Desk Jockeys: Play Better Golf!

I finally figured out why they call us desk jockeys and not desk athletes.  Do you ever get to that point mid-round where your game starts to fall apart and you don’t know why?  Usually it’s a couple of loose swings that leave you in bad spots.  Then you begin to press to get back on track.  It can be doubly frustrating if you’ve gotten off to a good start – you know the feeling.  It became apparent yesterday when the Bill Shoemaker pull hook made an unwelcome return appearance.

Our on-course struggles can usually be traced back to habits or swing faults that are old and tough to break.  Readers who viewed my on-line lesson with FixYourGame.com know my fault is losing my spine angle on the downswing.   As a result my swing path gets too shallow and I release the club too early, creating the pull hook.  Understanding the problem is the first step but correcting is difficult.  What’s rewarding is making a fix mid-round, and being able to save your score in the face of a budding catastrophe, which I managed to do yesterday.

I knew that this move is caused because my body sometimes slips into a nonathletic position at address and I think it’s tied to my years of sitting poorly for long periods of time at work.  Special thanks to thebirdiehunt for his recent post on good posture which turned on the light bulb for me.

Pinehurst #2 - 17 tee
Poor address posture.
Adam Scott From Allexperts.com
Adam Scott
From Allexperts.com

For desk jockeys with bad posture, there’s a couple of things you can try.

  1. Visualization:  See the photo of me at address with my rounded back and shoulders.  This is a poor position to start from and I’m not ready to make a good athletic move.  Then look at the image of Adam Scott with his straight back, chin up, knees flexed and spine angle set.  He’s ready to unleash some serious power.  It helps me when I address the ball and retain the image of his setup.
  2. Over correct the swing fault.  I’ve tried many drills to fix the posture issue.  The most beneficial is the chair drill, where you take a back swing and a down swing and keep your rear end in contact with an object standing behind you.  Use a bag stand, wall, or otherwise.  Here I’m using a chair from my patio.

    Chair Drill
    Chair Drill

As part of my fitness workout, I take 50 swings and stay in contact with the chair.  In my round yesterday, I imagined staying in contact with the chair and was able to make good swings and eliminate the pull hook.  A word of caution:  you should be very comfortable with a drill you call on during play, otherwise, it will probably work for one or two swings before something else goes wrong.

Understanding your faults is half the battle.  Know that when you hit a bad shot, it’s probably the result of something you’ve done wrong in the past.  Work to identify your faults and get with your professional to develop a plan to correct.  Recognize them when they occur during play, and don’t panic.  Good luck and play well!

2013 Presidents Cup Picks

PrezOddly enough, the lead up to the 2013 Presidents Cup has been strangely quiet.  Almost anti-climactic for serious golf fans, with the only fanfare being the omission of Jim Furyk off Freddy Couples‘ American squad.  That controversy lasted about half a news cycle and then more silence.  At last check, there were still tickets available; the problem being that this event generates as much passion as a Thursday night football game between the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns, which incidentally is up against the prime time replay of the golf coverage on October 3rd.  Who’ll win the ratings battle?

Let’s get the predication out of the way and focus on some more interesting side stories.  The Americans are loaded for bear top to bottom and should win handily against an undermanned International team, but will struggle, as they do in most match play events, and win in a squeaker 18-16.  After watching the underdog Euro team dominate the heavily favored U.S. squad in this year’s Solheim Cup, nothing will surprise me.

Jordan Speith  From usatoday.com
Jordan Speith
From usatoday.com

If you believe as I do that the Ryder Cup is the premier international match-play competition, than the addition of Jordan Speith to the American Presidents squad has got to excite you.  This guy has got the stones for winning at a very young age and the match-play experience will only ready him more for next year’s competition at Gleneagles.  I also like that Hunter Mahan is on the team.  He needs the match play work to continue to exercise the choking demons of the 2010 Ryder Cup catastrophe at Celtic Manor.  See a pattern here?

This year’s International team is featuring five South Africans, but those not named Schwartzel, Els, or Oosthuizen have never sniffed international competition.  First timers Branden Grace and Richard Sterne are relative unknowns, although Grace finished 18th at The Masters, which was his top performance in 12 events on this year’s PGA Tour.

Finally, I am amused every week that Phil and Tiger are in the same field.  When Tiger struggles, the media has a sky is falling conniption fit, but when Phil plays poorly, hardly anyone notices.  The public roots more intensely for Phil over Tiger, but Woods has set his personal bar much higher, and Phil has rolled on the career roller coaster with predictable regularity.  At the end of the day, I think the players take The Presidents Cup more seriously than the fans.  Enjoy the spectacle and see you at Muirfield Village.

Roll Tide! War Eagle! RTJ ‘Bama Trip Booked.

At the risk of sounding like the two-faced ferry operator in The Outlaw Josey Wales, I need to practice these two catchphrases for my upcoming trip to the RTJ Golf Trail in Alabama.RTJ  We are visiting during the second week in October and our travels will take us from Birmingham (Tide country) to Auburn/Opelika (Tigers) and cover seven days and five rounds.  I’ve done some preliminary research and believe that the courses we’ve selected are among the finest on the trail.  The line-up:

  1. Ross Bridge, Hoover
  2. Oxmoor Valley – Ridge course, Birmingham
  3. Oxmoor Valley – Valley course, Birmingham
  4. Grand National – Links course, Opelika
  5. Grand National – Lakes course, Opelika

The 800 mile trek from DC to Birmingham is a haul and we’ve decided to fly instead of drive.  Our thoughts were to stay/play at as many courses in the same areas and minimize the travel between sites.  The RTJ Trail has partnered with some Renaissance and Marriott resorts on site and will book a stay-play package for you, or they offer you the option of doing your own hotel reservations, as we have done.  Full course reviews are coming for each site, as well as an evaluation of our travel and booking strategy.  Right now I’m looking for any travel insights, course playing tips, or advice on good barbeque joints along the trail; please send!

Have you ever tried to peak your game for a golf trip?  My advice is not to try too hard because you end up traveling with too many mechanical swing thoughts, and even though the airlines don’t charge for them, they are more costly than most baggage fees.  As this trip gets closer, I’m thinking of trying to just play as much as I can and not worry too much about practice.  Usually, I play better the day after I practice, but yesterday’s outlier round gave me great hope on the “play only” strategy.  I hadn’t touched a club in over a week and went out cold for a game in the wind and rain at Rattlewood.  I hit about 20 balls, rolled a dozen 3-foot putts and teed it up.  Four hours later, I returned soaking wet, but had hit 14 greens and shot even par for my best round of the year.  Strange game.  I have noticed a marked improvement in my ball striking and have hit double-digit GIR in six of my last eight rounds.  I may be onto a fundamental “ah ha” discovery but it’s too early to tell.  The trip will provide a great opportunity to test my theory and I’ll fill you in upon my return.

What Are The Odds?

Golf is a game renown for different outcomes for virtually every stroke, putt, chip, and game situation.  Repeating the same behavior is nearly impossible and the funniest thing happened to me over the last couple of days.  On Friday, I was playing an emergency nine after work at my local muni.  On the par-4 8th hole, I laid up off the tee for position with a 3WD, and placed the shot perfectly in the fairway.  My red Titleist #1 golf ball was clearly marked with two blue dots, but a playing partner mistakenly hit my ball on their second shot.  Yesterday, on the same course, I again took 3WD for position, but this time off the par-4 9th.  Again I piped the shot, and again a different playing partner hit my ball for their second shot.  It was the exact same Titleist #1 with the two blue dots.  What are the odds?

The only other instance that comes to mind was several years ago when I was playing Whitetail Golf Club in Bath, PA and had selected a 7-iron on the 152 yard par-3 11th.  I landed the shot inches from the hole but a significant amount of spin backed the ball off the front of the green and down into a ravine; lost ball.  I re-teed my provisional and changed to a 6-iron.  My shot landed on the back of the green and backed all the way to the front and into the hole for a par and pseudo ace.

Sometimes this is a very strange game.  Any weird repeating outliers ever happen to you?  Please share, thanks!

Positive Trend On The Greens

If you can repeat a good or bad behavior for three straight rounds, I believe you can classify that as a trend and not a one-off occurrence.  Today I completed my third straight round without a three-putt and while I didn’t do anything spectactular, my scoring was stable and I carded a solid 5-over par 76 at Poolesville.  Earlier in the year, I was fighting a mind-blowing slump where I failed to break 80 for 10 straight rounds.  The slump was characterized by wild swings in momentum and periods of horridly inconsistent play.  I’ve noticed my play of late has been very even keel and I believe a couple changes with the putter are primarily responsible.  Specifically:

I start my pre-round warm-up on the greens by using the Butch Harmon two-tee drill that Tiger Woods has made popular.  Sure, he didn’t win at the PGA Championship, but Tiger is still the best player in the world, and I started to copy his pre-round putting routine as I observed him warming up at  Oak Hill.  Tiger sets two tees barely wider than the length of his putter head apart, and about 3 feet from the hole on a flat area on the practice green.  He strokes about one dozen putts with just his right hand, then switches to both hands for another 10-15 balls, each time making a smooth stroke and ensuring the putter head is moving low and on-line.  For some reason, this has helped me immensely because I don’t blade putts anymore (my frequent miss).  I also don’t do the right hand only portion of the drill, as I have found it too difficult.

Second,  I’ve slightly altered my pre-shot routine to give me more feel on distance putts.  I always struggled with how to aim breaking putts, and previously putted at a spot to the side of the hole.  If I had a putt that broke two cups to the right, I’d aim and stay sighted on the point two cups to the left.  Now, I step up to the ball and look at nothing but the hole while taking a couple of practice strokes.  For some reason, I can feel the distance much better looking at the hole and not a spot equidistant from the cup.  I will quickly sight my putter to the amount of break that I’d like to start the putt on, but quickly allow my eyes to return to the hole before pulling the trigger.  Also, I found that once you decide on your line and speed, pull the trigger without delay to keep the power of the stroke fresh in your mind.  The hole is your ultimate target.  Set your sights on it and make a bunch.  Good luck!

Learning The Same Lesson Over and Over

Golfers, more than athletes of any sport need to be reminded of the old adage that says, “If you keep doing what you’ve done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve got.”  This takes the same form as “practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent,” and today I relearned that lesson the hard way.

For some reason I periodically feel compelled to practice mechanics during my pre-round warm-up and I know you should never do this.  My guess is that today, I felt compelled to catch up from yesterday because I didn’t practice and subconsciously felt unprepared to play.  Or maybe it was the fact that I forgot to bring my golf shoes to the course and was going brain dead in general, but I know that your warm-up is designed to get your body and mind ready to play and you should avoid all mechanical preparation.  Last week, I had practiced the day before and felt prepared to play on game day.  During my pre-round warm-up, I was off kilter and searched successfully for a minor swing key to get me through the round.  This type of adjustment is okay but going out and deliberately working on mechanics is not.  Why do golfers do this?  I know I’m not alone here.

So, today, I hit the range for warm-ups determined to keep my arms and chest connected, and I put a head cover under my left armpit for a dozen swings or so to work that good solid feeling.  On or about the 8th hole, I started to pull the ball.  Struggling to recover as the pull became a pull hook, I managed to make the turn in 1-over 37, but was clearly starting to rearrange mental deck chairs.  Smothering nearly every shot, I bogeyed #10, lost two balls on #11 on my way to a snowman, and continued to fight the hook through the 16th hole.  Having already hit the proverbial iceberg, I finally realized standing on #17 tee that the head cover drill had pulled my hands too low on the back swing and I was attacking the ball from a swing path that was much too shallow and from the inside.  I made the adjustment but the damage had been done and 47 strokes later, I had my 84 and made my way to the parking lot humbled and exhausted.  The only thing worse than having a knock down drag out with your golf swing is doing it when you’re walking and it’s over 90 degrees and humid.

So I take some solace in the fact that I figured out what was going on with my swing, but was left to wonder why I periodically have to relearn the same hard lesson.  Has this ever happened to you and if so, same lesson or a different one?