The Benefit of Replacing Practice With Play

Kings North
Kings North at Myrtle Beach National

The new play-practice paradigm I’ve put into place is ready to be battle tested in Myrtle Beach.  We are on the tee at Kings North on Memorial Day to get the show started, and I am shooting for a personal best of 216 holes over six straight days.

Since April 20, I’ve played 12 times and only practiced twice; effectively replacing 90% of my dedicated practice time with time spent out on the course.  About 2/3 of these sessions have been nine hole rounds and each has been followed by a short debrief around the practice green for 5-10 minutes.

The gains from this approach are clear.  I don’t feel like I’m relearning any parts of the game due to infrequent play, and as I play I accumulate mini tips that I use and reuse to self correct on the course much more easily than if I were playing once every week or two.  The frequent play has got me MUCH more comfortable with my new Cleveland CG16 wedges.  Distance control on the full and partial shots is becoming second nature and my bunker play has stabilized.  Haven’t seen any dreaded lateral hits or thin chips for several rounds and hopefully that’s gone for good.

With the reps from playing 36 a day for six days, short game is usually not an issue, but physical and mental fatigue is.   The true test and ultimate goal is better and more consistent ball striking.

Clubs “check”, balls “check”, Advil “check”.  Wish me luck!

Don’t Fall In Or Out Of Love Too Early

Three Nights in AugustBeen reading Buzz Bissinger’s Three Nights In August and picked up some valuable perspective about golf even though the subject is baseball.  The book is about how manager Tony LaRussa handled his Saint Louis Cardinals in a critical three-game series against the Chicago Cubs in 2003.  Included are excellent insights about his management style and life’s philosophies.  Regarding his observation of new player performances in spring training, he advises on a patient approach and to not “fall in or out of love too early, ”  because the 162-game major league season is a grind where players experience and expect ups and downs, but at season’s end you need to review the full body of work and not be too judgmental of short run performance.

In golf, we’ve all been guilty of experiencing the “ah ha” moment and thinking we have a problem permanently solved when in effect, we’ve experienced a brief euphoria and made a mistaken rush to judgement.  Golf is more about slow and steady improvement, as I have come to realize while working my way out of an eight-month slump.

Practical insights:

During my round yesterday, I mentioned to a playing partner that I thought my road to recovery was helped by more frequent play and he advised that when you only play once per week or once every other week, as I had been doing, you put too much pressure on yourself to play well.  I thought back to the day before during my emergency nine after work where I had played poorly and felt off on every aspect of my game, but was able to easily let it go because I had a game scheduled the next day.  And he was right.  I played beautiful golf yesterday.  The added benefit of more frequent play is that you pick up little tweaks during each round that are easier to add and recall than if you try to bank them and summon on a less frequent basis.

Another observation:  Always take the opportunity to play with players better than you.  Yesterday, I was paired with two pros from my local club and watching them murder tee shots 50 to 60 yards past my best tested my ability to play within myself.  I’ve found the best approach is to acknowledge better players are in a different league and enjoy their company and the experience, rather than try to keep up.  I recall doing the opposite way back when I was young and in my first tournament as an assistant club professional.  We had a business meeting followed by a local competition for the 25 pros in attendance.  Rather than acknowledge my newbie status, I tried to think of myself as a peer and was so intimated trying to keep up, I embarrassed myself.  I’ll bet young players who are paired with Tiger Woods play better when they view him with awe rather than trying to match him shot for shot.  Again, I found this to be the case yesterday on our par-5 fourth hole which measured 525 yards.  Pro #1 just hit one about 320 down the middle and it was my turn, but I picked a target and put an 80% swing on the ball and piped one about 250.  Completely segregating Pro sitting 70 yards in front of me, I smoothed a 3-wood about 225 into the fairway and only had a flip with the 58 left for a good birdie opportunity.  I was very proud of my ability to seperate instead of be intimated, and cruised my way around to a 1-under 34 on the front.

So remember to stay patient, play often, and don’t fall in and out of love too early!

Darth Vader – The Skinny Chip Shot

Darth VaderThe Force is not with me and I’ve been trying to clear my head lately on an area of my game I used to consider a strength (chipping) but the proverbial stew of techniques, approaches, new wedges, and adjustments for Myrtle Beach is staring to take on Death Star proportions.  I am tumbling head over heels around the greens, like a big ball of matter through outer space, with giant chunks of confidence falling off at inopportune moments.   Looking for some stability fast.  Here’s how the mess started.

I’ve chipped my best when I work with one technique and can laser focus my attention on a specific landing spot.  For some reason, this method has left me coming up short on all chips and I don’t know why.  Late last season, a skinny chip started creeping in to my repertoire, mostly with my old 56 and now with my new 58 and the root cause is a mystery as well.  I’m working with three new Cleveland wedges, which I use very successfully in practice, but can’t seem to transition to game conditions.  Third, I’m trying to relearn a low spinning shot I need off the tight Bermuda surfaces around the greens in Myrtle Beach.  I used to hit this great with my old 56 and even when I clipped it skinny, it would fly very low and have a tremendous amount of spin, and would bite hard and sit down instantly.    There is no deep rough in MB but that’s all I’m playing out of in our plush courses around the DC area.  I can’t find a comfortable technique on this play.

Finally, I’ve got two techniques in my head and cannot reconcile.  The first is the Stan Utley approach of squaring everything up and making a concentrated pivot on every chip.  The second is the Michael Breed drill of identifying a percentage of distance you want to fly your chips to the hole (say 40%) and then identifying different clubs that will take you different distances.  I did have some success blending the two in my post round practice session, but during play, was dreadfully inconsistent.

Anyone with some surefire chipping techniques from good greenside lies, or on tight Bermuda surfaces, please pass them along.  KISS please, thanks!

The Hard Work Of Breaking A Golf Slump

First, many thanks to all those who provided advice on how to break out, especially Vet.  The address position analysis (grip change) continues to help immensely and the slump is almost over.  Technically, I’m still in the slump because my 81 today is the 10th straight round at 80 or above (my Mendoza Line), but I can feel the wind in my sails.

Today’s round had some very critical data points.  First, I got off to a good start parring my first four holes.  The slump has been punctuated by horrible starts with double or triple bogey as a a frequent and unwelcome lead-off visitor.  Yes, I did make a triple on my 7th hole, but used that as motivation.  Sure I was down on myself, and the root cause was again a lateral hit from a downhill lie in a bunker but I told myself, I could either accept the fact that I was destined to remain in this horrid slump or double down to concentrate harder. I bogeyed 8 and 9 and turned in 7-over 43.  Normally, I don’t add up my score until the round is complete, but I was mad as hell for blowing a good start and felt like checking.

For some reason that score check improved my focus on the 10th tee and I hammered a drive down the middle and made birdie on the par-5.  God, that birdie felt good because it’s been so long since I made a birdie that I couldn’t remember the last one.  Then I enjoyed a first in my 40 years of playing golf.  I drove a legitimate par-4 and sunk an 8-foot putt for eagle.  I have made eagle on par-4s before but always from the fairway and never after driving the green.  My tee shot measured 323 yards and was down hill and slightly down wind, and yes, I had hit into the group in front.  At first, I couldn’t find my ball but noticed one on the surface as they were leaving the green.  I apologized, sank the putt, and was 3-under after two holes on the back.  I gradually gave away my gains with some shoddy iron play but drove it well all the way around and finished with a 2-over 38.

My reason for hope is twofold.  A very simple change (grip) has made a huge difference and I’m playing my best shots without any swing thoughts.  When the mind is clear and your fundamentals are in order, this game can be played well.

Next up is a tournament at Queenstown on Thursday.  Hoping to leverage these gains and help the team win.