Leading Indicators Of Good Play

Can you correctly anticipate when you will play well or poorly?  What are the leading indicators?  My poor rounds are easier to predict and are usually preceded by a poor ball striking warm up.  Also, if I’ve practiced poorly the day before, it’s usually a bad omen.  If I find myself tired or disinterested, the hacks are usually coming.  Finally, if I’ve over-prepared, sometimes I’ll crash and burn.  Accordingly, it’s much harder to predict a good round.  I’ve been in awful slumps before and played great the following day with no rhyme or reason.  But this is the exception.  The one consistent leading indicator for a good round is that it’s preceded by good practice.

This was the case over the last couple of weeks.  Two Saturdays ago, I took a full swing lesson, which was excellent, and the following day  I tee’d it up and played poorly because I was thinking mechanically.  Last Thursday, I went to the range to try and fix things.  I laid my alignment sticks down and proceeded to strike it very poorly while trying to ingrain my lesson feedback.  What was wrong?  I couldn’t hit the ground if I fell from a tree.

I went out to the course on Saturday to try something new, which I will share because it worked.  My goal was to remove all vestiges of mechanics from my game and zero in on playing golf, not golf swing.  I’d use drills exclusively to improve my focus.  I had a round scheduled for The Links at Gettysburg the following day and I didn’t want to chop it up, but all leading indicators were pointing in that direction.

First, I went to the practice green and played nine holes of up and down.  The rules are simple; you throw a ball into a green-side lie and don’t improve your lie.  You chip or pitch to a cup, then putt until the ball is holed.  Even par is two strokes per hole.  The game is great for building focus because you are forced to use your vision.  An average day of playing this game yields a score of four or five over par, but previously I’ve played after chipping or pitching for an hour.  Here, I went right into it – from car trunk to game.  No warm up shots.  Final score; one-over par.

Next, I played nine holes on the putting green with one ball.  I varied the length of initial putts anywhere from 15 to 50 feet.  Again, par was two strokes per hole.  In this game, you mark your ball and go through your full on course pre-shot routine, really getting into game mode.  Again, there were no practice putts, just the game.  Final score; two under par.

Finally, I went to the driving range with a basket of about 50 balls.  I took six or seven warm-up shots with some wedges, a five-iron and driver.  Then played a full simulated 18 holes on a course of my choice.  During simulated rounds, you play a tee shot, any lay-ups, and all approaches.  Obviously there is no chipping or putting, and if you’re honest with yourself, your score usually approximates what you shoot during real rounds.  The drill is awesome for building focus especially when you start hitting recovery shots after wayward drives.  My course of choice was a local muni and previous simulated rounds usually yield about 75 to 80 strokes, which is close to what I usually shoot there.  On this day, I fashioned a 1-under 69.  I finished with about six balls remaining and just left them there.

The entire session lasted a bit under two hours and I drove home fully satisfied and thinking I had not practiced that well in two or three years.  Sure enough, the following day at Gettysburg, I played great and noticed I was focused like a laser, especially on my tee shots.

You get very excited in this game when you think you’re on to something.  Am I?  I know the key was that every drill and every shot was geared to help me play golf, not golf swing.   Tomorrow, the challenge will be if I can repeat the practice success using the exact same approach, but after a long day of work.  I hope it doesn’t rain 🙂

Do you have any leading indicators for good play?  Good luck if you do and please share. Play well!

 

 

The Links at Gettysburg – Course Review

Summary

We played The Links at Gettysburg on Sunday, August 26, 2018.  The course is a one hour drive from Montgomery County, MD, and a couple of miles east of the famous Pennsylvania battlefield.  There are six sets of tees that make this a fun and playable experience for golfers of all abilities.  We challenged ourselves from the whites which play at 6,277 yards with a rating/slope of 70.5/136.

This course is known for its beautiful scenery and excellent conditioning and did not disappoint. The architect did a great job fashioning several holes out of the local red rock and presenting them as mini-cathedrals surrounding the greens.  They use a lot of hard red sand in their bunkers, which looks a bit unusual but is fine to play from.  As the course is located in the rolling countryside, there are many elevation changes but none too severe, and we didn’t find any holes that were tricked up or unfair.  The course is also bordered by some very large and beautiful homes, but you don’t feel as if they are on top of you.

Downhill par-3 third hole.

From the whites, most of the par-4s are under 400 yards and if you are hitting your driver well, you can score.  Greens are bent-grass and were rolling medium fast and very true.  There is significant mounding and sloping on the putting surfaces that make chipping and putting from above the hole ill-advised.  The rough was cut at medium height and didn’t kill your chances to recover from a stray shot.

Property overlooking #7 fairway
Jim from the fairway on #7
On the 9th tee

From a ball striking perspective the front nine plays fairly easy with the reachable par-5 4th hole offering a great scoring opportunity at 457 yards.  The back is more difficult.  On this day, I was fortunate enough to hit #4 with a six-iron and drain my eagle putt.  After going out in 1-under 35, I managed a birdie on the par-4 10th hole and followed with a couple of pars.  Just when I thought I was rolling, I ran into the buzz saw at 13, 14, and 15.  These three straight holes bring water into play all down the left side – on every shot.  If you fight a hook, you are in trouble.  My big miss is a pull hook and I had not seen one all day.  But with all that water left, and a strong wind blowing in my face, #13 got in my head and I pushed a drive into trouble and carded a triple.  The par-5 14th was playing 531 yards into the same wind and I left a couple more shots right but managed to salvage par.  The par-3 15th finally gobbled up one of my big misses into its leftward watery grave and left me with a deflating double on the card.

Jim on the bridge at the par-3 12th

With no water left on the remaining three holes, I managed to right the ship and finish strong with a par-birdie-par run for a 2-over 74.

Playing notes:

  • #1 tee shot.  We got a lot of conflicting advise on what to hit at this blind downhill short par 4.  From the white tees, you need about 210 yards on your shot.  Don’t take more else you will go through the fairway into trouble.  I didn’t take enough club and left myself with a longer approach into this green that is protected in front by a steep stone wall.
  • #4 tee shot on the short 457 yard par 5.  Hit it over the pine tree on the left, closest to the fairway.  My tee shot was aimed at the middle of the fairway and I pulled it a bit only to see it roll to the extreme right side of the fairway.  Everything bounces and rolls right.
  • #8 tee shot is a precision placement play.  The hole has trouble short and an elongated fairway bunker long that abuts a rock cliff.  Hit it 180 yards from the white tees and you’ll have something between 80 and 110 yards in from the middle of the fairway.
  • #11 tee is a 345 yard gentle dogleg right.  The wind was blowing left to right and I took 3wd which was a good play.  Looks like driver may be too much here.
  • #13-15, as previously mentioned, try to block out the water left 🙂
  • #18 is another short par-5 but has water in front challenging you to go for it.  On the tee shot, aim slightly to the right of the pump house.  There is ample room past the water to land your shot but it’s mostly rough.  If you can fade one in, you can follow the contour of the fairway, which you cannot see well on your second shot.  If you don’t have a good yardage, layup left for an easy wedge shot third.
18 green seen from the clubhouse

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

The regular weekend rate to play is $79 before 11 a.m.  We played between 11:00 and 2:00 p.m. when the rate drops to $59.  They offer a senior discount of $44 which we played on.  This includes your cart but range balls $5.00 are extra.  At the regular rates, the quality of this course justifies the price.  At the senior rate, the value is outstanding.

Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)

There is a 16 station driving range with mats and grass tees.  Next to the range is a small practice area for chipping and bunker work.  Back by the clubhouse are two medium small putting greens.  The surfaces are beautiful, but if the course gets busy, crowding might be a small issue.  Behind the clubhouse and pro shop, and overlooking the 18th green, there is a grill where the attendant fixes your burgers and drinks.  There was some music going softly and a bit of a festive atmosphere when we finished our round.  Seemed like a great 19th hole spot.

Practice putting green

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

There was one club attendant at the bag drop and he took our bags and loaded us promptly upon our arrival.  The pro shop staff was very professional and got us checked in quickly and our starter and on course marshal were friendly and helpful, although we could have used some better advice on the first tee on how to play the hole.  They tell you to hit it 160-190 yards, but take 210, as I have indicated above.  There was ample cold drinking water on the course and the beverage cart hit us up two or three times during the round.  We played as a twosome and while going off at 11:12 a.m. didn’t have to wait on any shots, nor did we get pushed by anyone from behind.  It was a truly relaxing and delightful day on the course.

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

The Links at Gettysburg provided excellent conditioning, value, and a fun day.  The one-hour drive from the Washington D.C. area is well worth the trip.  I will be back.

 

Playing After A Lesson – Smart?

Have you ever played a round where you were bombing your driver and leaving yourself with some awesome looks at approach shots, but you subsequently bungled every one of them?  Last weekend I had my best driving day of the year but the 80 I shot at Poolesville was the absolute worst score I could have recorded for that very reason. The carnage included seven unforced errors from the “A-position”.   So yesterday I took my final lesson of the 2018 seasonal package in hopes that I could correct my awful iron play.  As usual, my instructor corrected something small just as we started (I was standing too far from the ball) and then we got to work on my major issues.  Of course, they were the same issues I’ve been dealing with my entire career, which is why they’re still issues.  We made great progress on the lesson tee and I booked a time at my club to play today.

What is your experience playing after a lesson?  Smart, not smart?  I think it depends on the lesson and where you are playing.  Last time I tried it the day after my putting lesson.  There was no adjustment period and was if someone else had possessed my body with the putter.  I made everything I looked at and the game was very easy.

Today was different.  Perhaps my club is not the best venue if you are working on swing mechanics because the first four holes at Blue Mash are very demanding and often require long iron approaches.  Last time out I hit four 3-irons on the first four holes.  It’s one of those stretches that if you start 3-over after four holes, you are playing fine.  Today it was 3-iron, 7-iron (downwind) from heavy rough, 3-iron, and another 3-iron.  Before my round I warmed up poorly with my 3-iron, but my approach on number one was pure and settled eight feet from the flag.  The second on #3 was good but went into a green-side bunker and I saved par.  The third was an awful pull hook (my big miss) and I made a lucky par out of some gnarly green-side rough.  On holes 5 and 6, I hit two stunning short iron shots that yielded a par and a birdie.  I was thrilled and it seemed I had it solved, but the problem was that I was playing golf swing and not golf.  The roof finally caved in on #8 after I laid the sod over a pitching wedge from the middle of the fairway.

This has happened before after taking a lesson; it’s always been a full swing lesson, and I’m always thinking too much.  I guess I was encouraged after the easy success of the putting lesson.

My favorite thing in golf is to play.  Next favorite is to take lessons, and least favorite is to practice.  But I know I need practice on this one and will get out to the range a couple times before next weekend’s round.  What has been your experience playing after a lesson?

Stay tuned: course review is coming from next weekend’s venue:  The Links at Gettysburg!

Play well!

Common Threads Of Your Great Rounds

On the first tee at Glen Dornoch in Myrtle Beach

I haven’t had a great round this year, but my last time out was a real good one.  I got to thinking about the common threads shared between good rounds.  My findings:

Thread One.  The driver is clicking.  On most of my great rounds, I’m hitting it hard, on the center of the face, and finding fairways.  Great driving makes the game so much easier.  Even easier than great putting because sometimes you are striking it poorly, putting great, and scrambling for par.  During these great rounds, my putter was not that hot in terms of total putts, which probably had to do with a high number of GIRs I hit.  If my driver is good and I hit 14 or 15 greens, I can live with 33 or 34 putts because I’m still going to be around level par.  If I hit 15 greens and take 27 putts, I’m doing the wrong thing for a living.  Anyway, the big stick is the key.

Thread Two.  I’m playing with better players.  Several of these rounds were in competition and the presence of excellent players.  Wanting to do well against them sharpened my concentration.  In my most recent round, I joined a single for the front nine at my club.  He had a decent game and generally played bogey golf.  I shot three or four over.  But at the turn, we were joined by a couple young guys who played at scratch or better.  As we progressed, I was hitting the ball well and these guys were blowing it by me.  But I felt some weird juices start to flow and played very solid on the inward half.  All three of us had a few birdies and kept it around even par.  It was very cool and I thoroughly enjoyed testing my game against younger stronger players.  A couple years back, a similar thing happened.  I was getting ready to play at my local muni and was joined by two of the course’s pros on the first tee.  Same story as these guys were ripping it miles past me off the tee, but I played my game and really concentrated well.  My friend, Jim at TheGratefulGolfer wrote a nice piece on the aspect of playing with better players.  Check it out.

This better player phenomena can be a double-edge sword if you are not hitting the driver well or are intimidated.  Back in the 1980s, I was working as an apprentice in the Mid Atlantic PGA Section.  About two dozen assistant pros gathered for our summer meeting at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland.  This is where they hold annual U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and after our meeting we agreed to have a tournament among ourselves.  I’m thinking, “crap”; hard course, tough competition, and normally club pros play in all kinds of events, but mostly pro-ams and in the company of amateur partners with inferior games.  Not the case here, plus this was my first tournament playing against professionals.  I knew all these guys were way better than me and I was sick with fear and intimidation.  Needless to say, the day did not go well.  I shot an 86 and finished last.

Thread three:  You play the right set of tees.  Let’s re-phrase:  You never have a great round playing from the wrong tees.  In my recent round, on the first tee, I told my front nine companion I would play the blue tees and he should play any set that he wanted.  He replied, “I probably shouldn’t but I will play the blues with you.”  He was right, and you could see him pressing all day.  Plus, when the big hitters joined us, we all played from the blues and this poor fellow let that get in his head.

So those are mine, do you have any common threads during your great rounds?  Please share and play well!