Put That Cellphone Away!

Now that the 2014 season is upon us, I’d like to poll the group and get your views on a somewhat sensitive topic; cellphone use on the golf course.    As far as my use, I’ve had a smartphone for a couple of years and the prehistoric predecessor about eight years prior.  Not once have I made or taken a call during a game of golf.  I have my phone on vibrate in the bag and occasionally pull to take a few pictures or video, but that’s it.  I view golf as my time and if you need to interrupt me it better be important, otherwise it can wait until my round is finished.  In my view, it’s a breach of etiquette to whip out your phone and make calls from the sanctity of the course.  I know many golf GPS apps are available for smartphones, and I’m fine with folks checking for golf, but I draw the line at yardages and hazards.

I draw my bias from a time shortly before I owned a cellphone when I played in a 9-hole captain’s choice golf league after work.  The competition was friendly, but everyone tried hard to win.  One lady on my team insisted upon making work calls during our matches, and on one hole actually had the phone between her ear and chin while trying to chip for the team’s eagle on a par-5.  I called time and read her the mini-riot act.  What blew my mind is that as a seasoned golfer she had no idea she was doing anything improper and was a bit embarrassed when I called her on it.

The one time I wished I had a cellphone on the course was when my lovely wife called the pro shop and had the marshal come out to pick me up because she had locked herself out of the car.  He drove me in to take this “urgent” call which of course had me worried, and as luck would have it, I was threatening to shoot the best round of my life.  Having just completed 15 holes in 3-under par, by the time I got to the phone in the golf shop, my wife had the emergency resolved.  The marshal returned me to my group and I promptly finished bogey, triple bogey, double bogey.

I wouldn’t dream of traveling without my phone because of the GPS, internet access, conveniences, and the security blanket factor but do you really need a phone to interrupt your game?  My God, how did we ever golf before cellphones!  What are your thoughts?

Do You Confuse Effort With Results?

After watching the Jeremy Abbott saga at the Winter Olympics, I’m reminded again how athletes at every level often let their mental state affect performance.

Jeremy Abbott from ABC News
Jeremy Abbott from ABC News

Watching Abbott in the moments before his short program skate, you sensed his incredible nerves, saw the tension in his face, and I remarked to my wife that I thought he was going to blow it.  Didn’t take long for him to fall apart right from the start, but what happened after the big fall?  Abbott got up, dusted himself off and finished an otherwise flawless performance.   This was clearly a choke and we’ve all done it.  You let your brain get in the way of your capacity to produce.  Abbot finished strong because he knew there would be no medal and the pressure was off.  He relaxed.

What could he have done differently?  I suspect he let the four-year build up of pre-Olympic preparation and aspirations create a level of expectations that were too high.  He confused effort with results.  If I were Abbott, and I can’t skate a lick, I would have told myself, “There are many excellent skaters in this competition.  On any given day, anyone could win the gold.  I’ll focus on giving my best effort and if I win, great; if not, I’ll heartily congratulate the champion.”

Athletes who relax, enjoy the moment, laugh at the nerves, and embrace these opportunities as nothing more than life’s great experiences, have a better chance for success.

T.J. Oshie
T.J. Oshie

See T.J. Oshie before and during the shootout in today’s USA 3-2 victory over Russia?  He was smiling, enjoying the moment, embracing the challenge.  I had confidence in him and he managed to perform at his capacity.

How can these lessons help us on the golf course?  I’ve read all the books by Dr. Bob Rotella and there are many nuggets you can get from him or other sources on the web.  Invest time in developing a good pre-shot routine, simulate game conditions during your practice, visualize the shot before you play, and don’t take a lot of time over the ball.  They’re all good advice, but the best way I’ve found to not confuse effort with results is to remember two simple things.  Try your hardest on every shot and remember to have fun.

Golf is a game and we are humans.  Sometimes we play great and other times we blow it and that’s okay.  What are your keys to perform your best?

10,000 Hours Of Practice?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, he postulates that to achieve mastery in any field requires 10,000 hours of practice.  If I were to take up golf at the age of 15, and practice for two hours, three times a week for nine months of the year, I would be an expert at the age of 61.  For sure, I have not practiced 10,000 hours of golf in my life but right now I play to a five handicap and would guess that my skill level is higher than 95% of the world’s playing public.  But do I feel like an expert?  Certainly not, and more like a bumbling malcontent on my bad days.  Golf is truly humbling and regardless of how I define “expert”, I’d still like to improve my game and am wondering if my approach to practice is correct.  Conventional thinking is that given limited time, dedicate 75% to your short game.  I’ve taken that approach and it paid dividends, but I’m in a routine where I spend most of my practice on short game and feel the strategy is second nature.  Last year, on a suggestion from Vet4golfing51, I spent more time playing than practicing which also helped.  But I’d like to think more about efficient practice which requires answering a key question:

Given limited practice time, do you work to further develop your strengths, or improve your weaknesses?

We all like to practice our strengths because it’s easier.  Oddly enough, I can say with certainty that to become a better individual in the work place, I’ve tried both approaches and learned that focusing on developing your strengths is the superior strategy.  If you continually build on what you’re good at, job satisfaction, attitude, and drive are peaked.  You focus on weaknesses and you’ll generally max out at mediocre.

Conversely, on the PGA Tour, players have thousands of hours of time to practice and you hear countless stories of their dedicating time to fix weaknesses.  The best players address their deficiencies head on and solve because if they don’t, they pay a dear price.   It seems the two strategies are at loggerheads.

For us guys with a desk job, what do you think the right strategy is for practice; focusing on developing strengths or fixing weaknesses?

Slice Of Heaven – Corner Of Hell

heaven and hellQuick pop-survey:  How many of you have shanked your first five balls in a driving range session and left the facility feeling great about your game?

The marvelous thing about golf is that you can experience firsts at any age or stage and this was mine today.  I think ex-heavyweight champ Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until you get hit in the mouth.”  Well my plan today was to leverage all the good swing habits I’d built through my off-season indoor workouts into some solid ball striking.  If five straight shanks to start your season don’t hit you in the mouth, nothing will, and I was lucky the pro didn’t throw me off the range before I put one in someone’s eye socket, but I managed to right the ship and here’s how.

Readers of this space know I’ve been experimenting with the Nine-Shot drill in an effort to add shots to my repertoire.  Admittedly, this is not an easy practice technique since it requires you to work the golf ball in both directions with multiple launch angles, all the while using a variety of clubs.  You must steel yourself to move onto the next shot when you mishit one and continue to focus patiently on ball flight.  This drill saved my range session and my discovery is important.

Normally during a bad range session, you end up trying too many fixes, usually out of frustration or desperation and hope to stumble upon the right one; we’ve all done it.  The beauty of the Nine-Shot is that you are focused on executing a shot with a particular shape and trajectory, not on mechanics.  However, to make the shots, you consciously alter your ball position, alignment, and swing path.  In the event that one of these fundamentals is the cause of your original fault, you are likely to stumble upon it simply executing the drill.  Today, I found that when I moved the ball position forward, my contact immediately improved and the shank move was gone.  Why?  Because the forward ball position changed the bottom of my swing arc and forced me to move a little weight backwards on my back-swing.  Yes, the shank move was being caused by a reverse pivot.  Where that came from I do not know, but once I identified, all sense of normalcy returned.

The “ah ha” moment happened when I left the course and realized that I had solved a serious swing flaw without even trying.  I’m confident that this drill has value and you should give it a try.  Yes it’s hard to do but the benefits are worth it.  I can’t wait to battle test it during a warm-up session before an actual round.  I suspect it’s a big confidence builder and confidence usually leads to a good day on the course.  Good luck if you try it!

2014 Golf Resolutions

freezingI think the cabin fever is finally getting to me.  Either brought on the recent sub freezing temperatures in the east, or dramatic views from Torrey Pines on TV last week, or maybe that we’ve just booked our June golf trip to Myrtle Beach, or perhaps the Grateful Golfer’s recent post on Time For Golf really hit home.  I have been thinking more and more about the 2014 golf season and what to target for improvement, but right now, I don’t care about fixing anything, I just want to get out of the house!

Today, with the thermometer in the mid 40s, I got out the driving range mat and hit about 50 magnolia bombs in the back yard which felt great.  Tomorrow is supposed to be mid-50s and a trip to the range for some work with the nine-shot drill is certainly in order.  Couple that with a few hours of Phoenix Open golf coverage before the Super Bowl, and I think I’ll be alright for the next 36 hours.  The forecast for snow on Monday does not bode well.

I want to return to a point about reducing television viewing mentioned in the Grateful Golfer’s post and how that hits home.  Recently I’ve been guilty of feeding my addiction for televised Baltimore Oriole baseball games.  I probably watched 140 games last year end-to-end and many of these start at 7:00 p.m. which is right in the prime weekday post-work practice window (PWPWPW).  All this TV cannot be good for me.  My new job and commuting schedule has also cut into my morning fitness workout routine.  I’m struggling and need a plan for fitness and practice.  I’m thinking I’ve got to get some golf in one weekday evening before setting foot at home, and another two days of immediate workouts before dinner or watching any baseball.  This will be the toughest because as soon as I get home, my butt likes to hit the couch, and it’s all over.

East Potomac Golf Course has a practice facility and is located very close to my office near Reagan National Airport.  Anyone have a quality report on this course?  I think this may be part of the solution.  Also, any ideas on how to get motivated to practice and workout in the evenings if the mornings are not available – please share.  Thanks!