What’s Your Favorite Training Aid?

I’ve never been a big fan of training aids.  My current cadre of tools is limited to a video camera, swing doughnut, two alignment sticks and my 14 clubs.  Two years ago, I bought a driving net and built a platform for the back yard, but that only sees the light of day during barbeques and mostly for the entertainment value.  The lack of ball flight was a detriment and the setup and take down time consuming.  The best aid I ever had was a self-constructed indoor putting ramp made out of a block of Styrofoam and some indoor/outdoor carpet.  I banged 6-foot putts on that one winter and came out razor sharp the following spring but it didn’t survive the last move.

Today I broke out the Smash Bag  Smash Bagor golf’s equivalent of a tackling dummy.  Has anyone had any luck with this?  My immediate need is some assistance to stop pull hooking every fifth iron shot because of an early release and initial returns are very positive.  It feels like repeating the correct impact position really helps with your timing and allows you to start the downswing with a hip turn.  The feedback feels super; like I can make a very aggressive move into the ball, but that’s only after one session and about 50 swings.  Here’s the best video I’ve found on using the bag:

I got the idea to buy one after working a drill where I took a half backswing with a short iron and tried to hold off my finish and knock the shot down.  Seemed like the same motion as hitting the bag and I struck the ball well during a game the day after practicing like that.  Has anyone had any luck with this or know of different ways to use it?  Please share, thanks!

If It Aint Broke Should You Fix It?

We of the day job set, are in a conundrum when it comes to trying new techniques to improve our golf.  In January, 2012, I read Stan Utley’s “The Art of the Short Game” and immediately put the guru’s easy to implement steps into play.  Utley’s key point is to force a pivot and release on all short shots which was not my style, and two years later after suffering mind boggling bouts of skinny chips, lateral hits, and loss of distance control around the green, I’ve finally identified the changes as the source.  The chipping fix was fairly easy but the elevated pitch shots with my 58 were driving me nuts.  I finally returned to the hinge and hold the blade at the target method I had used very successfully, and was fixed.  I’m not knocking the recommendations in the book because I’m sure they work for some and Utley’s reputation is unsurpassed.  The lesson here is if you are competent or even very good with a certain aspect of your game, DON’T MESS WITH IT unless you have hours to dedicate to practice and play.  Even then, proceed with caution.

It feels gratifying to get back on track.  We all have weaknesses and there’s nothing wrong with seeking to improve them, but there is nothing worse than losing a strength.  My biggest fear was that it was mental or brought on by age, but thankfully it was technique-based.  I am eternally grateful for the detailed practice journal I’ve been keeping since 2008.  It has notes for every session on the range and practice green, and I was able to find some data points on techniques that worked well before I read the book.  I’d advise everyone to keep these type of records and refer back frequently when you struggle.

Have you ever been over ambitious and attempted an improvement that broke a strength?

My Almost Perfect Father’s Day

With my kids on Father's Day at Bethany Beach, DE
With my kids on Father’s Day at Bethany Beach, DE

I drifted off to sleep Saturday night thinking about Father’s Day and wondering what would constitute the perfect day?  How about a great beach day with my family, a perfect round of golf, and a thrilling storybook ending to the U.S. Open?

I was going to spend the afternoon at the beach with my wife and kids and the weather was going to be perfect – part one, check.  I also had a tee time at the Salt Pond in Bethany Beach at 7:00 a.m.

#3 Tee at the Salt Pond
#3 Tee at the Salt Pond

The Salt Pond is a lovely little par-61 executive course where I annually go to sharpen my iron game when visiting the beach.  If your swing is on, you can score because the greens are always soft and in excellent condition.  I’ve gone as low as 3-under here, but was thinking about “the perfect round”.  How about bogey free?  Ever played a bogey free round?  On a couple of occasions, I’ve gotten close, and when the round got late into the back-nine, the pressure buildup was significant, and I always cracked.  So I figured, why not on the perfect day?

Third, I looked forward to watching Phil Mickelson enjoying his birthday, Father’s Day, first U.S. Open title, yada, yada yada.  Well, we know how that ended, but Justin Rose seemed like a very worthy champion, and truly a class act with his gracious post-round comments about Phil.  No complaints.

There’s just a driving net with a couple of stations at the Salt Pond, but I’m becoming very adept at playing golf sans hitting warm-up balls since I’ve been working on this new warm-up routine, and elected to tee off after stretching and taking a couple of passes with a swing doughnut.  I wonder if any tour pros have played bogey free golf in an official round without warming up?  But I digress.  I opened with a lovely 7-iron right over the flag and just missed the birdie putt.  A couple of solid pitching wedges on #2 and #3 yielded a birdie and a par, but the dream ended on #4 with a pulled 5-iron and a missed 10-footer for par.  At least I wasn’t hallucinating for too long.  The day ended with a few more birdies, a few bogeys, and two doubles.  I finished three-over and sort of reminiscent of the round Lefty would play later in the day.  But I was out playing the game I love and really had no expectations other than to have fun.

I loved Father’s Day this year; it was truly perfect for me.  How was yours?

9 Tee at The Salt Pond
9 Tee at The Salt Pond

2013 US Open Picks

MerionMy 2013 US Open picks are not going to look like the conventional odds board selections popping up in Las Vegas or the offshore betting houses.   This year is a unique opportunity for non-favorites because there are no “horses for courses”running in this tournament, as Merion has not hosted a major championship since 1981.

Let’s cull the herd by looking at last week’s big name debacles at Memorial and start with Phil Mickelson.  What bugs me is that he didn’t play for the second straight year (dropped out in 2012) and hasn’t played since The Players Championship where he missed the cut.  Memorial is a great tune up because it’s hard and the best players in the world compete.  Phil is playing this week at FedEx St. Jude because he always plays the week before a major, but TPC Southwind is a horrible tune-up venue.  Phil is inconsistent from week to week and he’s very difficult to predict.  What’s clear is that he doesn’t play enough and now he’s rusty.  Sorry not happening this year, Lefty.

Tiger Woods‘ 3rd round 79 was mystifying but these things happen for a reason and I believe his hot streak with the putter is over.  The flat stick is clearly his Achilles heel when he’s off and his superb ball striking and four wins in 2013 have the odds makers falling all over him at 4/1.  Call Steve Stricker for another putting lesson because it’s not happening this year.

Rory McIlroy‘s first round 78 was no surprise.  Rory is plagued by inconsistency and is still distracted to a point where he’s too focused on firing agents and lining up endorsements to play consistently well.  No focus – not happening in 2013, Mr. McIlroy.

The smart money is on two main contenders and two dark horses.  Merion will require excellent accuracy off the tee and superb wedge/iron play from 125-150 yards.  The course is set up at only 6,996 yards and drivers will remain in the bag.  The exceptions are the three monstrous par-3s at #3 (256 yards), #9 (236 yards), and #17 (246 yards).

SnedekerContender #1 is Brandt Snedeker.  Okay, I’ll throw out his second round 80 at Memorial 🙂 but I love that he’s third on tour in GIR from 125-150 yards and putts lights out.  He’s hungry, has contended in the last two majors, and is ready.  He gets a little quick with his putting stroke under pressure and will have to settle that down.

Contender #2 is Graeme McDowell.  I love the win at RBC Heritage because the Harbour Town Golf Links is short and tight requiring a similar mindset to the pending US Open setup.  Also, look who he defeated at RBC; Webb Simpson – defending U.S. Open champ.  These guys love the short tracks.  I like G-Mac’s ability to putt under pressure, as well as his ranking in driving accuracy (1st) and scrambling (1st).Gmac

Your 2013 US Open Picks:

Champion:  Graeme McDowell.  Finished 2nd last year, has the game, the guts, and the stats to make it happen.

Runner Up:  Brandt Snedeker.  Gets closer than ever but loses Monday in an 18-hole playoff.

Third:  Jim Furyk.  Cagey veteran knows how to play the Open and doesn’t get flustered.  Very patient player.

Dark Horse #1:  Kevin Chappel.  2nd at Memorial and T-10 in last year’s US Open.  Up and coming.  Love his odds at 200/1.

Dark Horse #2:  Michael Thompson at 150/1 looks like a real value play.  Finished 2nd in the Open last year, finished 8th at Memorial this year, and looks like he focuses well this time of year.

Enjoy the spectacle and happy Father’s Day!

True Blue – Course Review

Summary

On the tee at True Blue
On the tee at True Blue

We played True Blue in Pawleys Island, SC on Saturday, June 1, 2013.  Every time I visit this Mike Strantz design I enjoy it more and more and our 36 hole adventure lived up to the advanced billing.  We found the course in impeccable condition from tee to green, as it has always been.  True Blue is known for it’s huge expansive fairways and natural waste bunkers that do double duty as cart paths.  I always seem to drive the ball well here and believe it’s because the wide fairways tend to relax me, and the holes have abundant targets that fit my eye quite well.  We were playing the blue tees at 6,812 yards and the course played long and tough with a moderate wind blowing and showed most of its teeth on the par five holes.  #1 is a monster at 600 yards and was playing into the wind.  I’m not used to hitting driver, 3WD, 3WD on most par fives but did in round #1.  The greens were rolling smooth and medium fast and were a delight to putt on after playing on some slower surfaces earlier in the week.

Playing notes:

  • #2 is a short par-4 at 342 yards and you must play your drive as far left as possible.  The approach to the green is guarded by a canopy of trees that seemed to catch most of the approaches we hit from all but the proper angle.
  • #4 is a horseshoe par-5 that hooks around a large lake.  You may be tempted to get as close to the water on your tee shot and go for the full 200+ yard carry, but don’t.  I tried and rinsed two in my morning round.  The conservative play over land will give you a good shot at par.
  • #8 is a medium length par-4 at 363 yards.  Hit 3WD over the bunker on the right side of this blind tee shot for a good look at the green with a short iron or wedge.
  • #17 is a very long par-4 and at 426 yards was playing into a stiff wind.  Both times I crushed a driver and needed a full three-iron over water to get home and barely made it.  If your drive is a little bit off, play it like a short par-5.
  • #18 is a dogleg left and requires a tee shot over water, and depending on where they put the flag, the second shot as well.  The best play here is to aim just right of the green and short as the approach is a good area to chip from and takes the water and a big number out of play.
Clubhouse view from the 18th tee at True Blue
View of the clubhouse and 18th green from the tee at True Blue

Value (3.75 out of 5.0)

True Blue was the premium play on our golf package. Morning times are $94 and afternoon $74 in this time slot.  The replay cost of $60 was well worth the price.  Range balls were complimentary.  The grill provided a large menu of food options with good sized portions at reasonable prices.  For $15 I had a Cajun Chicken Club, coleslaw, iced tea, and tip.

Facilities (4.50 out of 5.0)

The course has some of the best facilities starting with the conditioning and routing which were top notch.  Everyone in my group loved the layout because it’s simply one of the best in Myrtle Beach.  The driving range is all grass and was in excellent condition, as was the short game practice area and putting green, and they are adjacent to the cart staging area which made set up and go very easy.  The pro shop is of ample size and the grill is a nice area to enjoy food and drink after play.  The clubhouse has an excellent outside deck suitable for watching golfers plunk their approaches into the pond guarding #18.  The only peculiarity we noticed was that our starter told us to treat all bunkers (even those green-side and with rakes) as waste areas.  Normally, if it has a rake, you treat it as a hazard.  As a result, there were some unraked footprints in the green-side bunkers but it was pretty inconsequential.

Customer Experience (3.75 out of 5.0)

The bag drop attendants were very organized, punctual, and friendly.  It’s always great to have your first interaction be a positive one.  The staff in the pro shop indicated it would not be a problem to replay, but didn’t allow us to reserve a time until after we finished our morning round.  The thought was that they wanted to reserve the high priced tee times for full paying customers.  It worried us a bit because their sister course (Caledonia) was closed for a tournament and the thought of not having a time on a Saturday afternoon was a possibility.  Nevertheless, they got us out after lunch and we were not rushed, as there were no groups before or after us.  We asked to play as a fivesome but were told to go off as as a twosome and threesome.  We joined up and played the round as five and broke apart as we played holes that neared the clubhouse.  I’m sure this behavior was frowned upon, but we would have ceased if we were holding anyone up.

On this day we played from the blue tees for both rounds and I carded an 81 on both tries.  True Blue is an awesome play and is in my top five, if not right at the top of all courses at Myrtle Beach.  Don’t miss it on your next trip.

Overall Rating (4.0 out of 5.0)

#3 green - True Blue
#3 green – True Blue

Rivers Edge – Course Review

Summary

On the 9th tee at Rivers Edge
On the 9th tee at Rivers Edge

We visited this Arnold Palmer design in Shallotte, NC on Thursday, May 27 and played 36 holes on a very challenging layout.  From the back tees, this course is rated at 74.7/149 and thankfully we played them one set up.  At 6,440 yards, Rivers Edge is not that long, but the firm fairways and windy conditions put solid ball striking at a premium and tested every ounce of our patience.  Several of the holes are very scenic and run along the Shallotte River and when the tide is out, the site of thousands of golf balls donated in the mud flats gave even the best players in our group cause for hesitation.

Conditions were somewhat of a mixed bag, with several of the bentgrass greens infiltrated with spotty brown patches, which were either dormant grass (unlikely) or some type of disease.  They were rolling fairly slow but were dry and bouncing hard, especially on the down wind shots.  The tee boxes were a little scratchy in spots and the fairways hard and dry.  The series of exposed holes by the river were reminiscent of conditions at a British Open.

Playing notes:

  • #9 is a 90 degree dogleg left par-5 that played into the wind on the first two shots and as you made the dogleg, were forced to contend with a strong right to left wind and a fairway and green that sloped hard right to left.  Trying to keep the ball on the putting surface was almost comical.  I made bogey in both rounds and felt I had conquered the world.  Favor the right side of the fairway off the tee because a drive left of center will catch the hard turf and roll down into the marsh.
  • #10 is a 330 yard par-4 that has more landing room than it looks like from the tee.  I laid up with a 3-iron but could have easily hit 3WD and gained a shorter approach.
  • #16 is a 386 yard par-4 that you must favor the left side on your tee shot or risk a hard bounce right and a lost ball in the river.  Take your tee shot over the middle of the left fairway bunker for the best line in.
  • #17 is a par-5 with an awkward approach because of the positioning of a tree right in front of the green.  Only a left pin placement is actually accessible and seemed a bit unfair to us.
  • #18 is a 360 yard par-4 where you have to decide how much marsh to carry on the tee shot.  I found a well struck 3WD at the gazebo in the distance is a good line and left about a 100 yard shot in.  My playing partner buried a driver in a bunker about 60 yards from the green (video below).  Your choice.

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

Greens fees are $100 to play at this time which seemed a bit high for the summer.  Of course, ours was included in our package but we found the replay rate of $25 low in comparison to other courses of this caliber, and a very pleasant surprise.  Range balls were complimentary.  We ate lunch in the clubhouse and the entries were delicious and very reasonably priced.  Treat yourself to the blackened fish sandwich if you are inclined.  It was excellent.

Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse and grill were good sized with a medium to small pro shop.  The driving range was in very good condition and you hit from all grass stations.  The putting green was medium sized but you weren’t allowed to chip and I couldn’t find an alternate chipping / pitching area.  The practice area was clearly meant for resort players who want a quick bucket to warm up before their game and not for protracted practice.  My rating here would go higher with top notch course conditions because the layout of some of these holes is outstanding.

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

The bag drop off / cart attendant was very friendly and provided an excellent first face.  He had your clubs loaded, your range balls in hand, and directions to wherever you wanted to go.  The pro in the shop was very friendly and accommodating and I believe discounted us $10 off the normal replay rate, which was much appreciated.  They got us off when we wanted to play in the afternoon without issue.  The servers in the grill area were very friendly and brought our food and drinks promptly.

On this day, we played the black tees at 6,440 yards and I carded an 84 and an 83.  Rivers Edge is a great layout and we had a lot of fun.  I’d like to replay it when conditions are at their peak.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

15th green looking back at the tee - Rivers Edge
15th green looking back at the tee – Rivers Edge

Kings North – Course Review

Summary

#12 green at Kings North
#12 green at Kings North

On May 27, 2013, I got my first look at Kings North at Myrtle Beach National Golf Club and I loved what I saw.  Kings North is one of three Arnold Palmer designs at MBN and is the high end play.  SouthCreek and The West Course are the other two and we opted for a replay on Kings after our scheduled 18 because we enjoyed it so much.  Kings was built in 1973 and fully refurbished in 1996.

We found Kings in excellent condition from tee to green with the Crenshaw bentgrass surfaces rolling medium-slow but very smooth.  When you play Kings, several holes stick out in your mind which is an indicator of an excellent playing experience.  #6 is their signature hole known as The Gambler and is a par-5 with an island fairway left off the tee.  When this hole is playing into the wind, don’t gamble on the island route because you need to hit it deep enough into the island to get a shorter iron to go for it in two.  The green, which sits on a peninsula, is a water carry from either the island rout or the conventional fairway on the right and the gamble on the tee shot is just not worth it.

On the tee at The Gambler
On the tee at The Gambler

The par three 12th hole (pictured earlier) is a drop dead beautiful island green that plays to 129 yards from the gold tees and is somewhat reminiscent of #17 at TPC at Sawgrass with regard to the length and size of landing area.  If the pin is cut middle right and you are left, the downhill putt breaks much harder to the left than it looks and is fast.

#5 pictured below is a lovely short par-4 with a massive bunker fronting the green that you do not want to be in.  It’s 220 yards to clear the left fairway bunker which is the best play off the tee and will leave you with a wedge shot in.  Long is safer on this hole.

Front bunker protecting #5
Front bunker protecting #5

What’s great about this course is that #1 and #10 are benign par-5 holes that allow the golfer to get off to a good start and that’s appreciated on this tough but beautiful track.

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

Our greens fees were included in the golf package but normally run $72 in the morning and $50 after 12:00 noon.  We opted for that $50 afternoon rate and were told that was the replay rate.  You can book an afternoon time for $50 so there really is no replay rate.  In any case, we elected to replay Kings North in-lieu of the $30 replay at either of the sister courses, as Kings was just too good to pass up another play on.  Range balls were $4.00 for a small basket and the balls were of good quality.

Facilities (3.75 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse and pro shop were large and well appointed.  There were two medium-large practice putting greens adjacent to the clubhouse but chipping was discouraged there.  The driving range had about 20-25 all grass hitting stations that were in good condition.  The bag drop-off and cart staging area was right out front and were easy to access from the parking lot, clubhouse, and driving range.

Customer Experience (3.25 out of 5.0)

We were one of the first groups to arrive at the course but were running a little short on time for a warm-up.  The guys at the bag drop were a bit slow to load our bags on carts for the short trip to the driving range, but the delay was only for a few minutes.  Still, you expected a little snappier service from a club of this caliber.  The proshop staff were businesslike but not overly friendly.  We were visited regularly on the course by the food and beverage cart which was appreciated.

On this day, I shot an 84 and an 86 from the gold tees which measured 6,481 yards (71.4/130).  Overall, this was a very delightful experience and I would highly recommend Kings North.

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

Most Golf Holes Played – Record Set!

On the 13th tee at Oyster Bay
On the 13th tee at Oyster Bay

Just returned from six days of golf in Myrtle Beach and have shattered my previous record of 198 holes played by a full 18.  We needed perfect weather to play 36 on six straight days and the golfing gods cooperated with partly cloudy skies and temps around 80 every day.  Powered by nine 200 mg Advil tablets per day, the pain and stiffness associated with 12-hour days at the course was kept at bay.

Normally, we’d arrive at the course around 7:00 a.m. and hit balls for 30 minutes and go.  The early tee times allowed for a break for lunch before heading out around 2:30 p.m. for the afternoon round.  Two of my traveling partners also managed the full 216 and the whole affair was exhausting but tremendous fun.  I would not advise taking this on if you have any physical limitations or sense of reasonableness 🙂 .

Leading up to the trip, I had forsaken all practice time for play, mostly over nine hole rounds, in hopes that the added reps would allow me to adjust more easily in bad stretches.  This worked incredibly well, especially when my ball striking took a downturn.  Also we took video of our swings on the course and reviewed at night and I picked up a few nuggets that I put in play the following day.  The added play early in the season clearly helped and the availability of video was like having a swing coach always nearby to assist.  Here’s one of me on my best drive at The Legends Heathland course.  I noticed my ball position was back quite a bit and I’m still trying to figure out what else I did right.  See anything?

Key stats for the 216 holes:

  • 81.08 stroke average
  • 19 birdies
  • 96 pars
  • 74 bogeys
  • 23 double bogeys
  • 4 others

Individual rounds:

  • May 27, Kings North, 84
  • May 27, Kings North, 86
  • May 28, Heathland, 75
  • May 28, Parkland, 80
  • May 29, Parkland, 74
  • May 29, Oyster Bay 82
  • May 30, Moorland 82
  • May 30, Heritage, 81
  • May 31, Rivers Edge, 84
  • May 31, Rivers Edge, 83
  • June 1, True Blue, 81
  • June 1, True Blue, 81

Kings North and Rivers Edge were new courses for me and I shot my highest scores on those venues, which was not unexpected.  Most of the courses were in excellent shape and a delight to play.  Full course reviews are coming for True Blue, Kings North, and Rivers Edge.  Stay tuned!