We like to think the golf season never ends in the Mid-Atlantic. 2016 was so mild we played straight through the winter. Three days ago, I was wrapping up an excellent 54-hole trip to the Delmarva, but three inches of the white stuff today slammed the lid on my year. It’s time to hang ’em up and reflect on one of the best seasons in recent memory.
2018 started off with a renewed commitment on my part to improvement through additional instruction and by challenging myself on harder courses. Over the course of the year, I took four lessons (two on full swing, one on short game, and one on putting). The attention to all facets was incredibly beneficial. I had never had a professional putting lesson and the last time I received any short game instruction was in college. Both were eye-opening experiences and left me more confident on and around the greens, and a bit regretful that I hadn’t invested in either earlier. The results from the last ball striking lesson in August were profound and left me with a bit of a dilemma for next year. More on that shortly.
In April, I joined Blue Mash Golf Club and spent my first four rounds trying to figure out how to play the first three holes. Blue Mash hits you straight upside the head with par-4s of 424, 428, and 453 yards. There is no easing into your round, and the 4th hole is a 190 yard par-3. Even if I was hitting the ball well, I would often require a 3-iron or more into the first four greens. There are opportunities to score later in the round, but coming out of the blocks playing bogey golf is not uncommon and figuring out how to play for par was critical to my improvement. Eventually I got comfortable with the layout and was able to game plan for the brutal start.
A key takeaway is that you need to challenge the weakest parts of your game. Mine is long iron play, and is where I tend to hit my big miss (pull hook). There were several afternoons that I wondered what the hell I had done by joining this course, and would I ever get my round off to a good start. But through lessons, practice, and constantly challenging my weakness with the long irons, I began to improve. There’s an old saying in software development that says if you are faced with a difficult task or process, repeat it as often as possible and it will become easier. I learned the same is true in golf. Out of necessity, I worked those long irons and slowly built confidence. Later in the season, I was able to play some initial rounds on new difficult courses with significant success because of the challenges overcome at the opening holes at Blue Mash. Now, I am not a great long iron player, but I don’t fear them or the big miss any more.
During my last lesson, my pro had me make two adjustments. I moved closer to the ball for all shots and that solved an alignment and balance issue that had been plaguing me for a long time. It allowed me to flush my irons with more regularity. Next he had me pause a bit more than normal at the top of my back swing which allowed me to start the swing with my lower body and not cast the club, as so many amateurs are prone to do. Late in October and again on my recent trip to the shore, we played several rounds in heavy wind. I had been practicing for this by playing all my iron shots on the range 3/4 back and knocking them down, and was able to leverage that during play. It’s an incredible feeling to strike it solid and straight in heavy wind. This was so much the case, that I’m considering playing ALL my iron shots in this fashion next season. In essence, I would reinvent my golf persona ala Paul Azinger, who played these low knock down style shots all over the course. The dilemma is, of course, what do I do when I need to hit it high? I’m thinking the success of this low ball flight was so encouraging, that I may just play it and deal with the high shots as they come up. I just dropped a note to my pro mentioning the same and asked for his thoughts. What do you think?
So here they are, staring at me from behind my living room couch. Should I bag it for the season and put them away, or have the stare-down for another month?