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.

Self Awareness – Play To Your Golf Identity

Can you think back to a time when you played a golf shot that was completely out of character for you?  We’ve all done it, but can you also recall a situation where someone else’s behavior, strategy, or club selection, caused you to change your plans for the worse?  Whether we compete in a friendly game or a serious tournament round, it’s not an uncommon occurrence.  Why?  Because we don’t play to our identity.

Recently, I was playing a match in Myrtle Beach at the Barefoot Fazio course.  The driving range was closed and the fellas agreed to take “breakfast balls” on the first tee.  Personally, I am not a mulligan guy and never have been.  I’ve always prepared myself mentally to put my full energy into my first shot and live with the result.  I have nothing against mulligan guys but that’s not me.  So, everyone was taking a breakfast ball on their first shot unless they struck one pure (and most didn’t).  My first shot went in the right rough but was in play.  Since everyone was taking a mulligan, I did too.  I hit it poorly and into a wet fairway bunker.  The rule is that if you take a breakfast ball, you must play it.  I took two to get out and chopped my way to a 7 on the first hole.  My original tee shot was sitting decent about 110 yards from the green – aarrrggg!

I could have avoided this situation and played to my own identity.  The key is to have total self-awareness.  Understand your capabilities and what you want to do for a given situation.  Understand that opponents may try and get in your head – but deny them entry.  Understand that you can work this to your advantage as well.  A reverse example:  Several years back, I was playing a stroke play round in my club championship.  The third hole was a 175-yard par-3 that was playing into a freshening breeze.  I was hitting second or third in the foursome and made up my mind that it was a 4-iron.  I rushed to the tee box, got there first, and pulled a 3-wood and started taking practice swings.  I got some strange looks from my fellow competitors, but the first guy took too much club and blew his shot over the green into trouble.  I had influenced his behavior because he was paying attention to me rather than his own game.  Yes, this works – if you are discrete and don’t overuse it.

Self-awareness is essential.  Know what you do well, what weaknesses you should stay away from, and try not to fix those weaknesses on the golf course under pressure.  Some folks think they know their strengths and weaknesses, but they don’t.  Try this.  After a round, review your scorecard and jot down single shots that caused you to have good holes or bad holes.  This exercise can be revealing.  Last week, I pushed a drive on my par-4, 2nd hole way right.  I hit a nice punch with a 5-iron to get back in position about 110 yards from the green.  I hit a decent wedge to 25 feet and struggled to two putt for a very lucky bogey.  I was frustrated with my poor first putt, but during the post round analysis, I recognized it was the poor drive that had set up the hole.  My notes also showed that I struggled on a couple par-fives with long iron layup shots.

I was fortunate enough to make three birdies.  My notes included: 50-yard lob wedge, 80-yard sand wedge, 133-yard knock-down 7-iron.  An indication that my partial iron shots were working.  With this data, I have something to work on in practice, and something to try and lean on in future rounds that may yield better scores.

Admittedly, I am a metrics freak but this small amount of data is easy to capture and can improve your focus and concentration.  Give it a try, learn your identity, play and practice to it, and let me know how it goes.

Play well!

2020 Goal – Do You Have One?

I have one goal for 2020 and it’s process oriented.  Before detailing, I’ve been drawing a tremendous amount of inspiration from the book:  The Score Takes Care of Itself, by Bill Walsh.   The Hall of Fame football coach details his controversial approach to leadership and building a world class organization, but the underlying takeaway is to get immersed in the details of process and good results will naturally be forthcoming.  While a common theme from most sports psychologists, I needed to read his specifics about not confusing effort with results and found it inspiring.

Last season, I stumbled on a process-oriented adjustment in September and rode that to higher confidence and better performance in the Fall, and over the Winter.  The experience was so positive that I will try to leverage for 2020.  In 2013 I had experimented using the nine-shot drill that Tiger Woods made famous and found that difficult to implement.  The drill requires you to hit low, medium, and high trajectories with straight, draw, and fade shot shapes.  I couldn’t do them all but last Fall, during practice sessions and warm-ups I began hitting low, medium, and high straight shots with each club in the bag (lob wedge through 4-iron).  Suddenly while on the course, I felt comfortable calling on any of these trajectories, which allowed me to play more aggressively and with greater confidence.  To execute, you simply move your ball position from back to middle to front with each club.  I practiced this way and warmed-up this way.  The advantage, especially during warm-ups, is that on some days I’d find only one trajectory was working but I could take that one to the course with confidence.

Granted, this is somewhat of an advanced technique and you should have your swing mechanics in pretty good order.  During a lesson last year, my instructor had me hitting full wedge shots using my lob, sand, and gap from the back position, and we really liked the ball flight.  He recommended that I add the shot to my arsenal, and I did.  I then added the other ball positions after experimenting.

Fast forward to this year.   My goal is to get comfortable working the ball.  Do I need to add all six other trajectories in the nine-shot drill?  No.  I’d just like to be able to control a draw or fade with the most comfortable trajectory.  I know my biggest challenge will be with the fade because I hit a little natural draw and I can’t remember fading a ball on demand, but think I can learn this using the same approach.  First up, some experimentation on the range, then off to my instructor to dialog the plan.  If I can work the ball with the same level of confidence, great things are going to happen!

What are your goals for 2020?

Play well!

2020 Myrtle Beach Cup

Myrtle Beach at dawn

Overview:

In the 20+ years that I have been traveling to the Grand Strand for golf, it’s always been in the summer.  This year, I was invited to play in a February family and friends 5-day match play tournament staged across the four Barefoot courses and Grand Dunes.  We had a fabulous outting.  If you have not tried Myrtle Beach as a winter golf destination, it’s about time.

Many in the group of 20 players scheduled their travel to arrive and depart on the first and last days of the competition.  I elected to pad a travel day on both ends which worked out well.  Going into the event, I had been playing or practicing every weekend and that turned out to be a huge boon for my game.  I played well the entire week and generally felt in mid-season form.  The on-site day of practice beforehand was very helpful for getting accommodated to the playing conditions and green speeds.

Our accommodations were condos located in the Yacht Club and North Tower on the Barefoot property.  These were huge and well-appointed three- and four-bedroom units that housed us very comfortably.  I would definitely recommend them for a trip in the North Myrtle Beach area.  On a previous trip, we stayed in 3-bedroom condos on the Norman course which were nice but much smaller.

Spacious living area in our Yacht Club condo.
View of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Pool area at the North Tower

Tournament format:

We were grouped as A, B, C, and D players by handicap and a blind draw assigned us into two 10-man teams for a Ryder Cup style competition.  I was told that on paper, our team looked very strong.  Not having played any golf with any of these fellows, I made up my mind to just go play and not try to over-analyze anything.  On days 1 through 4 we would play four ball matches (you and your partner’s better ball against your opponent’s ball) at 80% of handicap.  On the fifth day, we’d play 10 singles matches – again at 80% handicap.  Every match had one available point, with a total of 30 points available, 15 ½ were required to win the Cup.  The team captains met each morning to make pairings and select who would play whom.  An excellent requirement was added to promote player interaction.  You could not be paired with the same teammate more than once.  I greatly appreciated the opportunity to play with a new teammate every day because I only knew four of the other 19 players going into the week.  After playing with different teammates and opponents and dining with everyone on a nightly basis, I’m thankful to have met so many great guys.

Match Summaries:

Day One:  Barefoot Love Course.

Weather was cloudy in the mid-50s.  This was the first time I had played the Love course and I enjoyed the layout.  Course was in great condition and the over-seeded greens were rolling medium speed and smooth.  There was a little hidden water off some of the tee shots but the holes were nicely framed and fit my eye.  I played with Ken and our opponents were Bruce and Tim.  I drove it really well and struck some good irons close.  Lost my concentration a bit around the greens on the back nine but Ken and I had pretty good control of the match and won 3 and 1.

The boys on the practice putting green before the matches at Love.

Day Two:  Barefoot Norman Course.

Weather again cloudy in the mid-50s.  Norman is the Barefoot course I’ve logged the most rounds on, but I struggled on the greens.  Joe and I played Nick and Ed and we were behind all the way around.  Down 2 with 4 to play, our opponents let us back into the match with some loose driving and Joe made a 4-footer for par to win the match on 18.  About 2/3 of the guys went out for a nine-hole replay but not me.  My new strategy was to conserve energy.

Day Three:  Grand Dunes.

One of my favorite courses, Grand Dunes did not disappoint.  Temps were in the low 60s and the course was in fabulous condition.  I was super excited because I was stripping it on the driving range which is always a good leading indicator for my game.  Greens were running faster than the previous two days at Barefoot and the day’s match was Glenn and I vs. Marc and Ed.  I had my best ball striking day and carried my partner on the front nine.  Glenn ordered a fast-action Bloody Mary from the cart girl on the 6th  or 7th hole and his game suddenly caught fire.  I relaxed afterwards and we coasted in this one 7 and 5.  The last four or five holes were played in the rain which was a harbinger of things to come.

Day Four:  Barefoot Dye.

It had rained heavily overnight and there was still precipitation in the area.  Dye was playing cart path only and giant puddles and ruts were the order of the day in the cart paths.  The paths at Dye are all sand/waste areas which made for a sloppy round.  It basically rained medium hard all day.  The driving range was closed beforehand and swings were obviously affected.  In this match, Ron and I played Nick and Tim.  Nobody hit it that well.  However, my chipping and putting were getting it done and we prevailed 5 and 4.  I found Dye the most difficult driving course because there are few good sight lines.  You stand on the tees and confront a world of bunkers.  Where to hit it?  At the end of the day, our team was up 15 to 5 and needed only a half point to secure the Cup making the outcome all but decided.  I guess all the pre-tournament prognostications were correct.

Day Five:  Barefoot Fazio.

Temps were in the low 40s, rain was falling, and winds were building from the west.  We were on the leading edge of a winter storm that dumped four inches of snow just north of us in Virginia and North Carolina.  I was paired against Dan in singles and was playing with my teammate Ted who was matched up with Steve.  Surprisingly, the greens were rolling fast and pure despite the weather.  Dan and I got off to a rough start and halved the first hole with 7s.  He took a 1-up lead on the second but I came back to take a string of holes and was three up at the turn.  Ted was leading Steve 7-up and it was raining and blowing sideways.  We called it quits.  A couple of the boys did complete their games and a few reported that they had played well.  I didn’t get the final points total, but it was clear that our side had prevailed.  While we didn’t play the back nine, we had to drive in along it and I was impressed by some of the routing and conditioning.  It would be great to come back and play Fazio in good weather.

Playing notes:

  1. When in a match play format, don’t get distracted by your individual score. Several players asked me what I shot for the day and I told them that I didn’t know.  It was true.  If I was out of a hole, I’d put my ball in my pocket and let my partner play for our side.  I think it’s beneficial to NOT play out a ball on a hole you messed up because making a bigger mess can form negative mental pictures in your head.  When you have a bad hole pick up and forget about it.  Your gross score doesn’t matter – it’s not the game you are playing.  I get that many of the guys just want to play for practice or measure themselves, and that’s fine, but not my preference.
  2. Play to your strength in match play and don’t alter your game based on the way your opponent(s) play. My strengths are accuracy off the tee and attacking with wedges.  My weaknesses are playing from fairway bunkers, and there were a lot at these venues.  I often hit a long iron or 3wd off the tee for position.  If you have strengths like mine, you’ll find that ego-based players may become frustrated playing you.  While they like to bomb tee shots, your accurate tee shots and their wayward driving often puts significant pressure on their game.
  3. Around the greens, work the ground game. Courses at Myrtle Beach do not have significant greenside rough and don’t require high lofted pitch shots.  Don’t get too enamored with your lofted wedges and try chipping and pitching with more straight-faced clubs.  Putt when you can and keep the shots low whenever possible because roll is easier to judge distance on than flight.

Summary:

This trip was about camaraderie.   We played with lots of different players which was great.  We were also able to make dinner reservations every night for our party of 20 at a different restaurant.  You could never pull this off on a summer trip to Myrtle Beach; it’s just too crowded.

The course conditioning was excellent everywhere.  Of course, the dominant playing surfaces (Bermuda) were dormant, but they were very playable and framed the over seeded fairways nicely on all the courses.

The value was tremendous.  We paid about $550 for five days of golf and four nights in excellent accommodations.

I’ve been invited to the 2021 version of this tournament and am eagerly looking forward to it.  That’s it for now.

Play well!

New lids for the winning side

 

 

 

 

 

2020 Golf Season – Early Start!

On the green at #14 at Barefoot – Norman

Here we are, two weeks from Christmas and the bad news is that I haven’t played since the last week of October.  My season-ending November golf/beach trip never happened because of bad weather and I have that weird feeling like when you read nine chapters in a 10-chapter book and never pick it up to finish.  I keep looking for a good weekend day to properly close 2019, but either work, football, or the honey-do list get in the way.

The good news is that my 2020 season start is just around the corner.  I’ll kickoff in mid-February with a trip to Myrtle Beach.  At a recent family gathering, I was invited to participate in a 20-man event for five days of Ryder Cup style competition.  We’ll be divided into two 10-man teams and have four rounds scheduled at all the Barefoot courses along with a round at Grand Dunes.  This is going to be awesome!  But how do I prepare?  I booked a flight in a day earlier and will try to practice/play a round, but that’s just to bang off some rust.  Would definitely want some more regular activity during the winter, and was thinking about my friend Jim at The Grateful Golfer.  He’s constructing an indoor hitting station.  What I wouldn’t give to have a setup like that for the cold months!  Jim, can I come over and swat a few?

Some of the guys playing this event come from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but others are from the Carolinas and California, so they’ll be a mix of rust and good preparation leading up to tournament time.  I haven’t practiced heavily in the off season for years.  The older I get, the less accepting I am of cold weather, but there’s a heated/covered range within a 20-minute drive and I might have to make use as a stop gap.  I’d hate to show up in February not having swung a club for a couple months.

Any suggestions for off-season ball striking practice?

Play well!

The Three Keys to Great Golf

Whether you are a beginner or a life-long enthusiast, there are three keys you need to play better golf.  Depending on your skill level, the percentage of your time spent on each will vary.  If you continue to work them all, I guarantee your golf journey will be an enjoyable one.  I use the word “journey” because you never have anything permanently solved in this game.  It’s a constant process of reaching peaks and valleys, and working the Keys will ensure an upward curve of improvement.  Your goal of maximizing the peaks and minimizing the valleys is doable so let’s get started.

The Three Keys:

  1. Mastery of fundamentals
  2. Purposeful practice
  3. Self-accountability

KEY 1 – Mastery of fundamentals:

Most highly accomplished players are ground in a solid understanding of the fundamentals. These include:  grip, aim, posture, conditioning, and learning the proper physical sequence to make solid contact.  There are players on the world stage that are unique in their approach to fundamentals, but one commonality is they almost look identical at impact.  They are particularly adept at learning the proper body sequencing to get them to strike solid shots.  To illustrate, look at the similarities of Jim Furyk and John Daly down-the-line at impact – amazingly similar, and such different players!

Jim Furyk
John Daly

A commitment to solid fundamentals is essential.  Many self-proclaimed hackers stay at their current level because of a reluctance to make this commitment.  Yes, it is hard.  Yes, it is time consuming, but think of anything you are trying to gain a mastery of.  Doesn’t that require a deep understanding of fundamentals and a commitment to improve them?  Golf is no different.

For the average amateur, fundamentals are best learned early, and under the watchful eye of a professional instructor.  Improvement can also be made by the seasoned player at any point by seeking professional help, but the deeper bad fundamentals are ingrained in a player’s swing, the more difficult they are to break.

I took my first lessons 42 years ago and my instructor provided a lot of the fundamentals I needed.  However, he missed on a critical one, and I’ve been working very hard with my current instructor to break the bad habit and re-learn a good one.  I’ve made the commitment and it’s difficult.

Instruction is a lot different today than when I first learned.  The explosion of materials on the internet can confuse a student to the point of reverse productivity if the student doesn’t know how to filter the incoming data.  My recommendation is to find a qualified instructor, take an honest look at your fundamentals, and develop a focused learning improvement plan.  (Generally, the fewer fundamentals you try to fix at once, the better.)  A big side-benefit is that when you make a mistake on the course or during practice, you’ll have a better way to identify anti-patterns, and will stop trying too many different fixes.  Reduce confusion, work your plan, and reap the rewards.

KEY 2 – Purposeful practice:

It actually takes practice to learn how to practice.  Purposeful practice means getting a method to help you learn and retain skill that you can use to execute on the golf course.  Most amateurs don’t practice correctly.  They buy a bucket of balls and head out to the driving range for an hour of banging drivers as far as possible.  This will build ample callouses on your hands, and maybe a good sweat, but will do nothing for your golf game.

Start by seeking out a good practice facility which might include a driving range, practice green for short game, separate putting green, and maybe a bunker.  A lot of serious golfers keep a shag bag with some good quality practice balls nearby.  Mine lives in the car trunk.  You’ll never know when you arrive at a practice facility if there are no balls to work with in the short game area.  Most shag bags have a picker contraption to collect balls without making you stoop over – a must have if you practice a lot of short game.

My Bag Shag

Beginning players should spend about 75% of their practice time working to improve their basic fundamentals – that means full swing.  One school of thought is to learn the game backwards (putting first, moving back to short game, and then full swing), but I am not in favor.  It’s very hard for a beginner to gain enough satisfaction just knocking in three-foot putts.  You need to build enthusiasm with the novice player and golf is an athletic activity.  The thrill of hitting a flush shot is a powerful force.  I remember when I made my first good contact, how amazed I was to be able to hit the ball so far.

As players gain more experience, the percentage of their practice time should begin to favor the short game because of the intricacies of greenside shots.  The spectrum is limitless and the more you can practice a core set of go-to short shots, the more confident you will be on the course and the lower your scores will go.

I have different types of practice routines depending on what I want to work on, but I also have a stock  session I use the day before I play.  It takes about 90 minutes and covers my full game.  It works like this:

  • Start with 30 minutes of short game. I work on chipping with my lob wedge, pitching wedge, and 8-iron.  I’ll try to hit three different chip shots with the lob wedge (low, medium, and high) and I do this by varying the ball position.  Then I’ll hit some stock chips with the PW and 8-iron.  Next, I work on pitching with my lob wedge and sand wedge and I try to vary the distance from the hole.  Finally, I wrap up with a few lob shots and if the practice green is clear, a half dozen bunker shots.
  • Next is 30 minutes on the range. I’ll hit three balls with each of my lob wedge through 7-iron (low, medium, and high trajectories).  Then I’ll skip to my 4-iron for three, and finally take three stock 3WDs and three drivers.  Next I’ll play three simulated holes which uses six or seven balls.  Great things happen in groups of three 🙂  This helps to get my mind off mechanics and in game mode.  The low-medium-high iron shots are a recent change that I’ve found very beneficial and I’ll often repeat this shot pattern warming up the day of a round.  It gives me an excellent feel for the trajectory I’m most comfortable with for that day.  Note how few drivers I hit.  I picked this up after reading an article on how Dustin Johnson practices.  He saves energy and focuses on the shorter clubs which has helped his scoring.
  • The last 30 minutes is for putting. I’ll frame a hole with my alignment sticks and take five groups of 10 putts within the sticks.  This grooves my stroke incredibly well and boosts my confidence within five feet.  I’ll take three long lag putts between the groups of ten, just to break up the routine.  Finally, I’ll finish with two rounds of the 5-star drill.  This is where you place five balls in a star pattern around a hole and try to make all five going through your full pre-shot routine.
Putting station using alignment sticks

KEY 3 – Self-accountability:

Golfers fall into two camps.  Those that play for fun and those that are more serious about their games.  There is nothing wrong with either and you can certainly have fun while being serious about your game.  If you play for fun, enjoy yourself, be courteous to your playing partners, mind the pace of play, and leave the course better than you found it.  That’s all the accountability you’ll need.  But if you are a serious player, you need to exhibit an honest approach regarding scoring.  Being accurate with your score means playing by the rules, taking your penalty shots, and putting out the shorties.  You will find that if you hold yourself accountable during the casual rounds, tournament play is much less of an adjustment.  You’ll be surprised how many players get thrown off their game when they must hole every three-foot putt.  Bang ‘em in during practice, bang ‘em in during casual play, and you’ll have a much better shot when it matters.

For those that carry a handicap, accountability means keeping an accurate index.  You also need to pay off any gambling losses immediately.  Once you get caught playing to a lower handicap in a tournament (sandbagging) your reputation will precede you in a bad way.  Welching on bets or worse, being labeled a cheater because you’ve taken other’s money unfairly, can stay with you forever.  If winning a small side-wager or even a large tournament purse is more important than playing fairly, you need to find another endeavor.  Just do the right thing and you’ll be fine.

Summary:

As a life-long enthusiast, I have been afforded the luxury of excellent professional instruction.  It’s a great way to get introduced to the game if you’re just starting.  I’ve also had the opportunity to try new things (and fail a lot), and to work hard to understand the psychological aspect of the game.  It all adds up to a tremendous experience framed and punctuated by the Three Keys.  Work the Three Keys and enjoy the journey.

Play well!

Looking down #1 tee at Surf Club in Myrtle Beach

Northwest Club Championship

Other than the odd team scramble for charity, I had given up playing competitive golf for the last 20 to 25 years but decided to come out of retirement this Fall.  When I was in my 20s and 30s playing club championships at some of the local Montgomery County courses, I actually managed to win a few and basically competed reasonably well in each.  I was more curious than anything to see if my game could still hold up in competition, and felt my current performance was slipping because I was missing the pressure that serious competition can put on you to help your focus improve.

Northwest Golf Course offered a 36-hole two-day championship with three flights; Championship, Open, and Senior.   There were prizes for gross and net in each flight.  I spoke with the staff about entering using a fairwayfiles.com handicap in-lieu of a formal USGA handicap and they said they’d honor it as long as they could verify it.  It’s been my experience that clubs are not that concerned with single-digit handicaps but rather with folks playing in the 10-20 range that make sandbagging a habit.  I can also safely say, that I’ve never won a dollar of net prize money playing on a single-digit handicap.  They accepted me with an index of 5.5.  (My index had risen over the summer from a low of 4.2 due to the slump I was in, which was another impetus for the competition.)

In previous championships, I’d always enter the top flight, but that was when I was younger, and at 58, I didn’t feel like playing against guys hitting 200 yard 6-irons from tees at 7,376 yards.  The seniors were competing from the white tees at 6,200 which I felt gave me a more reasonable chance.  I since came to learn that the senior division (23 contestants) had at least 10 single-digit players so this would be an excellent test against quality competition.

Day One:

I didn’t feel nervous on the first tee, but made a triple bogey on #1 after skulling a greenside bunker shot into a lost ball.  Not the start I envisioned but I had told myself whether I birdied the first three holes or started horribly, to expect anything.  This type of thinking sort of calmed me and I managed to make the turn at 5-over.  Oddly enough, one of my fellow competitors hit the same skulled bunker shot on #1 and also made triple.  But I sensed from his comments and demeanor the rest of the way around, that he thought he may have shot himself out of the championship after the first hole.

For round one, my game plan was to aim for the fat part of the greens and subsequently, I hit 12 in regulation.  I knew you couldn’t win the tournament on the first day but you could sure lose it and I just wanted to be in the mix, hence the conservative approach.  I steadied to a two-over back nine and finished at 7-over (79).  I took 35 putts, had two three-jacks, and left a lot of my long birdie attempts short.  Yet I didn’t feel too uncomfortable because I had been shooting away from a lot of flags. Incidentally, my fellow triple-bogey competitor also shot 79.

Day Two:

Beforehand on the practice range, I worked exclusively on hitting high, medium, and low shots with lob wedge through 7-iron because these were the majority of the shots I played into the greens in round one.  I hit very few balls with the longer clubs and tried to focus on dialing in my irons.  My game plan  was to shoot directly at pins with anything less than a 6-iron, but only if I had a good yardage.  If I was between clubs, I’d play for the middle of the green.  I also set a goal to make five birdies because I figured someone would go low.

 

For the round, they re-paired us and sent us out in reverse order of the scores we shot in round one.  I was in the second-to-last group with the same fellow competitor from day one and two other players that had shot 79.  The final group had three players at 78 and one at 79.  There was an 80 and an 81 in the group in front of us and I figured the tournament would be won by anyone in this group of 10 players.

I started poorly again and made a double bogey on #1 after losing my tee shot into the tall grass left.  My fellow competitor from day one made bogey and we joked with each other that our starts were better than day one, but neither of us was very happy.

I was three over after four holes but birdied the par-5 5th which got my head in the game.  From there I played well until a stretch from 8 through 11 when I pulled six out of eight full swing shots.  Just when I thought my swing was coming unglued, I made an adjustment that worked great and rode it all the way to the finish.  One critical point was reached on the 10th hole.  One playing partner had experienced a meltdown on the front and the remaining two both triple-bogeyed #10 effectively shooting themselves out of the contest.  I figured if I could stay close to even par the rest of the round, these guys couldn’t catch me and it would be between me and the group behind me.

After my swing adjustment on #11, I entered a little bit of “The Zone” which was cool.  I loved the feeling of not missing any shots and playing with complete confidence.  I sensed something was different when my playing partners started rooting for me.  I finished the back nine in even-par to shoot 75 and win the tournament by two.  I didn’t make five birdies (only two) and was most excited about the 13 GIR and zero three putts, and that I had made zero mental mistakes.  The way the course was playing, two putts were a great outcome on most greens, and par was a great score.  I was seeing the lines great and feeling very comfortable with my distance control.  I also learned that when other players are falling apart around you, it’s best to maintain your current routine, your current pace, and your current demeanor and don’t get caught up in all their drama.

I am thrilled that I proved to myself that I can focus and play my best under pressure.  It was a great experience and the staff at Northwest put on a great competition.  I need to take a little time off to let it sink in, and then get ramped up for one final push to my November eastern shore trip.

Play well!

 

 

 

 

When Is Too Much Golf?

Have you ever played too much golf?  Has excessive golf negatively affected your game?  How do you come out of an indulgence-induced swing coma and continue to enjoy the game at the height of the season?

You guessed it, I’m in a slump and the problems started with an elevated amount of play.  I’ll spare you the ugly vagaries of what the slump looks like and nail down what happened to help you avoid for yourself.

Back up one month and I was on my annual golf trip in Boyne Highlands, Michigan.  The effort on these week-long sojourns is to overindulge, and the temptation is enticing.   With beautiful weather and pure golf courses, you want to be engaged for every waking hour.  A typical day has you arrive at the course at 7:30 a.m., warm up for a half hour, play your first round, eat lunch, re-warm up for 15 minutes, and play another 18.  The day usually finishes around 7:30 p.m.  You grab a shower, eat a late dinner and do it all over again (five or six straight days).

After two days (72 holes) I was feeling fresh.  On Wednesday, we completed our morning round at Crooked Tree, and I played well, shooting 78 with 11 GIR, but the afternoon round was scheduled on the same course.  The first two days, we had played four rounds over four different courses and the newness of each experience kept your mind fresh.  Crooked Tree is a drop-dead gorgeous track on the south shores of the Little Traverse Bay, but the allure of the beautiful holes and tremendous scenery were absent for round two.  It appears that a slump may be induced as much by mental fatigue as physical, because my concentration and swing departed in the afternoon.  On day four, I awoke with a pain in the left side of my neck and couldn’t even turn my head 90 degrees to look at my target.  The morning round was a disaster and after nine Advil, it finally loosened so I could at least play the afternoon.  On day five, I was whipped enough to only play 18 and was just going through the motions.

When you’re on a trip, you desperately want to play your best, and when your swing goes, you can ride the poor streak out and hope it comes back or try and fix it.  The lethal combo I encountered was fatigue + mechanical thoughts (trying to fix it).  For me, good play begins with the driver.  Excellent play begins with dialed in irons.  On day three, my driving became erratic and ever since I’ve been back, I’ve struggled to hit the fairway.  Clearly, I need a reset and have scheduled a lesson next Saturday.  The good thing about my instructor is that even when we work on my swing mechanics, the message is single-threaded.  He has me focus on one thing and the simplicity of message gets me re-focused.

On future trips, the message is also clear.  I need to conserve mental and physical energy which means restricting myself to 18 holes per day.  I realize that this year, after day two, I had played as many holes and hit as many practice balls as a regular tour pro on a tournament week (well almost).  That’s a bit much for this desk jockey.

Have you had a recent slump?  I hope these lessons learned will help you avoid the next one.  Play well!

 

Boyne Highlands Review

 

In front of the clubhouse at Heather

The Resort

Our travel group visited Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs, MI from July 22 to July 27.  Until last year, I never knew of Boyne, but one of our Myrtle Beach golf partners suggested the location was to die for as far as quality golf went, so we decided to mix things up and booked it.  Boyne is about as far north as you can go without crossing into the upper peninsula and is on the west coast of the state just north of Little Traverse Bay.

Because of its remote location, travel to the resort is not simple.  We priced out flights and flight times from Washington and decided to drive it in two days, with a stop in Ohio.  Total driving time was about 11-12 hours.  Our playing partners booked flights from Phoenix that connected in Chicago and terminated in Grand Rapids.  They drove the remaining 3-4 hours in a rental car.  We are thinking of returning next year and will continue to research flight/rental car options.

View up the slopes from our condo

When you talk to the locals, you quickly learn that Boyne is a split season resort and caters to golfers in summer and skiers in winter.  I asked the reception agent about the popularity of the various sports and seasons and learned that ski season brought in about 25% more customers than golf did.  Our accommodations had the look and feel of a ski lodge.  The unit was in the Heather Highlands Inn and was at the base of the mountain with a ski lift right out back. It consisted of a bedroom, a loft with two queen beds, two full baths, a fireplace, and a pull-out sofa.  Perfect for four guys.  The resort was running that ski lift and let resort guests ride up and down the mountain for free – which I did.  You could just ride up and explore or bring your mountain bikes up and ride down the ski trails.

The resort coming down the lift

Boyne is a big resort and employs a large staff.  All the employees were super friendly and accommodating.  Interesting factoid:  I noticed that several of the golf courses had women staffing the bag drops.  A little unusual but a welcome site.  I was curious so I asked them about their story and found most were working the golf clubs in summer and at the ski resorts in winter, some as instructors.  In either case they handled the work with ease, and it was good to see them get the additional job opportunities.  Some of the wait staff told me they loved their jobs because they could play as much golf as they wanted for free at any of the Boyne courses.  Nice gigs.

Slopeside executive nine holes

The Golf Package

Boyne has 10 courses at multiple sites and I played nine rounds on seven of them over five days.  We played on the Great Escape package which ran from Sunday night through Thursday night and extended it an additional two days on the Unlimited Package.  The whole shebang included a welcome party on Sunday, full breakfast and dinner daily, unlimited golf every day, an $85 gift card to any of the pro shops, and a $25 casino voucher.  They threw in a Wednesday scramble tournament for package players, but we skipped that because we had 36 holes booked every day.  Our Arizona guys stayed through Sunday and I played Monday through Friday and left on Saturday.  My total package cost was around $1,100 plus gratuities.  We were eating filet, rib-eye, lobster tail every night and quality of dinner and breakfast choices was outstanding.  With the food, accommodations, and unlimited golf, this was an incredible value.

Extras

There were other activities such as zip line, horseback riding, and spa treatments that you can purchase.  At the end of the week, I was hurting from all the golf and could have used a spa treatment but passed.  Swimming pool, nine-hole natural mini-golf, tennis, fishing, and paddle-boating are also available and are free, and many families were present to take advantage of these amenities.

Course Summary

At the end of the day, we were there to play golf and the list of offerings was impressive.  At the resort center, there are four courses.  Heather plays out of a clubhouse across the parking lot from the main lodge.  A one mile drive gets you to the Donald Ross Golf Center where there are three courses:  Arthur Hills, Donald Ross, and Moor, and an extensive practice facility.

14 miles away in Bay Harbor is Crooked Tree where we played twice on Wednesday.  And 30 miles to the south in Boyne Falls are Monument and Alpine, that both play out of the same clubhouse.  We played both on Thursday.

Normally, I’ll do individual reviews for one or two courses, yet my experience was almost overwhelming playing seven new tracks in such a short period of time.  I just wanted to immerse and play rather than capture intricate details on each.  So, enjoy some photos and I’ll provide some memories of each course but not a comprehensive review.  At a high level, what impressed me most was the variety of layouts and awesome course conditions.  Due to the northern climate, all courses play on Bent grass and there was rarely a blade out of place.  Each of these courses is a must play but since we are a society of rankings, I’ll note them in my order of preference.

Warming up at the Donald Ross Center before a round on Arthur Hills

#1 Arthur Hills.  I have a bias for this outstanding layout because we played it first and were overwhelmed with its grandiose appearance and perfect conditions.  It’s a fabulous course to get your golf vacation started on.  No two holes are alike, and they give you ample room to hit your driver.  The par-5 #13 is the signature hole.  When played from the tips this monster measures 570 yards (see short video) and you need to carry a drive 250 yards (downhill) just to reach the fairway.  We played it once from the tips and once two sets up at 516 yards.  It was here that we learned we should not be playing this course from the tips.

As mentioned, I played my first and last round and the beast beat me up on the later, but I played it well on day one.  We observed ample wildlife as well, with many wild turkeys, and we actually saw deer in the middle of a lake on #17 feasting on aquatic plants.

Wild Turkey
Deer in the lake – #17 Arthur Hills
On #13 tee at Arthur Hills

#2 Donald Ross.  This track is a collection of classic holes designed by Donald Ross and is another outstanding conditioned golf course.  Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of rendition type courses and I couldn’t recognize any of the holes we were playing, but the layout and routing was incredible.  I was loving the holes I was playing whether the scorecard said, Pinehurst, Oakmont, or something else.  Many of the holes had extensive bunkering around the greens and you need to be a solid ball striker to score on this one.  My sand game got tested too.

Mike and Curtis at Crooked Tree
The range at Crooked Tree

#3 Crooked Tree.   This course runs along the south shore of Little Traverse Bay.  You enjoy great elevation changes on some of these holes starting with #1 where you have a huge drop on a downhill dogleg right par-4.  #2 is a par-3 with a giant hump in a two-tier green.  If you miss this one left you can forget about keeping a chip shot on the green with bogey not a bad score.

Jim on #7 at Crooked Tree

The par-4 16th is the signature hole and plays 389 from the tips and has tremendous lake views.  The tee shot drops down a huge hill and if hit well, can leave you with a flip wedge in, but you can just as easily lose your ball if you’re not straight.

Par-4 10th at Crooked Tree

I had my best round here in the morning but ran out of gas in the afternoon which was my 6th round in three days.  My ball striking began to falter as I became fatigued, but I was in love with the greens and managed to go around in only 25 putts (10 on the back nine) despite shooting an 11-over 82.  Crooked Tree is a great course.  My only ding was that the snack bar was small with only about five tables.  It got very crowded in there as we were hit by a rain shower between rounds and several golfers came in and packed the place.

Next to the scenic #16 green at Crooked Tree
Curtis before teeing off at Monument

#4 Monument.  Monument and Alpine play out of the same clubhouse and required the longest road trip from the resort area.  The practice area is awesome for a 36 hole facility.  They boast a large driving range, full pitching and bunker green, separate chipping green, and another green for putting only.  I could definitely spend a full day here working on all aspects of my game.

Both courses start at the top of the ski slope and the cart ride is about a mile up the mountain and takes about 10 minutes.  Monument was the toughest of all the courses we played with the front nine weaving its way through the mountain with tight tee shots, elevation changes, dog legs, and incredibly fast / undulating greens.  One of my playing partners equated the putting experience to rolling a ball on a Pringles potato chip.

#1 tee at Monument

You get hit right out of the chute on #1 with a big downhill dogleg right par-5 with a beautiful approach to a green protected in front by a bunker framed with railroad ties.

#1 green at Monument

Oddly enough, I was the only one in the group that didn’t struggle on the greens and managed to take 29 putts with no three jacks – that’s the good news.  Unfortunately, I was playing with some serious pain in my left neck / shoulder area as this was round seven in day four.  It prevented me from making a full swing, but on a golf trip and you gotta play through it.  Monument chewed me up and spit me out because I could not control my golf ball and I shot 90.

Curtis keeping his spine angle
#12 tee Monument

#5 Alpine.  We welcomed the warmest temperatures of the golf trip Thursday afternoon as the thermometer hit 80 degrees and after nine Advil, my neck finally loosened up and I played much better on Alpine.  Alpine is the sister course of Monument and was a little wider open off the tee and the greens were just as fast but were not as undulating.  In the morning, everyone was a little shell shocked from our experience on Monument and found Alpine more playable / more score-able.  As it was, I found Monument slightly more scenic.  Both were fantastic plays.

Mike rips one at Heather

#6 Heather.  Heather has won several regional and national awards for course of the year.  The clubhouse was walking distance from the main lodge and our accommodations.  If you feel like taking a few putts on an off day, just stroll over and enjoy.

#1 green at Heather

The pro gave us the preview and set expectations that we would see a lot of doglegs and that if we hit our tee shots at the 150 yard poles, we’d be fine.

Jim at Heather
Mike sends one on the way

Of course, I tried to cut too many of the doglegs in the bend and got in trouble off the tee.  The course was in excellent condition and was another enjoyable play, but I learned after playing that I favor holes where you can see the flag from the tee.  If I can’t, for some reason, it’s a struggle to concentrate on my tee shots.  Along with the collection of doglegs, Heather has a stunning par-4 finishing hole with a forced carry over water.

Tee shot on the daunting 18th at Heather

I was thrilled to flush a 4-iron and carry the beast only to three-putt.  Oh well.  I got several pictures from the tee and from the lift going down the mountain.  When we finished up, I was pleasantly surprised to see the pro come out and assist the bag staff in unloading our clubs.  Excellent customers service bonus points there.  Finally, the driving range at Heather is a short drive from the clubhouse and plays up the mountain on one of the slopes which I thought was an excellent use of real estate.

The range/ski slope at Heather

#7 Moor.   We played Moor on Monday afternoon after Arthur Hills in the morning.  The front nine presented tight tee shots with lateral penalty areas in seemingly every landing spot.  Conditions on the front were good but not great.  The back nine was much stronger and our mood was re-elevated as the quality of layout and conditions improved markedly.  I’m not sure of the reason for the change, but I relaxed and played much better on the inward half.

Game Summary:

The consistency of course conditions made for some of the best quality golf I’ve ever experienced on a trip.  All week I putted exceptionally well on the smooth fast Bent greens.  The extensive work I had done in the previous month paid off.  My short game was sharp, and I was particularly pleased with my bunker game.  It was clear that as the week wore on, I became more fatigued and my ball striking was affected.  Woods, irons, and wedges were off after my 5th round.  The last four were a struggle and I only played 18 on Friday because the tank had run completely dry.  On future trips, I need to find a way to conserve energy over the course of the whole week and that will probably involve only 18 per day in the early rounds.  Getting old sucks 😊

Hope you enjoyed the review!  Play well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juicy Sub-Plots from The Open!

Lots of great tidbits floating around Royal Portrush this week adding to the specter of the championship and interest in general.

photo from skysports.com

 

Justin Rose complaining?

Let’s start with Justin and his criticism of the tour’s condensed major scheduling.  Rose never complains about anything and this is the first I’ve heard any top-tier player criticize the format.  While I love the back-to-back-to-back rapid fire cadence, I’m with him on this because he’s exposed the tour’s three dirty little secrets.  1)  There are too many events in the Fall with the FedEx Cup playoffs being the primary culprit.  2)  Autumn in North America is for football.  3)  They have their eye on the 2020 Olympics falling into the PGA Championship’s traditional slot in August, as was the case in 2016.  So, they squeezed everything up front.  The football argument is reasonable and there’s nothing they can do.  The other two are related.  Rose was spot on when he said the majors are the measuring stick for professional success and career legacy.  The FedEx Cup is just a money-ratings grab and always has been.  Olympic golf doesn’t matter.  Rory McIlroy said as much when he declined to participate at Rio.  Is anyone going to remember Rose won the gold medal and the FedEx Cup?  Probably not.  If you eliminate FedEx and leave the Olympics to the amateurs and move the PGA back to its traditional August spot, everything is solved. . .and Justin and Rory can go have a pint.

A new lunch entree?

Speaking of Rory, I don’t recall ever watching a perfectly reasonable round of even-par golf at a major squeezed between a quadruple and triple bogey on #1 and #18.  Should we call that a “Rory Sandwich”?

Grande Latte?

What is up with Phil Mickelson?  He looks great after starving himself for six days and consuming nothing but coffee.  Admittedly, he did lose 15 pounds, and at 49 must be trying to defy gravity or get a Starbucks logo on his bag.  At least he warned us that this “might” not do anything positive for his golf game.  After shooting +5 in round one he was right.

Caddy-gate?

And finally, some in the press made a big deal out of Brooks Koepka not acknowledging Tiger’s request for a practice round and possible brain picking session with Koepka’s caddy, Portrush native Ricky Elliott.  Sorry Tiger, there are no shortcuts.  And where have you been while trying to peak your game for the majors?  It certainly hasn’t been out on tour.  Will Tiger miss another cut?  Was The Masters a fluke?

Stay tuned!

Inside the Brilliant Mind of Brooks Koepka

Photo from Golf Digest

What makes him tick?  As we approach the final major of the season, my intrigue continues to grow with his amazing success.  He is extraordinary in the big events but rather ordinary in the regular tour stops.  How does he turn on the mental supercharger for the majors?  Few athletes in history have been able to turn it on in big events to the same extent.  Great golfers like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods demonstrated fantastic ability to concentrate, but their performance was more evenly distributed across all their events.

Sports fans old enough to remember the Hall of Fame running back John Riggins, recall Riggo hated to practice and almost never did.  He was often in the hospital injured during the week, or out carousing and making trouble, but come game day, he could turn on an amazing level of focus and concentration and performed brilliantly.  Football is a sport where you are very dependent on the performance of others.  Golf is not.  Koepka has no offensive line to run behind which makes his majors performances even more remarkable.

In perhaps his greatest book on sports psychology (How Champions Think), Bob Rotella sites “single-mindedness” as the most important key.  The greats demonstrate it time and again and sometimes at the cost of other important aspects in their lives.  Tiger certainly had single-mindedness and learned it from his dad.  Maybe his personal failings later in life were a cry for help due to the strains of single-mindedness at an early age.  Michele Wie’s parents tried to enforce single-mindedness before she was ready and may have ruined a great golf career.

Koepka doesn’t appear to be single-minded at all.  He doesn’t sweat the majors any more than you or I would going to an important meeting at the office.  He does abide by a corny half-baked idea that it’s easier to win the majors because he has fewer opponents that will be in contention for a variety of reasons.  Does that really work; can you trick yourself into performing better by simply believing you are superior?  For example, could your son or daughter excel in an important event like taking the SAT and expect superlative performance by thinking half the other students in the class will choke under the pressure?  There may be some truth to it.

More importantly, is there something we (the average amateur) can adopt from his approach that will help our games?  Think back to a time when you put on a great performance for a big event.  A couple months back, I presented at a professional conference and was rather nervous at the thought of getting up in front of my peers for an hour.  What if I stumbled or said something stupid?  But, I nailed the presentation.  How?  I practiced the heck out of it until I was so sick of it I could do it forwards and backwards.  On a few occasions, I’ve been able to mentally trick myself into performing better on the golf course by playing without any swing thoughts, but that doesn’t sustain for more than a few holes.  The only tried and true method I’ve found is consistent practice, but it’s important to get feedback from someone other than yourself during the practice.  I did that presentation alone and for family members and got constructive feedback that made it better.

So next time you’re on the practice tee or working short game, ask for feedback.  In the best case, get it from a professional instructor.  Learn the right way and practice.

And yes, Brooks Koepka is my pick for the 2019 British Open.  I’ll ride him until he bucks me off.

Play well.

Preparing for Golf Travel

With my wife outside the Doral clubhouse

What do you wish for most on a golf trip?  The simple pleasures are important like good weather, comfortable accommodations and delicious food, but what I want most is to play my best.  When I travel it’s usually for a week to Myrtle Beach and the trip consists of 10-12 rounds in the heat and humidity of the southeastern United States.

We’ve been going to Myrtle for the last 15-20 years and I can honestly say that I haven’t swam in a pool once, or taken a dip in the ocean.  People are incredulous when they ask, “How was the beach?” and I tell them I never saw it.  For me it’s a pure immersion in golf.  Not sure how healthy or sane that is, but when it’s done, I’ve had my fill.  These trips include a lot of physical exertion when you factor in the rounds and warm-up balls, and I am usually exhausted by the end.

With Arnold Palmer and my son at Bay Hill

As luck would have it, I’ve visited Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines, Doral, and even met Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill, but never played any of these world class tracks.  Why?  The visits were always without clubs and on a family vacation.

This year we are going to Boyne Highlands in Michigan, which will be an entirely new experience.  All the courses are supposedly pure with beautiful fast Bentgrass putting surfaces.  I can’t wait to test myself, and we are on an all-inclusive package that includes accommodations, 18 holes per day, replays, and a full breakfast and dinner daily.  We’re expecting cooler weather because it is way up north, almost to the upper peninsula, and I’m hoping to be able to play later with the added daylight and longer because of the lower humidity.

Physical Prep:

There are a couple things that could hold me back.  My elbow tendonitis is about 85% healed.  I still feel it a little when I play and practice and am wondering how it will hold up under the prospective load.  I’ve been doing my rehab exercises from physical therapy every day since February, and oddly enough, I’m seeing some muscle development in my forearms, but the damaged tendon is still there.  Second is my age.  I work out and stretch for golf every morning, and I know it’s just a number, but at 58, should I be attempting to play this much?  It was a lot at 38.  We’ll see how serviceable my big bottle of Advil is.

Game Prep:

The first mistake most serious players make is to try and bring a perfect swing to the trip.  They get too mechanical in pre-week practice.  I’ve done it numerous times and it only makes things worse.  When you play upwards of 200 holes, your swing will come and go and there’s only so much you can control.  You are much better off thinking “target” than mechanics.  So, I’ll try and play a few 9-hole rounds after work next week in-lieu of hitting balls.

When I do practice it will be short game and it will be simulating game conditions, not raking ball after ball for chipping or putting.  A good game is to take nine balls and throw them around the green.  Put three in easy lies, three in medium, and three in difficult.  Try to get each up and down.  If you can get 5 for 9, you’re doing well.  This helps steel you for pressure in new and unfamiliar conditions.

Lastly, I’ll double down on my morning workouts.  The one year I went to Myrtle after exercising daily for three months prior, I felt pretty refreshed coming off the trip.  Hoping for the same.

There you have it.  Expect a few select course reviews upon my return.  Play well!

 

 

Learning From My Putting Overhaul

This is the story of how I am working a significant change in my putting and how you may be able to leverage some of my changes to help yourself.  While I generally try to improve every aspect of my game, rarely do I attempt a component overhaul as I have done with my putting in 2019.  The decision was driven by my frustration with poor distance control, and inability to hit short putts with confidence.  The timing of the change was ideal in 2019 because every year I travel to Myrtle Beach to play a week of golf and the transition to the southern putting surfaces (mostly Bermuda) drives me nuts.  To grapple with the slower green speeds and grainy surfaces, I found myself altering my grip pressure, changing the pace of my stroke, and struggling to get the ball to the hole.  But this year, we are not going to Myrtle Beach and have opted for a week at the Boyne Highlands resort in Michigan.  At Boyne, all the surfaces are Bentgrass and are consistent with what we play on in the mid-Atlantic.  I figured with that parameter controlled, what better time to go for a putting overhaul.

To frame the problem, you first need an honest assessment of yourself.  Here’s mine:  In the past, the closer I got to the green, the worse I’ve played.  My strength has always been my driving and course management and my Achilles heel; my putting and short game.  For the past three seasons I had averaged 32.5 putts per round which was unacceptable.  Prior to the overhaul, this season I was averaging 33.6.

My struggles have been twofold:  distance control on the lags and confidence on the shorties.  Last year I paced off my putts and tried to groove a stroke for different distances.  This worked for a while until I found myself on greens with different speeds.  I couldn’t adjust, and the system fell apart.  In accordance, I had a reluctance to hit the ball hard enough on the shorties.  I could not make myself do it, and putts not hit with pace are affected too much by break and usually miss low. It was truly an endless source of frustration.  After a particularly costly miss of a short putt in a round on May 25 of this year, I decided to launch the overhaul.   I wanted to ram in my short putts and develop a great feel for distance on the long ones.  A simple metric to prove success or failure would be an average of sub 30 putts per round after the changes.

Conventional thinking says you shouldn’t get too mechanical when you practice golf because you’ll never be able to transition from practice to the course and there’s a lot of truth to that.  But I felt my primary problem was one of consistency borne from a lack of confidence.  So, I designed a practice routine blending fundamentals with feel.  Here it is.

Enhanced Putting Drill Station

To improve my short putting, I started by committing to taking 50 4-foot putts every time I practiced.  Whether I was at the range or putting green or doing some chipping, some part of the practice had to include these 50, and since I started, that’s amounted to at least 150 per week.  I began by putting into a hole framed by two alignment sticks but found that two tees spaced 4 inches apart worked better and were slightly smaller than a regulation cup (at 4 ¼ inches).  Additionally, I could set up this station anywhere on a putting green and not interfere with other players.  I’ve recently enhanced the drill by placing a couple irons behind the tees (see photo) to catch my golf balls. IMPORTANT:  The key in using this configuration is to always have enough pace to have the ball roll through the tees, hit the front club, pop up, and settle between the two clubs.  Seriously, it works!  Use this feedback to teach yourself what a firm well struck short putt feels like.  If you don’t make that ball pop over the first club, you are putting too tentatively.  To measure success, I will count how many passed through my tees without touching one.   On good days, I make all 50.  My worst has been 43, and I’ve learned to use this drill to focus on making a good rhythmical swing.  I’ll use a mantra of “Tick-Tock” to get the ball rolling with enough oomph to pop over that first club.   I borrowed the thought from Paige Spiranac who uses “One Potato – Two Potato” in her video.

Use whatever works that helps you build rhythm, because rhythm is the best yip fighter on the planet and you will trust yourself to bang those shorties in the back of the cup.

To build feel for distance, I’ve experimented a lot and have settled on a very simple method.  During your setup for any length putt, set your putter behind the ball and align it at your target.  Sight your target next to or in the hole and stare at it for a couple seconds.  Burn the vision of the target into your mind’s eye.  Then look down and immediately begin your stroke.  The more time you spend looking at your target and the less spent looking at the ball helps associate your brain with the force required to cover the distance.  Do not sit there locked up over your putt staring at the ball.  That builds tension.  Inevitably you will get more balls to or past the hole using this method.  It’s analogous to shooting free throws with a basketball.  You toe the line, bounce the ball, maybe spin it a little, regrip it, but the whole time you have your eyes on the back of the rim, your target.  You never look at the basketball right before you shoot, do you?  Watch any professional baseball pitcher.  They have all kinds of different windups but are always looking at where they wish to locate the pitch, not at the baseball in their hands.  Same concept.

It’s been a month and a half since I started the overhaul and my putts per round average has fallen to 30.17 so I’m encouraged.  This is difficult and what I learned about improvement on this scale is that there is no magic bullet.  It’s about consistent practice and small tweaks to your approach.  If you keep working the fundamentals over time, the odds will rebalance in your favor.

Give this a try if you want to improve your putting and let me know how it goes.  I’m off to bang another 50 free throws.  Play well.

A Breach of Golf Etiquette???

When I’m at the golf course or practice facility, I always try to do the right thing in terms of etiquette.  I expect it from myself and am hopeful my fellow golfers reciprocate.  But an event from last Sunday’s round is sticking in my craw and I’d like some additional perspective if what I did was right or wrong.

I teed off as part of a threesome and we were following a foursome that was playing slow but steadily.  At the turn, one player in our group dropped out which slightly exacerbated our wait time on nearly every shot.  At the 12th tee, we got caught by a twosome.  Normally this would be a perfect situation to join up and create a foursome to improve the spacing and pace of play, and I actually told my playing partner that we should ask these guys to join us.  But as the first player rolled up I noticed he was playing music, and pretty loud.  I made a snap decision to leave these guys on the tee and we pushed out into the fairway.

If I was the guy rolling up, I would probably have considered my behavior rather rude and a breach of etiquette.  In this instance, I just didn’t want anything to do with having to endure his music for the last seven holes or confront him about it.  My angst had been peaked the previous weekend at the same course.  I was on the 11th tee, which sits fairly close to #8 green.  A group had parked their carts to putt and had their music going while we were trying to tee off.  I was hearing Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” and couldn’t get my mind on my business and snap hooked my drive. (Strange choice of music, but that’s for another post.)

As I see it, I had three options:

  1. Do what I did
  2. Ask the twosome to join us and say nothing about the music
  3. Ask the twosome to join us but confront the player about his music

I’ve written before and we’ve discussed the issue of music on the golf course, and readers know that I am strongly opposed.  What would you have done?  Did I breach golf etiquette for not asking the twosome to join?

I don’t know why this is bugging me so much but it is.  Please let me know your thoughts.  Thanks!

The Hardest Shot in Golf – Conquered!

Playing from a fairway bunker at Oyster Bay

What’s your hardest shot?  For me, it’s the long bunker shot.  You know, 50-60 yards and perhaps over another bunker or with water behind the green.  The shot places seeds of doubt in your mind and what follows is not pretty.  It’s made more difficult by the infrequency that it occurs.  I don’t practice it, will go several rounds without confronting it, and often play away from it altogether.  Yesterday, I learned how to hit it.

I had been struggling with consistency in my green-side bunker game and went to my pro for a lesson.  He had me hit a few shots to a close in flag with my lob wedge and quickly identified a flaw in technique.  I was forward pressing the grip and that was causing me to hit the shot heavy (take too much sand and leave the ball short).  The fix was to move my hands back – even or slightly behind the ball which allowed me to use the bounce in my wedge to slap the sand in a more aggressive motion.  Not very complicated and the burst of adrenaline from the “ah ha” moment teased me with anticipation.

This practice bunker has targets at 20, 40, and 60 yards and the lesson progressed into hitting shots with the new technique at varying distances.  I changed out to my 54-degree sand wedge for the longer green-side shots.  The new setup allowed me to approach with an attack mindset.  I now controlled distance with club selection, how fast I swung, how hard I hit the sand, and with the confidence that I wasn’t going to chunk or blade the shot.

In the past, my aversion to the long bunker shot was rooted in the belief that I didn’t have enough power to take sand and get the ball to the hole.  But I do!  We talked about choice of wedge for this shot and my pro said he adjusts by squaring the face on a sand wedge or gap wedge.  Gap wedge?  I had never thought of that and tried a few with the square blade at 60 yards and presto!  Never in a million years did I think I could hit an explosion and cover the distance.

We then moved to uphill, downhill, and side-hill bunker shots.  I hit a few out of footprints and learned this was an excellent way to practice.  Don’t get married to hitting simple 20-yard shots from a perfectly raked lie.  We finished up with some 9-iron, 7-iron, and 4-iron fairway bunker shots.  Of utmost importance out of the fairway bunkers is to keep your lower body and your head as still as possible.  I made good contact on most of these but without the lower body rotation, pulled them a bit.  I learned I need to aim a little right and allow for it.

Finally, we dialoged set make-up.  I recently purchased a TaylorMade M6 3-hybrid and had been considering dropping a wedge to get to 14 clubs.  He advised against this because the wedges are key in scoring situations which should be my top priority.  We agreed I should remove my 3-iron instead.

This was a fantastic learning experience.  My only regret was that a steady wind was blowing in our face for the entire lesson.  After nearly a hundred balls I was caked; but was beaming with confidence. 😊

What is your toughest shot to execute?  Need any help with that?

Play well!

 

Zombie State – Broken!

From vectortoons.com

Dr. Bob Rotella is fond of saying, “putt like you don’t care if you make it.”  The advice is supposed to keep you focused on your routine and not let pressure situations alter your nerves or approach. Can you take this to the extreme?  I did, and was not getting mad at myself when I’d three-putt or miss a make-able shortie and had started to wonder; do I really care?  Why am I playing like a Zombie?  That was until two weekends ago playing The Links At Gettysburg.  We were coming up the 18th (a reachable par-5) and I had ripped a long drive to within 180 yards in the left rough.

18 green seen from the clubhouse

The approach was over water and I picked a 4-iron and stuck it two feet from the cup.  As I approached the green, I sort of conceded the eagle putt in my mind.  It was one of those that would normally be conceded in a match but if you’re just playing for score, you should putt it out. . .because it’s for eagle.  So, I casually strolled up, tapped it and missed left.  Now that was surly the shortest eagle putt I have ever blown and at the time I felt a little numb but just shrugged it off – because I didn’t care.  But on the drive home I started stewing.  Why hadn’t I gone through my regular routine on that damn putt!

Now the story gets better.  I’m drawing inspiration from my friend Jim, over at The Grateful Golfer.  Jim was working all winter on his chipping and putting in his basement, waiting for the snow to melt.  He reported his short game was sharp at the season’s start, and I’m reminded of a winter long ago when I built a putting track and used it for a few months.  That spring I was automatic from inside six feet.  So after the round at Gettysburg, I decided to work short game and putting – exclusively.  I even dragged out my old alignment stick drill

Putting drill with alignment sticks

and have been banging groups of 50 4-foot putts to build good rhythm, get centeredness of contact, and start the ball on line.  I want automatic again.  Now this drill is VERY mechanical, but it has worked before and just payed off.

Fast forward to yesterday’s round at my home course, Blue Mash.  “The Mash” hits you with three par-4s at the start of 424, 428, and 453 yards – hard holes.  I hit good putts on 1 and 2 that didn’t go in and bogeyed both.  After a nice two putt par on #3, I hit a great tee shot to #4 which is a 190-yard par-3.  From 20 feet straight uphill, I blew it by six feet and three-putted, but here was the difference.  I got pissed and back in the cart, slammed my fist on the seat.  And then something happened after that burst of emotion; I felt a weird sense of relief, like some strange burden was lifted off my shoulders.  Almost immediately, I regained an amazing level of concentration with my putter and rolled in five birdies and ended up shooting 71 (even par).   It felt good to get mad again because I realized I do care and missed putts do matter.

I seemed to have rescued myself from this zombie like state.  Have you ever gone “Rotella” too far in the opposite direction?

Game Improvement: Managing The Distance Gap

Do you have a specific distance in your game you play away from?  Most players do and it’s because they don’t have a club to cover the yardage or they’ve hit poor shots in the past from the spot.  Since I was fitted for my current set of irons, my gap is 200-215 yards.  I usually hit my 3WD 230 yards but can pooch it 220.  My 3-iron is good up to 195 yards but when I land in my gap, I’m a bit lost.  I have a 5WD that can cover the distance but have hit some horrendous pull-hooks and don’t trust it.  Carpenter or tool?  Probably carpenter, but you need confidence in your stick.

A week ago, my son’s roommate was getting rid of an old set of clubs.  I took them and found a 3 and 4 hybrid included.  They were a little short and had a shaft that was too soft, but I went to the range for a session and found I was pretty comfortable hitting both.  So I threw them, along with my 5WD, in the bag for my Saturday round at Links At Gettysburg.  Turns out it was TaylorMade demo day at the club and the rep set me up with a M6 3-hybrid that I could test in a bake-off with these second hand giveaways.  Looks like I found my Father’s Day present!

The concern now is what to take out to get to the regulation 14 clubs.  Maybe my 4-iron?  Can I just choke down on a three at the appropriate distance?  Or my lob wedge?  I usually hit either a lob or sand wedge out of green-side bunkers depending on the distance of the shot.  I’m sure I can open up the blade on my sand wedge for high pitches without too much trouble.  Sounds like a good discussion for my next golf lesson.

On a side note, it is Memorial Day.  A big note of thanks to those in our armed services and for those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of our great nation.  I’ll leave you with a gallery of photos of a recent tour my son and I took of Fort Sumter and the USS Yorktown in Charleston, SC.

Play well!

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The Hand Wedge Open

The first tournament of the year is in the books and it went very well, sort of.  We were playing a charity event for the United Way of Anne Arundel County, which is a very worthy cause.  The site:  Prospect Bay Country Club in Graysonville, MD.  The format:  Captain’s Choice scramble.  The goal at these events is to raise as much money for the charity as possible.  Normally, the team’s entry fee is the main contribution, but it’s not uncommon to use silent auctions, run other contests, and allow the players to purchase packages of little rules modifications that enhance the competition.  This was no different, and every one of the 80 players purchased a $30 package which included raffle tickets, two mulligans, two sandies, and one tee shot from the forward tees on a par-five.

The good news:  we made everything we looked at and shot 18-under to win, three strokes clear of the two second place teams.  The bad/weird part was how we used the sandies.  These little “enhancers” allow you to throw your ball out of a bunker, which we did three times and resulted in two birdies and an eagle.  Now, everybody was playing by the same rules, but it got weird for me throwing the ball.  I think the game ceases to be golf when you advance the ball with anything other than a club.  I’m not saying it wasn’t fun, but on one occasion, we had one ball on the green about 25 feet putting for birdie.  Another ball was in a greenside bunker which we knew we could throw closer and did.  On another occasion, we deliberately hit our last ball at a bunker to be able to use the throw.

These events are about making money and not necessarily winning.  Some folks construct their teams with ringers and play these things to win every time.  Our team is constructed with good players but built to participate.  Once in a while we win, but our goal is to have fun and fundraise.  This victory felt kind of empty and it’s been bugging me a bit for several days.  I’m not sure why.  Has this ever happened to you after winning with some funky rules?

 

The Flip Wedge On The Par-5s

Intimidating wedge shot at The Legends -Moorland in Myrtle Beach, SC

Well it’s time for the first tournament of the year on Monday and it’s a scramble.  We’ve discussed strategy and preparation for scrambles before, but I’m taking a slightly different approach.  Generally, scrambles are all about driving, wedge play, and putting.  That much has not changed.  What I’ve struggled with is the short wedge shot on the par-5s.  You absolutely need this shot to birdie or eagle the fives to have a chance.  The flip wedge is not my strong suit and when playing my own ball, I play away from it.  Last time out, I was on a par-5 and drilled a drive and three-wood to 35 yards from the pin.  With no trouble in front of me, I had no clue how to hit the shot because I don’t practice it.  I would hate for the scramble team to have to lay back to a yardage on a par-5.  I simply need to learn this shot.   Whether playing a casual round or in a tournament, this shot can make the difference between an up-and-down birdie or a disappointing approach and two-putt.  Of course, there are times you’ll need to lay back, especially when there’s trouble 30-50 yards from the green.  Nobody wants a bunker shot of that length, but I want that flip wedge in my repertoire; I NEED that flip wedge!

Last Saturday, I took my first lesson of the year and addressed with my instructor.   He had me hit about 100 balls during the session, with nothing but my 58, 54, and 50.  We worked on partial swings with each club and he showed me the right way to hit these shots.  I learned that most amateurs take too big a backswing on partial wedge shots and try to control the shot by slowing the down swing.  This often results in an over-the-top pull or a chunk, because the hands and arms get way too active.  If you want to see if you’re susceptible, try hitting five full sand wedges and then pick a target 30 yards out and try to get it close.  When I did this, I bladed the first two.  It’s hard to swing close to full with a finesse club like a wedge and then throttle down.

I learned that you need to control the shot with your body.  Take a slightly open stance with the ball a little back of center and make a short backswing.  Then accelerate your lower body turn to make a good pivot.  This is where you get your swing speed, your aggressive strike, a small divot, that lower ball flight, and that sweet little check to stick it close.  You might hit it with a little cut spin, but that’s okay.  When you learn to control shots with your body and quiet the hands, you’ll have more success here and in every aspect of your short game.

Here’s a great drill.  If you are going to work your wedges, take a club and pick three targets at varying lengths and rotate every ball between them.  During the lesson, he had me hit my lob wedge at targets 60, 40, and 30 yards out, but never the same shot twice.  When you get comfortable with the length of the short backswings and driving the shot with your pivot, you’ll know you’re on the right track.  I’ve got the technique, definitely need to practice, and am excited to develop this new part of my game.

No more laying up on the par-5s!

Play well.

Brooks Koepka And Zero Swing Thoughts

Brooks Koepka. Photo by Golf Digest

It’s been hard to miss if you’ve been watching end-to-end Masters coverage this week.  Every interview with Brooks Koepka inevitably zeros in on his “think of nothing” swing strategy.  I love it and find the psychological aspects fascinating.  Having tried myself, I found it tremendously difficult.  Nick Faldo said that he doesn’t believe he can do it.  Readers, like Vet4golfing51, claim to be able to do it without issue.  Can you do it?

Playing with no swing thoughts implies that you have 100% trust in your swing.  Bob Rotella, famous sports psychologist, advocates for the “Train it Trust it” method.  In Golf Is Not A Game Of Perfect, he draws on examples of athletes throwing away mechanical thoughts and just thinking of shooting at a targets to free up their bodies for better performance.  Makes perfect sense.

If Koepka can truly play and only focus on where to hit the ball, he has a tremendous advantage.  The guy certainly has no lack of confidence and is building a track record of success.  Maybe there’s an overabundance of some brain chemical that allows him to play that way, or maybe he’s not telling the truth, but the results speak for themselves.

On the occasions I’ve dabbled in the strategy, I’ve either made a conscious effort to just “think target” or have been so frustrated with my game, I threw out all swing thoughts just attempting to relax.  The one planned effort lasted 16 holes during a round in Myrtle Beach.  The experience was weird, as if I had lost all control of my game but was rather successful.  I didn’t feel like I could control my shots but never hit one terribly off line.  Then the inevitable swing thought crept in on the 17th hole and I returned to a normal state.  Normal state would constitute working with a single swing key, and possessing enough knowledge about your own game to make mid-round adjustments.  Jack Nicklaus was a proponent of this approach and certainly has the record to back it up.

How close can you get to playing with zero swing thoughts?

Playing Golf With An Injury

Photo from painmanagementctr.com

It was 60 degrees in the DMV yesterday.  With no snow on the ground I had to peel my rear off the sofa and get the season started.  There was one problem.  I have been rehabbing elbow tendonitis and a previous trip to the range in early January ended badly and forced me into formal rehab.  I’m in the fifth week of a six-week physical therapy stint and it’s going well.  I have been constantly dialoging with my physical therapist on how best to accelerate my healing and prepare for the season.  The goal is full recovery by March 1st.  My daily regimen of exercise the arm, stretch the arm, ice the arm, and remain a couch potato is growing old, but admittedly it’s been working.  I’d estimate I’m about 80-85% recovered.

Last week I took a few full swings with the driver in the back yard and experienced some pain so I did not clear myself for full ball striking and worked short game and putting instead.  I’m glad I did and my arm is just a little sore today.  If you are right handed, left elbow tendonitis can be rough because you brace yourself against a firm left arm during the strike.  I need to be really cautious here because a dead left arm could put my season in jeopardy.  My guy says to, “let the pain tell you what to do.”  If that’s the case, I shouldn’t have played on this for three years and got it treated.  Oh well.

Yesterday, I chipped with all my clubs and worked a large variety of shots.  With a brace on the elbow, the first five shots elicited some mild pain but it loosened up and felt great for the balance of the session.  I was also surprised how sharp I was after expunging whatever left over baggage I had from 2018.   I’d love to play next weekend but it’s too soon.  It will probably take a couple weeks of range work and maybe some more short game and I should be in action by mid-March.

Have you ever worked through a bout of tendonitis?  Got any words of wisdom?

Play well!