Earthquake Alert: LIV Golf!

Dustin Johnson just cancelled his overdraft protection at the Royal Bank of Canada.  DJ, Phil Mickelson, and Bryson DeChambeau have headlined a shift in the tectonic plates of world golf with their moves to the new Saudi-backed LIV Golf League.  I’m bummed. 

What this has done is removed the PGA Tour as the last holdout of pure meritocracy in North American sports.  On tour, there were no performance contracts, no guarantees, you win (or make cuts) or you don’t get paid.  There were several levels of minor leagues flush with aspiring competitors just waiting to  take jobs from the guys on top.  Even if you were good enough to make the annual exempt list on tour, that didn’t ensure you’d get paid.  All that’s gone now with LIV’s huge guaranteed contracts.  DeChambeau signed for $100M and never has to win again.

LIV has turned professional golf from competition to entertainment.  Of course, the players still want to win, but when they don’t have to, the integrity of the competition suffers.  Make no mistake, LIV is not an instantiation of the old poorly funded knock-off football leagues that tried to compete with the NFL and couldn’t land any top-level talent and eventually folded.  These guys have money and star power.  Expect more defections as the economic reality sets in.  How the PGA Tour will react is anyone’s guess.  As their star power and exclusivity wane, they’ll need to adjust.  It was an awesome run while it lasted.  What do you think they will do?

Play well!     

What Drives Your Golf Satisfaction?

I have three.  Shooting a good score, learning a new shot or technique, and teaching someone something that improves their game.  Others such as: taking money off your friends, bombing buckets of drivers at the range, general love of competition, showing off, winning at all costs, swizzling as many beers as you can hold, or blaring loud music and having a good old time hold less of an appeal.  I do enjoy traveling, being out in nature, and the general company of my playing partners, but not quite to the level of my top three.  Let’s dig in.

I am a “no pictures on the scorecard” player.  Generally, when someone asks about my game they inquire, “How did you play?”  This may not be a great approach, but I find myself measuring my satisfaction by score.  I’ll know a 78 on a par-72 track is the same as a 76 on a par-70, but I’d prefer the 76.  Do you think like this?  Maybe I should play on par-60 executive courses all the time and maintain a stroke average like Scottie Scheffler.  Weird how my brain works.  I’m very honest with myself and can evaluate course conditions, difficulty of the venue, how I’m feeling, and their effect on score, but damn, give me the lower number!  My benchmark has changed as of late because I play and practice less.  Generally, I’m happy if I break 80.  Last weekend, I played Poolesville after a couple days of heavy rain.  The normally fast greens had slowed considerably and the rough had grown into US Open length.  Very tough conditions to adjust to.  The first two holes are a par-4 and par-5.  I played five well thought out, superbly executed golf shots, and bogeyed both holes.  Got frustrated and started pressing and had to grind the rest of the day.  On the last hole I hit a great 4-iron into the green and three-putted for bogey which had me down but when I added up my 79, was happy.  If that bogey had turned the round into an 80, it would have made a difference.   Weird how my brain works.

I also derive a great amount of pleasure from taking lessons.  Now, these are expensive pleasure points, so they don’t happen that frequently, but my gratification transmitters are usually firing on high when I leave a session with my pro.  It’s also inspiring to try a few things around the practice green or the driving range that click and you can repeat on, because knowing that you have a chance to leverage these broadens the overall outlook.

Lastly, I love to teach.  Whether it’s golf or showing a colleague at work about a piece of software or helping my daughter to learn guitar when she was young, the feeling that washes over you when you see someone “get it” feels great.  I count a lesson that I gave in the mid-1980s as one of my greatest moments.  I had been teaching only for a couple months and had to give a beginner’s lesson to a lady who spoke no English – I think she was Japanese.  Through demonstration and physical manipulation of her grip and weight shift, I had her hitting decent 7-irons off a tee.  You could see the joy in her eyes as she learned what she was capable of and the feeling of conveying this experience was priceless.   

Scoring, learning, and teaching are my top three.  What brings you the most satisfaction?

Play well!      

A Great Swing Thought Becomes Permanent

“I found something,” is the vernacular muttered by everyone who’s ever played golf.  The phrase is associated with a swing thought or key that allows for an elevated level of play over a certain period of time.  What if you could make that permanent?   God, that would be awesome. 

I think I have, and latched onto a couple keys to help eliminate my big miss (pull hook), and it’s been working for the better part of three months.  Here’s what happened. 

Usually, a swing thought is temporary.  Many last for a single round and are termed WOOD band-aids (works only one day).  Mine came in parts and were delivered separately.  I found the first half in late February on the last day of a golf trip to Myrtle Beach.  I had been struggling with ball striking the first four days and while warming up for my last round decided to try and get more comfortable at address.  I simply flexed my knees a bit more and set my weight a little towards my heels.  Suddenly, I started to feel more in balance and began hitting it solid.  What happened was that my weight had been shaded too far towards my toes and had been restricting my lower body movement.  With the weight back, my legs and back could re-engage and allow me to pivot, making a more athletic move.  In actuality, I’m probably more balanced between the front and back of my feet, but I feel a heckuva lot more stable at address.  This part has been very easy to implement because it’s pre-shot.   

To eliminate the pull hook, I had to stop initiating my downswing with my arms (pull) and flipping the club with my hands through the hitting zone (hook).  In my experience, you can only work with a maximum of two swing keys per swing (one going back and one coming through).  Any more will create an over-reliance on mechanics. 

The reason players start downswings with their arms is to try and generate power that is not stored.  My solve was to store more power with a more complete backswing – pretty simple.  The thought is to turn my left shoulder behind the ball on every shot and hold the position for a count of three.  The turn completes my power build up and the hold prevents a throw with my arms.

On the downswing my only thought is to pull my shoulders hard and into a 45 degree open position when I make the strike.  This is vital to eliminate the flip because the hands become passive while trailing the shoulders and arms. 

I’ve been using these keys for three months and I still need to consciously think about them, but they are becoming second nature.  When things go well, I compress the ball nicely and it either flies straight or with a baby draw.  I’ve also discovered it’s easier to hit a controlled hook or fade by just varying my stance into an open or closed position and focusing hard on keeping my weight back.  There are lots of positives.  When things go awry, it’s usually because I’m not completing the backswing or not holding my count long enough.    

One caveat:  these are designed to take the left side of the golf course out of play for right-handed players.  Sometimes when I over execute the downswing shoulder pull, I push the ball which is how I want to miss it.  If your stock miss is to the right, try something else.

Play well and let me know how it goes if you try these!     

Do You Tinker With Your Swing?

Ten years ago I wrote this post about the urge to tinker with my game.  Today I’m fighting the same urge after a good round yesterday at The Links of Gettysburg.  Tinkering usually happens when we’re playing well because we get the feeling that we can perfect a certain aspect of our game that would make things so much better.  Do we golfers ever learn?    

Try this quick mental exercise.  Who has the best swing on tour in terms of athleticism and technique?  Rory McIlroy gets my vote.  Why would he ever tinker with anything.  In 2011 he crushed the field in the U.S. Open at Congressional.  In 2012, he was the #1 player in the world, however he tinkered by abruptly switching equipment from Titleist to Nike.  I remember thinking, “What the hell is he doing?”  Predictably, the wheels came off and culminated in his on-course withdrawl at the 2013 Honda Classic.  He was defending champion and was hacking terribly and blamed it on a tooth ache, but we knew the real story.  Fast forward to March of 2021 where Rory was at it again.  This time tinkering with his swing in an attempt to copy the move of Bryson DeChambeau.  He twisted himself into a swing pretzel and was in a bad place for a while.

Rory The Tinkerer. Photo courtesy of The Golf Channel

Be on the lookout for tinkering temptations.  I have an affinity for Martin Hall on Golf Channel’s School of Golf.  Love the guy and he’s a very knowledgeable instructor and entertaining personality, but it seems he has three drills he wants you to try on every episode.  Imagine if you tried them all.  That would be hyper-tinkering.

Martin Hall – Master Tinkerer. Photo courtesy of NBC Sports

What happened to me?  On March 5, I reviewed a curation of lesson feedback from three years of sessions with my instructor.  A recurring drill emerged as we tried to get me to eliminate the pulled shot and effectively take the left side of the golf course out of play.  I put that drill into play and have struck the ball well ever since.  What’s different now is that I’m playing and practicing LESS, but am maintaining my good form.  Clearly this is no WOOD band-aid.  But a couple days ago, I reviewed a swing video my son took of me hitting some wedges in my back yard and didn’t like something in my takeaway.  Bang!  The urge to tinker!  I resisted because the last time I got in tinkering trouble was after watching swing video. 

Rory has started working with sports psychologist, Bob Rotella.  Good move to focus on the mental game and let his natural talent flow.  As for me, no tinkering so far, and I will continue the same simple swing keys that have yielded early season returns.

Are you tinkering?  Hope not but play well even if you do!  

Myrtle Beach: Competition Helps your Golf Game

This week in Myrtle Beach, we had two ten-man teams going head-to-head in Ryder Cup style matches over five days.  The first four were better ball and the last day was singles.  Our team entered the singles down by three, went 6-4 and lost by one.  I went 2-3, won my singles match, but only played my best on the last day.

I had a fabulous time and was reminded of a few lessons along the way. If you want to play your best golf, you need to compete – regularly.  You may have experienced significant changes to your golf routine over the past few years, with the ability to compete being removed because COVID restrictions.  I sure have.  For serious golfers, competition is an essential tool for keeping their game sharp as it hones their focus and steels their nerves.  I was reminded of this because I hadn’t competed in anything since February of 2020 and it showed.

Mental preparation is essential for golf competition, but there is no substitute for being exposed to regular competitive pressure.  My symptoms were classic.  I often stood on the first tee with my head full of mechanical and competitive thoughts, and the mix was toxic.  I got off to poor starts the first four days and finally started to play like myself on the last.  Oh, there were stretches of good play mixed in, but the poor starts were the common thread since I had not been under the competitive gun.

A few key takeaways:

  • Do compete in your regular golf game.  It gets your head in the right mindset for competition.
  • Do pair your down-the-middle stay out of trouble players against ego-based players.  Down the middle puts excessive pressure on the ego-based player.
  • Do not make any mechanical changes to your game before leaving on a golf trip.  They won’t hold up under the pressure of playing on strange courses or in competition.
  • Do not take too many chances in a close match and remember, par usually wins the hole.
Giant 8-foot friend we found at Thistle

Overall, I loved this trip.  The weather was glorious and the course conditions superb at all five venues.  The best part was the companionship and camaraderie.  I was in a condo with our team captain, and our nightly libation fueled conversations about how we wanted to match-up the next day were fascinating and great fun. 

Final thought:  Why do the real Ryder Cup captains require two years of preparation where we did the same thing in two hours with a couple gin and tonics?

Play well.

2022 Season is underway!

Yesterday, I opened the season in excellent fashion.  I was trying to bang the rust off my game, prepare for next week’s golf trip to Myrtle Beach, and have fun.  Check. Check. Check. 

After a brutally cold January, yesterday’s mid-50s temperatures were a welcome respite, however when I showed up to the course, the wind was blowing, and it was cold – but still playable.  The tendency on these first rounds is to do too much and I may have stepped slightly over the line because my golf muscles are sore today.  I started with a range warm-up where I hit at least three balls with every club in the bag.  Normally, the first thing to come around is full swing followed by short game and that was the case.  I tapped into a swing thought that I found from my last practice session in December and surprised myself at how solid I struck it.  This held up through the entire round and I probably hit driver better than any round in 2021.  Where I struggled was on the partial wedges and around the green because touch shots require the most practice. 

On the greens, I found that it’s amazing what some consistent rug putting will do for your stroke.  I had been working in my basement and was pleased with the way the practice transitioned.  A little trick I found is to set up your indoor putting station with a slow putt and a fast putt.  My basement has berber carpet, which is kind of bumpy and slow, and I set up a 10-footer on the surface.  I also laid a yoga matt down for a fast 4-footer.  Switching between the two helped to prevent my mind from becoming complacent and focusing too much on mechanics.

Back on the course, I was playing for score but also hitting shots that weren’t appropriate for the current situations, because I knew I would need them next week.  Mainly, I focused on 3-woods off the tee for position, and chipping with lower lofted clubs since there is not much tall rough around the Bermuda greens in Myrtle.

To put a damper on things, another inch of the white stuff fell overnight ☹ and I’m trying to figure out how to get some live short game practice in before traveling.   It’s going to be tight.  On the trip, we’re playing:

I will try to capture enough pictures and information on the first three for new course reviews.  If anyone has information on current playing conditions at any of these tracks, please send!

Play well.

The Awesome Humanity of Golf

Next to the scenic #16 green at Crooked Tree

Last month I embarked on a 30-day social media cleanse.  You have got to try this.  No Twitter, Facebook, or Linkedin for me (Snap, TikTok, and Instagram aren’t in my current lexicon).  With no golf to play on the weekends, I found myself watching oodles of sports without my smartphone as my couch potato technology-enhanced mindless spewing companion, and have emerged unplugged, refreshed, and feeling victorious. 

I learned that I didn’t need to Tweet after every bad play or missed call.  I also observed that golf had the lowest reliance on technology and automation, which aligns well to my enjoyment level.  Golf is just the player and their caddy against the field and the course.  The competitors created their own breaks, owned their mistakes, didn’t benefit or suffer costs from bad officiating, and play wasn’t stopped once for instant reply.  Totally awesome.

Are there distractions in golf?  The PGA Tour’s $40M social media Player Impact Program and the Twitter war between Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau are small blip distractions that have very little impact on the competitive integrity, other than some brief unsportsmanlike behavior by a few fans directed at DeChambeau. Outside of that there’s the odd Twitter spat to generate bogus interest.  I’m sure the players also have some technical points on their minds like spin rates, launch angles, and some other gibberish, that could distract them, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.  You need to strike the ball solid and sink putts to stay relevant.  That has never changed and never will, and I Iove it.

Are you like me when you’re on the course?  I throw my phone in the bag and it’s out of sight and out of mind for four hours which allows me to clear my head for the same reasons.  Do you feel sorry for the poor hacks who are making calls between shots, texting their friends, blasting their music, and just not paying attention to their game?  I do.

Sports are inherently played and officiated by humans.  As artificial intelligence, data science, and automation advance, the human element yields.  With it goes a lot of the passion that drew us there in the first place.  Thank goodness golf is holding the line.  Because of the human requirements of the game, I can’t see this changing, can you?

Play well! 

A Friend In Need

graphic from nj1015.com

There are ample opportunities to help your golfing friends and I enjoy doing my part.  Yesterday, one snuck up on me.  I had agreed to meet a buddy at our home course for a practice session and have known this guy for 25-30 years.  We play once or twice per year but practice more frequently.  This friend is one of those self-taught players who insists upon playing the game his way and is very resistant to change.  Over the years, I’ve learned to never offer any assistance and have never been asked.  His grip, aim, and setup fundamentals are very off, and subsequent ball striking is poor.  He will typically open the clubface about 45 degrees at address and severely close his stance.  Basically, he has no chance.  The only way he can hit a straight shot is to severely come over the top and course correct mid-swing.

As we hit the range, I put down two alignment sticks and built a channel towards my first target.  I noticed he had put down an alignment stick and then he asked what he should do with it.  I was taken back a bit by the request and was doubly curious that he was using an alignment stick given that alignment is his biggest foible.  I rolled with it and offered a spare alignment stick and helped him build a channel and then described the basics.  Point your club at the target, set your feet parallel to the sticks, etc.  It was here that I learned even after playing golf for 30 years, he had little concept of alignment because he asked why you pointed the clubface at the target first!

Well, he started hitting it pure and you could hear the discovery of the ah-ha moment.  I wanted so bad to take a picture of him working with a square alignment but didn’t for fear of embarrassing him, which is why I haven’t mentioned his name.  Later he floored me with another request on mental approach and how to introduce good practice habits. 

This eye-opening moment tickled me pink thinking that I could have helped move his journey forward in a positive way.  He insisted this is the way he’s going to practice every time out and that made my day.  Have you ever stumbled into a situation where you could help a friend?  I would love to hear your story.

Play well!

The Power Of Visualization

We golfers are a weird lot.  When we experience success on the golf course, we try to reverse engineer our process, thinking, mechanics, and whatever else happened during the round and attribute it to something we deliberately did.  Then we have the secret sauce.  Once captured, we simply replicate for every shot in every round and presto! We are a better player.  So, here’s mine from today 😊 

It started on the range last weekend.  I had watched a lesson with Lee Trevino where he stood conventional wisdom on its head and recommended to the student to, “not aim at anything and just get a consistent ball flight.  Once you see that, you can start aiming.”  Have you seen this video circulating?  I love the Merry Mex and tried this for about 10 balls before dispensing.  That tip is for the birds. . .you should always be aiming at something.  After a reset, I tried a visualization exercise in my pre-shot routine.  From behind the ball, I tried to envision the exact ball flight I wanted.  I held it in my mind’s eye, and astride in my setup, continued to visualize the ball flight.  This was the only thing I was thinking of.  As soon as I looked down at the ball, I pulled the trigger.  Results were impressive.  11 GIR and a 4-over round after five straight weeks of not touching a club.  I used this technique for full swings and all short game shots. 

After the round, I thought about how relaxed I felt all day, and determined it’s related to swing thoughts.  The number of swing thoughts you retain is directly proportional to the amount of tension in your body.  Kill the swing thoughts; release the tension.  It works.

Playing without swing thoughts is not easy and requires practice.  Go hit a bucket using these simple techniques of shot visualization and practice your short game focusing only on the trajectory and landing point for your shots.  See if that doesn’t free you up for some great golf.  Let me know how it goes.

Play well!

Jim Rush: Friend and Player – RIP

My dear friend and playing companion for the last 30 years, Jim Rush, passed away on Wednesday, October 6, 2021.  Folks that knew and played with Jimmy recognized what a selfless, generous, kind, and devoted man he was.  His family, friends, and the local golf community have endured a tremendous loss.

Jim Rush

I first met Jim in the late 1980s at Needwood Golf Course.  He used to work as a construction foreman for the organization that maintained the course and a handful of other municipal tracks in Montgomery County.  Jim and another friend, Mike DeOrio, used to pick golf balls at the range and play together.  I assimilated into their group and a lifelong friendship was born.  Over the course of the next three plus decades, Jim and I played many weekend rounds and charity events together.  We traveled annually to Myrtle Beach and played the RTJ Trail in Alabama, as well as the Boyne Resort in Michigan.  Every Fall, Jim would come with me to my beach house in Bethany Beach, DE to winterize the place and play our little mini-Eastern Shore Tour.   I will miss him.

Pat, Mike, Ronnie, Jim, Cary, and myself at TPC of Myrtle Beach

Along with golf, Jim was an avid varmint hunter and would travel to Ohio, Nebraska, and shoot in the local farmlands of Maryland.  Jim was fond of telling the same hunting stories more than once.  I remember on long drives to out of town golf courses, he educated me over and over on the Coriolis’ effect (earth’s rotational effect on moving objects) and what this had on some of his long hunting shots.  I am now an expert 🙂 Golf, hunting, travel, sports, politics, family life, his daily to-do list, and just about everything else was fair game for a discussion.  I will miss him.

Jimmy was a man of many details.  He always organized the annual Myrtle Beach trips, and even after everyone had cellphones and cars with GPS, showed up at our staging area with 10-page printed copies of directions, maps, and lists of tee times.  Jimmy was late to the technology party but eventually got there.  His laminated index card with 15-20 swing thoughts was legendary and was always in his bag. I will miss him.

Jimmy on the Eastern Shore Tour – #10 tee at Eagles Landing

Jimmy wasn’t shy and had the gift of gab.  As readers of this blog know, I like to review golf courses and feel that the best reviews are done when the course is not aware they are being evaluated.  One year, we rolled into Baywood Greens in Delaware, and I told him that I’d be reviewing the course and to keep it quiet.  He strolled right up to the pro shop attendant and introduced me as a course reviewer from All About Golf and said that their course would be evaluated during our round.  They welcomed us and immediately paired an assistant pro with us for our “enjoyment.”  Thanks Jimmy – I will miss you.  

Jimmy had fought and beat the scorn of cancer for many years.  I won’t dwell on his illness or his courageous fight but watching him through the surgeries and treatments and to see him keep taking lessons and trying to improve was inspiring.  We used to lovingly tease him that he was belting it past all the other one-kidney guys out there.  Eventually his illness cut short his time on the course, and I believe the last time we played together was at Blue Mash in May. 

Jim and I played together, practiced together, filmed each other’s swings, and compared lesson notes from each of our instructors.  When he stopped playing, I felt the void and my game went downhill fast because I lacked the motivation Jimmy provided to improve.  I’ve only played three rounds since the beginning of August and the last was over a month ago.

Here’s a video of Jim “moving that pill” at Blue Mash from 2017: https://youtu.be/Ao-DtUl6uVw

I’m not sure how this story will end and all I know is that I miss you buddy, rest in peace.

Jimmy and I after winning first place in our last charity scramble together

Olympic Golf – Are You Watching?

Olympic golf has joined the specter of sports that have been added to the games and simultaneously de-emphasized as “must see”.  I am not watching.  There are two common themes at play with sports like Olympic golf:

  1. The world’s best athletes are not competing
  2. The “sport” is really an activity or hobby

Now, before you start ragging on me because surfing, skateboarding, or canoeing is not a sport, consider that you can compete at anything, but just because there is competition doesn’t mean it qualifies as Olympic.  The Olympics should be reserved for sports where the world’s best compete every four years.  What I’m watching is swimming, gymnastics, track and field in the summer, downhill skiing, figure skating, luge, and bobsled in the winter.  There are a few others.

Of our two themes, Olympic golf falls into the first.  The size of the field and the depth of talent are considerably less than a standard PGA Tour event, and slightly more than a silly season exhibition.  Must-see?  The events that matter for golf are the four majors, Ryder Cup, and regular tour events.  Other sports that fall into this category: tennis, soccer, basketball, softball, baseball (in the past), and hockey in the winter games.  Of these only Olympic hockey gets my patriotic juices flowing enough to watch.  Olympics vs. Wimbledon?  Olympics vs World Cup?  Olympics vs. Final Four?  No thanks.

Are you watching Olympic golf?

Make a Golf Improvement Map

Been getting a few questions lately about methods for improving one’s golf game and overcoming frustrations along the way.  Both are tough nuts to crack, but let’s first address the frustrations.  Recognize that golf is an activity that requires continual learning.  It takes time, effort, persistence, and must be treated as a journey and not a result.  Frustration and satisfaction are companions on the ride.  Players and students of the game come to this realization slowly if they don’t set expectations up front.  The expectations should be documented in an improvement map and include a goal and specific how-to’s.  You’ll find it’s difficult to pursue a general plan like “become a better golfer, “ because the words connote a moving target.

Your improvement map needs specifics.  For example, say you are a player who regularly shoots between 100 and 110.  There’s room for improvement in almost every aspect of your game but not getting focused on where to work can hurt.  Your map should have a goal like:  “Break 100 for seven of 10 rounds by the end of September.”  Then add in the how-to.  This could be:  “Sign up for a series of six lessons on ball striking.  Take one lesson every two weeks.  Practice the lessons twice per week.  Include one round of golf per week.”  Over the course of this journey, you will hit snags and setbacks, but with persistence should expect the balance of instruction, practice, and play to yield benefits.  You may also begin to notice shortcomings in other areas of your game, like chipping or putting.  But remain on task and focused because there will be plenty of time to work on other things.  At this level, you’ll gain a higher level of satisfaction from improved ball striking and eliminating those severely wayward full swing misses. 

Now, say you are a player that shoots in the low 80s.  Totally different map because your swing is more refined.  The more competence you demonstrate, the harder incremental improvement becomes and at this level, a higher degree of dedication is required to improve.  Again, your map should be specific with a goal like:  “Break 80 in five of 10 rounds by the end of September.”  The how-to:   “Take a lesson in chipping and putting.  Practice your learned technique two times per week and play two times per week.  After one month, take another lesson in pitching and bunker play.  Repeat the practice/play cadence.” The focus on short game along with the increased frequency of practice and play should pay dividends.

At any level, increasing frequency is the key because the techniques you learn become second nature.  When you can rely on technique, you think more about making shots. This is where the improvement happens.  The instruction is important because practicing the wrong technique can set you back.  Most golfers struggle with these two areas because they need to find an instructor they can trust and need to make the required time commitment.  Solve for those two, add in an improvement map, and you’re on your way.

Play well.            

Flirting With The US Amateur

Yesterday was a new and fun experience as I dipped my toes into big time tournament golf.  It’s probably not what you think.

Before teeing it up at Clustered Spires in Frederick, MD, I headed to the starters desk and got paired up with an older husband and wife team and a young fellow, also named Brian, who informed me that he was playing a practice round for the June 30 US Amateur Qualifier. He advised he would not be playing out all his shots and would be trying a few things from different locations.  As he loaded his bag on my cart, he asked if I had played the course, because he had not, and he needed help mapping out a strategy.  I gladly volunteered to assist.

As we rode towards the green on the par-3 second hole, I asked Brian how he gained entry in the qualifier.  He said he had just got his handicap below the 2.4 index requirement and was attempting to qualify for the first time.  Brian was playing the tips (where the qualifier would be played from) and I was playing the whites, which were considerably shorter at 6,200 yards.  This was still cool because I was able to watch a real good player and measure my game with his.  How did I stack up?  Handicap stats can be misleading.  I play to a 4.3 index.  Let’s say Brian just satisfied his USGA index requirement and was playing at a 2.3.  Two strokes different, right?  No way.  In all fairness to myself, my short game and his were quite comparable, but ball striking was not even close.  He was consistently ripping it 280-290 down the middle on every tee shot and his length and pureness of strike with the irons was impressive.  The takeaway:  whenever paired with someone from a different club, understand the context of their index.  What is the distance they usually play at and what is the course rating?  I was left thinking that a scratch at my course would get whupped every time by a five or six handicap from a serious venue like a Congressional or Merion.   

On the 17th tee, Brian pulverized another low bullet about 300 yards down the middle, and I asked him what the loft was on his driver.  He said about 12 degrees but admitted that he always hit the ball very low and learned an exaggerated shaft lean as a kid.  He said that if he was fortunate enough to qualify and make it to Oakmont in August, he might have trouble with some of the carries because of his low ball flight.  Then I asked him what he thought it would take to qualify out of Clustered Spires and he thought maybe a few under par for 36 holes.  The US Amateur has 94 qualifying sites, each with 84 players.  Roughly three of those 84 will advance to the 312 player field at Oakmont.  I think it may take six or seven under par to advance out of Clustered Spires.  Yikes!

All day, I found it hard to concentrate on my own game while helping to manage Brian’s club selection and making recommendations on where to hit it and what to avoid.  In addition, our husband-and-wife team were playing very quickly, and the cadence became a little disjointed.  I managed to hit 12 greens and shoot six-over par, but I felt rushed, especially on the greens, with Brian trying putts to all different locations and the other two racing to see who could finish the hole as quickly as possible. It was still great fun.

I have played practice rounds before tournaments, but just played golf.  What I observed yesterday was a real competitor preparing for a serious event using serious preparation techniques.  That I helped him in any small way is gratifying.  I will be eagerly watching the June 30th qualifying results from Clustered Spires to see if he makes it.

Play well.

Celebrating Golf’s Human Element

My Dad is 93 and he and I were watching the US Open yesterday.  The announcers were describing a par-3 playing 173 yards and Dad asked me what they were hitting in.   “That’s about a five iron, right?”  I told him that the pros were using eight and nine-irons and that some guys like DeChambeau were hitting pitching wedges.  He was incredulous, “A pitching wedge at 170 yards?”

My parents and my wife celebrating an early Father’s Day

The current crop of pros bomb it compared to their counterparts in the late 20th century, but the beauty of golf is that is still all about the carpenter, not the tools.  In this week’s major, the USGA set the track at 7,700 yards, grew in the rough, dried out the greens, and presto, even-par for 72 holes is a great score – just like 20 or 30 years ago.  No angle of attack, TopTracer Apex, or ball spin rates are going to save the competitors.  The players with the best vision, technique, and mental toughness are going to be successful, and I am loving it!

In today’s world, most occupations and many sports are being taken over by automation and data analytics.  How accurate is your data?  Can you automate that?  I suppose that’s the price of progress, but is removing the human element from life progress?  My job is to manage resources (people) for my company.  Whether I like it or not, we use automation to increase productivity, and it replaces humans with machines and I have to live with that.  I read a very interesting piece by Kevin Kernan at BallNine about how data analytics is ruining professional baseball and making it almost unwatchable.  It’s true, check it out.

The PGA Tour tracks gobs of player stats.  You can get analytics on every aspect of every player’s game and today’s swing gurus and equipment manufacturers are all in.  But the game is effectively the same as it has been for the last half century.  Why?  Only one stat matters; greens in regulation.  Hit more of them and you win – how refreshing.

The human element is being removed from sports and that’s sad.  Humans play and officiate the games, not machines, but thankfully, golf is holding the line.  If I want to see machines in action, I can go to work.

Enjoy the final round of the US Open today and don’t pay too much attention to the TopTracer Apex.  Play well.

Fun Afternoon Playing with Pro Jocks

On Sunday I got paired up at my course with Joe and Pat, a couple of professional caddies. What made this such a fun afternoon was watching their antics, swapping stories, and taking a jog down memory lane. They were in their mid to late twenties, were good players, and were clearly living the life. It sounded like they had very few commitments or responsibilities other than to make enough money to support their eating, drinking, and golfing habits. When you think of golf bums, Joe and Pat personified.

Turns out they caddied at McArthur Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Florida for the winter and were making their way up north for the summer season.  Pat had a job at the TPC of Boston and Joe at a country club on Long Island.  Each day they drove a leg and played golf at some nice public course.  I was happy they ended up at Blue Mash with me. 

Pro Jock. Photo courtesy of areadinglife.com

As we worked our way through the round, they reminded me of my time in the business and how I was totally consumed by the game.  Work-play-work-play-work-play.  I ultimately exited the industry because of burn out and these guys were crushing my level of addiction.  They were rippin’ it from the tips, had some kind of money match going with automatic two down presses that got expensive on the back nine and may have run over several days.  They were drinking who knows what all day but seemed to be in control and proved to be excellent company.  I was a most interested spectator but was also trying to focus on my game.  I was playing the blue tees, which was a stern test for me because of the heat and wind.  Even playing from the tips, they were not phased, and I could tell had played a lot of golf.  I asked Pat if he had playing privileges at the TPC and he said he teed it up every day at 3:30 p.m.  Caddy in the morning, play in the afternoon, get up and do it again every day.  I recounted a story I learned from Julia Galac, the Story Teller I met at TPC of Sawgrass, and how she volunteered three days per month and received playing privileges at the Stadium Course.  Pat said that if he had that kind of deal, he’d work his three shifts and play the other 27 days of the month – whew!

We shook hands on the 18th green and they invited me into the clubhouse to watch the end of the PGA Championship and have a few drinks.  I could see myself pounding enough drinks with these guys to inebriate myself into an undrivable condition and politely declined.  This was a fun day on the golf course, but I left wondering if that lifestyle was too much of a good thing.  Do you think it is?

Play well. 

When The Average Feels Like Luxury

One of the small prices to pay when you play Covid-19 golf in Montgomery County, MD is that golf courses removed rakes from their bunkers.  The expectation was that you smooth the footprints with your foot or a club.  We now know that the virus is not transmitted on inanimate objects like rakes, golf holes, and flag sticks, but the regulations were implemented out of an abundance of caution.  Well, I chuckled last weekend as I sat in my cart next to the 5th tee, removed my left shoe, and dumped a small load of sand that I picked up from smoothing bunkers on holes 2, 3, and 4.

Fast forward to yesterday where I played nine holes at my local muni after work.  Bam!  No masks in the clubhouse.  No pool noodles in the holes.  Rakes in the bunkers.  Imagine being confronted with all this luxury.  We pulled flag sticks, smoothed our footprints, and shook hands with our playing partners.  It was like watching the pros on TV and was just awesome.

I realize the pandemic is not over, especially in countries outside the United States.  The status of the Olympics in Japan is in doubt and many of the colleagues I work with in India, on a daily basis, have been severely affected.  Thanks to the vaccines, we are starting to reopen and my little sojourn into golf course normalcy was a pleasant surprise.

When the average feels like luxury.  Hope you are getting back to normal wherever you are.

Play well!

Better Golf Through Better Simulation

Perusing the shops in downtown St. Augustine, FL

Regular readers know that I’m a big fan of simulation during practice.  Exercises using this technique have been a great stroke saver because it preps your mind for real course action, gets you out of mechanical thinking mode, focuses you on shot making, and is an exceptional time saver.  Either full round simulation or short game simulation is beneficial. 

This morning, I had two hours to practice and devoted most of my time to a simulated 18-hole round at my home course of Blue Mash.  The whole exercise took about an hour and that included time warming up with about 20 balls.  The best simulations are when you are focusing intently on each shot and do not rush.  Today, I took 30-60 seconds between swings, wiped down the club head and grip after every shot, took an occasional sip of water, and chatted up my neighbor a little.  We were hitting from the absolute front tee on our large grass range and weren’t allowed to use drivers since the last target flag was only 230 yards out.  I resorted to using 3WD on all the tee shots where I’d normally use driver and may have stumbled upon something.

Have you ever thought how much better you’d score if you left your driver in the bag most of the time?  I found this out after only missing one tee shot with the 3WD, and not badly enough so that the ball went into trouble.  Upon reflection, I normally hit driver on 11 of our 18 holes but only need to on five.  You can certainly leave driver in the bag on the par-5s unless you think you can reach the green in two.  I’m not long enough to hit any of our par-5s in two and driver only serves to occasionally get you in trouble.  Just put a 3WD in play and hit one more club on the layup shot and you alleviate a lot of risk.  Anyway, I hit all these 3WDs and shot a solid simulated 2-over round with 13 GIR.  Very encouraging.   

Tomorrow, I’m playing the course for real and am thinking of only hitting driver on the five necessary holes.  This is very important because when you keep the ball in play, your mind remains engaged at a much higher level than when you fight wildness.  The last two times I employed this 3WD strategy in competition, I met with very successful outcomes.  I think I’ll give it a try.

Tee shot on #17 at TPC Sawgrass. Pretty tight!

On a side note, in my recent jaunt to St. Augustine, FL and TPC Sawgrass, I sampled some Jambalaya at Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille in downtown St. Augustine.  It has vaulted up our Jambalaya rankings into the #2 position!  (Rankings are in the left margin of the All About Golf home page).  Harry’s is a New Orleans Cajun style seafood restaurant and is excellent.  If you’re ever in St. Augustine, stop by for a heaping plate of this goodness!

Play well.

Touring TPC Sawgrass

Greetings from St. Augustine, Florida! 

My wife and I are in town checking out possible retirement properties, and yesterday I took a sojourn to TPC Sawgrass, the home of The Players Championship (up the coast in Ponte Vedra Beach.)  I have written about this course, watched every tournament contested at this course, but never visited until yesterday.  What a treat! 

As I walked in from the parking lot, I noticed the venue was buzzing with practice round activity for the upcoming PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship.  This is a 54-hole stroke play event contested on The Stadium and Valley courses over the next three days.  I figured this was perfect to see this fabulous operation in action.

The expansiveness and grandeur of the clubhouse can be overwhelming, and I wasn’t sure where to start, so I filmed the following short video and headed to the driving range.

There were dozens of players, coaches, and a few parents working and watching at this extensive facility and I observed for about 10 minutes until I felt the urge to offer swing advice.  Then it was time to move along. 😊

The driving range

Next, I completely encircled the 77,000 square foot clubhouse after first stopping on a practice green and watching some of the women contestants rolling putts.  I noticed how shaved down and beautifully manicured the surface was and how quickly the balls were rolling.  I started to get the yips just watching.

The Clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass

On my self-guided tour, I was looking for the 18th green but couldn’t orient myself among the maze of cart paths and signs and figured I needed help.  Inside the pro-shop, after picking up some souvenirs, I asked if I could tour the course and they said that course Story Tellers were starting clubhouse and course tours at the top of every hour – perfect!  That’s when I met Julia Galac.  Julia is a volunteer Story Teller and gave me a history of the clubhouse, The Players Championship, and talked about the artwork adorning the main lobby.  Next, we jumped in a cart and headed out to the back nine.  Julia was full of amazing facts about the course, and as we stood on a hill overlooking the par-5 16th, noted that many tons of earth had been trucked in during construction and that a large piece of equipment had gotten stuck that the crew couldn’t move, so they built it into the hillside.  Amazing!

On #17 tee with Julia Galac – TPC Story Teller

We toured the 16th, 17th, and 18th holes, and I became fully oriented from having watched over the years on television.  The iconic 17th green seemed smaller in person than on TV.  What do you think?

On the way in, I asked if Julia had visited the World Golf Hall of Fame, and she replied that she had and that it was, “okay.”  I was planning to add that to the day’s itinerary, but it didn’t feel like a “must see” and I was getting hungry.  So, I returned to the clubhouse and sat down for a delicious lunch of Crab Benedict and afterwards called it a day.  The only thing that would have completed my journey would have been a round on the Stadium Course, but I didn’t have my clubs.  You’re probably wondering what a tee time costs here.  Well, open your checkbook, it’s a cool $600. 

A big “Thank You” goes out to the staff at Sawgrass and to Julia for an awesome day.  You do a great job!

Play well!    

40 Million Wrongs

My jaw dropped when I learned of the PGA Tour’s new Player Impact Bonus program.  To sum it up, the tour will divide $40M annually amongst ten players that “generate the most off-course buzz from fans and sponsors.”   Wow.  A league sanctioned entity awarding compensation unrelated to on-course performance. 

Under the program, players will be ranked by Google search ratings, media mentions, exposure ratings from Nielson Q Scores, and a non-performance MVP index algorithm.  This was a response to the threat the Tour felt from the fledgling Premier Golf League, that was trying to gather a select set of stars to compete in events with smaller fields and larger purses.  Well, that effort flopped and this bonus is a flopper waiting to happen.       

There is so much wrong here, it’s hard to unpack.  First, the PGA Tour is the world’s top golf tour where the greatest names come to compete.  Is this not enough?  The simple ability to test oneself against the world’s best is why many foreign players have relocated permanently to the United States.  Second, the tour has NEVER paid any money for non-performance; why start now?  The European PGA Tour is arguably the second-best circuit but has been roundly criticized for allowing six and seven figure appearance fees to lure players to its events.  Third, advocating self-promotion is a distraction the players do not need.  I’d rather have them focused on making birdies and winning rather than how many Tweets they can send out real time.  I’m getting flashbacks of Joe Horn’s NFL cellphone celebration – ack!  Please leave the self- promotion off the course and don’t pay anybody to do it.

The Tour recently hired Dan Glod to run its global sponsorship development.  I wonder if this is his brainchild?  A new identity for the Tour is definitely forming.  Did you notice it at last week’s Zurich Classic in the fourth round?  As the players were introduced, they were playing walk-up music on the first tee.  Really?  Save it for the WWE.

Play well.    

Golf Is Expensive!! – In COVID

Courtesy of depositphotos.com

Whump!!  That’s the sound of the big bag of money hitting your pro shop counter.  Does your golf cost more since the pandemic started?  In large metropolitan areas such as Washington, D.C., the prices are on the rise.  Since the sport is played safely outdoors, people are gravitating to it in droves, and away from indoor recreation.  Golf facilities are reacting to the market forces of supply and demand and here’s my observations on price; are they different from yours?

EQUIPMENT

On the way up.  The best leading indicator is the price of new drivers.  Callaway’s Epic Max and TaylorMade’s SIM2 Max will now set you back $529 (off-the-shelf).  Top of the line big sticks were typically $399 pre-Covid, and as we know, golf fans have a new infatuation with Bryson DeChambeau’s big dog length off the tee.  Just add “Max” to the branding and ring the register.

GREENS FEES: 

Up about 20-30% across the board.  This includes municipal facilities and daily fee courses.  At my club, I’m playing on a 4-year membership that was pre-paid for a certain number of rounds.  My cost per round, which includes a cart, came out to $47.  The same membership is being offered now but requires you to play an equivalent number of rounds but in just two years and requires you to tee off one hour later.  The cost per round:  $60.  Clearly the club is trying to fill their tee sheet with more expensive ala cart tee times and the availability at my club and the muni’s I frequent has definitely gone down.  I will be rethinking my membership situation after this season is over.  Interestingly, I have booked a time for Wednesday of next week at The Links of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania and noticed they’ve not increased their rates over last year.  It may be that the farther out you go from the big population centers, the lower the price increases.

PRACTICE BALLS:

Up 40-50% across the board.  The size of a practice basket has shrunk.  Initially, facilities wanted you to spend less time on the range, as it supposedly helped with social distancing.  That theory has been debunked a bit, but the size of the range baskets remained the same and the cost went up.  They can get it so why not?  I haven’t been too affected since I spend the majority of my practice time working with my bag shag (own balls) around the practice greens, but the driving range at my club is always packed.  Definitely a cash cow for the facilities.

GOLF TRAVEL:

Travel in general is more expensive with the reopening.  Golf packages are still reasonable (stay and play combos) but airfares to your destination sites are going up.  You can still find deals if you fly to major hubs.  Lodging is on the increase as hotels, AirB&B, and VBRO operators are making up for lost revenue.  Demand for leisure lodging is driving prices, but the full affect won’t be felt until business travel recovers.  The biggest increase by far is the price of rental cars.  Wow!  I just booked a trip to Florida and the cost of a mid-size car exceeds that of round-trip airfare for two people!  Hertz may just emerge from bankruptcy if this continues.  Gas is a bit higher but is more subject to the price of oil on the world stage.

INSTRUCTION

Up about 25%, but why not?  This is where your local pros make their money and with the influx of new players, lesson time is at a premium.  Spend your golfing dollars here on a limited budget.  Invest in the carpenter, then the tools.  Still, you should proceed with caution and go with a recommendation on selecting a teacher or coach.  I perused Golftec.com for their latest offerings, and while they don’t list price, they sell an inordinately large number of lessons inside of golf packages.  The largest package is 52 lessons to be used in one year and that feels excessive.  You need plenty of play to go along with your instruction, so be careful when buying lessons in bulk.

That’s my take on the new costs during Covid.  Have you observed the same increases?

Play well!

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