How To Measure Success in Golf

What are Phil’s standards for success?

In Putting Out of Your Mind, Dr. Bob Rotella says that to judge yourself a success on the putting green, you should measure by how often you were mentally prepared when you struck your putts, and not whether the ball went in the hole.  He adds that once you’ve struck a putt, everything else is out of your control.  Makes sense, and I love this process oriented approach, but let’s face it, most amateurs and probably most professionals are more results oriented than we’d like to admit.

While reading the aforementioned book, I tried out the methods during a round at a local muni.  It was if someone else had possession of my body while I was putting.  It worked great, but the total process oriented approach was very hard to maintain.  For a short period, I even managed to not think about my score during a few rounds, but couldn’t keep it up.

Getting immersed in the process works.  It’s a good idea and is worth the effort.  So, how do you measure success or failure?  Can a 30-handicap player stand on a tee box with a 200 yard carry over water, and hit three straight into the drink, but feel if they put a good swing on each, and think nothing is wrong?  That’s a “Tin Cup” moment and should feel wrong because the player failed to know their limitations and move up a set of tees.  I try to follow Rotella’s mantra and think one shot at a time, but ultimately golf is a game where we keep score.  We win or lose against opponents, or post some number in a stroke play event or round.  As a 5-handicap for the last umpteenth years, when I’m not thinking in process mode, I’m measuring myself by score.  Typically:

Good day – 74 strokes or below

Average day – 75-77

Substandard – 78 and above

The 30-handicap may look at their round differently:

Good day – broke 100

Average day – broke 110

Substandard – lost all their golf balls

We do measure ourselves largely by score and that’s okay.  Recently I overcame this tendency – albeit briefly.  I played a round in the dead of February while working on a swing change.  I told myself I didn’t care what I shot and I was just going to focus on the swing change.  I shot 83 and took like 39 putts, but I left the course very satisfied because I hit 10 greens in regulation and saw good progress with the swing change.  I don’t think this model can sustain over time, but it was nice as I was able to treat the round like a NFL team approaches a pre-season game – totally about the process.  Ultimately, it will come back to score.

So what would success look like for Phil Mickelson?

Good day – Won The Masters

Average day – Finished 2nd

Substandard – Out of the top 10

I know Phil has been working on a swing change and is keen to battle test this at Augusta, (more on that coming in our Masters preview), but at the end of the day does that really matter to him?  Nope; it’s about winning.

How do you measure success?  Process or results, and BE HONEST!

Play well.

 

Posted in Instruction, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

2017 Golf Season – Reset!

Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico at Treasure Island, FL

Hold the cherry blossoms in DC and hold the azaleas in Augusta!  One of those god awful nor’easter things is bearing down on the DMV today and will be dropping a foot of the fluffy stuff.

After getting out and playing in January and February in one of the most delightful winters on record (zero snowfall), my luck has finally run out.  Last month, I was fortunate enough to practice on five separate occasions and had made progress on my swing changes, but it’s really cold now and the season is on hold.  Yesterday, in some misguided sense of idiocy, I decided to hit balls in the wind with temperatures in the mid 30s, and didn’t do my game any favors, so maybe it is time for a break.

Actually, I’m very thankful that I got to play at all, and that I got back to town safely on Saturday before the airlines began cancelling flights.  So while you sit by the fire and wait with me for the courses to clear, enjoy a couple pics from sunny Florida.

Play well!

Orioles spring training at Sarasota, FL

Kayaking the mangroves at Saint Petersburg, FL

Florida Aquarium at Tampa, FL

With Gilda at Busch Gardens Tampa, FL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Golf Widows And Orphans

I love to travel for golf.  Some of my best vacations are had when going to play at destination sites.  But when you’re on a family vacation, do you golf if other members of your party don’t?  This can be a tricky dilemma and I’m staring it straight in the face next week, as the family and I head off to Treasure Island, Florida for some time in the sun.

Sneaking out to play and practice at Bear Trap Dunes in Bethany Beach, DE

Sneaking out to play and practice at Bear Trap Dunes in Bethany Beach, DE

The downside of turning your family into golf widows and orphans is just too great, so I err on the side of not playing.  That doesn’t mean golf is totally ruled out.  I’ll always bring my clubs on family trips to the Delaware eastern shore and often get a round in very early while everyone is still sleeping.  No harm there.  Or sometimes, like on our last trip to Florida, I’ll make my way to a professional venue just to check it out.  As it happened my son and I ran into Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill completely by accident.  What a thrill!

With Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill Club. April 2010

With Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill Club. April 2010

Next week, the PGA Tour is playing Valspar at Innisbrook in Palm Harbour, which is 45 minutes from our hotel.  Maybe we’ll pop in on Thursday or Friday, or for a practice round???  So even if you’re not playing, you can still engage.  Bottom line:  family is too important and they shouldn’t be abandoned even if golf is your passion.

Some fellow bloggers play with their family members.  Jim, at The Grateful Golfer is starting to play more with his wife, which is awesome.  Josh and Beth at Golf is Mental, regularly travel, play together, and document their trips beautifully in posts and pictures.  More power to you folks!

My next golf trip is to Myrtle Beach over Memorial Day week.  Here’s the line-up:

The Legends – Heathland

Grand Dunes – Resort Course

Myrtle Beach National – Kings North

TPC of Myrtle Beach

Wild Wing – Avocet

Willbrook Plantation

Having played a fair amount of golf in Myrtle Beach, I still try to get on at least one course I’ve never played per trip.  This year that will be Wild Wing – Avocet.  Anyone ever played there?  Got some playing tips for me?  New reviews are coming for the courses in red.

So next week, as much as I would like to be ripping drives down lush Bermuda fairways for seven straight days, I’ll happily settle for kayaking in the mangroves, Baltimore Orioles spring training games, riding roller coasters at Busch Gardens, and just hanging with family by the pool and on the beach.  Remember, on a family vacation, always put family first!  Safe travels and play well.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Avoiding Rookie Mistakes During A Swing Change

homerHave you ever gone on a crash diet 10 days before your annual physical so you’ll have good “results” to report to your doctor?  Or do you start brushing and flossing fastidiously three days in advance of a dental check-up?  Or do you ever clean your house before the cleaning lady arrives?  I don’t know the name for this behavior, but I’ve been engaging in it in advance of my professional swing instruction to start the 2017 golf season.  For some reason, I feel the need to have my game in the best possible shape before instruction starts.

Readers of this blog know that I have always been a swing tinkerer and this winter has been unusually mild in the DMV – irresistibly perfect for swing tinkering.  Recently, I’ve taken a lot of film of myself on the range and have been comparing my swing to various PGA and LPGA professionals side-by-side, and looking to combine the advice I last received from my instructor with some better swing positions.  As part of this exercise, one of the moves I made was a rookie mistake, but before I detail, I’ll repeat the most important advice I’ve ever received (or given),  “The best swing instruction is provided under the watchful eye of a trained PGA professional.”  A seasoned pro has seen it all and probably has a fix for what ails your game.  Go see him or her.

That being said, Saturday morning, I decided on a change I wanted to make and headed off to my school field with a bag shag and pitching wedge.  20 swings later, I was thrilled and excited as shots were flying true and straight and my optimism was overflowing.   Armed with a tee time for the next day, I figured I’d hit the range after lunch to practice this change with all my clubs.   Normally the day before a round, I’ll play a simulated game on the range at the upcoming venue.  I tried this with my swing change and shots were flying all over the lot.  There were big pulls and huge banana push slices; nothing was solid or straight.  I was crushed and bewildered.  How could this happen when only a couple hours prior, I was nutting everything in the field?  With five balls left, I had the wherewithal to lay down an alignment stick and saw that I was very closed on my setup.  I finished up and headed to the putting green.

The rookie mistake I made was losing focus on the swing change.  I got distracted by trying to prepare for a round that didn’t matter.  Fortunately, I was able to course correct, with the alignment stick being the clue.  Yesterday, I arrived at the golf course and went immediately to the range, where I laid down two alignment sticks and just hit my warm up balls at a single distinct target.  I had made up my mind to not focus on short game, score, or putting, and just concentrate on the swing change.  Aligned correctly, all the goodness from the session in the field returned and I was thrilled to hit 10 GIR on a long tough golf course.

Key takeaways for rookies and veterans alike:

  • Stay focused on the change.
  • Be patient.  Be resilient.  Understand there will be ups and downs.
  • Look for a positive; any positive.  That’s why I went to the putting green after my disastrous range session.  It helps to leave the session with even the smallest bit of encouragement.  You don’t want negative thoughts about your game dwelling in your head.

Good luck with any changes you are making and play well!

 

Posted in Instruction | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

What Motivates You to Pursue Excellence?

Photo of the author on the range working with the driver.

Photo of the author on the range working with the driver.

What gets you up in the morning to go work on your golf game?

As human beings, we are motivated either one of two ways; extrinsically (pursuit of money, titles, things, etc.),  or intrinsically (praise for a job well done, solving a tough problem, or the self satisfaction of simply improving at something).  Don’t say “both” because you favor one or the other.  Which is it?

I returned from a session at the driving range today, where I was practicing something new, and started wondering why I keep working at this crazy game.  I see bits of improvement here and there but basically maintain the same level of competence from year to year.  What’s my motivation?  I realized that the simple pursuit of improvement (the journey) was providing me the greatest amount of satisfaction.  It keeps me going and definitely puts me in the intrinsic camp.

I like where I’m sitting after reading Mark Manson’s new article, “The Disease of More” where he details the travails of the 1980 Los Angeles Lakers and of folks in general who experience success too fast.  The “Disease”was originally coined by Pat Riley (Lakers coach) who portended that championship teams are often dethroned not by other better teams but by forces that demotivate within their own organization.  The Lakers reached the pinnacle and weren’t content to be a great basketball team.  They lost their motivation by pursuing more money, cars, women, endorsements, and other objects outside of basketball, which ultimately led to their downfall.  Sound like someone we know in the golf world?

From espn.com

From espn.com

I would love to get inside the head of two individuals and understand their motivation.  The first is Nick Saban, head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team.  Nick has the titles, he has the dollars, he has the legacy, but I hear him speak often in very process oriented terms.  He sometimes seems joyless in victory because his teams failed to execute on some fine detail of his game plan.  Is it possible he is totally intrinsically motivated in his pursuit of perfection, and views all the victories and championships as a simple extrinsic reward that comes naturally with success, but doesn’t particularly excite him?

The second is Bill Belichick, Patriots head coach.  We are all fascinated by his level of achievement and the secrecy that surrounds his thinking and operation.  Does he want to stick it to the world?  Become the greatest coach of all time?  Or does he just enjoy the grind of a head-to-head match-up across the field from a peer on a weekly basis?  What goes on behind those beady eyes and under that hood?  A lot of good secrets for sure.  If he ever writes a book, I’ll be first in line.

photo from durangoherald.com

photo from durangoherald.com

As a full time desk jockey and a part time golfer, I’m thankful for my intrinsic tendencies and my ability to hold the line on the quality of my game.  For me, the joy is in the never ending journey.  What about you?  Play well!

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My 2017 Golf Improvement Plan

Image from gameimprovementgolf.com

Image from gameimprovementgolf.com

2017 will be about simplification.  What I’m very good at is taking a metrics based approach towards past performance and identifying shortcomings.  My downfall comes when I implement solutions that are overly complex and require unrealistic time and effort.  So let’s use a simplified three-goal approach.

Goal 1:  Play a minimum of 40 rounds.  29 in 2016 were too few and left me disconnected from the game.  In addition, I’m going to focus the bulk of these rounds before August, when my interest wanes.  I will still play through the fall and winter, but need to focus on improvement while I’m motivated.  This is very achievable.

Goal 2:  Improve putts per round to 31.  Last year (32.67) was a disaster compared to 2015 (31.26) and was characterized by trying too many new things too often.  I putt my best when getting plenty of reps but need regular reps and not reps smushed into a single practice session.  I’ve been rug putting over the winter, and taking three dozen 10-foot putts after every indoor workout.  Yesterday I think I found something 🙂 and am excited to leverage this approach throughout the year.  This goal has a medium level of difficulty because there are dependencies on short game effectiveness and ball striking.

Goal 3:  Hit ten greens in regulation per round.  Since I’ve been measuring (2007 to present) I’ve averaged between 8 and 9 GIR every year.  Other than shooting lower scores, good ball striking gives me the most satisfaction.  Admittedly, I am a tinkerer and love to make subtle changes to my move in hopes that I’ll find something to permanently implement.  Yet, while reviewing swing videos over several years, I look strikingly similar in each video.  Despite all that tinkering, nothing changes.  So here’s what’s going to change.  Starting in March, I’m taking a lesson once per month through July.  Last summer, while mirrored in a particularly bad ball striking slump, I took a lesson from my instructor and saw the light that professional help can provide.  It had been years since I took a lesson and I realized that all that self medication didn’t work.  This is going to be the most difficult goal to hit, but I’m starting today.  This afternoon, I’m heading out to the range to film myself to see if I have retained any of the swing changes we worked on last July.  It’ll function as my baseline video and I’ll repeat the process before each lesson.  Next month is Lesson One and we get to work.

So three goals, one easy, one medium, one hard.  I’d say that’s a fair but reasonable approach.  I know some of my fellow bloggers have published your 2017 improvement plans and wonder if you’ve started to implement?  I wish you all a great 2017.  Play well!

 

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

Does Tiger Deserve to keep Playing?

TigerIn 2011, Peyton Manning underwent surgery for a pinched nerve in his neck and missed the entire NFL season.  Many questioned his ability to continue his career.  The Denver Broncos took a chance on him and two years later, at 37, he threw a NFL record 55 touchdown passes.  Two years after that, he threw nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions, and despite winning the Super Bowl, had clearly lost the physical ability to compete.  He rode off into the sunset and now drinks Budweiser and happily pitches Papa Johns pizza.

photo from Getty

photo from Getty

Tiger Woods is one year older than Manning, and their professional careers came of age in roughly the same time period (1997-1998).  Woods is now 41.  Plagued by injuries and psychological foibles he fell from 2nd to 218th in the FedEx standings in 2014 and has done nothing since, except fill his fans with false hope.  Why he continues to play is anyone’s guess, but does he deserve to continue?

If Tiger was in Manning’s shoes, he’d be out.  We often think of golf as the ultimate meritocracy sport but is it?  The answer is still “Yes.”  Tiger earned his place in any field he wants to play in, just as any player with 20 career wins and an active 15-year Tour membership can claim.  Tiger actually still qualifies from his PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP victory in the last five years, but soon he’ll be on the 15-20 list.  Ever wonder why Tom Watson, at 67, occasionally shows up in a PGA Tour event?  He’s on the same exemption list.  Vijay Singh too.  Go here to check out the players that are exempt.  It’s updated daily.

Like it or not, successful PGA Tour events are staged when the tournament sponsor makes money.  Sponsors need those big names to draw crowds and television viewers.  That’s why they are granted exemptions for tournament entrants.  If Tiger is in the field and hacking, people are still watching.  So if better players are shut out of the field, so be it.  The difference is in football, you have a contract, you’re on a team, and you get paid.  If you can no longer perform, you get no contract and are finished.  In golf, you still have a chance.

As long as the current PGA Tour revenue model remains the same, we need that 15-20 exemption list and sponsor’s exemptions to drive attendance and positive viewership.  Guys like David Duval (45) hung on much longer than Tiger.  Duval did absolutely nothing for an entire decade.  Other guys like Ian Baker-Finch knew when they lost it and quit fast.  Tiger Woods should continue to play as long as he likes.  It might get ugly, but shoot, I’ll still be watching.  How about you; think we are good or do we need a change to the exemption rules?

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What is the greatest round ever played?

Photo from GeoffShackelford.com

Photo from GeoffShackelford.com

What qualifies a round of golf for greatest ever played?  A week ago, Canadian Adam Hadwin shot the ninth sub-60 round in PGA Tour history, and his 59 at La Quinta Country Club was only the fourth round of 13-under par in that group.  Hadwin’s 59 was the third sub-60 round on tour in the last five months, which is truly amazing.  Justin Thomas fired a 59 just 10 days ago and Jim Furyk shot the only 58 in Tour history on August 7, 2016 to round out the group.  Despite holding the record low score, Furyk’s 58 was a 12-under effort carded on a par 70 track.  Are any of these rounds the greatest?

There have been 30 rounds of 63 carded in a major championship but never a 62.  Are any of these rounds the greatest?  Is it harder to break 60 in a regular tour event than shoot 63 in a pressure packed major?  I would propose it is since so many more rounds have been played in regular events, and it’s been done only nine times.

To pick the greatest round ever, we need to consider the era in which it was shot, the difficulty of the venue, the pressure the player was under, and also weigh the historical significance.  I submit there are three rounds for consideration:

  1. Johnny Miller’s 63 in the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont.  Of all the 63s shot in a major, only Miller’s round and Henrik Stenson’s in last year’s Open Championship were shot in the fourth round AND saw the player win the tournament.  Throw in the pressure of the U.S. Open, and the toughness of Oakmont, and the caliber of equipment Miller was playing with, and you have a serious candidate.
  2. Stenson’s aforementioned 63 in the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon.  What’s seared into our memories is the incredible pressure Phil Mickelson (65) put on Stenson as they dueled head-to-head in the final round, and the fact that Stenson had never won a major.  The pressure had to be tremendous and I remember shaking my head in disbelief at how cool, calm, and collected Stenson was.  After all, his reputation as a finisher was far from stellar.
  3. Al Geiberger’s 13-under 59 in the 1977 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic at Colonial Country Club.  Of all the sub-60 rounds, this was tops because of the venue and era.  The par-72 Colonial Country Club course was playing at 7,334 yards, which is medium long by today’s standards but was huge back then.  With 1977 era equipment, Geiberger’s performance was all the more spectacular.  His sub 60 was the remotest of possibilities.  To put it in perspective, Furyk’s 12-under 58 at the TPC River Highlands was on a venue playing 6,841 yards with new equipment, and was shot in the fourth round with Furyk out of contention.

My choice here is for Geiberger by a nose over Miller.  So what’s your pick for greatest round ever played?  Have I missed one that you’d put in the top three?

I do think that 2017 is going to be a special year from a scoring perspective.  I doubt if we’ll see another 59, but am definitely looking for someone to break 63 in a major.  If and when that happens, who do you think it will be and where?

Play well!

 

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Changing Equipment? Do It For The Right Reason!

I am fond of Charles Mingus’ old saying that goes, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”  In 2013 Rory McIlroy changed to Nike equipment and struggled for half a year with the change, and he’s a professional.   He had millions of reasons to complicate his life.

Last weekend I re-gripped my golf clubs and made an interesting discovery.  The three Cleveland CG-16 wedges that came with my custom fit Mizuno irons had several layers of tape built up on the shaft under the right hand.  It’s a common practice to build up the right hand on wedges, but I have never played with the right hand built up.  I began to wonder if this was related to the problems (chip yips) I had experienced since changing wedges.  After the grips were dry, I took them out to the driving range for a bake off with my old Cleveland Tour Action gap and sand wedges.  The results favored the older wedges, so I removed the CG 50, 54, and 58 wedges for my round today, and replaced them with the two Tour Action wedges and a 5-WD.

Previously, I’d hit all my sand and green-side shots fine with the 56 degree Tour Action.  During my round today I felt very confident around the greens chipping and pitching with the older club.  I realized that the only reason I removed the older wedges was because the new three wedge system came with my club fitting.  By changing equipment for the wrong reason, I may have inadvertently messed with my short game.  With the new clubs, I was trying to decide which shot and technique to use based on whether I was using the 54 or 58.  Egad.

It’s been said that putting old equipment back in your bag is like getting back together with an old girl friend.  It’s great at first but you eventually remember why you broke up.  Nobody forced me to dump my old wedges, they were working fine.  This break up should never have happened.

Try not to make the same mistake and play well!

 

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

Confident vs. Cocky

tiger-confident-and-cockyWhich camp do you fall in?  When you play your best on the golf course how do you feel, confident or cocky?  Try to align yourself with one of today’s top professionals.  Jason Day is confident.  Henrik Stenson is confident.  Dustin Johnson is surprisingly confident and a little bit humble.  Just look at Rory McIlroy’s gait when he is winning.  Tremendously cocky.  Jordan Speith has transitioned from a cocky youth to confident consummate professional.  When he was at his peak, Tiger Woods was the most cocky AND confident player on the planet.  Now he exhibits neither, which is why I’m skeptical of his comeback attempt.  Phil Mickelson, the ultimate showman, is both.  Bottom line:  To play effectively, you need one or the other.

WARNING ALARM!  I hope this isn’t you.  The last time I played my best, I was neither confident nor cocky but rather surprised.  This is not a good state to be in.  It was probably due to my lower level of preparation and infrequent play.  However, five years ago, I was in an excellent hot streak and exhibited a high level of confidence.  When I play and practice a lot, my confidence rises.  Normally, I’m a 95% confident type, but when the 5% cocky appears, I’ll try some boneheaded shot that I haven’t practiced, which leads to a triple bogey.  Have any of you confident types experienced this?

Our personality leads us to either a confident or cocky on-course persona and it’s best to play to your personality.  Unless your on-course behavior is horrible, when we deviate from our personality is when we screw up.  If you are a gregarious show-off, normally you’ll fall in the cocky camp and need to play as such to be comfortable, but if you’re a more quiet unassuming strategist, you’ll play as a confident type.  This is why it took Phil Mickelson so long to adjust his on course behavior away from taking unnecessary risks that cost him several major championships.  He’s still cocky at heart but has learned to become more of a tactician that always plays with a game plan.   I think fans still love when “Phil The Thrill” comes out, but watch him in the majors and especially at The Masters.  He’ll come out with a confident game plan and rarely deviates.

To be successful, you need one or the other.  To find yours, think back when you were in competition and playing your best (and your worst).  What did you have and what were you missing?  As mentioned earlier, at my best I was supremely confident.  At my worst I had nothing and was completely intimidated.

Confident vs. cocky; what works for you?  Shoot me a comment with your type and a story if you’ve got one.  Play well!

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2016, That’s A Wrap!

2016-report-cardWe started yesterday’s round just after 12-noon basking in glorious sunshine and 70 degree temperatures.  We finished in near darkness with sleet coming down sideways.  The golf god’s message was clear; it was time to put a wrap on 2016.

The golf season never really ends in the DMV but is just suspended by periods of cold and wet.  Last year I finished in December and resumed in February and in some years, we play right through the winter.  This year, transitioning to a new job and handling life’s interruptions didn’t help to stabilize a season that was characterized by ho hum performance.  From a metrics standpoint, my handicap remained at 5.  My GIR average was still stuck between 8 and 9, and putts per round trended poorly, increasing by a stroke and a half per round.  Also, my 29 rounds played were the fewest since 2010.

Despite the mediocrity, I gained three excellent lessons learned:

One:  Mechanics matter.  When you struggle with your swing to a point of despondency, stop trying to self-medicate and go seek professional help.  I’m a big believer in filming my own swing, but when my ball striking fell in the crapper and I couldn’t fix myself, I benefited greatly from a full swing lesson with a PGA professional.  His trained eye helped me and led to an increased sense of satisfaction and belief in self.  I learned that I had the physical ability to hit a golf ball consistently straight, and that age was merely a number and was playing much less of a negative impact on performance.

Two:  Repetition matters.  It should go without saying, but no practice and infrequent play make Johnny a lousy golfer.  Life’s limitations forced this on me for stretches in 2016 and I paid for it.  You can have all the correct mechanics, solid mental preparation, and game simulation you want, but without frequent play and concentrated practice, your will lose your edge.  I took comfort from the repeated reps I enjoyed during my late season golf trip.  I found a renewed confidence that given the time and enough dedication, I could stabilize and improve all aspects of my game.  I can’t wait to have that opportunity, although I’m not sure when it will come.

Three:  Yips are part mental and physical.  You are never fully fixed, just in some state of recovery.  Thank God, I’ve never had putting yips, but have struggled with chipping for years.  Enough early season work around the green provided a mechanical solution, and then a small change to my pre-shot routine helped the mental side.  My only advice for any yippers out there, if you commit to a routine on or around the green of “rehearse – play without delay – accept the result,” you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor.

So there you have it for 2016.  Keep your glutes firing and play well!

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

Playing Old School

Works For Ricky!

Works For Ricky!

Charles Mingus once said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”  Last weekend that was the theory of the case I set out to prove on my 54-hole eastern shore jaunt.  The plan was to play the first 18 holes with the assist from a GPS and a laser range finder, but to dispense with both devices in round two.  Round three would be played with the preferred method taken from the prior two days.

First, it was awesome to finally golf on consecutive days for the first time since early June.  The experiment was admittedly a small sample size, so much of the feedback was based on gut feel rather than hard metrics.  My day-to-day performance showed continual improvement, which was encouraging (84-78-76) and the reps were invaluable and served as a quasi practice for the following day’s game.

Round one at Heritage Shores (Bridgeville, DE) was characterized by a hot start, a mid-round ball striking implosion, and a strong finish.  Using both devices didn’t feel any different even though I was conscious of trying to match exact yardage to swing.  I putted poorly all day but stumbled into a swing key that allowed me to play the last five holes in even par, and to hit four of the five greens.  Despite the poor score, I left the course encouraged about the swing band-aid I had found, and for the experiment I was going to try the next day.

Saturday, we played Eagles Landing (Ocean City, MD).  The carts were equipped with GPS and I basically ignored it unless I couldn’t find ground yardage.  There is no driving range at Eagles Landing and we were limited to some light chipping and putting before we went off.  I promptly pull hooked my drive on #1 and made double, and followed that with a big push on #2 for a bogey.  Yardage was playing no part in this mess.  So I decided to keep the driver in the bag until my body loosened up and I managed to stabilize using 3WD.  On number 8, I found another swing key and managed to strike it solid and played the rest of the way around in 2-over.  Here I noticed some gains by pacing off yardages on the short wedge shots from the fairway.  Without precise yardage, I relied on my stock practice range shots to carry distances I was comfortable with, and this was key!  I am not a professional and cannot dedicate tons of range time perfecting partial wedge shots to specific distances.  Just give me 50-75-100 yard shots and I proved that hitting to those yardages was more effective than snapping an exact number on the laser and trying to modify my swing to match.

Sunday at Baywood Greens (Long Neck, DE) was a completely different story.  We got to the course 1.5 hours ahead of our tee time and got ample range time in plus putting green and short game warm ups.  In addition, I had a game plan from the previous two days and felt very prepared and it showed.  The good work with the short irons continued despite not having exact yardages and I felt completely in control.  I also noticed the impact of imprecise yardages diminished the farther you were from the flag stick.

At the end of our short experiment, I’d have to conclude that the back to back to back rounds were probably more beneficial to my game than how I measured my yardages.  I liked not having as much to do and think about between shots, but honestly felt that I could do a better job planning my shots even with exact yardage.  In short, it really didn’t matter how it was calculated, but I’m going to try without the range finder for my next few rounds.

Do you have a preference for course navigation?  Please share if you do.

Thanks and play well!

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Do You Golf Like An Artist or Scientist?

artvsscienceHuman beings are predisposed to favor either creativity or analysis in their thought processes.  Take cooking for example.  We prepare a successful meal by either following a recipe or inventing one on the fly.  I am definitely in the latter camp, and believe that when we identify with a trend, it’s probably best to play golf in a similar fashion.  I had an epiphany recently.  I have always thought I trended scientific, but now believe the opposite is true, and realize my current technical approach may be hurting my game.

Do you play with a laser range finder?  I do and my regular golf partner has a GPS device.  These are wonderful instruments of precision and we normally share information on most shots, so I have the distance to the flag, the distance to the front, middle, and back of the green, as well as distance to any hazards or hidden course features at my disposal.  When I factor in wind direction and speed, condition of the putting surface, and my current swing key(s), it feels like I’m trying to land a 747 on a small runway in a 20 knot cross wind.  I’ve been consuming all this information for a long time and have been struggling to hit shots when thinking so precisely.  I think there’s a connection because I had more success when I simplified by calculating yardages old school (using sprinkler head distances to the middle of the green and adding or subtracting estimated yardages for front or back pin placements).   Lately I’ve also noticed I’ve had good results executing difficult recovery or partial shots where my approach has been very simple.

Here’s two recent shots side-by-side to illustrate.  Shot 1:  Yesterday I had a short approach into a par-5.  I measured 54 yards uphill to a back flag.  It was downwind, and the greens were running fast.  I had 60 yards to the back.  I thought, “lob wedge to 51 yards” but tried to be too precise and shut the face a little and the ball trickled over the green into the fringe about 25 feet long leaving a treacherous downhill putt, which I promptly three-jacked.  I’d have been better off playing for the middle of the green.  Shot 2:  Last week, I drove a ball under a tree with low hanging branches.  I had 160 yards left but could not elevate a shot.  I thought, “hit a low 130 yard 3-iron then let it run up”.  Now who practices that shot on the range?  Not me, but I just rehearsed a simple little half flip with the club and hit the shot as planned.  My target was much less precise, but I felt more relaxed during my pre-shot routine than for Shot 1.  Why?  I believe Shot 1 had too many technical inputs and Shot 2 didn’t.  It allowed me to take a creative approach that my brain was comfortable with.

So what to do now?  It’s quite possible that I’m not using the information at my disposal correctly or maybe it’s just too much information.  I’m going to experiment on my upcoming eastern shore golf trip Friday to Sunday.  Friday’s round is at Heritage Shores which I have played twice and am less familiar.  I’m going to use the laser and GPS.  Saturday we play Eagles Landing which I have played over a dozen times and know where to hit it.  So I will go old school and pace off yardages and simplify.  Sunday at Baywood Greens will be the more comfortable of the two approaches.  I will let you know how it goes next week.

Do you over-complicate your approach on the course?  Hope not.

Play well!

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You Can Play Well Without Practice!

This fall, I’ve barely scraped out enough time for a once-per-week round of golf, and have not been practicing much between rounds but have been scoring pretty well.  Can you play effectively without practicing?  The answer is “yes” but it requires a mental adjustment, which we’ll go into shortly.

Before you remove practice, it’s best to understand what you need from it.  I score best when my play is preceded by full game practice.  That means range plus short game the day before a round.  Over the years, I’ve compiled notes for my practice sessions, whether it be ball striking, chipping, putting, or bunker play, and I’ll typically review those to identify what I practiced before successful and unsuccessful rounds of golf.  My data shows I practice short game 70% of the time.  For me, the quality of practice the day before is a good indicator of the score I can expect the next day.  If I struggle to concentrate during practice, or cannot make good contact, it’s inevitably followed by a poor round.  But if I’m focused like a laser, good things are going to happen.  Other folks hit buckets of pure shots in practice but can’t take it from the range to the course, or vise versa.  You need to know your trends and what to compensate for.

So what adjustments can every player make?  First, know that your short game is probably going to be affected the most by lack of practice.  A full swing is an athletic motion that gets repeated dozens of times during a round and with the reps comes consistency.  This is why our first round of the year is often a good ball striking round, but our chipping and putting are usually rusty.  Short shots are unique and require practice.  The subtle adjustments for distance, lie, and the speed of the putting surface demand it.  This brings us to our primary adjustment.  The key to playing without practice is to remove reliance on too much short game by taking a more conservative ball striking approach, i.e. keep the ball out of trouble.  It sounds simple, but it works!  Resist the temptation to go for the big hit, which may mean using a 3-wood instead of driver on some tee shots.  Also try to take more of the fairway on doglegs.  Course architects will tempt you to cut dogleg corners to save distance.  Don’t bite.  When playing in windy or rainy conditions, adjust your personal par to compensate for the increased difficulty and give yourself a mental break.  It’s much easier to play a long par-4 like a short par-5 from the fairway, than constantly pressing to recover from trouble off the tee.  This game is exponentially easier played from the short grass so make it easy on yourself.  Remember Tiger’s 81 in the harsh conditions of the 2002 Open Championship?  You’re not playing for a major; don’t be like Tiger.  tiger-woods-2002-open-ian-hodgson_640

I played yesterday in very heavy wind which was extremely difficult and added five shots to the par-71 scorecard before I started.  I played great and my 81 was only five strokes over my personal par which felt very satisfying.

So there you have it.  Exercise some sound course management, keep the ball in play, and enjoy!

Have you had any success playing without practice or do you got to have your reps?  Please share and play well!

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When The Passion Runs Hot!

fightMedia pundits and some fellow bloggers need to relax about the rowdy fan behavior during Friday’s opening matches at the Ryder Cup, and enjoy the event.  There’s nothing wrong with a little jacked up passion because it allows folks to get energized and blow off some steam.  After all, it is the start of football season in the United States and is coupled with the run up to a divisive general election.  The two have fans simmering to a boil, and the Ryder Cup serves as a welcome pressure valve.  With each new edition of the bi-annual competition, the fire does burn a little hotter and the stakes seem a little higher, which was certainly the case yesterday at Hazeltine.

I’m pulling hard for the U.S. team but loved Rory McIlroy’s theatrics after holing his match-winning eagle putt on #16.  As long as players aren’t bothered during their pre-shot routines, or while making a stroke, I’m fine with the vocal outbursts.  While this may seem at odds with the gentlemanly nature of golf, it makes for a very memorable sports experience.

Think back to your own most memorable sports experiences.  They may not have been the best played events, but what made them memorable?  Emotion!  My three were the 1981 Orange Bowl between Oklahoma and Florida State which was a one point game decided in the last minute and accompanied by some outrageous fan behavior after the game was over; a 1982 basketball game between my Maryland Terrapins and the top-ranked Virginia Cavilers who were led by Ralph Sampson.  This was a one point overtime victory for the Terps and was categorized by a last second buzzer beater and a second half fight between the teams.  And finally, my first MLB playoff game in 2012 between the Orioles and Yankees at Camden Yards.  A three-hour rain delay with plenty of beer fueled the festivities.  Here’s a video I shot pre-game with folks getting warmed up.

Generally, these great events involve either a bitter rivalry, a close score, or some pent up hard feelings for the other side.  Golf is unique because it’s mostly individual competitions and fans provide ample support for players of different countries at most of the big events, but in the Ryder Cup, rivalry, closeness of the competition, and some hard feelings all form the key ingredients for a delicious passionate stew.

Let’s hope things don’t get out of hand; I suspect they won’t.  Enjoy the passion and the spectacle!

 

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Long Live The King

with-arnold-palmer-at-bay-hillI was very saddened at the passing of Arnold Palmer yesterday.  His humbleness, kindness, and unassuming personality towards regular folks made him truly a man of the people.  He was one of my heroes and will be missed.  I’d like to share a couple of Arnie stories.

At 19 years old, I was attending the Kemper Open at Congressional Country Club.  Even at age 51, Arnie was a fierce competitor and it was true that he could burn hot at times.  On this day, I was in his gallery surrounding the par-4 12th green.  Arnie hit his approach on in regulation and proceeded to three-putt for bogey.   After holing out, Arnie sent the blade into orbit with a two-hand jaw-dropping reverse tomahawk straight over his head.  I was half shocked and half amazed that I just saw one of the greatest players on earth wing metal in earnest.  I thought, how cool was that!  And Arnie had the wherewithal to aim this rocket towards the next tee box and away from any curious onlookers.  The image has remained with me to this day and in 1985 it turned into a lesson on club throwing.  I was playing the uphill par-5 17th at Kenwood Country Club in Bethesda, MD and badly missed my second shot with a 4-iron.  I sent my own missile helicoptering off into the left rough and spent the next 15 minutes searching for my golf club in knee-high fescue.  I have never thrown a club since.

In 2010, I was on a family vacation during spring break in Orlando.  On the last day of the trip, my son Elliot and I ventured out to Bay Hill to visit the course and collect souvenirs.  Our last stop was the 18th green, the scene of so many memorable Bay Hill Classic finishes.  A work crew was taking down the last of the bleachers from the recently completed tournament, and I noticed out of the corner of my eye way down in the fairway a very familiar golf swing.  Yes, the King was out playing golf and we were there watching with nobody else around!  Must have been my fight or flight mechanism kicking in but I don’t ever remember being as excited on a golf course, and I yelled for Elliot to “get the camera out!”

Arnie had always been a club tinkerer and was always looking for a way to improve his golf, even late in life.  arnold-palmers-setWhat struck me first was how many clubs were in his bag.  There must have been about 40 in the two Arnold Palmer Callaway tour bags.   We watched Arnie and his foursome putt out and he came strolling over to his cart.  We walked up and introduced ourselves.  It was a hot day and Arnie was looking tired but he was so gracious and accommodating when we asked him to pose for a couple pictures.  Not wanting to keep him for long, we got our photos and chatted for a couple minutes.  I asked him how he played and he said he’d shot an 81 (not bad for an 80-year old) and had, “taken a couple bucks off his friends.”  I thought, not bad for a man with seven major championships and millions in the bank.

Truly a man of the people.  RIP King.

 

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How To Drill For Match Play

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

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

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

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

Please share if you do and play well!

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Golf is NOT Dead!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play well!

 

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2016 PGA Picks

Baltistrol, from Golfdigest.com

Baltistrol, from Golfdigest.com

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

The state of Olympic golf from tfs.org.uk

The state of Olympic golf from tfs.org.uk

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

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

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

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The Joy of Hard Work And Improvement

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

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

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

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

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