2016, That’s A Wrap!

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

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

Despite the mediocrity, I gained three excellent lessons learned:

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

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

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

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

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Playing Old School

Works For Ricky!

Works For Ricky!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks and play well!

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Do You Golf Like An Artist or Scientist?

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

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

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

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

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

Play well!

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You Can Play Well Without Practice!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When The Passion Runs Hot!

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Long Live The King

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

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

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

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

Truly a man of the people.  RIP King.

 

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How To Drill For Match Play

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

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

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

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

Please share if you do and play well!

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Golf is NOT Dead!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play well!

 

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2016 PGA Picks

Baltistrol, from Golfdigest.com

Baltistrol, from Golfdigest.com

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

The state of Olympic golf from tfs.org.uk

The state of Olympic golf from tfs.org.uk

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

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

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

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The Joy of Hard Work And Improvement

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

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

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

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

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145th British Open Championship Picks

The Open ChampionshipI always thought that if Dustin Johnson was going to win a major, The British Open would be his first because the slower bumpy greens equalize the putting ability of the world’s greatest players.  Johnson is a notoriously mediocre putter especially during big clutch moments, but has suddenly turned the golf world on its head and is winning everything.  Having cleared his first major hurdle, is he now unstoppable?

The other big three (Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, and Jordan Spieth) all seem capable, but currently vulnerable.  Spieth is suffering from mechanical issues.  McIlroy hasn’t sorted out his putting, and Day had the WGC Bridgestone in control until an uncharacteristic late round collapse.  The pre-tournament betting line has all four at 8-1.  It’s going to be a wild ride so let’s sift through the morass and get you a winner.

It’s exciting when someone from the BPTNWAM list finally breaks through as DJ did at Oakmont.  The final round at The US Open had layers of intrigue.  DJ, Sergio Garcia, and Lee Westwood were all well positioned.  But alas, only one player can win it.  I liked the way Sergio finished (for a change).  He hung tough and didn’t choke.  He’s looking good to me this week.  Westwood was awful on Sunday and I have to believe that he didn’t believe enough in himself to play well under the gun.  Rapidly joining that class is Rickie Fowler.  I knew Rickie was done at Oakmont before the tournament started because he basically threw up his hands in the practice rounds and said (I’m paraphrasing) “I cannot putt these greens; they’re ridiculous.”   Haven’t heard anything from Rickie this week, which is a good thing, but the guy is in a slump and he doesn’t close well.  I need to see improvement before I even consider him for BPTNWAM membership.

The Open Championship always manages to tease us with an aging champion getting into contention, and sometimes gives us a winner, like Ernie Els in 2012 when Adam Scott  collapsed late at Lytham.  How about Greg Norman or Tom Watson?  How about Colin Montgomerie in 2016???  Could you see a Monty, Westy, and Sergio BPTNWAM threesome battling it out on Sunday for the Claret Jug?  No.

Back to reality.  This year’s champion will have to steel himself mentally, and has to relish playing in the wind and rain (it’s forecast to be wet the whole week).  Normally, I’d love someone who would leverage the adverse conditions against the field, someone who knows that bad weather culls the weak from the heard.  Someone like a Phil Mickelson.  But Lefty has run up against Father Time.  Not happening for him this week.

I see the winner coming from a group of six players.  The big four, Sergio, and Danny Willett will battle it out all week.  Willett plays great in Europe, has the major bonafides and should be able to leverage the home court advantage.  But he can’t sneak up on anyone any more.

Of these six, Day and Spieth have the best minds for the game.  Day for concentration and patience, Spieth for guts and grit.  It’s a battle of attrition, I’ll take guts and grit.  Jordan Spieth is your winner of the 145th Open Championship.  Let’s get it on!

 

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The Best Golf Lesson Ever!

It was Saturday, June 5th and I was at True Blue in Myrtle Beach, and I could not make solid contact on the driving range while warming up for my round.  I thought I was simply gassed from playing so much golf on the trip but that was not the case.  Two weeks later on June 19, I had an awful time trying to hold my swing together during a round at Poolesville.  My poor strikes were starting to put pressure on the other parts of my game and my attitude soured.  Was I was facing mid-season burnout?  The next weekend, I practiced down in Delaware and took swing video during a rough ball striking session.  I spotted several things I didn’t like and tried to implement fixes but nothing worked.  Last Wednesday was the final straw.  I went to my school field with a bag shag and a sand wedge and discovered I could not advance the ball 70 yards.  I left despondent.  The next morning I called for a lesson with Justin Keith, the PGA pro at Falls Road Golf Course in Potomac, MD.

The lesson:

I arrived at the course and warmed up for 10 minutes.  On the five minute ride to the lesson tee, Justin took my history and golf vital signs.  I didn’t reveal I was a mental basket case, just that for the last seven years, I’d averaged 8 GIR per round and wanted to improve the consistency of my ball striking.  He asked if I had taken any recent lessons or been working on anything in particular.  I told him my last lesson was a few years ago where it was pointed out that I lose my spine angle on the downswing, and that the fault would be a very hard to correct.  Essentially, it was the source of my inconsistency.  He understood and we went to work.

He had me hit half a dozen 7-irons and videoed my last swing on his tablet.  We sat down in the cart and reviewed my swing.  I had two problems.  One was a cupped left wrist at the top of my back swing which was getting me off plane.  The second, which was likely a result of the first, was a downswing initiated with my hands instead of my body.  This was the reason I was pull hooking long irons, hitting wedges fat, and push cutting everything else.   He pointed out that in my follow through, I had a big chicken wing with my left elbow, and that was an indicator that I hadn’t rotated through the ball but had released early.  He also thought that I’ve been able to maintain a 5-handicap with this move because I could time my down swing well enough to square the club face at the impact.  But when my timing was off, I had no chance.

Then we worked for a half hour just hitting nine-o-clock to three-o-clock punch shots with my 7 and 5-irons.  On my back swing, he had me flatten out the back of my left wrist using Dustin Johnson as a mental image.  DJ bows his wrist more than anyone, but this thought worked great.  On the down swing I worked to initiate the move with a bump of my left hip.  On the follow through, he told me to cut it off halfway, with both my arms fully extended and elbows close together (to get rid of that chicken wing).  This was hard and felt very weird at first, but after a few swings I noticed that when I executed I had easily maintained my spine angle without even trying.  The thought of the spine angle fix as an artifact of the other changes filled me with tremendous hope and enthusiasm.

At the conclusion, Justin videoed my last swing and we went back to the cart to view.  He showed me the correction I had implemented along with a down the line shot of Hunter Mahan in his follow through, and how I had gotten much closer to the ideal position.  I thanked Justin and with my head full of positions and excitement, went home for lunch.

Here’s a picture of my follow through with a 6-iron.  Notice the chicken wing left elbow:

Chicken Wing Follow Through

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now here’s a picture of Hunter Mahan down the line with a 5-iron.  Notice how he’s fully extended his arms and how his elbows are close together and how he’s retained his spine angle.  This is the image I’m working to get to:

Hunter Mahan Down The Line

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Implementing the change:

After lunch I went out to my course for a large bucket of 7-iron punch shots, just trying to get the feeling of the new positions and to initiate the downswing with my body.  The contact was excellent and the ball flight lower than normal but very straight and controlled.  I finished with a few sand wedges and discovered I had regained 15 yards of distance that had mysteriously disappeared a few years ago.  The only issue was that all this work had been done off a mat.

The next day, I headed out to Blue Mash for an extended practice session off the turf.  My first indicator of progress was that my divots were flying straight with the gap wedge and 7-iron.  Previously even well struck shots had my divots flying left with that early release.  Again, contact was good, and I mixed in some 4-irons.  Later I added some 3WDs and a few drivers.  Towards the end of the session I started to hit some loose shots with the 3WD and driver, but figured I may have been getting tired since I had hit the equivalent of six buckets of balls in the last two days.  So I rested the next few days and went to work🙂

Thursday after work I hit a bucket off the mat and received excellent feedback with the gap wedge and 7-iron and I began to experiment with different ball positions and hitting knock-down shots.  I was pleased that I could now control trajectory better by moving the ball back or forward and rely on maintaining  good contact.

On the course:

A special shout out goes to The Grateful Golfer.  Jim had recommended that during my learning, I mix in 9-hole rounds of play without keeping score.  What an excellent idea!  I did that yesterday on my executive nine and was pleased with the results.  While shooting at actual targets, of my 11 full swings I only missed one.  It was the old swing, but the number of new good ones was very satisfactory.  I hit 7 greens and a fringe and the single I joined up with was impressed enough to ask for the name of my teaching pro.

What’s next:

The back swing position is starting to feel natural but the down swing and follow through need more reps.  I have also not hit a driver on the course yet.  I could probably play real golf with this move if I had to but will not rush it and will use the balance of July to keep working the move and getting comfortable with the driver.  Hopefully my play will take off in August.

A special thanks goes to Justin Keith.  In the past, I’ve taken a lot of golf lessons.  Some good, some mediocre, some poor.  This was the simplest most productive, and well timed instruction I’ve ever had.  If you are in the DMV and need help with your golf game, call Justin at 301-299-5156 or email him at jkeith@mcggolf.com Thanks Justin!

Play well everyone.

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Turn That Music Off!

Rodney Let's Dance!Back in April, I was playing a round at Poolesville and had bunkered my tee shot on the par-3 8th hole.  As I was preparing to play, a group pulled their carts up to the nearby 10th green.  One of the carts was playing music loud enough for everyone in their group to hear, as well as my group and anyone within a couple  hundred yards.  At first I thought some house nearby was having a party, but then I watched this group play out on the 10th and drive off to the 11th tee and it was clear the source was them.  The quality of this sound wasn’t off some phone, it was a powerful and came from a good set of speakers.

Fast forward to my Myrtle Beach trip in June.  I’m playing an afternoon round at The Legends – Parkland with my friend and we catch up to a twosome of young guys on the 9th tee.  They were blaring Lynyrd Skynyrd from their cart.  While they were kind enough to ask us to join them for their final hole, they made no effort to turn the music off while any of us was hitting.

This morning I was out cleaning the patio in preparation for my July 4th barbecue.  My house backs to the 3rd tee at Lakewood Country Club, and a foursome pulls up in two carts with music blaring.  They all play their shots and speed off as if nothing happened.

When I’m out back working with power tools and a group comes through, typically I’ll power down as a courtesy until after they’ve hit, and sometimes I’m thanked.  When you attend any professional sporting event, music is usually played during stoppages in play but when the action resumes, it’s discontinued.  Music is hardly ever an issue at a professional golf tournament (with the exception of The Phoenix Open), and even there, the drunks keep the noise level on the 16th to a dull roar when players are hitting.

I love loud music.  I’ll turn up my electric guitar when nobody is home and rattle the windows; rock and roll was made to be played loud.  But on the golf course?  Is this the new normal?  Rory BoseRory McIlroy is now sponsored by Bose and typically warms up with his music, but uses headphones.  Where is the decorum out there?  Have you noticed this as well?

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Steve Williams, Out Of The Rough – Book Review

Steve Williams

Steve Williams’ account of life on tour in Out Of The Rough (2015), is a fascinating look inside the experiences of the world’s most successful caddie.  Williams covers his career starting as a youth who got a very early start in the game, and was encouraged by his father to get involved at the expense of finishing school (which he never did).  Throughout the book he returns to this theme and wishes that he’d completed his education, but is thankful that his Dad looked the other way.

Williams’ list of high profile bosses is impressive.  He was on the bag for 150 wins world wide and carried for the likes of Greg Norman (who he classifies as the toughest player he ever worked for), Ray Floyd, Ian Baker-Finch, Tiger Woods, and Adam Scott.  Williams provides many inside the ropes anecdotes, as well as passages from the aforementioned players that detail his contributions to their careers.

Most golf fans got their introduction to Williams as Tiger Woods’ caddie during the 13 years of Tiger’s pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ majors record.  What we learned is that Williams took on and ultimately mirrored Tiger’s psychic mentality and single mindedness during the chase, and he gives the reader the impression that he almost felt dual ownership of the successes and failures with Tiger, even though Woods was ultimately the one hitting the shots.  Williams is a perfectionist and readily admits that some of the boorish behavior TV fans have become familiar with was born out of this single-mindedness attitude but also due to his natural personality.  Williams has always been very business like on the course and protective of his players which has gotten him into trouble.  Like the time he took a camera off a spectator at the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black and threw it in a lake.  Tiger appreciated Williams’ support and picked up the cost of his fine.

Williams notes that he maintains an active friendship with all his ex-bosses except for one; Tiger.  After their falling out at the AT&T National in 2011 the two have rarely spoken and Williams holds a lot of bitterness towards Tiger that he can’t let go of.

Williams details a few regrets.  There’s some poor advice he gave to Norman and Ray Floyd that may have cost them major titles, as well as the interview he gave after the 2011 WGC Bridgestone, after Tiger had sacked him and Adam Scott won with Williams on the bag.   The book also has several excellent passages between Williams and his ex-bosses, like the time Greg Norman confided in him during an all night beer drinking therapy session on the beach after blowing the 1996 Masters to Nick Faldo.  The details around the extraordinary effort by Tiger to win the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg were fascinating.

Williams ultimately obtained celebrity status and in the book he sometimes makes this more about himself than the professionals he worked for, but at the end of the day, most of his good fortune was due to being on the bag of Tiger.

Check this book out.  It’s fresh, it’s current, and there’s good content for golf fans at every level.

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2016 Mid-Season Golf Reboot

Reboot

Thank you to all who commented on my swing video post from last weekend.  There were many salient observations and excellent offers of help.  I worked during the week to make a couple changes and went to my school field yesterday armed with a bag shag and 54 degree wedge to get some positive live fire feedback.  Instead I got the blue screen of death.

I have always lived by the three strikes axiom when struggling with your golf swing.  If you play bad once, forget about it.  Play bad twice, go work on your issues during practice.  Play bad three consecutive times, get help.  My last three rounds were 85-89-83, and after the debacle with my sand wedge yesterday I had seen enough.  My lesson tomorrow is at 11:00 a.m.

Recently, I had fixed my short game and was performing at a high level even during these bad ball striking rounds.  My putting has been solid, and the day before my awful video range session, I had an excellent practice session rolling the rock at Bear Trap Dunes.  But with me all confidence is derived from ball striking, at least to a level where I know where the ball is going when I try to strike it.  Getting by on short game and putting is just whistling through the graveyard.  That’s where I’m at and the full reboot starts tomorrow.

I’ll let the instruction and subsequent practice sink in over the holiday weekend and report back during the week.

Happy 4th of July to everyone and play well!

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The Biggest Golf Loser

Time to try a new game; The Biggest Golf Loser.  This is a game where I try and lose as many bad habits with my golf swing as possible.  A little background:  For the last seven years, I have averaged between 8 and 9 GIR per round.  Amazingly consistent but amazingly mediocre.  This year is no different and I am right on the number at 8.32.  Recently I have been struggling even more with my iron game, so much to the point where I’ll have a shot of 100 yards from either the fairway or light rough and have no idea if I can hit the green.  This shot is a simple 3/4 gap wedge for me and is my bread and butter, my go-to play.

The trouble started at the tail end of my Myrtle Beach trip where I started either blowing these shots way right with a huge push cut, or hitting them fat.  Yesterday at Bear Trap Dunes in Delaware I decided to work on my swing and had one of those range sessions that make you want to quit.  Oddly enough, I was piping my driver, but every iron in the bag was all over the place.  Just pure garbage.  Thank God for mobile phones, so I whipped out mine and shot the following video with a 6-iron.  WARNING:  Parental Guidance Is Strongly Advised.

The best part about this video is the swing of the lady in the background wearing the pink top.  Seriously, it’s a good thing that you can video yourself when you have no move and then compare your swing to a model.

Call me nuts but I used the Adam Scott wedge shot below as my measuring stick.  You’re probably thinking, “What’s this idiot thinking; he’s going to hit iron shots like Adam Scott?”  No, but I can see why my game is all over the place and the key in the Scott video is the lack of moving parts.

In my video, I am setting up poorly, with my weight too far back.  On my back swing, I rise up and keep the club moving back with my arms long after I’ve finished my shoulder turn.  Then I transition to my downswing with an upper body lateral move to the target and release the club way too early.  Where this garbage came from I’ll never know, but that’s golf.

In the Scott video, notice how restricted his back swing is and how little his head moves as he transitions.  He fully rotates through the ball, even though it’s just a wedge shot, and you can see both his shoulder blades on his follow through.  I cannot get to this position without putting myself in traction, but if I focus on fully turning through the ball, I might be able to solve for that early release.

So much to work on but where to start?  Actually, I’ve started today by carefully working on a more restricted back swing and to keep my head level.  I’ve decided not to play for the next three weeks while I work on some corrections and allow them to sink in without the pressure of scoring.

Do you see anything else in this pretzel factory or do you think I have a handle on it?  Hope you are hitting it better than me right now.  Play well!

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Thank You Dustin Johnson!

Dustin Johnson from theoaklandpress.com

Dustin Johnson from theoaklandpress.com

The collective golf world owes U.S. Open Champion, Dustin Johnson a huge debt of gratitude.  I have never found myself rooting as hard for a player to win decisively as I did for D.J. after  “Penaltyshotgate” reared its ugly head with two hours left in Sunday’s final round.  Fortunately, Johnson powered past the field and largely muted the issue and the accompanying social media storm.

Today, our athletic competitions exist in a culture of instant replay.  I have many issues with instant replay in my sports, and most of those revolve around removing the human element of officiating from the games.  But the goal of instant replay is to get the call right and move the game on, even if the process is sloppy.  What the USGA did on Sunday to Johnson and the field, flies in the face of common sense and reasonable decision making.  Golf is a game of personal integrity and is self-managed quite well by the players.  The rules interpretation and final decision should have been rendered on the 5th hole and the issue put to bed.  Perhaps this controversy will lead to some type of reform at the USGA, but for now, I’m very happy for Johnson for upholding the integrity of the competition.  How do you think this should have played out?

Congrats D.J. you are a worthy champion!

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Sunday US Open – Why Not Andrew Landry???

Andrew Landry, photo from The Sporting News

Andrew Landry, photo from The Sporting News

This is going to be an awesome final round at The US Open.  On Saturday, the cream started rising to the top and I look for more of the same as we conclude round three and begin the final act.  As they currently sit, the BPTNWAM group at T-3 has the most intrigue.  Oakmont still hasn’t showed its teeth, but that could change today with drying conditions, and that’s the last thing the T-3 group wants.  Of those three, probably Dustin Johnson would last the longest.  The commonality with DJ, Sergio, and Weswtood is amazing.  They can all stripe it but have never putted well enough to close the deal in a major.  Regarding our overnight leader, Shane Lowery; I think he crumbles early under the Sunday pressure.

Jason Day has one image in his mind; “Johnny Miller – 63.”  Day’s got a great advantage because he doesn’t have to finish his 3rd round in the morning and can watch some coverage and get an early feel for things.  Look for a big move from the world’s best.  Also look for Jordan Spieth to make a charge, but at 4-over he’s a bit too far off to win.  Zach Johnson has the game and temperament for this test and should be right there too.

The one player who’s demonstrated A-game quality and hasn’t seemed to be affected with nerves is our tour rookie, Andrew Landry.  Why not Landry to win it all?  I’ve never heard of the guy until Thursday, but he’s impressed the heck out of me.  Can Mr. Cool handle the Sunday pressure?  We’ll see!

I’m off to play and then enjoy this afternoon’s coverage.  Happy Fathers Day to all and play well!

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2016 US Open Picks

2016 US OpenFinally, the 2016 US Open returns to a classic course that will produce a classic test.  Oakmont Country Club will feature tight fairways, deep rough, and the fastest greens on earth, and I love it.  If you are a traditionalist, and you believe even-par is a great score in this tournament, and that this should be the hardest tournament on earth to win, you’re in for a treat.  You can’t have been happy with last year’s carnival played at Chambers Bay, or even the 2014 contest at the redesigned Pinehurst #2.

Let’s look at the principals:

Justin Rose won the last US Open contested on a traditional layout (Marion – 2013) and sort of backed into it when Phil Mickelson found another way to finish 2nd.  Rose has got to be considered a contender.  He’s having a great ball striking year but his putter is shaky and these greens are going to be the most difficult the pros play all year.  Regarding Phil, I believe the window is just about closed because of age.  Phil plays more interrupt driven golf than ever before.  Interrupt driven = pars and birdies interrupted by “others”.

Rory McIlroy leads the BABSBP category (Bad Ass Ball Striking Balky Putter) with Justin Rose closely following.  Although Rory is arguably the best ball striker on earth when he’s on, the recent change of putting grip from left hand low to reverse overlap is disconcerting when done so close to a major.  He pulled this before The Masters going from reverse overlap to left hand low and was ineffective.  He struggled on the slickmeisters at The Players too, and when his putting is off, he clearly gets frustrated.  The US Open requires steadiness with the flat stick and more patience than any other tournament, and for that reason, Rory’s out.

Defending champion Jordan Spieth is clearly the best putter in the world.  Jordan Spieth 2015He just recently won at Colonial too.  Current world #1, Jason Day is arguably the best all around player and is deserving of his top ranking.  With apologies to Masters champion Danny Willett, the tournament will come down to these two.  Going head-to-head ten times, Day would win six.  It’s that close.  Will the heat be a factor?  Day has struggled with health issues on and off and during some high visibility moments.  Can Spieth keep the ball in the fairway?  The occasional chicken wing move could be costly on the clutch tee shots on Sunday.  Spieth won at Chambers Bay because he can putt and because there was no rough.  Spieth became more and more jittery over his shots at The Masters and I’m not sure he’s overcome that nervousness.  Day is cool, Day is calm, Day is collected.  Jason Day is your 2016 US Open Champion.  Jason Day SwingDid I miss someone?  Who do you think wins it?

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Inside The Mind Of A Chip Yipper

SeveIt was November 11, 2014.  I had just hit 10 greens and shot a 14-over 86 at Bear Trap Dunes in Ocean View, DE.  This was the round where I hit rock bottom with the chip yips.  There is nothing worse than having a decent ball striking day only to know that when you miss an approach shot you have no chance because you’re going to blade a chip over the green or come up way short.  You are paralyzed with fear and indecision and cannot execute.  This is what it’s like to experience the chip yips.

It was clear the yips were a mental problem.  I had been plagued for about five years but earlier in my career had no problem executing a variety of shots around the green from a technique standpoint.  I can’t point to a single event where my chipping fell apart, it just did.  The primary symptom was fear of running the ball past the hole and as a result, leaving my shots way short.  A secondary symptom was blading the ball with a sand wedge, usually off of a good lie.  This happened with small straight forward shots and became worse the farther away I moved from the hole.  A 20-30 yard pitch with a sand wedge became darn near impossible, however when I moved back out to 50 yards, I had no problem because that was an automatic half swing with a lob wedge.  Also, bunker shots were never a problem.  That day at Bear Trap Dunes, I was firing blade runners everywhere and totally embarrassing myself.

The solve:  Some of these techniques may seem counter intuitive and simply worked for me.  They may not work for you, so don’t necessarily try them for yourself or think that they constitute an avocation on my part of a certain method.  They simply worked.

The first thing I tried to fix was the bladed shot because that was a total loss of control.  I know my left arm softens at the elbow in my full swing and I suspected that might be happening with chips, which in turn would shorten my swing radius.  I simply focused on keeping my left elbow firm on all short swings and presto, no more bladed shots.

The more difficult issue was the fear of going long.  In the past, I had tried hitting to a spot and letting the ball run out, or feeling the distance to the hole with my practice swing but neither worked.  Everything still came up short.  If I accidentally got one to the hole, the immediate feedback upon hitting the shot was that I hit it way too hard.  The only way I could save par was by sinking a 10 or 15 foot putt.  But then I remembered seeing a video of Seve Ballesteros rehearsing chip shots with his right hand (dominant hand).  Then I recalled reading Greg Norman’s Shark Attack where he advocated throwing balls with your dominant hand at the hole for practice to gain a feel for short game.  I decided I was going to try to use my dominant hand (right) to hit my short shots because I’d always focused on making a turn with my torso and keeping my hands out of the shot.  It was a mechanical move and not feel based.  In short, I needed more art and less science.    So I started with a change in my pre-shot routine.  I stopped approaching the shot from behind, like a full swing, and started to stand astride the shot and rehearsed it until it felt good.  Then I hit the shot without delay.  The mechanical change I made was on the back swing, to feel like I was taking the club back with my left hand (with my elbow still firm), and then on the downswing controlling the force of the swing with my right hand.  When I did this, all of a sudden, I started swinging more aggressively, hitting the shot a little harder, and generating more backspin.  Now, my only thought is to “take it back with the left hand, hit it with the right.”  When I first tried this, I felt like I would chunk everything, but that never happened.  On my recent trip I started to pull my chips slightly which was probably due to the over-active right hand.  I added a little bit of pivot to the downswing and that was corrected because the chip is still a mini swing that requires timing and needs to be initiated with a hip turn.

After 18 rounds, I’m trusting this pretty well.  Now when I miss a chip or pitch, it inevitably goes long, and I’m fine with that because I can see the ball break around the hole and I know it’s had a chance to go in.  On occasion, I’ll still feel a little apprehension about going long so I make sure to take enough practice swings feeling my right hand initiate the downswing and then I hit the shot quickly.  In all my 2016 rounds, I can honestly say I’ve only yipped two or three chips, and actually seen a few more than that go in.

Finally, regarding club selection, I am in the camp of matching the club to the shot rather than being able to execute a ton of different shots with one club because I don’t play or practice enough to do that.  For chips, I like the sand wedge, pitching wedge, and on long chip and runs, the 8-iron.  For green side pitches, I favor the lob wedge or sand wedge.

So that’s the story of recovering from the chip yips.  They are horrible and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone.  Hope my luck holds out and that you never see them.

Play well!

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