Olympic golf has joined the specter of sports that have been added to the games and simultaneously de-emphasized as “must see”. I am not watching. There are two common themes at play with sports like Olympic golf:
The world’s best athletes are not competing
The “sport” is really an activity or hobby
Now, before you start ragging on me because surfing, skateboarding, or canoeing is not a sport, consider that you can compete at anything, but just because there is competition doesn’t mean it qualifies as Olympic. The Olympics should be reserved for sports where the world’s best compete every four years. What I’m watching is swimming, gymnastics, track and field in the summer, downhill skiing, figure skating, luge, and bobsled in the winter. There are a few others.
Of our two themes, Olympic golf falls into the first. The size of the field and the depth of talent are considerably less than a standard PGA Tour event, and slightly more than a silly season exhibition. Must-see? The events that matter for golf are the four majors, Ryder Cup, and regular tour events. Other sports that fall into this category: tennis, soccer, basketball, softball, baseball (in the past), and hockey in the winter games. Of these only Olympic hockey gets my patriotic juices flowing enough to watch. Olympics vs. Wimbledon? Olympics vs World Cup? Olympics vs. Final Four? No thanks.
Been getting a few questions lately about methods for improving one’s golf game and overcoming frustrations along the way. Both are tough nuts to crack, but let’s first address the frustrations. Recognize that golf is an activity that requires continual learning. It takes time, effort, persistence, and must be treated as a journey and not a result. Frustration and satisfaction are companions on the ride. Players and students of the game come to this realization slowly if they don’t set expectations up front. The expectations should be documented in an improvement map and include a goal and specific how-to’s. You’ll find it’s difficult to pursue a general plan like “become a better golfer, “ because the words connote a moving target.
Your improvement map needs specifics. For example, say you are a player who regularly shoots between 100 and 110. There’s room for improvement in almost every aspect of your game but not getting focused on where to work can hurt. Your map should have a goal like: “Break 100 for seven of 10 rounds by the end of September.” Then add in the how-to. This could be: “Sign up for a series of six lessons on ball striking. Take one lesson every two weeks. Practice the lessons twice per week. Include one round of golf per week.” Over the course of this journey, you will hit snags and setbacks, but with persistence should expect the balance of instruction, practice, and play to yield benefits. You may also begin to notice shortcomings in other areas of your game, like chipping or putting. But remain on task and focused because there will be plenty of time to work on other things. At this level, you’ll gain a higher level of satisfaction from improved ball striking and eliminating those severely wayward full swing misses.
Now, say you are a player that shoots in the low 80s. Totally different map because your swing is more refined. The more competence you demonstrate, the harder incremental improvement becomes and at this level, a higher degree of dedication is required to improve. Again, your map should be specific with a goal like: “Break 80 in five of 10 rounds by the end of September.” The how-to: “Take a lesson in chipping and putting. Practice your learned technique two times per week and play two times per week. After one month, take another lesson in pitching and bunker play. Repeat the practice/play cadence.” The focus on short game along with the increased frequency of practice and play should pay dividends.
At any level, increasing frequency is the key because the techniques you learn become second nature. When you can rely on technique, you think more about making shots. This is where the improvement happens. The instruction is important because practicing the wrong technique can set you back. Most golfers struggle with these two areas because they need to find an instructor they can trust and need to make the required time commitment. Solve for those two, add in an improvement map, and you’re on your way.
Yesterday was a new and fun experience as I dipped my toes into big time tournament golf. It’s probably not what you think.
Before teeing it up at Clustered Spires in Frederick, MD, I headed to the starters desk and got paired up with an older husband and wife team and a young fellow, also named Brian, who informed me that he was playing a practice round for the June 30 US Amateur Qualifier. He advised he would not be playing out all his shots and would be trying a few things from different locations. As he loaded his bag on my cart, he asked if I had played the course, because he had not, and he needed help mapping out a strategy. I gladly volunteered to assist.
As we rode towards the green on the par-3 second hole, I asked Brian how he gained entry in the qualifier. He said he had just got his handicap below the 2.4 index requirement and was attempting to qualify for the first time. Brian was playing the tips (where the qualifier would be played from) and I was playing the whites, which were considerably shorter at 6,200 yards. This was still cool because I was able to watch a real good player and measure my game with his. How did I stack up? Handicap stats can be misleading. I play to a 4.3 index. Let’s say Brian just satisfied his USGA index requirement and was playing at a 2.3. Two strokes different, right? No way. In all fairness to myself, my short game and his were quite comparable, but ball striking was not even close. He was consistently ripping it 280-290 down the middle on every tee shot and his length and pureness of strike with the irons was impressive. The takeaway: whenever paired with someone from a different club, understand the context of their index. What is the distance they usually play at and what is the course rating? I was left thinking that a scratch at my course would get whupped every time by a five or six handicap from a serious venue like a Congressional or Merion.
On the 17th tee, Brian pulverized another low bullet about 300 yards down the middle, and I asked him what the loft was on his driver. He said about 12 degrees but admitted that he always hit the ball very low and learned an exaggerated shaft lean as a kid. He said that if he was fortunate enough to qualify and make it to Oakmont in August, he might have trouble with some of the carries because of his low ball flight. Then I asked him what he thought it would take to qualify out of Clustered Spires and he thought maybe a few under par for 36 holes. The US Amateur has 94 qualifying sites, each with 84 players. Roughly three of those 84 will advance to the 312 player field at Oakmont. I think it may take six or seven under par to advance out of Clustered Spires. Yikes!
All day, I found it hard to concentrate on my own game while helping to manage Brian’s club selection and making recommendations on where to hit it and what to avoid. In addition, our husband-and-wife team were playing very quickly, and the cadence became a little disjointed. I managed to hit 12 greens and shoot six-over par, but I felt rushed, especially on the greens, with Brian trying putts to all different locations and the other two racing to see who could finish the hole as quickly as possible. It was still great fun.
I have played practice rounds before tournaments, but just played golf. What I observed yesterday was a real competitor preparing for a serious event using serious preparation techniques. That I helped him in any small way is gratifying. I will be eagerly watching the June 30th qualifying results from Clustered Spires to see if he makes it.
My Dad is 93 and he and I were watching the US Open yesterday. The announcers were describing a par-3 playing 173 yards and Dad asked me what they were hitting in. “That’s about a five iron, right?” I told him that the pros were using eight and nine-irons and that some guys like DeChambeau were hitting pitching wedges. He was incredulous, “A pitching wedge at 170 yards?”
The current crop of pros bomb it compared to their counterparts in the late 20th century, but the beauty of golf is that is still all about the carpenter, not the tools. Inthis week’s major, the USGA set the track at 7,700 yards, grew in the rough, dried out the greens, and presto, even-par for 72 holes is a great score – just like 20 or 30 years ago. No angle of attack, TopTracer Apex, or ball spin rates are going to save the competitors. The players with the best vision, technique, and mental toughness are going to be successful, and I am loving it!
In today’s world, most occupations and many sports are being taken over by automation and data analytics. How accurate is your data? Can you automate that? I suppose that’s the price of progress, but is removing the human element from life progress? My job is to manage resources (people) for my company. Whether I like it or not, we use automation to increase productivity, and it replaces humans with machines and I have to live with that. I read a very interesting piece by Kevin Kernan at BallNine about how data analytics is ruining professional baseball and making it almost unwatchable. It’s true, check it out.
The PGA Tour tracks gobs of player stats. You can get analytics on every aspect of every player’s game and today’s swing gurus and equipment manufacturers are all in. But the game is effectively the same as it has been for the last half century. Why? Only one stat matters; greens in regulation. Hit more of them and you win – how refreshing.
The human element is being removed from sports and that’s sad. Humans play and officiate the games, not machines, but thankfully, golf is holding the line. If I want to see machines in action, I can go to work.
Enjoy the final round of the US Open today and don’t pay too much attention to the TopTracer Apex. Play well.
On Sunday I got paired up at my course with Joe and Pat, a couple of professional caddies. What made this such a fun afternoon was watching their antics, swapping stories, and taking a jog down memory lane. They were in their mid to late twenties, were good players, and were clearly living the life. It sounded like they had very few commitments or responsibilities other than to make enough money to support their eating, drinking, and golfing habits. When you think of golf bums, Joe and Pat personified.
Turns out they caddied at McArthur Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Florida for the winter and were making their way up north for the summer season. Pat had a job at the TPC of Boston and Joe at a country club on Long Island. Each day they drove a leg and played golf at some nice public course. I was happy they ended up at Blue Mash with me.
As we worked our way through the round, they reminded me of my time in the business and how I was totally consumed by the game. Work-play-work-play-work-play. I ultimately exited the industry because of burn out and these guys were crushing my level of addiction. They were rippin’ it from the tips, had some kind of money match going with automatic two down presses that got expensive on the back nine and may have run over several days. They were drinking who knows what all day but seemed to be in control and proved to be excellent company. I was a most interested spectator but was also trying to focus on my game. I was playing the blue tees, which was a stern test for me because of the heat and wind. Even playing from the tips, they were not phased, and I could tell had played a lot of golf. I asked Pat if he had playing privileges at the TPC and he said he teed it up every day at 3:30 p.m. Caddy in the morning, play in the afternoon, get up and do it again every day. I recounted a story I learned from Julia Galac, the Story Teller I met at TPC of Sawgrass, and how she volunteered three days per month and received playing privileges at the Stadium Course. Pat said that if he had that kind of deal, he’d work his three shifts and play the other 27 days of the month – whew!
We shook hands on the 18th green and they invited me into the clubhouse to watch the end of the PGA Championship and have a few drinks. I could see myself pounding enough drinks with these guys to inebriate myself into an undrivable condition and politely declined. This was a fun day on the golf course, but I left wondering if that lifestyle was too much of a good thing. Do you think it is?
One of the small prices to pay when you play Covid-19 golf in Montgomery County, MD is that golf courses removed rakes from their bunkers. The expectation was that you smooth the footprints with your foot or a club. We now know that the virus is not transmitted on inanimate objects like rakes, golf holes, and flag sticks, but the regulations were implemented out of an abundance of caution. Well, I chuckled last weekend as I sat in my cart next to the 5th tee, removed my left shoe, and dumped a small load of sand that I picked up from smoothing bunkers on holes 2, 3, and 4.
Fast forward to yesterday where I played nine holes at my local muni after work. Bam! No masks in the clubhouse. No pool noodles in the holes. Rakes in the bunkers. Imagine being confronted with all this luxury. We pulled flag sticks, smoothed our footprints, and shook hands with our playing partners. It was like watching the pros on TV and was just awesome.
I realize the pandemic is not over, especially in countries outside the United States. The status of the Olympics in Japan is in doubt and many of the colleagues I work with in India, on a daily basis, have been severely affected. Thanks to the vaccines, we are starting to reopen and my little sojourn into golf course normalcy was a pleasant surprise.
When the average feels like luxury. Hope you are getting back to normal wherever you are.
Regular readers know that I’m a big fan of simulation during practice. Exercises using this technique have been a great stroke saver because it preps your mind for real course action, gets you out of mechanical thinking mode, focuses you on shot making, and is an exceptional time saver. Either full round simulation or short game simulation is beneficial.
This morning, I had two hours to practice and devoted most of my time to a simulated 18-hole round at my home course of Blue Mash. The whole exercise took about an hour and that included time warming up with about 20 balls. The best simulations are when you are focusing intently on each shot and do not rush. Today, I took 30-60 seconds between swings, wiped down the club head and grip after every shot, took an occasional sip of water, and chatted up my neighbor a little. We were hitting from the absolute front tee on our large grass range and weren’t allowed to use drivers since the last target flag was only 230 yards out. I resorted to using 3WD on all the tee shots where I’d normally use driver and may have stumbled upon something.
Have you ever thought how much better you’d score if you left your driver in the bag most of the time? I found this out after only missing one tee shot with the 3WD, and not badly enough so that the ball went into trouble. Upon reflection, I normally hit driver on 11 of our 18 holes but only need to on five. You can certainly leave driver in the bag on the par-5s unless you think you can reach the green in two. I’m not long enough to hit any of our par-5s in two and driver only serves to occasionally get you in trouble. Just put a 3WD in play and hit one more club on the layup shot and you alleviate a lot of risk. Anyway, I hit all these 3WDs and shot a solid simulated 2-over round with 13 GIR. Very encouraging.
Tomorrow, I’m playing the course for real and am thinking of only hitting driver on the five necessary holes. This is very important because when you keep the ball in play, your mind remains engaged at a much higher level than when you fight wildness. The last two times I employed this 3WD strategy in competition, I met with very successful outcomes. I think I’ll give it a try.
On a side note, in my recent jaunt to St. Augustine, FL and TPC Sawgrass, I sampled some Jambalaya at Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille in downtown St. Augustine. It has vaulted up our Jambalaya rankings into the #2 position! (Rankings are in the left margin of the All About Golf home page). Harry’s is a New Orleans Cajun style seafood restaurant and is excellent. If you’re ever in St. Augustine, stop by for a heaping plate of this goodness!
My wife and I are in town checking out possible retirement properties, and yesterday I took a sojourn to TPC Sawgrass, the home of The Players Championship (up the coast in Ponte Vedra Beach.) I have written about this course, watched every tournament contested at this course, but never visited until yesterday. What a treat!
As I walked in from the parking lot, I noticed the venue was buzzing with practice round activity for the upcoming PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship. This is a 54-hole stroke play event contested on The Stadium and Valley courses over the next three days. I figured this was perfect to see this fabulous operation in action.
The expansiveness and grandeur of the clubhouse can be overwhelming, and I wasn’t sure where to start, so I filmed the following short video and headed to the driving range.
There were dozens of players, coaches, and a few parents working and watching at this extensive facility and I observed for about 10 minutes until I felt the urge to offer swing advice. Then it was time to move along. 😊
Next, I completely encircled the 77,000 square foot clubhouse after first stopping on a practice green and watching some of the women contestants rolling putts. I noticed how shaved down and beautifully manicured the surface was and how quickly the balls were rolling. I started to get the yips just watching.
On my self-guided tour, I was looking for the 18th green but couldn’t orient myself among the maze of cart paths and signs and figured I needed help. Inside the pro-shop, after picking up some souvenirs, I asked if I could tour the course and they said that course Story Tellers were starting clubhouse and course tours at the top of every hour – perfect! That’s when I met Julia Galac. Julia is a volunteer Story Teller and gave me a history of the clubhouse, The Players Championship, and talked about the artwork adorning the main lobby. Next, we jumped in a cart and headed out to the back nine. Julia was full of amazing facts about the course, and as we stood on a hill overlooking the par-5 16th, noted that many tons of earth had been trucked in during construction and that a large piece of equipment had gotten stuck that the crew couldn’t move, so they built it into the hillside. Amazing!
We toured the 16th, 17th, and 18th holes, and I became fully oriented from having watched over the years on television. The iconic 17th green seemed smaller in person than on TV. What do you think?
On the way in, I asked if Julia had visited the World Golf Hall of Fame, and she replied that she had and that it was, “okay.” I was planning to add that to the day’s itinerary, but it didn’t feel like a “must see” and I was getting hungry. So, I returned to the clubhouse and sat down for a delicious lunch of Crab Benedict and afterwards called it a day. The only thing that would have completed my journey would have been a round on the Stadium Course, but I didn’t have my clubs. You’re probably wondering what a tee time costs here. Well, open your checkbook, it’s a cool $600.
A big “Thank You” goes out to the staff at Sawgrass and to Julia for an awesome day. You do a great job!
My jaw dropped when I learned of the PGA Tour’s new Player Impact Bonus program. To sum it up, the tour will divide $40M annually amongst ten players that “generate the most off-course buzz from fans and sponsors.” Wow. A league sanctioned entity awarding compensation unrelated to on-course performance.
Under the program, players will be ranked by Google search ratings, media mentions, exposure ratings from Nielson Q Scores, and a non-performance MVP index algorithm. This was a response to the threat the Tour felt from the fledgling Premier Golf League, that was trying to gather a select set of stars to compete in events with smaller fields and larger purses. Well, that effort flopped and this bonus is a flopper waiting to happen.
There is so much wrong here, it’s hard to unpack. First, the PGA Tour is the world’s top golf tour where the greatest names come to compete. Is this not enough? The simple ability to test oneself against the world’s best is why many foreign players have relocated permanently to the United States. Second, the tour has NEVER paid any money for non-performance; why start now? The European PGA Tour is arguably the second-best circuit but has been roundly criticized for allowing six and seven figure appearance fees to lure players to its events. Third, advocating self-promotion is a distraction the players do not need. I’d rather have them focused on making birdies and winning rather than how many Tweets they can send out real time. I’m getting flashbacks of Joe Horn’s NFL cellphone celebration – ack! Please leave the self- promotion off the course and don’t pay anybody to do it.
The Tour recently hired Dan Glod to run its global sponsorship development. I wonder if this is his brainchild? A new identity for the Tour is definitely forming. Did you notice it at last week’s Zurich Classic in the fourth round? As the players were introduced, they were playing walk-up music on the first tee. Really? Save it for the WWE.
Whump!! That’s the sound of the big bag of money hitting your pro shop counter. Does your golf cost more since the pandemic started? In large metropolitan areas such as Washington, D.C., the prices are on the rise. Since the sport is played safely outdoors, people are gravitating to it in droves, and away from indoor recreation. Golf facilities are reacting to the market forces of supply and demand and here’s my observations on price; are they different from yours?
On the way up. The best leading indicator is the price of new drivers. Callaway’s Epic Max and TaylorMade’s SIM2 Max will now set you back $529 (off-the-shelf). Top of the line big sticks were typically $399 pre-Covid, and as we know, golf fans have a new infatuation with Bryson DeChambeau’s big dog length off the tee. Just add “Max” to the branding and ring the register.
Up about 20-30% across the board. This includes municipal facilities and daily fee courses. At my club, I’m playing on a 4-year membership that was pre-paid for a certain number of rounds. My cost per round, which includes a cart, came out to $47. The same membership is being offered now but requires you to play an equivalent number of rounds but in just two years and requires you to tee off one hour later. The cost per round: $60. Clearly the club is trying to fill their tee sheet with more expensive ala cart tee times and the availability at my club and the muni’s I frequent has definitely gone down. I will be rethinking my membership situation after this season is over. Interestingly, I have booked a time for Wednesday of next week at The Links of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania and noticed they’ve not increased their rates over last year. It may be that the farther out you go from the big population centers, the lower the price increases.
Up 40-50% across the board. The size of a practice basket has shrunk. Initially, facilities wanted you to spend less time on the range, as it supposedly helped with social distancing. That theory has been debunked a bit, but the size of the range baskets remained the same and the cost went up. They can get it so why not? I haven’t been too affected since I spend the majority of my practice time working with my bag shag (own balls) around the practice greens, but the driving range at my club is always packed. Definitely a cash cow for the facilities.
Travel in general is more expensive with the reopening. Golf packages are still reasonable (stay and play combos) but airfares to your destination sites are going up. You can still find deals if you fly to major hubs. Lodging is on the increase as hotels, AirB&B, and VBRO operators are making up for lost revenue. Demand for leisure lodging is driving prices, but the full affect won’t be felt until business travel recovers. The biggest increase by far is the price of rental cars. Wow! I just booked a trip to Florida and the cost of a mid-size car exceeds that of round-trip airfare for two people! Hertz may just emerge from bankruptcy if this continues. Gas is a bit higher but is more subject to the price of oil on the world stage.
Up about 25%, but why not? This is where your local pros make their money and with the influx of new players, lesson time is at a premium. Spend your golfing dollars here on a limited budget. Invest in the carpenter, then the tools. Still, you should proceed with caution and go with a recommendation on selecting a teacher or coach. I perused Golftec.com for their latest offerings, and while they don’t list price, they sell an inordinately large number of lessons inside of golf packages. The largest package is 52 lessons to be used in one year and that feels excessive. You need plenty of play to go along with your instruction, so be careful when buying lessons in bulk.
That’s my take on the new costs during Covid. Have you observed the same increases?
If you can break 90 with regularity, you are an advanced player. One of the hardest things advanced players struggle with is transitioning from practice to play. If you can steel yourself during preparation the game will come so much easier to you. If you are in this group, your fundamentals are sound and you have good control of your golf ball around the green. Follow these practice techniques and you will find transitioning to play is much easier. Those who don’t usually break 90 should focus their practice on mechanics and not attempt these techniques until achieving a higher level of consistency. The last thing we want to do is try something that will breed uncertainty and frustration.
As an advanced player you can pitch, chip, hit bunker shots, and putt with reasonably solid technique. You’ll need them all in this exercise. To start, find a short game practice area that allows you to land shots on a green and putt. Ideally, your practice green has some slope around the edges or is built on a small hill. My home course has a putting green and chipping/pitching green, but you cannot putt on the chipping green so, I’ve located an alternate facility that satisfies the requirement. For those in Montgomery County, MD, the venue is Poolesville Golf Course.
This session should take about an hour. First, warm up your short game. Take some pitches, chips, and putts from various distances. Use a variety of clubs. Next grab two mobile targets. A lot of courses are using the practice pins that stick in the ground and can be moved. These are best. If not available, use two colored golf balls. Next, place these targets at the top and bottom of sloped areas on the green, so getting a short shot close to either will be extremely difficult and there are no straight putts in close unless you manage to be directly above or below the targets. The faster the surface the better. For a visual, think of #15 green at Augusta National at The Masters. The more difficult the better.
Now play 18 holes of up-and-down. Throw a golf ball into a greenside lie and don’t improve the lie. Hit the appropriate short shot to the chosen target and putt your approach until holed. Use a variety of uphill, downhill, long and short-sided situations. If you have an old scorecard it often helps to record your score on each hole. Par is two strokes for each hole. You will find even your good short shots end up considerably outside of gimme range. As a reference point, when I play this game at my local muni with flat lies, I usually shoot 42-44 or between 6 and 8-over par for 18 holes. Today’s session on my difficult setup left me at 50 strokes or 14-over par and I felt I played well.
Why involve yourself in this masochistic activity? You’ll find the difficult shots will force creativity into your mind. It will help you focus on your landing point, the trajectory, spin, and club selection. Everything but mechanics! Training your mind to “paint a picture” of the shot is the key to becoming a good feel player around the greens. This drill is more like playing real golf than dumping a bag shag of 50 balls and chipping each with the same club to a flat target.
Let’s level set expectations: You may get frustrated, you may get a little angry, but you will get very satisfied when you hit a great shot, and as you transition to the real course, you’ll notice very few short shots are as challenging at the drill. Making practice harder than the real game is the secret sauce. Give this drill a try, then play a real round of golf the next day and let me know how you made out.
Putting can make or break your golf game. Roughly 40 % of your strokes are with your putter, so what drives putting performance? Four things:
3: The quality of your short game.
4: Proximity – i.e., how close you are to the hole for your first putt.
After some deep thinking on these areas, I’m going to make a significant change, but before discussing, let’s take a sanity check on my putting data. I’ve captured putts per round statistics from 2007 through 2020.
The statistics tell a story of recent improvement, but when I ask myself, “Do I believe I’m truly a good putter?” Unfortunately, the answer is “no”. I get that everyone’s performance is relative and my improvement from 2018 to 2019 was nice. It was the result of a March 2018 short game lesson, and a July 2018 putting lesson, and a lot of hard work to cement those changes in. But it’s not enough.
Right now, I’d consider myself a good lag putter but when I get to the 5-10 foot range, where you should make your share of birdies and par saves, I’m terrible because I can’t start the putt on my intended line. Missing a little off-line on a 30-40 footer won’t usually cost you a two-putt but nothing is more deflating than stuffing an iron shot and yanking the birdie putt way left. I’ve solved an alignment problem by putting over a spot, and have tried numerous top of the line putters but to no avail.
There has got to be a better way and perhaps I’m getting greedy, but I’m thinking even if I don’t improve my ball striking one bit, if I can reduce my putts to less than 30 per round, I’d get a free handicap drop from 4 to 2. Tempting, and I’m going for it!
The change is a switch to the claw grip with my right hand. I’ve been using a traditional reverse overlap grip for years and have tested this change inside on the rug, and outside on the putting green. The difference on the shorties is exceptional, but it’s not without concern.
Pros like Sergio, Phil, and Adam Scott have all gone to a variation of the low hand claw with great success, but they are putting extremely fast greens. Indeed, this change works best on fast surfaces and one may be susceptible to inconsistencies with longer putts on slower greens. My home course has fast greens, but I only play about 25-30% of my rounds there. So, I may rack up a few extra three putts but hopefully make up for it in the scoring range. Maybe I’ll alternate grips for long putts??? I’m willing to give it a try. Has anyone had any success trying this method over a protracted time period? Please share if you have a story.
First, The Stadium Course is probably more fun to walk and spectate at than play on. Yes, the layout is beautiful. Yes, the conditions are immaculate. Yes, 16 through 18 provide great theater. But imagine playing on a golf course this tight off the tee with water on 17 of the holes. As soon as I splashed a ball, it would be in my head for the entire round – no fun! I recall playing a very tight golf course after playing a wide open links course. The switch to the tight tee shots was a small shock to my system and I never got comfortable. Multiply that by 100 as the Stadium Course’s aim points looked like the size of a gnat’s rear end.
Second, play your own game. Did you notice that defending champion Rory McIlroy shot 10-over and missed the cut? Only afterwhich, he announced he had attempted to copy Bryson DeChambeau’s swing and it got in his head. Are you kidding me? Rory has done some stupid stuff in his career, but this is tops. And hats off to DeChambeau. This guy is a showman and is starting to garner a well-deserved big time following. Could you believe he contended on this straight knocker’s paradise?
Finally, I’m devoting 50% of my future practice time to putting. I love the way Lee Westwood took a weakness and turned it into a strength. Lee was one of the best ball strikers in the world but had hands of stone on the greens, which arguably prevented him from ever winning a major. Yes, he three putted the 71st hole from a very difficult spot, but he was unbelievably clutch nailing tough par putts time and again when his long game left him.
This was a great tournament, augmented by real fans, finally! Did you enjoy the 2021 Players Championship? What was your favorite part?
I was only eight or nine years old when I first picked up a golf club. At 16, my parents got me my first set of lessons. It was a series of six full swing sessions with the local pro. After the third lesson, I started making pretty good contact. After the fifth lesson, my instructor asked me if I had broken 80 yet. What? I was incredibly confused because I was starting to play regularly and was shooting in the 90s and remember thinking, “I can’t even hit a bunker shot because nobody has shown me how. How does he think I can break 80?” He was building in expectations of excellence, but I didn’t know it at the time that he was also teaching me to strike the ball the old fashion way. On the lesson tee, he was rolling my hands over time and again through the hitting zone and ingraining a reliance on the hand-eye coordination I had developed as a young man. This worked pretty well, through my 20s and 30s, but I’ve since come to learn that the method he taught has left me with a serious swing flaw (early release) and led me down a path that I need to exit from.
The modern-day player is taught to make the swing from the ground up and initiate the downswing with the big muscles of the legs and butt. This generates an inside to outside swing path and a powerful strike due to the kinetic energy built up from properly releasing the club late. You lead with your body, and the hands are along for the ride. I was given none of that and 44 years later, I’ve come to the conclusion, that to take the next step in game improvement, I need to unlearn this bad habit.
Sounds like a tall task for a weekend jockey, but I’ve got a plan. Step one has already been accomplished because I’ve identified the problem through video and lesson tee analysis from multiple swing instructors. All my bad shots stem from this core dysfunction. I’m still carrying a 4-handicap and you may be thinking, “What’s the problem, that’s pretty good shooting.” Well, I have been scraping by on short game improvements, and to get more fulfillment, I’ve got to gain more consistency in my ball striking.
Step two is underway. Deactivate my right hand – the main culprit in the early release. I’ve removed it from my swing and taken to hitting left hand only shots in my back yard off my range mat. These are little 20 yard pitch shots, but if I release the club too early instead of letting my body pull my hand through the shot, I hit it incredibly fat. If I do it right, I finish in balance over my left foot with my left arm tucked neatly into my left side (no chicken wing). Two weekends ago, I hit 100 balls like this. Last weekend another 100. Today, I hit 50 one-handed, and mixed in two-handed shots with the last 50. I love this drill because of the pronounced positive and negative feedback. Right now, about one in four left-handed shots are mishit, but when I put both hands on, the contact is very good so I’m directionally pleased.
Someone said it takes 10,000 repetitions to build a habit. At this rate, it’ll take 1.5 years to build that in. I hope it goes quicker than that – wish me luck! Are you working on any swing changes this winter?
Over the last four rounds, I’ve twisted myself into a psychological swing pretzel. I’ve had this happen before. I go to the golf course with a swing thought I’m going to work on for the day and usually strike the ball poorly, but sometimes find a new thought late in the round that allows me to finish strong. Then the new thought becomes the focus for the next round. This perpetuates a viscous cycle of bewilderment as I travel through the swing thought wilderness. Does this happen to you?
Not sure why I do this but it’s usually late in the season, and it happened again last weekend. After a predictably frustrating ball striking day, I decided to go back to what my pro and I had worked on in our last lesson, and bingo. It was late in the round again and I had just debunked all the solutions and fixes I had been working on for a month, with some common fundamentals passed down my instructor’s trained eye. I’ll chalk this up to COVID because I had a lesson left on my 2019 package, and rather than taking it in the early spring and following up every month during the season, I took my first and only lesson in the summer, after restrictions were loosened at our courses. Rather than signing up for more lessons, I tried to self-medicate. Some people can do this but there’s a reason we pay good money to these trained professionals and why most of the instruction on the internet is free. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.
So where does this leave me? There is more playable weather forecast for the DC region in November, but I’ve shut my game down. It’s time to empty the mental recycle bin and not refill it for a while. I’m hoping this year’s winter is as mild as last year because I was able to practice and play in January and hit the ground running for my February Myrtle Beach trip. That trip is planned again this year, but I’m wondering if it’s going to happen with the current state of the virus.
Sometimes it’s best to give your game a rest and recharge your physical and mental batteries, even though you can keep playing.
Do you take time to refill your psychological tank? Have you shut it down for the year?
I played Bayside on Saturday, October 31, 2020. The course is a Jack Nicklaus design located in Selbyville, Delaware that has been open since 2005 and is the signature piece of the broader upscale Bayside living community. The course is located four miles west of Fenwick Island, DE and is convenient to players coming from either of the Delaware or Maryland beaches. Troon Golf manages the course and players familiar with other Troon facilities will notice a consistent look and feel. My experience at Bayside was a mixed bag.
I had called for a tee time three weeks prior and booked 1:24 pm. During the call, I was asked if I was a member or a visitor because different times and fees are available depending on the classification. I booked as a visitor and learned that times prior to 12:00 noon were reserved for members. However, since the course wasn’t expected to be busy, I was offered an earlier time at a rate of $117. I was looking for something less expensive and settled for $79 at 1:24 pm.
I had visited the course on Friday to familiarize myself with the offerings and observed the fabulous practice facilities.
Licking my chops to try out the range and short game area before my round, I showed up at noon yesterday to get in a good warm-up and was promptly told that there was no record of my booking. Ack! However, they had a couple slots in the 1:24 tee time, so I booked and while displeased, considered it a wash. As I was settling up, a cart attendant came into the shop and indicated I could go now if I wanted to as a single, because there was an opening. I thought if I waited until 1:24 pm and the round went long, I might not finish in the light, so I accepted his offer. In retrospect, this was a mistake because I rushed a 10-ball range warm-up and went out unprepared. I quickly found myself in the awkward position of playing cold and managing on a wet course playing cart path only. I struggled with where to hit it on an unfamiliar layout, taking pictures for this review, and being sandwiched between two foursomes. Whew!
On the first tee, the starter set me up with a yardage guide, helped me decide which tees to play, and gave me a few pointers on how to play the first hole. I selected the members tees at 6,418 yards and 71.4/139 and promptly piped a drive and ended up with a routine par on #1. That turned out to be the end of my routine day at Bayside.
Most Nicklaus courses have a familiar theme of well-placed fairway bunkers on your tee shots and Bayside was no different. What was difficult was the fairway landing spots narrowed past the bunkers on several holes, which offered less reward for clearing these obstacles. I was left to wonder where the correct landing point should be after arriving at several tee shots. I drove it well, but it was so wet out that most of my tee shots were landing even with the bunkers and didn’t roll out. What I liked was that the holes had an abundance of clear targets that fit my eye well.
The fairways were wet but in great shape with the surfaces were mowed tight and smooth all the way up to the approaches. The routing on the par-4s and 5s often had forced carries and lateral penalty areas to deal with. You need to strike your irons great to score out here, and unfortunately, I didn’t. I was left with more than a few greenside pitches off tight lies that required height – which turned out to be a tough shot. Some practice of these lies in the short game area would have been beneficial.
The putting surfaces were smooth and running medium fast despite the moisture but were not tricked up. Pete Dye loved green trickery but it’s not Nicklaus’ style, and Bayside was no exception. I liked these greens and putted with confidence. In short, I drove it well, rolled it good, but couldn’t do anything in between.
Value (2.0 out of 5.0)
As I was struggling with playing cart path only (not the club’s fault because of the wet conditions), I thought it would have been beneficial for the carts to be equipped with GPS. Would have been a huge time saver while figuring out where to hit it, and determining club selection. For the prices charged in late October, this is not a great value. I believe it’s even more expensive in season. They can probably charge what they are getting because of high demand and to keep that exclusivity feeling for the members, but I’d like to see them adjust prices downward. Eagles Landing, in Ocean City, is more scenic and is a much better value, albeit without the driving range.
Facilities (4.0 out of 5.0)
Bayside has a great full-service club house, complete with locker rooms and restaurant. The cart barn, bag room, and indoor portion of the driving range (Overhang) are laid out well and make staging and starting a breeze. There’s a learning school known as The Hammer Academy, which I got a kick out of. And of course, the short game area has ample room to practice your chipping, pitching, and bunker play. Conditions were pristine. There is a putting green by the club house and another next to the first tee. Nicklaus clearly knows what the upscale public player likes and has delivered. Small ding because of the loud music being piped into the driving range area, but I spent about two minutes warming up, so it didn’t really matter for me. If I were seriously working on my game, I’d prefer to do without.
After my round, I chatted with some ladies sitting around the grill’s outdoor fireplace and they were thrilled to have their picture taken for a review of their course! It seemed like the facility was a good gathering spot and enhanced the sense of community.
Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)
Obviously, the failure to record my tee time was a major problem for the pro shop. I would have preferred a simple apology, but they made excuses, like I might have mistakenly called Baywood Greens instead. No fellas, I knew who I was talking to. Good customer service is simply owning a mistake and moving on. Elsewhere, the cart attendants were great, as was the starter, and the on-course beverage cart visited me four or five times, which was appreciated.
I made a mistake going before my scheduled tee time. Should have used the ample practice facilities and warmed up properly, so that is on me.
As I was meandering through the round, I noticed the abundance of houses and new construction on most of the holes. The par-3, 13th was out on its own with great views of the bay, which I found refreshing. But I do prefer a layout without the development.
I noticed that the only COVID restrictions were on wearing masks in the clubhouse. All ball washers and bunker rakes were available, and there were regular cups and pins to be pulled. It felt safe and was great to be playing real golf again.
Overall Rating (3.0 out of 5.0)
Bayside is a challenging well-conditioned layout in a good location. Bring your best ball striking game or you will be in for a long day. I’d like to try it again, now that know where to hit it and hopefully wouldn’t be playing cart path only. I wouldn’t advise in season play here because of the high greens fees and medium level value. Go for an afternoon round in the Fall or Winter and enjoy.
What drives golf participation in the masses? The last explosion was led by Tiger Woods. People thought Tiger was cool and it was awesome to dress like him, play his equipment, hit it far like him, and kick ass. But that group receded as Tiger faded from his previous level of prominence. As demand dropped, the accompanying high greens fees at upscale public courses went down, and the problem of unavailable tee times subsided.
A new wave is forming led by folks who have discovered golf as a safe socially distanced game you can play outside. It satisfies the need to meet face to face brought on by COVID-19 restrictions. I’ve played with several of these newbies and understood their rational for starting. I’ve also overheard many conversations of players at my practice facilities to confirm the trend. Once COVID recedes, will these players abandon the game? They might when confronted with the high cost, time commitment, and long attention span that is required for success.
There’s another wave that’s already formed and is characterized by the player who patronizes Top Golf. Calloway just purchased Top Golf and the club maker went all in because the latter is an entry point to new customers. Here’s a fascinating article on the merger as described by the two CEOs of TopGolf and Calloway. Their target customers are people who enjoy eating, drinking, congregating, playing video games, and love music – in no particular order. 50% of Top Golf customers are new to the game (haven’t played one round in the last year.) Forgive me for profiling, but these are your young foursomes with a 12-pack of beer and a blue tooth speaker blaring loud music that have already invaded many golf courses. In addition, Calloway already owns the TopTracer range technology which is about tracking every shot struck at every facility where it’s installed and networking the data world-wide. This is a godsend to customers that love video-gaming with people anonymously over the internet. They just staged a 7,000-participant virtual tournament. This is the kind of customer Calloway wants to pull into the game and onto our courses. Is this wise? What will it do to the game?
Thomas Jefferson once said, “In matters of style, go with the flow. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.” I am a golf traditionalist and believe we should welcome the first wave of COVID refugees to the golf courses. Not sure about the second group. Of course, I want to grow the game but still love that the golf course is a place to go unplug for a while. What do you think?
Yesterday I missed a great pay it forward opportunity. I went to play nine holes at 3:30 p.m. and got paired with three singles. One fellow announced that he was, “attempting to fix a slice and that all unsolicited words of advice would be welcome.” Normally, I don’t give unsolicited advice to anyone, much less a stranger. As we moved through the round, I learned that he had been playing for 18 months and it became apparent that he needed assistance with golf etiquette more than his swing, and after I got home, I was recounting all the breeches to my wife and she asked if I had helped him in this learning opportunity. Well, I had not and am regretting it. I was in my own world compiling a Do’s and Don’ts list for my Monday charity scramble and only saw the etiquette breaches as irritants rather than learning opportunities. So, making up for that now. Here’s a list of etiquette points to make golf more enjoyable for novices and their playing partners.
KEEP YOUR CONVERSATION DOWN ON THE DRIVING RANGE. Players are getting loose and working on their games and need to concentrate. If you have to converse with a friend, keep it low enough so others can’t hear.
BE READY TO PLAY WHEN IT’S YOUR TURN. On the first tee, ask your playing partners if you can play “ready golf”. That means whoever is prepared to tee off can, without maintaining the honor (low score goes first.) Most players are fine with this but ask. One caveat; it’s bad form to step in front of someone who just made a birdie even when playing “ready golf”. Get to your ball quickly and think about your club selection on the way. This saves time and keeps play moving. If you think your ball may be lost, put a spare in your pocket before beginning your search. Also saves time in the event you need to drop one. Limit your search to three minutes.
BE STILL WHEN OTHERS ARE PLAYING. Holds true for full swings and on the putting green. Ensure that you are not in the direct or peripheral vision of a playing partner. Above all, do not stand directly on the extended line of someone preparing to putt. If I can see you out of the corner of my eye, it’s a distraction. In late day rounds, be cognizant of where your shadow falls. Do not leave it in someone’s view.
POSTION YOUR BAG CORRECTLY BY THE GREEN. When walking, place your bag to the side of the putting green nearest the next tee. When riding, park your cart by the green and bring any clubs you may need to finish the hole with you to eliminate the need to go back and forth to the cart.
LEARN TO MARK YOUR BALL ON THE GREEN. Use a coin or ball mark (not a tee) to mark your ball. It should sit flat to the surface and be barely visible to other players. If your mark is in the putting line of another player, ask if they need you to move it to one side and by how much. Use your putter head to measure how far to move your mark.
CLEAN UP YOUR LAG PUTTS. When you putt a ball that does not go in, either finish the next putt or mark the ball. Do not leave it sitting on the green near the hole where others can see it during their turn.
There are many other pointers to learn, especially when playing out of carts. The COVID pandemic has brought out a lot of new players to the game and exacerbated the need to convey the knowledge, courtesy and norms that make the game enjoyable to all. If you work with this list, you’ll be off to a great start.
You are on the golf course hitting great shots and scoring poorly. How frustrating. Has this ever happened to you? How you handle depends on your abilities to observe, adjust, and most importantly, how you treat yourself.
Last weekend I was playing an afternoon round at my club, Blue Mash, where I have an expectation for a score between a 73 and 78, on a normal day. I noticed something was off from the first tee box where the markers were pushed back, and the hole was playing into the wind. My tee shot was well struck and barely cleared a fairway bunker which is normally an easy carry. I had 5-iron in where I usually take 8 or 9 and made bogey. It became clear from the setup and conditions that the course would play long and difficult. I bogeyed the first five holes and could safely say that I hit a great shot on each of those holes. At this point, I had a decision regarding how I would approach the remainder of the round.
When you are not rewarded for good effort, you get upset. Dr. Bob Rotella says that when distracted by bad play or bad scores, you need to be your best friend out on the course because nobody else is there to help you. I agree and have learned that positive self-talk is key and to not get down on myself. I also understand that you can’t confuse effort with results. Imagine how the tour pros felt on the final day of the 2020 US Open. Only one (Bryson DeChambeau) managed to break 70 in the final round. These guys were clearly scoring 5-10 strokes worse than a normal day and were grinding terribly. They were frustrated and you could see how their scoring affected their game. De Chambeau didn’t let it alter his attitude and approach and was victorious. The guy is comfortable in his own skin and despite being a bit of an odd duck, is clearly his own best friend.
The temptation after a bad start is to press and try to save the round. Last weekend, I had to resist by using positive self-talk and to try and focus on the next shot. I was partially successful and finished with an 11-over 82. Normally, after shooting a poor score, I’ll stew about it for a day or two, but I honestly felt that was the worst I could have scored for the way I played and the conditions that presented themselves. The previous week, I hit the ball horrendously and carded an 8-over 79 on a different track, which was the absolute best I could have shot considering my ball striking. Still, I took some positives away from that round and felt that my short game saved me from carding a round in the mid 80s. The key in both situations is to understand and adjust to the current conditions and not get down on yourself. Be your own best friend! If you can do this, you will be mentally tough to beat.
Obviously, I have some areas of my game that need work. I’ve got a tournament coming up a week from Monday, and a trip to the eastern shore to play on some tough venues. I’m off to the course to practice.
Let’s take the average golfer. He goes out once per week and shoots around a 90, drinks a couple beers with his buddies and heads home. When the thought of game improvement appears, he drives down to the nearest Dicks and buys the latest $400 driver. He takes his new purchase to the driving range and bangs himself into a frothy lather with a large bucket. Next weekend, he goes out and shoots another 90. Is this you? Not sure what you call it but it’s neither proactive nor reactive improvement.
Your golf personality determines how you prepare yourself for success on the golf course. You are either a proactive or a reactive improver. Proactive improvement is when you practice what you need to get better. You may already do it well, don’t necessarily enjoy it, but do it cause it’s good for you, like eating your vegetables. Reactive improvement is addressing weaknesses observed during rounds and trying to correct them. These can be physical or mental mistakes, with the former being more difficult to fix. Good players use a mix of proactive and reactive practice to improve. The balance just teeters towards one or the other.
I’m not a great player but consider myself a dedicated player and do both. Over the course of a season, my work includes reactive practice in the form of lessons with my professional. You could argue that this is proactive practice, but I go to him with a desire to fix my swing or show me how to execute shots around the green that I am struggling with or don’t know how to hit. Generally, this is the most rewarding type of practice because I feel like I learn something. Occasionally, the “ah ha” moment kicks in, and I experience a feeling of euphoria as the wave of super optimism washes over me. I love leaving the golf course with this feeling. A more common form of reactive practice is hitting balls with a specific technique change. When I miss hit a couple of wedges during a round, I’ll go to the range to make corrections. Incidentally, this is my most frustrating type of bad shot. Chunking or blading a wedge from the middle of the fairway in prime A position sucks. What’s yours?
My proactive practice is more common. It can take the form of mechanical work like hitting sets of 50 three-foot putts or short game work to simulate game conditions. Tom Kite used to work in a field and bang wedges for hours. Yeah that must have been boring, but he was a damn good wedge player when it counted. He ground in that habit with proactive practice. When I haven’t played for a while, and I have a game the next day, I’ll inevitably head to my practice green for 18 holes of up-and-down. Often, I’ll perform poorly because of rust, but it’s important to play every shot out. This proactive practice may not be fun, but it ingrains the great habit of toughness and the ability to manage through adversity. Getting a little angry with yourself is not the worse thing because it makes it real. Proactive practice is fine tuning mental and physical aspects that you do well. Like Tom Kite in the field, it’s time well spent.
I’m generally a stickler for planning and preparation, and will engage in a lot of proactive practice. I find practicing my strengths are more beneficial than always attacking a weakness. For example, I don’t have much problem with short bunker shots, but long ones kill me. I don’t practice them and try to avoid them on the golf course. It’s as simple as not hitting three wood into par-5s with greenside bunkers and back pin placements. With good course management, you can play to your strengths and away from your weaknesses.
Whether you are proactive or reactive, you need both. Remember to mix them up, work in some golf stretches and exercises, and keep your practice fresh. Are you proactive or reactive???
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