Category Archives: Instruction

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!

 

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.

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.

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 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?

Putting With The Flagstick In???

Bryson DeChambeau. Photo by Andrew Snook / Icon Sportswire

Have you putted with the flagstick in yet?  Under rule 13.2a(2), you may now putt on the green without having the flagstick attended or removed.  Some players on tour such as Adam Scott, are taking every putt with it in.  The mad scientist, Bryson DeChambeau, has identified a COR (coefficient of restitution), whatever that is, and declared he’ll putt with it in to take advantage of this calculation (other than in US Opens where the flagstick is made of some different material).  Others are keeping it in or having it removed to suit situations.

Anecdotally, I’ve observed that most shots that strike the pin from off the green end up closer to the hole than if the pin hadn’t been in and this is in the forefront of my mind.  I have not played in 2019 (still rehabbing elbow tendonitis) so I have plenty of time to think about how this will play out.

My initial thoughts:

  • On long putts where I’d normally have the flagstick tended, I’ll leave it in as a backstop. This is definitely beneficial if I am coming in too fast.  The one exception is if the wind is blowing and the flapping of the flag creates a distraction.  Then I’ll ask for a tend.
  • On downhill putts of any length, I’ll leave it in as a guard against too much speed.
  • On short straight putts, I’ll leave it in and use it as a small target to try and bang the ball against. This will help me get more aggressive, which I badly need to do.
  • On short to medium breaking putts where I’m trying to feel the speed, I’ll take it out unless the hole is on a severe slope and I can guard against a runaway.

I have a system I use for putts of 15 feet and longer to judge the distance.  Will this need to change?  I was also planning on getting a professional putter fitting and replacing my 1980s model Ping Answer with something customized to my game, but this may have to wait.  Changing putter and approach at the same time may not be a wise choice.

The most important aspect will be to practice all putts with real flagsticks and not just those skinny little three-foot high metal pins used on most practice greens.  A round on my 9-hole executive course will be just the ticket.

Have you putted with the flagstick in yet?  Please share any thoughts or strategies you have.

Play well!

2018 – Season Wrap and Lessons Learned

Tee shot on the par-3 17th hole at Eagle’s Landing

We like to think the golf season never ends in the Mid-Atlantic.  2016 was so mild we played straight through the winter.  Three days ago, I was wrapping up an excellent 54-hole trip to the Delmarva, but three inches of the white stuff today slammed the lid on my year.  It’s time to hang ’em up and reflect on one of the best seasons in recent memory.

Commitment

2018 started off with a renewed commitment on my part to improvement through additional instruction and by challenging myself on harder courses.  Over the course of the year, I took four lessons (two on full swing, one on short game, and one on putting).  The attention to all facets was incredibly beneficial.  I had never had a professional putting lesson and the last time I received any short game instruction was in college.  Both were eye-opening experiences and left me more confident on and around the greens, and a bit  regretful that I hadn’t invested in either earlier.  The results from the last ball striking lesson in August were profound and left me with a bit of a dilemma for next year.  More on that shortly.

Challenge

In April, I joined Blue Mash Golf Club and spent my first four rounds trying to figure out how to play the first three holes.  Blue Mash hits you straight upside the head with par-4s of 424, 428, and 453 yards.  There is no easing into your round, and the 4th hole is a 190 yard par-3.  Even if I was hitting the ball well, I would often require a 3-iron or more into the first four greens.  There are opportunities to score later in the round, but coming out of the blocks playing bogey golf is not uncommon and figuring out how to play for par was critical to my improvement.  Eventually I got comfortable with the layout and was able to game plan for the brutal start.

A key takeaway is that you need to challenge the weakest parts of your game.  Mine is long iron play, and is where I tend to hit my big miss (pull hook).  There were several afternoons that I wondered what the hell I had done by joining this course, and would I ever get my round off to a good start.  But through lessons, practice, and constantly challenging my weakness with the long irons, I began to improve.  There’s an old saying in software development that says if you are faced with a difficult task or process, repeat it as often as possible and it will become easier.  I learned the same is true in golf.  Out of necessity, I worked those long irons and slowly built confidence.  Later in the season, I was able to play some initial rounds on new difficult courses with significant success because of the challenges overcome at the opening holes at Blue Mash.  Now, I am not a great long iron player, but I don’t fear them or the big miss any more.

Adjustments

During my last lesson, my pro had me make two adjustments.  I moved closer to the ball for all shots and that solved an alignment and balance issue that had been plaguing me for a long time.  It allowed me to flush my irons with more regularity.  Next he had me pause a bit more than normal at the top of my back swing which allowed me to start the swing with my lower body and not cast the club, as so many amateurs are prone to do.  Late in October and again on my recent trip to the shore, we played several rounds in heavy wind.  I had been practicing for this by playing all my iron shots on the range 3/4 back and knocking them down, and was able to leverage that during play.  It’s an incredible feeling to strike it solid and straight in heavy wind.  This was so much the case, that I’m considering playing ALL my iron shots in this fashion next season.  In essence, I would reinvent my golf persona ala Paul Azinger, who played these low knock down style shots all over the course.  The dilemma is, of course, what do I do when I need to hit it high?  I’m thinking the success of this low ball flight was so encouraging, that I may just play it and deal with the high shots as they come up.  I just dropped a note to my pro mentioning the same and asked for his thoughts.  What do you think?

So here they are, staring at me from behind my living room couch.  Should I bag it for the season and put them away, or have the stare-down for another month?

Play well!

 

Improve Your Golf – A Plan That Works

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and play well!

 

 

 

Golf – A Game Of Adjustments

Jack Nicklaus has some great advice for making on course adjustments.  Keep it simple by sticking to the fundamentals.  This was easier for Jack because he had full self-awareness on the course.  I’ve had a mixed bag of success making changes because I play too infrequently and lack full self-awareness.  A champion like Nicklaus had so much experience to pull from.  A desk jockey like me cannot possibly know every nook and cranny of my game. For me, the difficulty lies in judging WHY I am playing poorly and should I adjust?  I try to judge three criteria before making a mid-flight correction:

  1. Am I fatigued?  Sometimes you’ll play lousy because you are tired.  If this is the case, most adjustments will not work.  The golf swing is an athletic move and if you are out of juice the best thing is to acknowledge it and play on.  Changing something while fatigued is acting on a false failure and can do more harm than good.
  2. Have I seen the pattern in the past and been able to adjust?  The best type of fixes here are caught during a range warm up session.  Seeing a strange ball flight pattern?  Adjust and play it during the round.  You are not supposed to work on your swing while warming up, but if you recognize a tendency that you’ve addressed in the past, you can reuse a band-aid that’s worked before.  While on the course, if I observe my big miss (pull hook), I’ll generally know how to fix it from the lesson work I’ve done.  Worst case scenario is you start to spray the ball inconsistently.  Really simplify if you make a change here.  Try something like taking an extra club or swinging slower.  Sometimes your natural biorhythms are off.  You just don’t feel right and everything you try that worked in a previous round doesn’t.  That’s just how golf works and I’d hesitate to make a mechanical change under these circumstances.  Don’t force it and just double down on the extra club or slower swing.
  3. Can I make a course management change?  These are the best and lowest risk adjustments because there are no mechanics.  Sometimes if you modify your thinking good things will happen.  The absolute best adjustment I’ve got here is to stop flag hunting and play for the middle of the green.  Do this a couple times and you’ll realize what a stroke saver it is.

Tried any mid-round adjustments lately?  Got something that works or should be avoided?  Please share and play well!

Leading Indicators Of Good Play

Can you correctly anticipate when you will play well or poorly?  What are the leading indicators?  My poor rounds are easier to predict and are usually preceded by a poor ball striking warm up.  Also, if I’ve practiced poorly the day before, it’s usually a bad omen.  If I find myself tired or disinterested, the hacks are usually coming.  Finally, if I’ve over-prepared, sometimes I’ll crash and burn.  Accordingly, it’s much harder to predict a good round.  I’ve been in awful slumps before and played great the following day with no rhyme or reason.  But this is the exception.  The one consistent leading indicator for a good round is that it’s preceded by good practice.

This was the case over the last couple of weeks.  Two Saturdays ago, I took a full swing lesson, which was excellent, and the following day  I tee’d it up and played poorly because I was thinking mechanically.  Last Thursday, I went to the range to try and fix things.  I laid my alignment sticks down and proceeded to strike it very poorly while trying to ingrain my lesson feedback.  What was wrong?  I couldn’t hit the ground if I fell from a tree.

I went out to the course on Saturday to try something new, which I will share because it worked.  My goal was to remove all vestiges of mechanics from my game and zero in on playing golf, not golf swing.  I’d use drills exclusively to improve my focus.  I had a round scheduled for The Links at Gettysburg the following day and I didn’t want to chop it up, but all leading indicators were pointing in that direction.

First, I went to the practice green and played nine holes of up and down.  The rules are simple; you throw a ball into a green-side lie and don’t improve your lie.  You chip or pitch to a cup, then putt until the ball is holed.  Even par is two strokes per hole.  The game is great for building focus because you are forced to use your vision.  An average day of playing this game yields a score of four or five over par, but previously I’ve played after chipping or pitching for an hour.  Here, I went right into it – from car trunk to game.  No warm up shots.  Final score; one-over par.

Next, I played nine holes on the putting green with one ball.  I varied the length of initial putts anywhere from 15 to 50 feet.  Again, par was two strokes per hole.  In this game, you mark your ball and go through your full on course pre-shot routine, really getting into game mode.  Again, there were no practice putts, just the game.  Final score; two under par.

Finally, I went to the driving range with a basket of about 50 balls.  I took six or seven warm-up shots with some wedges, a five-iron and driver.  Then played a full simulated 18 holes on a course of my choice.  During simulated rounds, you play a tee shot, any lay-ups, and all approaches.  Obviously there is no chipping or putting, and if you’re honest with yourself, your score usually approximates what you shoot during real rounds.  The drill is awesome for building focus especially when you start hitting recovery shots after wayward drives.  My course of choice was a local muni and previous simulated rounds usually yield about 75 to 80 strokes, which is close to what I usually shoot there.  On this day, I fashioned a 1-under 69.  I finished with about six balls remaining and just left them there.

The entire session lasted a bit under two hours and I drove home fully satisfied and thinking I had not practiced that well in two or three years.  Sure enough, the following day at Gettysburg, I played great and noticed I was focused like a laser, especially on my tee shots.

You get very excited in this game when you think you’re on to something.  Am I?  I know the key was that every drill and every shot was geared to help me play golf, not golf swing.   Tomorrow, the challenge will be if I can repeat the practice success using the exact same approach, but after a long day of work.  I hope it doesn’t rain 🙂

Do you have any leading indicators for good play?  Good luck if you do and please share. Play well!

 

 

Playing After A Lesson – Smart?

Have you ever played a round where you were bombing your driver and leaving yourself with some awesome looks at approach shots, but you subsequently bungled every one of them?  Last weekend I had my best driving day of the year but the 80 I shot at Poolesville was the absolute worst score I could have recorded for that very reason. The carnage included seven unforced errors from the “A-position”.   So yesterday I took my final lesson of the 2018 seasonal package in hopes that I could correct my awful iron play.  As usual, my instructor corrected something small just as we started (I was standing too far from the ball) and then we got to work on my major issues.  Of course, they were the same issues I’ve been dealing with my entire career, which is why they’re still issues.  We made great progress on the lesson tee and I booked a time at my club to play today.

What is your experience playing after a lesson?  Smart, not smart?  I think it depends on the lesson and where you are playing.  Last time I tried it the day after my putting lesson.  There was no adjustment period and was if someone else had possessed my body with the putter.  I made everything I looked at and the game was very easy.

Today was different.  Perhaps my club is not the best venue if you are working on swing mechanics because the first four holes at Blue Mash are very demanding and often require long iron approaches.  Last time out I hit four 3-irons on the first four holes.  It’s one of those stretches that if you start 3-over after four holes, you are playing fine.  Today it was 3-iron, 7-iron (downwind) from heavy rough, 3-iron, and another 3-iron.  Before my round I warmed up poorly with my 3-iron, but my approach on number one was pure and settled eight feet from the flag.  The second on #3 was good but went into a green-side bunker and I saved par.  The third was an awful pull hook (my big miss) and I made a lucky par out of some gnarly green-side rough.  On holes 5 and 6, I hit two stunning short iron shots that yielded a par and a birdie.  I was thrilled and it seemed I had it solved, but the problem was that I was playing golf swing and not golf.  The roof finally caved in on #8 after I laid the sod over a pitching wedge from the middle of the fairway.

This has happened before after taking a lesson; it’s always been a full swing lesson, and I’m always thinking too much.  I guess I was encouraged after the easy success of the putting lesson.

My favorite thing in golf is to play.  Next favorite is to take lessons, and least favorite is to practice.  But I know I need practice on this one and will get out to the range a couple times before next weekend’s round.  What has been your experience playing after a lesson?

Stay tuned: course review is coming from next weekend’s venue:  The Links at Gettysburg!

Play well!

First Professional Putting Lesson

Tom Watson once said, “Mechanics are about 10 percent of putting. . .feel is 90 percent, but good mechanics lead to good feel.”  Today, I got straightened out on both.  If you’ve never had a professional putting lesson, it will be well worth your hard earned dollars to get one.  The trained set of eyes a pro can provide is invaluable.  Here’s how my first ever putting lesson played out.

My instructor is great because there are no preconceived notions of what a lesson will look like.  He always asks what I am working on and trying to solve for and tailors the instruction accordingly.  Today, I told him I thought I wasn’t a bad putter but wanted to be a great putter.  I average between 31 and 32 putts per round and have a good feel for distance since I’ve been using a system of pacing off putts that I learned from Ian Hardie.  My problem for the last two years has been direction.  Basically, I don’t trust my ability to aim the putter.  If I can’t trust my aim, I lack confidence.  Recently I’ve had some success on longer putts using the line on the golf ball as an alignment aid, but have struggled with this on putts I should make.

As we got going, he asked me to start with a few flat 20 footers and to verbally take him through my routine as I read the green, rehearsed the stroke, and executed.  I hit these well but he noticed I was lining the putt up more towards the toe of my Ping Answer.  The trouble manifested itself when we changed to a small right to left four foot putt.  We agreed the line I wanted was on the right edge of the cup.  I used the line on the ball to aim the shot but when each of us viewed the line from behind the ball, we saw different aiming points.  I thought I had lined it up on the right edge, but he saw it aimed right at the middle of the cup.  Jeez-o-flip!  It was there that we agreed I should not be using the line on the ball because I couldn’t trust that I could aim it straight.  Visions of Fast Eddie Felson in The Color of Money were coming to mind.  Was my vision hosed?  Did I need corrective glasses?  Turns out, no.  I learned the issue was my failure to line the putt up on the center of the club face.  In addition, I was making a little too much forward press and fanning the blade open a bit.  I made the mechanical corrections and started banging them straight on my chosen line – confidence back!  It is a tremendous relief knowing I can stand over a putt, see nothing but white on the golf ball, and aim it straight at my target.

Paul Newman as Fast Eddie Felson in The Color of Money. Photo by agefotostock.com

It’s hard to believe but PGA professionals sink only 50% of their putts from eight feet.  They are putting on greens that are faster and more difficult than you or I will ever putt on but even so, I’d love to make 50% of my 8-footers.  My failures hit hard last week when I missed an easy 4-foot birdie putt, and didn’t even hit the hole because I wasn’t sure where I was aiming it.  It was then that I knew I needed a lesson.

The final takeaway was to put an alignment aid on my 40 year old Ping Answer.  As it was, there were no markings and my pro felt I should have a dot over the sweet spot so I don’t have any more toe spanks.  The paint is drying as I’m finishing this post.

Hope you are rolling it pure and playing well.

Tips For Playing Golf Swing (If You Have To)

What’s awesome about golf is that you learn something new every time you play or practice.  As you may or may not know, I’m in the midst of a two-year experiment to overhaul my game.  I’m trying to get better at every facet and last year took four full swing lessons and one playing lesson.  This year, I’ve had a full swing lesson, a short game lesson, and am excited to go for my first putting lesson on Saturday.  As I work through the instruction, practice, and play, several themes continually emerge.

Theme 1:  Be Your Own Best Friend.  Change is difficult, especially after doing things one way for over 40 years.  It’s best to acknowledge that and while you enjoy the improvements, don’t beat yourself up during setbacks or while hitting the occasional bad shot.  Practice talking to yourself in an encouraging fashion.  Many players including myself have criticized themselves after a physical mistake, but try not to.  It’s okay to be more critical of mental miscues because they’re easier to control, but give yourself a break after a bad swing; you’re human.

Theme 2:  Integrate Feel Into Your Practice.  When you warm up before play, never work on your swing.  The easiest way to do this is to switch clubs and targets on every shot.  When you practice your swing, it’s fine to work on mechanics, but finish up with some drills to work on your mental game and touch.  It will help you transition more easily to the course.

Playing golf during a period of sustained instruction is hard because your tendency is to think mechanics on the course.  To help, try practicing your full game the day before you play.  While hitting balls, leave the last 20 to play an imaginary nine holes at a familiar course.  This gets your mind in sync with the natural cadence of play and for using different targets.  Around the practice green, throw balls into different lies and don’t improve the lies.  Hit the shots with a variety of clubs.  Try to flight them as low as possible.  Low ball flight is easier to judge distance and helps you visualize the shot.  Playing it as it lies builds mental toughness.  Vision and intestinal fortitude are two essentials.

Theme 3:  Know your tendencies.  If you are taking instruction, you will identify your common mishit and work to get it out of your game.  Mine is a pull hook.  When it occurs on the course, acknowledge it and move on.  Do not think it’s something new that’s crept into your game and do not start searching for a swing thought on every shot until you happen to hit a good one.  This is the most difficult thing about playing during periods of instruction because you’ll probably be thinking about a swing key, even if you’d prefer not to.  Keep working on what you are trying to do, not what you are trying to avoid.  It’s the only way to remain sane.

Theme 4:  Understand your physical limitations.  95% of amateurs have overactive hands and arms and under-active core muscles.  They will pull and slice the ball.  This is the most common miss and is usually caused by casting the club (early release).  Conversely, look at the pros who rip the ball.  Rory, DJ, Koepka, Tiger, Jason Day.  They all build up their big muscles because they understand power comes from leveraging their core.  These guys all look like football players and you will never hit it like them, but you can work your core muscles and build power and stamina into your game.  I pay specific attention to my back, butt, and hips.  I may not crush the ball like Brooks, but my body no longer aches after I’ve walked 18 holes and that’s a reasonable measuring stick.  Also, know that when you get fatigued, your core muscles will suffer first and making good swings is increasingly difficult.  Definitely exercise your core and if you can, walk when you play.  If it’s hot, take a cart.  If 18 holes is all you can manage, don’t try for 36.  I keep relearning this last one and probably will until I’m no longer playing.

I look forward to hearing if these tips work for you.

Play well!

More Art, Less Science, More Feel

Have you ever wondered how great golfers acquire feel?  I’ve always tried to increase my feel but yesterday after reading an article in the June 2018 Golf Digest called “The battle of dumb versus smart,” I think I figured out how.   As you know, golf is an inherently mental game.  Most players are either artists or scientists in their approach.   The gist of the article was that unless you are extremely bright and have an analytical mind, like Phil Mickelson or Bryson DeChambeau, you shouldn’t try to play with analytics.

A few years back, I made a decision to go with more art and not think about my score as I played.  I wanted to get more process oriented and stay in the moment.  This worked for a brief period but I still couldn’t get the extra feel.  I realized that I was playing with too many statistics even if I was just counting greens in regulation and total putts.  Sometimes I’d start to worry about my stats during the round.  I was beating myself up instead of thinking about getting the ball in the hole.  Not good!

In yesterday’s round, I decided to play without stats, and noticed I was very relaxed.  I simply thought to get the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes possible.  Method didn’t matter.  I recalled my shots after the round and noted that I had hit eight of nine greens on the front, which had not gone unnoticed by one of my playing partners.   After I chipped in on #10, for the next two holes, this fellow had the questions coming hard and fast.  He wanted to know about club selection, handicap, equipment choices, set makeup, and fitting recommendations.  Finally on #13, he whipped out his phone and asked me if I tracked my ball speed like he did, as he had been introduced to TrackMan recently.  He wanted to show me this program but I wouldn’t have any of it.  I think he was a little disappointed when I told him I was playing old school and writing my scores down on a card with no analytics, and that my phone would remain in my golf bag for the round.

Photo from golf.com

Seve Ballesteros was the greatest feel player I ever saw.  His imagination and touch on and around the greens was incredible.  In 1990 he four putted #16 at the Masters and when asked to describe what happened he replied, “I miss, I miss, I miss, I make.”   No stats, no analysis, no paralysis.  Love the mindset.

Play well.

Lesson Nugget: Keep The Triangle

What I absolutely love about my instructor is that he’s half swing coach and half psychologist, and is very adept at both.  The subject of changing swing thoughts came up during yesterday’s lesson.  I had mentioned that during a late fall round last year, I had “found something” on the front nine and started pounding my driver and nutting my irons the rest of the game.  But when I tried the same thought the next day, I couldn’t hit a thing.  I know, I know, this has happened to everyone who’s ever played the game and is one of the great wonders of the world, but his reply was simple and correct.  “You need to have a series of swing thoughts that work, and be willing to change.  The quicker you can recognize it’s not working, and settle on one that is, the better you will play.”

I have been seeing the left side of the golf course recently.  To diagnose, he had me hit some shots and took some swing video and identified the issue as a quick wrist flip at the contact point which was caused by under rotating my upper body.  This results in a pull or worst case, a smother hook.  Nothing new for me, and it’s funny how your faults keep reverting to your habits learned over the decades.

Last season was a breakthrough for my ball striking, as I had taken several full swing lessons, and made great progress.  But I reminded him how difficult it was to play with all these mechanical thoughts.  My requirement for today’s lesson was to eliminate this Lou Groza drop kick, and keep it simple.  We set to work to find a trigger to get me to rotate my upper body and pull my hands through the hitting zone.  Over the next hour we worked the following:

  1. Fire the right shoulder at the ball: Not very successful
  2. Pull the grip down to the ball: Moderately successful
  3. Slow the tempo a bit and try to hit a slight push: Very successful

I was pleased with the results of #3 but images of tee shots that are tighter than a gnat’s rear end started creeping into my mind, with TPC of Myrtle Beach at the forefront.  I told him I didn’t think this would work on the course because I needed to be thinking about hitting my ball at the target and not away from the target.  I also mentioned that I had been swinging a club in my back yard in the evenings and still didn’t feel connected because I was chicken-winging my left elbow on the follow through.  When I said that, he suggested I, “keep the triangle on the follow through.”  The triangle is the shape your fully extended arms make with your chest.  If I did that, it would be, “impossible to hook the ball.”

For the rest of the lesson and a half hour afterwards, I hit balls with this very simple image in my mind: “Finish like Tommy Fleetwood.”  If you watch him, he’s got that sawed off fully extended finish.  It feels like everything he hits is a punch shot.  I tried this with great success and noticed my weight had fully moved to the outside of my left foot and I was in balance at the finish.

Here’s a great photo of Alvaro Quiros maintaining his triangle.  If I can get here, I can play.

Photo from Golftoday

Right now, this feels a little unnatural but is easy to implement because it’s simple.  My plan is to use #3 above when this swing thought no longer works, and try to find a third that will provide a go-to rotation of on course adjustments.

Do you have a rotation of swing thoughts that work?  Please share if you do!

Play well.

 

 

 

 

Can You Trust A Bad Swing?

Relaxing at Pawleys Island, SC

Readers of Bob Rotella books know that one of his favorite axioms is, “Train it, trust it.”  The idea is to practice enough so your body will naturally recall the proper swing mechanics without trying to force them.  This is truly the best way to play golf, but what if you’re out on the course and feel your swing slipping away to the point that you cannot trust it?  What do you do?  You have two options:

  1. Work on your mechanics and try to fix your swing
  2. Try to change your perspective of the shots you need to hit.  In essence, fool your mind into getting comfortable because a couple fairways in a row will do wonders for your confidence.  Tiger does this by hitting that stinger with his three wood when he loses confidence in the driver.

Try number two.  You should do it by taking any club you feel you can make an aggressive swing with to hit the fairway.  Say, you usually hit driver on a 500 yard par-5.  A good shot leaves you 260 yards in, but a bad swing might put you in the woods and looking at a big number.  Instead, hit a four or five iron off the tee.  From the fairway, you now have maybe 330 yards in.  That’s still just a short par-4 which you should be able to hit with two more shots, and presto, you are right back in the hole.

There is another approach gleaned from the great mystery of why we play great one day and awful the next.  It’s truly mind boggling and all golfers have tried to solve for this at one point in time.  I believe it has something to do with your natural bio-rhythms.  These are the brain synapses that fire and guide your central nervous system.  They control your ability to concentrate, your stress level, your hand-eye coordination, your pleasure and pain receptors, and just how you feel from day to day.   Example:  Today I was at my local muni practicing and hit the ball quite awful.  Couldn’t tell where it was going and actually thinned a couple off the hozel.  The day before, I was at another course working short game and my touch was superb.  Oddly enough, the good practice was preceded by a frustrating day at work and I didn’t feel like practicing and forced myself to.  Yet, that had no impact on my performance.  Why?  Ultimately, I think the environment you’re in and comfort level has a lot to do with your performance.

Control the environment and you control your ability to relax.  Relax and you play better.  For me, it’s the avoidance of feeling crowded and being in tight spaces.  I get tense in traffic jams, shopping malls, in long lines, and even on crowded beaches.  When I’m tense on the golf course, my game goes in the crapper.  Conversely, when I loosen up and relax, I perform much better.  The course I practiced at yesterday is much less populated than my local muni.  There’s plenty of room to spread out and work all your shots.  Nobody gets in anyone’s way.  I always seem to practice well there.  On the other hand, my muni is the popular hangout.  Today was 80 degrees and it was packed, but it’s always crowded.  My practice and play are spotty at this track.  I’m much more relaxed at the first course and therefore perform better.  Tomorrow, I play at Rattlewood, where I’ve had considerable success.  I always seem to warm up well before my round and that relaxes me.  Oddly enough, the driving range was constructed with a slight upgrade from left to right for all hitting stations.  Ding on whomever poured the foundation, but this silly little nuance forces me to start hitting the ball right to left during my warm-up, and that’s a ball flight I’m comfortable with.

Need more evidence?  Think of some courses you play regularly.  Do you routinely play well at some and hack on others?  The pros do.  I travel to Myrtle Beach every year and always play good on the same courses.  Legends-Heathland, Thistle, Oyster Bay, and True Blue come to mind.  Some of these are hard tracks, but the common factor is that I like the look of the tee shots.  They’re generally a little more open, have great sight lines, and distinct targets.  I feel relaxed and loose and can let the shaft out.  Other courses like TPC of Myrtle, Legends-Moorland, and Heritage are super tight off the tee and I struggle with every round.  I feel squeezed on the tee box and always worry about keeping it in play, and I usually don’t.

In summary, my two keys.

  1. Trust your swing. If you can’t, find a conservative shot you can trust
  2. Practice and play at venues where you feel relaxed

Got any others?  Please share and play well!

Still relaxed at Oyster Bay, Sunset Beach, NC

The Shock of a Sudden Weather Change

Jordan Spieth / USATODAY Sports

It was exactly 5:11 p.m. on Saturday and the heavens opened up on The Masters.  Along with the downpour, a fascinating subplot was hatched on how the best pros handle sudden weather changes.  Commentator Dottie Pepper, said that you need to just play through it like nothing was happening.  Rory McIlroy was on #13 hitting his second shot into the par-5 from a perfect position, and pulled it way left into the azaleas.  They switched coverage to Patrick Reed getting dumped on behind the green at #12.  He had a straight forward chip, which he blew by the hole and missed the par putt coming back.  The weather clearly affected these guys, but what could they have done to handle it better?  How about you?

Rory McIlroy / USATODAY Sports

My last round two years ago was in late November at my local muni.  It started off sunny and 70 degrees but steadily grew colder and windier through the round.  I knew this was in the forecast, but on #18 mother nature freaked out and sleet started pouring down and blowing sideways.  I was unprepared and went into total golf shock, and my game collapsed.  Earlier in the same season we were playing at Barefoot in Myrtle Beach and remnants of Tropical Storm Bonnie were in the area.  In retrospect, I was better prepared and handled that with ease.  What is the reason for weather shock, and what can you do?

Shock clearly happens because your mind is on cruise control.  Rory had just nutted a perfect tee shot and was playing in an exquisite rhythm.  You can see when these guys are rolling that everything about their pre-shot routine is the same, from the way they take off and put on their gloves to the way they check yardage and discuss shots with their caddies.  The weather change is a sudden distraction and crushes routines.  When Rory yanked that approach way left, he was probably over the ball thinking, “Should I dry my grips?  Has my guy got the umbrella ready?  I can feel the rain hitting my back.”  Reed was getting drenched and you could tell he was thinking about it after he missed his putt.  He just wanted to quickly tap in and get dry.

I have found that physically preparing for the condition before it hits is the solution.  Get your game and routine actively into the situation.  At Barefoot, I knew we were going to get rain, but just didn’t know when.  I started the round with my waterproof rain vest on and playing with one rain glove on as well.  I had the other rain glove in my pocket.  When the deluge came, I just pulled out the other glove and carried on without breaking routine.  Now, it pays to have the proper equipment.  For example, you don’t want to be playing with a full rain jacket on in 80 degree weather and high humidity just waiting for the storm to hit.  That’s why I had the half-sleeve vest and rain gloves in play, but you get the idea.

One other point that Dottie made was critical.  You don’t want to be playing or interacting with folks who complain about the weather, especially in adverse conditions.  This will ruin your concentration.  Sometimes it’s unavoidable but if the sudden change comes, I usually try to keep a bit away from the whiners.

Got any other tips for staying on point when weather hits?  Please share and play well!