Category Archives: Opinion

Flirting With The US Amateur

Yesterday was a new and fun experience as I dipped my toes into big time tournament golf.  It’s probably not what you think.

Before teeing it up at Clustered Spires in Frederick, MD, I headed to the starters desk and got paired up with an older husband and wife team and a young fellow, also named Brian, who informed me that he was playing a practice round for the June 30 US Amateur Qualifier. He advised he would not be playing out all his shots and would be trying a few things from different locations.  As he loaded his bag on my cart, he asked if I had played the course, because he had not, and he needed help mapping out a strategy.  I gladly volunteered to assist.

As we rode towards the green on the par-3 second hole, I asked Brian how he gained entry in the qualifier.  He said he had just got his handicap below the 2.4 index requirement and was attempting to qualify for the first time.  Brian was playing the tips (where the qualifier would be played from) and I was playing the whites, which were considerably shorter at 6,200 yards.  This was still cool because I was able to watch a real good player and measure my game with his.  How did I stack up?  Handicap stats can be misleading.  I play to a 4.3 index.  Let’s say Brian just satisfied his USGA index requirement and was playing at a 2.3.  Two strokes different, right?  No way.  In all fairness to myself, my short game and his were quite comparable, but ball striking was not even close.  He was consistently ripping it 280-290 down the middle on every tee shot and his length and pureness of strike with the irons was impressive.  The takeaway:  whenever paired with someone from a different club, understand the context of their index.  What is the distance they usually play at and what is the course rating?  I was left thinking that a scratch at my course would get whupped every time by a five or six handicap from a serious venue like a Congressional or Merion.   

On the 17th tee, Brian pulverized another low bullet about 300 yards down the middle, and I asked him what the loft was on his driver.  He said about 12 degrees but admitted that he always hit the ball very low and learned an exaggerated shaft lean as a kid.  He said that if he was fortunate enough to qualify and make it to Oakmont in August, he might have trouble with some of the carries because of his low ball flight.  Then I asked him what he thought it would take to qualify out of Clustered Spires and he thought maybe a few under par for 36 holes.  The US Amateur has 94 qualifying sites, each with 84 players.  Roughly three of those 84 will advance to the 312 player field at Oakmont.  I think it may take six or seven under par to advance out of Clustered Spires.  Yikes!

All day, I found it hard to concentrate on my own game while helping to manage Brian’s club selection and making recommendations on where to hit it and what to avoid.  In addition, our husband-and-wife team were playing very quickly, and the cadence became a little disjointed.  I managed to hit 12 greens and shoot six-over par, but I felt rushed, especially on the greens, with Brian trying putts to all different locations and the other two racing to see who could finish the hole as quickly as possible. It was still great fun.

I have played practice rounds before tournaments, but just played golf.  What I observed yesterday was a real competitor preparing for a serious event using serious preparation techniques.  That I helped him in any small way is gratifying.  I will be eagerly watching the June 30th qualifying results from Clustered Spires to see if he makes it.

Play well.

Celebrating Golf’s Human Element

My Dad is 93 and he and I were watching the US Open yesterday.  The announcers were describing a par-3 playing 173 yards and Dad asked me what they were hitting in.   “That’s about a five iron, right?”  I told him that the pros were using eight and nine-irons and that some guys like DeChambeau were hitting pitching wedges.  He was incredulous, “A pitching wedge at 170 yards?”

My parents and my wife celebrating an early Father’s Day

The current crop of pros bomb it compared to their counterparts in the late 20th century, but the beauty of golf is that is still all about the carpenter, not the tools.  In this week’s major, the USGA set the track at 7,700 yards, grew in the rough, dried out the greens, and presto, even-par for 72 holes is a great score – just like 20 or 30 years ago.  No angle of attack, TopTracer Apex, or ball spin rates are going to save the competitors.  The players with the best vision, technique, and mental toughness are going to be successful, and I am loving it!

In today’s world, most occupations and many sports are being taken over by automation and data analytics.  How accurate is your data?  Can you automate that?  I suppose that’s the price of progress, but is removing the human element from life progress?  My job is to manage resources (people) for my company.  Whether I like it or not, we use automation to increase productivity, and it replaces humans with machines and I have to live with that.  I read a very interesting piece by Kevin Kernan at BallNine about how data analytics is ruining professional baseball and making it almost unwatchable.  It’s true, check it out.

The PGA Tour tracks gobs of player stats.  You can get analytics on every aspect of every player’s game and today’s swing gurus and equipment manufacturers are all in.  But the game is effectively the same as it has been for the last half century.  Why?  Only one stat matters; greens in regulation.  Hit more of them and you win – how refreshing.

The human element is being removed from sports and that’s sad.  Humans play and officiate the games, not machines, but thankfully, golf is holding the line.  If I want to see machines in action, I can go to work.

Enjoy the final round of the US Open today and don’t pay too much attention to the TopTracer Apex.  Play well.

Fun Afternoon Playing with Pro Jocks

On Sunday I got paired up at my course with Joe and Pat, a couple of professional caddies. What made this such a fun afternoon was watching their antics, swapping stories, and taking a jog down memory lane. They were in their mid to late twenties, were good players, and were clearly living the life. It sounded like they had very few commitments or responsibilities other than to make enough money to support their eating, drinking, and golfing habits. When you think of golf bums, Joe and Pat personified.

Turns out they caddied at McArthur Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Florida for the winter and were making their way up north for the summer season.  Pat had a job at the TPC of Boston and Joe at a country club on Long Island.  Each day they drove a leg and played golf at some nice public course.  I was happy they ended up at Blue Mash with me. 

Pro Jock. Photo courtesy of areadinglife.com

As we worked our way through the round, they reminded me of my time in the business and how I was totally consumed by the game.  Work-play-work-play-work-play.  I ultimately exited the industry because of burn out and these guys were crushing my level of addiction.  They were rippin’ it from the tips, had some kind of money match going with automatic two down presses that got expensive on the back nine and may have run over several days.  They were drinking who knows what all day but seemed to be in control and proved to be excellent company.  I was a most interested spectator but was also trying to focus on my game.  I was playing the blue tees, which was a stern test for me because of the heat and wind.  Even playing from the tips, they were not phased, and I could tell had played a lot of golf.  I asked Pat if he had playing privileges at the TPC and he said he teed it up every day at 3:30 p.m.  Caddy in the morning, play in the afternoon, get up and do it again every day.  I recounted a story I learned from Julia Galac, the Story Teller I met at TPC of Sawgrass, and how she volunteered three days per month and received playing privileges at the Stadium Course.  Pat said that if he had that kind of deal, he’d work his three shifts and play the other 27 days of the month – whew!

We shook hands on the 18th green and they invited me into the clubhouse to watch the end of the PGA Championship and have a few drinks.  I could see myself pounding enough drinks with these guys to inebriate myself into an undrivable condition and politely declined.  This was a fun day on the golf course, but I left wondering if that lifestyle was too much of a good thing.  Do you think it is?

Play well. 

When The Average Feels Like Luxury

One of the small prices to pay when you play Covid-19 golf in Montgomery County, MD is that golf courses removed rakes from their bunkers.  The expectation was that you smooth the footprints with your foot or a club.  We now know that the virus is not transmitted on inanimate objects like rakes, golf holes, and flag sticks, but the regulations were implemented out of an abundance of caution.  Well, I chuckled last weekend as I sat in my cart next to the 5th tee, removed my left shoe, and dumped a small load of sand that I picked up from smoothing bunkers on holes 2, 3, and 4.

Fast forward to yesterday where I played nine holes at my local muni after work.  Bam!  No masks in the clubhouse.  No pool noodles in the holes.  Rakes in the bunkers.  Imagine being confronted with all this luxury.  We pulled flag sticks, smoothed our footprints, and shook hands with our playing partners.  It was like watching the pros on TV and was just awesome.

I realize the pandemic is not over, especially in countries outside the United States.  The status of the Olympics in Japan is in doubt and many of the colleagues I work with in India, on a daily basis, have been severely affected.  Thanks to the vaccines, we are starting to reopen and my little sojourn into golf course normalcy was a pleasant surprise.

When the average feels like luxury.  Hope you are getting back to normal wherever you are.

Play well!

40 Million Wrongs

My jaw dropped when I learned of the PGA Tour’s new Player Impact Bonus program.  To sum it up, the tour will divide $40M annually amongst ten players that “generate the most off-course buzz from fans and sponsors.”   Wow.  A league sanctioned entity awarding compensation unrelated to on-course performance. 

Under the program, players will be ranked by Google search ratings, media mentions, exposure ratings from Nielson Q Scores, and a non-performance MVP index algorithm.  This was a response to the threat the Tour felt from the fledgling Premier Golf League, that was trying to gather a select set of stars to compete in events with smaller fields and larger purses.  Well, that effort flopped and this bonus is a flopper waiting to happen.       

There is so much wrong here, it’s hard to unpack.  First, the PGA Tour is the world’s top golf tour where the greatest names come to compete.  Is this not enough?  The simple ability to test oneself against the world’s best is why many foreign players have relocated permanently to the United States.  Second, the tour has NEVER paid any money for non-performance; why start now?  The European PGA Tour is arguably the second-best circuit but has been roundly criticized for allowing six and seven figure appearance fees to lure players to its events.  Third, advocating self-promotion is a distraction the players do not need.  I’d rather have them focused on making birdies and winning rather than how many Tweets they can send out real time.  I’m getting flashbacks of Joe Horn’s NFL cellphone celebration – ack!  Please leave the self- promotion off the course and don’t pay anybody to do it.

The Tour recently hired Dan Glod to run its global sponsorship development.  I wonder if this is his brainchild?  A new identity for the Tour is definitely forming.  Did you notice it at last week’s Zurich Classic in the fourth round?  As the players were introduced, they were playing walk-up music on the first tee.  Really?  Save it for the WWE.

Play well.    

Golf Is Expensive!! – In COVID

Courtesy of depositphotos.com

Whump!!  That’s the sound of the big bag of money hitting your pro shop counter.  Does your golf cost more since the pandemic started?  In large metropolitan areas such as Washington, D.C., the prices are on the rise.  Since the sport is played safely outdoors, people are gravitating to it in droves, and away from indoor recreation.  Golf facilities are reacting to the market forces of supply and demand and here’s my observations on price; are they different from yours?

EQUIPMENT

On the way up.  The best leading indicator is the price of new drivers.  Callaway’s Epic Max and TaylorMade’s SIM2 Max will now set you back $529 (off-the-shelf).  Top of the line big sticks were typically $399 pre-Covid, and as we know, golf fans have a new infatuation with Bryson DeChambeau’s big dog length off the tee.  Just add “Max” to the branding and ring the register.

GREENS FEES: 

Up about 20-30% across the board.  This includes municipal facilities and daily fee courses.  At my club, I’m playing on a 4-year membership that was pre-paid for a certain number of rounds.  My cost per round, which includes a cart, came out to $47.  The same membership is being offered now but requires you to play an equivalent number of rounds but in just two years and requires you to tee off one hour later.  The cost per round:  $60.  Clearly the club is trying to fill their tee sheet with more expensive ala cart tee times and the availability at my club and the muni’s I frequent has definitely gone down.  I will be rethinking my membership situation after this season is over.  Interestingly, I have booked a time for Wednesday of next week at The Links of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania and noticed they’ve not increased their rates over last year.  It may be that the farther out you go from the big population centers, the lower the price increases.

PRACTICE BALLS:

Up 40-50% across the board.  The size of a practice basket has shrunk.  Initially, facilities wanted you to spend less time on the range, as it supposedly helped with social distancing.  That theory has been debunked a bit, but the size of the range baskets remained the same and the cost went up.  They can get it so why not?  I haven’t been too affected since I spend the majority of my practice time working with my bag shag (own balls) around the practice greens, but the driving range at my club is always packed.  Definitely a cash cow for the facilities.

GOLF TRAVEL:

Travel in general is more expensive with the reopening.  Golf packages are still reasonable (stay and play combos) but airfares to your destination sites are going up.  You can still find deals if you fly to major hubs.  Lodging is on the increase as hotels, AirB&B, and VBRO operators are making up for lost revenue.  Demand for leisure lodging is driving prices, but the full affect won’t be felt until business travel recovers.  The biggest increase by far is the price of rental cars.  Wow!  I just booked a trip to Florida and the cost of a mid-size car exceeds that of round-trip airfare for two people!  Hertz may just emerge from bankruptcy if this continues.  Gas is a bit higher but is more subject to the price of oil on the world stage.

INSTRUCTION

Up about 25%, but why not?  This is where your local pros make their money and with the influx of new players, lesson time is at a premium.  Spend your golfing dollars here on a limited budget.  Invest in the carpenter, then the tools.  Still, you should proceed with caution and go with a recommendation on selecting a teacher or coach.  I perused Golftec.com for their latest offerings, and while they don’t list price, they sell an inordinately large number of lessons inside of golf packages.  The largest package is 52 lessons to be used in one year and that feels excessive.  You need plenty of play to go along with your instruction, so be careful when buying lessons in bulk.

That’s my take on the new costs during Covid.  Have you observed the same increases?

Play well!

If You Watched The Players Championship. . .

You learned three critical lessons.

First, The Stadium Course is probably more fun to walk and spectate at than play on.  Yes, the layout is beautiful.  Yes, the conditions are immaculate.  Yes, 16 through 18 provide great theater.  But imagine playing on a golf course this tight off the tee with water on 17 of the holes.  As soon as I splashed a ball, it would be in my head for the entire round – no fun!  I recall playing a very tight golf course after playing a wide open links course.  The switch to the tight tee shots was a small shock to my system and I never got comfortable.  Multiply that by 100 as the Stadium Course’s aim points looked like the size of a gnat’s rear end.

Second, play your own game.  Did you notice that defending champion Rory McIlroy shot 10-over and missed the cut?  Only afterwhich, he announced he had attempted to copy Bryson DeChambeau’s swing and it got in his head.  Are you kidding me?  Rory has done some stupid stuff in his career, but this is tops.  And hats off to DeChambeau.  This guy is a showman and is starting to garner a well-deserved big time following.  Could you believe he contended on this straight knocker’s paradise?

Bryson before and after. Photo by thesun.co.uk

Finally, I’m devoting 50% of my future practice time to putting.  I love the way Lee Westwood took a weakness and turned it into a strength.  Lee was one of the best ball strikers in the world but had hands of stone on the greens, which arguably prevented him from ever winning a major.  Yes, he three putted the 71st hole from a very difficult spot, but he was unbelievably clutch nailing tough par putts time and again when his long game left him.

This was a great tournament, augmented by real fans, finally!  Did you enjoy the 2021 Players Championship?  What was your favorite part?

Play well!

Getting Too Mechanical

Photo courtesy of Pinterest

 

Over the last four rounds, I’ve twisted myself into a psychological swing pretzel.   I’ve had this happen before.  I go to the golf course with a swing thought I’m going to work on for the day and usually strike the ball poorly, but sometimes find a new thought late in the round that allows me to finish strong.  Then the new thought becomes the focus for the next round.  This perpetuates a viscous cycle of bewilderment as I travel through the swing thought wilderness.  Does this happen to you?

Not sure why I do this but it’s usually late in the season, and it happened again last weekend.  After a predictably frustrating ball striking day, I decided to go back to what my pro and I had worked on in our last lesson, and bingo.  It was late in the round again and I had just debunked all the solutions and fixes I had been working on for a month, with some common fundamentals passed down my instructor’s trained eye.  I’ll chalk this up to COVID because I had a lesson left on my 2019 package, and rather than taking it in the early spring and following up every month during the season, I took my first and only lesson in the summer, after restrictions were loosened  at our courses.  Rather than signing up for more lessons, I tried to self-medicate.  Some people can do this but there’s a reason we pay good money to these trained professionals and why most of the instruction on the internet is free.  YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.

So where does this leave me?  There is more playable weather forecast for the DC region in November, but I’ve shut my game down.  It’s time to empty the mental recycle bin and not refill it for a while.  I’m hoping this year’s winter is as mild as last year because I was able to practice and play in January and hit the ground running for my February Myrtle Beach trip.  That trip is planned again this year, but I’m wondering if it’s going to happen with the current state of the virus.

Sometimes it’s best to give your game a rest and recharge your physical and mental batteries, even though you can keep playing.

Do you take time to refill your psychological tank?  Have you shut it down for the year?

Play well.

 

New Waves of Golf Participants

 

What drives golf participation in the masses?  The last explosion was led by Tiger Woods.  People thought Tiger was cool and it was awesome to dress like him, play his equipment, hit it far like him, and kick ass.   But that group receded as Tiger faded from his previous level of prominence.  As demand dropped, the accompanying high greens fees at upscale public courses went down, and the problem of unavailable tee times subsided.

A new wave is forming led by folks who have discovered golf as a safe socially distanced game you can play outside.  It satisfies the need to meet face to face brought on by COVID-19 restrictions.  I’ve played with several of these newbies and understood their rational for starting.  I’ve also overheard many conversations of players at my practice facilities to confirm the trend.  Once COVID recedes, will these players abandon the game?  They might when confronted with the high cost, time commitment, and long attention span that is required for success.

There’s another wave that’s already formed and is characterized by the player who patronizes Top Golf.  Calloway just purchased Top Golf and the club maker went all in because the latter is an entry point to new customers.  Here’s a fascinating article on the merger as described by the two CEOs of TopGolf and Calloway.  Their target customers are people who enjoy eating, drinking, congregating, playing video games, and love music – in no particular order.  50% of Top Golf customers are new to the game (haven’t played one round in the last year.)  Forgive me for profiling, but these are your young foursomes with a 12-pack of beer and a blue tooth speaker blaring loud music that have already invaded many golf courses.  In addition, Calloway already owns the TopTracer range technology which is about tracking every shot struck at every facility where it’s installed and networking the data world-wide.  This is a godsend to customers that love video-gaming with people anonymously over the internet.  They just staged a 7,000-participant virtual tournament.  This is the kind of customer Calloway wants to pull into the game and onto our courses.  Is this wise?  What will it do to the game?

Thomas Jefferson once said, “In matters of style, go with the flow.  In matters of principle, stand like a rock.”  I am a golf traditionalist and believe we should welcome the first wave of COVID refugees to the golf courses.  Not sure about the second group.  Of course, I want to grow the game but still love that the golf course is a place to go unplug for a while.  What do you think?

Play well!

Your Best Friend

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

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

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

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

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

Do you confuse effort with results?

Are you your own best friend?

Play well!      

Are You Proactive or Reactive?

photo from unwisdom.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play well!

 

 

 

 

 

Reduce COVID Restrictions!

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

HARD SURFACES:

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

GOLF CARTS:

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

DRINKING WATER:

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

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

Play well!

 

2020:  What’s Next For My Golf Journey?

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

FITNESS

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

SKILL DEVELOPMENT

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

EQUIPMENT

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

Ping Answer

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

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

Play well!

Golf: It’s Back!!

Glad to be back out!

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

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

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

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

Has your course opened yet?  Play well!

All golf shop operations were being handled outside

Ready to Restart Your Golf Game?

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

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

Packed practice green and driving range at Reston National Golf Club

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

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

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

Play well!

Great sight out my back yard. Mowing fairways!

Virginia – Thank You!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DO:

CREATE A PRACTICE STATION

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

COVID-19 Backyard chipping station

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

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

INVENT A GAME

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

GET FIT- CROSS TRAIN

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

PLAY-PRACTICE RESPONSIBLY

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

DON’T

OBSESS WITH COVID COVERAGE

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

ISOLATE YOURSELF

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

FINAL THOUGHT

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

Play well, stay well!

 

COVID-19’s Uneven Effect on Golf

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crushing Corona Or Getting Crushed

As I monitor events from the GVOHQ (Golf Virus Organization Headquarters) in the 3rd floor bedroom/office of my home overlooking the golf course at Lakewood Country Club) I am deeply pondering the thought:  Can I crush this virus or is it crushing me?  I’m an IT jockey and am trying to concentrate for work, and of course am very thankful to be employed, but am stuck in the isolating world of work from home (WFH).  Yesterday was day seven in our business continuity plan, and I was starting to get antsy on Thursday.  I had the same feeling back in the blizzard of 2010 when I worked six straight from the house.  You know, you get cooped up, gotta get some outside air and are tired of looking at the inside walls.  But this is different.  Every TV channel you turn to provides ample anxiety building virus coverage –  “Practice safe this, don’t go here, don’t go there, close businesses, and socially distance yourself from everyone.”  I am one of those guys who distrusts the media and understands they thrive on this stuff and will run it as long as people consume.   “If it bleeds it leads, ” so why am I consuming?  Remember how long the news cycle lasted for OJ and Malaysia Air Flight 370?  They just couldn’t let it go and this is 50 times worse, plus there are no sports to distract us.

 

From a human physiology and psychological aspect, isolation can be damaging.  Taken to the extreme, it can be viewed as cruel and unusual punishment (solitary confinement).  The mental and physical damage of isolation is real and everyone has different limits.  We as humans isolate ourselves more and more every day with our text messaging, internet connectivity, and on-line social networks.  Let’s be clear, connecting over devices may feel like connecting but it’s not the same as connecting face to face.  We are social beings and need direct interaction with our fellow man.  Not saying it cannot be done in this climate, just that I am struggling with it.  What to do?

 

Thursday, I had enough, and after work, went out to my home club for some practice.  Wow how refreshing!  The parking lot was ¾ full as was the range and there was a steady stream of groups going out to play.  In short, it seemed like business as usual, if you ignored the closed snack bar and lack of rakes in the bunkers.   I asked the guy behind the desk how the tee sheet looked, with all this virus stuff, and he replied in one word, “packed.”  I have to admit, that the glimpse of normalcy filled me with optimism and I thoroughly enjoyed the couple hours spent working on my game.

 

My concern:  Every day restrictions on the area courses are getting tighter.  Our local group of nine municipal courses had removed bunker rakes, coolers, and closed food service – all good.  Yesterday, they notified that no carts would be used for the foreseeable future – still okay with that.  They also notified that cups would be set to prevent balls from going in the hole (raised) and that flagsticks could not be removed.  I viewed this as excessive and sent them a note detailing my concerns.  Another course on the eastern shore (Baywood Greens) had sent an email detailing their restrictions which included removing flags.  I sent them an email complaining that without flags, we wouldn’t be playing golf, and they relented, but are playing with raised holes.  Where to draw the line?  You need to let common sense take over.  Unless the state shuts all the courses down, you still gotta let people play golf at their own discretion and keep the game recognizable.

 

I realize the situation is fluid and is only getting worse.  If they close all our courses and mandate a shut in strategy with marshal law (hopefully it doesn’t come to that), my strategy is to walk to the adjacent school field, and pound pitching wedges at my bag shag.  I’m sure we’ll be allowed outside for trips to the grocery store, to walk the dog, and exercise.

 

In the meantime, try and cut our leaders some slack and know that they’re trying to balance the tough dichotomy of protecting the public health and maintaining our economic well-being.  We’re all going through this for the first time, including our leaders, and the blame first mentality helps nobody.

 

Stay well, and play well!