Victory! Whipped the nemesis course.

From jasonvelotta.com

From jasonvelotta.com

Back in April, I wrote a post about my continuing struggles with Poolesville, and how the course had won again in our most recent battle.  Today, I threw down another challenge and finally whipped it.  Those of you that fight with a golf course know how sweet victory feels once you prevail, and most of you are familiar with the feeling that sets in afterwards when you think, “That wasn’t that difficult,” or “How’d I manage to play so bad there for so long?”  Truth be told this was a mental victory more than anything because Poolesville was totally in my head and I knew it.  I changed my mental approach and it seemed to work.

The first step was to schedule a game when conditions would be in my favor.  I booked the round when the advanced forecast was calling for heat and humidity and no wind; perfect scoring conditions.  Next, I took an honest look at my past performance at the venue.  Over the last 8 years, I played 19 rounds to a stroke average of 80.26 and a paltry 6.32 GIR average.  The last seven rounds were particularly frustrating with terrible ball striking and only one sub-80 score and a 92 mixed in from early 2014.  The propensity to double-bogey the first hole for three straight rounds didn’t set me up for success either, especially when I was trying to overcome all these mental blockers.

My inspiration was the ESPN telecast of The Open on Friday, when they were describing Jordan Spieth and his caddy, and how they develop a game plan for each golf course and don’t deviate.  So I did some hole by hole analysis and scribbled a thought down on a piece of paper on how to play each of the holes.  I folded up this mini game plan and put it in my pocket.  Today, I pulled it out on every tee to re-commit to how I wanted to play the hole.

I don’t know if this is the reason for my success, but it did allow me to focus on playing the game and prevented over-mechanical thoughts from creeping in.  At the end of the day, I hit 13 greens and shot a 2-over 73 which was three clear of my lowest round at Poolesville.

Sometimes you know what you have to do but simply can’t execute it because you’re not fully committed.  It really helps to write it down to cement the commitment.

How’s your focus and commitment coming this season?

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2015 British Open Picks

Boy what I would give for a ticket to this year’s British Open Championship at St. Andrews.  The story lines are compelling, especially Jordan Spieth’s attempt to win the third leg of the Grand Slam.  Early odds have him as an overwhelming favorite now that his main competition, Rory McIlroy is injured.  The board (sans McIlroy) looks eerily similar to the pre-tournament  betting at the U.S. Open.  Spieth is the heavy favorite, and way ahead of Dustin Johnson, who’s at 12:1.  Again, these are not the actual win probabilities, but how the public has elected to wager their money.  Let’s sift through the data and get a smart pick for those who failed to cash in on Spieth at Chambers Bay.

St Andrews from telegraph.co.uk

St Andrews
from telegraph.co.uk

The principals:

Think Jordan Spieth needs more seasoning to win The Open?  This guy handles pressure better than anyone on the planet.  He putts better than anyone on the planet, and has more guts than anyone on the planet.  I’m pulling very hard for him this week but don’t think he closes the deal.  Why?  The Open, more than any other major, is susceptible to the come out of nowhere winners like Darren Clarke, Tod Hamilton, and Ben Curtis.  Also, some ageless contender like Tom Watson or Greg Norman (in their 50s) seems to make a serious run.  It’s clear, the slower greens are the equalizer and don’t require as much nerve to putt, which negates Spieth’s advantage.  I also don’t like that he’s playing John Deere in-lieu of the Scottish Open.  He should have made the trip early to get acclimated.  Make no mistake, he deserves the short odds and is playing the best in the world right now.  I’m hopeful he gets it done but just don’t see it.

Rory McIlroy;  very unfortunate timing on the ankle injury and will not play.  Last time out at St. Andrews, Rory finished 3rd in The Open, eight shots behind in the route perpetuated by Louis Oosthuizen.    Oosthuizen has a beautiful swing but only seems to be in contention in every third or fourth tournament.  Not this week.

Excellent value play is Adam Scott.  Scott has gone back to the long putter, had a solid U.S. Open, shooting 64 in the final round, and seems to have shaken off his early season doldrums by resigning Stevie Williams on the bag.  Williams was with Tiger Woods for both his Open Championship victories at St. Andrews which is a significant intangible.  The stars are aligned, and at 20:1 odds the smart money is backing the Aussie.

What to do with Dustin Johnson.  If anyone can forget the debacle at Chambers Bay it’s D.J.  Nothing seems to phase him, but that three-putt was a bad choke; worse than the grounded club debacle at Whistling Straits in the PGA.  Can he overcome?  He’ll either contend or totally collapse.  I think he contends and puts up a good fight.  If D.J. is going to win a major, it will be The Open on the slower greens.  I’m not feeling the closing power this week, though.

Sneaky long shot is Retief Goosen.  You can get him at 250:1 to win and I don’t see a victory in his future but would not rule out a top 10.  Goose is the perfect horse for this course despite his inconsistent play of late.

Interesting side note:  I’m watching Phil and Tiger head-to-head this week.  They’re both in the 25-30:1 range but trending in opposite directions, Phil is at the age where majors rarely are won.  He still has game but doesn’t seem to put four consecutive rounds together any more.  Tiger had a decent showing at Greenbriar in some very soft conditions.  Links golf with it’s precision ball placement off the tee doesn’t suit Tiger’s rebuild project.  If the wind gets up, it could get ugly.  I’m thinking Lefty takes him down.

So here we go, call your bookmaker.

Claret Jug winner:  Adam Scott

Runner Up:  Jordan Spieth

Third:  Dustin Johnson

Who are your picks at St. Andrews?

Adam Scott from bbc.co.uk

Adam Scott
from bbc.co.uk

 

 

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Becoming A Better Putter

I believe there is a putting spectrum that every player resides in and it looks something like this:  [Fear >> Indifference>>Confidence>>Warrior].  Somewhere you will find yourself and the state of your putting.  You may never get off your current state, you may improve, or you may regress.  My views on putting have evolved after reading many books, trying just about every technique possible, and studying the habits and advice of excellent putters.  Despite all that work, I was mirrored in a spot between Fear and Indifference for a very long time.  There is a lot of truth to the old axiom that putting is 10% stroke and 90% nerve, and the solution I’m about to share is largely a solve for the 90%.

Fear is when you view your putting as a weakness and treat it as a chore within the game.  “Oh great, I’m on the green, now I have to putt.”  Or you’d rather chip than putt from one foot off the green.  Basically, you know you suck with the blade and the trepidation overwhelms any ball striking success, and your scores suffer.  I never feared putting to that extent, but I’ve always feared rolling the ball past the hole.  I never understood why (still don’t), but as a result, I left many long putts short of tap in range, and did not strike short putts solid enough to hold their line.  I still have the same fear of going long with chips and pitches and am working on a solution for that.  So the fear fully infested my game inside about 50 yards of the hole.

My first clue out was a couple of years ago after a particularly bad spell of lag putting.  I couldn’t get the ball halfway to the hole, and one day changed my pre-shot routine to just take practice strokes with my trailing (right) hand.  I noticed I was making what felt like these huge practice strokes, and I’d just put my left hand back on and pulled the trigger on the putt.  For some reason my feel for distance improved but it felt like I was killing the ball and the feeling didn’t last long because I didn’t trust it.

Last fall, I became interested in Phil Mickelson’s putting problems and how he was working his way out by going back to fundamentals.  I liked the circle drill he used on the shorties because it was a rehearsal followed by a quick stroke, which I figured shouldn’t allow him time to think; just follow his routine.  I decided to try the circle drill on all my putts, not just the shorties.  And that is the crux of my solution.

The solve:

Now I will read putts standing halfway between the ball and hole and only sometimes confirm my read from behind the ball.  Oddly enough, I’ll get a better feel for break with my feet along the line of the putt than with my eyes from behind the ball.  This is a radical change from my previous routine and took some getting used to.  Standing halfway between ball and hole gives me a great perspective on the uphill or downhill nature of the putt which is critical to judging distance.  While I’m halfway, I make sure I’m far enough back to site both the ball and hole in my peripheral vision, and then make my practice strokes, just feeling the distance.  I then step up to the ball and line it up with no additional practice strokes and try to hold the putter as lightly as possible before hitting the putt and trying to feel the motion of my practice stroke.  I do this for every putt of every length.  For the first month, this didn’t work too well until I learned to trust my practice swing and the very soft grip pressure.  You know you are trusting it when it feels a little like you are rushing over the ball and hitting it very quickly.  In essence, you are not letting doubts about read or speed creep in and you simply make a reactionary move.  Now when I practice my putting the three things I focus on are  soft hands, judging the practice stroke, and trusting it over the ball.  TRUST is the key.

Notice, the only mechanical thought I mentioned was “soft hands”.  If you are continually pulling or pushing the ball, or not hitting it solid, you may have a mechanical error that needs to first be addressed.  But if you’re comfortable with your fundamentals and are trying to improve your feel, guts, and nerve, give this method a try.

I mentioned in an earlier post that my putting stats are vastly improved for the first part of the season.  They are just numbers, but you know in your heart when something positive has taken hold and this has.  I’m definitely at the ‘Confidence’ point on the spectrum and am seeking Warrior status.  It may be awhile and will probably coincide with the solving of my chipping and pitching trepidations but I look forward to the day when my game is a total weapon inside of 50 yards.

Posted in Instruction | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

2015 Mid-Season Golf Report Card

July 4th weekend is almost upon us and it is the traditional half-way point for my golf season and is an excellent opportunity for some game analysis.  Actually, it’s a little past half-way; I lose a bit of steam right about the time Tom Brady’s deflated footballs start to fly, but will play through mid-November.

To date, I have carded 21 rounds.  I enjoy tracking a couple key metrics and always measure my performance against the previous year’s stats.  The KPIs for 2014 full season vs 2015 halfway point:

2014 Avg Score:   79.97 To Par:   +8.47 GIR:   8.47 Putts:   32.25
2015 Avg Score: 79.41 To Par: +7.91 GIR: 7.68 Putts: 30.73

Analysis:

The one number that immediately jumps out is putts.  A reduction of 1.5 putts per round is huge.  To put it in perspective, 1.5 putts per round separates the 1st and 140th ranked putters on tour.  The improvement is due to a change in pre-shot routine I implemented late last year.  Not everything is going in, but I can usually count on having a good day on the greens even when I’m striking it poorly, and that makes the game more enjoyable.  In 2014 I played 31 times and had five rounds with less than 30 putts.  This year I already have seven.  Man, would I love to sniff a sub 30 average.  Anyway, a separate post is coming on how the putting change was implemented.

Second issue and equally important, is that I did not overhaul some part of my game in the off-season or early spring.  How many of you do this?  I always used to, and last year I fell in love with the Tour Tempo book, and later was taking hundreds of swings per day in the back yard in an attempt to make my swing better.  The reality of this was a jumble of swing thoughts and a sore body from over-analysis and overwork.  I’ve only practiced 14 times to-date this year and at the same point in 2014 was at 33.  I was advised that when you’ve played golf for over 40 years, it’s very difficult to change your fundamental golf swing, as Brant Kasbohm from FixYourGame.com so indicated during a video lesson in 2011.  I appreciate his candor and now, just attempt minor tweaks and adjustments between rounds and during play.  So there is nothing to overhaul and I’m enjoying the game more.  My handicap index continues to hover in the 4.5 to 4.9 range, and I don’t expect it to change much.

The third difference is I am finally feeling like myself again after struggling with health issues from October through May.  I am filled with gratitude every time I tee it up after confronting the prospect of not being able to play the game I love.

So, I’m very much looking forward to summer and fall because the hard courses (Myrtle Beach) on my schedule are behind me.  Who knows, maybe I can slice a shot off the old index?  While the total metrics grade out in the B to C range, it’s feeling like straight A’s!

How’s the mid-point state of your season coming?  Ready for the big July 4th weekend on the golf course?  I am!

 

Posted in Instruction, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Possum Trot – Course Review

Putting green and cart barn at Possum Trot

Putting green and cart barn at Possum Trot

This is the fifth and final installment of course reviews from our 2015 Myrtle Beach trip.  We played Possum Trot in North Myrtle Beach, SC on Tuesday, June 9, 2015.  Possum Trot was the first course on the Glens package that included Shaftesbury Glen, Glen Dornoch, and Heather Glen.  The course has that muni look and feel and I would advise playing it first or last in your line-up depending on whether you like to ease into your week or finish on a soft note.  We had it second behind Tidewater and definitely felt the drop in class.  In retrospect, I probably would have scheduled Possum Trot last in a six day trip because the urge to replay at this course wasn’t that great, and after 11 rounds in six days, neither is your energy level.

The strength of Possum Trot is in the par threes.  There are some beauties and the 13th (last photo below) is the best and brings back an awesome memory because I hit my best shot of the trip here (4-iron from 199 yards to one foot).  The surfaces are all Bermuda and the greens were running smooth and medium slow except for #6, 7, and 8.  This group is in a low area on the front nine and had been under stress.  Aerated and chewed up, these three were barely playable and badly in need of better air circulation.  Playing conditions on the rest of the course were decent, but the concrete on the cart paths was crumbling in several spots and was in need of some serious repair.

In our morning round, we played the white tees,  If you are driving it well, it felt like you could overpower the course which I did, even though I’m not a big hitter.  I had a lot of wedges into the par-4s and counted numerous scoring opportunities on my way to a 1-over 73.  In the afternoon we replayed from the blue tees from 600+ yards back and got rained on a bit, and the course played considerably more difficult.

Value (3.0 out of 5.0)

Again, excellent value as part of the overall Glens package, but the conditions on this track were not up to snuff or at least to the other Glen courses standards.  Also, when we checked in, the pro shop gave us three baskets of balls to share between six golfers, which I thought was odd since balls were included as part of the package.  Couldn’t tell if this was a nickle and dime job or just an oversight.

Mark on the par-5 first hole

Mark on the par-5 first hole

Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)

The course works from a no-frills very small clubhouse that’s essentially a pro-shop snack bar combo.  The bag drop area was a little cramped and chaotic when we arrived because the morning men’s group was arriving as well, and they didn’t seem to have enough staff to unload cars and load carts.  There is an all grass driving range and putting green with ample room to work on each, and a smaller putting green next to the first tee for those waiting in the queue.  The overall rating is reflective of a mid to lower class facility, across-the-board.

Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)

Once we were loaded, the starter was organized and got us off without issue.  For those of us that replayed in the afternoon, we had our pick of tee times and the course emptied out fast after the men’s group had concluded play.

One of the guys in our group (Mike) is an ardent animal lover and was feeding a squirrel peanuts as we worked our way around the morning round.  This little guy followed us to the clubhouse and observed the pocket that Mike stored his peanuts in and actually chewed a hole in his golf bag to get at the stash while we were breaking for lunch.  We came out and Mike was not too pleased about the hole in his bag, and that one of the cart guys had witnessed the whole fiasco and not taken any steps to shoo the animal away, and was actually laughing with amusement.  Well, this was probably half Mike’s fault, but he didn’t appreciate the non-assistance from the staff member.

We played the white tees at 6,343 yards and par of 72 with a course rating of 70.4/118.  Possum Trot is best used as a warm-up course for your golf trip, or if you are into playing middle to top-tier courses, you could skip this one.  It was a fun day, but I’d hesitate to return because of the conditioning issues with greens 6-8, and there are several better alternatives on the north end of the Strand.

Overall Rating (2.75 out of 5.0)

Par-3 13th hole

Par-3 13th hole

Posted in Course Reviews, Myrtle Beach | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Heather Glen – Course Review

Staging area in the morning at Heather Glen

Staging area in the morning at Heather Glen

We played the red, white, and blue target golf adventure that is Heather Glen, in Little River, SC on Saturday, June 13, 2015.  This golf course is tight off the tee, and coming from the wide open expanses of Shaftesbury Glen the previous day, required an urgent push of the mental reset button.  If you are wild with your driver, expect a long day.  I mixed in enough 3WDs  and was thinking well, and while I didn’t hit many greens, managed to keep it in play and out of trouble.

What we loved about Heather Glen is the total seclusion you enjoy on all three of the nines.  There are no houses on the property and none of the holes impose upon each other so you feel comfortable and spaced, even with the tightness of the layout.  I have played the White nine several years ago, but on this day we traversed the Red/Blue combination.

The playing surfaces are Bermuda through the green, and the greens were in good condition albeit rolling smooth and medium slow.  Big deep bunkers with good course sand adorn much of the course and since the greens are so small, unless you can thread it like Jim Furyk, you will be hitting your share of bunker shots and assorted wedges.  The green-side sand texture was similar to the courses we play in Maryland and I had a good comfortable feel in them and played my sand shots with excellent spin and distance control.

When you arrive at the course, they set you up with range balls and you traverse the one-man wide wooden bridge out to the grass range.  Some of the lies were a little bare on the range and a few of the fairways were a bit scratchy, but the course was in good condition overall.

Heading to the range

Heading to the range

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

Playing on the Glens package with complimentary cart fees, lunch, range balls and replays was great.  We thought we’d get out on the White nine for the afternoon round but didn’t/couldn’t and the value rating would go a bit higher if we could have played all 27 in one day.

Jim lining up to bust one off #1 on the Blue nine

Jim lining up to bust one off #1 on the Blue nine

Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)

Heather Glen has an older modest sized club house, similar in size and stature to Glen Dornoch.  The driving range can handle 15 golfers comfortably, but the practice chipping green (shown above in the first photo) is a single flag in a small area where the grass is allowed to grow.  I’d like them to move this or redesign to something more inviting and accommodating.  As it is now, it’s too close to the pathway to the range and you feel squeezed.  The putting green is large and in good condition, and is located close to the staging area as well.  On the course, we found an ample supply of drinking water every third hole, which was great considering how oppressive the summer heat was.

Customer Experience (2.25 out of 5.0)

The cart guy  was helpful and very hard working and was there from dawn to dusk.  We were visited by the beverage cart with great frequency which was appreciated, but where Heather Glen came up short is at the starter shack.  There was no issue with our morning round but when I checked into the pro shop for our afternoon round, one of my playing partners confirmed with the starter outside that we could play the White nine and then switch to the Red or Blue at the turn.  Excited at the prospect of playing all 27 holes, we drove to the 1st tee five minutes later only to find a group already waiting,  and they were stuck behind a twosome waiting in the fairway.  The starter was nowhere to be found and had made the critical mistake of losing control of his tee.  With 27 holes and groups crossing over and replaying, the starter needed to be out in front controlling traffic and he wasn’t.  After a brief dialog with the group on the tee, they said they would let us go first but we were both still waiting for the twosome in the fairway.  We noticed the 1st tee was open on the Blue nine and elected to shoot over there and tee off.  10 minutes later, we noticed the twosome that was in front of us on the White, behind us on the Blue!  They had gotten frustrated by the pace of play, quit the White and restarted on Blue as well.

On this day, we played the Red/Blue combination from the blue tees which measured 6,773 yards with a par of 72 and a course rating of 73.3/138.  I shot a 79.  Heather Glen is a quality play and is worth the trip but they need to manage the tee more proactively.

Overall Rating (3.25 out of 5.0)

#9 green on the Red nine

#9 green on the Red nine

Posted in Course Reviews, Myrtle Beach | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Glen Dornoch – Course Review

Glen Dornoch Clubhouse

Glen Dornoch Clubhouse

We played Glen Dornoch Golf Links in North Myrtle Beach, SC on Thursday, June 11, 2015.  This was our second of four rounds on the Glens package which is one of the best value plays in the area.  Every visitor to the Grand Strand should make it a point to play Glen Dornoch because the layout is unique, the party-like atmosphere along the Intracoastal Waterway is very entertaining, and the course has an outstanding set of finishing holes.

We arrived for our 8:00 a.m. starting time and there weren’t six cars in the parking lot.  As we warmed up on the all grass driving range, we completely had the course to ourselves and did not feel rushed at all.  I believe we were the first two groups off, and didn’t see another set of golfers until our replay round after lunch.  As it turned out, this was a hot and humid day and Glen Dornoch was playing wet and long.  One of the big challenges on this trip was playing on different conditions at a new course every day and Glen Dornoch fit the bill, especially after playing in the wind and hard fast surfaces at Pawleys the day before.  We immediately noticed our approaches making huge ball marks and felt we could attack the flags without hesitation.

The course opens up with four fairly easy holes to let you ease into your game and then hits you upside the head with a 560 yard par-5 and it’s game on!  As you move through the front, you come to #8 which is a brutal dogleg right par-5 that plays 540 yards into the wind coming off the waterway (photo below of the approach shot).   It’s followed by the long par-4 ninth, that parallels the waterway and demands power and accuracy.

The entire course is about placement off the tee, but requires that you drive it solid to get in the correct positions.  #16, 17, and 18 are some of the toughest finishing holes on The Strand.  #16 is a downhill par-4 of 413 yards with ample room to land your drive.  The yardage book says favor the right but the left is a better spot.  Wherever you play from, when you arrive at your ball, you are faced with an approach to a target about the size of a gnat’s rear end – good luck!  #17 is a 182 yard par-3 that plays into the wind with trouble everywhere, and #18 is a par-4 of 427 yards with a split fairway that dares you to hit it about 230 yards on the left route to clear the marsh and get a shorter shot in.  I played the bailout (chicken) route twice but managed to par it both times using my lob wedge, which was the highlight of my afternoon.  If you can play the last three holes in 2-over par, you are doing fine.

Mike and Dylan at the clubhouse

Mike and Dylan at the clubhouse

Value (4.5 out of 5.0)

The Glens package (see Shaftesbury Glen review) is an incredible deal.  For golf nuts and enthusiasts who are crazy enough to play 36 per day for six straight days, the prospect of free golf in the afternoons is tempting.  The state of the national golf economy is in general decline but there are some deals to be had in Myrtle Beach, and this is probably the best package we’ve ever played on.

Facilities (3.25 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse at Glen Dornoch is of modest size and has a decent grill to get your food.  Complimentary lunch on the package was a sandwich or hotdog, soda and chips.  The choices didn’t vary much from course to course, although they did offer pizza at Shaftesbury Glen.  You can eat inside or take it on the porch and enjoy watching the players finishing on #9, or just hang out and enjoy all the sightseeing boats and jet skis flying up and down on the Intracoastal Waterway.  The boat horns, occasional music, and jovial atmosphere make play along the finishing holes entertaining and unique.

There was the same minor issue with non-inclusion of sand mix on the golf carts, as was the case at all the other Glens courses.  Again, if you are playing on Bermuda fairways, you should be filling your divots.

#9 green in front of the Intracoastal Waterway

#9 green in front of the Intracoastal Waterway

Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)

We paced ourselves easily in the morning round and played in a little over four hours.  Again, we had the course to ourselves except for frequent visits from the beverage cart, which was appreciated because of the heat and the need to stay hydrated.  There was a good supply of cold water coolers around the course at regular intervals.

It was definitely a slow day at the course, but the small cloth bags for range balls that we had used in the morning were still littered about the range as we teed off for our afternoon round.  While very minor, the staff should have cleaned up the range area and kept it looking sharp.  We actually ran into a couple groups in the afternoon round, but we were playing as a twosome and decided to pace ourselves a bit and give them room.

On this day, we played the blue tees at 6,446 yards which played to a par of 72 and a course rating of 71.2/137.  I carded an 83.  Glen Dornoch was a great place to spend 10 hours on a hot lazy Thursday afternoon.  I will be back!

Mike on #1 tee

Mike on #1 tee

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

Party boat behind #8 green.

Party boat behind #8 green.

Posted in Course Reviews, Myrtle Beach | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

U.S. Open Report Card

from Golfdigest.com

from Golfdigest.com

The 2015 U.S. Open was all over the map as far as major tournaments go, so let’s make some sense of everything and grade out the main components.

Sunday Theater (Grade:  A minus).  I watched hours of action each day, but always look forward to the Sunday finishes of major tournaments, and this did not disappoint.  Unlike the snoozer at the last two Masters, the back nine on Sunday was awesome.  From Spieth and Johnson’s struggles with pressure, to the mini charges by McIlroy and Oosthuizen, and the courageous effort of Jason Day to stand upright and compete, the story lines were riveting.  Gets an A plus except for the balloon-popping 3-putt finish by Johnson.  Even Spieth seemed deflated, albeit momentarily.  What a horrible way to lose.

Holly Sonders photo - awfulannouncing.com

Holly Sonders
photo – awfulannouncing.com

Fox Broadcast Team (Grade: C).  Way too many four man talking head panels.  Reminiscent of their NFL pregame show and halftime updates.  Where was Terry and Jimmy?  Would have also preferred fewer human interest stories and more live golf.  Were they practicing for the Olympics?  Joe Buck was okay as the top guy and Greg Norman had some good insights, although the attempt to describe the details of Day’s medical condition didn’t go well.  The post game debrief sessions with Holly Sonders were short, to the point, and well done.

Chambers Bay Golf Course (Grade:  D plus).  Failed the standard of providing a full mental and physical test for the hardest tournament in the world.  Too quirky and too many bad bounces for good shots, but at the end of the day, even-par turned out to be a good score.  The greens, the greens, the greens. . .ad nauseam.  Thank goodness we’re going back to Oakmont next year.

U.S.G.A. (Grade:  C minus).  These guys took a risk with Chambers Bay and flopped.  That’s two years in a row of questionable layouts for our nation’s championship.  This was by far more controversial than the Pinehurst #2 redesign, but to their credit, they saved the Sunday round with accessible pin placements and didn’t make a mockery of the event.  Yes, it was an easier layout.  Look no further than Adam Scott’s final round 64 and Oosthuizen’s 29 on the inward half as proof.  The stuffed shirts WERE feeling the heat from the media and players, no matter what you hear/believe from Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

Player’s professionalism (Grade:  B minus).  A lot of whining about the greens, mostly from players who couldn’t putt them, like Sergio and Billy Horschel.  Joe Buck tried to set up Jordan Spieth,  at the trophy ceremony, to take a shot at the course but J.S. wouldn’t bite.  Great job praising the Seattle area fans and leaving the course out of it.  Spieth is truly an awesome champion and exemplifies everything that is right about the game today.

Billy Horschel from Golfdigest.com

Billy Horschel
from Golfdigest.com

What’s your grade for the U.S. Open?

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Shaftesbury Glen – Course Review

IMG_1346

My travel group played Shaftesbury Glen in Conway, SC on Friday, June 12, 2015.  This was the third of four courses in our Glens summer golf package which was a tremendous value.  Shaftesbury is unique in the Glens group because it’s the only course with A-1 Bent grass greens.  The rest are Bermuda, and golfers from the north and Mid-Atlantic areas who are used to playing on Bent will find Shaftesbury’s surfaces a welcome respite from the grainy tough to read Bermuda that is prevalent in the Myrtle Beach area.  The issue with Bent in this climate is maintainability during hot weather.  It was hot when we played and we found the greens smooth, a bit slow, very firm, and difficult to hold approach shots.  I loved the surfaces after playing all week on Bermuda and adapted quickly in my morning round, taking only 28 putts.

Shaftesbury is a straight forward course with no surprises.  Located several miles inland, you don’t get the benefit of the persistent on-shore breeze that the courses closer to the coast are accustomed to, and as a result, the course doesn’t dissipate moisture well and can get and stay wet in the summer humidity.

Architected by Clyde Johnson, you’ll find the sight-lines off the tee very pleasing to your eye which should allow you to drive the ball well.  There’s ample room to miss on most tee shots and the bunkering is beautifully done and precisely frames many of the holes.  The layout is very flat but many of the greens are raised about six to 10 feet above the fairway and are protected by deep bunkers with good quality hard coarse sand.  You need to add about 1/2 club on the approaches to handle these benign elevation changes.

Fran getting ready to play.

Fran getting ready to play.

Value (4.5 out of 5.0)

Our round was part of The Glens package, which included golf, carts, lodging, free range balls, lunch, and complimentary replays on the four Glens courses (we added rounds at Tidewater and Pawleys) for a total price of $550.  You simply cannot beat this value for your golfing dollar.  I didn’t think to ask about the regular replay rate, but there is a nominal fee for range balls (I believe $3.00) for non-package players.  Again, with the all-inclusive rate, we had nothing to focus on except playing our best golf and enjoying ourselves.

The green at #5

The green at #5

Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)

Conditioning of the course, all-grass driving range, and practice putting green was very good.  There were ample supplies of good cool drinking water at regular intervals around the course, which was important because of the unyielding heat.

What’s odd about Shaftesbury is the staging area configuration.  The bag drop is right next to the clubhouse but the driving range and putting green are at the other end of the parking lot and while there are plenty of cart parking spots next to the range, they do not let you ride to the range.  So you’re left with the option of hauling your bag the length of the parking lot and hauling it back to put it on a cart before play.  This was the case several years ago when I first played the course and oddly remains the practice.  I suppose they feel they may lose a measure of control if they let golfers ride to the range, but I would advise they open up and try it.

Another commonality with the course and the three other Glen courses is the lack of sand mix on the golf carts.  Most courses with Bermuda fairways provide a bottle of sand mix to fill in fairway divots, but there was none.  Not sure if the greens crew repaired divots around the course every evening, but taking a chunk of the course out with your irons and not repairing felt awkward.  This should be the responsibility of the golfers and the mix should be provided.

Dylan, on his way to a career best 76!

Dylan, on his way to a career best 76!

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

Service from the clubhouse staff was excellent, especially the very nice lady staffing the grill.  She went out of her way on the little things like refilling our water bottles from the soda fountain, providing free refills on soft drinks, to busing our tables.  We noticed and a shout out goes to her.

There were five of us who wanted to replay in the afternoon.  Certainly an awkward number, so we asked the starter if we could play as a fivesome.  He said we needed to tee off as a threesome and a twosome and if nobody pressed us after we were out on the course, to join up.  We played the last 15 holes in the afternoon round as a fivesome and had a delightful time.

On this day, I shot a 76 from the white tees which measured 6,445 yards and played to a par of 72 with a course rating of 71.5/135.   Shaftesbury Glen is a fun play and will be on my course rotation for future trips to Myrtle Beach.

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

The author taking a break during the afternoon round.

The author taking a break during the afternoon round.

Posted in Course Reviews, Myrtle Beach | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pawleys Plantation – Course Review

Clubhouse at Pawleys

Clubhouse at Pawleys

We played Pawleys Plantation Golf and Country Club in Pawleys Island, SC on Wednesday June 10, 2015.  As you enter the grounds and approach the stately clubhouse of this Jack Nicklaus design, you can’t help but sense the architect’s love of Augusta National, and the impact the club had on the way he laid out this project.  Tanglewood Drive is lined with large beautiful live oaks dangling Spanish moss, and immaculately landscaped touches adorn every pathway and corner.  It has been at least since 2006 when I last played Pawleys, and the course has grown in immensely, and in a great way.

Value (3.75 out of 5.0)

We added Pawleys as a last minute substitute for Barefoot Love because of poor conditions at Barefoot, and were glad we did.  Our package price actually dropped $10 per man and the playing experience at Pawleys tops Barefoot.  Last time down I recall a very expensive replay rate at Pawleys and the afternoon tee sheet was booked, so we weren’t sure we’d get back on for a second round.  Imagine our surprise when they hit us with a minimal $30 replay fee and any tee time we wanted.  Value gets a 4.0 rating except they charge for range balls ($4.00) and everything should be included at this class of course.

Facilities (4.0 out of 5.0)

Pawleys clubhouse is beautiful and as you enter the pro shop, you see Jack’s framed even-par 72 scorecard proudly displayed behind the front desk.  His was the first round played here when the course opened in 1988.

The practice grass driving range is in excellent condition.  There’s a practice putting green of ample size right next to the range and the starter drives out to conveniently announce the next group on the tee which is located close by.  Everything is laid out perfectly, as you would expect someone of Jack Nicklaus’ detail oriented nature to construct.

Mike and Dylan warming up.

Mike and Dylan warming up.

The playing surfaces are all Bermuda and the greens were rolling smooth and at medium speed.  A couple of the fairways had some scratchy lies but they were easy to play from.  Many of the tee shots were framed with large oak trees either on the side or on occasion in the fairway’s line of sight.  It should come as no surprise but Nicklaus wants you to think on every tee shot, as he would have.  Interestingly, there was a mix of doglegs left and not the predominant favoring of the right, as has been the case with so many other Nicklaus designs.

View of the 11th green from the 12th tee

View of the 11th green from the 12th tee

The front nine meanders through a beautiful neighborhood of ponds and superbly landscaped luxury homes, but you don’t feel the neighbors are imposing on your round.  Watch out for the huge alligator that lives in the lake next to the par-3 third hole!  The back nine is drop-dead gorgeous; especially the par three complex of #13 and #17 which both play out on the marsh.  #13 is especially difficult because you’re playing into what is effectively a peninsula with very little bailout area and into the prevailing wind.  The mindset seemed similar to #17 at THE PLAYERS.  We were playing the blue tees, which measure only 115 yards and I flushed an 8-iron which reached in the morning round and had to add a club for the afternoon.  As you can see in the photo, you cannot miss the surface.

#13 green at Pawleys Plantation

#13 green at Pawleys Plantation

Customer Experience (4.25 out of 5.0)

The minute we arrived, the cart guys had our clubs out of the car and provided snappy accurate service all day.  The proshop staff were friendly and very professional, and made our replay experience the best.  Lastly, the chicken salad wrap and potato salad I had in the pub was superb.   Definitely stop by for some delicious eats between rounds.

Pawleys measures 6,549 yards from the blue tees with a 73.7/144 course rating.  I shot an 82.  This is a top-10 play in the Myrtle Beach area, do not miss it on your next time down!

Overall Rating (4.0 out of 5.0)

Mike at the par-4 10th hole

Mike at the par-4 10th hole

Posted in Course Reviews, Myrtle Beach | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

2015 U.S. Open Picks

Jordan Spieth from ABC news

Jordan Spieth from ABC news

In 2015, the U.S. Open golf course will be the big news.  The peculiarities and unknowns of Chambers Bay makes handicapping this field a little tricky, but with some reverse logic we can arrive with a solid pick to win.

We know the course is links style with a single tree standing out on the entire property.  It’s long, with four par-4 holes measuring over 500 yards, and the greens are huge.  There’s no shortage of consternation in anticipation of the USGA setting up a carnival ride, at least that’s what you hear from pros like Ian Poulter on social media.  I think it’s in the USGA’s best interest to set up as fair a test as possible because they took a good amount of criticism for the non-traditional setup at Pinehurst last year.  Folks want long, narrow, and slick for the U.S. Open and they’re not going to get it for the second year in a row, so expect the setup to be tough but reasonable.

Let’s look at the contenders.  World #1, Rory McIlroy is the betting favorite at 7:1 but is coming in with zero mojo and off two missed cuts in Europe.  When Rory is on his game, he is the best player in the world, no doubt.  But why is he slumping now?  Over the years, he’s had two recurring problems when he under-achieves:  1) Poor practice habits.  2) Distractions from a love interest.  #2 appears to be in play and I don’t like Rory this week because of it.  Jordan Spieth is next at 8:1 and I love his competitive “anywhere on any course” attitude.  He oozes winning and I would bet the house that he finishes ahead of McIlroy this week.  The rest of the field is way back.  Mickelson, Fowler, Rose, and Dustin Johnson are all at 18:1.  Chambers Bay is unique and will require an inordinate amount of imagination and patience to play well and Phil has the most of those attributes.  Over the years, he’s learned to be patient despite his gambler mentality, but when you picture him and his imagination, you envision high flopping lob shots to impossible pins, not the low running ground game that Chambers Bay will require.  For this reason, I’m feeling good about the defending champion, Martin Kaymer.  Chambers Bay is cutting the fringes to almost the same heights as the putting surfaces.  You may see guys putting from 50 yards off the green and Kaymer loves the putter from the fringe and essentially won at Pinehurst with that play.  He’s an excellent dark horse pick at 40:1.  Lastly, watch our rabble-rouser, Poulter.  He’s playing well on the American tour and the venue suits his hit it anywhere-work the chipping and putting.  If he comes in with a good attitude about the golf course, he could do some damage.

While I’d love to see Phil close the deal on the career slam, he’s got two main obstacles: his age and Jordan Spieth is in the field.  So your 2015 U.S. Open picks:

Winner:  Jordan Spieth

Runner up:  Phil Mickelson – again

Third:  Martin Kaymer

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Indestructeeble Myrtle Beach Golf Trip

The author at Heather Glen Golf Links in Myrtle Beach

The author at Heather Glen Golf Links in Myrtle Beach

Just got back from a fabulous golf trip to Myrtle Beach.  I would have given you long odds back in October that I could have played 36 holes for six straight days in hot weather, but I managed to pull it off and savored every one of them.  Some may wonder about the wisdom of playing so much golf in a compromised state of cardiac fitness and it’s a fair question, but the urge to splurge was difficult to overcome.  I did average 3.5 strokes per round higher in the afternoon replay rounds, which is an indicator of some fatigue, but I was having too much fun to stop and didn’t feel my health was at risk at any time.

This year’s venues were a mixture of high and middle end courses with different playing surfaces and widely varying conditions.  From a performance standpoint, only you as a player know in your heart whether the trip was a success, and mine was.  The self assessment:

  • Driving: B
  • Putting: A minus
  • Irons: C
  • Chipping B minus
  • Pitching C minus
  • Bunker: B
  • Course management / mental game:  B plus

Metrics:

  • Holes played:  216
  • Stroke average:  80.92
  • GIR average:  6.83
  • Putts per round:  30.08
  • Low round:  1-over 73 at Possum Trot
  • High round: 85, three times:  Possum Trot, Pawleys Plantation, Glen Dornoch

An interesting side note:  I hit every tee shot with my driver and 3WD using the same plastic frictionless tee.  I found this tee on my April trip to Myrtle Beach and have now played 20 straight rounds without losing it.  During our Wednesday round at Pawleys, the guys played a trick on me when the tee popped out after a drive and landed at the feet of my friend Mike who stepped on it and let me search for about 30 seconds in a panic fearing it was lost.  I’ve done a bit of research on frictionless tees and most are three pronged, but this one (pictured below) is prong-less.  Anyone recognize the model?

The famous frictionless tee

The famous frictionless tee

At Pawleys, the 13th and 17th holes are both par-3s that play out over seaside marshes.  The teeing area is a long narrow stretch of elevated grass and cart path.  I almost made the mistake of teeing up an iron on #17 with the treasured peg, but quickly replaced with a standard tee, because any forward or backward displacement of the tee would have found the marsh and ended the adventure.  As the trip neared it’s close, every tee shot took on greater importance and the preservation of the tee had a life of its own.

Jim on the narrow teeing area at Pawleys.

Jim on the narrow teeing area at Pawleys.

The peg is no longer round at the top and looks more pentagonal from being battered about for 20 rounds.  It might be time to retire this thing and call the World Golf Hall of Fame to see if there’s an endurance record.

Course reviews are coming, stay tuned!

 

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Myrtle Beach 2015 Is Here!

With all the graduations, family activities, and work related distractions, I have never prepared less for a golf trip.  I am going down with basically zero practice and two rounds played in the last three weeks.  In years past, I’ve tended to over-prepare mentally and physically for the six day (36 holes per day) marathon, but this year I have no expectations.  Will just show up and play with what I have, but I’ve got a sneaky good feeling for some reason.  The line-up:

  1. Tidewater, 6/8
  2. Possum Trot, 6/9
  3. Pawleys Plantation, 6/10
  4. Glen Dornoch, 6/11
  5. Shaftsbury Glen, 6/12
  6. Heather Glen, 6/13

Course reviews are coming on the last five tracks, stay tuned and play well!

Brian

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Weathering Golf’s Perfect Storm

StormHow do you handle a situation when everything in the game breaks against you at the same time?  My perfect storm happened on Sunday.  These events,  like their counterparts in nature, rarely happen all at once but are a culmination of factors that build up days in advance, and this was no exception.

My problem started Saturday with a very poor ball striking session on the driving range.   I hadn’t played in two weeks, but it was so poor that I grabbed my iPhone, took some swing video, and brought it home for instant analysis.  I caught the culprit, but the seeds of mental discourse were sown because thinking about a mechanical change the day before you play is never a good idea.  I did have a productive short game session and felt confident in my chipping and putting, but I also figured I’d be relying heavily on these since I didn’t expect to catch lightning in a bottle with the swing fix.

Sunday’s warmup started off predictably, with my newly identified swing fix not working at all.  Vet4golfing51 says that you need to find your swing for the day, and this was clearly not mine, so I took the last 10 balls and thought only of hitting them at the target.  Oddly enough, I started striping it.  (I’ve found this an effective technique when you need a pre-round or mid-round correction, but it only works until you see the first of the shots you are trying to avoid reappear.  A true WOOD band-aid.)  Armed with a smidgen of confidence, I headed towards the practice green.  After rolling a few putts, the starter announced the group in front of us had not arrived and we were pushed up to take their place, so we rushed over to the first tee.  #1 at Northwest is an innocuous par-4 of about 370 yards with little trouble from tee to green.  A well struck drive usually leaves me a short iron in, so I’m thinking “driver, 8-iron” but on this day they had the tees all the way back and a stiff two club wind had kicked up in our face.  With the swing fixes, the rushed start, and the toughened conditions, my 1st tee mental state was a bubbling concoction of garbage.  I tried to relax and managed to clip my drive a little off the heel but in the middle of the fairway.  Still 200 yards out and faced with a stiff wind, I had to adjust my thinking from “8-iron” to “knock-down 3WD” and promptly topped the spoon about 70 yards.  I knocked the next one on and three-putted from about 40 feet for a double bogey.

Now in the eye of the storm I took another three-putt double on #2 and a three-putt bogey on #3.  I’ve gotten off to bad starts before but this was ridiculous because my putting had been the best part of my game this season, and was letting me down.  With the prospects of no golf swing and a balky putter, my head was spinning.

How do you recover from these type of starts?  I did what has worked for me in the past, and drew a vertical line after the third hole (my mental restart line) and told myself to forget the first three holes and that there was a lot of golf left to play.  For some reason, this calms me and allows me to refocus.  Second, I recommitted to playing my approaches below the hole even if that meant missing a green short.  Northwest’s greens are huge and sloping.  All of my opening three-jacks had been from poor positioning above the hole.

The ship stabilized and while I didn’t play great coming in, still navigated the last 15 holes in five-over par.  At the end of the day, my 82 was not a handicap round, but the house was still standing.  Have you ever gotten off to a rough start like this?  How did you weather your perfect storm?

Posted in Instruction | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

How To Improve Focus For Golf

focusThis year I am making a concerted effort to simplify every aspect of my game from my fundamentals to my thinking.  A key component is improved focus during play and practice.  During early rounds, I have met with my share of successes and failures but have noticed that during periods of good play my focus is laser sharp.  During a stretch of poor play, I found my mind wandering and have tried to force myself to concentrate better.  Is good focus a byproduct of good play or can you force it?  The ultimate chicken and the egg scenario appears to be a bit of both.  I have found a few tricks to help me improve my focus and thought I would share.

If you’ve read, Putting Out of Your Mind by Bob Rotella, one of the key concepts he keeps coming back to is focusing on the smallest target possible.  Olympic target shooters have always attempted to “aim small, miss small” and I’ve found this helpful, not just in putting, but for chipping and full swing.

Putting:  On the green and especially for short putts, if you zero in on a blade of grass on the edge of the cup you expect your ball to enter on, and keep focused in on that spot, right up to the point before you pull the trigger, it seems to free up your mind and body to make a better stroke.  Jordan Spieth leverages this concept by looking at his target even while making the stroke and who’s to argue with his results?

The Masters champ focuses in. Photo by wsj.com

The Masters champ focuses in.
Photo by wsj.com

Chipping:  While practicing chipping or pitching, I’ve found it useful to place two tees on the green a few yards apart and work to land my ball as close to each using different clubs.  If you practice chipping without focusing on a landing point, sometimes you’ll hit a poor chip that may end up close to the hole.  May make you feel good at the time but won’t help you out on the course.  By zeroing in on your landing spot, you can use the same club and learn how different swings produce different ball flights and spin patterns.  I’ve got some work to do in eliminating the chip yips that infected me from late last season, but this technique has helped improve my concentration and ability to trust my practice swing.  Side note:  if you have the chip yips, it’s either a technique issue or one of trust, which was true in my case.

Full Swing:  On your full swings, try and zero in on the smallest point in the distance and as high off the ground as possible.  This can be a tree top, apex of a distant building’s roof, power pole, or anything.  Keep that target in your mind’s eye, even while you start your swing, and you’ll free yourself up to make a move free of mechanical thoughts.  I do use an intermediate spot on the ground to set my initial alignment, but always ensure it corresponds to a distant high point I can focus on as a target.  Not sure why the high point strategy works, it just does.

Finally, you’ll find that rehearsing good focus techniques on small targets is not easy, especially during practice.  It’s hard when your mind tends to wander because the shots don’t matter.  But if you can focus on improving your ability to focus, you will play better.   Got any techniques that have helped improve your focus?   Please share and good luck!

 

Posted in Instruction | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Dinged By The Donkey

Picture by illinoisreview.typepad.com

Picture by illinoisreview.typepad.com

Do you ever play golf at a course and know before you tee off you’re going to play bad?  Does this happen at a course that is a repeat offender?  It does for me and happened again yesterday.  Why do these nemesis courses hold a spell over us and what can we do about it?  Do you have any strategies?

The Plan:  I ventured out to Poolesville, a seemingly innocuous municipal track in western Montgomery County, where I never play well.  My approach would be to play it while in the midst of a hot streak and hope my good play would carry over for the day.  The game plan was to warm up exactly as I had for my two previous rounds: chip, putt, hit range balls, and go.

I knew I was in trouble after my first chip on the practice green rolled 30 feet past the flag and off the surface.  The greens were lightning fast, and the first three rounds of the season I had played on slow to medium speed greens.  So the entire time I was warming up on the range, I was thinking, “How am I going to handle these fast greens?”  Coincidentally, I didn’t strike it well while warming up.  See anything wrong with this picture?

So off I went and I immediately short-sided myself with my approach on #1.  I flubbed a pitch shot which led to a double.  It seems I double this first hole every time out, which is a source of frustration and is always in the back of my mind.  Fast forward after six holes and I was 8-over with three doubles on the card, and I got downright mad because this meaningless muni was beating me down like a rented mule.  The course was totally in my head.

The adjustment:  When your game goes to crap you can either give up or change something.  Never give up.  Usually, I’ll make one of two types of adjustments depending on how bad the garbage smells.  If my head is full of swing thoughts, I’ll dump them all and just fire at the target, but this wasn’t a swing pretzel day.  I wasn’t hitting it well, but the culprit was poor course management.  The second type of adjustment is to mentally start over.  I quickly recalled a comment a reader once made about a round they had played with Mike Weir.  They said that Mike was playing this particular course for the first time and didn’t make a putt all day, but shot 67 because he never missed a green in the wrong spot.  Exactly the reminder I needed.  So I drew a line on the scorecard after the sixth hole to represent a restart on #7, and scribbled out three words:  “BELOW THE HOLE” on the card.  I find that if you place a visual reminder somewhere, it often works to solidify and reinforce a commitment you need to make and I needed to stop shooting at the flags and ensure that when I missed my targets, they missed in the right spots.

There’s a lot to be said for good course management even if it means playing more defensively.  After the adjustment, I went into stability mode and played the last 12 holes in 3-over par (2-over on the back nine while only hitting one green in regulation).  At the end of the day, the carnage wasn’t too bad but the course had won again.  Next time out, I’ll be armed with some better course management strategies and hopefully will be able to clear all remaining mental baggage.  I’m gonna get you Poolesville!

 

Posted in Instruction | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

How Do You Set Your Goals?

How do you set your performance goals? Conventional thinking is that goals should be SMART:

  • Specific.
  • Measurable.
  • Attainable.
  • Relevant.
  • Time Bound.

I usually come up with SMART goals for the season that center around achieving a specific scoring average, reducing number of putts, improving my GIR, etc., and I suspect yours look similar. But what about that secret goal you keep in the back of your mind that you’re afraid to publish because you might not get there. Should you put it out there? Don’t be afraid; do it! Everyone has these “stretch goals” and if you clearly envision them and formulate your improvement roadmap to hit them, even if they are long term and seemingly out of reach, you’ll ultimately feel more in control of your destiny and can take a more methodical approach and weather the inevitable ups and downs. And oh baby, if you hit them, watch out!

My new stretch goal, is to sustain a period of excellence over a short burst of time that tells me, I can still play to the level that I once did when I played my best. Specifically, the goal is to repeat a scenario I experienced once in my life in the mid-1990s when I played three straight rounds on three straight days at par or better. I was in the “Zone” for all three rounds and have never come close since then. Playing one round in the Zone is fabulous, but three in a row was incredible. I’m thinking of this because I tasted the Zone last week for a brief five-hole stretch, and loved it. Despite the quick exit, the touch has me juiced and motivated.

Changing your stretch goal because of current circumstances or the realities of life is fine as well. I try to keep my SMART goals in the current season (Time Bound), but the stretch goal is elastic. For example: In 2011, my stretch goal was to lower my handicap to zero from five. The lowest it had ever been was between a 1 and 2 back when I was in my 20s and playing a lot more golf than I do now. Was that a reasonable stretch goal? Maybe, but I quickly learned that a working desk jockey playing 35 rounds a year in his mid-50s and practicing once per week wasn’t going to hit pay dirt, so I adjusted. I am modeling after a guy on tour who is two years my junior (Vijay Singh). There is nobody more dedicated to improvement and excellence, but the truth is, Vijay cannot play as well as he did 10 years ago no matter how long he practices and how badly he wants to compete. I’m not telling Vijay to quit, and I love it when he goes low for a short stretch like he did at Northern Trust, but I don’t expect him to win a regular tour event any more.

So hopefully I will be entering the “Vijay Zone.” Perhaps a place where no man has gone before. Do you have a secret stretch goal?  Care to share?

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hot Start To 2015 Golf Season

HotNot sure what is going on with my golf game but I’m enjoying some early speed in the race for improvement in 2015.  I started the year with a modest goal of being able to walk 18 holes by the end of April and not experience any physical symptoms from my HCM.  Today I walked my second 18-hole round without difficulty and managed to back up last week’s 2-over 74 at Myrtle Beach National with a 1-over 71 on my home course.  I can’t recall coming out of the blocks this fast in the last 10 years and am trying not to over-analyze the reasons and just enjoy the ride.  But over-analyze is what I do, so here goes.  Maybe you can find a nugget or two that might help you.

The first key is a lesson I learned from last year’s dreadful start (92 on opening day) and some excellent advice I received from The Grateful Golfer.  Jim reminded me not to take the early season results too seriously and to ease into my game after the long winter layoff.  In 2015 I did this by walking 9-holes on my executive course on consecutive weekends and playing several balls without keeping score.  As a result, I relaxed for the start of the 18-hole rounds and played with less sense of urgency.  Jim, thanks for the reality check!

Second, I’ve sometimes found that if you are physically ill, or worrying about your health, it takes your mind off your golf game and you play better.  Has this ever happened to you?  I recall playing a round one year in my mid-20s when I was sick to my stomach and shot lights out.  Weird but true.  To be honest, my disorder is always on my mind and when I’m on the golf course I am filled with gratitude that I’m just able to play the game I love, and am not worrying about results.

Third, I’m beginning to wonder if this Rx I’m on isn’t having a positive effect.  Beta blockers are illegal on the PGA Tour for a reason.  They lower your heart rate and theoretically help you deal with pressure and nerves to an unfair advantage.  In my first 54 holes, I have yet to three-putt and feel very confident, calm, and trusting on the greens.

Finally, and most importantly, I heeded the advice of The Birdie Hunt and committed to returning to basics and not overhauling any part of my game over the winter, as I had done to disastrous results in previous years.  My only thoughts during practice and play are to check alignment, make a full shoulder turn, and clear my hips on the downswing.  Contact with my irons was solid last week and again today with 14 GIR.

So I’m going to continue to try hard not to try too hard and just let the game come to me.  Hope you can do the same.  How’s the opening of your season going?

Posted in Instruction, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

How Tiger’s Masters Helped My Golf Game

The most awesome thing about golf is that it’s the one sport where amateurs can relate to issues their favorite touring pros are suffering from.  Despite the difference in skill level, it’s possible, on occasion, to achieve greatness at the same level as the best players in the world.  For example, a middle-aged round belly like me has no idea what it’s like to try to hit a 95 mph fast ball 400 feet over a wall.  I’ll never know, but I could conceivably birdie the toughest golf hole on a tour track with a couple purely struck shots and a little luck.

from thesun.co.uk

from thesun.co.uk

So, this past week, I eagerly anticipated the return of Tiger Woods to active competition, and was paying particular attention to Tiger’s chipping since both he and I have been suffering from the chip yips for a protracted period.  I’m sure my problems were much worse, but his were more magnified.  Either way, I was paying close attention to see how he handled himself under the pressure of a major.  I heard all the pre-tournament talk from Tiger about how he, “worked his ass off,” during his long layoff, but the true nugget was when I learned he changed out all his wedges.  Ever since I changed my wedges out a couple years ago, I’ve struggled greenside with my chips and pitches using my 58.  The bladed low ball has become an unwanted playing partner and the longer it stayed, the more it started to infect my thinking and other parts of my short game.

Fast forward to Masters Thursday and I was at Whispering Pines in Myrtle Beach practicing for my Friday round at Myrtle Beach National.  The blade ball had reared it’s ugly head again and I was starting to panic with the prospect of hitting low screamers from tight Bermuda lies.  Then I remembered Tiger changing out his wedges and figured what the heck.  I started hitting the same shots with my 54 instead of the 58.  Bingo!  All touch and feel returned, as did the nice little “thump” you get from a purely struck short shot off a tight lie.  After a few adjustments for the lower loft, I was making clean contact every time and getting them close.  I was thinking the blade ball was being caused by too much bounce on the flange of the 58, but still wasn’t sure.

The next day, during my pre-round warm up, I chipped with the 54 and actually made a couple.  Then I went out and shot a tidy little 2-over 74 which was unexpected, but felt natural with the returned boost in confidence.  If you don’t think a little confidence in one small area can take your game a long way, you are highly mistaken!  I didn’t hit the ball that great, but was relaxed and got it up and down out of some trash can lies.

I used to play these shots with a 56, then moved to the 58 with the new clubs, and now it’s down to a 54.  So what’s four degrees of loft here or there?  Has this ever happened to you?  Please share if you have a similar experience.

Thanks Tiger!

 

Posted in Instruction | Tagged , , , , , , | 17 Comments

2015 Masters Picks

77Augusta National, like no other venue tests a player’s patience, persistence, and concentration.  To win The Masters, players need to contend for 63 holes then charge on the back nine on Sunday.  More important than shooting a very low round is avoiding a bad day.  A deep dive into the tournament archives  reveals that over the last 60 years, avoiding one bad number has been the key to Masters victory.

Jack Nicklaus is arguably the greatest Masters player of all time.  From 1959 through 1993, Jack had only three rounds of 77 or worse in 125 played; just incredible consistency.  He won with two 74s on the card in 1963 and a 76 in the second round in 1966.  But when players card a 77, it’s basically over.  In the last 62 years, only Nick Faldo in 1989 has won the tournament after recording a 77 for one of his four rounds.  Go back to Sam Snead in 1952, for the next round of 77, to find another champion.     So as we don our green jackets and settle into marathon coverage with our pimento cheese sandwiches, know that as soon as your favorite shoots 5-over for the day, he’s cooked.  Just ask Greg Norman (1996) how that works.

For 2015, let’s see who can avoid the big number and who’s primed to win it.  Get your Calcutta ready.

Group 1:  “Masters Champions.”  (Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods)  Adam Scott has shot three 77s or worse in 48 Masters rounds, but none since 2008.  Good recent consistency, ball striking is in excellent form, but his putting is horrible after switching from the broomstick.  Might make the cut, but you gotta roll the rock.  He will not contend.  Defending champion Bubba Watson is in excellent form.  Bombs it off the tee, short game is razor sharp, 2/24 at 77 or worse with rounds in 2011 and 2013 respectively, and he’s controlling his emotions.  Great value play at 10/1 odds.  Three time champion, Phil Mickelson has played 84 Masters rounds and fired only two at 77 or worse; amazing consistency for the proverbial roller coaster rider.  But Lefty will hit 45 years old in June and hasn’t been in good form over the past two Masters.  Scores are going up with age.  Maybe he makes the cut.  Tiger Woods; no chance.  Just listed as a courtesy.

Group 2:  “Other Major Winners.” (Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose)  Rory McIlroy brings the Air 3-Iron show to Georgia and is a bit off mentally.  Game is suited for Augusta with his high ball flight, but five of 22 Masters rounds are at 77 or worse; with one each in the last five tournaments.  Enough talent to finish top-10 in his sleep, but I want to see him get over the psychological dumpster on this track before I ride him.  Martin Kaymer has only one 77 out of 20 rounds but has never finished higher than 31st.  You need to be a great chipper to win at Augusta.  Kaymer is not and is more comfortable putting from off the green.  I don’t like the fit.  He will make the cut but bide his time waiting to defend at the U.S. Open.  Justin Rose has only three bad rounds out of 36 and has never missed a Masters cut.  Last five years have all been top-25 finishes.  Is moving in the right direction and is more seasoned with pressure since his U.S. Open victory.  Will be in the top-10.

Group 3:  “First Major?”  (Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Ricky Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Jason Day)  Matt Kuchar has the best shot in this cast.  His short game and putting could be best on tour and the ex-Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket is very comfortable on the grounds.  Could be his year but he already feels overdue.  Dustin Johnson is playing great but doesn’t have the short game to win here.  Sergio Garcia has a long record of futility at Augusta.  Six bad rounds out of 54 were mostly early in his career, but he’s got that choke mentality on the back nine on Sunday and that’s where The Masters is won.  Ricky Fowler tied for fifth last year and has not missed a cut in his four appearances.  With only one bad round in 16, I look for a top-10.  Henrik Stenson is the world’s #2 player, but as Judge Smails said in Caddyshack, “Some people just don’t belong.”

The Judge from spartanswill.forumotion.com

The Judge
from spartanswill.forumotion.com

Henrik hasn’t belonged at Augusta because the course is in his head.  He’s got three rounds in the 80s and five at 77 or worse out of 30.  Awesome ball striker but historically poor around the greens, despite some improvement this year.  Despite the angst, he’ll rebound and post a top-20.  I keep asking myself when Jordan Spieth will win a major.  He’s always in contention, but burns a little hot at times and must control his temper in this event.  He’s not the straightest ball striker but that won’t hurt him at Augusta.  Missing 3-5 foot putts will, and I’m not sure he’s sold on this looking at the hole part time putting method.  If he figures it out, could win it.  Patrick Reed is not one of the top five players in the world but is in the top 10.  Awesome in match play format but has a very short Masters history.  Needs more seasoning and will not contend this year.  Jason Day was my pick last year and continues to disappoint.  Always gets close and seems to make back-to-back bogeys at the wrong time.  Flights it high like Rory and is suited for the venue, but struggles to control his distances on short irons.  Miss with too many wedges here and you can’t win it.  Look for another top-10.

Final Predictions:

Winner:  Bubba Watson to repeat and weep.

Runner Up:  Jordan Spieth cools his jets and gets closer than ever

Third:  Rory McIlroy keeps all his clubs in the bag, breaks the bad number streak, but no career slam this year

Who do you like?

Bubba Watson from usatoday.com

Bubba Watson
from usatoday.com

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments