The Flip Wedge On The Par-5s

Intimidating wedge shot at The Legends -Moorland in Myrtle Beach, SC

Well it’s time for the first tournament of the year on Monday and it’s a scramble.  We’ve discussed strategy and preparation for scrambles before, but I’m taking a slightly different approach.  Generally, scrambles are all about driving, wedge play, and putting.  That much has not changed.  What I’ve struggled with is the short wedge shot on the par-5s.  You absolutely need this shot to birdie or eagle the fives to have a chance.  The flip wedge is not my strong suit and when playing my own ball, I play away from it.  Last time out, I was on a par-5 and drilled a drive and three-wood to 35 yards from the pin.  With no trouble in front of me, I had no clue how to hit the shot because I don’t practice it.  I would hate for the scramble team to have to lay back to a yardage on a par-5.  I simply need to learn this shot.   Whether playing a casual round or in a tournament, this shot can make the difference between an up-and-down birdie or a disappointing approach and two-putt.  Of course, there are times you’ll need to lay back, especially when there’s trouble 30-50 yards from the green.  Nobody wants a bunker shot of that length, but I want that flip wedge in my repertoire; I NEED that flip wedge!

Last Saturday, I took my first lesson of the year and addressed with my instructor.   He had me hit about 100 balls during the session, with nothing but my 58, 54, and 50.  We worked on partial swings with each club and he showed me the right way to hit these shots.  I learned that most amateurs take too big a backswing on partial wedge shots and try to control the shot by slowing the down swing.  This often results in an over-the-top pull or a chunk, because the hands and arms get way too active.  If you want to see if you’re susceptible, try hitting five full sand wedges and then pick a target 30 yards out and try to get it close.  When I did this, I bladed the first two.  It’s hard to swing close to full with a finesse club like a wedge and then throttle down.

I learned that you need to control the shot with your body.  Take a slightly open stance with the ball a little back of center and make a short backswing.  Then accelerate your lower body turn to make a good pivot.  This is where you get your swing speed, your aggressive strike, a small divot, that lower ball flight, and that sweet little check to stick it close.  You might hit it with a little cut spin, but that’s okay.  When you learn to control shots with your body and quiet the hands, you’ll have more success here and in every aspect of your short game.

Here’s a great drill.  If you are going to work your wedges, take a club and pick three targets at varying lengths and rotate every ball between them.  During the lesson, he had me hit my lob wedge at targets 60, 40, and 30 yards out, but never the same shot twice.  When you get comfortable with the length of the short backswings and driving the shot with your pivot, you’ll know you’re on the right track.  I’ve got the technique, definitely need to practice, and am excited to develop this new part of my game.

No more laying up on the par-5s!

Play well.

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Brooks Koepka And Zero Swing Thoughts

Brooks Koepka. Photo by Golf Digest

It’s been hard to miss if you’ve been watching end-to-end Masters coverage this week.  Every interview with Brooks Koepka inevitably zeros in on his “think of nothing” swing strategy.  I love it and find the psychological aspects fascinating.  Having tried myself, I found it tremendously difficult.  Nick Faldo said that he doesn’t believe he can do it.  Readers, like Vet4golfing51, claim to be able to do it without issue.  Can you do it?

Playing with no swing thoughts implies that you have 100% trust in your swing.  Bob Rotella, famous sports psychologist, advocates for the “Train it Trust it” method.  In Golf Is Not A Game Of Perfect, he draws on examples of athletes throwing away mechanical thoughts and just thinking of shooting at a targets to free up their bodies for better performance.  Makes perfect sense.

If Koepka can truly play and only focus on where to hit the ball, he has a tremendous advantage.  The guy certainly has no lack of confidence and is building a track record of success.  Maybe there’s an overabundance of some brain chemical that allows him to play that way, or maybe he’s not telling the truth, but the results speak for themselves.

On the occasions I’ve dabbled in the strategy, I’ve either made a conscious effort to just “think target” or have been so frustrated with my game, I threw out all swing thoughts just attempting to relax.  The one planned effort lasted 16 holes during a round in Myrtle Beach.  The experience was weird, as if I had lost all control of my game but was rather successful.  I didn’t feel like I could control my shots but never hit one terribly off line.  Then the inevitable swing thought crept in on the 17th hole and I returned to a normal state.  Normal state would constitute working with a single swing key, and possessing enough knowledge about your own game to make mid-round adjustments.  Jack Nicklaus was a proponent of this approach and certainly has the record to back it up.

How close can you get to playing with zero swing thoughts?

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Playing Golf With An Injury

Photo from painmanagementctr.com

It was 60 degrees in the DMV yesterday.  With no snow on the ground I had to peel my rear off the sofa and get the season started.  There was one problem.  I have been rehabbing elbow tendonitis and a previous trip to the range in early January ended badly and forced me into formal rehab.  I’m in the fifth week of a six-week physical therapy stint and it’s going well.  I have been constantly dialoging with my physical therapist on how best to accelerate my healing and prepare for the season.  The goal is full recovery by March 1st.  My daily regimen of exercise the arm, stretch the arm, ice the arm, and remain a couch potato is growing old, but admittedly it’s been working.  I’d estimate I’m about 80-85% recovered.

Last week I took a few full swings with the driver in the back yard and experienced some pain so I did not clear myself for full ball striking and worked short game and putting instead.  I’m glad I did and my arm is just a little sore today.  If you are right handed, left elbow tendonitis can be rough because you brace yourself against a firm left arm during the strike.  I need to be really cautious here because a dead left arm could put my season in jeopardy.  My guy says to, “let the pain tell you what to do.”  If that’s the case, I shouldn’t have played on this for three years and got it treated.  Oh well.

Yesterday, I chipped with all my clubs and worked a large variety of shots.  With a brace on the elbow, the first five shots elicited some mild pain but it loosened up and felt great for the balance of the session.  I was also surprised how sharp I was after expunging whatever left over baggage I had from 2018.   I’d love to play next weekend but it’s too soon.  It will probably take a couple weeks of range work and maybe some more short game and I should be in action by mid-March.

Have you ever worked through a bout of tendonitis?  Got any words of wisdom?

Play well!

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Phil Skip The PLAYERS???

Phil on the 17th at TPC. Photo by Richard Heathcote

Recently a Golf Digest article came out where Phil Mickelson indicated he might not play in this year’s PLAYERS Championship.  Being one of the leaders on the world stage, should he skip a tournament of this stature?  It would be disappointing not having him participate but Phil doesn’t feel he’s a “horse on this course” as he sprays the ball a little too much, and even though he’s won here, it doesn’t set up well for him.  I say, “skip it.”

Professional golf is unique because players get to choose where and when they compete.  You are measured in two categories; total wins and victories in the majors.  Phil is 9th all-time with 44 wins and five major titles.  The better you are, the more selective you can be.  More importantly, he’s in the 20-win club and has earned a lifetime exemption to play whenever he wants.

Other players before him have set the bar on selective participation.  Rory McIlroy skipped the Olympics in Rio.  Sergio Garcia skipped a recent FedEx playoff event because he was too tired.  Several American pros have been known to skip the British Open because of the travel burden.  Back in 1987, Greg Norman expressed a vehement displeasure with the 9th green at TPC of Avenel and didn’t play the Kemper Open for several years afterwards.

I will miss Phil’s participation if he elects not to play because I get a perverse pleasure of watching pros struggle with courses they are not suited for.  Isn’t it fun watching Rory battle his internal demons at Augusta?  Or watching Phil’s never-ending quest for the US Open with his cache of painful second-place finishes?  Occasionally, someone breaks through like Sergio at The Masters.  He had always underwhelmed at Augusta and had a horrible final round choking reputation.  Bam!  All gone in a flash.  Very cool.

So, if Phil skips The PLAYERS, I’ll be fine.  What about you?

 

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Putting With The Flagstick In???

Bryson DeChambeau. Photo by Andrew Snook / Icon Sportswire

Have you putted with the flagstick in yet?  Under rule 13.2a(2), you may now putt on the green without having the flagstick attended or removed.  Some players on tour such as Adam Scott, are taking every putt with it in.  The mad scientist, Bryson DeChambeau, has identified a COR (coefficient of restitution), whatever that is, and declared he’ll putt with it in to take advantage of this calculation (other than in US Opens where the flagstick is made of some different material).  Others are keeping it in or having it removed to suit situations.

Anecdotally, I’ve observed that most shots that strike the pin from off the green end up closer to the hole than if the pin hadn’t been in and this is in the forefront of my mind.  I have not played in 2019 (still rehabbing elbow tendonitis) so I have plenty of time to think about how this will play out.

My initial thoughts:

  • On long putts where I’d normally have the flagstick tended, I’ll leave it in as a backstop. This is definitely beneficial if I am coming in too fast.  The one exception is if the wind is blowing and the flapping of the flag creates a distraction.  Then I’ll ask for a tend.
  • On downhill putts of any length, I’ll leave it in as a guard against too much speed.
  • On short straight putts, I’ll leave it in and use it as a small target to try and bang the ball against. This will help me get more aggressive, which I badly need to do.
  • On short to medium breaking putts where I’m trying to feel the speed, I’ll take it out unless the hole is on a severe slope and I can guard against a runaway.

I have a system I use for putts of 15 feet and longer to judge the distance.  Will this need to change?  I was also planning on getting a professional putter fitting and replacing my 1980s model Ping Answer with something customized to my game, but this may have to wait.  Changing putter and approach at the same time may not be a wise choice.

The most important aspect will be to practice all putts with real flagsticks and not just those skinny little three-foot high metal pins used on most practice greens.  A round on my 9-hole executive course will be just the ticket.

Have you putted with the flagstick in yet?  Please share any thoughts or strategies you have.

Play well!

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More Time For Golf In 2019!

Unless you live on another planet, you have now probably witnessed first-hand or via video replay the officiating debacle that happened in yesterday’s NFC Championship game between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams.  In short, the Rams were guilty of a pass interference infraction that wasn’t called, which would have likely wrapped up the victory for New Orleans.  As it was, the Saints lost, and now there’s a new report that the NFL may add pass interference among other penalties to the ala cart menu of instant (sic) replay items – to help slow down the game even more.

The purpose of this diatribe is not actually golf related, but to point out that if the NFL pursues this endeavor, I’m done with them.   That would free up a whole lot of time on Sunday afternoons for golf in the Fall.  I’m almost half hoping they pull the trigger, so I can bail.  I’ve been teetering on the brink as the quality of the product continually slips and has been a huge time suck for my afternoons, as it has been for the last decade.

The NFL has tried to become too perfect in their use of instant replay, and they keep pushing the human element farther out of the game.  Bad calls will never be eliminated from organized sport as long as humans are refereeing the games.  Some folks would love to take the human refs completely out.  Think that would solve anything?  Can you imagine watching a game with nothing but automated officiating? The more we add automation to the review of officiating, the worse the human officiating becomes.  It’s basic human nature.  We’ve seen it for years with this burgeoning monstrosity.   The less you make the humans responsible for, the less they are going to feel accountable for the quality of the results.  You couldn’t pay me to referee in the NFL – it’s the worse job on the planet.  Want to improve the officiating?  Kill instant replay.  Empower the refs.  Of course, you’ll still get bad calls, but wasn’t replay designed to eliminate the effect of bad calls ever impacting the outcome?  Wonder how that’s playing out in New Orleans.

So, go ahead NFL.  I’m tired of being punished for my loyalty.  My golf game is waiting!

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2018 – Season Wrap and Lessons Learned

Tee shot on the par-3 17th hole at Eagle’s Landing

We like to think the golf season never ends in the Mid-Atlantic.  2016 was so mild we played straight through the winter.  Three days ago, I was wrapping up an excellent 54-hole trip to the Delmarva, but three inches of the white stuff today slammed the lid on my year.  It’s time to hang ’em up and reflect on one of the best seasons in recent memory.

Commitment

2018 started off with a renewed commitment on my part to improvement through additional instruction and by challenging myself on harder courses.  Over the course of the year, I took four lessons (two on full swing, one on short game, and one on putting).  The attention to all facets was incredibly beneficial.  I had never had a professional putting lesson and the last time I received any short game instruction was in college.  Both were eye-opening experiences and left me more confident on and around the greens, and a bit  regretful that I hadn’t invested in either earlier.  The results from the last ball striking lesson in August were profound and left me with a bit of a dilemma for next year.  More on that shortly.

Challenge

In April, I joined Blue Mash Golf Club and spent my first four rounds trying to figure out how to play the first three holes.  Blue Mash hits you straight upside the head with par-4s of 424, 428, and 453 yards.  There is no easing into your round, and the 4th hole is a 190 yard par-3.  Even if I was hitting the ball well, I would often require a 3-iron or more into the first four greens.  There are opportunities to score later in the round, but coming out of the blocks playing bogey golf is not uncommon and figuring out how to play for par was critical to my improvement.  Eventually I got comfortable with the layout and was able to game plan for the brutal start.

A key takeaway is that you need to challenge the weakest parts of your game.  Mine is long iron play, and is where I tend to hit my big miss (pull hook).  There were several afternoons that I wondered what the hell I had done by joining this course, and would I ever get my round off to a good start.  But through lessons, practice, and constantly challenging my weakness with the long irons, I began to improve.  There’s an old saying in software development that says if you are faced with a difficult task or process, repeat it as often as possible and it will become easier.  I learned the same is true in golf.  Out of necessity, I worked those long irons and slowly built confidence.  Later in the season, I was able to play some initial rounds on new difficult courses with significant success because of the challenges overcome at the opening holes at Blue Mash.  Now, I am not a great long iron player, but I don’t fear them or the big miss any more.

Adjustments

During my last lesson, my pro had me make two adjustments.  I moved closer to the ball for all shots and that solved an alignment and balance issue that had been plaguing me for a long time.  It allowed me to flush my irons with more regularity.  Next he had me pause a bit more than normal at the top of my back swing which allowed me to start the swing with my lower body and not cast the club, as so many amateurs are prone to do.  Late in October and again on my recent trip to the shore, we played several rounds in heavy wind.  I had been practicing for this by playing all my iron shots on the range 3/4 back and knocking them down, and was able to leverage that during play.  It’s an incredible feeling to strike it solid and straight in heavy wind.  This was so much the case, that I’m considering playing ALL my iron shots in this fashion next season.  In essence, I would reinvent my golf persona ala Paul Azinger, who played these low knock down style shots all over the course.  The dilemma is, of course, what do I do when I need to hit it high?  I’m thinking the success of this low ball flight was so encouraging, that I may just play it and deal with the high shots as they come up.  I just dropped a note to my pro mentioning the same and asked for his thoughts.  What do you think?

So here they are, staring at me from behind my living room couch.  Should I bag it for the season and put them away, or have the stare-down for another month?

Play well!

 

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Improve Your Golf – A Plan That Works

Are you the type of player that enjoys golf more when you have moments of greatness mixed in with poor play?  Or do you get more satisfaction from a steady level of competent performances, no blow-up holes, but with little fanfare?  The answer depends largely on your personality and your preference for risk.  If we put a professional persona on each type, Phil Mickelson might be the roller coaster riding risk taker and Nick Faldo the solid performing steady eddie.  Each had comparable levels of success in major tournaments and across their careers, but were highly different in the way they built their records.  Because I’m generally risk adverse, I’m in the Faldo camp, how about you?

For those preferring a steady course, I have some advice that may help you get to the level of consistency you seek.  The following plan has been working for me for two months (which coincides with my last lesson of the season).  In that session, my instructor made a couple of key changes to my setup.  The specifics are not important because they are unique to me and not you.  The key takeaway is that they addressed fundamentals, and to improve and play consistent golf, it starts with a mastery of the fundamentals.  I know, not very profound, but without fundamentals, good course management and sensible practice habits will only get you so far.  If you want to get to a level of real consistency, you need to work to get the fundamentals ingrained so that you can strike the ball with confidence.  It’s sort of a chicken and egg scenario.  For years I worked on various techniques to improve my practice habits and course management.  But until I understood and could replicate the mechanics needed for good ball striking, my improvement was limited.  Seeking the advice from a pro is a start, not the end of your journey.  I’ve had to iterate through three years of lessons before I found the keys that resonated to a point where I feel I can take my game to an away course, in a variety of weather conditions, and know I have a good chance to play a successful round because my ball striking will not falter.

Being well prepared with the fundamentals is a good feeling.  Handling the smallest details are also important.  In my last lesson, I discussed a concern about my grip that I had always wondered about.  Use a long thumb or short thumb on my left hand.  I’ve read conflicting points on that in different instruction books.  Stupid little topic but if you’ve been switching back and forth over the years, how can you expect to build consistency into your swing?  So I had the discussion, got the recommendation (short) and have gone with that ever since.  It’s best to dialog and eliminate these inconsistencies because they create doubt.  Get them worked out because it provides a baseline of correctness you can start from when working on your swing.  Many of the fundamentals can be applied using different techniques and it’s important to pick a single approach and stick with it.  Elevate your baseline understanding of the fundamentals, work them continuously in practice, and you will gain the consistency you seek.

After the fundamentals, you must work to simulate game conditions during practice.  This is critical for those who have limited time to practice and for players having trouble transitioning from the practice tee to the golf course.  There are two aspects to focus on.  First is creating real pressure.  If you struggle with choking on or around the greens or having your range swing disappear on the golf course try the following:  Play 9-hole games of up-and-down and / or have putting matches with a friend or with yourself to simulate real round pressure.  Go through your full pre-shot routine on every chip, pitch, or putt.  Play for small wagers.  Next, head to the driving range, where you can play a simulated round on a familiar course, hitting all the tee shots and approach shots and varying targets on every swing.  Keep score in your head.  If you are playing poorly, don’t quit!  Learning how to handle adversity is an important skill that’s worth practicing.   Second is preparing to play shots you will need during your rounds.  Last Saturday, I was on the practice tee and it was sunny and 70 degrees.  I knew my round the next day would be played in 40 degree temps with heavy winds, so every iron shot I hit during my simulated round was a knock-down.  Somebody watching me may have been wondering what I was doing, hitting all these low bullets, but conditions the next day were difficult and I felt prepared, and was able to execute a lot of good low iron approaches.

How do you measure your success?  Your scores are the best indicator.  Say you are a 20-handicap and average between 90 and 100 strokes per round.  If you are improving your fundamentals and practicing correctly, you should hope to have a solid string of scores in the low 90s and occasionally break into the high 80s.  For lower handicap players the same holds true.  My current index is 4.4.  With my limited ability to play and practice I try to keep my scores under 80 and the current trend is good with the last seven in the 70s.

To truly improve, you need to seek professional instruction and focus on getting your fundamentals ironed out during the lessons.  Then dedicate 20% of your practice time to mechanics and 80% to the skills you’ll need on the course.  You’ll find the transition becomes seamless from practice to play.  Whether you hit it like Phil or Faldo, mastering the fundamentals and correcting the way you prepare will help you play better over time.  Give it a try.

Good luck and play well!

 

 

 

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Hampshire Greens – Course Review

Summary

We played Hampshire Greens, in Silver Spring, MD, on Monday, October 8, 2018.  Of the nine courses in the Montgomery County Golf (MCG) rotation, this Lisa Maki design is considered the high-end play.  They boast a country club level atmosphere and service level at a daily fee price point.  While it’s been open since 1999, this was my first time on the course.  I’ll usually play between 15-20 rounds per year on the MCG courses, but have not included Hampshire Greens as there are lower cost options that provide an equal level golf experience.

There are four sets of tees on this par-72 track and I found it a very enjoyable play.  We played one up at the blues and I felt that this was a course I could score on.  They put all the length into the par-5s and don’t kill you on distance or forced carries on the 3s and 4s.  If the strength of your game is driving, you’re going to love the looks they give you with neatly framed fairways, superb conditioning, and fairly generous landing areas.  Hit your drive solid and in the fairway, and you’re usually left with a medium to short iron in.  The course’s main defense is well bunkered raised greens with a decent amount of slope and quickness to them.  I found you needed an extra club hitting into these raised greens.  Also, the reputation is for lightning quick speed on the putts but we found them medium fast.  Perhaps it was because of our early afternoon tee time, but either way, the bentgrass surfaces were in excellent condition and rolling smooth.

Playing notes:

  • They had positioned some pins in difficult spots either right in front or on the sides of some greens.  I left thinking it was best to just play for the middle of these greens rather than go flag hunting and missing into some tough up-and-down spots, which I did.
  • Pay attention to the aiming sticks they have in some of the fairways, especially on the second shot for the par-fives.  Each of the fives has a similar design where the landing areas are squeezed down to very narrow corridors the closer you get to the greens.  We thought this was a bit awkward and felt like the par-5 2nd hole was a little unfair.  I lost my ball into the hazard left on a well struck medium iron layup.  You must hit it right of the aiming stick there to keep it in play.

    Marie on the 2nd tee

 

  • With these narrow corridors on the fives, for long hitters, it felt like you needed to approach with supreme accuracy, else you were taking an unnecessary risk going for the green in two.  This was my only bone to pick with the layout.

    Look down #2 fairway. Par-5, 563 yards

  • From the blue tees, none of the par-4s were short enough to try and drive close to the green, but you need to pay attention on where to land your ball.  #10 is a downhill tee shot and an uphill approach.  The hole is only 362 yards but everything bounces hard left to right in the fairway.  You must keep your tee shot out of the fairway bunker left, which is about 220 yards from the tee, or you could be looking at a big number.

    #4. Par-3, 182 yards

Facilities (3.25 out of 5.0)

This course is designed for cart play.  You cannot walk.  Actually, you may be permitted to walk but your greens fee includes a cart and for good reason.  Some of the distances between greens and tees are huge.  I like to walk but couldn’t imagine playing this one on foot.

Patio at Hampshire Greens

The course has a smallish clubhouse and grill with a patio that overlooks the fairway of the 9th hole.  The 9th finishes up going away from the clubhouse, which I found a little strange, and if you need to stop, you have to backtrack for half a hole.  We didn’t and just continued on to the inward half.

The driving range

They have a grass driving range but the grass tee was closed on this day and we were hitting from one of 13 driving mats.  Balls are $5 for a bucket of about 40-50 and are purchased in the pro-shop.

Staging area and putting green

There is a single practice green next to the clubhouse and while you are permitted to chip, it feels a little squeezed to make this an actual short game practice area, especially when golfers are warming up their pre-round putting.  I came out the day before just to practice and didn’t feel right hitting chips and pitches in, and just putted.  If you want to seriously work short game, I’d seek another venue.

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

We played on a Monday after 12 noon rate of $39.99.  At this price, the value is superb because of the quality of the course.  Pre-noon, the cost is $49.99 which is still good.  The normal weekend morning rate is $74.99 and after noon it falls to $59.99 which brings a lot of the other area courses into play if you are budget conscious.

The quality of the golf course is the main allure.  An equivalent area play for layout and conditions would be Blue Mash.  I’ve picked up a 30 round membership there which works out to $47/round for afternoon weekend play and that appears to be a better value.

Lining up a tee shot on #15

Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)

Monday was Columbus Day, a federal holiday.  The course was busy and the bag drop guy doubled as the starter.  While friendly and helpful enough when it came time to get us paired up and out on time, when I arrived he did not unload my bag.  This was of no inconvenience to me.  However, if they boast a country club experience, folks may expect more than one person working the bag drop on a busy holiday or weekend, and some assistance with their clubs.

The fellow manning the golf shop processed my check in with a “business as usual” attitude and while he wasn’t rude, didn’t go out of his way with a warm or friendly greeting.  The guy at the snack bar provided snappy service and the hotdog with sauerkraut graded out pretty good on the taste test.

There was ample cold drinking water on the course and we were serviced several times by the beverage cart which was appreciated.

Par 4 18th. 418 yards.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

On this day, we played from the blue tees at 6,512 yards (71.6/129) and I carded a five-over par 77.  I enjoyed my round at Hampshire Greens and wouldn’t hesitate to return, but would only play on the weekday rate.  If you are a walker or are serious about practicing your short game, you may want to try out another close-by venue like Blue Mash or Northwest.

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Golf – A Game Of Adjustments

Jack Nicklaus has some great advice for making on course adjustments.  Keep it simple by sticking to the fundamentals.  This was easier for Jack because he had full self-awareness on the course.  I’ve had a mixed bag of success making changes because I play too infrequently and lack full self-awareness.  A champion like Nicklaus had so much experience to pull from.  A desk jockey like me cannot possibly know every nook and cranny of my game. For me, the difficulty lies in judging WHY I am playing poorly and should I adjust?  I try to judge three criteria before making a mid-flight correction:

  1. Am I fatigued?  Sometimes you’ll play lousy because you are tired.  If this is the case, most adjustments will not work.  The golf swing is an athletic move and if you are out of juice the best thing is to acknowledge it and play on.  Changing something while fatigued is acting on a false failure and can do more harm than good.
  2. Have I seen the pattern in the past and been able to adjust?  The best type of fixes here are caught during a range warm up session.  Seeing a strange ball flight pattern?  Adjust and play it during the round.  You are not supposed to work on your swing while warming up, but if you recognize a tendency that you’ve addressed in the past, you can reuse a band-aid that’s worked before.  While on the course, if I observe my big miss (pull hook), I’ll generally know how to fix it from the lesson work I’ve done.  Worst case scenario is you start to spray the ball inconsistently.  Really simplify if you make a change here.  Try something like taking an extra club or swinging slower.  Sometimes your natural biorhythms are off.  You just don’t feel right and everything you try that worked in a previous round doesn’t.  That’s just how golf works and I’d hesitate to make a mechanical change under these circumstances.  Don’t force it and just double down on the extra club or slower swing.
  3. Can I make a course management change?  These are the best and lowest risk adjustments because there are no mechanics.  Sometimes if you modify your thinking good things will happen.  The absolute best adjustment I’ve got here is to stop flag hunting and play for the middle of the green.  Do this a couple times and you’ll realize what a stroke saver it is.

Tried any mid-round adjustments lately?  Got something that works or should be avoided?  Please share and play well!

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Leading Indicators Of Good Play

Can you correctly anticipate when you will play well or poorly?  What are the leading indicators?  My poor rounds are easier to predict and are usually preceded by a poor ball striking warm up.  Also, if I’ve practiced poorly the day before, it’s usually a bad omen.  If I find myself tired or disinterested, the hacks are usually coming.  Finally, if I’ve over-prepared, sometimes I’ll crash and burn.  Accordingly, it’s much harder to predict a good round.  I’ve been in awful slumps before and played great the following day with no rhyme or reason.  But this is the exception.  The one consistent leading indicator for a good round is that it’s preceded by good practice.

This was the case over the last couple of weeks.  Two Saturdays ago, I took a full swing lesson, which was excellent, and the following day  I tee’d it up and played poorly because I was thinking mechanically.  Last Thursday, I went to the range to try and fix things.  I laid my alignment sticks down and proceeded to strike it very poorly while trying to ingrain my lesson feedback.  What was wrong?  I couldn’t hit the ground if I fell from a tree.

I went out to the course on Saturday to try something new, which I will share because it worked.  My goal was to remove all vestiges of mechanics from my game and zero in on playing golf, not golf swing.  I’d use drills exclusively to improve my focus.  I had a round scheduled for The Links at Gettysburg the following day and I didn’t want to chop it up, but all leading indicators were pointing in that direction.

First, I went to the practice green and played nine holes of up and down.  The rules are simple; you throw a ball into a green-side lie and don’t improve your lie.  You chip or pitch to a cup, then putt until the ball is holed.  Even par is two strokes per hole.  The game is great for building focus because you are forced to use your vision.  An average day of playing this game yields a score of four or five over par, but previously I’ve played after chipping or pitching for an hour.  Here, I went right into it – from car trunk to game.  No warm up shots.  Final score; one-over par.

Next, I played nine holes on the putting green with one ball.  I varied the length of initial putts anywhere from 15 to 50 feet.  Again, par was two strokes per hole.  In this game, you mark your ball and go through your full on course pre-shot routine, really getting into game mode.  Again, there were no practice putts, just the game.  Final score; two under par.

Finally, I went to the driving range with a basket of about 50 balls.  I took six or seven warm-up shots with some wedges, a five-iron and driver.  Then played a full simulated 18 holes on a course of my choice.  During simulated rounds, you play a tee shot, any lay-ups, and all approaches.  Obviously there is no chipping or putting, and if you’re honest with yourself, your score usually approximates what you shoot during real rounds.  The drill is awesome for building focus especially when you start hitting recovery shots after wayward drives.  My course of choice was a local muni and previous simulated rounds usually yield about 75 to 80 strokes, which is close to what I usually shoot there.  On this day, I fashioned a 1-under 69.  I finished with about six balls remaining and just left them there.

The entire session lasted a bit under two hours and I drove home fully satisfied and thinking I had not practiced that well in two or three years.  Sure enough, the following day at Gettysburg, I played great and noticed I was focused like a laser, especially on my tee shots.

You get very excited in this game when you think you’re on to something.  Am I?  I know the key was that every drill and every shot was geared to help me play golf, not golf swing.   Tomorrow, the challenge will be if I can repeat the practice success using the exact same approach, but after a long day of work.  I hope it doesn’t rain 🙂

Do you have any leading indicators for good play?  Good luck if you do and please share. Play well!

 

 

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The Links at Gettysburg – Course Review

Summary

We played The Links at Gettysburg on Sunday, August 26, 2018.  The course is a one hour drive from Montgomery County, MD, and a couple of miles east of the famous Pennsylvania battlefield.  There are six sets of tees that make this a fun and playable experience for golfers of all abilities.  We challenged ourselves from the whites which play at 6,277 yards with a rating/slope of 70.5/136.

This course is known for its beautiful scenery and excellent conditioning and did not disappoint. The architect did a great job fashioning several holes out of the local red rock and presenting them as mini-cathedrals surrounding the greens.  They use a lot of hard red sand in their bunkers, which looks a bit unusual but is fine to play from.  As the course is located in the rolling countryside, there are many elevation changes but none too severe, and we didn’t find any holes that were tricked up or unfair.  The course is also bordered by some very large and beautiful homes, but you don’t feel as if they are on top of you.

Downhill par-3 third hole.

From the whites, most of the par-4s are under 400 yards and if you are hitting your driver well, you can score.  Greens are bent-grass and were rolling medium fast and very true.  There is significant mounding and sloping on the putting surfaces that make chipping and putting from above the hole ill-advised.  The rough was cut at medium height and didn’t kill your chances to recover from a stray shot.

Property overlooking #7 fairway

Jim from the fairway on #7

On the 9th tee

From a ball striking perspective the front nine plays fairly easy with the reachable par-5 4th hole offering a great scoring opportunity at 457 yards.  The back is more difficult.  On this day, I was fortunate enough to hit #4 with a six-iron and drain my eagle putt.  After going out in 1-under 35, I managed a birdie on the par-4 10th hole and followed with a couple of pars.  Just when I thought I was rolling, I ran into the buzz saw at 13, 14, and 15.  These three straight holes bring water into play all down the left side – on every shot.  If you fight a hook, you are in trouble.  My big miss is a pull hook and I had not seen one all day.  But with all that water left, and a strong wind blowing in my face, #13 got in my head and I pushed a drive into trouble and carded a triple.  The par-5 14th was playing 531 yards into the same wind and I left a couple more shots right but managed to salvage par.  The par-3 15th finally gobbled up one of my big misses into its leftward watery grave and left me with a deflating double on the card.

Jim on the bridge at the par-3 12th

With no water left on the remaining three holes, I managed to right the ship and finish strong with a par-birdie-par run for a 2-over 74.

Playing notes:

  • #1 tee shot.  We got a lot of conflicting advise on what to hit at this blind downhill short par 4.  From the white tees, you need about 210 yards on your shot.  Don’t take more else you will go through the fairway into trouble.  I didn’t take enough club and left myself with a longer approach into this green that is protected in front by a steep stone wall.
  • #4 tee shot on the short 457 yard par 5.  Hit it over the pine tree on the left, closest to the fairway.  My tee shot was aimed at the middle of the fairway and I pulled it a bit only to see it roll to the extreme right side of the fairway.  Everything bounces and rolls right.
  • #8 tee shot is a precision placement play.  The hole has trouble short and an elongated fairway bunker long that abuts a rock cliff.  Hit it 180 yards from the white tees and you’ll have something between 80 and 110 yards in from the middle of the fairway.
  • #11 tee is a 345 yard gentle dogleg right.  The wind was blowing left to right and I took 3wd which was a good play.  Looks like driver may be too much here.
  • #13-15, as previously mentioned, try to block out the water left 🙂
  • #18 is another short par-5 but has water in front challenging you to go for it.  There is ample room past the water to land your shot but it’s mostly rough.  If you can fade one in, you can follow the contour of the fairway, which you cannot see well on your second shot.  If you don’t have a good yardage, layup left for an easy wedge shot third.

18 green seen from the clubhouse

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

The regular weekend rate to play is $79 before 11 a.m.  We played between 11:00 and 2:00 p.m. when the rate drops to $59.  They offer a senior discount of $44 which we played on.  This includes your cart but range balls $5.00 are extra.  At the regular rates, the quality of this course justifies the price.  At the senior rate, the value is outstanding.

Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)

There is a 16 station driving range with mats and grass tees.  Next to the range is a small practice area for chipping and bunker work.  Back by the clubhouse are two medium small putting greens.  The surfaces are beautiful, but if the course gets busy, crowding might be a small issue.  Behind the clubhouse and pro shop, and overlooking the 18th green, there is a grill where the attendant fixes your burgers and drinks.  There was some music going softly and a bit of a festive atmosphere when we finished our round.  Seemed like a great 19th hole spot.

Practice putting green

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

There was one club attendant at the bag drop and he took our bags and loaded us promptly upon our arrival.  The pro shop staff was very professional and got us checked in quickly and our starter and on course marshal were friendly and helpful, although we could have used some better advice on the first tee on how to play the hole.  They tell you to hit it 160-190 yards, but take 210, as I have indicated above.  There was ample cold drinking water on the course and the beverage cart hit us up two or three times during the round.  We played as a twosome and while going off at 11:12 a.m. didn’t have to wait on any shots, nor did we get pushed by anyone from behind.  It was a truly relaxing and delightful day on the course.

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

The Links at Gettysburg provided excellent conditioning, value, and a fun day.  The one-hour drive from the Washington D.C. area is well worth the trip.  I will be back.

 

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Playing After A Lesson – Smart?

Have you ever played a round where you were bombing your driver and leaving yourself with some awesome looks at approach shots, but you subsequently bungled every one of them?  Last weekend I had my best driving day of the year but the 80 I shot at Poolesville was the absolute worst score I could have recorded for that very reason. The carnage included seven unforced errors from the “A-position”.   So yesterday I took my final lesson of the 2018 seasonal package in hopes that I could correct my awful iron play.  As usual, my instructor corrected something small just as we started (I was standing too far from the ball) and then we got to work on my major issues.  Of course, they were the same issues I’ve been dealing with my entire career, which is why they’re still issues.  We made great progress on the lesson tee and I booked a time at my club to play today.

What is your experience playing after a lesson?  Smart, not smart?  I think it depends on the lesson and where you are playing.  Last time I tried it the day after my putting lesson.  There was no adjustment period and was if someone else had possessed my body with the putter.  I made everything I looked at and the game was very easy.

Today was different.  Perhaps my club is not the best venue if you are working on swing mechanics because the first four holes at Blue Mash are very demanding and often require long iron approaches.  Last time out I hit four 3-irons on the first four holes.  It’s one of those stretches that if you start 3-over after four holes, you are playing fine.  Today it was 3-iron, 7-iron (downwind) from heavy rough, 3-iron, and another 3-iron.  Before my round I warmed up poorly with my 3-iron, but my approach on number one was pure and settled eight feet from the flag.  The second on #3 was good but went into a green-side bunker and I saved par.  The third was an awful pull hook (my big miss) and I made a lucky par out of some gnarly green-side rough.  On holes 5 and 6, I hit two stunning short iron shots that yielded a par and a birdie.  I was thrilled and it seemed I had it solved, but the problem was that I was playing golf swing and not golf.  The roof finally caved in on #8 after I laid the sod over a pitching wedge from the middle of the fairway.

This has happened before after taking a lesson; it’s always been a full swing lesson, and I’m always thinking too much.  I guess I was encouraged after the easy success of the putting lesson.

My favorite thing in golf is to play.  Next favorite is to take lessons, and least favorite is to practice.  But I know I need practice on this one and will get out to the range a couple times before next weekend’s round.  What has been your experience playing after a lesson?

Stay tuned: course review is coming from next weekend’s venue:  The Links at Gettysburg!

Play well!

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Common Threads Of Your Great Rounds

On the first tee at Glen Dornoch in Myrtle Beach

I haven’t had a great round this year, but my last time out was a real good one.  I got to thinking about the common threads shared between good rounds.  My findings:

Thread One.  The driver is clicking.  On most of my great rounds, I’m hitting it hard, on the center of the face, and finding fairways.  Great driving makes the game so much easier.  Even easier than great putting because sometimes you are striking it poorly, putting great, and scrambling for par.  During these great rounds, my putter was not that hot in terms of total putts, which probably had to do with a high number of GIRs I hit.  If my driver is good and I hit 14 or 15 greens, I can live with 33 or 34 putts because I’m still going to be around level par.  If I hit 15 greens and take 27 putts, I’m doing the wrong thing for a living.  Anyway, the big stick is the key.

Thread Two.  I’m playing with better players.  Several of these rounds were in competition and the presence of excellent players.  Wanting to do well against them sharpened my concentration.  In my most recent round, I joined a single for the front nine at my club.  He had a decent game and generally played bogey golf.  I shot three or four over.  But at the turn, we were joined by a couple young guys who played at scratch or better.  As we progressed, I was hitting the ball well and these guys were blowing it by me.  But I felt some weird juices start to flow and played very solid on the inward half.  All three of us had a few birdies and kept it around even par.  It was very cool and I thoroughly enjoyed testing my game against younger stronger players.  A couple years back, a similar thing happened.  I was getting ready to play at my local muni and was joined by two of the course’s pros on the first tee.  Same story as these guys were ripping it miles past me off the tee, but I played my game and really concentrated well.  My friend, Jim at TheGratefulGolfer wrote a nice piece on the aspect of playing with better players.  Check it out.

This better player phenomena can be a double-edge sword if you are not hitting the driver well or are intimidated.  Back in the 1980s, I was working as an apprentice in the Mid Atlantic PGA Section.  About two dozen assistant pros gathered for our summer meeting at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland.  This is where they hold annual U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and after our meeting we agreed to have a tournament among ourselves.  I’m thinking, “crap”; hard course, tough competition, and normally club pros play in all kinds of events, but mostly pro-ams and in the company of amateur partners with inferior games.  Not the case here, plus this was my first tournament playing against professionals.  I knew all these guys were way better than me and I was sick with fear and intimidation.  Needless to say, the day did not go well.  I shot an 86 and finished last.

Thread three:  You play the right set of tees.  Let’s re-phrase:  You never have a great round playing from the wrong tees.  In my recent round, on the first tee, I told my front nine companion I would play the blue tees and he should play any set that he wanted.  He replied, “I probably shouldn’t but I will play the blues with you.”  He was right, and you could see him pressing all day.  Plus, when the big hitters joined us, we all played from the blues and this poor fellow let that get in his head.

So those are mine, do you have any common threads during your great rounds?  Please share and play well!

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Is 125 Strokes “Playing” Carnoustie?

From 1971 to 1983, my parents brought me on five or six trips to Europe in an attempt to expose me to other lands and different cultures.

With Mom and Dad at Stonehenge in 1975

In 1975, we visited Scotland, and were in the town of Carnoustie.  Tom Watson won the claret jug at Carnoustie Golf Links that year, and my Dad and I actually played the famous course while on our journey.  I was 14 years of age, and was at the stage where you measured yourself against your buddie’s 9-hole scores during beginner’s summer camp.  Breaking 60 was a badge of honor.  In short, my level of preparation for taking on Carnoustie was excellent.

What’s cool about playing Open Championship rota courses is that the general public can get a tee time on several of the venues.  I think it was probably easier back then because there were no on-line bookings.  Either show up or call.  Now, this was 43 years ago and I was young and have just a few memories of the round.  I do recall it was not planned; we just showed up and got off.  We played with rented clubs in old canvas bags.  The course had a lot of tall brown fescue and sand.  My Dad and I played as a twosome and were followed by four elderly ladies who admonished us at one point for playing too slow.  My Dad usually played in the high 90s and was actually having a good game considering the difficulty level and our unfamiliarity with the course.  He shot something like a 94.  Even though I had been to golf camp, I was still a beginner and couldn’t control my golf ball.  I played awful and shot a 125 and nearly took another player’s head off with a hosel rocket.  I remember being pressured to play faster by the ladies and my Dad apologizing.  I remember topping a lot of shots, but not feeling embarrassed.  The same was probably not the case for my Dad.

I don’t remember watching Watson’s victory on television that year, but do remember Paul Lawrie’s win (Jean van de Velde’s implosion) in 1999, and of course today’s recently concluded championship.  In none of the telecasts, do I recall any of the holes first hand.

So the question I’ll leave you with is:  Can you shoot 125 at Carnoustie and say you actually played the course?

Drinking my first pint with Mom’s old neighbors in Cheltenham, U.K. in 1975

 

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First Professional Putting Lesson

Tom Watson once said, “Mechanics are about 10 percent of putting. . .feel is 90 percent, but good mechanics lead to good feel.”  Today, I got straightened out on both.  If you’ve never had a professional putting lesson, it will be well worth your hard earned dollars to get one.  The trained set of eyes a pro can provide is invaluable.  Here’s how my first ever putting lesson played out.

My instructor is great because there are no preconceived notions of what a lesson will look like.  He always asks what I am working on and trying to solve for and tailors the instruction accordingly.  Today, I told him I thought I wasn’t a bad putter but wanted to be a great putter.  I average between 31 and 32 putts per round and have a good feel for distance since I’ve been using a system of pacing off putts that I learned from Ian Hardie.  My problem for the last two years has been direction.  Basically, I don’t trust my ability to aim the putter.  If I can’t trust my aim, I lack confidence.  Recently I’ve had some success on longer putts using the line on the golf ball as an alignment aid, but have struggled with this on putts I should make.

As we got going, he asked me to start with a few flat 20 footers and to verbally take him through my routine as I read the green, rehearsed the stroke, and executed.  I hit these well but he noticed I was lining the putt up more towards the toe of my Ping Answer.  The trouble manifested itself when we changed to a small right to left four foot putt.  We agreed the line I wanted was on the right edge of the cup.  I used the line on the ball to aim the shot but when each of us viewed the line from behind the ball, we saw different aiming points.  I thought I had lined it up on the right edge, but he saw it aimed right at the middle of the cup.  Jeez-o-flip!  It was there that we agreed I should not be using the line on the ball because I couldn’t trust that I could aim it straight.  Visions of Fast Eddie Felson in The Color of Money were coming to mind.  Was my vision hosed?  Did I need corrective glasses?  Turns out, no.  I learned the issue was my failure to line the putt up on the center of the club face.  In addition, I was making a little too much forward press and fanning the blade open a bit.  I made the mechanical corrections and started banging them straight on my chosen line – confidence back!  It is a tremendous relief knowing I can stand over a putt, see nothing but white on the golf ball, and aim it straight at my target.

Paul Newman as Fast Eddie Felson in The Color of Money. Photo by agefotostock.com

It’s hard to believe but PGA professionals sink only 50% of their putts from eight feet.  They are putting on greens that are faster and more difficult than you or I will ever putt on but even so, I’d love to make 50% of my 8-footers.  My failures hit hard last week when I missed an easy 4-foot birdie putt, and didn’t even hit the hole because I wasn’t sure where I was aiming it.  It was then that I knew I needed a lesson.

The final takeaway was to put an alignment aid on my 40 year old Ping Answer.  As it was, there were no markings and my pro felt I should have a dot over the sweet spot so I don’t have any more toe spanks.  The paint is drying as I’m finishing this post.

Hope you are rolling it pure and playing well.

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Tips For Playing Golf Swing (If You Have To)

What’s awesome about golf is that you learn something new every time you play or practice.  As you may or may not know, I’m in the midst of a two-year experiment to overhaul my game.  I’m trying to get better at every facet and last year took four full swing lessons and one playing lesson.  This year, I’ve had a full swing lesson, a short game lesson, and am excited to go for my first putting lesson on Saturday.  As I work through the instruction, practice, and play, several themes continually emerge.

Theme 1:  Be Your Own Best Friend.  Change is difficult, especially after doing things one way for over 40 years.  It’s best to acknowledge that and while you enjoy the improvements, don’t beat yourself up during setbacks or while hitting the occasional bad shot.  Practice talking to yourself in an encouraging fashion.  Many players including myself have criticized themselves after a physical mistake, but try not to.  It’s okay to be more critical of mental miscues because they’re easier to control, but give yourself a break after a bad swing; you’re human.

Theme 2:  Integrate Feel Into Your Practice.  When you warm up before play, never work on your swing.  The easiest way to do this is to switch clubs and targets on every shot.  When you practice your swing, it’s fine to work on mechanics, but finish up with some drills to work on your mental game and touch.  It will help you transition more easily to the course.

Playing golf during a period of sustained instruction is hard because your tendency is to think mechanics on the course.  To help, try practicing your full game the day before you play.  While hitting balls, leave the last 20 to play an imaginary nine holes at a familiar course.  This gets your mind in sync with the natural cadence of play and for using different targets.  Around the practice green, throw balls into different lies and don’t improve the lies.  Hit the shots with a variety of clubs.  Try to flight them as low as possible.  Low ball flight is easier to judge distance and helps you visualize the shot.  Playing it as it lies builds mental toughness.  Vision and intestinal fortitude are two essentials.

Theme 3:  Know your tendencies.  If you are taking instruction, you will identify your common mishit and work to get it out of your game.  Mine is a pull hook.  When it occurs on the course, acknowledge it and move on.  Do not think it’s something new that’s crept into your game and do not start searching for a swing thought on every shot until you happen to hit a good one.  This is the most difficult thing about playing during periods of instruction because you’ll probably be thinking about a swing key, even if you’d prefer not to.  Keep working on what you are trying to do, not what you are trying to avoid.  It’s the only way to remain sane.

Theme 4:  Understand your physical limitations.  95% of amateurs have overactive hands and arms and under-active core muscles.  They will pull and slice the ball.  This is the most common miss and is usually caused by casting the club (early release).  Conversely, look at the pros who rip the ball.  Rory, DJ, Koepka, Tiger, Jason Day.  They all build up their big muscles because they understand power comes from leveraging their core.  These guys all look like football players and you will never hit it like them, but you can work your core muscles and build power and stamina into your game.  I pay specific attention to my back, butt, and hips.  I may not crush the ball like Brooks, but my body no longer aches after I’ve walked 18 holes and that’s a reasonable measuring stick.  Also, know that when you get fatigued, your core muscles will suffer first and making good swings is increasingly difficult.  Definitely exercise your core and if you can, walk when you play.  If it’s hot, take a cart.  If 18 holes is all you can manage, don’t try for 36.  I keep relearning this last one and probably will until I’m no longer playing.

I look forward to hearing if these tips work for you.

Play well!

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Does It Pass The Nicklaus Test?

By now, you’ve seen the video of Phil Mickelson’s moving ball violation on #13 of Saturday’s U.S. Open round.

Was this a violation of the spirit of the competition or simply a smart golfer taking advantage of the rules?  You be the judge.  Phil is a very bright articulate guy.  After watching his explanation to Curtis Strange, his reasoning seemed half plausible.

We can recall numerous accounts of questionable behavior on tour from Rory McIlroy throwing a club into a lake after a bad shot, to Arnold Palmer, one of my boyhood idols, sending a putter into orbit after a three-putt (saw this in person at the Kemper Open), to Tiger Woods exhibiting less than stellar behavior with his temper tantrums and bad language, to just about everything John Daly has ever done including playing a moving ball in the 1999 U.S. Open.

These folks are human and are not perfect, and are under a constant microscope.  But the behavior of professional golfers in general has been excellent.  When I see one of these events, it’s tempting to view it through the eyes of  “the children”.  What would “the children”, with young impressionable and malleable minds be thinking of this?  Doesn’t really matter because “the children’s” idols largely reside in team sports where players have far worse behavioral issues than professional golfers.

I view this behavior through the prism of the Jack Nicklaus Integrity Test.  What would Jack do?  I’m sure he’s had his incidents, but I’ve never seen or heard of an integrity problem with the greatest who’s ever played.  How would he have behaved in such a situation?  I believe Jack would have let the putt finish and played it as it lies.  Sometimes Jack weighs in on these matters, as he did with Rory’s behavior.  Would love to hear his take.

I’m a huge Phil fan, but he was wrong to do this.  What really bugged me in his explanation that he’d been “thinking of doing this several times before.”  Really?  This time Phil outsmarted himself.  What do you think?

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Forecast – 2018 U.S. Open Championship

Shinnecock Hills.  Photo from triblive.com

Historically, the U.S. Open has been the hardest of the four majors to win.  The USGA has setup their venues to require great thinking, punishing rough, and lightning fast greens.  It is the ultimate test in golf.  The first US Open I recall watching was Jerry Pate’s victory in 1976 at the Atlanta Athletic Club, and every year I’ve looked forward to the penal nature of the competition and how it differs from the weekly birdie-fest on the PGA Tour.  The last two years have been a major buzzkill with the ridiculous assault on double-digit under par at Erin Hills and the carnival bounces at Chambers Bay (2016).  I’m looking for full redemption this year.  Shinnecock Hills has been lengthened by 450 yards, the rough has been grown out, and there’s nary a tree in sight to protect the golfers from the winds that are sure to blow from the Atlantic Ocean and Shinnecock Bay.  The course is a national treasure and will not disappoint.

Who’s going to win?  Beats me.  But since I’m in the recreational handicapping business, let’s give it a go.  Picking from this field is a big problem, but a good problem.  As in this year’s Masters, the best and deepest pool of championship caliber golfers ever are competing.  Of course the U.S. Open field is nearly twice the size of The Masters, making prognostication all that more difficult.  Plus, half the Masters field is past champions with no chance.  Here, qualifying is the ultimate merit based system.

I’m sensing this will be a ball striking contest.  Essentially, who can drive it the best and manage the wind.  Rory’s game is suited for links style golf and he’s a great driver of the golf ball.  But he choked in round four of The Masters and I don’t think he’s hitting on all eight cylinders.  Can’t win the U.S. Open with a four-cylinder engine.  Jason Day is in good form and another great driver, but flights it too high.  Jordan Spieth is the best major player in the field.  Best mind in the game, but not the best driver (not even close).  However, Spieth is always contending in every major and will be a factor.  I loved the way Rickie Fowler finished at The Masters.  Seems like he’s getting over his Sunday foibles, and he will be in the mix here.  Of all the awesomely talented players, who’s the best when playing at his best?  Dustin Johnson.  It looks like he’s gaining that extra gear again and will be in the thick of the battle.  Tiger is a lot of folk’s sexy pick, but Shinnecock accentuates his weakness: driving it consistently.  Not his week.  Nobody believes in Bryson Dechambeau except himself – and now me.  As weird as his theories are, they work.  This guy is more science than art, but is becoming scary good.  Finally, the sneaky good fit for this venue is Tommy Fleetwood.  Love his ball flight and familiarity and comfort with links golf.

So who takes it?  The All About Golf Kiss Of Death goes to the best player in the world in the toughest tournament:  DJ.  Spieth is runner up, and Fowler takes third.  Enjoy the action and happy early Father’s Day!

Your 2018 US Open Champion

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Crow Creek – Course Review

Summary:

Our Myrtle Beach travel group played Crow Creek in Calabash, NC on Saturday, June 2, 2018.  This Rick Robbins design held up extremely well during the 2018 harsh winter and we were met with immaculate playing conditions which was a pleasant surprise.  Tropical Storm Alberto had soaked the area earlier in the week and every course we played on was wet and slow except for this beauty.  I had an 8-iron approach on the first hole, caught it fairly well and watched it bounce hard from the front of the green to the back.  The course’s website advertises V8 bentgrass greens, and these were clearly new, beautiful, and held up very well after the winter.

If you can drive it you can score here but if you are crooked, you’re going to struggle with the ample forced carries over water, troubling sucker pins, and loads of bunkers.  After playing a couple holes, the course reminded me of Thistle from a conditioning standpoint, and the visuals on the tee shots, but didn’t have Thistle’s share of wooded parkland routing that they boast on on one of their nines.

Gazebo overlooking the 16th tee at Crow Creek

Value: (4.25 out of 5.0)

Crow Creek would be considered a middle end play but provides excellent bang for the buck.  The combination of perfect conditions and a very reasonable replay rate ($35) make this a must play for your northern end golf packages.  We got paired up with one of the local senior players and he indicated the word was out on this course.  It was popular with all levels of players (five sets of tees make it playable for everyone) and that became evident when we tried unsuccessfully to book a replay in the afternoon.

Mike working on his swing

Facilities: (4.25 out of 5.0)

The course has a nice clubhouse and full service grill and is serviced by an all grass driving range and two beautiful manicured putting greens.  Once on your cart, you travel under a tunnel to the other side of the road where the practice range, large chipping/putting green, and first tee all reside in a nice orderly distance from each other.  You buy your range balls ($5.00 for a small bag) at the shed adjacent to the range.  The layout makes sense because once golfers are staged in the cart area, they are moved to the other side of the road for warmup and front nine play which reduces cart traffic around the clubhouse.  You travel back under the tunnel to play the back closer to the clubhouse.

Lou warming up his short game

 

 

 

Customer Experience: (3.75 out of 5.0)

We pulled up to the bag drop and there were a lot of players arriving simultaneously.  The cart guys got us unloaded reasonably well but seemed a little harried trying to get everyone saddled up and across the road, with ample time to warm up.  A special thanks goes to the gentleman manning the pro-shop counter in the afternoon.  After our round we inquired about a replay and he had nothing for a couple hours, but made a call to Sea Trail Dan Maples course and got us on there for the reduced price replay rate of $29.  This was a well appreciated effort.  The only ding I’ve got is an important one.  There were only two fresh water stops on the course.  Every track in the Myrtle Beach area should have at least two per nine because of the frequent hot and humid conditions.  So carry plenty of water with you from the start.

#1 tee

Taking on the sucker pin at the 169 yard par-3 13th.

Overall Rating: (4.0 out of 5.0)

If you are staying in the north at Sea Trail or the Glens Village, you could add this course to a package that included Thistle, and Perl East and West courses.  You’d be playing some great tracks on some excellent conditions.  Don’t miss out on playing Crow Creek!

183 yard par-3 16th at Crow Creek

The boys having a cold one in the grill after their round.

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