Does It Pass The Nicklaus Test?

By now, you’ve seen the video of Phil Mickelson’s moving ball violation on #13 of Saturday’s U.S. Open round.

Was this a violation of the spirit of the competition or simply a smart golfer taking advantage of the rules?  You be the judge.  Phil is a very bright articulate guy.  After watching his explanation to Curtis Strange, his reasoning seemed half plausible.

We can recall numerous accounts of questionable behavior on tour from Rory McIlroy throwing a club into a lake after a bad shot, to Arnold Palmer, one of my boyhood idols, sending a putter into orbit after a three-putt (saw this in person at the Kemper Open), to Tiger Woods exhibiting less than stellar behavior with his temper tantrums and bad language, to just about everything John Daly has ever done including playing a moving ball in the 1999 U.S. Open.

These folks are human and are not perfect, and are under a constant microscope.  But the behavior of professional golfers in general has been excellent.  When I see one of these events, it’s tempting to view it through the eyes of  “the children”.  What would “the children”, with young impressionable and malleable minds be thinking of this?  Doesn’t really matter because “the children’s” idols largely reside in team sports where players have far worse behavioral issues than professional golfers.

I view this behavior through the prism of the Jack Nicklaus Integrity Test.  What would Jack do?  I’m sure he’s had his incidents, but I’ve never seen or heard of an integrity problem with the greatest who’s ever played.  How would he have behaved in such a situation?  I believe Jack would have let the putt finish and played it as it lies.  Sometimes Jack weighs in on these matters, as he did with Rory’s behavior.  Would love to hear his take.

I’m a huge Phil fan, but he was wrong to do this.  What really bugged me in his explanation that he’d been “thinking of doing this several times before.”  Really?  This time Phil outsmarted himself.  What do you think?

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Forecast – 2018 U.S. Open Championship

Shinnecock Hills.  Photo from triblive.com

Historically, the U.S. Open has been the hardest of the four majors to win.  The USGA has setup their venues to require great thinking, punishing rough, and lightning fast greens.  It is the ultimate test in golf.  The first US Open I recall watching was Jerry Pate’s victory in 1976 at the Atlanta Athletic Club, and every year I’ve looked forward to the penal nature of the competition and how it differs from the weekly birdie-fest on the PGA Tour.  The last two years have been a major buzzkill with the ridiculous assault on double-digit under par at Erin Hills and the carnival bounces at Chambers Bay (2016).  I’m looking for full redemption this year.  Shinnecock Hills has been lengthened by 450 yards, the rough has been grown out, and there’s nary a tree in sight to protect the golfers from the winds that are sure to blow from the Atlantic Ocean and Shinnecock Bay.  The course is a national treasure and will not disappoint.

Who’s going to win?  Beats me.  But since I’m in the recreational handicapping business, let’s give it a go.  Picking from this field is a big problem, but a good problem.  As in this year’s Masters, the best and deepest pool of championship caliber golfers ever are competing.  Of course the U.S. Open field is nearly twice the size of The Masters, making prognostication all that more difficult.  Plus, half the Masters field is past champions with no chance.  Here, qualifying is the ultimate merit based system.

I’m sensing this will be a ball striking contest.  Essentially, who can drive it the best and manage the wind.  Rory’s game is suited for links style golf and he’s a great driver of the golf ball.  But he choked in round four of The Masters and I don’t think he’s hitting on all eight cylinders.  Can’t win the U.S. Open with a four-cylinder engine.  Jason Day is in good form and another great driver, but flights it too high.  Jordan Spieth is the best major player in the field.  Best mind in the game, but not the best driver (not even close).  However, Spieth is always contending in every major and will be a factor.  I loved the way Rickie Fowler finished at The Masters.  Seems like he’s getting over his Sunday foibles, and he will be in the mix here.  Of all the awesomely talented players, who’s the best when playing at his best?  Dustin Johnson.  It looks like he’s gaining that extra gear again and will be in the thick of the battle.  Tiger is a lot of folk’s sexy pick, but Shinnecock accentuates his weakness: driving it consistently.  Not his week.  Nobody believes in Bryson Dechambeau except himself – and now me.  As weird as his theories are, they work.  This guy is more science than art, but is becoming scary good.  Finally, the sneaky good fit for this venue is Tommy Fleetwood.  Love his ball flight and familiarity and comfort with links golf.

So who takes it?  The All About Golf Kiss Of Death goes to the best player in the world in the toughest tournament:  DJ.  Spieth is runner up, and Fowler takes third.  Enjoy the action and happy early Father’s Day!

Your 2018 US Open Champion

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Crow Creek – Course Review

Summary:

Our Myrtle Beach travel group played Crow Creek in Calabash, NC on Saturday, June 2, 2018.  This Rick Robbins design held up extremely well during the 2018 harsh winter and we were met with immaculate playing conditions which was a pleasant surprise.  Tropical Storm Alberto had soaked the area earlier in the week and every course we played on was wet and slow except for this beauty.  I had an 8-iron approach on the first hole, caught it fairly well and watched it bounce hard from the front of the green to the back.  The course’s website advertises V8 bentgrass greens, and these were clearly new, beautiful, and held up very well after the winter.

If you can drive it you can score here but if you are crooked, you’re going to struggle with the ample forced carries over water, troubling sucker pins, and loads of bunkers.  After playing a couple holes, the course reminded me of Thistle from a conditioning standpoint, and the visuals on the tee shots, but didn’t have Thistle’s share of wooded parkland routing that they boast on on one of their nines.

Gazebo overlooking the 16th tee at Crow Creek

Value: (4.25 out of 5.0)

Crow Creek would be considered a middle end play but provides excellent bang for the buck.  The combination of perfect conditions and a very reasonable replay rate ($35) make this a must play for your northern end golf packages.  We got paired up with one of the local senior players and he indicated the word was out on this course.  It was popular with all levels of players (five sets of tees make it playable for everyone) and that became evident when we tried unsuccessfully to book a replay in the afternoon.

Mike working on his swing

Facilities: (4.25 out of 5.0)

The course has a nice clubhouse and full service grill and is serviced by an all grass driving range and two beautiful manicured putting greens.  Once on your cart, you travel under a tunnel to the other side of the road where the practice range, large chipping/putting green, and first tee all reside in a nice orderly distance from each other.  You buy your range balls ($5.00 for a small bag) at the shed adjacent to the range.  The layout makes sense because once golfers are staged in the cart area, they are moved to the other side of the road for warmup and front nine play which reduces cart traffic around the clubhouse.  You travel back under the tunnel to play the back closer to the clubhouse.

Lou warming up his short game

 

 

 

Customer Experience: (3.75 out of 5.0)

We pulled up to the bag drop and there were a lot of players arriving simultaneously.  The cart guys got us unloaded reasonably well but seemed a little harried trying to get everyone saddled up and across the road, with ample time to warm up.  A special thanks goes to the gentleman manning the pro-shop counter in the afternoon.  After our round we inquired about a replay and he had nothing for a couple hours, but made a call to Sea Trail Dan Maples course and got us on there for the reduced price replay rate of $29.  This was a well appreciated effort.  The only ding I’ve got is an important one.  There were only two fresh water stops on the course.  Every track in the Myrtle Beach area should have at least two per nine because of the frequent hot and humid conditions.  So carry plenty of water with you from the start.

#1 tee

Taking on the sucker pin at the 169 yard par-3 13th.

Overall Rating: (4.0 out of 5.0)

If you are staying in the north at Sea Trail or the Glens Village, you could add this course to a package that included Thistle, and Perl East and West courses.  You’d be playing some great tracks on some excellent conditions.  Don’t miss out on playing Crow Creek!

183 yard par-3 16th at Crow Creek

The boys having a cold one in the grill after their round.

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Great Golf In Myrtle Beach

At the baby gator hatchery. Pawleys Plantation, SC

Your humble servant has just returned from a trip to the Grand Strand for nine rounds over eight courses, in five days.  There is some great golf to be played in Myrtle Beach but some courses to be avoided at all costs.  Along with playing some awesome venues, we managed to visit with as many golf shops as possible to get an accurate picture of playing conditions across the region.  The following trip report has first hand accounts, photos, and snippets of knowledge picked up by conversations with key people.  Hopefully you’ll find it valuable and interesting.

On Monday, we made the hour drive from our condo at Sea Trail to TPC of Myrtle Beach only to get dumped on by Tropical Storm Alberto and completely washed out after three holes.  We grabbed our rain checks and went shopping.  Off to a poor start.

Practice Green at Kings North.  Notice the winter kill on the left.

Tuesday we ventured out to Myrtle Beach National for a round on Kings North.  Much to our surprise, the greens were rolling okay on this Arnold Palmer gem, but were in very poor shape with significant browning caused by the winter freeze/kill that affected the area.  After the round, the pro explained that the Champion 327 strain of Bermuda was on the Kings course and that another strain of Bermuda was on the West and South courses and they were playing much better, so we replayed on the West and had a very enjoyable round on lush conditions.  Only one or two greens were in questionable shape.  The North is still an awesome layout with tees and fairways in great condition, and is still playable but temper your expectations.

8th green at Glen Dornoch along the intercoastal waterway

On Wednesday we hit Glen Dornoch for 36 holes and encountered lush full greens that were rolling rather slow.  Admittedly it had rained the previous two days, and we got dumped on again for about five holes but the surfaces were in good shape.  We asked the pro how they managed to keep their greens in order and he indicated they had overseeded with Rye, which was essentially what we were putting on.  It had filled in nicely but you could see the spotty Bermuda and our thoughts were that after another month of heat, if that Bermuda didn’t come back, they’d be in trouble when the cool season grass became stressed from the summer bake.

Back down to the southern end we went on Thursday to Willbrook Plantation.  The course was wet from the previous deluge but in otherwise great condition except for a lot of clumpy grass in the fairway since they had just mowed for the first time that week.  For the third straight day we were playing cart path only and getting plenty of exercise toting clubs from buggy to ball and back.  The greens were in good shape and were another overseed job similar to Glen Dornoch.  We had a nice round and elected to forgo a replay in order to save our strength for a head smacking big day on Friday.

The morning round on Friday was at Pawley’s Plantation and we left the condo at 5:45 a.m. to make our 7:48 tee time.  We found Pawleys in great shape and we were finally allowed to ride the fairways.  17 of the 18 greens were perfect, except for the memorable island 13th, which was very stressed.

Lou and Mike sizing up the tee shot at Pawleys #13

13th at Pawleys

I love this golf course and its killer par threes and it took every ounce of skill for me to muster an 8-over 80 from the blue tees which were playing at 6,549/73.7/144.  Finally the heat and humidity had returned.  These were conditions were were more accustomed to playing in.

173 yards of marsh carry to the 17th at Pawleys

In the afternoon, we made our way up the coast to Murrells Inlet and TPC of Myrtle Beach to cash in our rain checks.  TPC had dried out but for some reason they were still playing cart path only.  This is a big golf course with wide holes loaded with tons of sand and water.  The course was in excellent shape and the greens were rolling medium fast but again were primarily on overseeded Rye.  You could see the Bermuda was very spotty and we were glad we were playing it now before conditions deteriorated.   We were tired from the 36 holes, the heat, and playing from the cart paths in the afternoon.  But there was one more day to go.

10 foot friend guarding the banks of the 17th at TPC

Our last play day was Saturday and in the morning we tried out Crow Creek in the north.  Course review is coming but in short, conditions were pure on this all Bermuda track.  It’s a must play.

Dennis warming up at Crow Creek

We wanted to replay in the afternoon but they were booked.  They called over to the Sea Trail resort and got us a time on the Maples course right after lunch.  Sea Trail has three courses and had been brutalized by the winter kill.  Two of the courses, Jones, and Byrd had totally lost their Bermuda greens.  Maples had lost everything but their greens because they were bentgrass.  We learned that they close Maples in the summer so as not to stress their greens.  The Maples tee boxes were very scratchy and there wasn’t much turf in the fairways, although you could play on it.  We were just glad to be playing our final round of golf on a course next to our condo.  After all the driving to the south, it was nice to sink your final putt and collapse in your bed in five minutes.  Oddly enough, despite the conditions, I had my best round of the trip (3-over 75) on Maples.  I suppose if you’re going to play on a scratchy course, the one thing you want is playable greens.

#18 Green on Sea Trail Jones course

We did a great job moving our venues off courses with known winter kill and generally played on very good conditions during the week.  Sunday, I had a late flight and decided to visit some of the area courses for intelligence gathering.  Here’s what I learned:

Oyster Bay:  I adore this layout but the greens are shot.  Avoid it.

The sad practice green at Oyster Bay

 

 

 

Big Cats in Ocean Ridge Plantation:  Tigers Eye’s greens are slowly coming back.  They are letting them grow out, and they looked kind of spotty and shaggy.  Lions Paw is closed for two weeks and Panthers Run is closed for six weeks.  Those two courses totally lost their greens.  Leopard’s Chase is still reportedly playable as they have bentgrass on the surfaces, but I didn’t get a visual.  I’d stay away from these courses as a package.

The Legends:  According to the pro in the shop, Moreland has the Champion 327 Bermuda and lost seven greens.  They are giving discounts to play it.  Steer clear.  Heathland is in great shape and Parkland has a few spots on a couple greens.  I checked the practice green and it looked fine.  Play here at your own risk.

Thistle:  The practice green had a couple damage spots but I examined a green on the course and spoke to the pro who told me the greens keeper did a great job and the course was in excellent condition.  I rolled a few balls on the putting green and it seemed fine.  I’d play here as the layout is awesome and the operation first class.

9th at Thistle. Looking good.

Then I drove across the street to Perl (East and West courses).  Their greens were Bermuda and looked immaculate.  I went inside and learned that Perl had covered their greens during the winter, off and on and especially during the one week stretch that had killed everyone else.  This was the key, and I had received earlier reports that both courses were in great shape.  Passed the eye test, get yourself out on both of these!

Beautiful greens at Perl

Finally, I struck up a conversation with my seatmate on the flight home who was wearing a Caledonia shirt.  He reportedly had played and said the course was in fabulous shape.  So there you have it.  If you are making your way down to the Grand Strand, I’d do it sooner rather than later when all the Rye overseed on some of these good courses is going to get stressed.  If you have any other first hand accounts on Myrtle Beach course conditions, please share!

Play well.

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More Art, Less Science, More Feel

Have you ever wondered how great golfers acquire feel?  I’ve always tried to increase my feel but yesterday after reading an article in the June 2018 Golf Digest called “The battle of dumb versus smart,” I think I figured out how.   As you know, golf is an inherently mental game.  Most players are either artists or scientists in their approach.   The gist of the article was that unless you are extremely bright and have an analytical mind, like Phil Mickelson or Bryson DeChambeau, you shouldn’t try to play with analytics.

A few years back, I made a decision to go with more art and not think about my score as I played.  I wanted to get more process oriented and stay in the moment.  This worked for a brief period but I still couldn’t get the extra feel.  I realized that I was playing with too many statistics even if I was just counting greens in regulation and total putts.  Sometimes I’d start to worry about my stats during the round.  I was beating myself up instead of thinking about getting the ball in the hole.  Not good!

In yesterday’s round, I decided to play without stats, and noticed I was very relaxed.  I simply thought to get the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes possible.  Method didn’t matter.  I recalled my shots after the round and noted that I had hit eight of nine greens on the front, which had not gone unnoticed by one of my playing partners.   After I chipped in on #10, for the next two holes, this fellow had the questions coming hard and fast.  He wanted to know about club selection, handicap, equipment choices, set makeup, and fitting recommendations.  Finally on #13, he whipped out his phone and asked me if I tracked my ball speed like he did, as he had been introduced to TrackMan recently.  He wanted to show me this program but I wouldn’t have any of it.  I think he was a little disappointed when I told him I was playing old school and writing my scores down on a card with no analytics, and that my phone would remain in my golf bag for the round.

Photo from golf.com

Seve Ballesteros was the greatest feel player I ever saw.  His imagination and touch on and around the greens was incredible.  In 1990 he four putted #16 at the Masters and when asked to describe what happened he replied, “I miss, I miss, I miss, I make.”   No stats, no analysis, no paralysis.  Love the mindset.

Play well.

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Lesson Nugget: Keep The Triangle

What I absolutely love about my instructor is that he’s half swing coach and half psychologist, and is very adept at both.  The subject of changing swing thoughts came up during yesterday’s lesson.  I had mentioned that during a late fall round last year, I had “found something” on the front nine and started pounding my driver and nutting my irons the rest of the game.  But when I tried the same thought the next day, I couldn’t hit a thing.  I know, I know, this has happened to everyone who’s ever played the game and is one of the great wonders of the world, but his reply was simple and correct.  “You need to have a series of swing thoughts that work, and be willing to change.  The quicker you can recognize it’s not working, and settle on one that is, the better you will play.”

I have been seeing the left side of the golf course recently.  To diagnose, he had me hit some shots and took some swing video and identified the issue as a quick wrist flip at the contact point which was caused by under rotating my upper body.  This results in a pull or worst case, a smother hook.  Nothing new for me, and it’s funny how your faults keep reverting to your habits learned over the decades.

Last season was a breakthrough for my ball striking, as I had taken several full swing lessons, and made great progress.  But I reminded him how difficult it was to play with all these mechanical thoughts.  My requirement for today’s lesson was to eliminate this Lou Groza drop kick, and keep it simple.  We set to work to find a trigger to get me to rotate my upper body and pull my hands through the hitting zone.  Over the next hour we worked the following:

  1. Fire the right shoulder at the ball: Not very successful
  2. Pull the grip down to the ball: Moderately successful
  3. Slow the tempo a bit and try to hit a slight push: Very successful

I was pleased with the results of #3 but images of tee shots that are tighter than a gnat’s rear end started creeping into my mind, with TPC of Myrtle Beach at the forefront.  I told him I didn’t think this would work on the course because I needed to be thinking about hitting my ball at the target and not away from the target.  I also mentioned that I had been swinging a club in my back yard in the evenings and still didn’t feel connected because I was chicken-winging my left elbow on the follow through.  When I said that, he suggested I, “keep the triangle on the follow through.”  The triangle is the shape your fully extended arms make with your chest.  If I did that, it would be, “impossible to hook the ball.”

For the rest of the lesson and a half hour afterwards, I hit balls with this very simple image in my mind: “Finish like Tommy Fleetwood.”  If you watch him, he’s got that sawed off fully extended finish.  It feels like everything he hits is a punch shot.  I tried this with great success and noticed my weight had fully moved to the outside of my left foot and I was in balance at the finish.

Here’s a great photo of Alvaro Quiros maintaining his triangle.  If I can get here, I can play.

Photo from Golftoday

Right now, this feels a little unnatural but is easy to implement because it’s simple.  My plan is to use #3 above when this swing thought no longer works, and try to find a third that will provide a go-to rotation of on course adjustments.

Do you have a rotation of swing thoughts that work?  Please share if you do!

Play well.

 

 

 

 

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Emergency PSA – Myrtle Beach – Course Conditions!

Travelers/golfers going to the Grand Strand:  Red Alert! Check with the golf courses you are booked at regarding course conditions.  About 3/4 of the golf courses in Myrtle Beach have lost their greens due to the abnormally cold winter, and you may not be auto re-booked by your tour operator.  Tripadvisor and Golfadvisor have the gory details and I’d recommend you read the latest reviews.  Courses with Bermuda putting surfaces have been hit extremely hard.  Nothing is exempt, even the great courses like Grand Dunes, Thistle, Tidewater, and Oyster Bay.  Most have had their greens reduced to dirt or dead grass with patches of dirt; and some have been dyed green.  These conditions are deplorable and are creating significant angst among the traveling public.

We were booked on four of the Big Cats, Oyster Bay, and Thistle and have moved off all of them.  Three of the Cats were reported as dead with the lone exception being Leopard’s Chase which has bent grass on the putting surfaces.  Area courses with cool season grasses came through the winter in better shape, but the vast majority of courses have Bermuda, which holds up better in the summer heat, but needs to be covered in extended periods of freezing temperatures.  This was not done and there is a local symposium being held for greens keepers to understand how to better handle such an emergency in the future, but that has not solved for this season’s problems.  June and July could be rough in the area if the Bermuda surfaces haven’t recovered and the bent greens become stressed from heat and over play.

I’ve verified playing conditions are good to excellent on the following courses and aeration schedules will not impact play the week of Memorial Day.  We are re-booked on:  TPC of Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach National – Kings North, Pawleys Plantation, Willbrook, Glen Dornoch, and Crow Creek.  We’re staying in Sunset Beach, NC at Sea Trail and as a result of all the re-bookings in the south, will be doing some extended driving, but at least we’ll be playing on good surfaces.

Perl East and Perl West are also reported in excellent condition but are being aerated right before Memorial Day.  If anyone has information about more courses that are in good condition please share and thank you!

Play well.

On a better day at Tidewater – North Myrtle Beach, SC

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The Adventures Of Captain Single

Captain Single at the famous biker bar in Murrells Inlet, SC after a round at TPC

I have never been adverse to playing golf as a single. . .until the last three times out.  Normally, I enjoy meeting people and have actually made some lifelong friendships on the first tee, but as luck would have it, my regular golfing partners have been quitting the game or dropping out temporarily for health reasons.  I’ve been relegated to playing as a single this season and the experience is driving me nuts.

It started three weeks ago on Easter Sunday.  Who golfs on Easter?  Nobody, right?  I figured church in the morning and a tee time right after noon on a wide open course – perfect.  I showed up for my 12:06 and there were ten foursomes right in front of me playing a self-organized tournament and putting everything out.  The single I got paired with was nice company but it took nearly three hours to play the front nine.  He dropped out after nine and I was hardly thrilled at the prospect of following this rolling roadblock, but fortunately a threesome zipped down to the 10th tee and joined me.  These three guys were hitting it all over the lot, but they kept moving which suited me fine.  Round one in the books but it gets more bizarre.

Two weeks ago, at a different track, Seargant Solo was out again with a noon time.  The starter paired me up with a guy and a girl in a cart and as I rolled down to the tee I noticed they only had one set of clubs.  I introduced myself and the guy tells me his girlfriend has never played and was just was riding along and would hit a few shots from time to time.  Then he invited me to “go ahead of them because they just wanted to lay back, relax, and drink a few beers.”  It was 80 degrees, the sun was shining, and the course was packed with foursomes.  I’m thinking, “Dude, you just don’t get it,” but I didn’t say anything.  Then two more fellows rolled down and joined making us a happy five-some.  So we played two holes uneventfully and the guy even fist bumps me after I sink a putt on #2 green.  I’m thinking, “Okay, this isn’t that bad.”  Then on the par-5 third, the other two guys and I hit our tee shots but the thirsty couple just sat in their cart chatting.  We took off up the fairway and hit our second shots and noticed these two were still on the lady’s tee fiddling around while the foursome behind them were standing on the regular tee.  He wasn’t kidding about laying back.  They must have yelled at them because they came rushing back up to join us.  We finished the front with just the guy hitting shots.

After three holes on the back, this twosome just got in their cart and rode off while we were putting out.  They didn’t say good bye and were never to be seen again.  Turns out they had polished off a twelve pack and a fifth of whiskey in the 12 holes.  I was left to wonder who was their designated driver, the last person standing?  It gets worse.

Single-Seat Sombrero had a 12:33 time last Sunday and was pared up with a threesome.  I showed up only to find out it was U.S. Kids tournament day at the course.  There were kids already on the course and the nine-holers were scheduled to go off the back nine from 2-4 p.m.  Before I even left the golf shop, the pro was offering me a rain check because I might get blocked out trying to make the turn.  I’m wondering why they didn’t call me or post this on the website, and I asked if I could play the front twice and he said they’d  try to fit me in.  Well it was 12:05 and I was ready to go and they were not running with a starter for some inexplicable reason, so I just jumped on the tee, ripped a shot and headed off by myself on foot.  Soon a single in a cart was pushing me from behind, but never got close enough to join me.  I felt rushed and started to miss shots and get frustrated.  On the par-4 fourth hole, I was in the fairway off the tee and couldn’t see the flag stick because the last kids group had forgot to replace it.  I tried to hit a ball on the center of the green and pull hooked it badly.  Now I was seething.  On #7 I realized I was playing so fast that if I kept my pace, I could beat the first kids group off #10 at 2:00 p.m, and proceeded to do just that.  On #15 I was still feeling rushed and blew a tee shot way right.  At that point, I finally caught up to the last kids tournament group and the guy in the cart caught me and I asked him to join.  Funny, but as soon as he joined, I slowed way down and didn’t miss a shot the rest of the way in.  It’s weird how a nice measured pace will help your game, but I was very disheartened by the whole experience.

So what’s next?  I realize this charade has to end.  I need to get out and play with good players on a regular basis.  No more solitary Sundays for me, I’m joining a club next weekend.  The course is Blue Mash in Laytonsville, MD.  More to come; stay tuned!

On the tee at Oyster Bay, but playing in a foursome

 

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Can You Trust A Bad Swing?

Relaxing at Pawleys Island, SC

Readers of Bob Rotella books know that one of his favorite axioms is, “Train it, trust it.”  The idea is to practice enough so your body will naturally recall the proper swing mechanics without trying to force them.  This is truly the best way to play golf, but what if you’re out on the course and feel your swing slipping away to the point that you cannot trust it?  What do you do?  You have two options:

  1. Work on your mechanics and try to fix your swing
  2. Try to change your perspective of the shots you need to hit.  In essence, fool your mind into getting comfortable because a couple fairways in a row will do wonders for your confidence.  Tiger does this by hitting that stinger with his three wood when he loses confidence in the driver.

Try number two.  You should do it by taking any club you feel you can make an aggressive swing with to hit the fairway.  Say, you usually hit driver on a 500 yard par-5.  A good shot leaves you 260 yards in, but a bad swing might put you in the woods and looking at a big number.  Instead, hit a four or five iron off the tee.  From the fairway, you now have maybe 330 yards in.  That’s still just a short par-4 which you should be able to hit with two more shots, and presto, you are right back in the hole.

There is another approach gleaned from the great mystery of why we play great one day and awful the next.  It’s truly mind boggling and all golfers have tried to solve for this at one point in time.  I believe it has something to do with your natural bio-rhythms.  These are the brain synapses that fire and guide your central nervous system.  They control your ability to concentrate, your stress level, your hand-eye coordination, your pleasure and pain receptors, and just how you feel from day to day.   Example:  Today I was at my local muni practicing and hit the ball quite awful.  Couldn’t tell where it was going and actually thinned a couple off the hozel.  The day before, I was at another course working short game and my touch was superb.  Oddly enough, the good practice was preceded by a frustrating day at work and I didn’t feel like practicing and forced myself to.  Yet, that had no impact on my performance.  Why?  Ultimately, I think the environment you’re in and comfort level has a lot to do with your performance.

Control the environment and you control your ability to relax.  Relax and you play better.  For me, it’s the avoidance of feeling crowded and being in tight spaces.  I get tense in traffic jams, shopping malls, in long lines, and even on crowded beaches.  When I’m tense on the golf course, my game goes in the crapper.  Conversely, when I loosen up and relax, I perform much better.  The course I practiced at yesterday is much less populated than my local muni.  There’s plenty of room to spread out and work all your shots.  Nobody gets in anyone’s way.  I always seem to practice well there.  On the other hand, my muni is the popular hangout.  Today was 80 degrees and it was packed, but it’s always crowded.  My practice and play are spotty at this track.  I’m much more relaxed at the first course and therefore perform better.  Tomorrow, I play at Rattlewood, where I’ve had considerable success.  I always seem to warm up well before my round and that relaxes me.  Oddly enough, the driving range was constructed with a slight upgrade from left to right for all hitting stations.  Ding on whomever poured the foundation, but this silly little nuance forces me to start hitting the ball right to left during my warm-up, and that’s a ball flight I’m comfortable with.

Need more evidence?  Think of some courses you play regularly.  Do you routinely play well at some and hack on others?  The pros do.  I travel to Myrtle Beach every year and always play good on the same courses.  Legends-Heathland, Thistle, Oyster Bay, and True Blue come to mind.  Some of these are hard tracks, but the common factor is that I like the look of the tee shots.  They’re generally a little more open, have great sight lines, and distinct targets.  I feel relaxed and loose and can let the shaft out.  Other courses like TPC of Myrtle, Legends-Moorland, and Heritage are super tight off the tee and I struggle with every round.  I feel squeezed on the tee box and always worry about keeping it in play, and I usually don’t.

In summary, my two keys.

  1. Trust your swing. If you can’t, find a conservative shot you can trust
  2. Practice and play at venues where you feel relaxed

Got any others?  Please share and play well!

Still relaxed at Oyster Bay, Sunset Beach, NC

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The Shock of a Sudden Weather Change

Jordan Spieth / USATODAY Sports

It was exactly 5:11 p.m. on Saturday and the heavens opened up on The Masters.  Along with the downpour, a fascinating subplot was hatched on how the best pros handle sudden weather changes.  Commentator Dottie Pepper, said that you need to just play through it like nothing was happening.  Rory McIlroy was on #13 hitting his second shot into the par-5 from a perfect position, and pulled it way left into the azaleas.  They switched coverage to Patrick Reed getting dumped on behind the green at #12.  He had a straight forward chip, which he blew by the hole and missed the par putt coming back.  The weather clearly affected these guys, but what could they have done to handle it better?  How about you?

Rory McIlroy / USATODAY Sports

My last round two years ago was in late November at my local muni.  It started off sunny and 70 degrees but steadily grew colder and windier through the round.  I knew this was in the forecast, but on #18 mother nature freaked out and sleet started pouring down and blowing sideways.  I was unprepared and went into total golf shock, and my game collapsed.  Earlier in the same season we were playing at Barefoot in Myrtle Beach and remnants of Tropical Storm Bonnie were in the area.  In retrospect, I was better prepared and handled that with ease.  What is the reason for weather shock, and what can you do?

Shock clearly happens because your mind is on cruise control.  Rory had just nutted a perfect tee shot and was playing in an exquisite rhythm.  You can see when these guys are rolling that everything about their pre-shot routine is the same, from the way they take off and put on their gloves to the way they check yardage and discuss shots with their caddies.  The weather change is a sudden distraction and crushes routines.  When Rory yanked that approach way left, he was probably over the ball thinking, “Should I dry my grips?  Has my guy got the umbrella ready?  I can feel the rain hitting my back.”  Reed was getting drenched and you could tell he was thinking about it after he missed his putt.  He just wanted to quickly tap in and get dry.

I have found that physically preparing for the condition before it hits is the solution.  Get your game and routine actively into the situation.  At Barefoot, I knew we were going to get rain, but just didn’t know when.  I started the round with my waterproof rain vest on and playing with one rain glove on as well.  I had the other rain glove in my pocket.  When the deluge came, I just pulled out the other glove and carried on without breaking routine.  Now, it pays to have the proper equipment.  For example, you don’t want to be playing with a full rain jacket on in 80 degree weather and high humidity just waiting for the storm to hit.  That’s why I had the half-sleeve vest and rain gloves in play, but you get the idea.

One other point that Dottie made was critical.  You don’t want to be playing or interacting with folks who complain about the weather, especially in adverse conditions.  This will ruin your concentration.  Sometimes it’s unavoidable but if the sudden change comes, I usually try to keep a bit away from the whiners.

Got any other tips for staying on point when weather hits?  Please share and play well!

 

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2018 Masters Picks

photo from golfweek.com

As of this writing, Tiger Woods is leading the odds at 9:1 to win The Masters.  Can the four-time champion and greatest player of our generation take the green jacket?  You bet he can. All the big names are competing, everyone is healthy, most are in good form, it should be awesome.  Let’s look at Tiger and the rest of the principals to pick a winner.

Tiger.  I have loved watching his resurgence and two recent top-5 finishes.  His presence at Augusta and good form make for the juiciest pre-tournament hype.  He is great for golf and for The Masters. The gleam is back in his eye.  You saw it at Honda, Valspar, and Bay Hill.  You know the one where he squints, slightly fatigued from his powers of universal concentration.  It comes out when he gets in the hunt and he’s so close, but his driving is a bit too suspect and he’s been getting by with those stingers that keep the ball in play.  They worked at the earlier venues and are great for the US Open and PLAYERS but you gotta have the big stick at Augusta.  Prediction:  Top 10.

Phil Mickelson.  Awesome February run of top-10 finishes culminating with a win at WGC Mexico.  Is this really happening at 47 years old?  He’s playing this week in Houston but disregard any results because he’s just staying sharp.  Phil always plays Houston before The Masters as a ritual.  I’ll play the odds here and say Phil is on the wrong side of 46 to win another major, but he contends.  Prediction:  Top 10.

Last year’s champion, Sergio Garcia.  As soon as I see a guy going to the claw grip, I think “putting problems – no chance at The Masters.”  Sergio put that to rest in 2017 and brings all the other claw guys like Phil and Justin Rose into play.  I’ve never liked Garcia in this tournament because of his issues on the greens and my gut is telling me there’s a market correction coming.  Prediction:  No repeat but a top-20 finish.

Dustin Johnson.  We were denied a look at the world’s #1 last year because of a butt-busting slide down the stairs in his rental home.  He’s here, he’s healthy, but he’s in mediocre form.  I was surprised how poorly he played in the Dell Match Play and don’t know why.  I’m assuming he can right the ship and get motivated, although you can never read his desire level.  Prediction:  3rd place.

Rory McIlroy.  Awesome display of power and finesse at Bay Hill.  Has he really found it or is it another Rory streak.  When he’s on, his birdie binges are incredible to watch.  This week, he cools off a bit and plays on the fringes of contention.  Prediction:  Top 20.

Jordan Spieth.  Been in particularly bad form lately but has caught fire through two rounds at Houston.  Spieth can grab a minor tweak and leverage that better and faster than anyone.  Greatest mind in the game among the young players.  When his putter is on, always a threat to win.  Prediction:  Top 10.

Justin Thomas.  Cocky, powerful, streaky, pouty at times.  The Masters requires an even keel more than any other tournament.  When Phil learned to play with steadiness, he started winning green jackets.  Thomas still needs some seasoning.  Prediction:  Makes the cut but not much else.

Paul Casey.  What’s he doing in this list?  He’s got a couple recent top-10s in The Masters, plays a nice right-to-left ball flight, is plenty long, has his putting woes straightened out, and has his mind settled.  Love the combo and this horse for this course.  Prediction:  2nd place.

Justin Rose.  Last year’s runner up.  He’s hungry, is in top form, contends every week, is ready and will not be denied.  He is your 2018 Masters champion.

Who do you like?

photo from skysports.com

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Short Game Salvation!

On the tee at Barefoot Fazio in Myrtle Beach

Two weeks ago, I took my first golf lesson of the season.  It was on short game.  Over the many years of my golf career, I’ve had countless full swing lessons but only received a couple tips on short game from teaching professionals.  As I finished up and stacked my clubs into the trunk, I had two thoughts: I’m filled with hope and optimism, and why did I ever wait this long.

The Diagnosis:

The lesson started with me spilling my guts for five minutes on what was wrong with my short game. I enjoy this approach to teaching and learning because you need to clearly identify what you are solving for and my pro is not presumptuous in any way.  He always asks.   My laundry list:

  • My wedge game was good from 40 to 100 yards based on the full swing work that we did last year. From 40 to green side with my pitching I was clueless.  I avoided that yardage like the plague.  Inside 40, I would go back and forth on technique and approach and was thoroughly confused.
  • On my chipping, I was slightly better but have always struggled with playing too defensively. I want to attack the hole but many of my chips continually come up short and I often struggle with direction and hitting my spot.
  • I thought my chipping technique was sound, but last season I had to remove my fitted set of Cleveland wedges (50, 54, 58) for my old SW (56) and old GW (49) because of confidence problems. The previous season, I had hit a couple of s#@nks with the 54 and had that image burned in my mind.
  • I was confused and constantly changing my pre-shot routine to try and get better feel for shots but nothing worked consistently. I struggled to visualize my shots.

In short, I thought I knew how to hit all the shots but could never seem to pull them off.  I have often wondered how I maintain a low single-digit handicap with a short game as bad as mine.  In retrospect, I have probably played overly conservative into the greens to avoid as much trouble as possible.  Not necessarily a bad approach, but not conducive to going low.  I wondered how good I could get if I ever learned to attack the hole.  All this came out before I struck a single shot.

The Lesson:

Then we started.  First, he had me chip from the fringe for a distant hole and asked me what clubs I normally chip with.  I told him my 56, PW, and 8-iron, and selected the 8 for this shot.  I chipped a few.  Most were off line and my distance was long.  He told me we needed to work on three changes:  Make a swing that I controlled with my body by rotating my chest, try to hit with a consistent pace regardless of club selection, and get the ball rolling as soon as possible because roll is easier to judge than flight.  For this shot, he had me switch to the 50, move the ball position back to my right big toe, forward press the handle a bit, and shade more of my weight forward.  Then I made a smaller swing by just turning my chest and presto!  I started seeing a small divot, generating backspin, and hitting straight shots that flew considerably lower even though the 50 has more loft than the 8-iron.   We then started working in shots with the 54 and 58 based on the various distances to alternate holes, but with every shot, I hit it with the same pace and technique, and attempt to get it rolling quickly.  I noticed while hitting all these shots that I had not been using a practice swing, and had just been lining up the shots from behind and executing – interesting!  My ability to visualize the shot was returning because it was the same shot, very little change in trajectory, and just a different distance to the various targets.  It was easy to implement.  My head was clearing.  I was feeling good.

Next, we moved back to the dreaded zone.  Pitching.  His message was clear, we were going to use the same technique but make a slightly bigger swing and move the ball position up a bit (about ¾ back).  Again, we were still trying to flight the ball lower than what I was used to, control the shot with spin, and take a divot.  As we altered targets we simply adjusted the amount of carry with club selection.  Using the 50, 54, and 58, pitching became almost routine.  What the hell was so hard about this?

What’s great about a 1×1 professional lesson is that you can ask your pro all the dumb little questions you’ve always wondered about.  I inquired, “When you are green side and need to hit a high pitch, do you first grip the club normally and rotate your hands to open the blade, or open the blade first, then grip the club?”  He told me it was the latter, which I had never done.  We finished up by throwing balls all around the green into different distances and lies and having me practice selecting a club to fit the shot and simply executing on my new technique.  It was a fantastic lesson.

Going forward, we are changing my club make up.  Out are the old SW, GW, and 5WD and in are the three wedges I learned with.  I can also use my PW (46) and 8-iron for longer chips and simply need to move the ball position forward of my right toe for those two clubs.

Of course, what followed the next weekend was a small snowstorm in the DMV and I haven’t had the chance to practice any of this until today.  I’m full of hope, chomping at the bit and need to get cracking because our trip to Myrtle Beach is just two months out!

Play well!

The rest of our group at Barefoot Fazio

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Genuflecting In The Temple of Tiger (Four Truths)

Photo of Tiger at Valspar from Golf Digest

Before the believers and the doubters (myself included) overreact to what went down at Valspar, let’s take an objective look at the infallible truths about Tiger’s comeback.

Truth #1:  The smartest thing he did was fire Sean Foley.  Tiger had gone from artist to scientist under Foley’s tutelage and it was just painfully awful watching Tiger twist himself into the proverbial swing pretzel Foley was trying to create.  Tiger is now un-coached.  See any of that at Honda or Valspar?  Nope.  Vision, feel, and imagination are back; watch out!

Truth #2:  Tiger has changed his swing because of his spinal fusion repair and it’s working.  There’s less rotational movement, less torque, a more upright finish, and it’s producing plenty of length.  However, Tiger’s weak point is his surgically repaired legs.  The foundation has crumbled before on several occasions.  Is his lower body strong or a peanut brittle bar ready to snap at any moment?

Truth #3:  Tiger is smart, knows how to compete, and wants to win so badly he’ll do anything it takes, including abandoning equipment that he was previously wedded to.  Also see Truth #1.

Truth #4:  Tiger’s comeback has been brilliant but I still need to see him compete on a course that demands you hit driver consistently.  Genesis at Riviera requires superior driving and he struck it poorly.  He played brilliantly off the tee at Valspar, frequently controlling distance, direction, and trajectory with long iron stingers, but the way you conquer Augusta is to bomb it on the 4s and 5s and get wedges in from the fairways.  Can he win The Masters without consistent performance from the big dog?

I wouldn’t be surprised if he won at Bay Hill this week but The Masters is the 800 pound gorilla in the corner of the room.  You, I, and everyone else are thinking the same thing.  Can he do it?  Well, can he?  Thoughts?

 

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Is Tanking Permissible In Golf?

Tiger from nydailynews.com

Unless you live on Pluto, you can’t help but notice the recent trend of professional sports franchises “tanking” one or more consecutive seasons to improve the future prospects for their organization.  Specifically, tanking refers to the deliberate and knowing attempt to lose games or have poor seasons and lower your team’s position in the standings and thereby garner higher draft picks.  It’s commonplace in the four major sports and was most recently on display with the outhouse to penthouse success stories of the 2016 Chicago Cubs and 2017 Houston Astros.   Recently, Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA Dallas Mavericks, was fined $600K for outwardly proposing to his team that they tank games.  Tanking is something you do, but it’s bad form to discuss it.  Personally, I find the practice disturbing.  As a fan, and a paying customer, I’m always looking for my teams to put their best product on the field at all times.

Would tanking be permissible in golf?  Does it happen in unbeknownst ways?  What I love about professional golf is the pure meritocracy.  Nobody better exemplifies this than the greatest player in the 21st century, Tiger Woods.  Whenever asked about his goal for the week or tournament, Tiger responds with the same answer; “Win the tournament.”  I have no doubt given Tiger’s history, he may set winning as a goal every time out, but does he really believe it?  I don’t think so.  Give his recent bout with injuries, he may not think he can win, but that doesn’t mean he’s tanking.  On a few rare occasions, Tiger appears to go through the motions when he’s not playing well, but he’s still trying. He just may not be there mentally.  It’s happened to everyone who’s played the game and is not tanking.

Tanking in golf would be extremely hard because each player is an individual competitor.  You’d have very little to gain and you can’t control the actions of other players.  The most remote example I could conjure up would be a player holding down the final Ryder Cup position on either the US or European team.  If that player wasn’t playing well, and wasn’t injured, they would be expected to play for the team if they secured a spot.  What if that player “took one for the team” and deliberately played poorly enough in the final qualifying events to allow another player to overcome them in the standings.  Would this be a tank?  What would your opinion be of this practice?  I’m a little mixed on this.

For a great article on tanking, check out Dave Sheinin’s piece in the Washington Post.

Play well and no tanking!

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The Golf Gap: Connecting The Dots

Playing from a fairway bunker at Oyster Bay

 

How big is your golf gap?  Your gap is the difference between what you know is the right thing to practice and what you actually practice.  Your goal is to lower your scores through effective practice, and folks who have been playing and studying the game for a long time should have smaller gaps than beginners.  The smaller you can shrink your gap, the more rapidly you should improve.

My gap is larger than it should be.  I had a bit of an epiphany last weekend and the experience might serve a useful purpose going forward.  It started when I read the article by Dustin Johnson in the February 2018 Golf Digest on how he practices.  DJ was always an excellent ball striker but he truly became a superb player after he adopted his current routine of dedicating 80% of his range time to full and partial wedge shots.  Considering how great he is with the driver, I was surprised to learn how little he practiced with it.  Bottom line: his weakness was inside 100 yards and he addressed it.

Aligning my own game to DJ’s is like comparing a rowboat to a battleship, but his routine is instructive and should be copied.  I reviewed my 2017 season performance notes and most of my good rounds were preceded by lessons and practice with my wedges.  Like DJ, my goal last year was to get more consistent inside 100 yards.  From some mechanical changes my pro helped me with (using primarily my wedges), my proximity improved greatly inside 100 yards and I began to hit it longer.  I became enamored with the newfound length and in accordance, began hitting more practice balls with the driver.  That’s when my performance dipped.  Argh!  My gap had widened.

Last weekend I hit the range with the goal of closing the gap and connecting the dots between practice and play.  I only worked on hitting partial and full wedge shots.  The contact was excellent and transitioned nicely to the few shots I mixed in with the longer clubs.  What I would advise is that you hit the range and work on your wedges.  See your pro if you need help with your technique.  Then jot down what you are working on.  This makes it easy to recall past practice that preceded good play, and of course, any “ah ha” moments you may discover.  Finally, one caveat, if you are filming your own swing for analysis purposes, hit shots with a medium iron and a driver, as a wedge swing will often be too short and compact to reveal some critical swing flaws.

Good luck with your gap analysis and play well!

After a rainy round at TPC of Myrtle Beach

 

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Crack The Egg On The 2018 Golf Season!

As luck would have it, we’ve hit a stretch of warm weather in the DMV and I broke out the sticks yesterday and opened my season.  I hate to use the word “breakthrough” on the first day because my intention was just banging rust off the various components, but I did make a welcome discovery and was so inspired, that I reserved a tee time for next Sunday.

The day started at the range with a small bucket and some crisp pitching wedge shots.  Tell me if you’ve ever done this:  you start working on your swing in January after about five swings.  This was followed by a roulette wheel of pulls, snap hooks, and push cuts with the longer clubs.  No worries; there were no expectations other than to stretch the golf muscles and not endure any pain in my left elbow.  I’m not sure what compelled me to start swing analysis, but there were only 25 balls left.  No harm – no foul.

The excitement started when I got to the short game area.  After chipping and pitching for 15 minutes, I brought out the flat stick.  Recall at the end of last season I was in a dilemma with trying to line a putt up straight.  Nothing was working.  Change of stance, ball position, a bunch of new putters – nothing.  After a suggestion from Catherine Baker, I made the simple change of lining up my putts using the straight line on the side of my Titleist golf ball.  Bingo!  The benefit of this change is that I have confidence in my aim, and it forces me to commit to a line and not change it while I’m over the ball.  If I seriously need to change lines, I’ll need to re-mark and start my pre-shot routine all over again – at the risk of putting slower than Jim Furyk.  Thank you Catherine!

So there you have it.  Simple change, crisis averted, confidence built, new outlook on life, on the tee next weekend.  Stay tuned and play well!

 

 

 

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Careful With That Off-Season Workout!

Are you chomping at the bit to get the 2018 golf season going?  Trying to shed those last few holiday season pounds and/or build the golf muscles needed for superior performance?  I am.  A big word of caution for everybody regularly hitting the gym:  Be very careful when lifting weights!  You can do significant long lasting damage to muscle tissue if you aren’t lifting correctly or a working with too much weight.

At Tigers Eye

Here’s a picture of me during a golf trip to Myrtle Beach in 2009.  Notice the big old wrap on my left elbow?  That was an injury (tendonitis) that I incurred while lifting weights incorrectly during the preceding winter.  I paid for it on that trip and was running through Advil like John Daly downing M&Ms.  The whole issue could have been avoided if I had sought professional help with my weight lifting technique.  Slowly the injury healed, as I discontinued all workouts and limited the amount of range balls I hit.

Fast forward to 2017.  I started a workout regimen on May 1 that only consisted of floor exercises.  I was using the force of gravity to provide resistance and no weight.  Over the summer, I was very pleased with the increase in strength and muscle development that I had experienced.  In October I decided to add weights to my arm workouts.  I reviewed some technique videos on bicep and hammer curls and began with the lightest of weights.  The progress I made over the next few months was excellent and I slowly and cautiously added more weight.  As I got stronger I got more confident and a couple of weeks ago, added a significant amount of weight, but noticed that I was struggling to move the extra weight with the same amount of repetitions.  Then yesterday, I experienced the setback.  The left elbow tendonitis injury returned. 😦

Please don’t do what I did.  If you are working out for golf, it’s about building tone rather than bulk.  Get professional help from a trainer before tackling too much weight or the wrong technique.  Hopefully with some good drugs and a little time off, it’ll heal before the season starts.

Do you have any off-season workout recommendations?

Play well.

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The Grind of a Swing Change

I logged into my handicap service today and was reminded it’s been 41 days without golf.  Have I missed it?  Not in the least.  I actually practiced short game about two weeks ago, and practiced quite well, but had no desire to play.  In most years, I get antsy after not playing for a month but 2017 is different.  The grind of playing “golf swing” all year is still working its way out of my system.

2017 was tremendously successful, as I experienced a high level of satisfaction with my ball striking improvements, but it’s clear how taxing it was to continuously work on your swing and not be able to turn off mechanical mode for a whole year.  The struggle was an exercise in concentration and focus, and coming down from it is like draining the adrenaline rush you get after studying for final exams.  Remember that?  You’ve crammed all night and taken that last exam, and even though you’re totally exhausted mentally and physically, you can’t fall asleep.

Golf should be fun not painful.  But improving at any sport requires sacrifice.  The world champion Houston Astros had to suffer through consecutive 100-loss seasons as they rebuilt their organization.  Was that fun?  No, but the payoff was sweet.  I’m thinking the same thing.  To get where I want to be, I’ll need another year in 2018 like the previous.  The commitment has been made.

Nice weekends like this in the DMV are suitable for playing, but I’m not.  Maybe a little more short game practice is in order and will get the juices flowing.  Stay tuned.

Play well.

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2017 Season Wrap-Lessons Learned, Truths Revealed.

2017 was an awesome year of resurrection for my golf game.  Going into the season, my index had crept up over 6.0, my ball striking was in the crapper, and I had turned 56.  I was beginning to ask questions like, “Will I ever play good again?”  It hadn’t escaped me that on the senior tour, guys traditionally hit the wall at 56 and fail to seriously compete because of their advancing age.  Was this happening to me?

To find out, I bit the bullet and signed up for a series of golf lessons with an instructor who had given me some hope with a single lesson in the summer of 2016.  I liked his teaching style, he got results, and I had tried to DIY for the last few years without success.  The one metric I focused on was improving greens in regulation from eight to 10 per round.  I found that a single goal helped improve my focus and dedication.  After all, I was trying to break 40 years of bad habits, build some good habits, and enjoy myself during the process.  Trying to focus on too many things would confuse my pea brain.

I started lessons in April and found the first couple difficult.  Breaking the bad habits was very hard.  Playing right after lessons is even more difficult but I had committed to playing more “golf swing” than “golf” for the entire season, which helped me be patient.  In mid-series, I took my annual golf trip to Myrtle Beach.  We typically play long difficult courses and you’d better strike it well to have a chance.  With my mind still in mechanical mode, I managed to average 8.3 GIR on the trip and only had four rough rounds out of 10.  I noticed I was enjoying a significant distance add with my driver, but was still experiencing too many big misses (pull hook) with mid and long irons.  My last round was an 88 at TPC of Myrtle Beach.  TPC is a course where big misses punish you.  The course was also in my head and I never have played well there.  A funny thing happened though.  After the round, we had a quick bite and went out for a replay.  We got in nine holes before lightning terminated the round, but I started to play better and left the course filled with hope.

After the trip, the lessons started to take hold and I experienced a great stretch from July 9 through mid-October where I averaged 10.75 GIR and played better than I have in years.  On November 3, after a great 1-over round on a tough golf course (Hog Neck), my index dropped to 3.9 which was all the validation I needed that my approach had been correct.  I finished the season with a 4.0 index and while not having hit my goal of 10 GIR (actual was 9.03), couldn’t have been more satisfied.

The big takeaway:  I am not finished because of age 🙂  The guys on the senior tour slip at 56 because they’ve been playing close to the top of their ability when age hits.  In my case, I had (and still have) loads of room for improvement, and even as I age, should be able to better my technique.

We never put our clubs away here for winter in the DMV and last year we had no snow and played right through to spring, but I’m considering this season a wrap.  The year was mentally exhausting and I need a break.  In 2018, I’m signing up for another series of lessons and hope to continue the journey wherever it takes me.

Hope you had a good season too.  Play well.

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Troubling Epiphany – Need Help!

This game is often made easier when we simplify.  Purge mechanical swing thoughts.  Just “think target”.  Use only one swing key if you must think about something.  Stop worrying about your score.  Just follow your pre-shot routine and let the shot happen.  Don’t confuse results with effort.

My brain is in a mental pretzel after putter shopping yesterday.

I was in my golf retailer trying different models.  Blades, mallets, Ping, Scotty Cameron, Taylor Made, Odyssey, Ray Cook, you name it.  Everything was rolling to the right with cut spin.  The problem I’m solving for is an aiming one and this was getting discouraging.  I have no markings on my 30-year old Ping Answer and it’s awfully hard to putt consistently if you can’t line up your target.  After an hour of futility, I grabbed a Ping Sigma G Doon and lined up a 30-foot putt but decided to try my on-course pre-shot routine.  This involves lining the putt up from behind and identifying a spot 6-12″ in front of the ball to roll the putt over.  I recently started spot putting to help with my aiming problems.  So I started banging 30-footers into the cup but noticed the aiming mark on the top of the putter was lined up 8″ left.  Here was a moment of clarity.  Like Paul Newman in The Color of Money, I learned that my vision sucked.  With the putter aimed 8″ left, I tried a few more just swinging at the hole and they continued to roll straight at the target.  The cost of the putter was a little above my price point so I left the store empty handed and confused.

At home, I grabbed some masking tape and penned an alignment aid on the back of my Ping Answer and did some rug putting.  The sweet spot on my Answer is a little towards the heel but I like to hit my putts on the center of the club face.  I started to line putts up with just my dominant eye.  Needless to say, my experimentation didn’t go well.  I was NOT simplifying anything, and was adding twists to the pretzel.

What should I do before I come unglued?  I have half a mind to hit the reset button and just go buy the Doon.  Thoughts?

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