How To Drill For Match Play

Match PlayI love match play.  The upcoming Ryder Cup is the greatest match play tournament on the planet.  I wish the world’s best would play more in this format.

The huge momentum swings that happen on a single hole, or on a single shot, add an exciting element and keep competitors actively engaged in the contest; even when they’re not playing their best.  Ever start your stroke play round with a double or triple bogey?  It’s so deflating and often sets the tone for the rest of the round, but in match play if you botch your first hole, you’re only one down and have plenty of time to recover.

It makes sense to prepare for match play a little differently than stroke play and the key is to steel yourself against the inevitable momentum changes.  As a big believer in simulating game conditions for any format, the day before a stroke play round, I’ll usually play 9 or 18 holes on the driving range, using the mental images of the competition course for game planning.  Yesterday, I made a discovery playing alone on my 9-hole executive course early in the morning.  Usually, I’ll play a two-ball scramble using my best ball or worst ball to keep it interesting.  On this occasion, I was playing best ball, and was cruising along after five holes with two birdies and three pars.  I decided to play the last four holes with my worst ball (play two shots from the worst position until the ball is holed).  The cool thing about worst ball is that if you hit a great shot on ball #1, it means nothing.  It simply adds a layer of pressure to repeat on ball #2.  Immediately, I noticed a small shock to my system as my mental view of the game was altered and my physical approach quickly followed.  After playing the last four holes in 7-over, I realized that this would be an excellent simulation tool for match play because the sudden change in format elicited a rapid change in momentum which approximated a real match.  Presto!  New practice technique.

The best match play training is competing regularly in match play.  Whether it be an actual competition or a two dollar Nassau with friends, there is no substitute for putting yourself under the pressure of rapid momentum changes.  For my next round alone, I’m going to take it to the extreme by altering my best ball format on every hole.  I think this will be an even better way to train for match play.  What do you think?  Do you have any specific strategies to prepare for match play competition?

Please share if you do and play well!

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Golf is NOT Dead!

Bear marketIs the game dead?  No, and it’s not even on life support.  Some recent events and conversations have left folks with the perception that the game of golf is suffering a slow agonizing death.  Drew Harwell wrote a piece in today’s Washington Post today titled, “Whispers in the gallery get louder; Golf is dying.”  He sights some troubling figures from participation rates in the United States, like the reduction in US golfers playing at least one round per year.  This is down from 30 million in 2003 to 24 million last year.  This week Nike announced that they are shutting down their golf equipment business, and the top names in the men’s game are skipping Olympic golf at Rio.

Tracy, a beach blogger from Myrtle Beach by Word of Mouth sent along a great question about why so many golf courses in The Grand Strand area were closing and being replaced by housing developments.  And finally, yesterday at lunch, a friend was wondering why nobody was showing up to play the “perfectly fine” golf course in his parents gated retirement community.

Taken at face value these events point to a decline in the game, but these are merely leading indicators in a market correction.  As is often the case with real estate, stocks, oil, pork bellies, or beanie babies, when we are in the midst of a market shift, it’s difficult to observe from the inside.  Hard-core golf enthusiasts (I count myself as one) get emotional and defensive about the game.  We love the sport and want to share our joy and experiences while playing and watching, and when negative observations are made, get upset.  But take a step back and think about the reason this is happening.  There is one single explanation that is driving most if not all of the above phenomena.  Tiger Woods.

Tiger took the golfing world by storm from his Masters win in 1997 until the autumn of 2009.  This twelve-year run constituted a bubble in the market which was identified by an increased demand for equipment, clothing, an over-saturation of professional events (FedEx Cup started in 2005, IOC reinstated golf as an Olympic sport in 2009), and most importantly, increased participation by individuals that would not normally play golf.  Courses and resorts were built to accommodate the additional demand for rounds.  Clothing and equipment manufactures sprung to life to supply and outfit newly minted players and prize money and endorsement deals skyrocketed for professionals.  Greens fees and club membership costs soared.  The Tiger effect had bestowed great wealth on many in the corporate world and the elite playing class.  Amateurs were enamored with his chase of Jack Nicklaus’ major record, and his power, physique, and playing style were captivating.  Everyone bought into his brand.  The game was hot and so were the ancillary markets for equipment, real estate, and golf course design.

The bubble burst in November of 2009 when his wife buried a 9-iron in the back window of his SUV after his well publicized cheating scandal.

Middle age guys (like me) have always been the backbone of the game.  We are the majority of players and continued to play at the same rates, unabated by the scandal; but enough of the genuflecting newbies soured on Tiger’s behavior, and when he exited the national stage, pulled out of the game, which started the downward trend in rounds played.  Declining participation is commonly mis-perceived as the struggle to get poor kids or women to take up the game, or to grow the game globally.  While there are obvious barriers to entry such as cost and time, they have always been there and probably will be, but the trend is actually a return to the normal rates of participation.

Sponsors dropped Tiger (except for Nike) and the demand for equipment and clothing ebbed.  Greens fees at public and upscale daily fee courses started to discount, as tee time supply exceeded the demand for rounds.  Some courses could not survive and closed, which was what Tracy was seeing in Myrtle Beach.  While interest rates remained low it was still cheap enough to borrow money and the real estate market began to fill the void in the golf market which is why housing developments have sprung up on old golf course land.

So rest easy and go stock up on newly discounted Nike golf equipment.  Just because Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and Dustin Johnson aren’t playing the over-hyped event at Rio doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the game.  We’re market correcting and that’s okay.

Play well!

 

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2016 PGA Picks

Baltistrol, from Golfdigest.com

Baltistrol, from Golfdigest.com

The 2016 PGA Championship has been thrown on its head by the Rio Olympics.  For the first time in recent memory, the start of the fourth major of the season gets under way only 11 days after the third concluded.  The Olympics are turning into a joke and the golf tournament is in the PGA’s traditional August slot.  Who will be able to deal with the change in routine and the shortened rest and recovery window?  The majority of the worlds top players are either skipping the Olympics or have not qualified, and if they manage to recharge quickly enough, could use the disruption to their advantage.  Imagine them charging into the PGA full bore, skipping the Olympics, and using the extra time off to rest up for the Ryder Cup and FedEx playoffs, which also required significant energy.

The state of Olympic golf from tfs.org.uk

The state of Olympic golf from tfs.org.uk

Make no mistake, the PGA is the most important event left on the calendar and the American and European stars know it and will be highly focused.  Let’s look at the particulars to get you a winner.

Phil Mickelson, fresh off one of his greatest performances in a major, always plays the week before a major but skipped the RBC Canadian Open because of the timing.  Lefty has some local knowledge at Baltustrol, but he played so well at Troon and has got to be deflated from the energy spent on another 2nd place finish.  I suspect he’ll have a go on Thursday and Friday but will run out of gas.  Henrik Stenson can’t possibly duplicate his effort after his performance in The Open.

This major will play out in an epic slug-fest between the world’s top four.  Jason, Jordan, Rory, and DJ are all skipping Rio and have their priorities in order.  They have been bobbing and weaving in the 2016 majors with Dustin Johnson holding an edge in performance and consistency.  Sergio Garcia has been performing well and is always buzzing around the top 5, and the last two majors have been won by players previously on the BPTNWAM list.  Sergio is the trendy pick but he is going to Rio and will be too distracted.  Who will win it?  I am feeling a Rory, DJ and Scott Piercy Sunday horse race  This will be a power ball striking tournament and DJ is striping it better than anyone now.  He is your 2016 PGA champion.  Yes, two majors in one year for a guy I thought would never win one.  Like that pick?  Who’s your pick at Baltustrol?Dustin Johnson

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The Joy of Hard Work And Improvement

Today I had a great day on the golf course.  It was my first 18 hole round since I took a golf lesson on July 2 and only the second round I’ve played in the last five weeks.  To reiterate, I took a full swing lesson and am trying to break some bad habits that I’ve been playing with for the last 40 years, and the change has been a challenge.  I’ve been practicing full swing for the past few weeks and all but ignoring my short game except while playing my executive nine and during a round at a short course down at the beach.  Today, it was time to start playing real golf again.

In the past, I’ve found the first round after a lesson hard, and today was no different. To make the change from playing golf swing to playing golf, I tried to allow myself only one swing thought per shot, even though there were several positions I had been trying to reach during my practice sessions.  To compound things, it was sweltering in the DMV today, and I had a noon tee time and decided not to hit balls before I played, which was probably a mistake.  I tried not to worry about what I was shooting, but kept score because you have to resume playing sometime.  It was a good idea not to be hard on myself because with my head flush with swing thoughts and positions, I couldn’t square up a shot on the first two holes and started out bogey, double bogey.  I started to wonder when the golf gods were going to show me some love and it didn’t take long.  A well struck six iron on the par-3 third hole brought my first GIR and a routine par. It’s funny how one good shot can relax you, and that’s exactly what happened.    After another routine par on #4, I hit a 3-wood onto the par-5 fifth hole in two.  Finally!  One of the major issues I hoped to address was to eliminate the squirrely smother hooks I’d been hitting with the 3-wood off the turf.

To shorten the tale, our threesome cruised around in only 3 hours and 45 minutes and I carded a nice little 75.  Before we started, I told myself I didn’t care what I shot, but I did.  I also saw enough of the new good shots to acknowledge my hard work and to counter some of the old bad ones that occasionally crept in.  This change has been pretty seamless with the short irons, but has been difficult with the driver.  It’s going to take time to eradicate the bad habits because they’ve persisted for so long, but the positive feedback on the good shots will keep me going.  The short iron progress is important because I think I can hit what I’m aiming at inside 150 yards, which was not the case one month ago.

I hope you are as excited about your game as I am mine.  Play well!

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145th British Open Championship Picks

The Open ChampionshipI always thought that if Dustin Johnson was going to win a major, The British Open would be his first because the slower bumpy greens equalize the putting ability of the world’s greatest players.  Johnson is a notoriously mediocre putter especially during big clutch moments, but has suddenly turned the golf world on its head and is winning everything.  Having cleared his first major hurdle, is he now unstoppable?

The other big three (Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, and Jordan Spieth) all seem capable, but currently vulnerable.  Spieth is suffering from mechanical issues.  McIlroy hasn’t sorted out his putting, and Day had the WGC Bridgestone in control until an uncharacteristic late round collapse.  The pre-tournament betting line has all four at 8-1.  It’s going to be a wild ride so let’s sift through the morass and get you a winner.

It’s exciting when someone from the BPTNWAM list finally breaks through as DJ did at Oakmont.  The final round at The US Open had layers of intrigue.  DJ, Sergio Garcia, and Lee Westwood were all well positioned.  But alas, only one player can win it.  I liked the way Sergio finished (for a change).  He hung tough and didn’t choke.  He’s looking good to me this week.  Westwood was awful on Sunday and I have to believe that he didn’t believe enough in himself to play well under the gun.  Rapidly joining that class is Rickie Fowler.  I knew Rickie was done at Oakmont before the tournament started because he basically threw up his hands in the practice rounds and said (I’m paraphrasing) “I cannot putt these greens; they’re ridiculous.”   Haven’t heard anything from Rickie this week, which is a good thing, but the guy is in a slump and he doesn’t close well.  I need to see improvement before I even consider him for BPTNWAM membership.

The Open Championship always manages to tease us with an aging champion getting into contention, and sometimes gives us a winner, like Ernie Els in 2012 when Adam Scott  collapsed late at Lytham.  How about Greg Norman or Tom Watson?  How about Colin Montgomerie in 2016???  Could you see a Monty, Westy, and Sergio BPTNWAM threesome battling it out on Sunday for the Claret Jug?  No.

Back to reality.  This year’s champion will have to steel himself mentally, and has to relish playing in the wind and rain (it’s forecast to be wet the whole week).  Normally, I’d love someone who would leverage the adverse conditions against the field, someone who knows that bad weather culls the weak from the heard.  Someone like a Phil Mickelson.  But Lefty has run up against Father Time.  Not happening for him this week.

I see the winner coming from a group of six players.  The big four, Sergio, and Danny Willett will battle it out all week.  Willett plays great in Europe, has the major bonafides and should be able to leverage the home court advantage.  But he can’t sneak up on anyone any more.

Of these six, Day and Spieth have the best minds for the game.  Day for concentration and patience, Spieth for guts and grit.  It’s a battle of attrition, I’ll take guts and grit.  Jordan Spieth is your winner of the 145th Open Championship.  Let’s get it on!

 

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The Best Golf Lesson Ever!

It was Saturday, June 5th and I was at True Blue in Myrtle Beach, and I could not make solid contact on the driving range while warming up for my round.  I thought I was simply gassed from playing so much golf on the trip but that was not the case.  Two weeks later on June 19, I had an awful time trying to hold my swing together during a round at Poolesville.  My poor strikes were starting to put pressure on the other parts of my game and my attitude soured.  Was I was facing mid-season burnout?  The next weekend, I practiced down in Delaware and took swing video during a rough ball striking session.  I spotted several things I didn’t like and tried to implement fixes but nothing worked.  Last Wednesday was the final straw.  I went to my school field with a bag shag and a sand wedge and discovered I could not advance the ball 70 yards.  I left despondent.  The next morning I called for a lesson with Justin Keith, the PGA pro at Falls Road Golf Course in Potomac, MD.

The lesson:

I arrived at the course and warmed up for 10 minutes.  On the five minute ride to the lesson tee, Justin took my history and golf vital signs.  I didn’t reveal I was a mental basket case, just that for the last seven years, I’d averaged 8 GIR per round and wanted to improve the consistency of my ball striking.  He asked if I had taken any recent lessons or been working on anything in particular.  I told him my last lesson was a few years ago where it was pointed out that I lose my spine angle on the downswing, and that the fault would be a very hard to correct.  Essentially, it was the source of my inconsistency.  He understood and we went to work.

He had me hit half a dozen 7-irons and videoed my last swing on his tablet.  We sat down in the cart and reviewed my swing.  I had two problems.  One was a cupped left wrist at the top of my back swing which was getting me off plane.  The second, which was likely a result of the first, was a downswing initiated with my hands instead of my body.  This was the reason I was pull hooking long irons, hitting wedges fat, and push cutting everything else.   He pointed out that in my follow through, I had a big chicken wing with my left elbow, and that was an indicator that I hadn’t rotated through the ball but had released early.  He also thought that I’ve been able to maintain a 5-handicap with this move because I could time my down swing well enough to square the club face at the impact.  But when my timing was off, I had no chance.

Then we worked for a half hour just hitting nine-o-clock to three-o-clock punch shots with my 7 and 5-irons.  On my back swing, he had me flatten out the back of my left wrist using Dustin Johnson as a mental image.  DJ bows his wrist more than anyone, but this thought worked great.  On the down swing I worked to initiate the move with a bump of my left hip.  On the follow through, he told me to cut it off halfway, with both my arms fully extended and elbows close together (to get rid of that chicken wing).  This was hard and felt very weird at first, but after a few swings I noticed that when I executed I had easily maintained my spine angle without even trying.  The thought of the spine angle fix as an artifact of the other changes filled me with tremendous hope and enthusiasm.

At the conclusion, Justin videoed my last swing and we went back to the cart to view.  He showed me the correction I had implemented along with a down the line shot of Hunter Mahan in his follow through, and how I had gotten much closer to the ideal position.  I thanked Justin and with my head full of positions and excitement, went home for lunch.

Here’s a picture of my follow through with a 6-iron.  Notice the chicken wing left elbow:

Chicken Wing Follow Through

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now here’s a picture of Hunter Mahan down the line with a 5-iron.  Notice how he’s fully extended his arms and how his elbows are close together and how he’s retained his spine angle.  This is the image I’m working to get to:

Hunter Mahan Down The Line

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Implementing the change:

After lunch I went out to my course for a large bucket of 7-iron punch shots, just trying to get the feeling of the new positions and to initiate the downswing with my body.  The contact was excellent and the ball flight lower than normal but very straight and controlled.  I finished with a few sand wedges and discovered I had regained 15 yards of distance that had mysteriously disappeared a few years ago.  The only issue was that all this work had been done off a mat.

The next day, I headed out to Blue Mash for an extended practice session off the turf.  My first indicator of progress was that my divots were flying straight with the gap wedge and 7-iron.  Previously even well struck shots had my divots flying left with that early release.  Again, contact was good, and I mixed in some 4-irons.  Later I added some 3WDs and a few drivers.  Towards the end of the session I started to hit some loose shots with the 3WD and driver, but figured I may have been getting tired since I had hit the equivalent of six buckets of balls in the last two days.  So I rested the next few days and went to work🙂

Thursday after work I hit a bucket off the mat and received excellent feedback with the gap wedge and 7-iron and I began to experiment with different ball positions and hitting knock-down shots.  I was pleased that I could now control trajectory better by moving the ball back or forward and rely on maintaining  good contact.

On the course:

A special shout out goes to The Grateful Golfer.  Jim had recommended that during my learning, I mix in 9-hole rounds of play without keeping score.  What an excellent idea!  I did that yesterday on my executive nine and was pleased with the results.  While shooting at actual targets, of my 11 full swings I only missed one.  It was the old swing, but the number of new good ones was very satisfactory.  I hit 7 greens and a fringe and the single I joined up with was impressed enough to ask for the name of my teaching pro.

What’s next:

The back swing position is starting to feel natural but the down swing and follow through need more reps.  I have also not hit a driver on the course yet.  I could probably play real golf with this move if I had to but will not rush it and will use the balance of July to keep working the move and getting comfortable with the driver.  Hopefully my play will take off in August.

A special thanks goes to Justin Keith.  In the past, I’ve taken a lot of golf lessons.  Some good, some mediocre, some poor.  This was the simplest most productive, and well timed instruction I’ve ever had.  If you are in the DMV and need help with your golf game, call Justin at 301-299-5156 or email him at jkeith@mcggolf.com Thanks Justin!

Play well everyone.

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Turn That Music Off!

Rodney Let's Dance!Back in April, I was playing a round at Poolesville and had bunkered my tee shot on the par-3 8th hole.  As I was preparing to play, a group pulled their carts up to the nearby 10th green.  One of the carts was playing music loud enough for everyone in their group to hear, as well as my group and anyone within a couple  hundred yards.  At first I thought some house nearby was having a party, but then I watched this group play out on the 10th and drive off to the 11th tee and it was clear the source was them.  The quality of this sound wasn’t off some phone, it was a powerful and came from a good set of speakers.

Fast forward to my Myrtle Beach trip in June.  I’m playing an afternoon round at The Legends – Parkland with my friend and we catch up to a twosome of young guys on the 9th tee.  They were blaring Lynyrd Skynyrd from their cart.  While they were kind enough to ask us to join them for their final hole, they made no effort to turn the music off while any of us was hitting.

This morning I was out cleaning the patio in preparation for my July 4th barbecue.  My house backs to the 3rd tee at Lakewood Country Club, and a foursome pulls up in two carts with music blaring.  They all play their shots and speed off as if nothing happened.

When I’m out back working with power tools and a group comes through, typically I’ll power down as a courtesy until after they’ve hit, and sometimes I’m thanked.  When you attend any professional sporting event, music is usually played during stoppages in play but when the action resumes, it’s discontinued.  Music is hardly ever an issue at a professional golf tournament (with the exception of The Phoenix Open), and even there, the drunks keep the noise level on the 16th to a dull roar when players are hitting.

I love loud music.  I’ll turn up my electric guitar when nobody is home and rattle the windows; rock and roll was made to be played loud.  But on the golf course?  Is this the new normal?  Rory BoseRory McIlroy is now sponsored by Bose and typically warms up with his music, but uses headphones.  Where is the decorum out there?  Have you noticed this as well?

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Steve Williams, Out Of The Rough – Book Review

Steve Williams

Steve Williams’ account of life on tour in Out Of The Rough (2015), is a fascinating look inside the experiences of the world’s most successful caddie.  Williams covers his career starting as a youth who got a very early start in the game, and was encouraged by his father to get involved at the expense of finishing school (which he never did).  Throughout the book he returns to this theme and wishes that he’d completed his education, but is thankful that his Dad looked the other way.

Williams’ list of high profile bosses is impressive.  He was on the bag for 150 wins world wide and carried for the likes of Greg Norman (who he classifies as the toughest player he ever worked for), Ray Floyd, Ian Baker-Finch, Tiger Woods, and Adam Scott.  Williams provides many inside the ropes anecdotes, as well as passages from the aforementioned players that detail his contributions to their careers.

Most golf fans got their introduction to Williams as Tiger Woods’ caddie during the 13 years of Tiger’s pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ majors record.  What we learned is that Williams took on and ultimately mirrored Tiger’s psychic mentality and single mindedness during the chase, and he gives the reader the impression that he almost felt dual ownership of the successes and failures with Tiger, even though Woods was ultimately the one hitting the shots.  Williams is a perfectionist and readily admits that some of the boorish behavior TV fans have become familiar with was born out of this single-mindedness attitude but also due to his natural personality.  Williams has always been very business like on the course and protective of his players which has gotten him into trouble.  Like the time he took a camera off a spectator at the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black and threw it in a lake.  Tiger appreciated Williams’ support and picked up the cost of his fine.

Williams notes that he maintains an active friendship with all his ex-bosses except for one; Tiger.  After their falling out at the AT&T National in 2011 the two have rarely spoken and Williams holds a lot of bitterness towards Tiger that he can’t let go of.

Williams details a few regrets.  There’s some poor advice he gave to Norman and Ray Floyd that may have cost them major titles, as well as the interview he gave after the 2011 WGC Bridgestone, after Tiger had sacked him and Adam Scott won with Williams on the bag.   The book also has several excellent passages between Williams and his ex-bosses, like the time Greg Norman confided in him during an all night beer drinking therapy session on the beach after blowing the 1996 Masters to Nick Faldo.  The details around the extraordinary effort by Tiger to win the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg were fascinating.

Williams ultimately obtained celebrity status and in the book he sometimes makes this more about himself than the professionals he worked for, but at the end of the day, most of his good fortune was due to being on the bag of Tiger.

Check this book out.  It’s fresh, it’s current, and there’s good content for golf fans at every level.

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2016 Mid-Season Golf Reboot

Reboot

Thank you to all who commented on my swing video post from last weekend.  There were many salient observations and excellent offers of help.  I worked during the week to make a couple changes and went to my school field yesterday armed with a bag shag and 54 degree wedge to get some positive live fire feedback.  Instead I got the blue screen of death.

I have always lived by the three strikes axiom when struggling with your golf swing.  If you play bad once, forget about it.  Play bad twice, go work on your issues during practice.  Play bad three consecutive times, get help.  My last three rounds were 85-89-83, and after the debacle with my sand wedge yesterday I had seen enough.  My lesson tomorrow is at 11:00 a.m.

Recently, I had fixed my short game and was performing at a high level even during these bad ball striking rounds.  My putting has been solid, and the day before my awful video range session, I had an excellent practice session rolling the rock at Bear Trap Dunes.  But with me all confidence is derived from ball striking, at least to a level where I know where the ball is going when I try to strike it.  Getting by on short game and putting is just whistling through the graveyard.  That’s where I’m at and the full reboot starts tomorrow.

I’ll let the instruction and subsequent practice sink in over the holiday weekend and report back during the week.

Happy 4th of July to everyone and play well!

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The Biggest Golf Loser

Time to try a new game; The Biggest Golf Loser.  This is a game where I try and lose as many bad habits with my golf swing as possible.  A little background:  For the last seven years, I have averaged between 8 and 9 GIR per round.  Amazingly consistent but amazingly mediocre.  This year is no different and I am right on the number at 8.32.  Recently I have been struggling even more with my iron game, so much to the point where I’ll have a shot of 100 yards from either the fairway or light rough and have no idea if I can hit the green.  This shot is a simple 3/4 gap wedge for me and is my bread and butter, my go-to play.

The trouble started at the tail end of my Myrtle Beach trip where I started either blowing these shots way right with a huge push cut, or hitting them fat.  Yesterday at Bear Trap Dunes in Delaware I decided to work on my swing and had one of those range sessions that make you want to quit.  Oddly enough, I was piping my driver, but every iron in the bag was all over the place.  Just pure garbage.  Thank God for mobile phones, so I whipped out mine and shot the following video with a 6-iron.  WARNING:  Parental Guidance Is Strongly Advised.

The best part about this video is the swing of the lady in the background wearing the pink top.  Seriously, it’s a good thing that you can video yourself when you have no move and then compare your swing to a model.

Call me nuts but I used the Adam Scott wedge shot below as my measuring stick.  You’re probably thinking, “What’s this idiot thinking; he’s going to hit iron shots like Adam Scott?”  No, but I can see why my game is all over the place and the key in the Scott video is the lack of moving parts.

In my video, I am setting up poorly, with my weight too far back.  On my back swing, I rise up and keep the club moving back with my arms long after I’ve finished my shoulder turn.  Then I transition to my downswing with an upper body lateral move to the target and release the club way too early.  Where this garbage came from I’ll never know, but that’s golf.

In the Scott video, notice how restricted his back swing is and how little his head moves as he transitions.  He fully rotates through the ball, even though it’s just a wedge shot, and you can see both his shoulder blades on his follow through.  I cannot get to this position without putting myself in traction, but if I focus on fully turning through the ball, I might be able to solve for that early release.

So much to work on but where to start?  Actually, I’ve started today by carefully working on a more restricted back swing and to keep my head level.  I’ve decided not to play for the next three weeks while I work on some corrections and allow them to sink in without the pressure of scoring.

Do you see anything else in this pretzel factory or do you think I have a handle on it?  Hope you are hitting it better than me right now.  Play well!

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Thank You Dustin Johnson!

Dustin Johnson from theoaklandpress.com

Dustin Johnson from theoaklandpress.com

The collective golf world owes U.S. Open Champion, Dustin Johnson a huge debt of gratitude.  I have never found myself rooting as hard for a player to win decisively as I did for D.J. after  “Penaltyshotgate” reared its ugly head with two hours left in Sunday’s final round.  Fortunately, Johnson powered past the field and largely muted the issue and the accompanying social media storm.

Today, our athletic competitions exist in a culture of instant replay.  I have many issues with instant replay in my sports, and most of those revolve around removing the human element of officiating from the games.  But the goal of instant replay is to get the call right and move the game on, even if the process is sloppy.  What the USGA did on Sunday to Johnson and the field, flies in the face of common sense and reasonable decision making.  Golf is a game of personal integrity and is self-managed quite well by the players.  The rules interpretation and final decision should have been rendered on the 5th hole and the issue put to bed.  Perhaps this controversy will lead to some type of reform at the USGA, but for now, I’m very happy for Johnson for upholding the integrity of the competition.  How do you think this should have played out?

Congrats D.J. you are a worthy champion!

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Sunday US Open – Why Not Andrew Landry???

Andrew Landry, photo from The Sporting News

Andrew Landry, photo from The Sporting News

This is going to be an awesome final round at The US Open.  On Saturday, the cream started rising to the top and I look for more of the same as we conclude round three and begin the final act.  As they currently sit, the BPTNWAM group at T-3 has the most intrigue.  Oakmont still hasn’t showed its teeth, but that could change today with drying conditions, and that’s the last thing the T-3 group wants.  Of those three, probably Dustin Johnson would last the longest.  The commonality with DJ, Sergio, and Weswtood is amazing.  They can all stripe it but have never putted well enough to close the deal in a major.  Regarding our overnight leader, Shane Lowery; I think he crumbles early under the Sunday pressure.

Jason Day has one image in his mind; “Johnny Miller – 63.”  Day’s got a great advantage because he doesn’t have to finish his 3rd round in the morning and can watch some coverage and get an early feel for things.  Look for a big move from the world’s best.  Also look for Jordan Spieth to make a charge, but at 4-over he’s a bit too far off to win.  Zach Johnson has the game and temperament for this test and should be right there too.

The one player who’s demonstrated A-game quality and hasn’t seemed to be affected with nerves is our tour rookie, Andrew Landry.  Why not Landry to win it all?  I’ve never heard of the guy until Thursday, but he’s impressed the heck out of me.  Can Mr. Cool handle the Sunday pressure?  We’ll see!

I’m off to play and then enjoy this afternoon’s coverage.  Happy Fathers Day to all and play well!

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2016 US Open Picks

2016 US OpenFinally, the 2016 US Open returns to a classic course that will produce a classic test.  Oakmont Country Club will feature tight fairways, deep rough, and the fastest greens on earth, and I love it.  If you are a traditionalist, and you believe even-par is a great score in this tournament, and that this should be the hardest tournament on earth to win, you’re in for a treat.  You can’t have been happy with last year’s carnival played at Chambers Bay, or even the 2014 contest at the redesigned Pinehurst #2.

Let’s look at the principals:

Justin Rose won the last US Open contested on a traditional layout (Marion – 2013) and sort of backed into it when Phil Mickelson found another way to finish 2nd.  Rose has got to be considered a contender.  He’s having a great ball striking year but his putter is shaky and these greens are going to be the most difficult the pros play all year.  Regarding Phil, I believe the window is just about closed because of age.  Phil plays more interrupt driven golf than ever before.  Interrupt driven = pars and birdies interrupted by “others”.

Rory McIlroy leads the BABSBP category (Bad Ass Ball Striking Balky Putter) with Justin Rose closely following.  Although Rory is arguably the best ball striker on earth when he’s on, the recent change of putting grip from left hand low to reverse overlap is disconcerting when done so close to a major.  He pulled this before The Masters going from reverse overlap to left hand low and was ineffective.  He struggled on the slickmeisters at The Players too, and when his putting is off, he clearly gets frustrated.  The US Open requires steadiness with the flat stick and more patience than any other tournament, and for that reason, Rory’s out.

Defending champion Jordan Spieth is clearly the best putter in the world.  Jordan Spieth 2015He just recently won at Colonial too.  Current world #1, Jason Day is arguably the best all around player and is deserving of his top ranking.  With apologies to Masters champion Danny Willett, the tournament will come down to these two.  Going head-to-head ten times, Day would win six.  It’s that close.  Will the heat be a factor?  Day has struggled with health issues on and off and during some high visibility moments.  Can Spieth keep the ball in the fairway?  The occasional chicken wing move could be costly on the clutch tee shots on Sunday.  Spieth won at Chambers Bay because he can putt and because there was no rough.  Spieth became more and more jittery over his shots at The Masters and I’m not sure he’s overcome that nervousness.  Day is cool, Day is calm, Day is collected.  Jason Day is your 2016 US Open Champion.  Jason Day SwingDid I miss someone?  Who do you think wins it?

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Inside The Mind Of A Chip Yipper

SeveIt was November 11, 2014.  I had just hit 10 greens and shot a 14-over 86 at Bear Trap Dunes in Ocean View, DE.  This was the round where I hit rock bottom with the chip yips.  There is nothing worse than having a decent ball striking day only to know that when you miss an approach shot you have no chance because you’re going to blade a chip over the green or come up way short.  You are paralyzed with fear and indecision and cannot execute.  This is what it’s like to experience the chip yips.

It was clear the yips were a mental problem.  I had been plagued for about five years but earlier in my career had no problem executing a variety of shots around the green from a technique standpoint.  I can’t point to a single event where my chipping fell apart, it just did.  The primary symptom was fear of running the ball past the hole and as a result, leaving my shots way short.  A secondary symptom was blading the ball with a sand wedge, usually off of a good lie.  This happened with small straight forward shots and became worse the farther away I moved from the hole.  A 20-30 yard pitch with a sand wedge became darn near impossible, however when I moved back out to 50 yards, I had no problem because that was an automatic half swing with a lob wedge.  Also, bunker shots were never a problem.  That day at Bear Trap Dunes, I was firing blade runners everywhere and totally embarrassing myself.

The solve:  Some of these techniques may seem counter intuitive and simply worked for me.  They may not work for you, so don’t necessarily try them for yourself or think that they constitute an avocation on my part of a certain method.  They simply worked.

The first thing I tried to fix was the bladed shot because that was a total loss of control.  I know my left arm softens at the elbow in my full swing and I suspected that might be happening with chips, which in turn would shorten my swing radius.  I simply focused on keeping my left elbow firm on all short swings and presto, no more bladed shots.

The more difficult issue was the fear of going long.  In the past, I had tried hitting to a spot and letting the ball run out, or feeling the distance to the hole with my practice swing but neither worked.  Everything still came up short.  If I accidentally got one to the hole, the immediate feedback upon hitting the shot was that I hit it way too hard.  The only way I could save par was by sinking a 10 or 15 foot putt.  But then I remembered seeing a video of Seve Ballesteros rehearsing chip shots with his right hand (dominant hand).  Then I recalled reading Greg Norman’s Shark Attack where he advocated throwing balls with your dominant hand at the hole for practice to gain a feel for short game.  I decided I was going to try to use my dominant hand (right) to hit my short shots because I’d always focused on making a turn with my torso and keeping my hands out of the shot.  It was a mechanical move and not feel based.  In short, I needed more art and less science.    So I started with a change in my pre-shot routine.  I stopped approaching the shot from behind, like a full swing, and started to stand astride the shot and rehearsed it until it felt good.  Then I hit the shot without delay.  The mechanical change I made was on the back swing, to feel like I was taking the club back with my left hand (with my elbow still firm), and then on the downswing controlling the force of the swing with my right hand.  When I did this, all of a sudden, I started swinging more aggressively, hitting the shot a little harder, and generating more backspin.  Now, my only thought is to “take it back with the left hand, hit it with the right.”  When I first tried this, I felt like I would chunk everything, but that never happened.  On my recent trip I started to pull my chips slightly which was probably due to the over-active right hand.  I added a little bit of pivot to the downswing and that was corrected because the chip is still a mini swing that requires timing and needs to be initiated with a hip turn.

After 18 rounds, I’m trusting this pretty well.  Now when I miss a chip or pitch, it inevitably goes long, and I’m fine with that because I can see the ball break around the hole and I know it’s had a chance to go in.  On occasion, I’ll still feel a little apprehension about going long so I make sure to take enough practice swings feeling my right hand initiate the downswing and then I hit the shot quickly.  In all my 2016 rounds, I can honestly say I’ve only yipped two or three chips, and actually seen a few more than that go in.

Finally, regarding club selection, I am in the camp of matching the club to the shot rather than being able to execute a ton of different shots with one club because I don’t play or practice enough to do that.  For chips, I like the sand wedge, pitching wedge, and on long chip and runs, the 8-iron.  For green side pitches, I favor the lob wedge or sand wedge.

So that’s the story of recovering from the chip yips.  They are horrible and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone.  Hope my luck holds out and that you never see them.

Play well!

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Thistle Golf Club – Course Review

Summary

Thistle Golf Club

Thistle Golf Club

On Friday, June 3rd, 2016, our travel group had the pleasure of playing Thistle Golf Club in Sunset Beach, NC.  Thistle had not been on our regular Myrtle Beach course rotation but it is now.  We last played it about 10 years ago and the course has only been open since 1999.  It has grown into a fabulous track and should be on your MUST play list of northern end courses.

I will usually poll my playing group at dinner on their likes and dislikes about the day’s course and the group was hard pressed to fine any negatives.  In short, we loved it.  Thistle is a straight forward superbly conditioned course with all Bermuda playing surfaces.  There are no trick holes on the two nines we played and if you drive it well, you can shorten some of the par-4s considerably and score.  If not, you’ll struggle because there is a lot of water on the tee shots.  Of the three nines (MacKay, Cameron, and Stewart), we played MacKay-Cameron as Stewart was closed for maintenance.

Right out of the gate on MacKay #1, you have hidden water on the left and an approach over water, so keep your tee shot right center.  Most other shots have a clear line of sight for the player to follow.  Trust your aiming points and if you’re hitting it solid, you’ll be in for an enjoyable round.

Facilities (4.5 out of 5.0)

Mike on the range

Mike on the range

We started off our day warming up on the beautiful driving range.  There are 12 all grass hitting stations and a bag of 40 balls costs $5.00.  Much to our surprise, all the range balls were brand new Titleist NXT Tours and were in excellent condition.  This added to the sense of class, and to the feeling that we were entering into the realm of a hidden gem.

The clubhouse is a modern well appointed beauty and the entire premises has that feel of a classic Scottish course.  There is an ample sized putting green and pitching area and all are located very conveniently to the starter’s station for efficient traffic control.  Out on the course, there are several rest stops with modern clean bathrooms, as well as water fountains and good supplies of divot mix replacement bottles for your golf cart.  This struck me as a good idea and probably helped keep the golf course in its great condition.

View of the putting green from the clubhouse

View of the putting green from the clubhouse

Value (4.25 out of 5.0)

Thistle is a high end play but doesn’t charge high end prices.  The replay rate was $45 (a steal for this caliber of course).  I suppose you could ding them for not including balls in your greens fee but that’s a nitpick when you figure the overvalue you are getting for the golf experience.

With Mike at the par-3, 4th hole, Cameron nine

With Mike at the par-3, 4th hole, Cameron nine

Customer Experience (4.5 out of 5.0)

The bag drop guys provided snappy service as soon as we pulled in and got us loaded and on our way promptly.  The gentleman manning the desk in the pro shop was courteous and helpful, but the lady in charge at mid-day went over and above.  Three of us badly wanted to replay and came in right after the a.m. round to inquire.  The lady said the tee sheet was full until 4:00 p.m. (it was 1:00 p.m.) but she could get us out again if we wanted to go in 10 minutes.  She made sure we had time to grab a lunch to go and a drink, and got us back out into a sweet spot that allowed us to play the afternoon in just under four hours.  We very much appreciated her flexibility and loved our afternoon round.

Then, our group leader found out he lost his car keys and the same lady let him come behind the desk to use the phone, call a tow, and take all the time he needed.  The cart guys helped search the premises for the missing keys which was also appreciated.  We found them locked in our car and resolved the situation with their help in 1/2 hour.

The course would get a perfect 5.0 except that each of the golf carts were equipped with two coolers and neither had any ice.  Virtually every course in Myrtle will provide ice in your coolers and hand towels, but there were none.  A very minor inconvenience but not perfect.

Mike sizing up the tee shot on the par-3, 3rd hole - MacKay nine

Mike sizing up the tee shot on the par-3, 3rd hole – MacKay nine

Overall Rating (4.5 out of 5.0)

I would love to come back and try the Stewart nine when it’s open.  As it was, we played the MacKay-Cameron combination from the blue tees (one up).  The course measured 6,495 and I carded an 8-over 80.  Thistle is a fabulous play.  I’ll be back and you should too on your next trip to Myrtle Beach!

Chris on the par-5 ninth, Cameron nine

Chris on the par-5 ninth, Cameron nine

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Barefoot Norman – Course Review

Summary

Clubhouse at Barefoot Resort

Clubhouse at Barefoot Resort

Our travel group played the Barefoot Norman course in North Myrtle Beach, SC on Wednesday, June 1, 2016.  Barefoot Resort hosts three other courses named after their architects (Love, Fazio, and Dye) three of the courses play out of a single tremendous size clubhouse (Dye has its own).  What strikes you as you arrive at the main clubhouse is the level of organization and sophistication to the golf operation.  They have to be efficient with one central area servicing all three courses.

Make sure to get to the course an hour early if you like to warm up.  Barefoot has a beautiful all grass driving range facility with complimentary balls and ample hitting space, but it’s about half a mile down the main road and is only accessed by shuttle once you’ve parked and unloaded.  The bag attendants will call the shuttle when you’re ready to go hit but you do need about 15 minutes extra time for the transit.  Our group either warmed up on the range or putted, but didn’t have time for both and we arrived 45 minutes ahead of our time.  A special shout out goes to our shuttle driver who unloaded a golf bag for an elderly lady and took it out to the range to make sure she was set up with her clubs and balls at a hitting station.

The range shuttle at Barefoot.

The range shuttle at Barefoot.

On the course, Greg Norman’s layout is very playable for every handicap level.  The playing surfaces are Bermuda on the tees and through the green but the putting surfaces are Bent, which I was very comfortable on.  There are no tricked up holes or greens with buried elephants to frustrate you.  Just a classy straight forward well designed golf course with excellent conditioning.  The routing takes you through a mix of isolated holes in the natural landscape, gentle doglegs, with a few holes running through the community.  At no time did we feel any of the condos were intruding on our play.

Ronnie tees off on the par-4 fourth hole.

Ronnie tees off on the par-4 fourth hole.

The beauty in this course is in the par-3s.  #3 is long and narrow with water in front.  #7 (shown below) is a shorter hole protected by a large waste bunker, and #10 (also below) is the signature hole that plays about 180 yards and runs downhill along the Inter-coastal Waterway.  There’s always some party boat or jet ski navy cruising by to add entertainment value.

Par-3, 7th hole

Par-3, 7th hole

The author on the par-3 10th hole

The author on the par-3 10th hole

Value (3.25 out of 5.0)

We played on Wednesday when you get a $20 price break on your greens fees.  Ours was built into our package, but this is not an inexpensive play.  Barefoot is a high end resort and the Norman course is very nice, but we elected to forego the $60 replay charge and play in the afternoon for $45 back at The Legends Parkland course, where we were staying.  I’ve played the Fazio and Dye courses here which are also good plays, but I’d place all three a notch below other top end courses like True Blue, Grand Dunes, and Tidewater.

Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)

Big plus is the size and amenities available in the clubhouse and driving range.  We dined after our round in the sit down restaurant and the food and service were excellent.  Unfortunately the staging area can get really crowded when they are setting up play for three courses.  For some inexplicable reason they located an outdoor bar right in the staging area where customers can drink or sit for a light meal.  Initially I thought this was a cool idea but after seeing the foot and cart traffic trying to share the same space, had to reconsider.  Barefoot also has a policy of trying to limit unnatural objects on the golf courses.  That means no water coolers or trash cans.  On this day, the weather was perfect but several years back, I had to quit from dehydration during a round on the Norman course.  I would have loved to have had regular water stops available and that negative experience is etched in my psyche, so I brought extra water in my golf bag that I didn’t need.  Still, the marshals brought coolers with water and beverage cart hit us up several times.  There is one rest stop servicing the 10th and 13th tee with a bathroom and water fountain.

Customer Experience (3.75 out of 5.0)

The shuttle driver and bag drop guys were top notch, as was the lady running the beverage cart.  Marshals were friendly and ready to assist.  But the golf carts are equipped with GPS units that bombard you with adds.  On every hole, you need to touch the screen to clear the adds and get back to the golf course map.  Everyone in our group found this as an irritant.  The rating here would have gone higher with time to practice my putting after hitting the range, but the shuttle time compressed everything.  Once we hit the course we were in for an excellent relaxing experience.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

Norman was a solid well maintained golf course and very fun to play.  We played the black tees (one set up) at 6,374 yards and I carded an 8-over par 79.

The bar in the staging area

The bar in the staging area

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Myrtle Beach 2016 – Sometimes Less Is More

Our golf travel group visited The Grand Strand for a long anticipated week of overindulgence from May 29 to June 5th and I finally learned the lesson that sometimes less is more.  It has its practical applications in life and sometimes needs to be learned and re-learned on the golf course.

Our trip was a wild ride from the start as we traveled to South Carolina during the height of Tropical Storm Bonnie.  The slow moving system lingered in the area until Wednesday and while no day was a total washout, we got wet during a couple of rounds.

Thunderhead building over The Norman course at Barefoot Resort

Thunderhead building over the Norman course at Barefoot Resort

Despite the rain, I still played 10 times over six days and loved every minute of it even though I ran myself ragged by the end.  For the week, I played:

Monday: Parkland a.m., Parkland p.m.

Tuesday: Oyster Bay a.m.

Wednesday:  Barefoot Norman a.m., Parkland p.m.

Thursday:  Heathland a.m., Mooreland p.m.

Friday: Thistle Club a.m., Thistle Club p.m.

Saturday: True Blue a.m.

Preparation:  I had been working on my short game in an effort to get rid of a 5-year case of the chip yips and boy did the work pay off.  My technique and mental game changes left me in a confident state and in complete control around the greens (post coming shortly on what has been working).  I was able to save countless strokes in a week where I hit a lot of loose shots with my irons.  Oddly enough, I drove it solid and straight but made some bad swings from a lot of ‘A’ positions.  On these difficult venues you are going to make bogeys, but in years past poor ball striking and poor short game would have resulted in several rounds ruined early with the dreaded “other” rearing its ugly head, but I knew early I was in business after making only one double bogey in my first 54 holes.  For the trip I had only three “others” in 180 holes played which thrilled me to no end.

I never went really low (76 at Parkland was my best round), but until the last day, played extremely steady and kept it in the high 70s and low 80s.  Unfortunately, the lesson of less is more had to be learned at True Blue (one of my top 5 favorite courses in the area).  I was starting to feel fatigued the previous day at Thistle (review coming) and by Saturday morning, was very sore and tired.  We warmed up at True Blue and I struggled to make any type of athletic move, even with a short iron.  I hit about 30 balls in an effort to get loose and never made solid contact.  Sensing it would be a rough day, I went through the motions, enjoyed the company of my playing partners, and bunted it around for an 89.

Smiling at True Blue before my final round 89.

Still smiling at True Blue before my final round 89.

It had been a long week of playing a lot of golf in the sun, heat, and rain, and everyone was pretty whipped after our round at True Blue.  We had the common sense to forgo one final replay and headed off to the Dead Dog Saloon at the MarshWalk in Murrells Inlet for some refreshment.

At the world famous Suck Bang Blow biker bar in Murrells Inlet, SC.

Stopped by the world famous Suck Bang Blow biker bar in Murrells Inlet, SC.

Every year, we make the 7.5 hour drive to Myrtle Beach from Maryland but this year we decided to fly.  What a great decision.  The one hour hop from Baltimore on Spirit Airlines was effortless and left us in a refreshed state of mind and body.  The drive down is not bad but returning in all that traffic after a fatiguing week of golf is tough and I think we’ve probably made our last drive down.  In coming years, I’ll need to think about conserving my energy for the end of the trip.  Yes, 10-12 rounds of golf over six days may be too much and was a painful lesson. 😦

So that’s it for Myrtle Beach 2016.  Stay tuned for course reviews from Thistle Golf Club and Barefoot – Norman.  Play well!

IMG_1691

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Myrtle Beach Trip – 2016

Myrtle BeachTomorrow we leave for Myrtle Beach on the annual golf-a-palooza journey.  The good news is that I feel more confident in my game than during any previous MB trip.  The work I’ve done to change the mechanics of my short game, along with a switch in pre-shot routine has recharged my batteries.  When combined with the new West Coast Offense visualization techniques, I’m feeling very positive, and today’s final tune up round was another good one and reinforced the correctness of the approach.  Will this translate into better scoring on the trip?  Who knows, but I can’t wait to try.

The not so good news is that our arrival at MB International coincides with the departure of Tropical Storm Bonnie from the Grand Strand area.  Our flight in could be a rough one and our round on Monday may be affected by the remnants but we are ready for anything mother nature throws our way.  The remainder of the week looks good weather-wise.  We are staying at The Legends 54-hole golf mecca and the week’s lineup is awesome:

Monday:  Legends Parkland

Tuesday:  Oyster Bay

Wednesday:  Barefoot – Norman (course review coming)

Thursday:  Legends Heathland

Friday:  Thistle (course review coming)

Saturday:  True Blue

Full trip report is coming; stay tuned.  Play well and have a great week!

Brian

 

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Golf’s West Coast Offense!

Bill WalshThis is a strange tale of improvement that I need to pass on.  It was spawned a couple weeks ago when I responded to a post by The Grateful Golfer in which Jim wrote about fighting off bouts of poor play.  In line with that, I mentioned the technique I had tried of writing your score down hole by hole for the entire round, before you play, and how it had started to work.

As readers of this space know, I’m a huge fan of mental game improvements and a big proponent of all of Dr. Bob Rotella’s books.  I’ve never seen this technique written about by Dr. Bob or anyone else, but got the idea thinking about the success Bill Walsh had with scripting the first 20 plays of a football game.  Walsh was helping his teams prepare and visualize good starts.  His teams always seemed to execute well in the first quarter and my golf game was in need of some first quarter magic.  I was getting killed by poor starts.

The specifics:  In addition to the scores, I was predicting GIRs and putts per hole.  My approach was optimistic but reasonable.  I didn’t chart any career rounds but felt it was a good idea to plan for the best ball striking possible, at least to a level that I was capable of.  In addition to plenty of GIRs, I threw in a few bogeys to keep it real, but no three-putts!  I realized that this technique might be deviating from the stay in the moment mindset associated with good mental approaches, but I had seen enough bad starts that I didn’t care.  I just wanted to try something new that might help.  After all, it was a different kind of visualization.  You write a goal down on paper to cement it in your mind’s eye, right?  Same idea.

The results:  As I mentioned, my early season ball striking was terrible, but boy has it been working after the change.  My first round out, I scripted 16 GIRs and hit 14.  The second round was in a four-man scramble and we finished 4th out of 33 teams.  I performed well in pressure situations (hitting last) which felt like a positive.  And last weekend I played in very heavy wind and managed to hit six of nine greens on the front nine on my way to a two-over 74.  I had scripted 72 strokes, 13 greens, and 31 putts even knowing that I’d be playing in difficult conditions.  I finished with 74-9-29 which was probably the best wind game I’ve ever played.

I am not sure what is going on with this technique, but I suspect it allows you to visualize success based on playing to your full potential, but turning your full potential into your comfort zone.  Is 16 greens in my comfort zone?  Heck no, but if I can fool my mind into thinking that it is, maybe I’ll get closer more often.

Admittedly, there was a physical element as well.  I haven’t been playing or practicing much, but have been working out daily and doing a lot of rotational work to rebuild flexibility in my torso.  Also, on Saturday, during The Players, I rug putted for five hours during the telecast.  Call me crazy, but I was very comfortable the next day on the greens, wind or no wind.  So there’s probably a combination of mental and physical preparation at play.

So there you have it.  Try scripting your next round down to the finest detail and see if Golf’s West Coast Offense will work for you!

Play well.

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Tips for Handling Different Green Speeds

Image from Neverthreeputt.com

Image from Neverthreeputt.com

Saturday at THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP, we saw just how difficult changing green speeds can be for the world’s best professionals.  The sudden switch from an aggressive birdie-fest mindset to a total defensive posture drove the field nuts.  Average putts per round jumped to 32!  We often see similar condition fluctuations at The Masters and the U.S. Open, when the courses typically firm up through the championships, but not as radically as what happened today.

Professionals will adjust from fast to slow greens more easily than slow to fast.  They’ve gotten to where they are by making birdies.  On the other hand, amateurs typically struggle more with fast to slow adjustments.  This happens because the amateur is more concerned about three-putt avoidance (blowing it past) than the professional who is thinking, “Make it.”

Handling change is difficult for touring professionals, so how are weekend desk jockeys supposed to cope?  When my group goes to Myrtle Beach, we often play on nine or ten different courses over six days, and are constantly presented with different green speeds.  The typical adjustment required is fast to slow, as we’re faced with slower Bermuda or Tiff Dwarf surfaces that are prevalent in South Carolina, and have been grown out a bit to handle the hot summer weather.  In the mid-Atlantic, we are used to the quicker Bentgrass surfaces.  The adjustment can be difficult and nothing frustrates my group more than knocking an iron shot stiff only to leave a well-struck birdie putt one foot short “right in the jaws.”

Here are three simple keys I use to adjust:

  1. Warm up with 10-footers before you play.  This is the length of putt that will give you the best feedback for the day’s green speeds.  Also, if you hole out your practice putts, starting with the 10-footer will get you close enough to the hole that you don’t three putt.  You never want to three putt while warming up because it’s a confidence drain right before you tee off.  Concern yourself with feeling the pace of the putt and don’t worry too much about the line.
  2. Adjust grip pressure.  Ideally, on fast surfaces, hold the putter as lightly as possible.  You may even allow for a smidgen of wrist break on the back swing so as to not get too robotic.  For slow surfaces, hold the putter a little tighter which will produce more of a pop stroke.  Picture Brandt Snedeker or Tom Watson.  Try not to alter the pace of your stroke based on the green speed.  Keep it consistent and smooth.  The grip pressure will give you more or less distance.
  3. It’s obvious, but on fast surfaces try to keep your approach shots below the hole.  It makes the game easier because putting downhill and scared are a lethal combination.

Those are my keys; I hope they work for you.  Do you have any you’d like to share?

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