How To Improve Focus For Golf

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

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

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

The Masters champ focuses in. Photo by wsj.com

The Masters champ focuses in.
Photo by wsj.com

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

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

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

 

Posted in Instruction | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Dinged By The Donkey

Picture by illinoisreview.typepad.com

Picture by illinoisreview.typepad.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

How Do You Set Your Goals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hot Start To 2015 Golf Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Tiger’s Masters Helped My Golf Game

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

from thesun.co.uk

from thesun.co.uk

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

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

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

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

Thanks Tiger!

 

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

2015 Masters Picks

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Judge from spartanswill.forumotion.com

The Judge
from spartanswill.forumotion.com

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

Final Predictions:

Winner:  Bubba Watson to repeat and weep.

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

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

Who do you like?

Bubba Watson from usatoday.com

Bubba Watson
from usatoday.com

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

Playing Augusta National

I have never played Augusta National and it’s item number one on my life’s bucket list.  Is it on yours?  I’ve often figured there are two ways to get on.  First, win a tour event and get an automatic invite to The Masters.  The road map for this DC-based wacko idea used to be shoot two rounds of 68 in pre-Kemper Open qualifying, then four straight 68s at Congressional Country Club to win the event.  Zero chance of that leads to method #2.

Play as the guest of a member.   This requires a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon type activity since I don’t know any members personally.  One time, I was one degree away back in the mid-1980s when I actually played a round of golf in Sea Island, GA with an Augusta member.  That’s as close as I’ve come other than getting a Larry Mize autograph.

Maybe Condi will invite me. from philmickelson.com

Maybe Condi will invite me.
from philmickelson.com

Have you ever thought of playing Augusta or actually played it?  I’ll bet some college players out there have had the opportunity.  How many degrees of separation are you from playing Augusta?  Will it ever happen?

 

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Golf Bloggers Convention???

Las Vegas Convention Center from vegasmeansbusiness.com

Las Vegas Convention Center
from vegasmeansbusiness.com

There was a bit of a buzz from a previous post I authored on how to plan a golf trip.  Some readers asked about getting like minded individuals together for a golf bloggers convention.  Could be a great opportunity to bring folks who love to play and write about the game together.  I’d be up for it, what about you?  There are several ways this could work.  I’ll throw out a few ideas and look to get your feedback.  If there’s enough interest, I’d be happy to get the ball rolling on organization.

Initial thoughts:

  1. Try to make this event as inclusive as possible to boost participation.  Not sure how many golf bloggers there are so that may mean opening it up to perhaps golf writers.  Create our own convention with our own program, or join an existing one and gather together outside the official program for our own activities.  In either case, we’ll need to put a program together to generate interest for participants as well as those who want to bring family members and significant others.
  2. Choose the right time of year and location.  This will have to be in 2016 to leave enough time to plan and for folks traveling internationally to budget.
  3. Perhaps couple it with a noteworthy golf industry event like a trade show, or tournament, where we’d ensure that many more amateur and professional writers would be in attendance, or maybe do our event as a shadow event, or one that immediately follows the main event.  Again, anything to increase participation.
  4. Provide a  locale near a very accessible city, since many will need to travel.  Ensure the destination has ample entertainment, lodging, quality golf courses, meeting facilities, and food options.

Some options on time and place:

  • April 2016(est). Las Vegas Convention Center.  Attend the NMX show (New Media Expo).   This is a convention with 97,000 attendees and features tracks for bloggers.   Obviously this is easiest from an organization standpoint.  You attend, go to the sessions that interest you, and meetup outside of official hours for our own activities.  Here’s a link to the 2015 schedule grid.
  • January 2016. Orlando, Florida.  Shadow  the PGA Merchandise show.  The 2015 show had 41,000+ attendees.  Golf Writers Association of America are sponsors and are in attendence.
  • March 2016. Orlando, Florida.  Shadow the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.  Orlando is obviously a great venue because of the accessible facilities and entertainment options.  We could attend the tournament for one or more days, meet offsite, play at other courses, socialize and enjoy Orlando.
  • February 2016. San Diego, California.  Shadow the Golf Industry Show.  Predicted to have 14,000+ attendees.
  • Late January/early February 2016. Phoenix, Arizona.  Shadow the Waste Management Open.  Raucous party atmosphere with a good time had by all.  Same idea as Orlando/Bay Hill.

Do any of these sound good?  Shoot me a comment if you’re interested and with suggestions/preferences on time and venue.  Thanks!

 

 

 

 

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

Why Some Players Don’t Win Majors

photo by dailymail.co.uk

photo by dailymail.co.uk

The Masters is almost here and the non-major winners will be under the microscope again.  Why don’t they win?  Why do some players like John Daly win multiple majors when stellar career guys like Steve Stricker don’t?  How do guys like Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen (one tour win each) manage to make their only tour victory a major?  Of the guys that win, some overcome physical shortcomings, some overcome mental issues, but rarely will someone conquer both.  To be successful, they must have three characteristics:

 

 

Total commitment

-Belief in self

-Ability to avoid distractions for 72 holes

Of the players that win majors, you’ll always find two of the three on any given week, but the guys who lose have a major deficit in at least one. Of the winners, John Daly is the most fascinating and is the least likely multiple major winner in the history of the game.  With the charges of domestic violence, substance abuse, busting up hotel rooms, etc, Daly suffered from the most distractions, but his belief in self and ability to concentrate for the full 72 holes allowed him to prevail in the 1991 PGA and 1995 Open Championship.   Vijay Singh overcame poor putting for his entire career, but his commitment to excellence and belief in self were tremendous, and he won three majors.  Nick Faldo had just nine tour wins but six were majors.  Nick was supreme in all three facets.   Tiger Woods also excelled in each but when the distractions started, so did the current train wreck.

John Daly with the Claret Jug. photo by golfweek.com

John Daly with the Claret Jug.
photo by golfweek.com

Of the primary non-winners with double digit career victories (age/PGA Tour wins) let’s look at why they failed:

  • Steve Stricker (48/12): Lack of total commitment.  Total family man; nothing wrong with that, but 15 tournaments per year was a full schedule.  Sometimes didn’t travel to The Open when eligible to play.
  • Bruce Lietzke (63/13): Lack of total commitment.  Would rather be fishing.  Very similar to Stricker.
  • Kenny Perry (54/14):  Belief in self.  Came close at The Masters but didn’t believe he could win it at the end and choked.  Very humble, almost to a fault.  No killer attitude and has never believed he was a great player.

On the current list of Best Player to Never Win a Major, who’s got what it takes?  Let’s look at three:  Matt Kuchar (36/7); (Dustin Johnson (30/9); Sergio Garcia (35/8).

Matt Kuchar Best finish was T-3 at the 2012 Masters.  Has the belief in his abilities and is a relentless competitor.  Seems to stay in the moment and has an excellent short game.  Tough to judge his level of commitment.  I’m not wild about his recent swing changes with his closed stance and over the top move.  Historically, not a good ball striker in terms of driving length, accuracy, and GIR which is probably what’s held him back.  Best chance to break through would be at The Masters.  I have him at 50-50 odds to get a major.

Dustin Johnson Best finish was T-2 at the 2011 Open Championship but best chance to win was at the 2010 PGA (T-5) where he was assessed a two-stroke penalty on the last hole and missed out on a playoff by two strokes.  Could have the most physical talent on tour.  Obviously distractions were a huge issue in the past.  I love the changes in his pre-shot routine, especially with the putter, and they’ve been on display in recent weeks.  Still has a weak short game that will hurt in tournaments with fast greens like Augusta and the U.S. Open.  Best chance to win is at The Open where his ability to bomb it and the slower greens work in his favor.  Too soon to tell if he’s past the mental foibles but looks good in the short term.  70% chance to win a major because he’s young and oozing talent.

Sergio Garcia:  Best finish was T-2 at the 1999 and 2008 PGA as well as T-2 at the 2007 and 2014 Open Championship.  Clearly the most disappointing of the three.   What’s held Sergio back has been issues with commitment, a bad attitude, and poor putting, especially towards the end of tournaments.  He’s been so close, but the combination of mental and physical shortcomings has derailed him.  With all the second place finishes and late round failures, his major career is slightly reminiscent of Greg Norman’s, except The Shark won his first major at the age of 31 . At 35,  Sergio has improved his putting over the last couple of seasons but still struggles with pressure late in rounds.  His proclivity to choke will get harder to overcome with age and despite all the close calls, I have him at less than 25% to win a major.  Best chance would be at The Open, with the slower greens and home field advantage.

Ricky Fowler and Jordan Spieth are in the next group but are too young to be dinged for not winning.  Both have the talent to prevail, but as we have seen recently, will need to overcome a huge obstacle (Mr. Rory McIlroy) to break through.

Do you think anyone has what it takes to break through in 2015?  Predictions?

 

 

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

How Do You Plan The Best Golf Trip?

With my wife outside the Doral clubhouse

With my wife outside the Doral clubhouse

It’s the middle of winter and we all have cabin fever.  Wouldn’t it be great to tee it up tomorrow at a tropical golf destination?  Lately, I’ve been getting quite a few inquiries on how to book the best golf trips at the lowest cost.  Getting bang for the buck when you travel is a great source of satisfaction, but remember the most important element in a golf trip is the golf.  A great hotel, delicious food, and wonderful entertainment are fine, but if the golf is substandard, that’s what you’ll remember.

Course Reviews:  To get the best golf, start your travel planning reading websites focused on course reviews.  Skip the sites like Golf Digest where you’ll get lists of great courses and glossy marketing material (yeah, we all know Pebble Beach and Whistling Straights are great venues), and focus on personal experiences because you want a straight call on the good and bad.  You want to find the hidden nuggets of value, the starters and course marshals who took the extra steps to make you feel special, the details about conditions that stood out or didn’t meet expectations, and the ups and downs of customer service from your reservation agent to the pro shop staff.  Here’s some top sites to get you started:

  • 2 Play the Tips has reviews from world famous golf courses across the country.
  • OneBeardedGolfer has got you covered on Kentucky and other courses in the southeast USA.
  • Golf Is Mental has great information on Alberta, British Columbia, and visiting the western USA.
  • We’ve got plenty of reviews on this site from the  Washington DC, Eastern Shore, and Myrtle Beach areas.
  • Finally, Vet4golfing51 sprinkles his interesting playing insights in with information on his journey to play 100 courses in the western Pennsylvania region.  There are many others.

Conditions:  Once you decide where you want to play, seek out information on course conditions for the period of time you’re going to play, not necessarily the latest conditions.  Pay close attention to reports of when courses will schedule aeration.  We hit Pinehurst #2 the day after an emergency aeration.  Nothing is worse than traveling to a world class venue only to find you are putting on bumps and top dressing.  Hit up a site like Golf Insider for Myrtle Beach.  They have thousands of personal visit reviews for hundreds of area courses.  Then go to Trip Advisor and look at reviews that can be sorted on the time of year you’re traveling.  Getting a good cross-section of opinion yields the best experiences.

Lodging:  Next, look for a good package that couples lodging, golf, and maybe some food.  In June, my travel group has a package lined up in Myrtle Beach with seven nights lodging, six rounds of golf, carts, free range balls, lunch, and complimentary daily replays for under $600.  If you don’t want to couple resort lodging with golf, look to book a hotel separate to save money.  We traveled and played the RTJ Trail in Alabama staying at Hampton Inns across the state and had a great and inexpensive experience.

Peak Discounts:  Lastly, if you’re traveling in high season and don’t want to pay those exorbitant prices, don’t worry; there are tools that can help.  I am traveling next month to Myrtle Beach during peak tourist time and didn’t feel like paying $150 for a round.   I used a tool at Golf Insider that allows you to plug in your desired dollar range and date, and searches the entire Grand Strand for a match.  Got one for $60 and I’m ready to go!

You can get overwhelmed with information and will save time and money reaching out to an individual who’s traveled ahead of you to your destination.  Often times you’ll pick up local knowledge about good venues and ones to avoid, and most folks are very happy to help.  I know I am.  Good luck!

#9 The Great White course at Doral

#9 The Great White course at Doral

Posted in Course Reviews, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Would a PGA Tour Pro Tear Up Your Local Course?

One of the favorite debates we have in our regular weekend foursome goes like this, “Would a top-tier PGA Tour pro shoot lights out at the venues we play on?”  We normally visit a circuit of courses with varying degrees of conditioning, length, and difficulty.  A common opinion is that PGA Tour pros always play on immaculate conditions and they would not be able to adjust downward and tear up a common man’s track with it’s assortment of un-replaced divots, half fixed ball marks, occasional aeration holes, and partially raked bunkers.  But as Granny Hawkins once remarked in The Outlaw Josey Wales, “I say that big talk’s worth doodly-squat.”

To figure this out, we do have a couple of reference points.  First, one of the more difficult tracks we play in upper Montgomery County is Little Bennett, with it’s good conditioning, fast undulating greens, and severe changes in elevation.  As a five-handicap playing from the blue tees at 6,770 yards and a par of 72, I struggle to break 80.  The course has been the site of local qualifying for The AT&T National (Previously Booz Allen Classic / Kemper Open).  Top local pros routinely shoot 64, 65, 66 to qualify, which blows my mind when you consider the difficulty level, and these guys are the lower-tier entrants in the PGA Tour event and usually miss the cut.

Reference point 2:  Back in the mid 1980s, while working as an assistant in the Mid-Atlantic PGA section, our tournaments were contested on the best local country clubs and the difficulty level was considerably higher than the courses my weekend group now plays on.  At the time, the top local pro was Fred Funk, who was working as the golf coach at the University of Maryland.

Fred Funk Photo by theguardian.com

Fred Funk
Photo by theguardian.com

Funk ultimately won eight times on the PGA Tour and this was a few years prior to when he joined the tour full time in 1989.  When Funk was in a MAPGA event, he’d routinely shoot in the mid 60s and everyone else knew they were playing for second place.  In his career, Funk’s average driving distance topped out at 281 yards for one season but was usually in the 269-279 range.  Nothing tremendous, but he was destroying us on the best of our local courses.  Now fast forward and think what would happen if you put an average tour threesome of say, Harris English, Jhonattan Vegas, and Graham DeLaet on your local muni.  These guys all average over 300 yards off the tee.  They would be hitting short and mid-irons into all the par fives and flip wedges into the fours.  Now, put a major winning caliber group of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, and Phil Mickelson on the muni and you start to paint a different picture.  The only thing that could hold them back from the 58s, 59s, 60s, would be inordinately poor conditions on the putting greens.  The muni wouldn’t stand a chance.

Jhonny V winds up photo by golfweek.com

Jhonny V winds up
photo by golfweek.com

I’ve played with professionals who were good enough to qualify for the occasional PGA Tour event but never had the pleasure of playing with a top flight touring pro.  Have you ever played a round with a regular member of the PGA Tour?  If so, was it on your local course and did they tear it up?  The thought is a fun one to ponder.

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Dangers of Copying a Pro’s Swing

Adam Scott at the top Photo at Youtube.com

Adam Scott at the top
Photo at Youtube.com

Here we are in the dead of winter and I am fighting the irresistible urge to tinker with my golf swing.  Last weekend, it was 60 degrees and I spent two hours on the range and had a real good opening session.  Probably too good, which is why I’m feeling greedy.  If you are like me, the reason we do this is because of the safety factor of winter.  You can make minor tweaks or wholesale changes during periods of inactivity without suffering the consequences of a slump-inducing fix.  I know it’s a bad idea and still do it.  Do you as well?

Two years ago, I became infatuated with Adam Scott’s golf swing and tried to impart his down the line setup and move through the ball.  I loved the way he kept his spine angle rock solid and the way he torqued against his very stable lower body, and modeled it for myself over the winter.  Problem is this 54-year old bag of bones has nothing in common with Adam Scott.  The wholesale changes fell apart with the first ball struck in anger.

The modern day swings of players like Scott, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, and Dustin Johnson, are all modeled off Tiger Woods and are not meant to be copied by desk jockeys.  Each has clearly spent many hours in the gym, and if you watch the follow through with their driver swings, each gets tremendous body rotation and the shaft points towards the target at finish.  Is the human back designed to undergo this much rotational stress over a protracted period?  I’m left to think that it’s not and players with a more upright swing like Phil Mickelson are doing their backs a favor.  Phil has his own physical issues, but I suspect lower back pain is not one of them.  Only one guy on the Senior Tour torques his body even close to these guys and that is Fred Couples.  Most others have more of a classic restricted finish and are still playing into their 50s.  Of course, Freddy’s back issues are well known and I can’t help but wonder, beautiful tempo aside, if the tremendous rotation he gets is responsible.

Adam Scott follow through Photo by ESPN

Adam Scott follow through
Photo by ESPN

So I smartly re-read the Grateful Golfer’s post on The Best Golf Swings Ever, where he reminded us that despite the number of writings and videos available on the swings of the greatest professionals of all time, the swing we should be working on is our own.  This is great advice and would add that you copy the visualization, pre-shot routines, and mental preparation of the top pros, but when it comes to swing mechanics, focus on improving your own technique.

So it’s off to go pump some 12 oz curls old style.  See you in the gym.

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

When Is It Time To Quit?

On a fall afternoon in 1973, I remember watching my home town Washington Redskins do battle with the San Diego Chargers.  I was only 12 years old at the time, but the image of Johnny Unitas, struggling to stay upright, and fully embarrassing himself at the helm of the Chargers offense will always be etched in my mind.  I was too young to remember Unitas in his glory years, but recall my father telling me how great he was as the leader of the Baltimore Colts.  I was a little sad, and was left to ponder why someone would extend their playing career past their ability to compete.  Thankfully he retired after that season.  Unitas was 40 years old.

For athletes who’ve competed from adolescence through the present day, the hardest thing for them in life is to know when to quit.  Usually the deterioration in capacity is gradual, with the mind remaining sharp as the physical skills slowly atrophy.  Derek Jeter comes to mind, with his retirement feeling timely and right.

Tiger Pulls out of Farmers Photo by ESPN

Tiger Pulls out of Farmers
Photo by ESPN

For the last two years, I’ve been watching the Tiger Woods saga and pontificating about his decline in performance and how his chances of catching Jack Nicklaus were nill, and how maintaining this charade of injury and comeback attempts was no longer continuing to the betterment of the professional game.  We all know that golf is a unique sport in which players can compete at the elite levels for longer because the physical demands are not the same as other professional sports.  However, Tiger’s performance at The Farmers was Johnny U.  He’s clearly done from a physical standpoint and should retire before the embarrassment gets worse.  We can hold on to the greatness of the Tiger memories, but too much time in the gym, too much Navy Seal training, and too much repetitive stress on his back and legs has taken its final toll.  I actually believe he is capable of recovering from his mental foibles, but his body is sending a clear message.  It is time.

Do we continue with the false hope that he’ll somehow recover the old magic, or is it time to take his seat in the booth next to Jim and Sir Nick?  How do you see it?

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

My Biggest Challenge

ChallengeFans of the PGA Champions Tour know that senior golfers traditionally hit the competitive wall at 54 years of age.  For those on the regular PGA Tour the number is around 44.  For pro athletes in other competitive sports, it’s much earlier in life.  Yesterday I turned 54.

For most people, life’s changes are gradual and the decline in performance is hardly noticeable.  On October 19 of last year, I was playing a round on my local muni and walking as I usually do.  Five or six times during the round I found myself completely out of breath, and in the need to stop and recover before continuing.  Knowing something was definitely not right, I scheduled an appointment with my doctor.  Long story short, I was referred to a cardiologist who put me through a battery of tests and diagnosed me with a condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.  This is a hereditary disorder where the interior walls of your heart are thicker than normal and reduce the volume and capacity to pump blood.  The primary symptoms are shortness of breath, fatigue, and lightheadedness, all of which I have been experiencing on a daily basis.  There is no cure; you just treat the symptoms.

After my initial diagnosis, the doctor cleared me to practice and play out of a cart, but I was instructed to abstain from any competitive sports or from significantly elevating my heart rate.  So I cut out all caffeine, alcohol, and tried to live life like a china doll.  After a couple very frustrating weeks I decided to try a little chipping and putting along with a light range session, but that went poorly.  Imagine the distraction of feeling dizzy over your putts and wondering if you were going to collapse with every swing.  A few days later, I received some welcome news from a heart MRI that revealed no damage to my arteries so I wasn’t at risk for a heart attack.

This all coincided with my annual Veterans Day golf trip to the eastern shore and I decided to give it a shot, albeit with significant trepidation.  So, three weeks after the initial diagnosis, and on the initial dosage of a beta blocker, I played three straight days riding in a cart.  Day one was dizzy, day two was fine, and day three I felt like crap the entire round, as well as the whole following day.  I have not played or practiced since, but have increased the medication dosage which has helped the symptoms somewhat but I’m a long way from what I’d call normal.

So how does golf fit in?  I am passed the initial phase of wondering why this happened to me and feeling sorry for myself, and believe that you need to move forward in a positive manner.  Also, there are other folks who clearly enjoy the game and struggle to participate for reasons of illness or disability.  Some of our wounded veterans come to mind, and the courage they’ve shown after losing arms, legs, and what not, has been amazing and inspiring, so some perspective is in order.  I am thankful that I can still participate, although it may not be to the level that I want.

Moving forward, I will try to manage the symptoms, drop a few pounds of holiday fat, and look forward to the start of the season as I always do.  A reasonable goal is a walking symptom-free round by the end of April, then I can worry about scoring average and GIRs.  I also understand that these beta blockers are not on the list of approved drugs on the PGA Tour because they keep you too calm, so when I finally get out there, I’m going to putt lights out!  See you on the Super Seniors Tour real soon!

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

2015 Golf Goals

TargetOne of the great artifacts from this off season has been the awesome dialog from the blogging community regarding lessons learned from the previous year, and the ideas being shared for improvement in 2015.  A special thanks to  Vet4golfing51, The Grateful Golfer, and TheBirdieHunt for their thoughtful feedback and willingness to dialog new thoughts and observations.  I feel like a kid at Christmas with all these goodies to immerse in, and then step back and choose a favorite or two to work with.

A few overarching themes are taking the lead when formulating an improvement plan for 2015.

  1. Get back to fundamentals
  2. Keep it simple
  3. Be willing to let your golf swing come to you rather than trying to force one.

All worthy endeavors, but I need to get a little more specific to implement.  As most of you know, I’m a stickler for measurement, statistics, and planning.  I’m almost embarrassed to admit that in my anal retentiveness, I’ve charted every practice session I’ve had since 2007 with notes and a letter grade.  That’s 320 individual events with feedback on full swing, short game, and putting.  I’ve also got playing notes from every one of my 35+ rounds per year for the last eight years.  With all this great data, I decided to mine it and look for what consistently worked in the past.  I would then leverage just a few ideas for 2015  and keep it as simple as possible.

Method:  The approach was to filter on only practice sessions with a grade of A or A-minus and ignore everything else.  That left 40 of the 320 to work with.  Then I filtered on playing notes for only rounds considered excellent (3-over par or better), and tried to observe some commonality.  Three themes kept repeating themselves (two full swing and one short game).  On the full swing, I need to shorten my back swing.  This makes sense because it’s easier to maintain my spine angle with a shorter back swing and some of my best ball striking days were using this swing thought.  I know from film study that losing my spine angle is the root of all evil.  Second, I need to take the club back on more of an outside path.  Getting it too far inside and setting it promotes an over the top move and the dreaded dead pull.  On the short game, I simply need to focus on making more of a turn and pivot on all shots.  Treat it like the mini-swing that it is and not just an arm action.  That’s it.  I will focus on those three during practice and hopefully think “target” on the course and trust that my preparation will transition.

Metrics:  No plan is complete without the ability to measure yourself.  You need achievable goals but targets that are not easy to reach.  Hitting a goal should illicit a feeling of accomplishment.  Such was the case in 2014 when I missed on all my KPIs but not by much.  As with most golfers, the GIR is the top performance indicator.  If I can stick to my practice plan, I expect to average 10 GIR per round ( up from 8.47).  If my ball striking improves to 10 greens per round, my secondary goals of lowering stroke average to 78.5 from 79.97 should be achievable.  I’m not setting a putts per round target this year because an increase in GIRs may be accompanied by a higher number of total putts because of fewer up and down opportunities.  Putts per green in regulation would feel like a better KPI, but I’m not interested in going that deep so I’ll keep it at GIR and scoring average.

There you have it.  What are your thoughts about this approach?  Would you do anything different?  Do you have targets for 2015?

Posted in Instruction, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

2014 Lessons Learned

LessonsIt’s been repeated many times on this blog and no doubt on several others that the old Albert Einstein adage about the definition of insanity definitely holds true in golf .  If you repeat the same behavior, you’re going to get a similar outcome.  Well, I was not guilty of repeating the same behavior in 2014 but still received essentially the same results as in 2013.

A quick review of  KPIs shows my stroke average dropped from 80.25 to 79.97.  Average GIR improved from 8.15 to 8.47, and putts per round dropped one tenth of a stroke from 32.35 to 32.25.  Amazingly consistent performance considering all the attempts I made at game improvements.  The logical conclusion is that my “game improvements” amounted to mostly WOOD band-aids.  I’m sure others have tried the many improvement route only to bathe in mediocrity.  It’s happened to me before and will probably happen again, so the overall body of work can be summed up as an average year with no surprises.

Three notable lessons were learned which is always a good thing.

Lesson One:  I fell in love with the 9-shot drill early in the season after reading Hank Haney’s The Big Miss.  Only problem was that it was hard to implement and when I finally figured it out, didn’t know what to do with it trying to take it from the range to the course.  Takeaway:  It’s best to not to make significant changes to your ball striking over the winter and focus more on conditioning.  This is the second year in a row I’ve made the same mistake (the previous year it was my pitching technique – aarrrggg!!!)

Lesson Two:  I fell in love with Tour Tempo by John Novosel in the summer and leveraged it to only one really good ball striking round and found it impacted my short game in a very negative way.  Truly a WOOD band-aid that took some skin off on the peel back.  Takeaway:  (and I’m going to partially steal this from Vet’s last couple of excellent posts): Don’t fall in love with a swing thought and think you can repeat it from day to day.

Lesson Three:  In mid summer, because of a job change and new daily routine, I started stopping off at the course for 10-15 minutes of chipping and putting on the way home.  Takeaway:  This worked extremely well in terms of getting a daily fix and feeling current and fresh with all short clubs. . .until the fruit was over-ripened.  Worked great for about a month until I lost interest and had to take a break from the game.  Lesson:  don’t get into too much of a routine.  Mix it up or your concentration will suffer and at worse, you risk burnout.

So there’s your tidbits for 2014.  I’m spending December and January focusing on conditioning and getting healthy.  Hopefully, by mid-February I’ll be ready to rock and roll.  How was your 2014?  Bullish on next year as well?

Posted in Instruction, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Bear Trap Dunes – Course Review

Summary

The Den at Bear Trap Dunes

The Den at Bear Trap Dunes

Our group played Bear Trap Dunes in Ocean View, DE on Tuesday, November 11, 2014.  This 27-hole facility is three miles west of Bethany Beach, and I’ve practiced here on many occasions while vacationing at the beach, but have never played the course until now.  The operation is first class and the practice facilities top notch.  Of the three nines, we played Kodiak and Black Bear and will reserve judgement on Grizzly for another time.  The course is operated by Troon Golf and is semi-private.  Rick Jacobsen (architect) used to be on the Jack Nicklaus course design team, and the course has that familiar Nicklaus look and feel off the tee.  Many of the holes are framed by groups of three and four bunker configurations located at different distances on opposite sides of the fairway.

I found the layout pleasing to my eye and relaxed into a good ball striking day off the tee but my luck ended there.  To score well, you need local knowledge off the tee and accurate iron play; I had neither.  Missing in the deep and expansive greenside bunkers left awfully tough up-and-down opportunities, and once you hit the greens, we found them large, fast, fairly flat, and fair.  Twice on the Kodiak nine, I hit perfect drives into fairway bunkers that I had no idea I could reach.  If you are playing #6 and #9 with a tailwind, 3WD is plenty of club off the tee.  Otherwise, I came away from a bad iron day thinking you could score better and put less pressure on yourself playing for the middle of most greens instead of flag hunting to precise yardages, as I attempted.  A few of the holes like #5 on Kodiak are beautiful and play into a nice U-shaped backdrop of woods, but most of the holes were nondescript despite the very good course conditioning.  One of my playing partners remarked that the Bear Trap experience reminded him of the time we Played Pinehurst #2.  Very good golf course, but very few of the holes stood out; I have to agree.

Par-4, 5th hole on Kodiak.  Bear Trap Dunes

Par-4, 5th hole on Kodiak. Bear Trap Dunes

Value (3.0 out of 5.0)

We played on an off season rate of $39 which included cart and range balls.  For the course conditioning, service, and quality of facilities, this was an awesome value.  I’d rate this as a $70-80 golf experience so why the average rating?  They advertise their in-season rates at $100 – 135 for a weekend round which is exorbitant.  If I’m paying that kind of money, I want memorable holes and a tremendous experience.  Bear Trap was a very nice afternoon of golf on very good conditions with a quasi-country club feel, but not $135 worth.

Facilities (4.0 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse hosts the pro shop, locker rooms, full service grill (The Den), offices, and banquet space.  It is a beautiful building.  Conveniently located across the parking lot is the top notch practice facility.  The range is divided into halves for members and guests and boasts excellent grass hitting surfaces (mats were out for the late fall, but they were in excellent condition, as were the range balls).  They have a large and well maintained short game area and separate putting green with green speeds that were identical to the course.  As mentioned earlier, I practice at Bear Trap regularly and could spend all day using the facilities.  The rating would go even higher except most holes were in very close proximity to the local housing community.  Nice homes but I prefer a little more solitude.

Cary playing his 2nd shot on the par-5, 6th on Black Bear

Cary playing his 2nd shot on the par-5, 6th on Black Bear

Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)

Booking a tee time was easy and was done over the phone.  Being November, they had anything I wanted.  We did not utilize the bag drop and found out later that you couldn’t ride your clubs to your car upon completion of the round.  Some courses are funny in that regard and are weary of liability issues with golfers driving in the parking lots.  I found it more of a minor hindrance.  The pro in the shop was very friendly and attentive and we had a very nice day on an uncrowded and well conditioned golf course.   For this round I shot a 86 from the blue tees that measured 6,377 yards and played to a course rating of 69.3/127.  Bear Trap Dunes is a nice golf course and the off-season rates made it a great play.  If you’re down during the summer, I wouldn’t recommend playing here at full price, but go seek a lower cost high quality alternative like Eagles Landing in Ocean City, MD.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

Difficult par-3, 7th on Black Bear

Difficult par-3, 7th on Black Bear

Posted in Course Reviews, MD - DE Eastern shore, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hog Neck – Course Review

Summary

IMG_1038

We played Hog Neck Golf Course in Easton, MD on Sunday, November 9, 2014.  On every trip back, I’m reminded of the time several decades back when the United States was flirting with metric system implementation.  Hog Neck is the only course I’ve played that has distance markers in meters and yards.  Once, they actually had their scorecards and markers solely in meters, which forced you to do a minor math calculation on every shot, but they updated their scorecards and are now back to U.S. standard units.

Par 3, 7th at Hog Neck

Par 3, 7th at Hog Neck

The par-72 course is a tale of two halves with the front nine playing out on windswept fairways with hidden water, large mounding, penal bunkers, and nary a tree in sight.  Truly a links style experience.  The back meanders through tall pine trees and plays several hundred yards longer and is considerably more difficult.  The parkland style changeover is a great experience in the middle of November, as the fall colors are in their peak brilliance.

Playing tips from the gold tees:  There are no tricks to scoring well but a few tripwires to be avoided.  On the dogleg left par-4, 2nd there are two large fairway bunkers guarding the corner.  Don’t challenge them.  A well struck drive 10-15 yards off the right bunker will leave you with a short iron in from a flat lie.  Forget par from either of the bunkers.  The par-4, 5th has hidden water that sneaks up fast on the left of the tee shot, so be precise.  The par-4, 6th has hidden water on the right and left and again requires precision.  The par-5, 9th has a diagonal water hazard crossing the fairway that’s not easy to see.  For the landing area of your second shot, you must be able to fly it within 100 yards of the green or you’ll need to lay back to about 150 yards.

Teeing off on the par-3, 17th at Hog Neck

Teeing off on the par-3, 17th at Hog Neck

The key on the back nine is driving it solid and straight.  As you get deeper into the inward half, the holes become longer and more difficult, but there are no hidden hazards with the exception of a small pond guarding the left of the par-4, 15th green.  The approach will either be with a long iron or hybrid, and you need to favor the right side.  The par-5, 18th is the only quirky hole on the golf course.  It measures 523 yards, but when the tees are up, you think you can go for it in two.  For some reason, the designer placed a wrap around bunker that guards the entire front approach preventing a roll up option.  So lay back to your favorite yardage and try for a regulation par or birdie.

Approach to the par-5, 18th

Approach to the par-5, 18th

 Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

In season weekend rates are $55 to ride.  We played on an off-season special rate of $40 which included a cart and hot dog/chips/soda snack at the turn.  We were putting on excellent greens but the rest of the course conditions were average at best.  Still we felt this was a good deal at the off season rate.  A bucket of range balls cost $6.

Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)

First impressions are important and Hog Neck misses the mark with their driving range facilities.  The balls were old and the hitting area was essentially 10 low quality mats supported by no bag stands or structures of any type to hold a bag or clubs.  It was barely adequate to get a few swings in and warm up.

Low budget bag stand on the range.

Low budget bag stand on the range.

The pitching area had ample space to work from and included closely mown areas and two medium size bunkers.  The pro shop was on the smallish side but was well stocked and clean.  The snack bar area was located conveniently next to the 10th tee and was also of ample size and clean.

Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)

You make a tee time by either emailing the course with your preference or calling.  No on-line user-friendly reservation system is available.  I had no problem getting the precise time that I requested being it was the second week of November.  Upon check in, we were told not to ride carts in the fairways because their bermuda grass had just gone dormant, and some of the playing surfaces were extremely wet.  We were permitted to ride the rough all the way around the backsides of some of the greens, which was a little unusual, but didn’t present any major obstacles.  The bentgrass putting surfaces were in excellent condition and good greens always lead to a greater feeling of satisfaction.  Finally, according to my playing partner, the hot dog at the turn was excellent!

Overall Rating (3.0 out of 5.0)

On this day, we played the gold tees at 6,477 yards with a course rating of 71.5/130 and I shot a 5-over par 77.  I have been playing this course on trips to the eastern shore for over 30 years and will be back.

Posted in Course Reviews, MD - DE Eastern shore, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

CAUTION!! The Domino Effect of Golf Drills

CautionHave you ever worked a golf drill, fixed a fault, and then watched the drill negatively impact a previously solid part of your game?  Like a time bomb, one of these exploded in my face over the last two days of an otherwise excellent golf trip to the Delaware – Maryland beaches.  On my excursion, I experienced the most god awful episode of skulled, thinned, chunked and totally stone-handed chipping and pitching in the last 20 years.  Oddly enough, I drove the ball superbly, putted well, but if I missed a green, couldn’t hit squat.  It was literally 30-handicap caliber chopping and the bemused looks of my playing partners spoke volumes.  (Apologies to any 30-handicap readers; the problem is not you; it’s me.)  Technically I knew I was flipping my hands at the ball and letting the clubface pass my hands, but I couldn’t stop it.  This was not the chip yips because I didn’t feel any pressure even though the previous failures had gotten in my head; I simply could not execute shots I knew were in my arsenal.

On the drive back today, we were still bemusing over the root cause until I remembered back in August, I read Tour Tempo by John Novosel and took it for a test drive.   Little did I know but this drill to help with ball striking rhythm was sowing the seeds of the catastrophe.  If you’ll recall, Novosel’s theory is to introduce a 3:1 backswing to downswing timing ratio.  Most students, myself included, needed to speed up their downswing to comply with the the ratio.  After a few rounds, I noticed I started to hit my full swing gap wedge shots a little fat but disregarded it as an anomaly or something that occasionally creeps into my game which is handled with a correction.  After further analyzing the wreckage, I correctly identified the cause as an early release created in an attempt to speed up my downswing for Tour Tempo.  To be fair, there’s another Tour Tempo book for short game, that I did not read, and which purportedly has a different timing mechanism for short shots.  Oops!

Everyone who’s instructed or been instructed in golf is familiar with the concept of over-correction.  You over emphasize a fix to clearly turn a negative habit to positive, then tweak as the over-correction becomes a fault of its own.  Now I’ve got a bit of an early release with my full swing and a full blown mess with my short game.  I’m kinda glad winter is almost here, but anyone have a good drill to promote hands ahead of the clubhead with the greenside shots?  Please send along.  Thanks!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Ted Bishop: The Latest 140 Character Casualty

By now, most of you have learned of Ex-PGA President Ted Bishop’s dismissal for making sexist remarks while criticizing Ian Poulter on Twitter.  Countless celebrity types have quit social media for the same reason and there’s a lesson to be learned:  You need to keep it positive and clean when using social media.  It’s astounding that so many folks do damage to their reputations, lose jobs, and feel forced to disengage because they cannot filter their brains before firing off a 140 character vent.

Putting this in perspective, look at Bishop.  As of this writing, he had 4,246 Twitter followers.  Twitter purports to have 271 million active users world wide.  Let’s assume 200 million are real, so the math still indicates that 99.99% of Twitter users don’t care what Bishop thinks about or has to say.  Bishop is not a celebrity but a well known individual, and yet he managed to get himself fired based on a random thought consumed by one of the 00.01% of worldwide users who cared to follow him.  The thought is sobering.  It’s not about the content of his comments (many of us have thought and expressed much worse in private), but how such a person of prominence could get himself dismissed for a relatively innocuous muttering.  If he’d have made it in private, there would be no issue.  If he’d have called Poulter and had it out directly, again no issue, but put it out in public with no context, and the damage was done.

Those of us who use Twitter, Facebook, and various blogging tools like this one should be careful.  You may think you’re relatively unknown, but the wrong post can do damage.  Personally, as a user of all three tools, I prefer to blog because your thoughts can be explained in depth and with greater context.  It’s also a forum for folks to respond/rebut, and as an author, you can moderate the conversation.  So whatever tool you use, be mindful to keep it clean and stay civil.

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