Genuflecting In The Temple of Tiger (Four Truths)

Photo of Tiger at Valspar from Golf Digest

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Is Tanking Permissible In Golf?

Tiger from

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

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

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

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

Play well and no tanking!

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The Golf Gap: Connecting The Dots

Playing from a fairway bunker at Oyster Bay


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

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

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

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

Good luck with your gap analysis and play well!

After a rainy round at TPC of Myrtle Beach


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Crack The Egg On The 2018 Golf Season!

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

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

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

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




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Careful With That Off-Season Workout!

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

At Tigers Eye

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

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

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

Do you have any off-season workout recommendations?

Play well.

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The Grind of a Swing Change

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

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

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

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

Play well.

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2017 Season Wrap-Lessons Learned, Truths Revealed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope you had a good season too.  Play well.

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Troubling Epiphany – Need Help!

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

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

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

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

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

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The Fix Becomes The Fault


Have you ever tried to change something in your golf swing and experienced profound rapid success?  And then you tried the exact same move the next day only to have nothing work?

The following story is true. . .

On Thursday of last week, I reviewed five years of down the line swing videos of myself.  Of course, I was looking for a swing key that would carry me the next three days on my golf trip to the eastern shore.  What’s amazing is that over the five years, I worked on many parts of my swing and implemented many changes, but my move looked strikingly similar in each video.  With the slight exception of my most recent video, I tended to lift my head up about three inches on the backswing and then move about three inches backward during the downswing.  My “reverse L” was clearly causing me to lose my spine angle.  How could anyone hit the ball correctly with this much head movement?  So, to remedy, instead of one swing key, I picked two.  I would point my left shoulder at the ball on the backswing (to keep my head from rising) and sit into my left glute on the downswing (to start the swing from the ground up and maintain my posture).

During my pre-round warm up on Friday at Hog Neck, I was hitting big push cuts with this move, so I did what any reasonable fellow would do and discarded my range session swings as aberrations.  On the first tee, I blew a big push cut into the woods and was fortunate to make bogey.  I scraped a 2-over front side together on the sheer luck of great putting, all the while struggling with these two moves.  On the back side, I jettisoned the sit down move and just focused on “left shoulder down” and began pounding my driver and nutting irons dead at flags.  THE MAGIC MOVE HAD ARRIVED!!!  After finishing the inward half at 1-under, I was extremely pumped to play on day two.

Ever fill up a balloon and let it fly around the room making funny noises until empty?  Armed with “left shoulder down” on Saturday at Eagles Landing, I pumped up and nailed my first three drives, but quickly evolved into a fluttering mess of pull cuts, pop-ups, and chunked irons.  What happened?  After 18 holes, I looked and felt like that spent balloon.

At Heritage Shores on Sunday, I started with nothing but weak pull cuts off the tee and fat irons.  After one particular chunk with a gap wedge from 98 yards that threw a divot almost 45 degrees to the left, I heel spanked a driver on the next tee, and decided something was fundamentally wrong with my swing, but I couldn’t identify.  The only thing I felt was unathletic.  So, the change I made was to get in a more athletic position at address and forget left shoulder down.  I simply flexed my knees a bit more and for the last seven holes was rifling my driver and hitting the irons spot on.  What happened here?

In retrospect, when I bent my knees, I re-engaged my spine angle.  Just try this and see if you don’t feel some tension return to your lower back.  Left shoulder down had become left hip in and a reverse pivot.  GAWD this game will drive you nuts!!!

So now I am filled with hope that this latest correction is the one.  I should probably go back to my instructor for some serious correction but it’s getting late in the season.  We’ll see what happens after tomorrow evening’s range session.

Has your fix ever become the fault?

Play well.


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First Tee, Fast Start!

You get to your golf course early.  Hit a large bucket of balls, work on your chipping and pitching, then then putt for 20 minutes.  You’re fully warmed up, mentally comfortable and step to the first tee.  You then proceed to knock one out of bounds or cold top your tee shot.  Or worse yet, you hit the fairway and lay the sod over your approach shot.  What went wrong?  Why are you so out of kilter?  Has this ever happened to you?

A lot has been written about the first tee jitters, but this is more than combating nerves. It’s about conditioning your mind.  Most of last season, and early this year, I was plagued by these poor starts, but I’ve learned there are several tricks you can play on yourself to ease the transition from warm up to game time.

Don’t discount the need to warm-up physically, and you should experiment to learn how many swings you need.  When I was younger, I would often start my round just as the sun was coming up but without the benefit of any warm up.  I’d notice that it took about four holes until I had my golf senses fully activated and I was in rhythm.  Doing the math, I figured this came out to about 12-15 full swings.  Now, I’ll stretch, and hit a minimum of 15 balls (five sand wedges, five 7-irons, and five drivers) and that’s what I require to get loose.  Then, I’ll start work on the mental side by simulating play of the first two holes of the course using my full pre-shot routine.  I’ll sight targets with my range finder, check wind direction, pull the right club and hit.  In essence, I’m getting my brain into game mode from warm-up mode.  This is an important concept because most folks rake range ball after range ball when practicing or warming up.  When you rake, there’s little focus and no consequences.  Hit a bad shot and just pull another.  During the simulation, you pressure yourself to hit a good shot.  This is what most players struggle with on the first hole because their brains are in rake mode, not consequence mode.  Get to consequence mode and you’ll feel more relaxed.  You should feel like you played your course but reversed the nines.  You want to feel like you are hitting your tee shot on #1 with nine holes under your belt.

Next, I’ll move to the putting green and roll putts of various lengths for about five minutes.  Then I’ll take one ball and start playing holes.  The key is to make it hard on yourself.  Start with a 50-foot putt from the fringe.  Mark your ball, go through your full pre-shot routine on every putt and hole everything out.  Don’t worry if you three-putt because the goal here is not to score but to feel some pressure.  Make all the starting putts difficult.  Use big breakers, downhillers, and long uphill putts.  This is game mode.

Both the physical and mental warm-up are important.  Most courses have a practice putting green where you can do the majority of your work.  But some don’t have a driving range.  The next best thing to driving balls is hitting bunker shots.  It’s essentially a full swing and the impact of club into sand will jar your golf muscles and senses into order.  Hit 10 or 15 bunker shots and you’ll be close to warmed up.  With no bunker, try hitting pitch shots and then playing a short game of up-and-down.

The key is to trick your mind into thinking you are in game mode during warm-up.  These are the techniques I’ve successfully employed.  Give them a try and let me know if they work for you.

Play well!

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The Opportunity Cost of Playing or not Playing Sports

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why can’t I play this sport to the level that I’d like?”  Have you also observed folks very proficient in a particular sport and noticed that they have no life outside the sport?  This two-way phenomena is known as opportunity cost.  From our Economics 101 text book, opportunity cost is defined as:  “The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.”  It is the chief reason why people underachieve in recreational or competitive activities, and why some who excel in those same activities, may suffer from the failure to take care of themselves in other areas of their lives.

Opportunity cost is not good or bad, it’s just a judgement call each of us make every day about many things.  The opportunity cost of an avid football fan who watches 15 hours of games every weekend might be that he has a poor golf game.  The opportunity cost of a mom or dad shuttling their kids to youth soccer games, practices, and tournaments every hour of every week might be the inability to work, socialize, or exercise.

To get more clarity, I’m reading Dr. Bob Rotella’s “How Champions Think.” This book gets in the minds of competitors from several sports who’ve made it to the top and identifies some common recurring themes.  Single-mindedness is huge.  These folks dedicate a good portion of their lives to mastering a craft and it often comes with significant opportunity cost.  There are ruined marriages, neglected children, repetitive stress, and burnout, and they are a bit disturbing to read about.  If you’re looking to become a champion, this book provides an uncommon but necessary view.  Rotella advocates for single-mindedness, but points out it takes very special individuals to manage the competing factions that this level of dedication requires.  He cites Jack and Barbara Nicklaus as two of the best in handling them.  Unlike a lot of marriages and relationships with tour players and spouses, Jack and Barbara understood how their significant other needed to operate and made it work so that Jack enjoyed the greatest golf career ever, and mostly Barbara raised a wonderful loving and understanding family.

I also just finished Bob Ladouceur’s “Chasing Perfection”.  Ladouceur was the head football coach at De La Salle High School in California and led his teams to 12 consecutive undefeated seasons and accumulated a record of 399-25-3 during his tenure.  I wanted to know what his secret sauce was.  In one passage, he discusses the desires of other kids to transfer to De La Salle and become part of the winning tradition.  Most of these transfers washed out when they discovered the level of dedication and demands he placed on his players and coaches for single-mindedness and preparation.  These were eerily similar in effort and opportunity cost to the athletes Rotella describes.  This book is an eye-opening read.

As an avid golfer, I’ve dedicated more than my fair share of time to gaining and maintaining the skills I need to play to a certain level.  I have also suffered the opportunity costs.  Let’s face it, golf is a game that requires a lot of time.  Each of us has a level of dedication and desire that we need to apply to satisfy ourselves, and mine is more than the average player, but doesn’t come close to the extremes I’ve recently read about.  I would be very uncomfortable ignoring key factions of my life to become the best player I could be.

Have you experienced this dichotomy?  What’s your level of dedication and single-mindedness?  Suffered any significant opportunity costs?

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Good Practice Makes Great Play

Great news!  In most years, as soon as the pigskin starts to fly, my interest in golf wanes, but not this season. Maybe it’s because my college and pro football teams are supposed to suck, but I am super psyched for 2017 fall golf.  It probably has nothing to do with football and is mostly due to the success I’m experiencing during practice, and how it’s translating into better play.

Starting in April, I took four lessons with my instructor. We focused entirely on full swing for the first three and a playing lesson on the fourth. My goals were simple, average 10 greens per round for the year, try to lower my handicap which had crept up from a 5 to 6.3 over the last couple of seasons, and just have more fun.

Here are some keys; maybe you can grab a few.   The way I’ve been practicing has made a huge difference. I have re-dedicated myself to a mid-week session, and focus on ball striking and short game every Wednesday after work. Sure it’s inconvenient to get from downtown Washington to my home course in Rockville, MD, but I’ve found the following is true: You get out of this game what you put into it. I’ll do an additional practice on Saturday and play on Sunday. The three days per week provide enough reps that make the game more second nature than when I was only engaging on the weekends. Second, I’ve been able to focus on the same improvements over and over rather than searching for a swing key every time out. When you know your miss tendencies, and you understand why you miss, and you have the tools to make the fix, it’s so much easier to concentrate. Practice does not feel like a chore.  Pounding range balls and changing swing thoughts on every shot is exhausting and is like walking through the desert.

With any quest for improvement, to keep yourself honest, you should measure. The data look pretty good. After a very rough start to the year and many growing pains during the lessons, my GIR average has pulled up to 9. I’ve hit double digit GIR in my last four rounds and have been under par for a good portion of three of those. I’ve also noticed that I’ve picked up considerable distance with the driver and am more accurate with the wedges. In the past, I never put much stock in driving distance simply because I couldn’t hit it that long. But I’m finding the added distance makes a huge difference provided you are accurate with your wedges. For instance, last time out I only hit three fairways and two of them were with irons on layups, yet I still managed 13 GIR and a round of even-par because my drives were long enough to get a wedge in my hands.

Lastly, my index has dropped to 4.1 which is super encouraging, and of course, lots of fun because of the lower scores.  It’s cool to feel like you’re not trying as hard, but are playing closer to your ability.

Hope your game is coming around too.  Play well!

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Improving Ability To Concentrate

Recently, a friend forwarded an article at The Atlantic by Jean Twenge.  The title; Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?  It’s a long, disturbing eye-opening read that I highly recommend.  The gist is that screen addiction with our youngest generation is worsening their mental health.  I have seen first hand some of these effects with loved ones, and to a certain extent myself.  I suspect heavy users of devices and social media, such as myself, all are affected by the phenomena of F.O.M.O. (Fear Of Missing Out) to some degree.  This is a disorder where you feel the constant need to check your sites, and the distractions associated with the pull of your screens and devices.  Folks handle it differently, and I think I manage it reasonably well but have suspected that it’s hurting my powers of concentration.  This is not just on the golf course, but at work, at home, in the car; essentially everywhere.  I suspect it’s been the case for years and it’s getting worse.  So I’m going to run an experiment.

To reduce the effects of device induced FOMO, I will make three changes:

    1. No more checking work email during non-working hours
    2. No more daily use of social media sites (including this one)
    3. Complete elimination of any contact with Facebook for the month of August

So what am I going to do with all my spare time?  Play and practice more golf, increase my levels of physical activity, read a book.  Doesn’t sound so bad does it?

So if you don’t hear from me in a while, I’m not ignoring you.  Just in the lab experimenting with improved concentration!

Play well.

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2017 British Open Picks

Picking a winner for the 146th Open / Open Championship / British Open at Royal Birkdale is even more confounding than deciphering the official name of this tournament.  Let’s just call it the world’s oldest major.

Field analysis is made difficult because of the recent trend of the world’s top players taking time off and trying to peak their performance around the majors.  That’s a by-product of the protracted year round scheduling problem on the PGA Tour (more on that coming in a future post).  With the exception of Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, and Jordan Spieth, the top contenders don’t play frequently enough.  Yes, everyone is different but you can’t just show up once per month under the heat of competition and expect to generate consistent results.  Dustin Johnson played Memorial in May and the US Open in June and missed both cuts.  He’s coming off a back injury and nobody thinks he should play as much as Vijay Singh, but can DJ seriously be in winning form?  No way.  To draw a mediocre parallel, I’m in software development.  If I practiced my trade under the most stringent of conditions once per month, I’d suck at my job.  These guys should go hard from January to August (playing every two out of four weeks) and then shut down.

So let’s get down to business:  Rory McIlroy needs a session on the putting green with Dave Stockton Sr.  It’s so bad right now, he’s not even close to contending.  Jason Day‘s ball striking is in the crapper (what happened?)  Defending champion Henrik Stenson has missed five of his last six cuts and is looking to catch lightning in a bottle – nope.  Phil missed the US Open, then broke protocol by not playing in the Scottish Open, and finally parted ways with Bones.  That may be all the change he can handle at 47 years old and I don’t think it happens for him this week.  Hideki Matsuyama threw a scare into the field at the US Open with a strong Sunday finish and is going to get one soon, but it will be on U.S. soil.

Who’s ready?  Rickie Fowler.

Photo from Golfweek

He keeps finishing top-10 in the majors and plays often enough to stay sharp.  I think his conservative strategy in the majors of sometimes taking iron off the tee will play well at Birkdale, because you must drive it straight and then battle the wind from the fairway.  Forget playing out of the rough here.  Look for a tough battle with Justin Rose, who’s a horse for this course, Spieth, who’s tough in every major, and John Rahm, but Rickie will prevail.

Who is your pick for the Claret Jug?



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Can You Handle Success?


Readers of this blog know that I’ve committed this season to improving my ball striking through a series of lessons and concentrated practice.  I’m giving it all year to see improvement, but sometimes I get inpatient trying to get results that don’t happen when I think they should.  But a thought came up after my last round:  When things DO break right for you, can you manage success properly?  In yesterday’s round, I did not.

The day before, I played nine holes in the morning and then went to the range to practice and gather some swings on film.  I wanted to make sure that I was correctly implementing the positions my instructor wanted me in.  After lunch, I reviewed the film and spotted a couple areas to work on and headed back out to the range.

Yesterday’s outing at Clustered Spires in Frederick, MD started off well.  I warmed up on the range and felt loose and comfortable.  At 6,200 yards, Clustered Spires is not terribly long and my game plan was to get as many sand wedge, gap wedge, and pitching wedge approach shots as possible, since I’d been practicing those the most.  That would require a good day with the driver and it started out great as I was busting it long and straight.  The changes I worked on the day before were clicking.

To make a long story short, the true measure of ball striking success is greens in regulation (GIR), and I hit the first 15.  While I didn’t see this ball striking bonanza coming, I was thrilled that the changes I had worked on were taking hold, but at the same time, I was at 3-under par and was  STARTING TO EXIT MY COMFORT ZONE!

What happened next was where you figure out how good you are at handling success (or adversity).  On the par-3 16th, I missed the green right into a bunker with a 3-iron.  The streak was over and it threw my equilibrium off – I had been thinking about it the whole day as the round progressed.  I played a nice bunker shot but misjudged the amount of fringe I had to carry and played a poor approach putt from the first cut.  I struggled to make bogey.  I knew I was choking because I hadn’t hit a short shot in 16 holes and wasn’t sure I could.  Still, it was just a bogey and I figured a physical error was bound to happen.  It was deflating, as my 18 GIR fantasy bubble was busted.

#17 is a medium length par-4 that I usually hit with a driver/8-iron, and I caught a huge break.  My drive hit the cart path on the right and catapulted forward another 50 yards shortening the hole considerably.   I was between a sand wedge and a gap wedge but got greedy and went with the gap and tried to fly it all the way to a back left sucker pin.  I went long and short-sided myself into a bad lie.  Again I choked on the chip trying to be too perfect, left it short, and made double.

#18 is a longer par-4 and my drive was solid but trickled just into the left rough, but the lie was deep in three-inch grass.  I pulled an 8-iron left into a bunker and short sided myself again.  With no green to work with, I blasted out 30 feet past the flag and three-putted for another double.  Wow!  Now that’s handling success.  Went from 3-under to 2-over in the bat of an eyelash.

I learned a hard lesson here and sometimes you need to learn it more than once.  Even when it feels like you’re on cruise control, you MUST take it one shot at a time.  Forget your score, forget your streaks, forget your fantasies, and focus on your routine.  I’m not disappointed about #16 and #18 because they were physical errors.  That happens.  But the greedy play on #17 could have been avoided by dropping a sand wedge on the middle of the green and two-putting for a routine par.

Despite the mental breakdown, I’m very excited to see the hard work starting to pay off, and for the first time in a while it felt like I was playing golf instead of golf swing.

How’s your game coming?  Handling success and adversity equally as well?

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Halfway Point Discoveries

Last weekend I played my 20th round of the year.  Tomorrow I embark on the inward half of the journey to completing 40 for the season.  The news is mostly good.

After finishing a series of four lessons with my instructor, I’ve seen payoff in three primary areas; driving distance, consistency of contact with the fairway woods, and accuracy with the wedges inside 100 yards.  The latter of which was my primary reason for seeking professional assistance.  The long iron game remains a work in progress.  Mentally, I’m more at peace around the greens after switching back to my old Cleveland Tour Action sand wedge.

What’s most encouraging is my ability to play a good round right after a bad one, and I attribute that to the conviction in my approach.  During a period of learning, your swing WILL fall off the rails, but rather than search for a band-aid, if you return to the fundamentals you are trying to correct, more often than not, you will have your fix.  Fans of Tiger Woods know that when he changed instructors to Sean Foley, he entered a perpetual state of playing golf swing instead of playing golf.  He became an engineer instead of an artist.  This is to be avoided at all costs and my goal is to move steadily away from engineering to artistry.  I’m still at some point in between but the difference is that when I hit a bad shot, I can take comfort knowing that it’s just the old habits reappearing.

Whether you’re an engineer or artist, at the end of the day, we measure improvement by score.  2016 concluded with my index rising to a recent historical high of 6.3.  It’s down to 4.9 which is super encouraging since I’ve just completed the most difficult stretch of the season (Myrtle Beach trip).  I had one goal at the beginning of the year and that was to improve to 10+ GIR.  Through the tough stretch, I’m still between eight and nine but my index is down which is telling me my proximity performance with the wedges has improved.  I also feel more confident with my short game.  Now as I distance myself from the bi-weekly instruction, it will be interesting to see how quickly I can return to thinking about shots rather than mechanics.

So the learning process has been very satisfactory.  One final note on instruction.  My last lesson included only 15 minutes on the practice tee and then we went for a four-hole playing lesson.  Get a playing lesson if you can.  The time spent on the course with my instructor watching every aspect of my game was invaluable.  I picked up information on ball position for bunker shots, course management, club selection, and a simple putting tip that made a huge difference in my round the following day (took only 27 putts).

See you on the lesson tee and play well!

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Wild Wing Avocet – Course Review


The practice putting green

On Tuesday, May 30, 2017, our travel group teed it up at the Wild Wing Plantation (Avocet course) in Conway, SC.  Wild Wing used to host a magnificent 72 hole facility.  There was Avocet, Hummingbird, Woodstock, and Falcon.  But alas in 2006, Woodstock and Falcon closed as did nine holes on Hummingbird.  The huge clubhouse that was previously servicing this golf factory is still there but is sparsely outfitted and looks like it’s more utilized for banquets.  In the last ten years, the Grand Strand has lost about 25 golf courses, mostly to housing development, and Wild Wing is certainly a top casualty.

When you enter the grounds, you are confronted with a parking lot the size of the Myrtle Beach International Airport, which is also a leftover from the previous decade of vibrancy.  The bad drop was staffed by a single guy who did the unloading, fetching of carts from the barn, and staging of groups for play.  Clearly they could have used more help, and we felt something was a little off kilter.

Cary ordering at the Players Pub

Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)

The driving range; wet and closed

Our day started off rough because the driving range was closed.  I asked the bag guy if I could borrow a cart to go take pictures of the range and he was kind enough to grant that request.  The range is actually quite large and beautiful, and is all grass but it was soaking.  Balls are sold in the pro shop for $4.00 a bag and it appeared to be a good decision to keep it closed.  Playing a strange course with no warm-up and cart path only for the first four holes was rough.  Most of the guys were hacking and trying to get loose.  The course was wet and played fairly long from the blue tees (6,658/72.7/131).

Now, the Good, Bad, and Ugly.

The Good:

The golf course is a great play.  The greens used to be bent grass but were redone in Mini-Verde Bermuda after the brutal summer of 2011.  They were beautiful and rolling true with a medium fast pace despite the moisture.  The course has a mixture of parkland routing framing a lot of the par 4s and 5s, and links style architecture around the greens with big undulations on the surfaces, tall mounds protecting the approaches, water in play on tee shots and approaches, and deep penal green side bunkering.  You will struggle to get it up and down if your ball striking is off but I thought this was an awesomely interesting mixture of holes with many being unique and memorable.  Several of the par-4s are long.  #6 at 451 yards with water all down the left, was playing into a stiff breeze.  I knew I couldn’t reach and played it like a short par-5.  #7, a par-5 at 553 yards was playing in the same direction and took two massive hits to have a shot to reach.  #14 is a cool short par-4 with so many bunkers it looked like the face of the moon.  Even with rangefinder in hand, it was a bit of guesswork as to where to hit it first time through.

The Bad:

The green part of the golf course was the allure at Wild Wing, with the excellent layout and conditioning.  The rest of the grounds needed serious work.  Several holes played adjacent in a back and forth direction which is fine, but there were shared cart paths which left you  dangerously close to the ball flight of opposing groups and occasionally left you playing a game of chicken with the carts.  A lot of the cart paths were crumbling and in a state of disrepair.  There were only two water coolers on the entire course, which is a major ding, and one ran dry around 3:00 p.m.  This can be dangerous in the summer time heat, as most courses take care to ensure you have fresh water every 3-5 holes.  And finally, the on course restrooms were filthy.

The Ugly:

Mike and I were the only ones to replay in the afternoon.  We were parked by the par-5 15th green and as we were preparing to exit our golf cart, the beverage cart rammed into our golf cart.  Mike was holding the steering wheel and the impact jerked our front tires and wrenched Mike’s hand.  The cart lady didn’t even apologize and insisted on blaming us for the collision.  This left a very sour taste in our mouths and some pain in Mike’s hand and wrist for the rest of the afternoon.  As we drove up the 18th hole, we saw the cart lady parked in the rough with her head down.  Couldn’t tell if she was texting someone or sleeping off a hangover from sampling her own wares, but she was parked in the same spot for several minutes – very unprofessional.

Mike on #3 tee. Par-4, 424 yards

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)


Chris sizing up his tee shot on #5. Par-3, 157 yards

Avocet isn’t a bad value for just pure golf.  Our greens fee on the Founders package was the lowest of any course at $56 and we replayed for $40.  This course seems to be a low budget affair with regard to facilities, maintenance, number of staff, and they sink their available funds into keeping the golf course in as good as shape as it’s in.  As a traveler and avid player, the whole experience was a bit of a disappointment.  There is also some previous day bias because Monday we had opened our trip at Grand Dunes Resort and everything there is first class.

Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)

Dual green for #6 and #17 (foreground)

What’s odd is that everyone working at Avocet was very accommodating, kind, and professional, except for the beverage cart operator.  A special thank you goes out to Meagan, who operated the Players Pub and assisted Mike with some ice for his hand after our on course accident.  The starter was very flexible and helpful in getting us out for the afternoon.  He suggested we start on the 2nd tee to avoid a foursome that had just teed off #1.  We appreciated that and played #1 as our final hole after zipping around in 3.5 hours.

Overall Rating (3.0 out of 5.0)

You need some local knowledge to score on this golf course.  I shot 88 in the morning and followed that up with a 79 after I was suitably warmed up and knew where to hit it.  Again, the course is a fun play but only if you don’t mind the marginal facilities and low budget feel of the place.  I’m mixed on a return trip to Avocet.

Mike bunkered on #1

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Willbrook Plantation – Course Review


On Thursday, June 1st, 2017, our travel group teed it up at the Willbrook Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC.  The plantation was established in 1798 and a visit here provides a mix of lovely old southern charm with a humbling history lesson.  The place is beautiful with large live oaks framing the clubhouse, course, and surrounding residential areas, but you also can find historical markers noting the location of slave quarters and burial grounds that remind you of our 18th and 19th century culture and lifestyle.  Everything is done tastefully and the atmosphere is welcoming to all.

Our group has played Willbrook on several previous trips and unfortunately most of those visits were spent in the clubhouse watching doppler radar and sitting on the porch in stately rocking chairs waiting out torrential rain storms.  No problem with the weather on this day as we enjoyed broken clouds and temperatures in the 80s, but we had our full rain gear packed.

The staging area at Willbrook

Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)

Spent many hours in these rocking chairs during previous visits

You’ll notice as you first enter the facility that everything is on the small size, from the parking lot, to the clubhouse, to the grill area, to the driving range.  The range was all grass and was in wonderful shape but only had about seven hitting stations.  Balls were $4.00 per bag and were sold in the pro shop.  There were two medium sized putting greens; one between the range and clubhouse and the other conveniently located between the clubhouse and first tee.  Traffic flowed nicely around the staging area.

Willbrook has Bermuda grass through the green and on this day, the putting surfaces were rolling true and at medium speed but had a light layer of sand applied.  The course conditioning was very good with all the tee boxes, fringes, and bunkers neatly manicured.  I only remembered a few of the holes, probably because the last time through, we were so focused on keeping ourselves and our equipment dry, the course play-ability and routing were not at the forefront of our minds.

At 6,292 yards from the white tees (70.3 / 129), the course is not an overly stern test.  It has a mixture of short to medium length par-4s with all the par-5s playing over 500 yards.  If you are driving it straight you can score.  As it was, they had many of the pins cut on small crowns and slopes, and while I hit 11 greens, I couldn’t make any putts, but managed to avoid any three-putts, and carded a solid 4-over 76.  I recall a much tougher time playing in the rain from the blue tees at 6,722 yards.

A few playing notes:

  • #1 tee shot is tight (pictured below).  You have a big tree on the right to contend with and water on the left.  Drive it straight 🙂
  • #10 is a par-4 that only plays 356 yards but a large oak tree guards the right side of the green.  Shots right center in the fairway may be blocked from coming in high, even with a short iron.  There’s plenty of room left even though it doesn’t look like it on the tee.  Take it.
  • #18 is a hard dogleg right par-5 and is super tight.  There’s a bunker at the end of the fairway 250 yards from the tee.  Long hitters should lay up.  There’s a big tree on the right guarding the dogleg so you have to get it far enough out there to avoid.  Up by the green, there are more large oaks that block the left side of the approach.  If you can get it to 100 yards, you can get over them with a wedge, otherwise, you are blocked.  Try to keep it right.  I felt this hole was a smidgen unfair, as did others in my group.

Jim and Cary before the round

 Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

The look from #1 tee

Willbrook was $71 on our Founders package.  The replay rate was $40, which is a good value, and the beauty of the package is that it included a $100 gift card to use at all 21 of the Founders courses.  We also learned that the replay rate at Willbrook could be applied at a higher end course, which is exactly what we did.  We booked a replay at Willbrook and decided not to use it but called Myrtle Beach National – Kings North, and they let us play the afternoon for the Willbrook price, which was $22 less than the Kings North price.  As long as you played your first round on a Founders group course, you can leverage this benefit and I would take advantage of that again.

Pat in a bit of trouble on #5

Customer Experience (3.75 out of 5.0)

Me before teeing off on #10, a tricky par-4

The bag drop guys provided snappy service as soon as we pulled in.  The pro only had a single replay time when we inquired so we grabbed it.  The tee sheet evidently fills up quite fast at this course and I was glad we had the opportunity to replay, but there’s a chance we could have got shut out.  We also figured with one replay time, the course would be full and slow.  When we replay, we usually enjoy a quicker pace because most courses in the area are empty.  It pays to look for courses with more than 18 holes when you consider replaying.  Our decision to play at Kings North was a good one, as they have 54 holes and we flew around in under four hours.

On the course, the marshals kept play moving and were friendly and helpful.  The pace was good as we were in threesomes and were never pushed and did not have to wait on any shots.

The grill area is small and has a limited selection of food items.  After the morning round, I settled for a chili dog, chips and soda that cost me $6.00.

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

Pat tees off on #15, par-5, 538 yards

I enjoy playing this course and will come back to Willbrook on future trips.  If you want a medium end course that’s not too difficult or expensive, add it to your playlist.

At the final hole, sharp dogleg right par-5

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2017 US Open Picks

Photo from

Erin Hills, site of the 2017 US Open, has been characterized as long, bouncy, devoid of trees, and with perfect greens.  No major has ever been contested here and the course otherwise remains a mystery.  A par-72 layout is rare for the US Open and may lend itself to less of the traditional fairways and greens grind and more of a birdie-fest.  You’d think that’s not in the best interest of the USGA, and I hope they set it up tough but fair.  After all, this is not La Quinta, and golf fans don’t expect to see 20-under win the tournament.

Unlike The Masters, not all the big names are in top form.  Rory McIlroy is coming off a broken rib and missed the BMW Championship in Europe in late May.  Ruled out.  Dustin Johnson, would be a natural pick and he may be fully recovered from his butt busting slip down the stairs at Augusta, but his game hasn’t recovered.  I didn’t like his form at Memorial (+8 and a missed cut).

A key statistic I like for the US Open is the little known “bogey avoidance”.  This is an excellent indicator of short game proficiency, course management, and mental toughness, all critical elements for US Open success.  DJ is ranked #2 which demonstrates the improvements he’s made to his short game.  I was considering Jason Day, but he’s way down at 129th.  Day gets into too much trouble with his driver and his putting and concentration seem off this year.  He’s out.

I like the form Justin Thomas and John Rahm are showing, but mentally they lack a bit of the even keel needed to steady themselves over the grind.  Rahm is a hot head and Thomas gets too pouty when things go wrong.  This tournament will come down to three individuals. Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, and Masters champ, Sergio Garcia.  Rose is hungry after his playoff loss at Augusta.  He’s been preparing diligently for this tournament and even skipped last week’s Memorial, which I’m not sure was a good idea, but he’s focused and I’m throwing out his final round 80 at The PLAYERS as an aberration.  Spieth has seen a remarkable resurgence in his GIR stats, going from 145th last year to 4th in 2017.  Garcia, is arguably the first or second best ball striker in the world, which ultimately won him The Masters.  Despite his first major win, I still didn’t like the way he putted at Augusta, and his putting stats are just awful.  You can’t win the US Open putting badly.

Put a great course manager and the best putter in the world on great greens, and you have a champion.  The All About Golf US Open kiss of death goes to Jordan Spieth.

Enjoy the action and play well!

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Palmetto State Peaks and Plummets

Phote from

The “One Ninety” is the new roller coaster at Busch Gardens named after my recent golf trip to Myrtle Beach.  Playing 189 holes in six days with a series of golf lessons fresh in your mind was the inspiration.  What the hell was I thinking?  Folks, don’t try this at home without plenty of cold beer and Advil.

First the good news.  The weather was terrific and the company of my friends was fantastic.  Most days we had six players and went off as two threesomes and sometimes a single would be paired along giving us the opportunity to meet fellow travelers and on occasion, a local retiree.

Before the round at Willbrook

On the golf course, of the ten full rounds played, I managed to break 80 five times, which is good for me and the most since the 2011 trip.  The bad news was three of the other rounds were 88, 88, and 89 but I seemed to follow a bad one with a good one more easily than in the past.  In short, the fun part was pulling off shots I knew I couldn’t hit in previous years because of the swing work I’d been doing with my instructor.  The hard part was obviously playing golf swing while attempting to play a ton of golf shots over a protracted duration.  But whenever I got into a bad rut, I would return to the swing keys my instructor gave me and usually correct on the spot.  In the past, I’d often be searching in many different directions for a band-aid.  While the courses were beautiful, some were very difficult, and I had hoped after two months of instruction and practice that the new habits would be more ingrained, but alas I wasn’t quite ready to go Justin Thomas on Hawaii.

My review for TPC of Myrtle Beach is up and reviews are coming for Willbrook and Wild Wing Avocet.  Most of the courses have gone to Bermuda greens in lieu of the higher maintenance cool season grasses.  It was a pleasure to play six straight days on the same surfaces, albeit with different speeds and undulations.  Putting Bermuda is difficult coming from Bentgrass greens because it is grainy.  When the ball slows near the hole, the grain will throw it off line and often on longer putts, part of the putt will be with the grain and part against.  Up close, you need to summon the courage to bang your short putts and take some of the break out.  Generally, I had a good feel for the speed but didn’t master the shorties.  Game report card:

  • Driving: B+
  • Fairway woods: A-
  • Mid and long irons: C-
  • Short irons and wedges: B
  • Short game: B
  • Lag putting: A
  • Short putting: D
  • Course management:  B

Someone located a swimming pool next to the driving range at Avocet

I loved this trip and just to cap the roller coaster ride, our plane trip home to Baltimore was uneventful until the final 30 seconds.  We were literally seconds from touching down and the pilot pulled back hard on the stick and gunned his engines sending our stomachs to the floor and the blood rushing from our heads.  He informed us as he circled around that another aircraft was on our runway.  Thank God our guy was paying attention even if the air traffic controllers were not!

Play well.

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