Is work/life getting in the way of your golf? How do you play your best if you can’t tee it up four times a week or visit the driving range on a daily basis? Time is a precious commodity and it depends on how you use your available hours, but you can shoot low scores even on a constrained schedule. Here’s how.
Use the correct combination of play and practice. My preference is for more play than practice, but first you must measure how much you do of both. Today is Sept 8 or day #253 in the year. I’ve played 21 full rounds and practiced 41 times. My 62 days of golf divided by 253 indicate I have my hands on the clubs only one out of every four days. I’d consider myself a dedicated player but not a frequent player, with a 1:4 ratio. What is your ratio? If you can get your hands on your clubs every other day, your ratio is solid. You need both play and practice, but given a short supply of time, favor play.
Meaningful practice is essential and doesn’t require the same time commitment as play, which is why my practice days are double my play days. In season, I’ll generally practice twice per week and play once. Off season, I’ll practice more and play less. A general rule about practice: The closer you are to playing a round, the more you should practice your mental game. This is the best way to ease the transition from practice to play. Have you ever overheard players out on the course saying, “I don’t understand why I’m playing so bad; I was hitting it great on the range.” That’s because they haven’t practiced correctly by focusing on their mental game.
The key to mental practice is to mirror game conditions. Many coaches in other sports utilize this technique. Football teams pump crowd noise into practice. Teams also script their first 15-20 plays and rehearse that script over and over in preparation to implement in games. I try to script my golf practice by playing up-and-down in the short game area and working with only one ball. I’m getting my mind ready for the pressure of difficult green-side shots. Sometimes I’ll putt 9 or 18 holes alone or against a friend, varying the length of the holes. Always play a match with a goal. The key is to build pressure on yourself. On the driving range, don’t rake ball after ball with the same club. Vary your clubs from shot to shot. Play a simulated round at your favorite course. All these activities insert small doses of pressure and condition your brain into play mode. Finally, when warming up before a round, do not work on your swing. Just get loose. Reserve the last half dozen balls and hit shots to simulate the first three holes of the course you are about to play. This will give you the best chance of getting off to a great start.
Mechanical practice is necessary when trying to make swing changes and should not be attempted too close to a scheduled round. Golf is a difficult game. Playing golf swing when you’re trying to focus on scoring just makes it harder. A big challenge amateurs face is playing a round immediately after a swing lesson because the plethora of swing thoughts can quickly get your mind off the business of scoring. Has this ever happened to you? Tour pros are often seen working with their swing coaches at a tournament site and are simply good enough to execute mechanical changes into their game immediately. Forget them. Sometimes you cannot avoid playing right after a lesson. In this case, work with your pro to distill the lesson content into at most two swing thoughts. And try to keep them as simple as possible for easy replication on the course.
One final though. Lately, I’ve been working the Dead Drill into my Mon-Wed-Fri gym workouts and found this is a great way to build good mechanical habits without focusing on swing changes. A couple weeks ago, right after introducing, I enjoyed a great ball striking round just thinking about the movements of the drill, and they’re really quite simple. Give it a try and play well!
Two weeks ago, I added a new golf exercise/drill to my weekly workout and the short-term results have been excellent! I drew some inspiration from a post Jim put up at TheGratefulGolfer on an 89 year young gentlemen he played with who shot his age. I figured I better get cracking if I was going to play in that league.
I’ve observed from some swing video that my left leg is slightly bowed when I connect which is a power drain and consistency killer. A year back, I tried snapping my left knee on impact and nearly wrecked my leg. But starting in January, I’ve been doing squats and deadlifts as part of my workouts and my lower body feels stronger. What better time to correct this fault.
This drill I’m sharing is offered by the Rotaryswing.com website. I am not affiliated with them and have never taken or paid them any money. They call it the Dead Drill and I have no idea why. I started working the drill just holding a club to my chest. I’d take it through the three steps and do one set of 30 as part of my exercises. The first 20 were incremental (stopping at the check points) and the last 10 were at full swing speed. If you’re doing it right, you’ll feel a stretch in your left oblique muscle after 30 reps.
A week ago, I hit balls on the range and for the last six, tried this move. Wow! Straight and solid contact on every ball with a mid-iron. I left the range hopeful. Later that afternoon I went with a gap wedge up to my school field and hit about 20 balls. It was awful as I laid the sod over half of them, but chalked it up to fatigue and didn’t quit using it in the workouts. Saturday, I decided to ratchet up to three sets of 30 in my workout and afterwards my oblique was confirming why they call it the Dead Drill.
The next day I played The Salt Pond in Bethany Beach, DE. This is an executive course with full length par-3s from 100 to 200 yards, and a couple of par-4s. Nothing extraordinarily difficult but you need to strike it well to score. I didn’t warm up and teed off at 7:30 a.m. With every swing, I’d rehearse the drill three times then pull the trigger. My irons came off like rifle shots. I hit 14 greens and shot even par. Now before you say, “Brian’s got himself a nice WOOD band-aid”, I’ll reserve final judgement until I play a few rounds where I need to hit driver. One key I noticed was how in balance I was at the end of each swing. It really felt great and I’ll provide a future update.
Here’s the drill video. Just skip to the 12:20 minute mark to pass over all the sales stuff. Play well!
How do you measure putting success? Do you track putts per round? I do but am rethinking that approach. A conventional rule is that putting takes up 43% of the strokes in a round of golf. Is that a good measurement? If a pro shoots 70 with 30 putts, does he have a better day than me if I shoot 77 with 33 putts? They are both 43%. Hard to tell because the input for putting stats hinges on many factors not related to putting. The most valid metric is Strokes Gained Putting, which is hard to capture. SG measures the distance and result of all your putts plus the performance of your opponents on the same course. Rather complicated and only available to tour pros. So, as amateurs, what to measure?
Let’s first look at the seven inputs to good putting:
Difficulty of the green (grass surface and undulations)
Quality of short game
Line and speed are the traditional factors players work on because they are most easily controlled. Those of us who play in different weather conditions and on several different courses can have wider variances of putting performance. Players who loop the same course get comfortable with the speed and reads and often “know” where the putts are going. They appear to be very good putters on their track but can struggle during away rounds. Nerves are hard to control and very problematic for folks who exhibit the yips (choking under pressure). Course management is essential. On fast greens, it’s much easier to putt uphill and critical to leave the ball in good positions. Lastly is short game. If you can chip and pitch to within three feet, you’ll one-putt far more often no matter how good your stroke is. So, what to measure?
The answer is to measure what you can use or don’t measure anything. Approach your improvement on and around the greens holistically and attempt to address what you feel is off for a round or set of rounds. For example, I had been struggling with controlling my line. Putts were starting left of my intended target. So, I started to spot putt (align the putter with a point six inches in front of the ball) and my alignment problem was solved. Last time out, I struggled with controlling the speed because my course had let the greens grow out a bit to preserve them in the hot weather. I don’t think I need to make any adjustments here because the weather could change at any moment along with their mowing patterns. You get the point. If you play enough golf, you’ll become familiar with your shortcomings and can use these anecdotal observations as the genesis of your practice plan.
If you’re a beginning golfer, invest in a putting lesson. A pro will show you how to grip your putter, execute the basics of a good stroke, and read the greens. For the intermediate and advanced players, make sure to mix your technical practice with game simulation exercises. Try putting practice with one ball and play 18 holes of different length putts. If you have room on your practice green, a 9-hole game of up and down is a great tool to teach yourself how to perform under pressure. Throw a ball off the green and play it as it lies. Use the short game shot of your choice and play the ball until holed. Count your strokes. This type of practice works very well for players who struggle to take their practice games to the course. If you’re having trouble on and around the greens, give these a try.
Have you ever succumbed to the heat on a golf course? I have suffered heat exhaustion twice and it’s one of the most unpleasant experiences I can remember. Both times I had to quit my game. It also hit me more recently a few years back on a beach in Florida. Here are the warning signs: First you get a low-grade headache. Then when you lean over to pick up a ball or tee one up, the pain gets worse and you feel the pounding and throbbing as blood flows to your head. Next, you start to feel lethargic as energy is drained from your body, and finally, you become nauseated. If you’re lucky enough, you’re back in an air conditioned clubhouse before these conditions worsen into heatstroke. Through some trial and error, I’ve learned to play in the hot weather and if you live in the mid-Atlantic region, you’ll need to work through some significant heat or relinquish a good portion of your golf season. Here’s a must do list for heat.
Anytime the forecast is above 90, pay attention. Generally, I’ll only walk a course if it’s going to max out at 90. Anything hotter requires a riding cart. You’re better off playing earlier before the mid-day heat hits, but my club membership requires me to play after 1:00 p.m. on weekends, and this past Sunday it was 97 degrees and I had a 1:00 p.m. tee time. Your sunscreen, hat, and light-colored clothing are the obvious accoutrements but what’s most important is to thoroughly hydrate BEFORE you go outside. I learned this from a study done by the Israeli army and their performance in the Saini desert during the 1967 Six-Day War. Essentially, if you satiate yourself before physical activity in the heat, you’ll be much more comfortable during the engagement. Check out this quick video:
I will typically drink three 16oz bottles of water over an hour duration before arriving at the course. During COVID, one of the dangerous side effects is that all drinking water has been removed from golf courses. As the summer months advance, this has become an issue; you must have water! To adjust, I’ll load up a cooler with ice, a 32 oz Gatoraid, and five bottles of water before leaving home. I’ll bring the Gatoraid and one water with me for the front nine and replenish at the turn. The cold reload is very welcome for the inward half. Hopefully, you can get to your car and back to the 10th tee without holding up play. This has been critical on days when the drink cart is nowhere to be found. Don’t leave your hydration and your health to chance! Finally, I’ll take 600 mg of Advil before leaving the house and another 600 at the turn. I find it works great to fight off any vestiges of a headache and keeps me on a nice even keel all day.
How a guy like Phil Mickelson wears black shirts and black slacks in the dead of summer is beyond me. I suppose he makes a lot of money to dress that way. Have you ever been sidelined by the heat? Got any strategies to compensate? Please share.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Did you know good concentration techniques can save you five strokes per round? How many of you have setup to hit a golf shot and sensed something wasn’t right and pulled the trigger anyway? Did you hit a good shot? Doesn’t happen. That “not right” feeling is caused by either a breakdown in concentration or a faulty address. If we can eliminate both, we’ll drastically reduce our mistakes and improve our scores.
Address errors usually fall into two categories. Either your alignment is off or your posture is bad. The fix here is simple. Restart your pre-shot routine and get comfortable before you hit the shot. Of course, you can hit a bad shot from a completely comfortable starting point, but thinking that something is not correct before you swing is a sure fire way to misplay. Lately, I’ll find myself a little uncomfortable looking at the target and wondering if I’m slightly closed. This never results in a good shot and I need to work to reset.
Concentration errors come in many flavors. Anything that pressures you to deviate from your natural rhythm and cadence is an issue. In my last round, I was paired with two beginners. There were a lot of swings and misses from these two and I told myself early on to be very patient. But alas, the extra waiting between shots started to preoccupy my mind and my game suffered. Something as small as a playing partner stepping on your putting line or playing out of turn, or someone standing in the wrong place, can mess with you. If you are preparing to hit a shot and thinking about anything other than the specifics of the shot, you are susceptible to a concentration error. The situation with the beginners put me in a tough spot. Golf is a social game and I love meeting interesting and new players. The only measure of control I could have had was to schedule a game with a foursome I was comfortable playing with. Again, the best antidote is to pause, perish the negative distraction, and reset.
Physical errors are more easily excused because we are human. Concentration errors are tougher because they’re preventable. It takes discipline to reset if you’re not ready to swing and do so anyway because you don’t want to hold up play. It just takes a few seconds to reset and will be worth your while. Give it a try and watch the extra strokes disappear!
Would you classify an evening pounding balls and drinking beer at Top Golf practice? For some, any activity with club in hand is practice. I have never been to a Top Golf. Sounds like fun but that’s not practice.
Guys in my Myrtle Beach travel group have gone to the PGA Superstore on a rainy day to hit balls in the bays with the new drivers, and putt on the indoor green. Nope, not practice either. We used to stay at The Legends in Myrtle Beach. When we found out our room cards worked in the driving range dispenser, we’d play 36 holes, eat dinner, and then go to the range for practice until the lights turned off at 10:00 p.m. THAT was loads of fun and we did help each other root out our swing faults for the day, but that took a lot of energy. I’d call it practice.
I generally practice alone, but on occasion join up with friends. Both types are valuable. The last couple times at my club was with friends and the light banter was great, as we worked through long game, short game, and putting. Sometimes these sessions can evolve into a contest on the range or putting green. A couple weeks ago it turned into a swing film session. But the key is the personal interaction. It’s especially important to socialize at a time when folks can over-isolate themselves. If you don’t have four hours for a golf game, try half the time at the practice facility. It works great.
Regardless of how I practice, I enter notes in a spreadsheet on what I worked on, and grade the session. After the last few with friends, the grades weren’t that high. Clearly, I do my best work alone. Today, I went early and alone to the local muni to work on short game and had a great session. If you time it right, there are drills and games you can play that aren’t possible with friends or at a more crowded facility. My real work gets done alone.
Tomorrow afternoon, I’m back at my club with friends after playing some tennis in the morning. This tennis-golf routine on the same day is a great cross training aid. I call it a “Nicklaus” because Jack often spoke of playing tennis. I also tend to go easier on myself with the golf practice after tennis.
So, what’s your opinion, is Top Golf practice? How do you practice best, alone or with friends?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
Yesterday I took four shots of swing video. There are two down-the-line and two face on segments with a 7-iron and driver. I picked out a couple things to work on before and during today’s round and will let you know how I fared, but would love to have your feedback. Please send in any and all suggestions and observations!
43 years ago, I had my first professional golf instruction. Over a series of six lessons, my teacher imparted many sound fundamentals with one exception. Aarrgg! Instead of using my body to coil and uncoil and create swing speed, he taught me to time the strike with my hands. I remember him taking my hands on the club and rolling them over again and again through the hitting zone. I learned to hit the ball very straight but without power. Later, when I tried to gain distance, I began the flip action that is the bane of my game on poor ball striking days. Bad swings typically produce thin shots or pulls. The early release is a game killer.
Did you see Matt Wolff on TV Sunday during the best ball charity match? I admit, this is the first time I’ve watched him play. The trigger he uses to start his swing looks odd but struck me as somewhat familiar. Then I figured it out. He was rehearsing the drill my current instructor has been working with me on to eliminate the wrist flip! Here’s a article and video of Wolff explaining his trigger:
Four years ago, I decided to overhaul my golf game starting with the full swing. I needed to become a more consistent ball striker. My instructor started by having me hit hundreds of balls with a 7-iron starting from the Matt Wolff trigger position. I’d have the ball slightly back of center, my weight shaded forward about 70-30, and my hips and shoulders open at a 45 degree angle. I was essentially mirroring the impact position at address. Wolff sets this position in his forward press and returns to square in about a second, but the concept is the same. As part of the drill, I actually started the swing from there. The key is to try and hit a 9-o’clock to 3-o’clock knock down and just turn your chest on the downswing right back to the address/impact position. When done properly, you take your wrist flip out, finish with both arms fully extended, your chest is facing left of target, and you enjoy a low solid strike with a divot.
Undoing 40 years of hand flipping isn’t easy. My thin pull still shows up on occasion. But my learning and improvement has been noticeable. Now, when I practice, I’ll typically lay down two alignment sticks about six inches apart to form a channel at the target. At the end of the session, I have a nice straight divot line within the sticks. When I struggle, I return to the drill. Sometimes I’ll hit ½ a bucket with just the drill. The swing change is easier with the shorter clubs, and the biggest area of improvement I’ve seen is with my wedges to 7-iron. Mid and long irons are a work in progress, but a good side benefit has been some extra distance with the driver. When you learn to hit the ball with your body instead of your hands, all types of good things will happen.
Have you ever tried the Matt Wolff drill? Give it a go and play well!
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. 😊
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Can you think back to a time when you played a golf shot that was completely out of character for you? We’ve all done it, but can you also recall a situation where someone else’s behavior, strategy, or club selection, caused you to change your plans for the worse? Whether we compete in a friendly game or a serious tournament round, it’s not an uncommon occurrence. Why? Because we don’t play to our identity.
Recently, I was playing a match in Myrtle Beach at the Barefoot Fazio course. The driving range was closed and the fellas agreed to take “breakfast balls” on the first tee. Personally, I am not a mulligan guy and never have been. I’ve always prepared myself mentally to put my full energy into my first shot and live with the result. I have nothing against mulligan guys but that’s not me. So, everyone was taking a breakfast ball on their first shot unless they struck one pure (and most didn’t). My first shot went in the right rough but was in play. Since everyone was taking a mulligan, I did too. I hit it poorly and into a wet fairway bunker. The rule is that if you take a breakfast ball, you must play it. I took two to get out and chopped my way to a 7 on the first hole. My original tee shot was sitting decent about 110 yards from the green – aarrrggg!
I could have avoided this situation and played to my own identity. The key is to have total self-awareness. Understand your capabilities and what you want to do for a given situation. Understand that opponents may try and get in your head – but deny them entry. Understand that you can work this to your advantage as well. A reverse example: Several years back, I was playing a stroke play round in my club championship. The third hole was a 175-yard par-3 that was playing into a freshening breeze. I was hitting second or third in the foursome and made up my mind that it was a 4-iron. I rushed to the tee box, got there first, and pulled a 3-wood and started taking practice swings. I got some strange looks from my fellow competitors, but the first guy took too much club and blew his shot over the green into trouble. I had influenced his behavior because he was paying attention to me rather than his own game. Yes, this works – if you are discrete and don’t overuse it.
Self-awareness is essential. Know what you do well, what weaknesses you should stay away from, and try not to fix those weaknesses on the golf course under pressure. Some folks think they know their strengths and weaknesses, but they don’t. Try this. After a round, review your scorecard and jot down single shots that caused you to have good holes or bad holes. This exercise can be revealing. Last week, I pushed a drive on my par-4, 2nd hole way right. I hit a nice punch with a 5-iron to get back in position about 110 yards from the green. I hit a decent wedge to 25 feet and struggled to two putt for a very lucky bogey. I was frustrated with my poor first putt, but during the post round analysis, I recognized it was the poor drive that had set up the hole. My notes also showed that I struggled on a couple par-fives with long iron layup shots.
I was fortunate enough to make three birdies. My notes included: 50-yard lob wedge, 80-yard sand wedge, 133-yard knock-down 7-iron. An indication that my partial iron shots were working. With this data, I have something to work on in practice, and something to try and lean on in future rounds that may yield better scores.
Admittedly, I am a metrics freak but this small amount of data is easy to capture and can improve your focus and concentration. Give it a try, learn your identity, play and practice to it, and let me know how it goes.
I have one goal for 2020 and it’s process oriented. Before detailing, I’ve been drawing a tremendous amount of inspiration from the book: The Score Takes Care of Itself, by Bill Walsh. The Hall of Fame football coach details his controversial approach to leadership and building a world class organization, but the underlying takeaway is to get immersed in the details of process and good results will naturally be forthcoming. While a common theme from most sports psychologists, I needed to read his specifics about not confusing effort with results and found it inspiring.
Last season, I stumbled on a process-oriented adjustment in September and rode that to higher confidence and better performance in the Fall, and over the Winter. The experience was so positive that I will try to leverage for 2020. In 2013 I had experimented using the nine-shot drill that Tiger Woods made famous and found that difficult to implement. The drill requires you to hit low, medium, and high trajectories with straight, draw, and fade shot shapes. I couldn’t do them all but last Fall, during practice sessions and warm-ups I began hitting low, medium, and high straight shots with each club in the bag (lob wedge through 4-iron). Suddenly while on the course, I felt comfortable calling on any of these trajectories, which allowed me to play more aggressively and with greater confidence. To execute, you simply move your ball position from back to middle to front with each club. I practiced this way and warmed-up this way. The advantage, especially during warm-ups, is that on some days I’d find only one trajectory was working but I could take that one to the course with confidence.
Granted, this is somewhat of an advanced technique and you should have your swing mechanics in pretty good order. During a lesson last year, my instructor had me hitting full wedge shots using my lob, sand, and gap from the back position, and we really liked the ball flight. He recommended that I add the shot to my arsenal, and I did. I then added the other ball positions after experimenting.
Fast forward to this year. My goal is to get comfortable working the ball. Do I need to add all six other trajectories in the nine-shot drill? No. I’d just like to be able to control a draw or fade with the most comfortable trajectory. I know my biggest challenge will be with the fade because I hit a little natural draw and I can’t remember fading a ball on demand, but think I can learn this using the same approach. First up, some experimentation on the range, then off to my instructor to dialog the plan. If I can work the ball with the same level of confidence, great things are going to happen!
In the 20+ years that I have been traveling to the Grand Strand for golf, it’s always been in the summer. This year, I was invited to play in a February family and friends 5-day match play tournament staged across the four Barefoot courses and Grand Dunes. We had a fabulous outting. If you have not tried Myrtle Beach as a winter golf destination, it’s about time.
Many in the group of 20 players scheduled their travel to arrive and depart on the first and last days of the competition. I elected to pad a travel day on both ends which worked out well. Going into the event, I had been playing or practicing every weekend and that turned out to be a huge boon for my game. I played well the entire week and generally felt in mid-season form. The on-site day of practice beforehand was very helpful for getting accommodated to the playing conditions and green speeds.
Our accommodations were condos located in the Yacht Club and North Tower on the Barefoot property. These were huge and well-appointed three- and four-bedroom units that housed us very comfortably. I would definitely recommend them for a trip in the North Myrtle Beach area. On a previous trip, we stayed in 3-bedroom condos on the Norman course which were nice but much smaller.
We were grouped as A, B, C, and D players by handicap and a blind draw assigned us into two 10-man teams for a Ryder Cup style competition. I was told that on paper, our team looked very strong. Not having played any golf with any of these fellows, I made up my mind to just go play and not try to over-analyze anything. On days 1 through 4 we would play four ball matches (you and your partner’s better ball against your opponent’s ball) at 80% of handicap. On the fifth day, we’d play 10 singles matches – again at 80% handicap. Every match had one available point, with a total of 30 points available, 15 ½ were required to win the Cup. The team captains met each morning to make pairings and select who would play whom. An excellent requirement was added to promote player interaction. You could not be paired with the same teammate more than once. I greatly appreciated the opportunity to play with a new teammate every day because I only knew four of the other 19 players going into the week. After playing with different teammates and opponents and dining with everyone on a nightly basis, I’m thankful to have met so many great guys.
Day One: Barefoot Love Course.
Weather was cloudy in the mid-50s. This was the first time I had played the Love course and I enjoyed the layout. Course was in great condition and the over-seeded greens were rolling medium speed and smooth. There was a little hidden water off some of the tee shots but the holes were nicely framed and fit my eye. I played with Ken and our opponents were Bruce and Tim. I drove it really well and struck some good irons close. Lost my concentration a bit around the greens on the back nine but Ken and I had pretty good control of the match and won 3 and 1.
Day Two: Barefoot Norman Course.
Weather again cloudy in the mid-50s. Norman is the Barefoot course I’ve logged the most rounds on, but I struggled on the greens. Joe and I played Nick and Ed and we were behind all the way around. Down 2 with 4 to play, our opponents let us back into the match with some loose driving and Joe made a 4-footer for par to win the match on 18. About 2/3 of the guys went out for a nine-hole replay but not me. My new strategy was to conserve energy.
Day Three: Grand Dunes.
One of my favorite courses, Grand Dunes did not disappoint. Temps were in the low 60s and the course was in fabulous condition. I was super excited because I was stripping it on the driving range which is always a good leading indicator for my game. Greens were running faster than the previous two days at Barefoot and the day’s match was Glenn and I vs. Marc and Ed. I had my best ball striking day and carried my partner on the front nine. Glenn ordered a fast-action Bloody Mary from the cart girl on the 6th or 7th hole and his game suddenly caught fire. I relaxed afterwards and we coasted in this one 7 and 5. The last four or five holes were played in the rain which was a harbinger of things to come.
Day Four: Barefoot Dye.
It had rained heavily overnight and there was still precipitation in the area. Dye was playing cart path only and giant puddles and ruts were the order of the day in the cart paths. The paths at Dye are all sand/waste areas which made for a sloppy round. It basically rained medium hard all day. The driving range was closed beforehand and swings were obviously affected. In this match, Ron and I played Nick and Tim. Nobody hit it that well. However, my chipping and putting were getting it done and we prevailed 5 and 4. I found Dye the most difficult driving course because there are few good sight lines. You stand on the tees and confront a world of bunkers. Where to hit it? At the end of the day, our team was up 15 to 5 and needed only a half point to secure the Cup making the outcome all but decided. I guess all the pre-tournament prognostications were correct.
Day Five: Barefoot Fazio.
Temps were in the low 40s, rain was falling, and winds were building from the west. We were on the leading edge of a winter storm that dumped four inches of snow just north of us in Virginia and North Carolina. I was paired against Dan in singles and was playing with my teammate Ted who was matched up with Steve. Surprisingly, the greens were rolling fast and pure despite the weather. Dan and I got off to a rough start and halved the first hole with 7s. He took a 1-up lead on the second but I came back to take a string of holes and was three up at the turn. Ted was leading Steve 7-up and it was raining and blowing sideways. We called it quits. A couple of the boys did complete their games and a few reported that they had played well. I didn’t get the final points total, but it was clear that our side had prevailed. While we didn’t play the back nine, we had to drive in along it and I was impressed by some of the routing and conditioning. It would be great to come back and play Fazio in good weather.
When in a match play format, don’t get distracted by your individual score. Several players asked me what I shot for the day and I told them that I didn’t know. It was true. If I was out of a hole, I’d put my ball in my pocket and let my partner play for our side. I think it’s beneficial to NOT play out a ball on a hole you messed up because making a bigger mess can form negative mental pictures in your head. When you have a bad hole pick up and forget about it. Your gross score doesn’t matter – it’s not the game you are playing. I get that many of the guys just want to play for practice or measure themselves, and that’s fine, but not my preference.
Play to your strength in match play and don’t alter your game based on the way your opponent(s) play. My strengths are accuracy off the tee and attacking with wedges. My weaknesses are playing from fairway bunkers, and there were a lot at these venues. I often hit a long iron or 3wd off the tee for position. If you have strengths like mine, you’ll find that ego-based players may become frustrated playing you. While they like to bomb tee shots, your accurate tee shots and their wayward driving often puts significant pressure on their game.
Around the greens, work the ground game. Courses at Myrtle Beach do not have significant greenside rough and don’t require high lofted pitch shots. Don’t get too enamored with your lofted wedges and try chipping and pitching with more straight-faced clubs. Putt when you can and keep the shots low whenever possible because roll is easier to judge distance on than flight.
This trip was about camaraderie. We played with lots of different players which was great. We were also able to make dinner reservations every night for our party of 20 at a different restaurant. You could never pull this off on a summer trip to Myrtle Beach; it’s just too crowded.
The course conditioning was excellent everywhere. Of course, the dominant playing surfaces (Bermuda) were dormant, but they were very playable and framed the over seeded fairways nicely on all the courses.
The value was tremendous. We paid about $550 for five days of golf and four nights in excellent accommodations.
I’ve been invited to the 2021 version of this tournament and am eagerly looking forward to it. That’s it for now.
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