Category Archives: Opinion

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!

2020 Golf Season – Early Start!

On the green at #14 at Barefoot – Norman

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

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

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

Any suggestions for off-season ball striking practice?

Play well!

Northwest Club Championship

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

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

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

Day One:

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

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

Day Two:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Play well!

 

 

 

 

Juicy Sub-Plots from The Open!

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

photo from skysports.com

 

Justin Rose complaining?

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

A new lunch entree?

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

Grande Latte?

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

Caddy-gate?

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

Stay tuned!

Inside the Brilliant Mind of Brooks Koepka

Photo from Golf Digest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play well.

A Breach of Golf Etiquette???

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

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

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

As I see it, I had three options:

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

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

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

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?

The Hand Wedge Open

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

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

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

 

Brooks Koepka And Zero Swing Thoughts

Brooks Koepka. Photo by Golf Digest

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

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

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

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

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

Playing Golf With An Injury

Photo from painmanagementctr.com

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

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

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

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

Play well!