Golfing Greedy – Like The Atlanta Falcons

Remember in this year’s Super Bowl when the Atlanta Falcons came out and took a 28-3 lead after four minutes in the 3rd quarter.  Then what happened?  They got greedy and continued to try and throw the ball instead of running out the clock out, which ultimately ruined their chance for victory.

Today, I learned that greed is not good on the golf course either.

Yesterday I had a full swing lesson and continued to work on my ball striking.  Today’s round started off great at Rattlewood.  I was nutting my driver, making good decisions, and working my lesson plan perfectly.  I played the front nine with one bogey and one birdie and felt very much in control, and maybe a little bit cocky as we headed to the par-5 10th hole.  I pounded a drive and left myself 215 yards uphill.  Then the Kyle Shanahan in me took over.  I forgot I was still in learning mode and elected to go for the green with a 3WD.  I have never gone for this green in two but had never driven it this far before.  What would you do?  I knew the green was surrounded by bunkers and felt a greenside bunker shot to a middle pin position was no problem.  Sure enough I landed in a bunker, but then chunked two sand shots and made double.

Feeling cheated out of a birdie opportunity, l stayed aggressive and tried to drive the green on the 11th hole which was playing downwind, downhill, and only 323 yards.  I stepped on a driver but blew it into the lake guarding the right side of the fairway – bogey.  On the par-3 twelfth hole, I clubbed down and tried to hit a 3-iron on a shot that called for a 5WD and pulled it left for another bogey.  At the end of the inward half, I had carded a 10-over 46, and like the Falcons, left the course in a state of shock.  Where did I go wrong?

I think it was the second shot on #10.  I haven’t hit a bunker shot in a month.  During my lessons, I’ve been focusing on full swing and no short game.  I’ve had plenty of reps with my sand wedge from various distances in the fairway.  I should have laid up to a good yardage and pitched on for a good birdie chance.  The decision on 11 tee was flat out stupid.  I could have hit a 4-iron in the middle of the fairway for an easy wedge or 9-iron to an accessible pin.  The rest of the back nine was a combination of mental and physical mistakes that compounded themselves.

What’s frustrating is that I know not to get greedy and to play to my strengths, but I do it anyway!  It happened to me and to the Falcons, does it ever happen to you?

Instruction Without Practice Is Like Reading the Comics

Whether it’s golf, computer programming, or learning to drive a car, anytime you try to acquire a new skill, you’ll need to practice.  Instruction without practice is like reading the comics.  You enjoy it at the time, but don’t retain much in the form of long term benefit.  If you’re a dedicated player, one of the great things about taking a series of golf lessons is that it forces you into beneficial regular practice.  As I re-engage in regular practice, I’m reminded of a few pointers to make the best use of your time.

  1. Find a quiet isolated spot; it improves concentration.  Approach like Vijay Singh.  He has it right when he sets up alone down at the end of the driving range.  Unless you’re the type who could do your homework with the TV blaring, you’re better off in solitary.  Hitting balls at Top Golf with your friends or on the simulator at Dave and Busters is fun but is not practice.  Nor is working one stall over from the dad trying to give his young son well-meaning but awful swing advice.  Focus on your task at hand.
  2.  Move slowly through your basket of balls.  Ever see the range rat raking ball after ball, never changing clubs, and hitting one every 15 seconds – usually with the driver?  Don’t be that guy.  If you want a cardio workout, go to the gym.  Warm up slowly and start with a wedge, making small swings.  Resist the temptation to quickly hit another ball after a bad shot.  Think through your miss and attempted correction.  Rushing will only get you tired and frustrated.
  3. Bring your rangefinder and use it.  Hit at specific targets and change them often; it will help you to concentrate and stay fresh.  This one is difficult because you’re most likely working on swing mechanics, but never forget golf is a target-oriented game.  Often, if your swing is somewhat grooved, just focusing on the target will free your body from your mind and allow you to perform your best.
  4. When you finish full swing practice, go putt for 20-30 minutes.  Putting is a simple repeated stroke that doesn’t require much physical effort.  It’s a wonderful way to cool down and is also 40% of the shots you’ll take during a normal round.  Draining putts is always beneficial to your game.  If your range session was less than satisfactory, it can take the edge off and remind you that getting the ball in the hole is the objective of all your hard work.  Don’t confuse putting after full swing with short game practice.  This putting is just about seeing the ball go in the hole.  Short game practice (chipping, pitching, putting, and bunker play) should have a completely different time block allocated, and is often more time consuming than full swing.
  5. Keep playing golf – it’s important to stay engaged with the objectives of the game.  Shooting at targets, getting rewarded for good shots and penalized for bad, and working on your course management.  While you’re trying to make swing changes, this can be very difficult.  You need to persevere and not beat yourself up over some bad scores.  Know that the more you play AND practice together, it will elevate your overall performance.  Plus, when you pull off those shots you’ve been working on during practice, it’s a great feeling.

There you have it.  These tips are working for me and I hope they do for you.  Right now, I’m off to the practice tee.

Play well!

Update After Lesson #2

Today I took the second in a series of four full swing lessons.  In lesson #1 I told my instructor my goal was to average more than 10 GIR per round this season.  I have been stuck between 8 and 9 for the last seven straight years.  10+ should improve my proximity, provide more birdie looks, and help lower my scores.  Lesson #1 was difficult because we focused  on trying to break a bad habit.  I played the day after lesson #1 and you can imagine the result – two GIR.  I played a week later after some practice and saw some positives with my driving and fairway woods, but struggled with my irons and wedge play.  Still, I managed to hit seven greens.

Lesson #2 was much better.  I latched onto a swing key after my instructor manipulated my hands where he wanted me at the top of my back swing.  This allowed me to only think of one thought during the swing and helped immensely.  I was probably picking up an additional 10 yards with my 8-iron and hitting about 80% of them within my target range (10 feet to the right or left of the flag).  Then we moved to partial wedge shots with the new change.  The difference was weird at first but significant.  I tried to hit 40 yard pitches with my 56 but hit it so solidly that I couldn’t keep it under 60 yards.  Then I shortened my back swing so I almost felt like it was a long chip, accelerated through the ball and managed to control the distance better.  My contact was consistent and much improved.  He told me I hit a lot of good shots and I left the golf course pumped.

Then I made a mistake.  I went out after lunch for some more practice with the intention of cementing the lessons into memory and didn’t hit nearly as well.  I failed to realize how gassed I was from the lesson because I had warmed up for a half hour and the lesson took an hour. I had hit the equivalent of an extra large bucket of balls.  So I didn’t even try to finish up and went and hit some putts for half an hour.  You have to know your limitations!

I’m playing again tomorrow and am hoping to see additional improvement, especially with the short irons and wedges.  Play well if you are too!

Fantastic Opportunity to Challenge Myself

476 yard par-4 #10 at Northwest

Yesterday, I played Northwest Golf Course in Silver Spring, Maryland.  We usually get out here four or five times per year and on this beautiful Masters Sunday, we enjoyed crystal clear skies and comfortable 70 degree temperatures.  With perfect scoring conditions,  I shot a ho-hum 81 from the blue tees, which play one set up and measure 6,827 yards.  While I left the golf course a bit frustrated with my swing, I was tremendously excited because I learned that Northwest would be hosting 2017 U.S. Open qualifying on May 8th!

When this Ault & Clark design was built in 1964, it was actually constructed with the anticipation of hosting a U.S. Open.  But with Congressional Country Club located in the same market, the dream never materialized and Northwest became one of the strongest municipal tests, and a favorite for players who like to let the shaft out.

A couple years ago, I wrote a piece theorizing on how tour pros might fare at your local muni.  It’s no longer speculation.  I get to find out myself because I’m going to join them!  I know what you’re thinking, “Brian, you hack; you need a 1.4 USGA index to enter qualifying for the U.S. Open.”  Of course my handicap is not that low and I won’t be in the field, but I’ll be playing the day before on the same track and trying to test the heck out of myself; or the day after.  We’ll be teeing it up from the tips and at 7,376 yards, probably hitting driver 3WD into a lot of the par-4s and hoping to keep the ball on these undulating razor-fast greens.

My group never plays the back tees out here; it’s just too long.  In the decades I’ve been playing Northwest, I’ve only attempted the back tees a couple times.  Once, as a much younger player maybe 25 years ago, I played one of the best rounds of my life in the rain and shot a 5-over 77 from the tips.  Now, I’m happy with 77 from the regular tees.  What are my chances of breaking 90?  This is going to be humbling.

Have you ever had the opportunity to play a tour caliber competition course very close to the real event?  If so, how did it go?

Play well.

What are the Do’s and Don’ts of taking a golf lesson?

World class instructor Hank Haney with Charles Barkley.
Photo by Associated Press

As golf season gets ramped up, many of us will be investing in lessons in an effort to improve.  High handicappers right down to touring professionals all benefit from formal instruction.  I took my first lesson of the season last weekend and have scheduled a series every two weeks for the balance of the spring.  I’m reminded of a few Do’s and Don’ts when taking lessons:

Do:

  1. When you sign up for lessons, ensure your instructor has the “PGA” acronym after his/her name.  Some courses and training facilities employ instructors or managers who give golf lessons at a discounted price.  If they aren’t PGA certified, don’t go for it.  Membership in the Professional Golfers Association is an indicator that your instructor has spent the necessary time in the business, has been formally trained on how to teach, and has given many lessons.
  2. Prior to or during your first lesson, set clear expectations with your instructor.  Let them know your skill level, current handicap (if you keep one), what your goals are, and how much time you have to devote to practice.  You may get a completely different lesson if you indicate you plan on practicing every day, compared to if you can only devote one day per week.
  3. During instruction, ask questions!  Your level of engagement will often get you a better lesson.  Golf pros are human.  They get bored at work too and often perform better when fully engaged with their students.  If something doesn’t feel right or if you’re getting it and enjoying the success, dialog it.
  4. Take full swing lessons outdoors on the range.  Some instructors will teach at indoor facilities and you can make improvements using a simulator, but there is no substitute for seeing actual ball flight.  Sometimes what feels good on a simulator may not be the shot pattern you want.
  5. At the completion of your lesson, reiterate with your instructor two or three key points that you’re going to work on until the next lesson.
  6. Practice between lessons.  Sometimes during a lesson, you may perform poorly because the changes you’re making are difficult to implement.  Try and get out multiple times between lessons and reinforce what you’ve been shown, and do it at your own pace.  Often, you will “get it” during practice, because you’re able to take your time and you won’t feel like you’re being watched.
  7. World class instructor Hank Haney advocates taking 100 swings per day in your back yard.  Do this even if you can’t hit balls and try to feel the change you’re working on.  It’s the fastest way to ingrain the new feel.

Don’t:

  1. Try and change too much at once.  Learning can be confusing, and we learn best by focusing on one concept at a time.  Sometimes even a seasoned professional will give you too much to think about.  The pro wants you to succeed and if the first or second swing change doesn’t immediately work, they can introduce more in an effort to find something that resonates.  When this happens, tell your pro you’d like to focus on one concept and ask what that should be.
  2. Play the day after a lesson and expect to score well.  Your mind will be in mechanical mode and you will be playing “golf swing” not golf.  Forget your score and just focus on enjoying your time in the outdoors and trying to focus on the changes you’re trying to implement.
  3. Seek swing tips from your inexperienced playing partners.  Best to stick with your pro’s advice and remember the old axiom, “Amateurs teach amateurs to play like amateurs.”
  4. Fail to practice between lessons and then claim you got a bad lesson when the changes don’t work on the golf course.
  5. Forget about short game and putting.  Instruction is not all about full swing, although the vast majority of lessons are given on the practice tee.  Ask your professional about a short game lesson or if they’ll take you out on the course and play a few holes to help you with your course management.

Got any more Do’s and Don’ts?  Please share and good luck if you’re taking lessons.  Play well!

“YESSSS SIR!!!”

Jack Nicklaus. Photo from Golfweek

We are PUMPED for the 2017 edition of The Masters!  It feels like being first in line at Best Buy on Black Friday morning.  Soon, the greatest venue in golf will fling open the gates, and we will charge in to witness the world’s best going head-to-head in the most anticipated and revered contest on the planet.  So grab a pimento cheese sandwich and let’s go find you a winner.

Selecting major champions is tough business, but The Masters is the easiest of the four because of the reduced field size and the past champions who cannot contend.  Most players love this course but there are a few that don’t, and we can quickly rule them out.  There is no way you can not embrace Augusta National and win.  For some, the course doesn’t suit their game and others can’t overcome the baggage from previous failures.  Both factors will play a part in our selection.

Let’s start the addition by subtraction with the world’s best player; Dustin Johnson.

Photo from Golf Channel

DJ has worked incredibly hard on his short game and putting.  He’s now to the point where he’s the most complete competitor from tee to green, and can destroy tournaments.  Old DJ couldn’t chip and putt well enough to win a green jacket.  New DJ can.  But anyone who’s ever fixed something in golf has that bad swing thought or faulty process buried deep in their subconscious.  The synapses can fire at the worst of times and this course can trigger.  One year he’ll win one, but not quite yet.  Looking for a top five, though.

The world’s best ball striker is Rory McIlroy.  When his swing is on he can thump it like nobody.  Rory is not the world’s best putter, and is far from it.  I’m not sure if it’s attitude, mechanics, or innate ability that hold him back.  He’s won the other three majors and would dearly love to close out the career grand slam, but you need a deft touch on these greens, and a cool head when you miss.  Plus, he still has that final round 80 in 2011 lying dormant.

Photo from businessinsider.com

Phil Mickelson‘s performance in the majors began to slip over the last couple of years.  But then, BAM!  What a show for the ages he put on at 46 in last year’s Open Championship.  Unfortunately, Henrik Stenson bested him with one of the greatest final rounds ever played in a major.  Lefty’s game is suited for Augusta.  But come on, he’ll be 47 in two months and nobody since Jack in 1986 has won a major at that age.  Sorry, Phil, you aren’t Jack.  Should be a good week though, and a top-10 finish.

Briefly:  Justin Thomas peaked a little too early this year and needs more seasoning.   It’s either vertigo, mental breakdown, illness, or injury.  I’m done picking Jason Day in this tournament – watch him win it now.  Sergio Garcia doesn’t like the venue and nobody ever won The Masters putting with the modified claw grip (read this Phil!)  Adam Scott; no broomstick allowed, no chance.  Hideki Matsuyama; too mechanical and the stage is too big (but it’s shrinking).    Rickie Fowler is this year’s trendy pick.  He certainly has the outfits to look the part, but trendy never wins The Masters, especially for those who can’t hold a lead or hold up well under 4th round pressure.  Rickie is more suited to a PGA type venue where he can battle in the first three rounds and come from behind to win.  When will PLAYERS Champion Rickie re-appear?  2016 Masters Champion Danny Willett remains on the world’s greatest one and done tour.  Can Canadian Adam Hadwin contend?  Should be on his honeymoon but is turning his new wife into a golf widow at Augusta.  Okay, he gets a pass.  Adam probably needs a couple years on the course but this guy has stones.  Love his pressure game.

The last man standing is Jordan Spieth, your 2017 Masters champion.  Best putter in the field.  Best vision in the field, best clutch chipper in the field.  Sometimes hits it crooked off the tee but you can get away with that at Augusta.  And finally, if anyone can immerse in the process of shot to shot it’s Jordan, and that will help erase the mental foible of the 12th hole from last year.  I love his chances.  Who’s your choice?

Photo from Forbes

Final picks:

Winner :  Jordan Spieth

Runner Up:  Dustin Johnson

Third:  Rory McIlroy