I’ve been chewing on some advice that Vet4Golfing51 passed on in response to my 2012 improvement plan. His premise was that I didn’t play enough and that play improves performance more than practice. I just looked at my 2011 records and holy cow! In addition to my 35 rounds, I spent 70 days practicing, which is a ton of effort for essentially very little improvement. Not only was I surprised that I dedicated as much time as I did but that my approach clearly didn’t pay dividends. Thanks Vet 🙂
Now the weather in the DC area has been quite mild this winter with no measurable snow and I actually have practiced twice in January while trying to learn the new short game and putting techniques of Stan Utley. This is clearly required work since I’m trying to train my muscles for a new motion, however it’s clear from my stats last year that I’m addicted to practice and am wondering what my performance might have been with only half the practice time dedicated, if I had used the balance on play (9-hole rounds, for instance.) Range rats like Tom Kite and Vijay Singh benefited from their time spent on prolonged practice but they got enough play in to validate.
So going forward my goal in 2012 is again, 35 full rounds, only 35 practice days and 20 9-hole rounds between the full rounds which should provide enough play to avoid that foreign feeling I often get on the first tee, and still keep me fresh. 10 of the full rounds will again be compressed into six straight days of play at Myrtle Beach which would leave a good interval of 18 hole and nine hole play for the balance of the year.
A couple notes on the Stan Utley techniques. I’ve been rug putting all winter and am very comfortable with the new fundamentals. The change has appeared to take hold and I putted very well on my practice green last weekend. The chipping is going well too, as I’ve been working that on the rug, but the pitch shot is still a work in progress. When properly executed, the direction and distance control are great, yet without the opportunity to pitch inside, it’s still quite foreign. Looking forward to temps in the 60s this week and feeding the addiction a little more.
Congressional Country Club, Blue Course, Bethesda, Maryland. Site of the 1964, 1997, and 2011 U.S. Open. Also hosted the 1976 PGA Championship. Just a great old-fashioned superb test of golf.
Carnousti Golf Links, Championship Course, Carnousti, Scotland. Home to seven British Open Championships and 7,421 of the most brutal yards of links style golf.
Columbia Country Club, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Quiet oasis inside a major metropolitan area. Very challenging and has some great holes with significant changes in elevation. Hosted the 1921 U.S. Open.
Burning Tree Country Club, Bethesda, Maryland. Along with Augusta National, probably one of the one or two most exclusive old-style private clubs in the country. Take a caddy and tee it up where all the big shot presidents were members. Doesn’t even have a website!
Five Most Fun Holes
Par-3, #16 at Port Royal in Bermuda. 235 yards of the most breathtaking golf shot you will ever see.
Par-4, #18 at True Blue in Myrtle Beach, SC. 437 yards of dog leg left with a forced carry over water and water framing the entire hole down the left side. Great finishing hole.
Par-5, #7 at Eagles Landing in Ocean City, MD. Three shot par-5 measuring 528 yards that doglegs 90 degrees and finishes with a shot to the green set out in the marsh adjacent to the Sinepuxent Bay.
Par-5, #9 at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. Measures 602 yards from the tips and the third shot has to carry a large ravine to an elevated green. Super hole requiring three great shots to get home.
Par-4, #9 at The Legends, ParklandCourse in Myrtle Beach, SC. At 311 yards this is a brutally tough risk-reward play with the green high on an unprotected hill. When the wind blows you can put up some big numbers on this little daredevil.
Every year I seem to try something new in the off season in hopes of improving my game and this year will be no different. Last year was a concentrated effort to improve my swing through regular film review, construction of a backyard hitting platform, and a lesson with Fixyourgame.com. The two prior years, I focused on short game and mental approach and while I feel I’ve improved in each attempt, a quick review of my KPIs shows otherwise:
I’m not the only golfer out there who’s stuck at the same level no matter what they try, but I firmly believe you need to change something that’s not working. The biggest source of my frustration is my ball striking. As a 5-handicap, who’s on-line index at the end of 2011 was down to 3.9, I’m flabbergasted that I failed to average even 50% of my GIR. There’s untapped potential in there and a reasonable improvement target is 11 GIR. This would yield a scoring average drop of nearly three strokes per round even if my putting stats did not improve. The lesson with Fixyourgame.com was enlightening and demonstrated that I lacked the sufficient radial motion in my swing that makes true consistency possible. I found it very hard to correct my loss of spine angle on the downswing.
The other day I took a few tests recommended by Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) and confirmed what I suspected; I have terrible range of motion in my shoulders, hips, and ankles. This is precisely what you need to make an effective golf swing and is clearly the source of my inconsistency. Any attempt to correct a swing flaw without the physical capability to make the change will be impossible. So 2012 will be the year that I work to improve my balance, power, speed, and agility, and let those improvements deliver a better golf swing as an artifact. TPI recommends a program that I ran through in about 45 minutes and has got me hurting in places I never knew I had muscles. The plan is to work these exercises three days a week through the end of February and then hit balls in early March and hopefully get a positive read on what improved flexibility and strength can do for my ball striking. Can’t wait to get started!
I read The Art of the Short Game (Gotham Books – 2007) over the Christmas holiday and actually tried out the techniques at my local muni’s practice green, and wow! YOU NEED TO GET THIS BOOK! Those who follow this blog know I’m a big proponent of short game and continuously look for and share valid methods for improvement. The infusion of life this book had on my chipping and pitching technique was remarkable.
Stan Utley is a journeyman pro turned short game/putting guru, and has put together a system that simplifies the approach to playing chips, pitches and bunker shots that’s easy to implement and is tremendously effective. In two hours of practice I found my distance control and consistency of contact and direction significantly improved. For chipping and pitching, Utley’s main premise is to keep everything square to the target line (club face, hands, feet, knees, shoulders) and make a mini-golf swing that includes a pivot. This is counter to a lot of conventional chipping advice whereby you play from an open stance, keep the ball back and the lower body still and essentially make a arm swing with a short iron. He also advocates using your sand wedge for all shots around the green rather than switching clubs based on the distance required for carry and roll. This was a significant paradigm shift for me but after practicing with the altered technique, I was easily able to control the distance on longer chips with my 56 degree wedge.
The pitch is simply a longer extension of the chip, with a bit more pivot supplying the power. Admittedly, the 30-40 yard sand wedge shot is the weakest part of my game but I was able to dial in amazingly well with the technique. I was not able to practice the bunker play recommendations and they are significantly different from conventional advice. I would advise to first spend some time on the chipping technique and convince yourself the method works before moving to pitching and bunker play. So get the book, you will not regret it. Here are my practice notes for the chipping techniques just to get you started. Good luck! Now go wear out your carpet.
Setup with a neutral grip with the Vs in both hands pointing towards your right collarbone.
Square the club face at the target
Play from a square stance; it’s okay to flare out your left toe for comfort
Position the ball in the middle of your stance, not in the back
Shade 2/3 of your weight on your forward foot and keep it there throughout the shot
Forward press your hands so they are even with your front thigh
Allow for a small hip turn away from the ball on the back swing
Initiate the downswing with your hips turning slightly toward the target
Your hands will naturally be pulled toward the target and lead the club face towards solid contact.
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