Readers of this blog know that I’ve committed this season to improving my ball striking through a series of lessons and concentrated practice.  I’m giving it all year to see improvement, but sometimes I get inpatient trying to get results that don’t happen when I think they should.  But a thought came up after my last round:  When things DO break right for you, can you manage success properly?  In yesterday’s round, I did not.

The day before, I played nine holes in the morning and then went to the range to practice and gather some swings on film.  I wanted to make sure that I was correctly implementing the positions my instructor wanted me in.  After lunch, I reviewed the film and spotted a couple areas to work on and headed back out to the range.

Yesterday’s outing at Clustered Spires in Frederick, MD started off well.  I warmed up on the range and felt loose and comfortable.  At 6,200 yards, Clustered Spires is not terribly long and my game plan was to get as many sand wedge, gap wedge, and pitching wedge approach shots as possible, since I’d been practicing those the most.  That would require a good day with the driver and it started out great as I was busting it long and straight.  The changes I worked on the day before were clicking.

To make a long story short, the true measure of ball striking success is greens in regulation (GIR), and I hit the first 15.  While I didn’t see this ball striking bonanza coming, I was thrilled that the changes I had worked on were taking hold, but at the same time, I was at 3-under par and was  STARTING TO EXIT MY COMFORT ZONE!

What happened next was where you figure out how good you are at handling success (or adversity).  On the par-3 16th, I missed the green right into a bunker with a 3-iron.  The streak was over and it threw my equilibrium off – I had been thinking about it the whole day as the round progressed.  I played a nice bunker shot but misjudged the amount of fringe I had to carry and played a poor approach putt from the first cut.  I struggled to make bogey.  I knew I was choking because I hadn’t hit a short shot in 16 holes and wasn’t sure I could.  Still, it was just a bogey and I figured a physical error was bound to happen.  It was deflating, as my 18 GIR fantasy bubble was busted.

#17 is a medium length par-4 that I usually hit with a driver/8-iron, and I caught a huge break.  My drive hit the cart path on the right and catapulted forward another 50 yards shortening the hole considerably.   I was between a sand wedge and a gap wedge but got greedy and went with the gap and tried to fly it all the way to a back left sucker pin.  I went long and short-sided myself into a bad lie.  Again I choked on the chip trying to be too perfect, left it short, and made double.

#18 is a longer par-4 and my drive was solid but trickled just into the left rough, but the lie was deep in three-inch grass.  I pulled an 8-iron left into a bunker and short sided myself again.  With no green to work with, I blasted out 30 feet past the flag and three-putted for another double.  Wow!  Now that’s handling success.  Went from 3-under to 2-over in the bat of an eyelash.

I learned a hard lesson here and sometimes you need to learn it more than once.  Even when it feels like you’re on cruise control, you MUST take it one shot at a time.  Forget your score, forget your streaks, forget your fantasies, and focus on your routine.  I’m not disappointed about #16 and #18 because they were physical errors.  That happens.  But the greedy play on #17 could have been avoided by dropping a sand wedge on the middle of the green and two-putting for a routine par.

Despite the mental breakdown, I’m very excited to see the hard work starting to pay off, and for the first time in a while it felt like I was playing golf instead of golf swing.

How’s your game coming?  Handling success and adversity equally as well?

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