2017 Season Wrap-Lessons Learned, Truths Revealed.

2017 was an awesome year of resurrection for my golf game.  Going into the season, my index had crept up over 6.0, my ball striking was in the crapper, and I had turned 56.  I was beginning to ask questions like, “Will I ever play good again?”  It hadn’t escaped me that on the senior tour, guys traditionally hit the wall at 56 and fail to seriously compete because of their advancing age.  Was this happening to me?

To find out, I bit the bullet and signed up for a series of golf lessons with an instructor who had given me some hope with a single lesson in the summer of 2016.  I liked his teaching style, he got results, and I had tried to DIY for the last few years without success.  The one metric I focused on was improving greens in regulation from eight to 10 per round.  I found that a single goal helped improve my focus and dedication.  After all, I was trying to break 40 years of bad habits, build some good habits, and enjoy myself during the process.  Trying to focus on too many things would confuse my pea brain.

I started lessons in April and found the first couple difficult.  Breaking the bad habits was very hard.  Playing right after lessons is even more difficult but I had committed to playing more “golf swing” than “golf” for the entire season, which helped me be patient.  In mid-series, I took my annual golf trip to Myrtle Beach.  We typically play long difficult courses and you’d better strike it well to have a chance.  With my mind still in mechanical mode, I managed to average 8.3 GIR on the trip and only had four rough rounds out of 10.  I noticed I was enjoying a significant distance add with my driver, but was still experiencing too many big misses (pull hook) with mid and long irons.  My last round was an 88 at TPC of Myrtle Beach.  TPC is a course where big misses punish you.  The course was also in my head and I never have played well there.  A funny thing happened though.  After the round, we had a quick bite and went out for a replay.  We got in nine holes before lightning terminated the round, but I started to play better and left the course filled with hope.

After the trip, the lessons started to take hold and I experienced a great stretch from July 9 through mid-October where I averaged 10.75 GIR and played better than I have in years.  On November 3, after a great 1-over round on a tough golf course (Hog Neck), my index dropped to 3.9 which was all the validation I needed that my approach had been correct.  I finished the season with a 4.0 index and while not having hit my goal of 10 GIR (actual was 9.03), couldn’t have been more satisfied.

The big takeaway:  I am not finished because of age 🙂  The guys on the senior tour slip at 56 because they’ve been playing close to the top of their ability when age hits.  In my case, I had (and still have) loads of room for improvement, and even as I age, should be able to better my technique.

We never put our clubs away here for winter in the DMV and last year we had no snow and played right through to spring, but I’m considering this season a wrap.  The year was mentally exhausting and I need a break.  In 2018, I’m signing up for another series of lessons and hope to continue the journey wherever it takes me.

Hope you had a good season too.  Play well.

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Troubling Epiphany – Need Help!

This game is often made easier when we simplify.  Purge mechanical swing thoughts.  Just “think target”.  Use only one swing key if you must think about something.  Stop worrying about your score.  Just follow your pre-shot routine and let the shot happen.  Don’t confuse results with effort.

My brain is in a mental pretzel after putter shopping yesterday.

I was in my golf retailer trying different models.  Blades, mallets, Ping, Scotty Cameron, Taylor Made, Odyssey, Ray Cook, you name it.  Everything was rolling to the right with cut spin.  The problem I’m solving for is an aiming one and this was getting discouraging.  I have no markings on my 30-year old Ping Answer and it’s awfully hard to putt consistently if you can’t line up your target.  After an hour of futility, I grabbed a Ping Sigma G Doon and lined up a 30-foot putt but decided to try my on-course pre-shot routine.  This involves lining the putt up from behind and identifying a spot 6-12″ in front of the ball to roll the putt over.  I recently started spot putting to help with my aiming problems.  So I started banging 30-footers into the cup but noticed the aiming mark on the top of the putter was lined up 8″ left.  Here was a moment of clarity.  Like Paul Newman in The Color of Money, I learned that my vision sucked.  With the putter aimed 8″ left, I tried a few more just swinging at the hole and they continued to roll straight at the target.  The cost of the putter was a little above my price point so I left the store empty handed and confused.

At home, I grabbed some masking tape and penned an alignment aid on the back of my Ping Answer and did some rug putting.  The sweet spot on my Answer is a little towards the heel but I like to hit my putts on the center of the club face.  I started to line putts up with just my dominant eye.  Needless to say, my experimentation didn’t go well.  I was NOT simplifying anything, and was adding twists to the pretzel.

What should I do before I come unglued?  I have half a mind to hit the reset button and just go buy the Doon.  Thoughts?

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The Fix Becomes The Fault

From swingstation.com

Have you ever tried to change something in your golf swing and experienced profound rapid success?  And then you tried the exact same move the next day only to have nothing work?

The following story is true. . .

On Thursday of last week, I reviewed five years of down the line swing videos of myself.  Of course, I was looking for a swing key that would carry me the next three days on my golf trip to the eastern shore.  What’s amazing is that over the five years, I worked on many parts of my swing and implemented many changes, but my move looked strikingly similar in each video.  With the slight exception of my most recent video, I tended to lift my head up about three inches on the backswing and then move about three inches backward during the downswing.  My “reverse L” was clearly causing me to lose my spine angle.  How could anyone hit the ball correctly with this much head movement?  So, to remedy, instead of one swing key, I picked two.  I would point my left shoulder at the ball on the backswing (to keep my head from rising) and sit into my left glute on the downswing (to start the swing from the ground up and maintain my posture).

During my pre-round warm up on Friday at Hog Neck, I was hitting big push cuts with this move, so I did what any reasonable fellow would do and discarded my range session swings as aberrations.  On the first tee, I blew a big push cut into the woods and was fortunate to make bogey.  I scraped a 2-over front side together on the sheer luck of great putting, all the while struggling with these two moves.  On the back side, I jettisoned the sit down move and just focused on “left shoulder down” and began pounding my driver and nutting irons dead at flags.  THE MAGIC MOVE HAD ARRIVED!!!  After finishing the inward half at 1-under, I was extremely pumped to play on day two.

Ever fill up a balloon and let it fly around the room making funny noises until empty?  Armed with “left shoulder down” on Saturday at Eagles Landing, I pumped up and nailed my first three drives, but quickly evolved into a fluttering mess of pull cuts, pop-ups, and chunked irons.  What happened?  After 18 holes, I looked and felt like that spent balloon.

At Heritage Shores on Sunday, I started with nothing but weak pull cuts off the tee and fat irons.  After one particular chunk with a gap wedge from 98 yards that threw a divot almost 45 degrees to the left, I heel spanked a driver on the next tee, and decided something was fundamentally wrong with my swing, but I couldn’t identify.  The only thing I felt was unathletic.  So, the change I made was to get in a more athletic position at address and forget left shoulder down.  I simply flexed my knees a bit more and for the last seven holes was rifling my driver and hitting the irons spot on.  What happened here?

In retrospect, when I bent my knees, I re-engaged my spine angle.  Just try this and see if you don’t feel some tension return to your lower back.  Left shoulder down had become left hip in and a reverse pivot.  GAWD this game will drive you nuts!!!

So now I am filled with hope that this latest correction is the one.  I should probably go back to my instructor for some serious correction but it’s getting late in the season.  We’ll see what happens after tomorrow evening’s range session.

Has your fix ever become the fault?

Play well.

 

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First Tee, Fast Start!

You get to your golf course early.  Hit a large bucket of balls, work on your chipping and pitching, then then putt for 20 minutes.  You’re fully warmed up, mentally comfortable and step to the first tee.  You then proceed to knock one out of bounds or cold top your tee shot.  Or worse yet, you hit the fairway and lay the sod over your approach shot.  What went wrong?  Why are you so out of kilter?  Has this ever happened to you?

A lot has been written about the first tee jitters, but this is more than combating nerves. It’s about conditioning your mind.  Most of last season, and early this year, I was plagued by these poor starts, but I’ve learned there are several tricks you can play on yourself to ease the transition from warm up to game time.

Don’t discount the need to warm-up physically, and you should experiment to learn how many swings you need.  When I was younger, I would often start my round just as the sun was coming up but without the benefit of any warm up.  I’d notice that it took about four holes until I had my golf senses fully activated and I was in rhythm.  Doing the math, I figured this came out to about 12-15 full swings.  Now, I’ll stretch, and hit a minimum of 15 balls (five sand wedges, five 7-irons, and five drivers) and that’s what I require to get loose.  Then, I’ll start work on the mental side by simulating play of the first two holes of the course using my full pre-shot routine.  I’ll sight targets with my range finder, check wind direction, pull the right club and hit.  In essence, I’m getting my brain into game mode from warm-up mode.  This is an important concept because most folks rake range ball after range ball when practicing or warming up.  When you rake, there’s little focus and no consequences.  Hit a bad shot and just pull another.  During the simulation, you pressure yourself to hit a good shot.  This is what most players struggle with on the first hole because their brains are in rake mode, not consequence mode.  Get to consequence mode and you’ll feel more relaxed.  You should feel like you played your course but reversed the nines.  You want to feel like you are hitting your tee shot on #1 with nine holes under your belt.

Next, I’ll move to the putting green and roll putts of various lengths for about five minutes.  Then I’ll take one ball and start playing holes.  The key is to make it hard on yourself.  Start with a 50-foot putt from the fringe.  Mark your ball, go through your full pre-shot routine on every putt and hole everything out.  Don’t worry if you three-putt because the goal here is not to score but to feel some pressure.  Make all the starting putts difficult.  Use big breakers, downhillers, and long uphill putts.  This is game mode.

Both the physical and mental warm-up are important.  Most courses have a practice putting green where you can do the majority of your work.  But some don’t have a driving range.  The next best thing to driving balls is hitting bunker shots.  It’s essentially a full swing and the impact of club into sand will jar your golf muscles and senses into order.  Hit 10 or 15 bunker shots and you’ll be close to warmed up.  With no bunker, try hitting pitch shots and then playing a short game of up-and-down.

The key is to trick your mind into thinking you are in game mode during warm-up.  These are the techniques I’ve successfully employed.  Give them a try and let me know if they work for you.

Play well!

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The Opportunity Cost of Playing or not Playing Sports

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why can’t I play this sport to the level that I’d like?”  Have you also observed folks very proficient in a particular sport and noticed that they have no life outside the sport?  This two-way phenomena is known as opportunity cost.  From our Economics 101 text book, opportunity cost is defined as:  “The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.”  It is the chief reason why people underachieve in recreational or competitive activities, and why some who excel in those same activities, may suffer from the failure to take care of themselves in other areas of their lives.

Opportunity cost is not good or bad, it’s just a judgement call each of us make every day about many things.  The opportunity cost of an avid football fan who watches 15 hours of games every weekend might be that he has a poor golf game.  The opportunity cost of a mom or dad shuttling their kids to youth soccer games, practices, and tournaments every hour of every week might be the inability to work, socialize, or exercise.

To get more clarity, I’m reading Dr. Bob Rotella’s “How Champions Think.” This book gets in the minds of competitors from several sports who’ve made it to the top and identifies some common recurring themes.  Single-mindedness is huge.  These folks dedicate a good portion of their lives to mastering a craft and it often comes with significant opportunity cost.  There are ruined marriages, neglected children, repetitive stress, and burnout, and they are a bit disturbing to read about.  If you’re looking to become a champion, this book provides an uncommon but necessary view.  Rotella advocates for single-mindedness, but points out it takes very special individuals to manage the competing factions that this level of dedication requires.  He cites Jack and Barbara Nicklaus as two of the best in handling them.  Unlike a lot of marriages and relationships with tour players and spouses, Jack and Barbara understood how their significant other needed to operate and made it work so that Jack enjoyed the greatest golf career ever, and mostly Barbara raised a wonderful loving and understanding family.

I also just finished Bob Ladouceur’s “Chasing Perfection”.  Ladouceur was the head football coach at De La Salle High School in California and led his teams to 12 consecutive undefeated seasons and accumulated a record of 399-25-3 during his tenure.  I wanted to know what his secret sauce was.  In one passage, he discusses the desires of other kids to transfer to De La Salle and become part of the winning tradition.  Most of these transfers washed out when they discovered the level of dedication and demands he placed on his players and coaches for single-mindedness and preparation.  These were eerily similar in effort and opportunity cost to the athletes Rotella describes.  This book is an eye-opening read.

As an avid golfer, I’ve dedicated more than my fair share of time to gaining and maintaining the skills I need to play to a certain level.  I have also suffered the opportunity costs.  Let’s face it, golf is a game that requires a lot of time.  Each of us has a level of dedication and desire that we need to apply to satisfy ourselves, and mine is more than the average player, but doesn’t come close to the extremes I’ve recently read about.  I would be very uncomfortable ignoring key factions of my life to become the best player I could be.

Have you experienced this dichotomy?  What’s your level of dedication and single-mindedness?  Suffered any significant opportunity costs?

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Good Practice Makes Great Play

Great news!  In most years, as soon as the pigskin starts to fly, my interest in golf wanes, but not this season. Maybe it’s because my college and pro football teams are supposed to suck, but I am super psyched for 2017 fall golf.  It probably has nothing to do with football and is mostly due to the success I’m experiencing during practice, and how it’s translating into better play.

Starting in April, I took four lessons with my instructor. We focused entirely on full swing for the first three and a playing lesson on the fourth. My goals were simple, average 10 greens per round for the year, try to lower my handicap which had crept up from a 5 to 6.3 over the last couple of seasons, and just have more fun.

Here are some keys; maybe you can grab a few.   The way I’ve been practicing has made a huge difference. I have re-dedicated myself to a mid-week session, and focus on ball striking and short game every Wednesday after work. Sure it’s inconvenient to get from downtown Washington to my home course in Rockville, MD, but I’ve found the following is true: You get out of this game what you put into it. I’ll do an additional practice on Saturday and play on Sunday. The three days per week provide enough reps that make the game more second nature than when I was only engaging on the weekends. Second, I’ve been able to focus on the same improvements over and over rather than searching for a swing key every time out. When you know your miss tendencies, and you understand why you miss, and you have the tools to make the fix, it’s so much easier to concentrate. Practice does not feel like a chore.  Pounding range balls and changing swing thoughts on every shot is exhausting and is like walking through the desert.

With any quest for improvement, to keep yourself honest, you should measure. The data look pretty good. After a very rough start to the year and many growing pains during the lessons, my GIR average has pulled up to 9. I’ve hit double digit GIR in my last four rounds and have been under par for a good portion of three of those. I’ve also noticed that I’ve picked up considerable distance with the driver and am more accurate with the wedges. In the past, I never put much stock in driving distance simply because I couldn’t hit it that long. But I’m finding the added distance makes a huge difference provided you are accurate with your wedges. For instance, last time out I only hit three fairways and two of them were with irons on layups, yet I still managed 13 GIR and a round of even-par because my drives were long enough to get a wedge in my hands.

Lastly, my index has dropped to 4.1 which is super encouraging, and of course, lots of fun because of the lower scores.  It’s cool to feel like you’re not trying as hard, but are playing closer to your ability.

Hope your game is coming around too.  Play well!

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Improving Ability To Concentrate

Recently, a friend forwarded an article at The Atlantic by Jean Twenge.  The title; Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?  It’s a long, disturbing eye-opening read that I highly recommend.  The gist is that screen addiction with our youngest generation is worsening their mental health.  I have seen first hand some of these effects with loved ones, and to a certain extent myself.  I suspect heavy users of devices and social media, such as myself, all are affected by the phenomena of F.O.M.O. (Fear Of Missing Out) to some degree.  This is a disorder where you feel the constant need to check your sites, and the distractions associated with the pull of your screens and devices.  Folks handle it differently, and I think I manage it reasonably well but have suspected that it’s hurting my powers of concentration.  This is not just on the golf course, but at work, at home, in the car; essentially everywhere.  I suspect it’s been the case for years and it’s getting worse.  So I’m going to run an experiment.

To reduce the effects of device induced FOMO, I will make three changes:

    1. No more checking work email during non-working hours
    2. No more daily use of social media sites (including this one)
    3. Complete elimination of any contact with Facebook for the month of August

So what am I going to do with all my spare time?  Play and practice more golf, increase my levels of physical activity, read a book.  Doesn’t sound so bad does it?

So if you don’t hear from me in a while, I’m not ignoring you.  Just in the lab experimenting with improved concentration!

Play well.

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2017 British Open Picks

https://www.theopen.com/

Picking a winner for the 146th Open / Open Championship / British Open at Royal Birkdale is even more confounding than deciphering the official name of this tournament.  Let’s just call it the world’s oldest major.

Field analysis is made difficult because of the recent trend of the world’s top players taking time off and trying to peak their performance around the majors.  That’s a by-product of the protracted year round scheduling problem on the PGA Tour (more on that coming in a future post).  With the exception of Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, and Jordan Spieth, the top contenders don’t play frequently enough.  Yes, everyone is different but you can’t just show up once per month under the heat of competition and expect to generate consistent results.  Dustin Johnson played Memorial in May and the US Open in June and missed both cuts.  He’s coming off a back injury and nobody thinks he should play as much as Vijay Singh, but can DJ seriously be in winning form?  No way.  To draw a mediocre parallel, I’m in software development.  If I practiced my trade under the most stringent of conditions once per month, I’d suck at my job.  These guys should go hard from January to August (playing every two out of four weeks) and then shut down.

So let’s get down to business:  Rory McIlroy needs a session on the putting green with Dave Stockton Sr.  It’s so bad right now, he’s not even close to contending.  Jason Day‘s ball striking is in the crapper (what happened?)  Defending champion Henrik Stenson has missed five of his last six cuts and is looking to catch lightning in a bottle – nope.  Phil missed the US Open, then broke protocol by not playing in the Scottish Open, and finally parted ways with Bones.  That may be all the change he can handle at 47 years old and I don’t think it happens for him this week.  Hideki Matsuyama threw a scare into the field at the US Open with a strong Sunday finish and is going to get one soon, but it will be on U.S. soil.

Who’s ready?  Rickie Fowler.

Photo from Golfweek

He keeps finishing top-10 in the majors and plays often enough to stay sharp.  I think his conservative strategy in the majors of sometimes taking iron off the tee will play well at Birkdale, because you must drive it straight and then battle the wind from the fairway.  Forget playing out of the rough here.  Look for a tough battle with Justin Rose, who’s a horse for this course, Spieth, who’s tough in every major, and John Rahm, but Rickie will prevail.

Who is your pick for the Claret Jug?

 

 

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Can You Handle Success?

 

Readers of this blog know that I’ve committed this season to improving my ball striking through a series of lessons and concentrated practice.  I’m giving it all year to see improvement, but sometimes I get inpatient trying to get results that don’t happen when I think they should.  But a thought came up after my last round:  When things DO break right for you, can you manage success properly?  In yesterday’s round, I did not.

The day before, I played nine holes in the morning and then went to the range to practice and gather some swings on film.  I wanted to make sure that I was correctly implementing the positions my instructor wanted me in.  After lunch, I reviewed the film and spotted a couple areas to work on and headed back out to the range.

Yesterday’s outing at Clustered Spires in Frederick, MD started off well.  I warmed up on the range and felt loose and comfortable.  At 6,200 yards, Clustered Spires is not terribly long and my game plan was to get as many sand wedge, gap wedge, and pitching wedge approach shots as possible, since I’d been practicing those the most.  That would require a good day with the driver and it started out great as I was busting it long and straight.  The changes I worked on the day before were clicking.

To make a long story short, the true measure of ball striking success is greens in regulation (GIR), and I hit the first 15.  While I didn’t see this ball striking bonanza coming, I was thrilled that the changes I had worked on were taking hold, but at the same time, I was at 3-under par and was  STARTING TO EXIT MY COMFORT ZONE!

What happened next was where you figure out how good you are at handling success (or adversity).  On the par-3 16th, I missed the green right into a bunker with a 3-iron.  The streak was over and it threw my equilibrium off – I had been thinking about it the whole day as the round progressed.  I played a nice bunker shot but misjudged the amount of fringe I had to carry and played a poor approach putt from the first cut.  I struggled to make bogey.  I knew I was choking because I hadn’t hit a short shot in 16 holes and wasn’t sure I could.  Still, it was just a bogey and I figured a physical error was bound to happen.  It was deflating, as my 18 GIR fantasy bubble was busted.

#17 is a medium length par-4 that I usually hit with a driver/8-iron, and I caught a huge break.  My drive hit the cart path on the right and catapulted forward another 50 yards shortening the hole considerably.   I was between a sand wedge and a gap wedge but got greedy and went with the gap and tried to fly it all the way to a back left sucker pin.  I went long and short-sided myself into a bad lie.  Again I choked on the chip trying to be too perfect, left it short, and made double.

#18 is a longer par-4 and my drive was solid but trickled just into the left rough, but the lie was deep in three-inch grass.  I pulled an 8-iron left into a bunker and short sided myself again.  With no green to work with, I blasted out 30 feet past the flag and three-putted for another double.  Wow!  Now that’s handling success.  Went from 3-under to 2-over in the bat of an eyelash.

I learned a hard lesson here and sometimes you need to learn it more than once.  Even when it feels like you’re on cruise control, you MUST take it one shot at a time.  Forget your score, forget your streaks, forget your fantasies, and focus on your routine.  I’m not disappointed about #16 and #18 because they were physical errors.  That happens.  But the greedy play on #17 could have been avoided by dropping a sand wedge on the middle of the green and two-putting for a routine par.

Despite the mental breakdown, I’m very excited to see the hard work starting to pay off, and for the first time in a while it felt like I was playing golf instead of golf swing.

How’s your game coming?  Handling success and adversity equally as well?

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Halfway Point Discoveries

Last weekend I played my 20th round of the year.  Tomorrow I embark on the inward half of the journey to completing 40 for the season.  The news is mostly good.

After finishing a series of four lessons with my instructor, I’ve seen payoff in three primary areas; driving distance, consistency of contact with the fairway woods, and accuracy with the wedges inside 100 yards.  The latter of which was my primary reason for seeking professional assistance.  The long iron game remains a work in progress.  Mentally, I’m more at peace around the greens after switching back to my old Cleveland Tour Action sand wedge.

What’s most encouraging is my ability to play a good round right after a bad one, and I attribute that to the conviction in my approach.  During a period of learning, your swing WILL fall off the rails, but rather than search for a band-aid, if you return to the fundamentals you are trying to correct, more often than not, you will have your fix.  Fans of Tiger Woods know that when he changed instructors to Sean Foley, he entered a perpetual state of playing golf swing instead of playing golf.  He became an engineer instead of an artist.  This is to be avoided at all costs and my goal is to move steadily away from engineering to artistry.  I’m still at some point in between but the difference is that when I hit a bad shot, I can take comfort knowing that it’s just the old habits reappearing.

Whether you’re an engineer or artist, at the end of the day, we measure improvement by score.  2016 concluded with my index rising to a recent historical high of 6.3.  It’s down to 4.9 which is super encouraging since I’ve just completed the most difficult stretch of the season (Myrtle Beach trip).  I had one goal at the beginning of the year and that was to improve to 10+ GIR.  Through the tough stretch, I’m still between eight and nine but my index is down which is telling me my proximity performance with the wedges has improved.  I also feel more confident with my short game.  Now as I distance myself from the bi-weekly instruction, it will be interesting to see how quickly I can return to thinking about shots rather than mechanics.

So the learning process has been very satisfactory.  One final note on instruction.  My last lesson included only 15 minutes on the practice tee and then we went for a four-hole playing lesson.  Get a playing lesson if you can.  The time spent on the course with my instructor watching every aspect of my game was invaluable.  I picked up information on ball position for bunker shots, course management, club selection, and a simple putting tip that made a huge difference in my round the following day (took only 27 putts).

See you on the lesson tee and play well!

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Wild Wing Avocet – Course Review

Summary

The practice putting green

On Tuesday, May 30, 2017, our travel group teed it up at the Wild Wing Plantation (Avocet course) in Conway, SC.  Wild Wing used to host a magnificent 72 hole facility.  There was Avocet, Hummingbird, Woodstock, and Falcon.  But alas in 2006, Woodstock and Falcon closed as did nine holes on Hummingbird.  The huge clubhouse that was previously servicing this golf factory is still there but is sparsely outfitted and looks like it’s more utilized for banquets.  In the last ten years, the Grand Strand has lost about 25 golf courses, mostly to housing development, and Wild Wing is certainly a top casualty.

When you enter the grounds, you are confronted with a parking lot the size of the Myrtle Beach International Airport, which is also a leftover from the previous decade of vibrancy.  The bad drop was staffed by a single guy who did the unloading, fetching of carts from the barn, and staging of groups for play.  Clearly they could have used more help, and we felt something was a little off kilter.

Cary ordering at the Players Pub

Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)

The driving range; wet and closed

Our day started off rough because the driving range was closed.  I asked the bag guy if I could borrow a cart to go take pictures of the range and he was kind enough to grant that request.  The range is actually quite large and beautiful, and is all grass but it was soaking.  Balls are sold in the pro shop for $4.00 a bag and it appeared to be a good decision to keep it closed.  Playing a strange course with no warm-up and cart path only for the first four holes was rough.  Most of the guys were hacking and trying to get loose.  The course was wet and played fairly long from the blue tees (6,658/72.7/131).

Now, the Good, Bad, and Ugly.

The Good:

The golf course is a great play.  The greens used to be bent grass but were redone in Mini-Verde Bermuda after the brutal summer of 2011.  They were beautiful and rolling true with a medium fast pace despite the moisture.  The course has a mixture of parkland routing framing a lot of the par 4s and 5s, and links style architecture around the greens with big undulations on the surfaces, tall mounds protecting the approaches, water in play on tee shots and approaches, and deep penal green side bunkering.  You will struggle to get it up and down if your ball striking is off but I thought this was an awesomely interesting mixture of holes with many being unique and memorable.  Several of the par-4s are long.  #6 at 451 yards with water all down the left, was playing into a stiff breeze.  I knew I couldn’t reach and played it like a short par-5.  #7, a par-5 at 553 yards was playing in the same direction and took two massive hits to have a shot to reach.  #14 is a cool short par-4 with so many bunkers it looked like the face of the moon.  Even with rangefinder in hand, it was a bit of guesswork as to where to hit it first time through.

The Bad:

The green part of the golf course was the allure at Wild Wing, with the excellent layout and conditioning.  The rest of the grounds needed serious work.  Several holes played adjacent in a back and forth direction which is fine, but there were shared cart paths which left you  dangerously close to the ball flight of opposing groups and occasionally left you playing a game of chicken with the carts.  A lot of the cart paths were crumbling and in a state of disrepair.  There were only two water coolers on the entire course, which is a major ding, and one ran dry around 3:00 p.m.  This can be dangerous in the summer time heat, as most courses take care to ensure you have fresh water every 3-5 holes.  And finally, the on course restrooms were filthy.

The Ugly:

Mike and I were the only ones to replay in the afternoon.  We were parked by the par-5 15th green and as we were preparing to exit our golf cart, the beverage cart rammed into our golf cart.  Mike was holding the steering wheel and the impact jerked our front tires and wrenched Mike’s hand.  The cart lady didn’t even apologize and insisted on blaming us for the collision.  This left a very sour taste in our mouths and some pain in Mike’s hand and wrist for the rest of the afternoon.  As we drove up the 18th hole, we saw the cart lady parked in the rough with her head down.  Couldn’t tell if she was texting someone or sleeping off a hangover from sampling her own wares, but she was parked in the same spot for several minutes – very unprofessional.

Mike on #3 tee. Par-4, 424 yards

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

 

Chris sizing up his tee shot on #5. Par-3, 157 yards

Avocet isn’t a bad value for just pure golf.  Our greens fee on the Founders package was the lowest of any course at $56 and we replayed for $40.  This course seems to be a low budget affair with regard to facilities, maintenance, number of staff, and they sink their available funds into keeping the golf course in as good as shape as it’s in.  As a traveler and avid player, the whole experience was a bit of a disappointment.  There is also some previous day bias because Monday we had opened our trip at Grand Dunes Resort and everything there is first class.

Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)

Dual green for #6 and #17 (foreground)

What’s odd is that everyone working at Avocet was very accommodating, kind, and professional, except for the beverage cart operator.  A special thank you goes out to Meagan, who operated the Players Pub and assisted Mike with some ice for his hand after our on course accident.  The starter was very flexible and helpful in getting us out for the afternoon.  He suggested we start on the 2nd tee to avoid a foursome that had just teed off #1.  We appreciated that and played #1 as our final hole after zipping around in 3.5 hours.

Overall Rating (3.0 out of 5.0)

You need some local knowledge to score on this golf course.  I shot 88 in the morning and followed that up with a 79 after I was suitably warmed up and knew where to hit it.  Again, the course is a fun play but only if you don’t mind the marginal facilities and low budget feel of the place.  I’m mixed on a return trip to Avocet.

Mike bunkered on #1

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Willbrook Plantation – Course Review

Summary

On Thursday, June 1st, 2017, our travel group teed it up at the Willbrook Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC.  The plantation was established in 1798 and a visit here provides a mix of lovely old southern charm with a humbling history lesson.  The place is beautiful with large live oaks framing the clubhouse, course, and surrounding residential areas, but you also can find historical markers noting the location of slave quarters and burial grounds that remind you of our 18th and 19th century culture and lifestyle.  Everything is done tastefully and the atmosphere is welcoming to all.

Our group has played Willbrook on several previous trips and unfortunately most of those visits were spent in the clubhouse watching doppler radar and sitting on the porch in stately rocking chairs waiting out torrential rain storms.  No problem with the weather on this day as we enjoyed broken clouds and temperatures in the 80s, but we had our full rain gear packed.

The staging area at Willbrook

Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)

Spent many hours in these rocking chairs during previous visits

You’ll notice as you first enter the facility that everything is on the small size, from the parking lot, to the clubhouse, to the grill area, to the driving range.  The range was all grass and was in wonderful shape but only had about seven hitting stations.  Balls were $4.00 per bag and were sold in the pro shop.  There were two medium sized putting greens; one between the range and clubhouse and the other conveniently located between the clubhouse and first tee.  Traffic flowed nicely around the staging area.

Willbrook has Bermuda grass through the green and on this day, the putting surfaces were rolling true and at medium speed but had a light layer of sand applied.  The course conditioning was very good with all the tee boxes, fringes, and bunkers neatly manicured.  I only remembered a few of the holes, probably because the last time through, we were so focused on keeping ourselves and our equipment dry, the course play-ability and routing were not at the forefront of our minds.

At 6,292 yards from the white tees (70.3 / 129), the course is not an overly stern test.  It has a mixture of short to medium length par-4s with all the par-5s playing over 500 yards.  If you are driving it straight you can score.  As it was, they had many of the pins cut on small crowns and slopes, and while I hit 11 greens, I couldn’t make any putts, but managed to avoid any three-putts, and carded a solid 4-over 76.  I recall a much tougher time playing in the rain from the blue tees at 6,722 yards.

A few playing notes:

  • #1 tee shot is tight (pictured below).  You have a big tree on the right to contend with and water on the left.  Drive it straight 🙂
  • #10 is a par-4 that only plays 356 yards but a large oak tree guards the right side of the green.  Shots right center in the fairway may be blocked from coming in high, even with a short iron.  There’s plenty of room left even though it doesn’t look like it on the tee.  Take it.
  • #18 is a hard dogleg right par-5 and is super tight.  There’s a bunker at the end of the fairway 250 yards from the tee.  Long hitters should lay up.  There’s a big tree on the right guarding the dogleg so you have to get it far enough out there to avoid.  Up by the green, there are more large oaks that block the left side of the approach.  If you can get it to 100 yards, you can get over them with a wedge, otherwise, you are blocked.  Try to keep it right.  I felt this hole was a smidgen unfair, as did others in my group.

Jim and Cary before the round

 Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

The look from #1 tee

Willbrook was $71 on our Founders package.  The replay rate was $40, which is a good value, and the beauty of the package is that it included a $100 gift card to use at all 21 of the Founders courses.  We also learned that the replay rate at Willbrook could be applied at a higher end course, which is exactly what we did.  We booked a replay at Willbrook and decided not to use it but called Myrtle Beach National – Kings North, and they let us play the afternoon for the Willbrook price, which was $22 less than the Kings North price.  As long as you played your first round on a Founders group course, you can leverage this benefit and I would take advantage of that again.

Pat in a bit of trouble on #5

Customer Experience (3.75 out of 5.0)

Me before teeing off on #10, a tricky par-4

The bag drop guys provided snappy service as soon as we pulled in.  The pro only had a single replay time when we inquired so we grabbed it.  The tee sheet evidently fills up quite fast at this course and I was glad we had the opportunity to replay, but there’s a chance we could have got shut out.  We also figured with one replay time, the course would be full and slow.  When we replay, we usually enjoy a quicker pace because most courses in the area are empty.  It pays to look for courses with more than 18 holes when you consider replaying.  Our decision to play at Kings North was a good one, as they have 54 holes and we flew around in under four hours.

On the course, the marshals kept play moving and were friendly and helpful.  The pace was good as we were in threesomes and were never pushed and did not have to wait on any shots.

The grill area is small and has a limited selection of food items.  After the morning round, I settled for a chili dog, chips and soda that cost me $6.00.

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

Pat tees off on #15, par-5, 538 yards

I enjoy playing this course and will come back to Willbrook on future trips.  If you want a medium end course that’s not too difficult or expensive, add it to your playlist.

At the final hole, sharp dogleg right par-5

Posted in Course Reviews, Myrtle Beach, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

2017 US Open Picks

Photo from Erinhills.com

Erin Hills, site of the 2017 US Open, has been characterized as long, bouncy, devoid of trees, and with perfect greens.  No major has ever been contested here and the course otherwise remains a mystery.  A par-72 layout is rare for the US Open and may lend itself to less of the traditional fairways and greens grind and more of a birdie-fest.  You’d think that’s not in the best interest of the USGA, and I hope they set it up tough but fair.  After all, this is not La Quinta, and golf fans don’t expect to see 20-under win the tournament.

Unlike The Masters, not all the big names are in top form.  Rory McIlroy is coming off a broken rib and missed the BMW Championship in Europe in late May.  Ruled out.  Dustin Johnson, would be a natural pick and he may be fully recovered from his butt busting slip down the stairs at Augusta, but his game hasn’t recovered.  I didn’t like his form at Memorial (+8 and a missed cut).

A key statistic I like for the US Open is the little known “bogey avoidance”.  This is an excellent indicator of short game proficiency, course management, and mental toughness, all critical elements for US Open success.  DJ is ranked #2 which demonstrates the improvements he’s made to his short game.  I was considering Jason Day, but he’s way down at 129th.  Day gets into too much trouble with his driver and his putting and concentration seem off this year.  He’s out.

I like the form Justin Thomas and John Rahm are showing, but mentally they lack a bit of the even keel needed to steady themselves over the grind.  Rahm is a hot head and Thomas gets too pouty when things go wrong.  This tournament will come down to three individuals. Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, and Masters champ, Sergio Garcia.  Rose is hungry after his playoff loss at Augusta.  He’s been preparing diligently for this tournament and even skipped last week’s Memorial, which I’m not sure was a good idea, but he’s focused and I’m throwing out his final round 80 at The PLAYERS as an aberration.  Spieth has seen a remarkable resurgence in his GIR stats, going from 145th last year to 4th in 2017.  Garcia, is arguably the first or second best ball striker in the world, which ultimately won him The Masters.  Despite his first major win, I still didn’t like the way he putted at Augusta, and his putting stats are just awful.  You can’t win the US Open putting badly.

Put a great course manager and the best putter in the world on great greens, and you have a champion.  The All About Golf US Open kiss of death goes to Jordan Spieth.

Enjoy the action and play well!

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Palmetto State Peaks and Plummets

Phote from myrtlebeachonline.com

The “One Ninety” is the new roller coaster at Busch Gardens named after my recent golf trip to Myrtle Beach.  Playing 189 holes in six days with a series of golf lessons fresh in your mind was the inspiration.  What the hell was I thinking?  Folks, don’t try this at home without plenty of cold beer and Advil.

First the good news.  The weather was terrific and the company of my friends was fantastic.  Most days we had six players and went off as two threesomes and sometimes a single would be paired along giving us the opportunity to meet fellow travelers and on occasion, a local retiree.

Before the round at Willbrook

On the golf course, of the ten full rounds played, I managed to break 80 five times, which is good for me and the most since the 2011 trip.  The bad news was three of the other rounds were 88, 88, and 89 but I seemed to follow a bad one with a good one more easily than in the past.  In short, the fun part was pulling off shots I knew I couldn’t hit in previous years because of the swing work I’d been doing with my instructor.  The hard part was obviously playing golf swing while attempting to play a ton of golf shots over a protracted duration.  But whenever I got into a bad rut, I would return to the swing keys my instructor gave me and usually correct on the spot.  In the past, I’d often be searching in many different directions for a band-aid.  While the courses were beautiful, some were very difficult, and I had hoped after two months of instruction and practice that the new habits would be more ingrained, but alas I wasn’t quite ready to go Justin Thomas on Hawaii.

My review for TPC of Myrtle Beach is up and reviews are coming for Willbrook and Wild Wing Avocet.  Most of the courses have gone to Bermuda greens in lieu of the higher maintenance cool season grasses.  It was a pleasure to play six straight days on the same surfaces, albeit with different speeds and undulations.  Putting Bermuda is difficult coming from Bentgrass greens because it is grainy.  When the ball slows near the hole, the grain will throw it off line and often on longer putts, part of the putt will be with the grain and part against.  Up close, you need to summon the courage to bang your short putts and take some of the break out.  Generally, I had a good feel for the speed but didn’t master the shorties.  Game report card:

  • Driving: B+
  • Fairway woods: A-
  • Mid and long irons: C-
  • Short irons and wedges: B
  • Short game: B
  • Lag putting: A
  • Short putting: D
  • Course management:  B

Someone located a swimming pool next to the driving range at Avocet

I loved this trip and just to cap the roller coaster ride, our plane trip home to Baltimore was uneventful until the final 30 seconds.  We were literally seconds from touching down and the pilot pulled back hard on the stick and gunned his engines sending our stomachs to the floor and the blood rushing from our heads.  He informed us as he circled around that another aircraft was on our runway.  Thank God our guy was paying attention even if the air traffic controllers were not!

Play well.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

TPC of Myrtle Beach – Course Review

Summary

On Saturday, June 3rd, 2017, our travel group had the pleasure of playing TPC of Myrtle Beach in Murrells Inlet, SC.  For visitors to the southern end of the Grand Strand, this Tom Fazio design is in the the top tier of courses along with True Blue, Caledonia, and Pawleys Plantation.  Most golf courses have one defensive feature whether it be fast greens, narrow fairways, or whatever.  TPC has them all.  The course is lined with tall pines and strategically placed fairway bunkers that frame long difficult tee shots.  There are deep green side bunkers, plenty of water, and fast Bermuda greens.  An outing here is not for the faint of heart or those with crooked drivers.  Bring your A-game, plenty of golf balls, and prepare for one heckuva challenge!

Facilities (4.5 out of 5.0)

Team Myrtle Beach 2017. From left to right: Pat, Mike, Ronnie, Jim, Cary, and Brian

TPC was built in 1999 and has a prestigious history.  The course hosted the 2000 Senior PGA Tour Championship (won by Tom Watson) and is the present day home to the Dustin Johnson School of Golf.  Inside the clubhouse are several cases smartly displaying DJ’s memorabilia, and the presentation reminded me of the Payne Stewart display at Pinehurst.

After checking in, we started the morning by warming up at the fabulous short game area.  The bunkering and approaches were neatly manicured and there were ample spots to set up for all kinds of shots without getting in your neighbor’s way.  I don’t usually take sand shots before a round, but the bunkers were beautiful and inviting, and the prospects of visiting sand during the round were high.

When you check in, the bag drop guys get you on a cart immediately which allows you to drive to the range.  The grass stations were beautiful, the balls complimentary, and everything was in top shape.  At the end of the driving range was a medium sized putting green.  If I had a minor pet peeve it was that you couldn’t easily walk to the putting green from the clubhouse and staging area.  It seems like it was designed to have players putt last, and right up to the time before they teed off.  Again, minor issue, but if I just wanted to come out and putt, the jaunt to the area would be a little inconvenient.

Dustin Johnson display case in the clubhouse

The course was double teeing and we were sent off #10.  I find the back nine here more difficult than the front and #10 is a tough hole to start on.  While only 360 yards from the blue tees, the tee shot is tight and water comes right up to the front of the green.  Sure enough, I rinsed my approach, but manage to get up and down from 100 yards and was thrilled with my bogey 5.  We started our afternoon round on #1 which is a par-4 of roughly the same length but has a little more room off the tee and no water guarding.  For some reason my eye doesn’t fit #10 and I recall struggling there in previous rounds.  Given my druthers, I’d start on #1 every time.

Dawn at the short game practice area

The front nine features three par-4s over 425 yards and #9 actually had the tees at the back markers and was playing 472 yards.  Oddly enough, I was more comfortable hitting driver and a fairway wood into these longer holes than some of the shorter par 4s that were tight and well bunkered.  The premium on the par-5s is the second shot.  You don’t need a fairway wood but MUST stay out of fairway bunkers and water.  In short, there’s a premium on excellent ball striking.  The greens are fast but are not tricked up.  You have to avoid some of the mounding that surround the approaches because pitches from these lies to fast greens are difficult.  A word of caution on the par-4 15th hole.  The fairway runs diagonal and you must carry a marsh on the left and avoid woods on the right.  Take your range finder and shoot a comfortable distance on the far bank of the marsh to aim for.  I didn’t measure, thought I hit a perfect drive, and ended up in the woods and with a seven on my scorecard.

We played the blue tees at 6,600 yards and normally that’s a comfortable distance for me.  Out here, I’d say if you have a handicap of 5 or less, those markers are suitable but if your iron game is off, as mine was, you’ll get punished.  You’ll have a better chance to score playing the whites at 6,193.  Next time I may just try them.

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

Tee shot on #4. Par-4, 430 yards

As part of our Founders Group package, the cost to play TPC was $109.  Our replay was only $42 which was a genuine bargain for a course of this caliber.  After 27 holes, the lightning detection system went off and they had to clear the course.  It never rained but after a brief delay, we elected to call it quits and the course provided a 9-hole rain check which was good at any time.  At this price and the quality of operation and facility, this is a very good value.

Mike checks his yardage

Customer Experience (4.25 out of 5.0)

Looking down at #7. Par 3, 176 yards.

The bag drop staff were excellent and had us loaded literally as soon as we arrived.  There was no waiting around to get set up and the organization of the place was evident.  The marshals on the course were courteous and had supplies of cool drinking water on their carts.  There were ample supplies of water at rest rooms and rest stops which is important when it gets hot and the humidity is stifling.  The lady running the beverage cart seemed a bit disinterested in servicing the players and was more focused on just completing her rounds of the course.  She did stop in the afternoon when one of our players made a point to flag her down.

The boys enjoying a sweet tea after the round

Overall Rating (4.25 out of 5.0)

I will be back to TPC and try my luck again next time I’m in Myrtle Beach.  This is an awesome golf course from the point of layout, conditioning, and operation.  Everything about TPC is first class.  Good luck if you give it a try!

View of #18 from the clubhouse. Par 5, 515 yards

Posted in Course Reviews, Myrtle Beach, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Pro vs. Amateur: A Swing Apart?

Photo from PGATour.com

Pros can bomb the crap out of a golf ball.  But what is the main difference between a pro’s swing and an amateur’s that creates the huge distance advantage?  Careful not to get caught up in the comparison of a pro’s game or career, just the swing.  The answer is the muscle groups that the pro uses and the sequence they are used in.

A pro is typically younger, has a full time swing coach, has a mental coach, has as much free customized equipment as he/she needs, has access to fitness and workout facilities, eats a very healthy diet, and dedicates their life to improving golf performance.  As amateurs, we can partially emulate but cannot compete.  We buy the same brands, we have access to some of the same top quality instruction via golf schools or on-line learning materials, and sometimes we can even play the same courses.  However, we all have the same muscles in our bodies – can we get closer?  What is the pro doing different?

To illustrate, consider a sliding swing scale.  On the left at 0% is our average 35-handicap who’s self taught, been playing for years, and sprays the countryside.  On the right at 100% is Dustin Johnson, the best ball striker on the planet.  The rest of us fall in between somewhere.  Typically, the more correct instruction you’ve had at an early age, the higher on the scale you will be.  The main difference is that Johnson is starting his downswing from the ground up by turning and clearing his hips, which pull his upper body and hands through the hitting zone.  His hands are passive.  His grip, and club face react to the power generated by his big muscles.  Watch when he prepares to hit a drive.  See how softly he grips the club.  Amateurs, on the other hand, grip it way too tight, and typically feature their hands and arms (small muscles) to start the downswing.  This fails to leverage power available to them from their torso and causes a lot of pulling and slicing.  You and I will never hit it like Dustin Johnson, but learning to start the downswing with your big muscles will help you get the club on a proper swing path and add power and accuracy to your ball striking.  See the photo of DJ above.  Can you get your hips into that open position at impact?  That’s the key!

I was instructed at an early age to try and time my strike of the ball with my wrists and hands.  Consequently, my big miss is a pull hook and I am working with my instructor to correct this habit after 40 years.  I’m estimating it will take a full season to make the change but I can see it starting to work!

Where are you on the sliding scale?  Any chance you can move in Dustin’s direction?

Play well!

 

Posted in Instruction | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Golfing Greedy – Like The Atlanta Falcons

Remember in this year’s Super Bowl when the Atlanta Falcons came out and took a 28-3 lead after four minutes in the 3rd quarter.  Then what happened?  They got greedy and continued to try and throw the ball instead of running out the clock out, which ultimately ruined their chance for victory.

Today, I learned that greed is not good on the golf course either.

Yesterday I had a full swing lesson and continued to work on my ball striking.  Today’s round started off great at Rattlewood.  I was nutting my driver, making good decisions, and working my lesson plan perfectly.  I played the front nine with one bogey and one birdie and felt very much in control, and maybe a little bit cocky as we headed to the par-5 10th hole.  I pounded a drive and left myself 215 yards uphill.  Then the Kyle Shanahan in me took over.  I forgot I was still in learning mode and elected to go for the green with a 3WD.  I have never gone for this green in two but had never driven it this far before.  What would you do?  I knew the green was surrounded by bunkers and felt a greenside bunker shot to a middle pin position was no problem.  Sure enough I landed in a bunker, but then chunked two sand shots and made double.

Feeling cheated out of a birdie opportunity, l stayed aggressive and tried to drive the green on the 11th hole which was playing downwind, downhill, and only 323 yards.  I stepped on a driver but blew it into the lake guarding the right side of the fairway – bogey.  On the par-3 twelfth hole, I clubbed down and tried to hit a 3-iron on a shot that called for a 5WD and pulled it left for another bogey.  At the end of the inward half, I had carded a 10-over 46, and like the Falcons, left the course in a state of shock.  Where did I go wrong?

I think it was the second shot on #10.  I haven’t hit a bunker shot in a month.  During my lessons, I’ve been focusing on full swing and no short game.  I’ve had plenty of reps with my sand wedge from various distances in the fairway.  I should have laid up to a good yardage and pitched on for a good birdie chance.  The decision on 11 tee was flat out stupid.  I could have hit a 4-iron in the middle of the fairway for an easy wedge or 9-iron to an accessible pin.  The rest of the back nine was a combination of mental and physical mistakes that compounded themselves.

What’s frustrating is that I know not to get greedy and to play to my strengths, but I do it anyway!  It happened to me and to the Falcons, does it ever happen to you?

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Instruction Without Practice Is Like Reading the Comics

Whether it’s golf, computer programming, or learning to drive a car, anytime you try to acquire a new skill, you’ll need to practice.  Instruction without practice is like reading the comics.  You enjoy it at the time, but don’t retain much in the form of long term benefit.  If you’re a dedicated player, one of the great things about taking a series of golf lessons is that it forces you into beneficial regular practice.  As I re-engage in regular practice, I’m reminded of a few pointers to make the best use of your time.

  1. Find a quiet isolated spot; it improves concentration.  Approach like Vijay Singh.  He has it right when he sets up alone down at the end of the driving range.  Unless you’re the type who could do your homework with the TV blaring, you’re better off in solitary.  Hitting balls at Top Golf with your friends or on the simulator at Dave and Busters is fun but is not practice.  Nor is working one stall over from the dad trying to give his young son well-meaning but awful swing advice.  Focus on your task at hand.
  2.  Move slowly through your basket of balls.  Ever see the range rat raking ball after ball, never changing clubs, and hitting one every 15 seconds – usually with the driver?  Don’t be that guy.  If you want a cardio workout, go to the gym.  Warm up slowly and start with a wedge, making small swings.  Resist the temptation to quickly hit another ball after a bad shot.  Think through your miss and attempted correction.  Rushing will only get you tired and frustrated.
  3. Bring your rangefinder and use it.  Hit at specific targets and change them often; it will help you to concentrate and stay fresh.  This one is difficult because you’re most likely working on swing mechanics, but never forget golf is a target-oriented game.  Often, if your swing is somewhat grooved, just focusing on the target will free your body from your mind and allow you to perform your best.
  4. When you finish full swing practice, go putt for 20-30 minutes.  Putting is a simple repeated stroke that doesn’t require much physical effort.  It’s a wonderful way to cool down and is also 40% of the shots you’ll take during a normal round.  Draining putts is always beneficial to your game.  If your range session was less than satisfactory, it can take the edge off and remind you that getting the ball in the hole is the objective of all your hard work.  Don’t confuse putting after full swing with short game practice.  This putting is just about seeing the ball go in the hole.  Short game practice (chipping, pitching, putting, and bunker play) should have a completely different time block allocated, and is often more time consuming than full swing.
  5. Keep playing golf – it’s important to stay engaged with the objectives of the game.  Shooting at targets, getting rewarded for good shots and penalized for bad, and working on your course management.  While you’re trying to make swing changes, this can be very difficult.  You need to persevere and not beat yourself up over some bad scores.  Know that the more you play AND practice together, it will elevate your overall performance.  Plus, when you pull off those shots you’ve been working on during practice, it’s a great feeling.

There you have it.  These tips are working for me and I hope they do for you.  Right now, I’m off to the practice tee.

Play well!

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

Update After Lesson #2

Today I took the second in a series of four full swing lessons.  In lesson #1 I told my instructor my goal was to average more than 10 GIR per round this season.  I have been stuck between 8 and 9 for the last seven straight years.  10+ should improve my proximity, provide more birdie looks, and help lower my scores.  Lesson #1 was difficult because we focused  on trying to break a bad habit.  I played the day after lesson #1 and you can imagine the result – two GIR.  I played a week later after some practice and saw some positives with my driving and fairway woods, but struggled with my irons and wedge play.  Still, I managed to hit seven greens.

Lesson #2 was much better.  I latched onto a swing key after my instructor manipulated my hands where he wanted me at the top of my back swing.  This allowed me to only think of one thought during the swing and helped immensely.  I was probably picking up an additional 10 yards with my 8-iron and hitting about 80% of them within my target range (10 feet to the right or left of the flag).  Then we moved to partial wedge shots with the new change.  The difference was weird at first but significant.  I tried to hit 40 yard pitches with my 56 but hit it so solidly that I couldn’t keep it under 60 yards.  Then I shortened my back swing so I almost felt like it was a long chip, accelerated through the ball and managed to control the distance better.  My contact was consistent and much improved.  He told me I hit a lot of good shots and I left the golf course pumped.

Then I made a mistake.  I went out after lunch for some more practice with the intention of cementing the lessons into memory and didn’t hit nearly as well.  I failed to realize how gassed I was from the lesson because I had warmed up for a half hour and the lesson took an hour. I had hit the equivalent of an extra large bucket of balls.  So I didn’t even try to finish up and went and hit some putts for half an hour.  You have to know your limitations!

I’m playing again tomorrow and am hoping to see additional improvement, especially with the short irons and wedges.  Play well if you are too!

Posted in Instruction | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Fantastic Opportunity to Challenge Myself

476 yard par-4 #10 at Northwest

Yesterday, I played Northwest Golf Course in Silver Spring, Maryland.  We usually get out here four or five times per year and on this beautiful Masters Sunday, we enjoyed crystal clear skies and comfortable 70 degree temperatures.  With perfect scoring conditions,  I shot a ho-hum 81 from the blue tees, which play one set up and measure 6,827 yards.  While I left the golf course a bit frustrated with my swing, I was tremendously excited because I learned that Northwest would be hosting 2017 U.S. Open qualifying on May 8th!

When this Ault & Clark design was built in 1964, it was actually constructed with the anticipation of hosting a U.S. Open.  But with Congressional Country Club located in the same market, the dream never materialized and Northwest became one of the strongest municipal tests, and a favorite for players who like to let the shaft out.

A couple years ago, I wrote a piece theorizing on how tour pros might fare at your local muni.  It’s no longer speculation.  I get to find out myself because I’m going to join them!  I know what you’re thinking, “Brian, you hack; you need a 1.4 USGA index to enter qualifying for the U.S. Open.”  Of course my handicap is not that low and I won’t be in the field, but I’ll be playing the day before on the same track and trying to test the heck out of myself; or the day after.  We’ll be teeing it up from the tips and at 7,376 yards, probably hitting driver 3WD into a lot of the par-4s and hoping to keep the ball on these undulating razor-fast greens.

My group never plays the back tees out here; it’s just too long.  In the decades I’ve been playing Northwest, I’ve only attempted the back tees a couple times.  Once, as a much younger player maybe 25 years ago, I played one of the best rounds of my life in the rain and shot a 5-over 77 from the tips.  Now, I’m happy with 77 from the regular tees.  What are my chances of breaking 90?  This is going to be humbling.

Have you ever had the opportunity to play a tour caliber competition course very close to the real event?  If so, how did it go?

Play well.

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments