All posts by Brian Penn

Avid sports fan and golf nut. I am a lifelong resident of the Washington D.C. area and love to follow the local teams. Also worked as a golf professional in the Middle Atlantic PGA for several years and am intrigued by the game to no end. I love to play and practice and am dedicated to continual improvement.

An Etiquette guide

Yesterday I missed a great pay it forward opportunity.  I went to play nine holes at 3:30 p.m. and got paired with three singles.  One fellow announced that he was, “attempting to fix a slice and that all unsolicited words of advice would be welcome.”  Normally, I don’t give unsolicited advice to anyone, much less a stranger.  As we moved through the round, I learned that he had been playing for 18 months and it became apparent that he needed assistance with golf etiquette more than his swing, and after I got home, I was recounting all the breeches to my wife and she asked if I had helped him in this learning opportunity.  Well, I had not and am regretting it.  I was in my own world compiling a Do’s and Don’ts list for my Monday charity scramble and only saw the etiquette breaches as irritants rather than learning opportunities.  So, making up for that now.  Here’s a list of etiquette points to make golf more enjoyable for novices and their playing partners.

KEEP YOUR CONVERSATION DOWN ON THE DRIVING RANGE.  Players are getting loose and working on their games and need to concentrate.  If you have to converse with a friend, keep it low enough so others can’t hear.

BE READY TO PLAY WHEN IT’S YOUR TURN.  On the first tee, ask your playing partners if you can play “ready golf”.  That means whoever is prepared to tee off can, without maintaining the honor (low score goes first.)  Most players are fine with this but ask.  One caveat; it’s bad form to step in front of someone who just made a birdie even when playing “ready golf”.  Get to your ball quickly and think about your club selection on the way.  This saves time and keeps play moving.  If you think your ball may be lost, put a spare in your pocket before beginning your search.  Also saves time in the event you need to drop one.  Limit your search to three minutes.

BE STILL WHEN OTHERS ARE PLAYING.  Holds true for full swings and on the putting green.  Ensure that you are not in the direct or peripheral vision of a playing partner.  Above all, do not stand directly on the extended line of someone preparing to putt.  If I can see you out of the corner of my eye, it’s a distraction.  In late day rounds, be cognizant of where your shadow falls.  Do not leave it in someone’s view.

POSTION YOUR BAG CORRECTLY BY THE GREEN.  When walking, place your bag to the side of the putting green nearest the next tee.  When riding, park your cart by the green and bring any clubs you may need to finish the hole with you to eliminate the need to go back and forth to the cart.

LEARN TO MARK YOUR BALL ON THE GREEN.  Use a coin or ball mark (not a tee) to mark your ball.  It should sit flat to the surface and be barely visible to other players.  If your mark is in the putting line of another player, ask if they need you to move it to one side and by how much.  Use your putter head to measure how far to move your mark. 

CLEAN UP YOUR LAG PUTTS.  When you putt a ball that does not go in, either finish the next putt or mark the ball.  Do not leave it sitting on the green near the hole where others can see it during their turn.

There are many other pointers to learn, especially when playing out of carts.  The COVID pandemic has brought out a lot of new players to the game and exacerbated the need to convey the knowledge, courtesy and norms that make the game enjoyable to all.  If you work with this list, you’ll be off to a great start.

Play well!   

Your Best Friend

You are on the golf course hitting great shots and scoring poorly.  How frustrating.  Has this ever happened to you?  How you handle depends on your abilities to observe, adjust, and most importantly, how you treat yourself. 

Last weekend I was playing an afternoon round at my club, Blue Mash, where I have an expectation for a score between a 73 and 78, on a normal day.  I noticed something was off from the first tee box where the markers were pushed back, and the hole was playing into the wind.  My tee shot was well struck and barely cleared a fairway bunker which is normally an easy carry.  I had 5-iron in where I usually take 8 or 9 and made bogey.  It became clear from the setup and conditions that the course would play long and difficult.  I bogeyed the first five holes and could safely say that I hit a great shot on each of those holes.  At this point, I had a decision regarding how I would approach the remainder of the round.

When you are not rewarded for good effort, you get upset.  Dr. Bob Rotella says that when distracted by bad play or bad scores, you need to be your best friend out on the course because nobody else is there to help you.  I agree and have learned that positive self-talk is key and to not get down on myself.  I also understand that you can’t confuse effort with results.  Imagine how the tour pros felt on the final day of the 2020 US Open.  Only one (Bryson DeChambeau) managed to break 70 in the final round.  These guys were clearly scoring 5-10 strokes worse than a normal day and were grinding terribly.  They were frustrated and you could see how their scoring affected their game.  De Chambeau didn’t let it alter his attitude and approach and was victorious.  The guy is comfortable in his own skin and despite being a bit of an odd duck, is clearly his own best friend.

The temptation after a bad start is to press and try to save the round.  Last weekend, I had to resist by using positive self-talk and to try and focus on the next shot.  I was partially successful and finished with an 11-over 82.  Normally, after shooting a poor score, I’ll stew about it for a day or two, but I honestly felt that was the worst I could have scored for the way I played and the conditions that presented themselves.  The previous week, I hit the ball horrendously and carded an 8-over 79 on a different track, which was the absolute best I could have shot considering my ball striking.  Still, I took some positives away from that round and felt that my short game saved me from carding a round in the mid 80s.  The key in both situations is to understand and adjust to the current conditions and not get down on yourself.  Be your own best friend!  If you can do this, you will be mentally tough to beat.

Obviously, I have some areas of my game that need work.  I’ve got a tournament coming up a week from Monday, and a trip to the eastern shore to play on some tough venues.  I’m off to the course to practice. 

Do you confuse effort with results?

Are you your own best friend?

Play well!      

Are You Proactive or Reactive?

photo from unwisdom.org

Let’s take the average golfer.  He goes out once per week and shoots around a 90, drinks a couple beers with his buddies and heads home.  When the thought of game improvement appears, he drives down to the nearest Dicks and buys the latest $400 driver.  He takes his new purchase to the driving range and bangs himself into a frothy lather with a large bucket.  Next weekend, he goes out and shoots another 90.  Is this you?  Not sure what you call it but it’s neither proactive nor reactive improvement.

Your golf personality determines how you prepare yourself for success on the golf course.  You are either a proactive or a reactive improver.  Proactive improvement is when you practice what you need to get better.  You may already do it well, don’t necessarily enjoy it, but do it cause it’s good for you, like eating your vegetables.  Reactive improvement is addressing weaknesses observed during rounds and trying to correct them.  These can be physical or mental mistakes, with the former being more difficult to fix.  Good players use a mix of proactive and reactive practice to improve.  The balance just teeters towards one or the other.

I’m not a great player but consider myself a dedicated player and do both.  Over the course of a season, my work includes reactive practice in the form of lessons with my professional.  You could argue that this is proactive practice, but I go to him with a desire to fix my swing or show me how to execute shots around the green that I am struggling with or don’t know how to hit.  Generally, this is the most rewarding type of practice because I feel like I learn something.  Occasionally, the “ah ha” moment kicks in, and I experience a feeling of euphoria as the wave of super optimism washes over me.  I love leaving the golf course with this feeling.  A more common form of reactive practice is hitting balls with a specific technique change.  When I miss hit a couple of wedges during a round, I’ll go to the range to make corrections.  Incidentally, this is my most frustrating type of bad shot.  Chunking or blading a wedge from the middle of the fairway in prime A position sucks.  What’s yours?

My proactive practice is more common.  It can take the form of mechanical work like hitting sets of 50 three-foot putts or short game work to simulate game conditions.  Tom Kite used to work in a field and bang wedges for hours.  Yeah that must have been boring, but he was a damn good wedge player when it counted.  He ground in that habit with proactive practice.  When I haven’t played for a while, and I have a game the next day, I’ll inevitably head to my practice green for 18 holes of up-and-down.  Often, I’ll perform poorly because of rust, but it’s important to play every shot out.  This proactive practice may not be fun, but it ingrains the great habit of toughness and the ability to manage through adversity.  Getting a little angry with yourself is not the worse thing because it makes it real.  Proactive practice is fine tuning mental and physical aspects that you do well.  Like Tom Kite in the field, it’s time well spent.

I’m generally a stickler for planning and preparation, and will engage in a lot of proactive practice.  I find practicing my strengths are more beneficial than always attacking a weakness.  For example, I don’t have much problem with short bunker shots, but long ones kill me.  I don’t practice them and try to avoid them on the golf course.  It’s as simple as not hitting three wood into par-5s with greenside bunkers and back pin placements.  With good course management, you can play to your strengths and away from your weaknesses.

Whether you are proactive or reactive, you need both.  Remember to mix them up, work in some golf stretches and exercises, and keep your practice fresh.  Are you proactive or reactive???

Play well!

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden Gem Found in Myrtle Beach!

Just returned from a week on the Grand Strand with my wife.  This was a fabulous beach vacation and not a golf getaway, but the clubs are an essential accoutrement for any journey to South Carolina, and mine were in the SUV.  We arrived to some beautiful weather on Saturday, September 12 and after four straight days planted in my beach chair, I was ready for some action.  On Wednesday, I headed over to Barefoot for a couple hours of practice and was feeling pretty good about my game.

Squall in Hurricane Sally

Hurricane Sally had come ashore in Alabama and was supposed to visit the area on Thursday so I set out to find a tee time for Friday.  My only criteria; the course couldn’t be too far from our condo in North Myrtle Beach, and I didn’t want to spend over $100.  So, I booked a 1:00 pm time at Myrtle Beach National – Kings North.   This is an Arnold Palmer design and is one of my favorite tracks.  The greens fee was $50 which is about the best value you’re going to find for a course of this caliber.

As scheduled, Sally ripped through the area on Thursday afternoon/evening and produced an awesome lightning show and tons of rain.  On Friday, I drove to the course and found one of the nines on Kings North was under water and closed.  They offered to let me play the open nine twice or rebook on South Creek.  MBN has 54 holes and I had played Kings North about five times.  I had replayed once on the  West course and thought it rather ho-hum so I agreed to try South Creek.  What a delight!

South Creek, photo from GolfAdvisor

With all the rain, we were playing cart path only.  This was a day where wedge shots were exploding foot long divots and caking your legs with mud.  But I loved the track.  South Creek plays about 6,400 from the blues but I moved up a set on the front nine because it was so wet.  You need to drive it straight out here, and I did, but couldn’t get anything going with my irons or putter and shot a four-over 40.  I was by myself and following a twosome and raced around the front in 1.5 hours.  When I got to the 10th tee, I found the last of three threesomes the pro shop had sent out to start on the back.  A little perturbed, I asked the starter what he recommend I do and he told me to skip 10 and 11 and start my back nine on 12.  I rolled up to the tee and joined the twosome that had also received the same instructions.

These two were a father and son combination, with the boy playing a practice round for a 16-18 year-old junior tournament scheduled for South Creek over the next two days.  Dad was playing the whites, but the son was playing the blues, and clearly had a lot of game, so I backed up and played the blues with him.  This kid was busting it past me but for some reason, joining him elevated my concentration level and I carded an even par 36 on the back.  What a weird phenomenon: some kind of focus switch engaged in my mind as I played with the better player.  It reminded me a similar situation a couple years back when I was out for a round on my local muni and a couple young pros from the course joined me on the first hole.  They were pounding it 50 yards past me off the tee, but that same switch went off and I elevated my concentration and played great.  I wonder what causes this?  Has this ever happened to you?

So, I finished my round playing 10 and 11 and after ending with a birdie, realized how much fun I just had.  This was primarily because I was driving the ball so well, but I loved the golf course.  I also realized how straight you have to be to score, and how penal it could get.  The greens fee was $43 and I was tickled pink with the great value.  I will definitely be back to play South Creek at the next opportunity.  You should consider adding this course to your play list next time down.

Play well!

Sunrise at North Myrtle Beach

Playing Great Golf on a Time Budget!

On #13 tee at Arthur Hills – Boyne, MI

Is work/life getting in the way of your golf?  How do you play your best if you can’t tee it up four times a week or visit the driving range on a daily basis?  Time is a precious commodity and it depends on how you use your available hours, but you can shoot low scores even on a constrained schedule.  Here’s how.

Use the correct combination of play and practice.  My preference is for more play than practice, but first you must measure how much you do of both.  Today is Sept 8 or day #253 in the year.  I’ve played 21 full rounds and practiced 41 times.  My 62 days of golf divided by 253 indicate I have my hands on the clubs only one out of every four days.   I’d consider myself a dedicated player but not a frequent player, with a 1:4 ratio.  What is your ratio?  If you can get your hands on your clubs every other day, your ratio is solid.  You need both play and practice, but given a short supply of time, favor play.

Meaningful practice is essential and doesn’t require the same time commitment as play, which is why my practice days are double my play days.  In season, I’ll generally practice twice per week and play once.  Off season, I’ll practice more and play less.  A general rule about practice:  The closer you are to playing a round, the more you should practice your mental game.   This is the best way to ease the transition from practice to play.  Have you ever overheard players out on the course saying, “I don’t understand why I’m playing so bad; I was hitting it great on the range.”  That’s because they haven’t practiced correctly by focusing on their mental game.

The key to mental practice is to mirror game conditions.  Many coaches in other sports utilize this technique.  Football teams pump crowd noise into practice.  Teams also script their first 15-20 plays and rehearse that script over and over in preparation to implement in games.  I try to script my golf practice by playing up-and-down in the short game area and working with only one ball.  I’m getting my mind ready for the pressure of difficult green-side shots.  Sometimes I’ll putt 9 or 18 holes alone or against a friend, varying the length of the holes.  Always play a match with a goal.  The key is to build pressure on yourself.  On the driving range, don’t rake ball after ball with the same club.  Vary your clubs from shot to shot.  Play a simulated round at your favorite course.  All these activities insert small doses of pressure and condition your brain into play mode.  Finally, when warming up before a round, do not work on your swing.  Just get loose.  Reserve the last half dozen balls and hit shots to simulate the first three holes of the course you are about to play.  This will give you the best chance of getting off to a great start.

Mechanical practice is necessary when trying to make swing changes and should not be attempted too close to a scheduled round.  Golf is a difficult game.  Playing golf swing when you’re trying to focus on scoring just makes it harder.  A big challenge amateurs face is playing a round immediately after a swing lesson because the plethora of swing thoughts can quickly get your mind off the business of scoring.  Has this ever happened to you?  Tour pros are often seen working with their swing coaches at a tournament site and are simply good enough to execute mechanical changes into their game immediately.  Forget them.  Sometimes you cannot avoid playing right after a lesson.  In this case, work with your pro to distill the lesson content into at most two swing thoughts.  And try to keep them as simple as possible for easy replication on the course.

One final though.  Lately, I’ve been working the Dead Drill into my Mon-Wed-Fri gym workouts and found this is a great way to build good mechanical habits without focusing on swing changes.  A couple weeks ago, right after introducing, I enjoyed a great ball striking round just thinking about the movements of the drill, and they’re really quite simple.  Give it a try and play well!

 

 

 

Turning Good Exercise into Great Play!

Two weeks ago, I added a new golf exercise/drill to my weekly workout and the short-term results have been excellent!  I drew some inspiration from a post Jim put up at TheGratefulGolfer on an 89 year young gentlemen he played with who shot his age.  I figured I better get cracking if I was going to play in that league.

I’ve observed from some swing video that my left leg is slightly bowed when I connect which is a power drain and consistency killer.  A year back, I tried snapping my left knee on impact and nearly wrecked my leg.   But starting in January, I’ve been doing squats and deadlifts as part of my workouts and my lower body feels stronger.  What better time to correct this fault.

This drill I’m sharing is offered by the Rotaryswing.com website.  I am not affiliated with them and have never taken or paid them any money.  They call it the Dead Drill and I have no idea why.  I started working the drill just holding a club to my chest.  I’d take it through the three steps and do one set of 30 as part of my exercises.  The first 20 were incremental (stopping at the check points) and the last 10 were at full swing speed.  If you’re doing it right, you’ll feel a stretch in your left oblique muscle after 30 reps.

A week ago, I hit balls on the range and for the last six, tried this move.  Wow!  Straight and solid contact on every ball with a mid-iron.  I left the range hopeful.  Later that afternoon I went with a gap wedge up to my school field and hit about 20 balls.  It was awful as I laid the sod over half of them, but chalked it up to fatigue and didn’t quit using it in the workouts.  Saturday, I decided to ratchet up to three sets of 30 in my workout and afterwards my oblique was confirming why they call it the Dead Drill.

The next day I played The Salt Pond in Bethany Beach, DE.  This is an executive course with full length par-3s from 100 to 200 yards, and a couple of par-4s.  Nothing extraordinarily difficult but you need to strike it well to score.  I didn’t warm up and teed off at 7:30 a.m.  With every swing, I’d rehearse the drill three times then pull the trigger.  My irons came off like rifle shots.  I hit 14 greens and shot even par.  Now before you say, “Brian’s got himself a nice WOOD band-aid”, I’ll reserve final judgement until I play a few rounds where I need to hit driver.  One key I noticed was how in balance I was at the end of each swing.  It really felt great and I’ll provide a future update.

Here’s the drill video.  Just skip to the 12:20 minute mark to pass over all the sales stuff.  Play well!

 

 

 

Are You a Good Putter?

How do you measure putting success?  Do you track putts per round?  I do but am rethinking that approach.  A conventional rule is that putting takes up 43% of the strokes in a round of golf.  Is that a good measurement?  If a pro shoots 70 with 30 putts, does he have a better day than me if I shoot 77 with 33 putts?  They are both 43%.  Hard to tell because the input for putting stats hinges on many factors not related to putting.  The most valid metric is Strokes Gained Putting, which is hard to capture.  SG measures the distance and result of all your putts plus the performance of your opponents on the same course.  Rather complicated and only available to tour pros.  So, as amateurs, what to measure?

Let’s first look at the seven inputs to good putting:

Line

Speed

Weather

Difficulty of the green (grass surface and undulations)

Nerves

Quality of short game

Course management

Line and speed are the traditional factors players work on because they are most easily controlled.  Those of us who play in different weather conditions and on several different courses can have wider variances of putting performance.  Players who loop the same course get comfortable with the speed and reads and often “know” where the putts are going.  They appear to be very good putters on their track but can struggle during away rounds.  Nerves are hard to control and very problematic for folks who exhibit the yips (choking under pressure).  Course management is essential.  On fast greens, it’s much easier to putt uphill and critical to leave the ball in good positions.  Lastly is short game.  If you can chip and pitch to within three feet, you’ll one-putt far more often no matter how good your stroke is.  So, what to measure?

The answer is to measure what you can use or don’t measure anything.  Approach your improvement on and around the greens holistically and attempt to address what you feel is off for a round or set of rounds.  For example, I had been struggling with controlling my line.  Putts were starting left of my intended target.  So, I started to spot putt (align the putter with a point six inches in front of the ball) and my alignment problem was solved.  Last time out, I struggled with controlling the speed because my course had let the greens grow out a bit to preserve them in the hot weather.  I don’t think I need to make any adjustments here because the weather could change at any moment along with their mowing patterns.  You get the point.  If you play enough golf, you’ll become familiar with your shortcomings and can use these anecdotal observations as the genesis of your practice plan.

If you’re a beginning golfer, invest in a putting lesson.  A pro will show you how to grip your putter, execute the basics of a good stroke, and read the greens.  For the intermediate and advanced players, make sure to mix your technical practice with game simulation exercises.  Try putting practice with one ball and play 18 holes of different length putts.  If you have room on your practice green, a 9-hole game of up and down is a great tool to teach yourself how to perform under pressure.  Throw a ball off the green and play it as it lies.  Use the short game shot of your choice and play the ball until holed.  Count your strokes.  This type of practice works very well for players who struggle to take their practice games to the course.  If you’re having trouble on and around the greens, give these a try.

How do you measure your success on the greens?

Play well.

 

 

Oh No! Heatstroke!

photo from insider.com

Have you ever succumbed to the heat on a golf course?  I have suffered heat exhaustion twice and it’s one of the most unpleasant experiences I can remember.  Both times I had to quit my game.  It also hit me more recently a few years back on a beach in Florida.  Here are the warning signs:  First you get a low-grade headache.  Then when you lean over to pick up a ball or tee one up, the pain gets worse and you feel the pounding and throbbing as blood flows to your head.  Next, you start to feel lethargic as energy is drained from your body, and finally, you become nauseated.  If you’re lucky enough, you’re back in an air conditioned clubhouse before these conditions worsen into heatstroke.  Through some trial and error, I’ve learned to play in the hot weather and if you live in the mid-Atlantic region, you’ll need to work through some significant heat or relinquish a good portion of your golf season.  Here’s a must do list for heat.

Anytime the forecast is above 90, pay attention.  Generally, I’ll only walk a course if it’s going to max out at 90.  Anything hotter requires a riding cart.  You’re better off playing earlier before the mid-day heat hits, but my club membership requires me to play after 1:00 p.m. on weekends, and this past Sunday it was 97 degrees and I had a 1:00 p.m. tee time.  Your sunscreen, hat, and light-colored clothing are the obvious accoutrements but what’s most important is to thoroughly hydrate BEFORE you go outside.  I learned this from a study done by the Israeli army and their performance in the Saini desert during the 1967 Six-Day War.  Essentially, if you satiate yourself before physical activity in the heat, you’ll be much more comfortable during the engagement.  Check out this quick video:

I will typically drink three 16oz bottles of water over an hour duration before arriving at the course.  During COVID, one of the dangerous side effects is that all drinking water has been removed from golf courses.  As the summer months advance, this has become an issue; you must have water!  To adjust, I’ll load up a cooler with ice, a 32 oz Gatoraid, and five bottles of water before leaving home.  I’ll bring the Gatoraid and one water with me for the front nine and replenish at the turn.  The cold reload is very welcome for the inward half.  Hopefully, you can get to your car and back to the 10th tee without holding up play.  This has been critical on days when the drink cart is nowhere to be found.  Don’t leave your hydration and your health to chance!  Finally, I’ll take 600 mg of Advil before leaving the house and another 600 at the turn.  I find it works great to fight off any vestiges of a headache and keeps me on a nice even keel all day.

How a guy like Phil Mickelson wears black shirts and black slacks in the dead of summer is beyond me.  I suppose he makes a lot of money to dress that way.  Have you ever been sidelined by the heat?  Got any strategies to compensate?  Please share.

Play well!

Brian

Reduce COVID Restrictions!

Is it time to relax COVID-19 restrictions on the golf course?  Most definitely.  We have learned that the disease primarily spreads through sustained physical contact with an infected person and not through contact with hard surfaces.  Many golf courses have instituted guidelines designed to protect players against contacting the disease from objects we touch.  These are over-protective and can be recinded.  Since the game is played outside, social distancing is an easy way to protect players from real transmission and keep the sport one of the safest activities around.  Let’s review what restrictions should be maintained and what we can dispense with.

HARD SURFACES:

Chances of contacting the virus through the handling of bunker rakes and flagsticks are quite remote and can be rescinded.  Most courses have also implemented modifications to the hole to prevent the ball from falling to the bottom.  These usually consist of a restraint that allows the ball to rest just below the surface.  Either way, the player still needs to retrieve their ball from within the circumference of the cup and the virus isn’t living in golf holes.  Let’s resume smoothing footprints in sand traps and putting into regular cups.

GOLF CARTS:

Most courses have restrictions on riding in carts.  You are prevented from riding with individuals other than those you have been sheltering with.  It makes sense to maintain these protections.  Riding side-by-side for four hours with someone who may be infected is asking for trouble.  A side benefit of maintaining current cart policies:  I think a foursome with four carts can play faster than the same group with two carts because some aspects of joint passenger cart etiquette don’t apply when everyone  drives to their own ball.  At least that’s been my observation.  Issues with rationing and cart shortages are being managed well by most courses.

DRINKING WATER:

This one is a big concern.  As we hit the hot summer months, removal of cold drinking water from everywhere on the course is not a good idea.  In a round last week I was walking, and it was hot and humid.  My cold Gatoraid was finished by the 9th hole and I was left with two additional bottles of drinking water.  By the 12th hole it felt like I was drinking hot tea.  The only benefit was that it was wet.  I have a vested interest because of an unpleasant heat exhaustion episode I suffered through a few years back.  There was no cold drinking water on a course I was playing in Myrtle Beach, and I had to quit after seven holes after falling quite ill.  I think it’s fine to bring back the coolers and keep them filled.  Maybe store a dispenser of Clorox wipes next to the paper cups for those concerned.

I know there is a concerning uptick in the infection rate in many of the southern United States.  It may not seem like an opportune time to reduce COVID protections, but this outbreak is being observed because of unwise behavior in bars and gathering spots, not on golf courses.  Golf is one of the safest social distancing outdoor activities you can play.  It’s time to return to a sense of normalcy.

Play well!

 

The Amazing Power of Concentration!

photo from azquotes.com

Did you know good concentration techniques can save you five strokes per round?  How many of you have setup to hit a golf shot and sensed something wasn’t right and pulled the trigger anyway?  Did you hit a good shot?  Doesn’t happen.  That “not right” feeling is caused by either a breakdown in concentration or a faulty address.  If we can eliminate both, we’ll drastically reduce our mistakes and improve our scores.

Address errors usually fall into two categories.  Either your alignment is off or your posture is bad.  The fix here is simple.  Restart your pre-shot routine and get comfortable before you hit the shot.  Of course, you can hit a bad shot from a completely comfortable starting point, but thinking that something is not correct before you swing is a sure fire way to misplay.  Lately, I’ll find myself a little uncomfortable looking at the target and wondering if I’m slightly closed.  This never results in a good shot and I need to work to reset.

Concentration errors come in many flavors.  Anything that pressures you to deviate from your natural rhythm and cadence is an issue.  In my last round, I was paired with two beginners.  There were a lot of swings and misses from these two and I told myself early on to be very patient.  But alas, the extra waiting between shots started to preoccupy my mind and my game suffered.  Something as small as a playing partner stepping on your putting line or playing out of turn, or someone standing in the wrong place, can mess with you.  If you are preparing to hit a shot and thinking about anything other than the specifics of the shot, you are susceptible to a concentration error.  The situation with the beginners put me in a tough spot.  Golf is a social game and I love meeting interesting and new players.  The only measure of control I could have had was to schedule a game with a foursome I was comfortable playing with.  Again, the best antidote is to pause, perish the negative distraction, and reset.

Physical errors are more easily excused because we are human.  Concentration errors are tougher because they’re preventable.  It takes discipline to reset if you’re not ready to swing and do so anyway because you don’t want to hold up play.  It just takes a few seconds to reset and will be worth your while.  Give it a try and watch the extra strokes disappear!

Play well.

Is Top Golf Practice??

Top Golf Facility – photo from morethanthecurve.com

Would you classify an evening pounding balls and drinking beer at Top Golf practice?  For some, any activity with club in hand is practice.  I have never been to a Top Golf.  Sounds like fun but that’s not practice.

Guys in my Myrtle Beach travel group have gone to the PGA Superstore on a rainy day to hit balls in the bays with the new drivers, and putt on the indoor green.  Nope, not practice either.  We used to stay at The Legends in Myrtle Beach.  When we found out our room cards worked in the driving range dispenser, we’d play 36 holes, eat dinner, and then go to the range for practice until the lights turned off at 10:00 p.m.  THAT was loads of fun and we did help each other root out our swing faults for the day, but that took a lot of energy.  I’d call it practice.

Indoor putting green at PGA Superstore – photo by prnewswire.com

I generally practice alone, but on occasion join up with friends.  Both types are valuable.  The last couple times at my club was with friends and the light banter was great, as we worked through long game, short game, and putting.  Sometimes these sessions can evolve into a contest on the range or putting green.  A couple weeks ago it turned into a swing film session.  But the key is the personal interaction.  It’s especially important to socialize at a time when folks can over-isolate themselves.  If you don’t have four hours for a golf game, try half the time at the practice facility.  It works great.

Regardless of how I practice, I enter notes in a spreadsheet on what I worked on, and grade the session.  After the last few with friends, the grades weren’t that high.  Clearly, I do my best work alone.  Today, I went early and alone to the local muni to work on short game and had a great session.  If you time it right, there are drills and games you can play that aren’t possible with friends or at a more crowded facility.  My real work gets done alone.

Tomorrow afternoon, I’m back at my club with friends after playing some tennis in the morning.  This tennis-golf routine on the same day is a great cross training aid.  I call it a “Nicklaus” because Jack often spoke of playing tennis.  I also tend to go easier on myself with the golf practice after tennis.

So, what’s your opinion, is Top Golf practice?  How do you practice best, alone or with friends?

Play well!

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!

Virginia – Thank You!


Are you suffering from quarantine fatigue? COVID stay at home orders driving you nuts? Over-saturated from news, on-line meetings, Zoom sessions, and virtual happy hours? It’s truly difficult to stay motivated with no end in sight and I saw the worst of myself on Thursday of last week.

Fatigue had set in from staring at the same four walls and I was in a deep mental funk. On Tuesdays or Thursdays, I try to get to my school field after work and hit balls, but this week I was sulking and had no interest in working on my game. I am normally highly motivated to practice and my lethargic state was a serious concern. I imagine most people are suffering like this from time to time and I wanted to share my outlet.

The solve is to change your scenery. Get out of the house!  It’s amazing how a different view will broaden your outlook and perk motivation. In Maryland, our stay-at-home directive is very restrictive.  It encourages us to only leave the house for food, medical care, exercise, or other essential business. I decided my mental health was essential business and jumped in my car for a 1.5 hour drive with some hard rockin’ blues and a tour of closed golf courses in western Montgomery County. My drive took me by the muni in Poolesville, Bretton Woods Country Club, and past Congressional Country Club in Potomac. I was a little saddened driving by “Congo” and seeing the world renown facility shuttered and wondered if grounds crew were even being let in, but I snapped out of it by the time I got home.

Today, despite a little morning rain, I journeyed to Reston National and had a tremendous short game practice session. I forgot how peaceful and tranquil a wet day (but not too wet) at the golf course can be. I also can’t overlook the gratitude I am feeling for the Commonwealth and how they’ve managed to retain some of the civil liberties for their citizens that we in Maryland currently don’t enjoy. That I can swing on over in 20 minutes is a great thing, and I’m not sure what I’d do without you Reston.

Virginia, my brain thanks you and my golf game does as well.

How are you doing with your mental outlook? Play well!

Golf’s Do’s and Don’ts – Waiting Out COVID-19

I’m just as frustrated as you about the impact the virus is having on golf.  But let’s heed the great advice from Stephen Covey in his 7-Habits of Highly Effective People.  “Focus on what you can influence (your game preparation), and not your circle of concern (the virus).”  Work on your game and do not get consumed with all the bad news circulating.  Assuming your course is closed and you have tons of time on your hands, there’s a few Do’s and Don’ts to prepare for a great re-opening.  Let’s take a look.

DO:

CREATE A PRACTICE STATION

Mine is in my back yard.  I have a driving range mat, a bunch of golf balls, and three soccer cones.  I set the mat on my patio and the cones at 5, 10, and 15 yards out.

COVID-19 Backyard chipping station

I chip balls with different wedges at each cone trying to hit the cone on the fly.  I use a high, medium, and low trajectory chip.  This provides hours of fun and is great for rhythm and timing.  Don’t have a driving range mat?  Try an old piece of carpet.  Take care though not to create divots in your back yard.  It doesn’t show well for your July 4th barbeque.  I also have one of those portable driving nets in the garage that I haven’t taken out for years but am ready if I need full swing contact.  Lately, I’ve been hitting magnolia cones with a driver.  Makes for a perfect bio-degradable projectile that doesn’t fall apart.  Here’s an original how-to video:

I love what Jim at The Grateful Golfer has done in constructing a home hitting station in his garage.  His build out was pre-Corona, but works great as well, check it out!

INVENT A GAME

Fortunately, I live close to a school field.  Go find one.  With school closed, it’s always empty and perfect for an afternoon of practice with a bag shag and a pitching wedge.  For that matter, try all your wedges.  Last time at mine, I invented a new game.  The baseball diamond cages are roughly 150 yards apart.  I start at home plate on one end and use one club and one ball, hitting full and partial shots until I can clank a ball off one of the cage poles at the other diamond.  Each attempt is a par-4.  Improve your lie within six inches in any direction on all shots.  Great fun!

GET FIT- CROSS TRAIN

If you have a home gym or free weights, now is the time to start using them.  There’s a plethora of workouts you can even do without weights.  Here’s a great one from Sirkisfitness that is fast and protects your back.  Before COVID, I had been lifting in the gym.  Now I lift at home for an hour every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday after work.  On the weekends, I’ve started playing tennis and taking non-playing walks on the golf course behind my home.  The variety of activity is great for fitness and for keeping the mind clear.

PLAY-PRACTICE RESPONSIBLY

In Maryland, our courses are closed for play and practice.  In Virginia, they are open.  Both states have stay at home directives, but exercise is permitted.  I make the short trip to the Old Dominion and have conducted full-game practices under carefully controlled social distancing guidelines.  After watching this video from Dr. David Price (New York physician on the front line of treating COVID patients), I have confidence I can protect myself in any social setting, including golf courses and practice facilities.  The video is educational and empowering and is definitely worth a watch.

DON’T

OBSESS WITH COVID COVERAGE

Protect yourself and others with reasonable precautions but don’t devolve into consuming the 24-hour COVID news cycle.  Watching the daily death count is bad for your mental outlook and saps your energy.  Focus on positive news, work your game fundamentals and fitness.  You’ll be in great shape when courses are re-opened.

ISOLATE YOURSELF

I’ve begun to see this with several friends who play and some that don’t.  They are trying to social distance alone.  The isolation is taking it’s toll mentally which is translating into physical difficulties.  The mind and body are connected.  We need social interaction even in this difficult time.  If you can, get out and walk, talk to your neighbors and friends face-to-face while keeping your necessary distance.  Have a dialog with front line workers like health care providers and grocery clerks.  Tell them how much you appreciate them.  I know we need to keep our distance but remember that full isolation can start to feel like solitary confinement.  Don’t forget to call on friends and family who are isolating by themselves.

FINAL THOUGHT

This is Masters week which signifies the traditional start of the golf season.  One of my favorite activities is to play golf on Masters Sunday and plunk down for an afternoon of delight with my favorite major.  Not happening this Spring.  The Masters has been moved to November.  No worries, because rather than concerning myself with the schedule, or if the participants are going to be affected by frost or falling leaves, or how closely the tournament will be played in proximity to football, I’ll focus on my game, my health, and my mental outlook.  How about you?  Hope you find these thoughts are helpful.

Play well, stay well!

 

COVID-19’s Uneven Effect on Golf

What is going on with all the disparate rules on how to manage golf courses during the emergency?  Is golf an essential business?  Is golf exercise?  Is golf just entertainment?

In Maryland, our governor shut down golf courses on March 23 as non-essential businesses.  If Lakewood Country Club (course behind my home) is a microcosm of the industry in our state, judging by the number of groups coming through after the order, people were ignoring it, even though they had to walk.  Two days later, Virginia closed non-essential businesses but golf courses and driving ranges remained open.   A week later, both states instituted ‘Stay At Home’ orders.  Lakewood pulled all the flags out and players stopped coming through, but nothing changed in Virginia.

Today, I checked with friends in West Virginia (all courses open) and Arizona, where all courses have been deemed essential businesses and are open, along with beauty salons and barber shops!  Go figure.

Today I walked 18 holes on the closed Lakewood course (without clubs) and nary ran into a sole.  Got some great exercise in.  Then I ventured across the river to Reston National in Virginia and practiced for two hours.  Here’s a video and picture of the parking lot at Reston.

I think if you lived in the DC area, you were either home or playing golf at Reston National.  Finally, I saw this article about golfing in Brampton, Ontario.  Apparently, it’s illegal because of the virus and could cost you a big time fine.  Unbelievable that it’s come to this.

I very much enjoy getting out to play and practice while socially distancing.  Helps me to keep my sanity.  Where do you stand on golf as an essential business?  Is it?