Tag Archives: competition

Flirting With The US Amateur

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play well.

Self Awareness – Play To Your Golf Identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play well!

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!

 

 

 

 

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?

 

Competitive Integrity Problem On Tour?

Phil BunkerDid anyone catch Phil Mickelson’s comments on NBC after Sunday’s final round in the Shell Houston Open?  I believe it was Jimmy Roberts who interviewed Phil and asked him how he felt since he was close but couldn’t close the deal in Houston.  He added were there any takeaways that Phil could share about his game heading into next week’s Masters?  Phil indicated that he basically mismanaged his game on purpose so he could hit some tee shots under game conditions that he would need next week at Augusta.  He added that if he were trying to win at Houston, he would have played more 3-woods instead of drivers off the tee because the fairways narrow considerably around 300 yards.  He said the reason for this was that he was preparing for the cut tee shots with the driver he’d need on several holes at The Masters, most notably on #13.  Phil was actually using this tournament as four practice rounds for Augusta.

When I first heard this I thought, “Phil is a smart guy; he knows how to prep for a major and that’s why he’s already won three Masters.”  Then while I was enjoying the aftermath of Jim Herman’s hard fought one-shot victory over Henrik Stenson, I began to think;  Herman and Stenson battled hard for this title, and so did Dustin Johnson.  Since golf is basically self-policed, with each player calling violations on themselves and attempting to protect the field and thus the integrity of the competition, shouldn’t players in the field be obligated to try their hardest to win at all times?  Not trying your hardest might skew the result in an odd way and have negative downstream effects.  For example, what if on the strength of his victory, Herman made the Ryder Cup team.  If Phil had played to win and defeated Herman, someone else may have made the team.

In organized team sports, at the end of the season, teams sometimes rest their star players; I get that.  However, I’ve never heard the players on the field in any sport admitting to not giving anything less than 100% effort to try and win.  And this was certainly not a case of easing off the gas at the end of a blow out game so as to not run up the score on an opponent.  Does this strike you as odd?  Even though it may be done by others, are you okay with a competitor admitting to not trying to win?  I wonder how Jim Herman might feel. . . I’m a huge Phil fan but am interested to know your thoughts on this.