Improve Your Golf – A Plan That Works

Are you the type of player that enjoys golf more when you have moments of greatness mixed in with poor play?  Or do you get more satisfaction from a steady level of competent performances, no blow-up holes, but with little fanfare?  The answer depends largely on your personality and your preference for risk.  If we put a professional persona on each type, Phil Mickelson might be the roller coaster riding risk taker and Nick Faldo the solid performing steady eddie.  Each had comparable levels of success in major tournaments and across their careers, but were highly different in the way they built their records.  Because I’m generally risk adverse, I’m in the Faldo camp, how about you?

For those preferring a steady course, I have some advice that may help you get to the level of consistency you seek.  The following plan has been working for me for two months (which coincides with my last lesson of the season).  In that session, my instructor made a couple of key changes to my setup.  The specifics are not important because they are unique to me and not you.  The key takeaway is that they addressed fundamentals, and to improve and play consistent golf, it starts with a mastery of the fundamentals.  I know, not very profound, but without fundamentals, good course management and sensible practice habits will only get you so far.  If you want to get to a level of real consistency, you need to work to get the fundamentals ingrained so that you can strike the ball with confidence.  It’s sort of a chicken and egg scenario.  For years I worked on various techniques to improve my practice habits and course management.  But until I understood and could replicate the mechanics needed for good ball striking, my improvement was limited.  Seeking the advice from a pro is a start, not the end of your journey.  I’ve had to iterate through three years of lessons before I found the keys that resonated to a point where I feel I can take my game to an away course, in a variety of weather conditions, and know I have a good chance to play a successful round because my ball striking will not falter.

Being well prepared with the fundamentals is a good feeling.  Handling the smallest details are also important.  In my last lesson, I discussed a concern about my grip that I had always wondered about.  Use a long thumb or short thumb on my left hand.  I’ve read conflicting points on that in different instruction books.  Stupid little topic but if you’ve been switching back and forth over the years, how can you expect to build consistency into your swing?  So I had the discussion, got the recommendation (short) and have gone with that ever since.  It’s best to dialog and eliminate these inconsistencies because they create doubt.  Get them worked out because it provides a baseline of correctness you can start from when working on your swing.  Many of the fundamentals can be applied using different techniques and it’s important to pick a single approach and stick with it.  Elevate your baseline understanding of the fundamentals, work them continuously in practice, and you will gain the consistency you seek.

After the fundamentals, you must work to simulate game conditions during practice.  This is critical for those who have limited time to practice and for players having trouble transitioning from the practice tee to the golf course.  There are two aspects to focus on.  First is creating real pressure.  If you struggle with choking on or around the greens or having your range swing disappear on the golf course try the following:  Play 9-hole games of up-and-down and / or have putting matches with a friend or with yourself to simulate real round pressure.  Go through your full pre-shot routine on every chip, pitch, or putt.  Play for small wagers.  Next, head to the driving range, where you can play a simulated round on a familiar course, hitting all the tee shots and approach shots and varying targets on every swing.  Keep score in your head.  If you are playing poorly, don’t quit!  Learning how to handle adversity is an important skill that’s worth practicing.   Second is preparing to play shots you will need during your rounds.  Last Saturday, I was on the practice tee and it was sunny and 70 degrees.  I knew my round the next day would be played in 40 degree temps with heavy winds, so every iron shot I hit during my simulated round was a knock-down.  Somebody watching me may have been wondering what I was doing, hitting all these low bullets, but conditions the next day were difficult and I felt prepared, and was able to execute a lot of good low iron approaches.

How do you measure your success?  Your scores are the best indicator.  Say you are a 20-handicap and average between 90 and 100 strokes per round.  If you are improving your fundamentals and practicing correctly, you should hope to have a solid string of scores in the low 90s and occasionally break into the high 80s.  For lower handicap players the same holds true.  My current index is 4.4.  With my limited ability to play and practice I try to keep my scores under 80 and the current trend is good with the last seven in the 70s.

To truly improve, you need to seek professional instruction and focus on getting your fundamentals ironed out during the lessons.  Then dedicate 20% of your practice time to mechanics and 80% to the skills you’ll need on the course.  You’ll find the transition becomes seamless from practice to play.  Whether you hit it like Phil or Faldo, mastering the fundamentals and correcting the way you prepare will help you play better over time.  Give it a try.

Good luck and play well!

 

 

 

Hampshire Greens – Course Review

Summary

We played Hampshire Greens, in Silver Spring, MD, on Monday, October 8, 2018.  Of the nine courses in the Montgomery County Golf (MCG) rotation, this Lisa Maki design is considered the high-end play.  They boast a country club level atmosphere and service level at a daily fee price point.  While it’s been open since 1999, this was my first time on the course.  I’ll usually play between 15-20 rounds per year on the MCG courses, but have not included Hampshire Greens as there are lower cost options that provide an equal level golf experience.

There are four sets of tees on this par-72 track and I found it a very enjoyable play.  We played one up at the blues and I felt that this was a course I could score on.  They put all the length into the par-5s and don’t kill you on distance or forced carries on the 3s and 4s.  If the strength of your game is driving, you’re going to love the looks they give you with neatly framed fairways, superb conditioning, and fairly generous landing areas.  Hit your drive solid and in the fairway, and you’re usually left with a medium to short iron in.  The course’s main defense is well bunkered raised greens with a decent amount of slope and quickness to them.  I found you needed an extra club hitting into these raised greens.  Also, the reputation is for lightning quick speed on the putts but we found them medium fast.  Perhaps it was because of our early afternoon tee time, but either way, the bentgrass surfaces were in excellent condition and rolling smooth.

Playing notes:

  • They had positioned some pins in difficult spots either right in front or on the sides of some greens.  I left thinking it was best to just play for the middle of these greens rather than go flag hunting and missing into some tough up-and-down spots, which I did.
  • Pay attention to the aiming sticks they have in some of the fairways, especially on the second shot for the par-fives.  Each of the fives has a similar design where the landing areas are squeezed down to very narrow corridors the closer you get to the greens.  We thought this was a bit awkward and felt like the par-5 2nd hole was a little unfair.  I lost my ball into the hazard left on a well struck medium iron layup.  You must hit it right of the aiming stick there to keep it in play.

    Marie on the 2nd tee

 

  • With these narrow corridors on the fives, for long hitters, it felt like you needed to approach with supreme accuracy, else you were taking an unnecessary risk going for the green in two.  This was my only bone to pick with the layout.

    Look down #2 fairway. Par-5, 563 yards
  • From the blue tees, none of the par-4s were short enough to try and drive close to the green, but you need to pay attention on where to land your ball.  #10 is a downhill tee shot and an uphill approach.  The hole is only 362 yards but everything bounces hard left to right in the fairway.  You must keep your tee shot out of the fairway bunker left, which is about 220 yards from the tee, or you could be looking at a big number.

    #4. Par-3, 182 yards

Facilities (3.25 out of 5.0)

This course is designed for cart play.  You cannot walk.  Actually, you may be permitted to walk but your greens fee includes a cart and for good reason.  Some of the distances between greens and tees are huge.  I like to walk but couldn’t imagine playing this one on foot.

Patio at Hampshire Greens

The course has a smallish clubhouse and grill with a patio that overlooks the fairway of the 9th hole.  The 9th finishes up going away from the clubhouse, which I found a little strange, and if you need to stop, you have to backtrack for half a hole.  We didn’t and just continued on to the inward half.

The driving range

They have a grass driving range but the grass tee was closed on this day and we were hitting from one of 13 driving mats.  Balls are $5 for a bucket of about 40-50 and are purchased in the pro-shop.

Staging area and putting green

There is a single practice green next to the clubhouse and while you are permitted to chip, it feels a little squeezed to make this an actual short game practice area, especially when golfers are warming up their pre-round putting.  I came out the day before just to practice and didn’t feel right hitting chips and pitches in, and just putted.  If you want to seriously work short game, I’d seek another venue.

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

We played on a Monday after 12 noon rate of $39.99.  At this price, the value is superb because of the quality of the course.  Pre-noon, the cost is $49.99 which is still good.  The normal weekend morning rate is $74.99 and after noon it falls to $59.99 which brings a lot of the other area courses into play if you are budget conscious.

The quality of the golf course is the main allure.  An equivalent area play for layout and conditions would be Blue Mash.  I’ve picked up a 30 round membership there which works out to $47/round for afternoon weekend play and that appears to be a better value.

Lining up a tee shot on #15

Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)

Monday was Columbus Day, a federal holiday.  The course was busy and the bag drop guy doubled as the starter.  While friendly and helpful enough when it came time to get us paired up and out on time, when I arrived he did not unload my bag.  This was of no inconvenience to me.  However, if they boast a country club experience, folks may expect more than one person working the bag drop on a busy holiday or weekend, and some assistance with their clubs.

The fellow manning the golf shop processed my check in with a “business as usual” attitude and while he wasn’t rude, didn’t go out of his way with a warm or friendly greeting.  The guy at the snack bar provided snappy service and the hotdog with sauerkraut graded out pretty good on the taste test.

There was ample cold drinking water on the course and we were serviced several times by the beverage cart which was appreciated.

Par 4 18th. 418 yards.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

On this day, we played from the blue tees at 6,512 yards (71.6/129) and I carded a five-over par 77.  I enjoyed my round at Hampshire Greens and wouldn’t hesitate to return, but would only play on the weekday rate.  If you are a walker or are serious about practicing your short game, you may want to try out another close-by venue like Blue Mash or Northwest.