How Do You Plan The Best Golf Trip?

With my wife outside the Doral clubhouse

With my wife outside the Doral clubhouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#9 The Great White course at Doral

#9 The Great White course at Doral

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Would a PGA Tour Pro Tear Up Your Local Course?

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

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

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

Fred Funk Photo by theguardian.com

Fred Funk
Photo by theguardian.com

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

Jhonny V winds up photo by golfweek.com

Jhonny V winds up
photo by golfweek.com

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

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Dangers of Copying a Pro’s Swing

Adam Scott at the top Photo at Youtube.com

Adam Scott at the top
Photo at Youtube.com

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

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

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

Adam Scott follow through Photo by ESPN

Adam Scott follow through
Photo by ESPN

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

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

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When Is It Time To Quit?

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

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

Tiger Pulls out of Farmers Photo by ESPN

Tiger Pulls out of Farmers
Photo by ESPN

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

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

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My Biggest Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2015 Golf Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2014 Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bear Trap Dunes – Course Review

Summary

The Den at Bear Trap Dunes

The Den at Bear Trap Dunes

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

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

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

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

Value (3.0 out of 5.0)

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

Facilities (4.0 out of 5.0)

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

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

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

Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)

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

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

Difficult par-3, 7th on Black Bear

Difficult par-3, 7th on Black Bear

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

Hog Neck – Course Review

Summary

IMG_1038

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

Par 3, 7th at Hog Neck

Par 3, 7th at Hog Neck

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

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

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

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

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

Approach to the par-5, 18th

Approach to the par-5, 18th

 Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

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

Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)

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

Low budget bag stand on the range.

Low budget bag stand on the range.

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

Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)

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

Overall Rating (3.0 out of 5.0)

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

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

CAUTION!! The Domino Effect of Golf Drills

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

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

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

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Ted Bishop: The Latest 140 Character Casualty

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

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

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

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Whipping The Dreaded F.U.A.B.

from pinterest.com

from pinterest.com

You’ve just drained that curling 20-footer for birdie and you’re on top of the world.  Brimming with confidence and positive momentum, you step to the next tee and whack your drive out of bounds.  What happened?  Nothing is more frustrating then the dreaded F.U.A.B., but why do we do it?  F.U.A.B (Expletive After Birdie), as it is known in my playing group, is a physical breakdown caused by an altered mental state.  Your mind has relaxed too far and rendered your body incapable of execution.  The PGA Tour doesn’t track F.U.A.B. for obvious reasons, but the Bounce Back stat is tracked.  Bounce Back is the opposite of F.U.A.B. and captures how often a player can post an under par score for a hole after an over par hole, and is highly valued by tour professionals.

We see the manifestation of F.U.A.B in team sports all the time.  A football team takes a huge lead into the locker room at halftime only to melt down in the 3rd quarter as they relax and think they’ve got the game won.  Or the same team has a lead late and employs the prevent defense (failure to attack and stay aggressive) which is a different flavor of the same disorder.  In either case, the team psyche is devastated.

As I work through my fall golf season, I’ve been employing different drills to help steel my game against these breakdowns and I’ve got a good one for F.U.A.B. avoidance.  The key is to pressure yourself after a good shot and condition your mind against relaxation.

The drill:  Get to your short game practice area when it’s not crowded.  Take two balls, three clubs you like to chip and pitch with, and your putter.  First, play 9-holes of a two-ball, best-ball scramble.  Take two shots from every position alternating clubs and using easy, medium, and difficult lies.  Take two putts from the better of the chips and try to get up and down as much as possible and record your score.  This will get you comfortable with technique and build confidence.  Then play 9-holes of a two-ball, worst-ball scramble.  You’ll notice the pressure get’s ratcheted up immediately as you always have to play the more difficult result.  The urgency of playing good shots AND following up a good shot or putt with an equally good effort is the key to F.U.A.B avoidance.

The results: Yesterday, during the worst-ball game, I chipped in on a hole with the first ball using my pitching wedge.  But the pressure remained intense because the chip-in meant nothing; I had to execute the next shot without relaxing.  I found this aspect of the drill difficult but very beneficial.  Using par as two strokes per hole, my best ball score was one-over par and my worst ball score seven-over.  While seven-over doesn’t sound that great, I was fairly pleased because none of my over-par holes were worse than three strokes and with the exception of the hole out chip, my second chips were usually better than the first.  I concentrated reasonably well on the worst ball game but did let my mind wander a bit on a couple of second putts, after the first putt had been holed – need to work on this.

Today, I get to test this on the golf course.  We’re scheduled to play in 10-20 mph winds so it may not be a great test (I don’t imagine too many birdies will be carded) and I may need a new drill for mental toughness while playing in adverse conditions.  Give this F.U.A.B. Avoidance drill a try and let me know how it works for you.  Good luck!

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Is Losing Becoming A Habit?

from golfweek.com

from golfweek.com

The fallout from the U.S. Ryder Cup Team’s defeat has settled, but theories of defeat are still abound as new details come out regarding behind the scenes team dynamics.  Let’s give Tom Watson a break, forget all the crap, and simplify:  When a team loses in golf or in any sport, the reason is usually that they have inferior players.  When losing is systemic in an organization, always look to the highest reaches of the organization for the answer.  In this case, the highest levels are the PGA Tour and the process it uses to select players.

All things being equal, the U.S. Team should have an inherent advantage year after year, being able to stock their roster with the largest pool of talented golfers in the world.  Yet they continually go down to defeat.  I propose that it’s time to remove the earning of qualifying points, over a two year period, and jettison captain’s picks.  Put the selection in the hands of the players.  Every U.S. professional with current year’s PGA Tour exempt status be allowed to vote on their Ryder Cup team representation, with the stipulation that they cannot vote for themselves.  The vote would take place one month in advance of the competition and would ensure the best and hottest players at tournament time would complete the team.  Imagine if we elected our political leaders on the polling results they accumulated over their last two years in office.  That’s crazy, and is why we have Election Day.

And someone please explain why being elected and serving as a Ryder Cup team captain is so important and is considered a full time job for two years?  If the player’s elect their own representation, you take the onus off the captain and let him focus on more important things like selecting the best and most colorful rain suits and focusing on how many gluten free options will be on the menu at the team meal.  All these guys should really be doing is working the line-up cards during the competition and keeping their players on an even emotional keel.  Seriously, how much preparation can you do over two years for a three day golf tournament?

The Ryder Cup will be at Hazeltine in 2016.  I’ll be watching and hopefully we’ll get it figured out by then.

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The U.S. Will Win The 2014 Ryder Cup!

2014 Ryder CupOkay, here me out before making my reservation for a suite at St. Elizabeth’s.  Right now the British bookmakers are sending the European Team off as an overwhelming 1:2 favorite in the 2014 Ryder Cup.  These are the same guys who had Tiger Woods at 16:1 for the 2014 Open Championship, and those were phony odds.  These are phony as well and are simply the reflection of the betting public’s irrational biases.

The miscalculation is being driven by the recent whippings administered by the Euros.  Since 1985 they are sporting a dominating 9-4-1 record but this year will be different.  A quick look at the data yields an interesting revelation.  The secret to Euro success has been their team approach to competition.  No individual is above the team.  They also enjoy terminal underdog status and have leveraged the American’s penchant for individual play over team.  Nobody epitomizes the “me first” mentality on the U.S. side more than Tiger Woods.    Is there a more narcissistic player on the planet?   The American’s have followed the lead of their best player and got caught up in the individual career achievement mentality, so much so that they struggle with the mindset of placing the team ahead of themselves.

Since 1985, the Euro’s hold a 58.5 to 53.5 advantage in points in foursomes (alternate shot) and a dominating 65.5 to 46.5 advantage in four balls – the two team formats.  Even as they have been dominated, the U.S. has still been able to maintain a slight edge in singles play (84.5 points to 83.5).  It’s clear they prefer singles to team.  With Woods off the U.S. team the mindset will change.  Forget about the big names on the Euro side, or lack of on the U.S.  I can’t wait to see who the U.S. version of Ian Poulter is and I don’t think the Euro’s are comfortable in the role of overwhelming favorite.  The huge underdog U.S. squad will get it done.

Throwing Tiger under the bus one more time, I’ll make my Final prediction:  U.S. 14 1/2 – Europe 13 1/2.

How do you think this plays out?

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Managing Golf Burnout

thechallengesofmentalillness.com

thechallengesofmentalillness.com

Most of us absolutely love golf and can’t seem to get enough.  But have you ever burned out on golf because of too much play or practice?  I was last burned out a long time ago.  1986 to be exact.  I was working as an assistant club professional and my typical work day started at 6:00 a.m. and ran through 3:00 p.m (Tuesday -Sunday).  Every day after work, I’d  play with the members until dark, so I was at the course for 13-14 hours.  On Monday, my one day off, I spent my day practicing.  The over-saturation was suffocating and I was so spent that I hated the game for a period of time.

This week, Phil Mickelson hit the point and withdrew mid-tournament from the BMW Championship siting mental exhaustion.  Sergio Garcia skipped the Deutsche Bank Championship to stay fresh, even though it’s the middle leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs.  Martin Kaymer has articulated how difficult it is to play for six consecutive weeks and how he dislikes living on the road for so long.

If top players can skip events because of burnout, and remain in overall contention, you are jeopardizing the integrity of your competition.  Imagine a star NFL quarterback skipping a playoff round because he was mentally fatigued – it would never happen.  I share The Grateful Golfer’s call for a format change, and to be honest, wouldn’t mind if they eliminated them all together.

The tour has taken it’s lead from the NFL and is attempting to make competitive golf a year-round cash cow.  The FedEx Cup transitions smoothly into the overlap schedule which is the start of the following year’s Tour schedule, complete with official money rankings.  This time used to be called the “Silly Season” and top pros still regard it as such.  Sorry, but my interest level drops after The PGA Championship is contested, and top players pulling out because of burnout should be a warning to the PGA Tour that they’ve exceeded the point of diminishing returns.  Their season is too long, they’re cheapening their product, and they need to scale back.

As mentioned, I haven’t been burned out for many years, but occasionally will lose a level of focus and desire.  It usually coincides with the start of football season (now) and it’s a sign for me to take a few weeks off – usually until I start to miss the game.  That’s exactly where I’m at right now and will taking a break until early October.

Have you ever been truly burned out on golf?  If so, how did you handle it?

 

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What The Foley Firing Means

In short, nothing because Humpty Dumpty has already fallen.  Lanny H Golf nailed the motivation behind the timing of the firing with his piece today  and how it’s midway between the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup.  Tiger, being the narcissist that he is, couldn’t stand to stay out of the limelight for too long and kicked Sean Foley to the curb just as interest in Woods was waning.  What I found more than coincidental is that Foley also coaches Hunter Mahan, who just won The Barklays, and the dismissal came not one day after his victory.  Really Tiger?

Looking at the merits of the firing, this should have been done several years ago, but now it doesn’t matter who’s trying to put the pieces back together.  Readers of this blog know that I think Sean Foley’s approach is very technical, so much so that his students play golf swing; not golf.  The most casual observers of Tiger’s play under Foley could pick up the overly mechanical approach and it has devastated Tiger’s previously superior golf mind.

Again, it’s too late, but if Tiger even thinks he has a shot at resurrecting his game, I would advise a series of appointments with a Bob Rotella type to first get his mind right, then think about a swing coach.  Tiger is damaged goods and no top flight swing coach should think of taking on this rebuild project.

 

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Tour Tempo – Book Review and Road Test

Tour TempoI checked out Tour Tempo by John Novosel from the community library a couple weeks ago and have been on a recent test drive.  Authored in 2004, I was completely unaware of the Tour Tempo series but after reading, am adding this to my golf library.

Many instruction books and tips espouse a secret or magic move to better ball striking which can be attributed to one tour pro or another.  Novosel’s “Last Secret Finally Revealed” is completely non-mechanical and is backed up by a solid investigative approach and detailed film analysis.  His premise is that tour players are in “The Zone” much more often than amateur golfers and what’s consistent about Zone ball striking is rhythm.  If you can duplicate a tour player’s rhythm, not his swing speed, you can dramatically improve your ball striking.  Think about which tour player has the smoothest, slowest, and most effortless swing.  Many would say Ernie Els.  Novosel shows that Els’ swing is actually faster than Greg Norman’s, but the key to Els’ smooth appearance is timing.  He compares and times swings of top pros from Sam Snead to Tiger Woods and finds that almost everyone has a 3:1 ratio of backswing to downswing.  Yes, some pros swing faster than others, but the ratio is always the same.  If amateurs can duplicate the ratio, their rhythm and balance will improve dramatically, even if their strength and fundamentals don’t approach tour standards.

The book comes with a CD containing video and audio tracks.  The audio files provide three different swing speed mantras which you can listen to before hitting balls or warming up for play.  You use the mantras to adjust your timing and get to the 3:1 ratio.  For most, it will feel like you are moving incredibly faster than your normal swing, but the adjustment period is short.  I tried it and needed to speed up my downswing a bit, but saw immediate positive results with my driver last weekend, and got a feeling of rhythm and balance I hadn’t felt in about 20 years (when I used to drive the ball much better.)  Imagine my excitement!   At the range today, I warmed up with Tour Tempo and was hitting it pure.  I did not have as good a round as the previous week, but did hit some very good shots.  The best part has been my non-reliance on swing keys or mechanics.  For the last 36 holes, I’ve played with one swing thought; the Tour Tempo mantra, and love the simplicity of the approach.

There are tips and WOOD band-aids that we golfers play with all the time, and true to form, they usually only do Work Only One Day.  But when you are on to something fundamentally correct that is consistent from day-to-day, round-to-round, and practice session-to-practice session, you need to grab hold of it and go.  Tour Tempo feels like that fundamental change.  It’s simple, easy, and it works first time out of the box, and since you are making no mechanical changes, is very low risk.  I highly recommend you give it a try and let me know how it works for you!

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Are you “Golfing” if you relax the rules?

A recent segment on The Golf Channel’s Morning Drive  broached the subject of playing golf with a relaxed set of rules, and it’s fostering a spirited debate.  The question:  Are you playing golf if you aren’t abiding by The Rules of Golf?  RulesGolf is a unique sport because we referee ourselves, but I believe you can play golf by a different set of rules depending on the venue and type of competition.   The most important rule is that everyone in your group or the competition play by the same set, even if you are in technical violation of USGA or R&A standards.

The most common rule players break is rule 1-1 that states you must hole your ball with a stroke.  Essentially when we take putts, we are in violation.  Weekend golfers take putts.  The second rule most folks break is the various permutations for lost balls.  Most just drop  as close to where they lost it and count one penalty stroke.  I believe, if agreed upon, this is permissible, because it speeds the game up.  If you post a handicap round that included a lost ball that was played in this fashion, you are posting for a lower score than you actually shot, which is the opposite of sandbagging, and again, I have no problem.

Where it gets dicey is for folks who don’t play the ball down.  I play it down and many of my weekend partners do not.  You gain a huge advantage of improving your lies in the rough, as well as in the fairway.  If there’s no money on the line, I’m fine this transgression, but it’s where I draw the line for personal integrity.   The other relaxed rules about picking up after double par and limiting searches for two minutes make sense as well.

I have played in sanctioned Mid-Atlantic PGA events, Pro-Am competitions, club championships, member-guests, outings for charity, weekend money matches, and just for fun.  Each of these games was played by a different set of rules (some with a local rules sheets, others without).  Each time I believe I can state I was “playing golf” even though I may have been in technical violation of some USGA rules.  Generally, the  more serious the game, the more closer you’ll usually have to conform to the official Rules of Golf.

Do you believe in relaxing the rules?  If so, which ones to do you bend or break most often?

 

 

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Golf Course Meet-Ups and Conversation Starters

I was going to write a course review for Eisenhower, a muni we played last weekend in Anne Arundel County, but the course was just ho-hum and not worth the writer’s block.  However, the playing company was outstanding and got me thinking about the most notable cast of characters I’ve ever met on the golf course.  Here are some of mine, who are yours?

Last weekend:   My partner and I roll up in our cart and are introduced to the twosome paired with us.  One middle aged fellow has a Philadelphia Eagles hat on, tattoos up and down his arms, and is constantly out of breath.  I strike up a conversation, “So are you from Philadelphia?”

Not our guy, but close. From deadspin.com

Not our guy, but close.
From deadspin.com

He says, “No I’m from across da  riva in South Jersey,” – as if I couldn’t tell from the accent.  We dialog the Eagles, Redskins, and baseball for a hole and a half and on the third tee, he asks, “Hey, you guys aren’t priests or minsters are you?”  He reiterates, “I’m from South Jersey and you’re gonna hear some F-bombs today.  Hope that’s not a problem.”  The rest of the day we were entertained with tales of glorious bar fights, driving his car through the corn fields of south Jersey at 110 mph, and hoping he didn’t pass out from retrieving his ball out of the hole.  I’m no stranger to salty language on the course, but if the U.S. Air Force had dropped all the F-bombs coming out of his mouth.  Nice guy though.

Character number two:  78 year old guy playing at my local muni on a 95 degree day in June.  He’s carrying his bag and swears to me as we’re walking down the first fairway that he does 100 push-ups every day.  I’m thinking who is this guy, Jack Lalanne?  Then we are waiting on our second shots in the first fairway and he drops and gives me 30 right there.  Must have finished his daily allotment during the rest of the round.  Hope I’m that physically fit at 78 – although mentally, not so sure.

Character number three:  A few years ago, my friend and I are paired up with a young soft-spoken guy at Clustered Spires in Frederick, MD.  He doesn’t say much to us all day, but is 4-under par on the backside alone, and I’m thinking we’re playing with the club pro.  So on the 17th tee I ask him what he does for a living.  He replies, “Nothing.  I’m on parole and have been in prison for the last 18 months.”  He goes on to shoot 5-under 66 and seems irritated because he played bad.  We leave with our jaws dragging in the parking lot.

My greatest thrill in golf.  Met The King in 2010 at Bayhill!

My greatest thrill in golf. Met The King in 2010 at Bayhill

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the chance encounter – meet up with Arnold Palmer on the course at Bay Hill  with nobody around but my son and his playing partners.  I’ve written about this before, but it remains the most profound experience I’ve ever had at a golf course.  What are yours?

 

 

 

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Eliminating My Big Miss – The Hank Haney Experiment

I am 1,100 swings into my Hank Haney experiment.  To review, Haney recommends for the time challenged golfer, to take 100 practice swings per day in your back yard (merely a 15 minute time commitment).  In week one I took the first 500 with a 5-iron.  In week two, I split the balance between a 5-iron and driver.  The last couple of sessions I have felt particularly strong and enjoyed some excellent rhythm and a confidence boost.

Yesterday, I changed things up and went to the range in the afternoon to see actual ball flight with the 5-iron and driver.  Smother hooking 40 balls will humbly reminded you why golf is such a damn hard game.  Just when I thought I was on to something good the pendulum of bad habits swung in my direction.  I left the practice tee discouraged but knew that I had a round to play the next day, and figured I’d better work some short game.  I finished up with a pretty good session on the practice putting green.

Now I am one of those players who generally plays like he practices, and the prospect of teeing it up a day after facing down a bucket full of Big Misses felt like crossing the U-boat infested Atlantic Ocean in an unarmed merchant ship.  I was dreading the surfacing of the Big Miss and can’t remember being less unenthusiastic about the prospects of playing a weekend round of golf.

I arrived at the course early this morning and headed immediately to the range, and figured it’s best to face your fears head on.  The warm-up was pretty good and I maybe saw five Big Misses out of 40 swings; a much smaller percentage, but just enough to keep the threat lurking.  Incidentally, I was hit by this same swing malfunction about a month ago in another pre-round warm-up, but a playing partner spotted my physical error and helped me with a band-aid fix before play, so I was armed with this little bit of knowledge.

I piped my tee shot on #1 but The Big Miss surfaced on the #2 tee shot.  Somehow I managed to save bogey and then it mysteriously disappeared and I played the rest of the front nine and the first two holes on the back striking it solid and straight.  Then BAM!  Four Big Misses in a row led to two straight double bogeys (the second of which was nearly a triple), and I though I was done for the day.  I stabilized with the band-aid and managed to birdie #16 and #17 with some solid swings and limped in without killing anyone, and carded a six-over 77.  Despite the strong finish, I am questioning the wisdom of the daily practice swings.  Should I continue if there’s a chance that I’m practicing a mechanical fault with no ball flight feedback?   I did hit 11 GIR last weekend and 12 in today’s round, which is over my season average of eight.  Maybe it’s working and I can’t see the forest of incremental progress from the trees?

Any thoughts or recommendations to stay the course or abandon for something else?

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