The Adventures Of Captain Single

Captain Single at the famous biker bar in Murrells Inlet, SC after a round at TPC

I have never been adverse to playing golf as a single. . .until the last three times out.  Normally, I enjoy meeting people and have actually made some lifelong friendships on the first tee, but as luck would have it, my regular golfing partners have been quitting the game or dropping out temporarily for health reasons.  I’ve been relegated to playing as a single this season and the experience is driving me nuts.

It started three weeks ago on Easter Sunday.  Who golfs on Easter?  Nobody, right?  I figured church in the morning and a tee time right after noon on a wide open course – perfect.  I showed up for my 12:06 and there were ten foursomes right in front of me playing a self-organized tournament and putting everything out.  The single I got paired with was nice company but it took nearly three hours to play the front nine.  He dropped out after nine and I was hardly thrilled at the prospect of following this rolling roadblock, but fortunately a threesome zipped down to the 10th tee and joined me.  These three guys were hitting it all over the lot, but they kept moving which suited me fine.  Round one in the books but it gets more bizarre.

Two weeks ago, at a different track, Seargant Solo was out again with a noon time.  The starter paired me up with a guy and a girl in a cart and as I rolled down to the tee I noticed they only had one set of clubs.  I introduced myself and the guy tells me his girlfriend has never played and was just was riding along and would hit a few shots from time to time.  Then he invited me to “go ahead of them because they just wanted to lay back, relax, and drink a few beers.”  It was 80 degrees, the sun was shining, and the course was packed with foursomes.  I’m thinking, “Dude, you just don’t get it,” but I didn’t say anything.  Then two more fellows rolled down and joined making us a happy five-some.  So we played two holes uneventfully and the guy even fist bumps me after I sink a putt on #2 green.  I’m thinking, “Okay, this isn’t that bad.”  Then on the par-5 third, the other two guys and I hit our tee shots but the thirsty couple just sat in their cart chatting.  We took off up the fairway and hit our second shots and noticed these two were still on the lady’s tee fiddling around while the foursome behind them were standing on the regular tee.  He wasn’t kidding about laying back.  They must have yelled at them because they came rushing back up to join us.  We finished the front with just the guy hitting shots.

After three holes on the back, this twosome just got in their cart and rode off while we were putting out.  They didn’t say good bye and were never to be seen again.  Turns out they had polished off a twelve pack and a fifth of whiskey in the 12 holes.  I was left to wonder who was their designated driver, the last person standing?  It gets worse.

Single-Seat Sombrero had a 12:33 time last Sunday and was pared up with a threesome.  I showed up only to find out it was U.S. Kids tournament day at the course.  There were kids already on the course and the nine-holers were scheduled to go off the back nine from 2-4 p.m.  Before I even left the golf shop, the pro was offering me a rain check because I might get blocked out trying to make the turn.  I’m wondering why they didn’t call me or post this on the website, and I asked if I could play the front twice and he said they’d  try to fit me in.  Well it was 12:05 and I was ready to go and they were not running with a starter for some inexplicable reason, so I just jumped on the tee, ripped a shot and headed off by myself on foot.  Soon a single in a cart was pushing me from behind, but never got close enough to join me.  I felt rushed and started to miss shots and get frustrated.  On the par-4 fourth hole, I was in the fairway off the tee and couldn’t see the flag stick because the last kids group had forgot to replace it.  I tried to hit a ball on the center of the green and pull hooked it badly.  Now I was seething.  On #7 I realized I was playing so fast that if I kept my pace, I could beat the first kids group off #10 at 2:00 p.m, and proceeded to do just that.  On #15 I was still feeling rushed and blew a tee shot way right.  At that point, I finally caught up to the last kids tournament group and the guy in the cart caught me and I asked him to join.  Funny, but as soon as he joined, I slowed way down and didn’t miss a shot the rest of the way in.  It’s weird how a nice measured pace will help your game, but I was very disheartened by the whole experience.

So what’s next?  I realize this charade has to end.  I need to get out and play with good players on a regular basis.  No more solitary Sundays for me, I’m joining a club next weekend.  The course is Blue Mash in Laytonsville, MD.  More to come; stay tuned!

On the tee at Oyster Bay, but playing in a foursome

 

Can You Trust A Bad Swing?

Relaxing at Pawleys Island, SC

Readers of Bob Rotella books know that one of his favorite axioms is, “Train it, trust it.”  The idea is to practice enough so your body will naturally recall the proper swing mechanics without trying to force them.  This is truly the best way to play golf, but what if you’re out on the course and feel your swing slipping away to the point that you cannot trust it?  What do you do?  You have two options:

  1. Work on your mechanics and try to fix your swing
  2. Try to change your perspective of the shots you need to hit.  In essence, fool your mind into getting comfortable because a couple fairways in a row will do wonders for your confidence.  Tiger does this by hitting that stinger with his three wood when he loses confidence in the driver.

Try number two.  You should do it by taking any club you feel you can make an aggressive swing with to hit the fairway.  Say, you usually hit driver on a 500 yard par-5.  A good shot leaves you 260 yards in, but a bad swing might put you in the woods and looking at a big number.  Instead, hit a four or five iron off the tee.  From the fairway, you now have maybe 330 yards in.  That’s still just a short par-4 which you should be able to hit with two more shots, and presto, you are right back in the hole.

There is another approach gleaned from the great mystery of why we play great one day and awful the next.  It’s truly mind boggling and all golfers have tried to solve for this at one point in time.  I believe it has something to do with your natural bio-rhythms.  These are the brain synapses that fire and guide your central nervous system.  They control your ability to concentrate, your stress level, your hand-eye coordination, your pleasure and pain receptors, and just how you feel from day to day.   Example:  Today I was at my local muni practicing and hit the ball quite awful.  Couldn’t tell where it was going and actually thinned a couple off the hozel.  The day before, I was at another course working short game and my touch was superb.  Oddly enough, the good practice was preceded by a frustrating day at work and I didn’t feel like practicing and forced myself to.  Yet, that had no impact on my performance.  Why?  Ultimately, I think the environment you’re in and comfort level has a lot to do with your performance.

Control the environment and you control your ability to relax.  Relax and you play better.  For me, it’s the avoidance of feeling crowded and being in tight spaces.  I get tense in traffic jams, shopping malls, in long lines, and even on crowded beaches.  When I’m tense on the golf course, my game goes in the crapper.  Conversely, when I loosen up and relax, I perform much better.  The course I practiced at yesterday is much less populated than my local muni.  There’s plenty of room to spread out and work all your shots.  Nobody gets in anyone’s way.  I always seem to practice well there.  On the other hand, my muni is the popular hangout.  Today was 80 degrees and it was packed, but it’s always crowded.  My practice and play are spotty at this track.  I’m much more relaxed at the first course and therefore perform better.  Tomorrow, I play at Rattlewood, where I’ve had considerable success.  I always seem to warm up well before my round and that relaxes me.  Oddly enough, the driving range was constructed with a slight upgrade from left to right for all hitting stations.  Ding on whomever poured the foundation, but this silly little nuance forces me to start hitting the ball right to left during my warm-up, and that’s a ball flight I’m comfortable with.

Need more evidence?  Think of some courses you play regularly.  Do you routinely play well at some and hack on others?  The pros do.  I travel to Myrtle Beach every year and always play good on the same courses.  Legends-Heathland, Thistle, Oyster Bay, and True Blue come to mind.  Some of these are hard tracks, but the common factor is that I like the look of the tee shots.  They’re generally a little more open, have great sight lines, and distinct targets.  I feel relaxed and loose and can let the shaft out.  Other courses like TPC of Myrtle, Legends-Moorland, and Heritage are super tight off the tee and I struggle with every round.  I feel squeezed on the tee box and always worry about keeping it in play, and I usually don’t.

In summary, my two keys.

  1. Trust your swing. If you can’t, find a conservative shot you can trust
  2. Practice and play at venues where you feel relaxed

Got any others?  Please share and play well!

Still relaxed at Oyster Bay, Sunset Beach, NC

The Shock of a Sudden Weather Change

Jordan Spieth / USATODAY Sports

It was exactly 5:11 p.m. on Saturday and the heavens opened up on The Masters.  Along with the downpour, a fascinating subplot was hatched on how the best pros handle sudden weather changes.  Commentator Dottie Pepper, said that you need to just play through it like nothing was happening.  Rory McIlroy was on #13 hitting his second shot into the par-5 from a perfect position, and pulled it way left into the azaleas.  They switched coverage to Patrick Reed getting dumped on behind the green at #12.  He had a straight forward chip, which he blew by the hole and missed the par putt coming back.  The weather clearly affected these guys, but what could they have done to handle it better?  How about you?

Rory McIlroy / USATODAY Sports

My last round two years ago was in late November at my local muni.  It started off sunny and 70 degrees but steadily grew colder and windier through the round.  I knew this was in the forecast, but on #18 mother nature freaked out and sleet started pouring down and blowing sideways.  I was unprepared and went into total golf shock, and my game collapsed.  Earlier in the same season we were playing at Barefoot in Myrtle Beach and remnants of Tropical Storm Bonnie were in the area.  In retrospect, I was better prepared and handled that with ease.  What is the reason for weather shock, and what can you do?

Shock clearly happens because your mind is on cruise control.  Rory had just nutted a perfect tee shot and was playing in an exquisite rhythm.  You can see when these guys are rolling that everything about their pre-shot routine is the same, from the way they take off and put on their gloves to the way they check yardage and discuss shots with their caddies.  The weather change is a sudden distraction and crushes routines.  When Rory yanked that approach way left, he was probably over the ball thinking, “Should I dry my grips?  Has my guy got the umbrella ready?  I can feel the rain hitting my back.”  Reed was getting drenched and you could tell he was thinking about it after he missed his putt.  He just wanted to quickly tap in and get dry.

I have found that physically preparing for the condition before it hits is the solution.  Get your game and routine actively into the situation.  At Barefoot, I knew we were going to get rain, but just didn’t know when.  I started the round with my waterproof rain vest on and playing with one rain glove on as well.  I had the other rain glove in my pocket.  When the deluge came, I just pulled out the other glove and carried on without breaking routine.  Now, it pays to have the proper equipment.  For example, you don’t want to be playing with a full rain jacket on in 80 degree weather and high humidity just waiting for the storm to hit.  That’s why I had the half-sleeve vest and rain gloves in play, but you get the idea.

One other point that Dottie made was critical.  You don’t want to be playing or interacting with folks who complain about the weather, especially in adverse conditions.  This will ruin your concentration.  Sometimes it’s unavoidable but if the sudden change comes, I usually try to keep a bit away from the whiners.

Got any other tips for staying on point when weather hits?  Please share and play well!