2020:  What’s Next For My Golf Journey?

In these difficult times, we need to focus on our circle of influence more than our circle of concern.  For golf, it would be easy to let my game go to shambles considering the emergency and it’s effect on the industry and play-ability of our local courses.  I can’t manage that, so I will zero in on three Covid-proof strategies where I’m in control:  Improved fitness, Building and refining skills, and a badly needed equipment update.

FITNESS

Since January, I’ve been working out with weights three times per week and playing tennis on the weekends (in addition to golf).  Yesterday was my second round since our Covid-19 reopening and one thing has become clear, I need to incorporate stretching into my routine.  Before January, I had been doing a daily stretch and floor exercise routine but abandoned when I started working with weights.  That was a mistake and yesterday’s round reinforced.  My lower back tightened on the back nine and caused some loose swings that cost me strokes.  It’s odd that doing dead lifts and sit to stands helps to build strength for loading and unloading 40 lb. bags of mulch, but is not great for your golf swing.  Now, on the non-workout days, it’s back to the stretch.  Gotta get the lumbar area loose and the glutes firing!

SKILL DEVELOPMENT

This requires focus on taking more professional instruction, capturing performance data and doing analytics, increasing practice, and bolstering frequency of play.   On Saturday, I took swing video of myself and did some analytics.  In general, I liked what I saw but detected two areas for correction.  I was standing too far from the ball with the driver, and my shoulders were slightly open with the 7-iron.  Yesterday, I corrected for both and was piping the ball, especially with my 3wd off the turf.  But alas, while hyper-focused on these adjustments, my short game suffered.  That’s why golf is a journey, not a result.  You ALWAYS have something to work on.  Putting it all together will require I dedicate a mid-week afternoon to nine holes because when you up the frequency of play, more of your game becomes automatic.

EQUIPMENT

I’ve been using the same putter (Ping Answer) for many years.  Time for an update because the last few seasons have been a struggle with alignment.  Last year I averaged 31.26 putts per round.  In 2020 the sample size is smaller but I’m at 31.00, through six starts.  I’d love to get under 30, and here’s where a new tool is going to help the carpenter.  Many putts I think are aimed straight come off the blade going left, and the Answer doesn’t have an alignment aid.

Ping Answer

I love the weight and feel of the club but am sure a professional fitting can get me straightened out.  As soon as local businesses are allowed to open, I’ll schedule an appointment with Wade Heintzelman at the Golf Care Center.  Wade fit me for my last set of irons and has worked with PGA Tour players as well as many top amateurs.  He has my full confidence.

More updates are coming with future developments.  Let’s hear from you, are you in control of your golf journey?

Play well!

Help With My Swing!

Yesterday I took four shots of swing video.  There are two down-the-line and two face on segments with a 7-iron and driver.   I picked out a couple things to work on before and during today’s round and will let you know how I fared, but would love to have your feedback.  Please send in any and all suggestions and observations!

Thanks!

Driver Face On

Driver Down The Line

7-iron Face on

7-iron Down The Line

 

Striking Solid Iron Shots – Like Matt Wolff

Matt Wolff – photo from bostonglobe.com

43 years ago, I had my first professional golf instruction.  Over a series of six lessons, my teacher imparted many sound fundamentals with one exception.  Aarrgg!  Instead of using my body to coil and uncoil and create swing speed, he taught me to time the strike with my hands.  I remember him taking my hands on the club and rolling them over again and again through the hitting zone.  I learned to hit the ball very straight but without power.  Later, when I tried to gain distance, I began the flip action that is the bane of my game on poor ball striking days.  Bad swings typically produce thin shots or pulls.  The early release is a game killer.

Did you see Matt Wolff on TV Sunday during the best ball charity match?  I admit, this is the first time I’ve watched him play.  The trigger he uses to start his swing looks odd but struck me as somewhat familiar.  Then I figured it out.  He was rehearsing the drill my current instructor has been working with me on to eliminate the wrist flip!  Here’s a article and video of Wolff explaining his trigger:

Matt Wolff’s Swing Trigger

Four years ago, I decided to overhaul my golf game starting with the full swing.  I needed to become a more consistent ball striker.  My instructor started by having me hit hundreds of balls with a 7-iron starting from the Matt Wolff trigger position.  I’d have the ball slightly back of center, my weight shaded forward about 70-30, and my hips and shoulders open at a 45 degree angle.  I was essentially mirroring the impact position at address.  Wolff sets this position in his forward press and returns to square in about a second, but the concept is the same.  As part of the drill, I actually started the swing from there.  The key is to try and hit a 9-o’clock to 3-o’clock knock down and just turn your chest on the downswing right back to the address/impact position.  When done properly, you take your wrist flip out, finish with both arms fully extended, your chest is facing left of target, and you enjoy a low solid strike with a divot.

Undoing 40 years of hand flipping isn’t easy.  My thin pull still shows up on occasion.  But my learning and improvement has been noticeable.  Now, when I practice, I’ll typically lay down two alignment sticks about six inches apart to form a channel at the target.  At the end of the session, I have a nice straight divot line within the sticks.  When I struggle, I return to the drill.  Sometimes I’ll hit ½ a bucket with just the drill.  The swing change is easier with the shorter clubs, and the biggest area of improvement I’ve seen is with my wedges to 7-iron.  Mid and long irons are a work in progress, but a good side benefit has been some extra distance with the driver.  When you learn to hit the ball with your body instead of your hands, all types of good things will happen.

Have you ever tried the Matt Wolff drill?  Give it a go and play well!

Golf: It’s Back!!

Glad to be back out!

Today was the first day back from Covid hiatus and I am beaming with satisfaction.  It did not hurt that it was 85 degrees and sunny and a perfect day for playing hooky from work.   I have been practicing weekly during the pandemic and even though it has been two months between actual rounds, it was really my 10th round of the year when you factor in my five pre-Covid rounds and five days of February golf in Myrtle Beach.  All things considered; my game was sharp.  I drove it well, hit some solid short irons and carded a 6-over 77.

Courses in Maryland have been open over a week and are widely divergent in how each are handling their response to the emergency.  I am fortunate because my club, Blue Mash, is focused on providing a golf experience as close to normal as possible.  First, the golf course and all practice facilities were in excellent shape.  The crew had obviously taken the down time and spent it wisely.  Greens were running fast and true, bunkers were nicely edged, and the sand was smooth (but without rakes), and all sources of shared water were removed from the course.  Most excellent was the handling of the pins.  They set the traditional flag stick holders upside down in the cups which allowed us to sink putts and have the ball just rest slightly below the grass for easy retrieval.  I was happy they didn’t deploy a system that would leave some ambiguity as to whether the ball was holed.  We played one player per cart, but you could double up with a family member or someone from the same household.  Either way, there were no openings on the tee sheet until 5:30 p.m. and when we completed at 2 p.m. they had run out of carts.  Finally, it was nice that the outside portion of the grill was open, where golfers could congregate and socially distance comfortably for some food and drink after their rounds.

There were only two minor issues.  I detected a smell on the driving range from a recent fertilization that I would not want to be out in all day, but it was fine for a 30-minute warm up.  Second, was the sensitivity of the cart’s newly installed GPS units.  On several occasions, we were riding the rough of the hole being played and got audible warning beeps that our carts were out of position.  I explained to the shop staff and they said they would make an adjustment.

Blue Mash was packed for a Friday and that’s understandable given how cooped up people were feeling.  It was awesome to get out and play real golf again; the season has officially re-started.  😊

Has your course opened yet?  Play well!

All golf shop operations were being handled outside

Ready to Restart Your Golf Game?

What’s the best way to get cranked up after COVID restrictions are lifted?  I have a few ideas to get you started.  First, remember there are many anxious and frustrated players ready to tear out of quarantine just like you.  Don’t be one of them.  Take it slow and deliberate.  Last weekend I mistakenly ventured out to my Virginia home away from home on a balmy 72-degree morning.  Oops!

Tip one, get there an hour earlier than you think you should.  I didn’t and arrived at 10:30 a.m. and got the last hitting station on the driving range.  The course, driving range, and practice green were packed like Father’s Day.  While social distancing from other players, my range experience still provided ample opportunities to deal with real world distractions.  Folks were very happy to be out playing and were walking, talking, and enjoying the sunshine to the point where it was hard to concentrate.  Everyone kept showing up in the corner of my eye.

Packed practice green and driving range at Reston National Golf Club

Tip two, find anything to simulate playing real golf.  I played an imaginary 18 holes at my home course.  I had a spare scorecard in my bag and wrote my score down after each hole.  That helped to pace myself and forced me to concentrate.  I didn’t hit the ball that great but salvaged an imaginary 6-over, 77 at Blue Mash.   The rules are simple.  Map out the hole you are playing in your mind before you start and adjust based on the quality of the tee shot.  Hit good consecutive shots and give yourself a par.  Blow one way right or left into trouble?  Take a double and move on.  Only shots landing right on the target are rewarded with a birdie.  The only thing missing was some joker with a Bluetooth speaker blaring music off his golf cart.

Tip three, find an unoccupied practice green and play a game of up-and-down.  It’s great to work on your chipping, pitching, and putting mechanics, but you need to add pressure to get ready for real golf.  Up-and-down raises the ante.  Play by yourself or with a friend.  Throw a ball green side and don’t adjust the lie.  Select your chipping or pitching club and play until your ball is holed.  Each hole is a par-2.  It’s good to put yourself under the heat, feel the burn if you miss a short putt, gain the satisfaction of hitting two great shots to save par.  If I can play nine holes in 3-over or better, I’m in good shape.  Find out what’s a good score for yourself and try and better it.  Last weekend, I had too many players on the green and the distraction of the Blue Angels ripping overhead, so I just did some light putting.  The weekend before was great, though.  The weather was misty, the green was empty, and my short game got a great work out.

This week a cold snap is coming with temps forecasted in the mid-50s on Saturday.  Perfect for some more COVID breakout work.  And of course, Sunday is Mother’s Day.  Don’t forget to honor the great women in your life.

Play well!

Great sight out my back yard. Mowing fairways!