in 2012

Great theater, and there are many more, but each of these directly touches Domination, Rivalry, or Disaster, and that’s what sports fans live for. You had to love the playoff between Jason Day and Victor Dubuisson at the Accenture Match Play earlier this year with Dubuisson’s scrambling from incredible trouble in the desert to continually extend the match. It was truly fascinating, but Tiger wasn’t in the field and TV ratings plummeted. Whether you love him or hate him, Tiger was the major part of golf history for the last 15 years. Now he’s almost gone.

In three years, nobody’s going to remember “Day vs. Dubuisson In The Desert” so what will be the headliner? How will the industry recover? Does it need to recover or just return to the pre-Tiger state? Much is being hoisted on young Rory McIlroy’s shoulders because without him there is no compelling story out there. I wonder how this will play out.

In the meantime, enjoy the abundant starting times, wide open golf courses, and discounted merchandise at Dicks. What do you think will solve for this or does it need solving?

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When You Are In “The Zone” How Did You Get There?

Try to think back to the last time you were in “The Zone.”  What was common about your time in with previous times?  Is it possible to recapture it on demand?  In golf, as in all of sports, most athletes have been in The Zone at least once, and the experience is fabulous.  I haven’t been in the zone since a round in September of 2013.  Not that I haven’t played well since then, but being in The Zone is a level above playing well.

Identifying the characteristics of Zone play and duplicating seems like the key to trying to get back with more frequency.  Personally, there are three factors consistent with Zone play.

Excellent ball striking warm-up.  This is probably unique to me because some folks can warm-up poorly and play great.  More common is a good warm-up followed by the inability to take your range swing to the course.  I get a clue that Zone play is possible when I strike it pure during warm ups.  I have never been in The Zone without a great warm-up and rarely play well when warming up poorly.

Supreme confidence with the driver.  Every time I’ve been in The Zone, I’ve been able to stand over every tee shot with the driver and know with complete confidence that I’m going to pound the ball dead straight.  For me, good play, great play, and Zone play all starts with the driver.  Lately, this has been the biggest Zone inhibitor.

Birdie the first hole then relax.  I know it’s just one hole, but when I birdie #1, I feel like I’m playing with house money and it relaxes me.  Being in the zone is usually accompanied by a great feeling of relaxation and calm during the whole round.  I feel totally in control of my game and can play worry free.

I got to thinking about this today because I touched The Zone but did not enter.  Josh at Golf Is Mental wrote a post on going low which resonated and put me in a very good frame of mind.  I took his advice, set a very low target number, warmed up well, birdied my first hole and shot 1-under on the front nine.

A second helper has been this video from Hank Haney.

Hank recommended that for time challenged players such as myself, we commit to taking 100 practice swings every day, which I did all week (with a 5-iron).  My mid-iron game was on the money today and I felt the extra work definitely helped.  Give this a try!  Inconsistency off the tee on the inward half of my round slammed the door on Zone entry, but the 4-over 74 is a good round for me.

This week I’ll split the 100 daily swings between driver and 5-iron in an effort to get more confidence off the tee.  Not saying I’ll get back to The Zone immediately, but the taste today was nice and I feel like I have a plan going forward.

When was the last time you were in the zone and what advice do you have for getting back?

 

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Solving the Poolesville Puzzle

Ever run up against a course that has your number?  What are your strategies for conquering?  I am playing mine tomorrow.  Poolesville  is a local muni in the western reaches of Montgomery County, and has my number for the last six years.  At par-71 and at a nondescript 6,405 yards, in my last 15 rounds I have never played well, with 76 being my best score (achieved twice) and I’m struggling to a stroke average of 80.31.  Ball striking always seems to be an issue as are slow starts.  It has been impossible to get on a roll, much less threaten to go low.  I did notice that on one of those rounds of 76, I was very comfortable mentally because I had finished reading Putting Out of Your Mind by Bob Rotella the day before and was implementing his techniques.  My ball striking wasn’t great, but I was a peace with myself and not worried about my score or missing any putts.  This leads me to think this is purely psychological.  How do I get past this mental blocker?

I wrote earlier on how I got past a mental blocker hole at Rattlewood by totally changing the way I played it and I’m thinking of taking a similar approach. Normally, at Poolesville, I’m always playing defensive and trying to keep the ball in play with a 3WD off the tee, but that has left me with longer approaches into the smallish crowned greens.  GIR stats plummet and I inevitably leave myself short-sided too often and can’t score well.  Perhaps a total reversal is required, with an attempt to bring the course to its knees by busting driver on every hole,  which should leave shorter irons into the par-4s.  I’m getting inspiration watching Rory McIlroy destroy the field at The Open Championship with the same strategy.

It’s often that when NFL teams go into the prevent defense in an attempt to protect a lead, the lead inevitably vanishes.  Perhaps this is my prevent and I need to get aggressive.  Anyone have some experience handling problem courses?  I’d like to be a horse for this course and I’m all ears.  Thanks!

 

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Halfway Point Report Card – Golf Is Fun Again!

Report cardFor the golfing enthusiast, nothing is more frustrating or disheartening than a protracted slump.  I’m 21 rounds into my season (halfway point) and I’m happy to report the game is fun for me again as my first quarter troubles appear to be over.  To recap, I was mired in an epic ball striking quagmire and had failed to hit 10 GIR in any of my first 10 rounds.  But in the last 11 rounds, I’ve hit or exceeded the number seven times.  As The Grateful Golfer would say, “my GAF is high, ” and today I capped the first half with a 1-over 73 which was my best round in my last 30, and my index has dropped to a 4.9.

What’s the fix?  I believe the early slump was caused by infrequency of play/practice and as readers of this page know, I’ve been struggling with my golf/life balance and have been trying to get enough reps in to remain effective.  A solution seems to be at hand, though.

I’m still playing only 18 holes per week, but have added a critical practice nine in early on Saturday mornings at my local executive course.  Normally, I get out early enough to play by myself and have borrowed a technique (two ball – best ball scramble) I think I saw on Hank Haney’s show.  The key in this game is to take two shots from every spot and play your best ball until holed.  With two shots at every green, albeit short executive length holes, I fill my scorecard with dots (for GIRs) and hitting greens becomes a habit.  I’ve learned there is no substitute for striking shots and watching the ball land on the putting surface time and again.  As a result, my ball striking  during the 18 hole rounds has improved as a I expect to hit more greens.  The practice nine only takes about 1.5 hours and I sometimes follow up with some putting and light chipping, but when I’m on the course, I make sure to take my share of extra short game shots at every opportunity.  Normally, I’m home by 10:30 a.m. (before half the household is even awake), and am not even missed.  Throw in three 15-minute chipping and putting sessions on my weekly commute home, and I’ve got a recipe that works because I’ve got my hands on clubs in one aspect or another FIVE DAYS PER WEEK!

The little 15-minute practices are invaluable and give me a great measure of satisfaction when I pull off shots during rounds that I’ve worked on during the week.  Today, I was 5 for 6 on green-side up and downs, using techniques honed during the afternoon commute.

So, get your hands on the clubs as often as you can in a way that allows you to fulfill your responsibilities to everything else in your life, and when you practice, try to get in enough work where you see balls flying at flagsticks onto actual greens.  Hopefully, it works for you as it has for me.  Good luck and please share any time-saving practice tips you’ve had success with.  Thanks!

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2014 British Open Picks

Hoylake, from golfclubatlas.com

Picking a winner for the 2014 British Open Championship is an exercise in deciphering the actual probabilities of victory from the preferences of the betting public.  There is considerable money to be made betting against the current John Q trend lines.  Consider, U.S. Open Champion Martin Kaymer is at 20:1 in early action with Tiger Woods leaping ahead of him at 16:1.  Are you kidding?  Kaymer is in awesome form, has his head screwed on right, and is a multiple recent major winner.  The smart money is on him and Adam Scott.  Tiger looks about as well oiled as the 38-year old Huffy sitting in my garage with the chain off.  The stiffness and restricted back swing on display at the recent Quicken Loans National  should have Tiger in the 150:1 range.

Rory McIlroy is the pre-tournament favorite at 10:1, but doesn’t play well enough in this perennial home game and will not win it.  He is looking good in early action at the Scottish Open and we’ll be watching to see if the positive momentum he gained from Woz-gate changes his personal and professional performance around major time.

Could one of the B.P.T.N.H.W.A.M. contenders take it this year?  How do you officially get on this list?  Is it fair to keep someone on past the age of 40?  I think not, so Steve Stricker comes off at 47.  Of the five remaining principals, Henrik Stenson has been the closest and doesn’t appear to psych himself out and warrants considerable support.  Sergio Garcia has played well on this course but he doesn’t have the stones with the flat stick to ever win a major.  It’s not happening this week for Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, or Jason Day.  Actually, Day has some good potential, but I’d like to see him  playing more frequently and try less to time his game around the majors.

So, when do we put Jordan Spieth on this list?  He’s clearly one of the best players in the world even if he still can’t order a beer with his wings at Hooters.  I’m a huge Spieth fan and like him for a top 10 but he’s too young for the list and will likely break through at The Masters or U.S. Open.

Dark horse look-outs:  Jim Furyk is at ease with himself again, is playing well, and contended on this venue in 2006.  Every year we see an older player make a move at The Open and this year it’s him.  Phil Mickelson has the mind and experience to win this, but different parts of his game go out of sync too frequently and I fear the age of Phil contending in every major is quickly vanishing.

Your 2014 British Open predictions:

Adam Scott:  Champion

Martin Kaymer:  Runner-up

Jim Furyk:  Sneaks into third

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Work Your Golf Game Like You Tie Your Shoes

From kidspot.com

From kidspot.com

Readers of this page know that I have been struggling recently with my golf-life balance and trying to find the time to get enough play and practice to maintain my effectiveness.  I had a thought about a month ago; that to give myself a chance, I needed to make golf more of a second nature activity, like tying your shoes.  After all, how often do we tie our shoes, maybe twice a day?  Does anyone screw up tying their shoes?  No.  Does anyone have to think about how to tie their shoes?  No.  Like golf, it’s a learned activity, and while we may have spent a few hours practicing while we were very young, we dedicate merely seconds per day and execute flawlessly every time.  If only golf were so easy.

The Plan:  A week before I left for Myrtle Beach, and every day in the two weeks since I have returned, I’ve made sure to chip and putt for just 15-20 minutes at a golf course on my way home during the evening commute.  My family hardly misses me.  In the two weeks that I’ve been back, I’ve only played nine holes twice, and will attempt 18 tomorrow, but the return on these mini time investments has been big.  I’m very comfortable over any short game shot and am executing fearlessly.  More importantly, I’m not thinking about the shot or putt, just feeling it during the rehearsal strokes and pulling the trigger.  The metrics have been good as well.  I’ve never chipped and pitched on the Myrtle trip so effectively and today during my 9-hole round was 3 for 3 on up and downs.

The mechanics of the daily routine.  I arrive at the course and select one club to work with and three balls.  Vary the club daily but make sure to putt at least every third day.  I also put a tee in my pocket in the event that all the holes on the practice green are occupied and I need to set up my own target.  Only practice for the prescribed time and focus intently on every shot; make every precious second count.  The short duration makes concentration easy and the only distraction I deal with is the occasional pack of children getting themselves ready for their twilight nine-hole event.

So you say, “Brian, what does this do for your ball striking?”  Nothing, except fill me with confidence that if I miss the green, I’ve got a good shot at saving par.  As a result, I’m more relaxed on the full swings.

Remember, there are no pictures on the scorecard, and everyone doesn’t need 10,000 hours of practice to become proficient, so try working your short game in these little micro-bursts and see if this doesn’t work for you as well.  Anyone out there had any success with this method?  Good luck if you try!

 

 

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Surf Club – Course Review

Looking down #1 tee at Surf Club

Looking down #1 tee at Surf Club

We played Surf Club in North Myrtle Beach, SC on Saturday, June 14, 2014.  This George Cobb design was built in 1960 and is nestled neatly into a neighborhood one block from the ocean.  Surf is a very old style private club with good conditioning and traditional parkland style routing and if you like doglegs, you are going to love this golf course.  Only about four of the longer holes do not have some kind of bend and an absolute premium is placed on solid ball striking off the tee.  Surf’s Bentgrass greens have a reputation for being among the fastest on the beach but we played them about three weeks after their aeration.  They were almost full recovered and were rolling at medium speed.  On a previous visit, I recall the course playing firm and fast with the the greens running lightening quick.

I’m not an arborist, but the type of trees that frame most of the holes are unlike most you’ll see on Myrtle Beach courses and certainly not the tall Carolina pines you are accustomed to.  Normally, you can play out of the trees but not at Surf.  Trying to hit low recoveries almost always caught bark and was usually the natural predecessor to a double-bogey on the scorecard.  You’re best advice is to drive it straight or punch out sideways.

We played from the back tees and there are three holes that play like a beast.  The par-4, 7th at 442 yards bends to the right and if it’s playing into the wind, is virtually like a short par-5.  You turn right around on the par-4, 8th which plays 430 yards and you hope the wind is favoring your direction.

Par-3, 18th at Surf Club

Par-3, 18th at Surf Club

Finally, the par-3, 18th is one of the finest finishing holes in Myrtle Beach.  At 217 yards, you are faced with a forced carry over water, and we played it straight into a two club wind coming in off the ocean.  Thank goodness for the front flag position, as my fully struck 3WD barely covered the 200 yards needed from tee to pin.

Value (3.75 out of 5.0)

Surf was an upscale addition to our golf package but to our very pleasant surprise, the afternoon replay rate was only $27.  This is a very affordable, high quality golf experience.  Driving range privileges are included and the free tees in the pro shop were one of those nice little touches.

The Range at Surf Club

The Range at Surf Club

Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse and grill were on the smallish side and the pro shop displays were nicely detailed, but a little limited in scope.  The grill served very basic golf course food and had walk up service only.  We dined on hot dogs, wings, and chips after our morning round.

The 15-station driving range had good turf to hit off and high quality balls, and the practice green was medium sized and adequate for a warm-up.  I did not observe a separate chipping/pitching green and was unsure if short game work was permitted.

Pro Shop at Surf Club

Pro Shop at Surf Club

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

I’m not sure who the amiable professional on duty was but he made you feel very welcome and at home.  He was very accommodating when we inquired about working us into the afternoon tee sheet for a replay and went out of his way to ensure that we had everything we needed to enjoy ourselves.  The rating goes even higher except for the staff at the bag drop were nowhere to be found when we arrived at the course around 7:30 a.m.  It was clear that we were one of the first groups at the course, but we didn’t expect to haul our bags in from the parking lot.  Anyway, they found our equipment and had us loaded in time for play.

Surf Club was a good value and a fun day.  We played the blue tees at 6,842 yards (par-72) I shot rounds of 87 and 81.  It was difficult but I loved it and will be back for more on future golf trips.  Don’t miss this one.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

Clubhouse at Surf Club

Clubhouse at Surf Club

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One Pic – One Fix – One Stroke!

Usually when I return from the annual Myrtle Beach golf trip I don’t touch a club for 7-10 days, primarily because my body feels so beat up from all the rounds and practice balls.  This year was different and I felt pretty fresh.  Not trying to overdo it, I made it a point to stop off at a local course on the way home from work every day this week, and chip and putt for just 15-20 minutes.  My short game is always sharp after the trip and I wanted to keep the feeling.  Then mid-week, Fred, from Team Walmart (AZ guys) sent me a photo stream of pics from our trip and I immediately picked up a flaw in my move that I felt would be an easy fix, and lend itself to more consistent ball striking.

This morning I headed out to my local muni to try the fix on our inside nine.  After just a couple of stretches, no Advil floating through my veins, and no practice balls, I teed up a 9-iron with the fix in play, and rifled it towards the first hole – easy par.  #2 was playing 110 yards and I selected a smooth pitching wedge and drilled it with two hops and into the hole for the second ace of my life.  The first was 31 years ago with a 7-iron – quite a gap.  My last thought before heading off to retrieve and retire the Titleist was, “Who needs a stinkin’ warm up?”

It’s nice when a plan comes together.  Hope your Saturday got off to as good a start as mine did.  When was your last/first hole-in-one?

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Lion’s Paw – Panther’s Run Course Reviews

Clubhouse at Lion's Paw and Panther's Run

Clubhouse at Lion’s Paw and Panther’s Run

My travel group played Lion’s Paw on Monday, June 8, 2014 and Panther’s Run the day after on a recent trip to Myrtle Beach.  These are two of the four Big Cat courses at Ocean Ridge Plantation in Ocean Isle Beach, NC.  We’ll review them together because they are sister courses and play out of the same clubhouse.  Tiger’s Eye is the top play of the Big Cats group and is run from a separate clubhouse across the street, but as we learned, the golf operations are distinctly different.

On Monday, we arrived at Lion’s Paw as they were preparing for a ladies tournament on the front nine.  Our two foursomes were scheduled to go off #10 and we were thankful for that.  The bag drop and staging area is rather small and was extremely congested and chaotic.  Play for both courses is launched from the same constricted space.

Staging area on Monday

Staging area on Monday

Due to an airline luggage snafu, four guys in our group were playing with rental clubs, which the golf staff had hastily assembled.  They charged $40 per set for the rentals which were a mediocre mishmash of late year model irons and metal woods.  Nobody in our group was impressed with the offerings and the guys renting actually played several shots using clubs from the rest of our bags which was a little disruptive for everyone.  Given the short notice, I was thankful that the staff could even assemble the sets to allow us to play together.

#3 Tee at Lion's Paw

#3 Tee at Lion’s Paw

Both courses share a medium size driving range with Tiger’s Eye , and the range is located at the far side of the parking lot across the road.  Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to ride your cart to the range from Lion’s/Panthers, but you are from Tiger’s.  Also, the shop charged $3.00 for balls from Lion’s/Panthers, but Tiger’s extended complimentary range privileges.  We thought this was strange given the courses were under the same management company.  There is a small pitching green with one flag and a practice bunker next to the range and two putting greens next to the Lion’s / Panther’s clubhouse.  I felt it would have been beneficial to have a chipping green that allowed your shots to run out, but clearly there was no space for one.  There was good turf to hit off at the range but the quality of the balls was suspect.

Lion’s Paw:

On the course, we found Lion’s Paw to be in good condition, with the Bermuda greens rolling medium fast and smooth.  A couple of the tee boxes were crowned  which was a bit odd but didn’t affect playability.  The course is fairly open off the tee and weaves its way through a residential area with several nice homes nearby, but you don’t have a lot of privacy.

Mike on #3 tee at Lion's Paw

Mike on #3 tee at Lion’s Paw

A couple of the par-3 holes were memorable for the contouring, water carries, and bordering with oyster shells, but you weren’t struck by anything overtly beautiful or difficult.  Lion’s Paw is just a solid, well maintained nondescript golf course.  The biggest appeal for the enthusiast is the ample opportunities for afternoon replay.  With the four Big Cats in close proximity, we chose Tiger’s Eye for the afternoon and at $45, found it a tremendous value and a tremendous golfing experience.  The replay rate at Lion’s and Panther’s is $35 and we actually were given the $35 rate to replay Tiger’s later in the week after they had started fairway aeration.  For the record, at Lion’s Paw, I had a 7-over par 79 from the white tees which were playing 6,457 yards.

#9 green at Lion’s Paw

Panther’s Run:

Tuesday we played Panther’s Run and had a decidedly different experience.  There was no tournament, the course was fairly empty, and everything seemed more organized and less rushed.  Everyone in our group was now playing with their own equipment and the day was more enjoyable.  IMG_0857Panther’s Run is more of a traditional parkland style course that meanders through tall trees with the holes being better framed than Lion’s Paw.  I preferred this layout, although the greens were putting a bit slower, a few tee boxes were a little chewed up, and the fairways were starting to brown out.  Again, nothing affected playability as overall conditioning was pretty good.  Of note are the back to front sloping greens.  Several of the pins were cut in the back along ridges that dropped down at the rear of the greens.  Long two putts were difficult because if you charged these back flags the drop offs would roll out significantly.  I took 36 putts and thee-jacked three times.  Playing for the middle of the greens with back flags was the way to go.  I shot a 9-over 81 from the blue tees which were playing at 6,706 yards.

Jim contemplates the approach on #18 at Panther’s Run

A couple of nitpicking notes:  When we played the par-3 11th, one of the rangers was sitting in a cart just behind the tee box talking on a cellphone and seemed completely unaware of his surroundings or that people were playing golf nearby.  It would have been considerate if he could have held down the chatter.  Also one of our group was perturbed by an experience in the pro shop while in line making a purchase.  The person behind the counter was interrupted by a club member with an inquiry about another matter and immediately discontinued their service on the transaction at hand to cater to the member’s request.  Otherwise, we had a fairly positive golfing experience at Panther’s Run.

If you are traveling to the Myrtle Beach area and want to play the Big Cats, Tiger’s Eye is your course if you only have time for one round.  Lion’s and Panther’s are enjoyable plays as well.

 

 

 

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Team Walmart Storms Myrtle Beach!

From ramblinobeachchat.com

From ramblinobeachchat.com

The dust has finally settled from Golfapalooza 2014 (Myrtle Beach) and this was a trip like no other.

Our plan was  to have four players (myself included) drive down from Maryland and four fly in from Arizona on Sunday June 7th, with the intent on playing Monday-Saturday (June 8-14).  Storms on Sunday evening delayed the AZ group’s arrival and then left them stranded in Charlotte, NC as US Airways cancelled their flight to Myrtle.  Determined not to miss their Monday 8 a.m. tee time, they rented a car and drove the remaining 240 miles to Myrtle through heavy rain, and arrived around 8:30 p.m. with nothing but the clothes on their backs.  The airline refused to release their luggage and equipment to them and promised to fly them in on the next plane.

Sunday evening at 10:30 p.m. we checked at the US Airways lost luggage counter at the Myrtle airport but no bags had arrived from Charlotte and we were told the luggage and clubs would be in on the first flight on Monday – uh oh.  Our AZ guys were given permission to buy clothes, toiletries, balls, tees, shoes, and rent clubs, and expense them to the airline, so instead of resting up for our 5:30 a.m. wake up call and dreaming of all the pars and birdies we were going to make on Monday, we went shopping at Walmart at 11:30 p.m.

Team Walmart

Team Walmart from AZ

On Monday, we called Lion’s Paw early and alerted them that we needed four rental sets but upon arrival realized the clubs assembled were barely fit for a yard sale.  Was this how a golf vacation was supposed to start?  The course was also trying to launch a tournament off the first tee and sent our two Team Walmart foursomes off #10.   In the chaos of the arrival, tournament prep, and rental assembly, I did not have the opportunity to hit balls and went to the tee cold.  Somehow I scratched out a 7-over 79 on Lion’s Paw but was out of sorts all day and carded my worst round of the trip in the afternoon (89 on Tiger’s Eye).

In the afternoon, we received word that the clubs and bags had arrived, and had been shipped to our condo.  Upon arriving home, we noticed that all the clothes and golf equipment were soaking wet.  Apparently the airline had left them overnight on the tarmac during the torrential rains in Charlotte.  Very nasty-gram going to US Airways on that one.

Tuesday, armed with dried clothes and equipment, we headed back to Ocean Ridge Plantation for a round at Panther’s Run.  I got a good warm-up in and started to relax a bit.  On the second nine something started to click and even though I carded a 9-over 81, I hit 10 GIR for the first time in 2014.  My ball striking had been so bad this spring I was wondering if I’d ever see 10+ GIR and it was a welcome relief.

Then I got on a ball striking hot streak for the next 54 holes and shot 77 and 75 at Tiger’s Eye, with 13 and 11 GIR respectively, and carded a 76 at Leopard’s Chase with 10 greens.  Our AZ group was starting to play better as well as they settled in with their own equipment and clothes and it started to feel like a vacation again.

Friday, at True Blue, my ball striking was just a little off and I carded a respectable 82 in the morning followed by an 81 in the afternoon.  When the wind is up you need to hit it very solid off the tee, as the 6,812 yards plays like a beast.  If you don’t believe in the horses for courses theory, consider that last year I carded an 81-81 at the same venue under pretty much the same conditions, and in 2012 during my last round at Leopard’s Chase, I also carded a 76.  I’ve observed over the years that I’ve accumulated significant local knowledge and preferences, and often play well/not well at the same venues on repeated attempts.

Saturday at Surf Club (course review coming), I lost my swing and struggled for 27 of the 36 holes we played.  Inevitably, when playing this much golf in a short amount of time, you get too mechanical in your thinking, and I paid for it.  Only on my last nine when I decided to dispose of all swing thoughts except hitting the ball at the target, did things right themselves.  I struggled with a 46-41 (87) in the morning, and finished up with 44-37 (81) in the afternoon and enjoyed a super high note finish, as I hit a 3WD six feet below the hole on Surf’s 200-yard par-3 18th hole, which requires a water carry and was playing into a stiff two-club wind.  It’s great to hit your best shot of the trip on your last attempt.

Stay tuned for trip reviews of Lion’s Paw/Panther’s Run and Surf Club.  Happy Father’s Day to all!

Three fourths of the MD guys

Three fourths of the MD guys

 

 

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