Tag Archives: opinion

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!

Does Tiger Deserve to keep Playing?

TigerIn 2011, Peyton Manning underwent surgery for a pinched nerve in his neck and missed the entire NFL season.  Many questioned his ability to continue his career.  The Denver Broncos took a chance on him and two years later, at 37, he threw a NFL record 55 touchdown passes.  Two years after that, he threw nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions, and despite winning the Super Bowl, had clearly lost the physical ability to compete.  He rode off into the sunset and now drinks Budweiser and happily pitches Papa Johns pizza.

photo from Getty
photo from Getty

Tiger Woods is one year older than Manning, and their professional careers came of age in roughly the same time period (1997-1998).  Woods is now 41.  Plagued by injuries and psychological foibles he fell from 2nd to 218th in the FedEx standings in 2014 and has done nothing since, except fill his fans with false hope.  Why he continues to play is anyone’s guess, but does he deserve to continue?

If Tiger was in Manning’s shoes, he’d be out.  We often think of golf as the ultimate meritocracy sport but is it?  The answer is still “Yes.”  Tiger earned his place in any field he wants to play in, just as any player with 20 career wins and an active 15-year Tour membership can claim.  Tiger actually still qualifies from his PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP victory in the last five years, but soon he’ll be on the 15-20 list.  Ever wonder why Tom Watson, at 67, occasionally shows up in a PGA Tour event?  He’s on the same exemption list.  Vijay Singh too.  Go here to check out the players that are exempt.  It’s updated daily.

Like it or not, successful PGA Tour events are staged when the tournament sponsor makes money.  Sponsors need those big names to draw crowds and television viewers.  That’s why they are granted exemptions for tournament entrants.  If Tiger is in the field and hacking, people are still watching.  So if better players are shut out of the field, so be it.  The difference is in football, you have a contract, you’re on a team, and you get paid.  If you can no longer perform, you get no contract and are finished.  In golf, you still have a chance.

As long as the current PGA Tour revenue model remains the same, we need that 15-20 exemption list and sponsor’s exemptions to drive attendance and positive viewership.  Guys like David Duval (45) hung on much longer than Tiger.  Duval did absolutely nothing for an entire decade.  Other guys like Ian Baker-Finch knew when they lost it and quit fast.  Tiger Woods should continue to play as long as he likes.  It might get ugly, but shoot, I’ll still be watching.  How about you; think we are good or do we need a change to the exemption rules?

What is the greatest round ever played?

Photo from GeoffShackelford.com
Photo from GeoffShackelford.com

What qualifies a round of golf for greatest ever played?  A week ago, Canadian Adam Hadwin shot the ninth sub-60 round in PGA Tour history, and his 59 at La Quinta Country Club was only the fourth round of 13-under par in that group.  Hadwin’s 59 was the third sub-60 round on tour in the last five months, which is truly amazing.  Justin Thomas fired a 59 just 10 days ago and Jim Furyk shot the only 58 in Tour history on August 7, 2016 to round out the group.  Despite holding the record low score, Furyk’s 58 was a 12-under effort carded on a par 70 track.  Are any of these rounds the greatest?

There have been 30 rounds of 63 carded in a major championship but never a 62.  Are any of these rounds the greatest?  Is it harder to break 60 in a regular tour event than shoot 63 in a pressure packed major?  I would propose it is since so many more rounds have been played in regular events, and it’s been done only nine times.

To pick the greatest round ever, we need to consider the era in which it was shot, the difficulty of the venue, the pressure the player was under, and also weigh the historical significance.  I submit there are three rounds for consideration:

  1. Johnny Miller’s 63 in the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont.  Of all the 63s shot in a major, only Miller’s round and Henrik Stenson’s in last year’s Open Championship were shot in the fourth round AND saw the player win the tournament.  Throw in the pressure of the U.S. Open, and the toughness of Oakmont, and the caliber of equipment Miller was playing with, and you have a serious candidate.
  2. Stenson’s aforementioned 63 in the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon.  What’s seared into our memories is the incredible pressure Phil Mickelson (65) put on Stenson as they dueled head-to-head in the final round, and the fact that Stenson had never won a major.  The pressure had to be tremendous and I remember shaking my head in disbelief at how cool, calm, and collected Stenson was.  After all, his reputation as a finisher was far from stellar.
  3. Al Geiberger’s 13-under 59 in the 1977 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic at Colonial Country Club.  Of all the sub-60 rounds, this was tops because of the venue and era.  The par-72 Colonial Country Club course was playing at 7,334 yards, which is medium long by today’s standards but was huge back then.  With 1977 era equipment, Geiberger’s performance was all the more spectacular.  His sub 60 was the remotest of possibilities.  To put it in perspective, Furyk’s 12-under 58 at the TPC River Highlands was on a venue playing 6,841 yards with new equipment, and was shot in the fourth round with Furyk out of contention.

My choice here is for Geiberger by a nose over Miller.  So what’s your pick for greatest round ever played?  Have I missed one that you’d put in the top three?

I do think that 2017 is going to be a special year from a scoring perspective.  I doubt if we’ll see another 59, but am definitely looking for someone to break 63 in a major.  If and when that happens, who do you think it will be and where?

Play well!

 

Golf is NOT Dead!

Bear marketIs the game dead?  No, and it’s not even on life support.  Some recent events and conversations have left folks with the perception that the game of golf is suffering a slow agonizing death.  Drew Harwell wrote a piece in today’s Washington Post today titled, “Whispers in the gallery get louder; Golf is dying.”  He sights some troubling figures from participation rates in the United States, like the reduction in US golfers playing at least one round per year.  This is down from 30 million in 2003 to 24 million last year.  This week Nike announced that they are shutting down their golf equipment business, and the top names in the men’s game are skipping Olympic golf at Rio.

Tracy, a beach blogger from Myrtle Beach by Word of Mouth sent along a great question about why so many golf courses in The Grand Strand area were closing and being replaced by housing developments.  And finally, yesterday at lunch, a friend was wondering why nobody was showing up to play the “perfectly fine” golf course in his parents gated retirement community.

Taken at face value these events point to a decline in the game, but these are merely leading indicators in a market correction.  As is often the case with real estate, stocks, oil, pork bellies, or beanie babies, when we are in the midst of a market shift, it’s difficult to observe from the inside.  Hard-core golf enthusiasts (I count myself as one) get emotional and defensive about the game.  We love the sport and want to share our joy and experiences while playing and watching, and when negative observations are made, get upset.  But take a step back and think about the reason this is happening.  There is one single explanation that is driving most if not all of the above phenomena.  Tiger Woods.

Tiger took the golfing world by storm from his Masters win in 1997 until the autumn of 2009.  This twelve-year run constituted a bubble in the market which was identified by an increased demand for equipment, clothing, an over-saturation of professional events (FedEx Cup started in 2005, IOC reinstated golf as an Olympic sport in 2009), and most importantly, increased participation by individuals that would not normally play golf.  Courses and resorts were built to accommodate the additional demand for rounds.  Clothing and equipment manufactures sprung to life to supply and outfit newly minted players and prize money and endorsement deals skyrocketed for professionals.  Greens fees and club membership costs soared.  The Tiger effect had bestowed great wealth on many in the corporate world and the elite playing class.  Amateurs were enamored with his chase of Jack Nicklaus’ major record, and his power, physique, and playing style were captivating.  Everyone bought into his brand.  The game was hot and so were the ancillary markets for equipment, real estate, and golf course design.

The bubble burst in November of 2009 when his wife buried a 9-iron in the back window of his SUV after his well publicized cheating scandal.

Middle age guys (like me) have always been the backbone of the game.  We are the majority of players and continued to play at the same rates, unabated by the scandal; but enough of the genuflecting newbies soured on Tiger’s behavior, and when he exited the national stage, pulled out of the game, which started the downward trend in rounds played.  Declining participation is commonly mis-perceived as the struggle to get poor kids or women to take up the game, or to grow the game globally.  While there are obvious barriers to entry such as cost and time, they have always been there and probably will be, but the trend is actually a return to the normal rates of participation.

Sponsors dropped Tiger (except for Nike) and the demand for equipment and clothing ebbed.  Greens fees at public and upscale daily fee courses started to discount, as tee time supply exceeded the demand for rounds.  Some courses could not survive and closed, which was what Tracy was seeing in Myrtle Beach.  While interest rates remained low it was still cheap enough to borrow money and the real estate market began to fill the void in the golf market which is why housing developments have sprung up on old golf course land.

So rest easy and go stock up on newly discounted Nike golf equipment.  Just because Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and Dustin Johnson aren’t playing the over-hyped event at Rio doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the game.  We’re market correcting and that’s okay.

Play well!

 

Supporting Adam Scott

Golf AustraliaYesterday it was reported that Adam Scott is skipping the Olympic Games this summer.  Good for him.  Fellow Australian and gold medalist swimmer Dawn Frazer basically had a meltdown and accused Scott of being unpatriotic.  Anyone who witnessed Scott’s magnificent 2013 Masters triumph and celebration of country knows better.  This has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with taking a principled stand against the obvious misplacement of a sport that does not belong in the Olympic Games.  Scott is a professional.  Professional golfers biggest stage is the majors.  The Olympics should be for amateurs.  I get that it’s not but there’s nothing wrong with taking a stand in what you believe in.  Thankfully, South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel quickly followed suit and I suspect the floodgates of professionals sensing a guilt free option to skip has been opened.Adam Scott

The addition of professional sports to the Olympics has cheapened an event that was once the crown jewel of amateur competition.  The Soviet basketball team first violated the spirit of amateurism at the 1972 Olympic Games which started the downhill spiral.  Now the world’s biggest professional events have been added and it’s a joke.  How bad is this?  Let’s compare a few:  World Cup vs. Olympic soccer?  No contest.  Baseball World Series vs Olympic baseball?  Already decided.  NBA Championship vs USA Dream team destroying every country by 50 points?  What a laugher.  Wimbledon vs Olympic tennis?  You get the picture.

Folks who think Olympic Golf is about growing the game globally are being mislead.  Golf is a game played largely in developed countries and will probably remain that way because of market forces.  Sure a driving range or course may pop up in Senegal or Ecuador, but those are outliers.

Sometimes you simply need to take action because it’s the right thing to do.  I stand in solidarity with Scott, Oostie, Schwartzel, and anyone else who cares to skip Olympic golf.  Good for them.

How Do You Play Under Pressure?

PressureThink back over the entire course of your golf career to the couple times that you were under the most pressure. How did you handle it? What were the circumstances of the situation and the true source of the pressure? Did you manage to overcome or did you choke? As long as golf and other sports are played at the professional and recreational level there will be pressure situations.Performance Under Pressure

I just finished the New York Times Bestseller Performing Under Pressure by Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry, and it was a fascinating look into the nature of pressure situations and what strategies we can use to combat it. Pawliw-Fry has a background of working with Olympic athletes and interjected many helpful sports analogies which were great for tying golf into the conversation.

The book is divided into three parts. First is an examination of what pressure is and how it’s different from stress. Stress is defined as a constant nagging type entity that comes in many forms and wears you down over time, but pressure is an immediate positive or negative result based on a specific action you might take. You win or lose the tournament based on a single shot or you succeed or fail at the plate with one swing of the bat. In evolutionary terms, you successfully hunted food or you starved, or worse, you were hunted by predatory animals and needed to escape to survive. These are real pressure situations. The authors align many of our present day pressure situations with our evolutionary history.  Included are fascinating data from sports studies supporting the conclusion that it’s mostly a myth that anyone excels under pressure,.  Rather, some are more capable than others to perform close to their natural abilities under pressure and are termed “clutch”.  Among the several nuggets:   clutch hitting in late inning and post-season major league baseball games is mostly a myth, with no hitters consistently able to perform better under these pressure situations. compared to regular season action.  Even Reggie Jackson (Mr. October) never hit better in the post season than the regular season, with his best post season batting average equaling only his fifth best regular season average.

Part two contains a breakdown of short-term strategies you can use to regulate and release the flow of pressure. One interesting study they did was with golfers and the concept of using word anchors compared to swing thoughts. One control group was told to think mechanical thoughts while hitting shots under pressure while another was to think the anchor thought. Anchors were non-concrete action words like “smooth” and “balanced”, and they proved that the group using the anchors performed much better than the mechanical group. This should come as no surprise.  Players who play golf swing instead of golf take note.

Part three describes developing a long term strategy of building a COTE of armor to immunize yourself against pressure. COTE stands for Confidence, Optimism, Tenacity, and Enthusiasm. Each of these are examined in depth with strategies provided to better yourself across the board. Build up each area and you immunize yourself better to all pressure situations.

Most of these strategies will help you handle pressure in life, at work, as well as on the golf course. It’s an eye opening read and I highly recommend it. Get the book and tell me what you think. Now it’s out to practice and work on my COTE.  Play well!

PGA Major Meltdown!

TigerWinsQuick question:  What’s the measure of greatness in professional golf?  Short answer:  The number of major victories one has accumulated.  We don’t consider money rankings, driving distance, Vardon Trophy (scoring average), or even FedEx Cup championships.  The sole measure of historical excellence is how many Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship victories one has.  This is not dissimilar to the NFL where Super Bowl titles are the standard, or Major League Baseball where World Series victories are king.  Tennis, the other major individual sport, measures its greats by number of Grand Slam titles won.

So why is the PGA Tour compromising the integrity of the major championships with it’s insane scheduling in 2016?  Take a look at the backside of the 2016 PGA Tour schedule and you’ll notice for the first time The Open Championship and PGA Championship are being contested only 11 days apart!  This is simply not enough time for the world’s best to recover physically and mentally, make the journey back across the Atlantic, and for excitement to rebuild in the fan base for the final major.  In a normal year, each event is generally spaced one month apart, with the exception being the two months between golf’s Masters and U.S. Open.

At first glance I attributed this to the presence of the 2016 Olympic golf event which is scheduled for August 11-14 and happens to fall right smack on the PGA Championship’s traditional window (one month from The Open).  But Olympic Golf is not the growth panacea everyone thought it was and The PGA Tour knows it.  At best it’s an inconsequential event with an unfair qualification process (only four players per country are allowed to participate eliminating many of the world’s best).  At worst, it’s a classic example of exceeding the economic law of diminishing returns with too much golf on TV.  I think after a couple tries, it probably will join baseball on the list of dropped Olympic sports.  Think otherwise?  Think Olympic golf will command the TV stage?  Think again.  The suits at PGA headquarters have scheduled the John Deere Classic to be contested simultaneously with the Olympic tournament.  And the USGA put the U.S. Senior Open in the same time slot as well.  When baseball was last played in the Olympics in 2008, Major League Baseball played right through the window and didn’t even give the Olympic tournament a sniff of concern.  I’m hoping golf plays out in a similar fashion.

Olympic golf feels like an attempt to force growth in an incorrect way.  The recent golf market contraction is due to the receding Tiger Woods wave.  As Tiger plays less, fewer folks tune in.  It’s a natural phenomenon that can’t be fought.  But cheapening the integrity around the existing major championships is absolutely the wrong approach and needs to be fixed.  The tour has the ability to shift schedules around and should flip-flop The PGA Championship with The Wyndham Championship, and move the former into the August 18-21 window.

On a global scale, the good news is that golf has a chance of re-entering a golden age with a core of young superstars take the sport by storm.  To allow natural rivalries to form between Jordan, Rory, Jason, and Rikie, the PGA needs to ensure the integrity of its competitions is on the highest level.  It should start with an adjustment to the 2016 schedule.

What do you think they should do?

2015 Mid-Season Golf Report Card

July 4th weekend is almost upon us and it is the traditional half-way point for my golf season and is an excellent opportunity for some game analysis.  Actually, it’s a little past half-way; I lose a bit of steam right about the time Tom Brady’s deflated footballs start to fly, but will play through mid-November.

To date, I have carded 21 rounds.  I enjoy tracking a couple key metrics and always measure my performance against the previous year’s stats.  The KPIs for 2014 full season vs 2015 halfway point:

2014 Avg Score:   79.97 To Par:   +8.47 GIR:   8.47 Putts:   32.25
2015 Avg Score: 79.41 To Par: +7.91 GIR: 7.68 Putts: 30.73

Analysis:

The one number that immediately jumps out is putts.  A reduction of 1.5 putts per round is huge.  To put it in perspective, 1.5 putts per round separates the 1st and 140th ranked putters on tour.  The improvement is due to a change in pre-shot routine I implemented late last year.  Not everything is going in, but I can usually count on having a good day on the greens even when I’m striking it poorly, and that makes the game more enjoyable.  In 2014 I played 31 times and had five rounds with less than 30 putts.  This year I already have seven.  Man, would I love to sniff a sub 30 average.  Anyway, a separate post is coming on how the putting change was implemented.

Second issue and equally important, is that I did not overhaul some part of my game in the off-season or early spring.  How many of you do this?  I always used to, and last year I fell in love with the Tour Tempo book, and later was taking hundreds of swings per day in the back yard in an attempt to make my swing better.  The reality of this was a jumble of swing thoughts and a sore body from over-analysis and overwork.  I’ve only practiced 14 times to-date this year and at the same point in 2014 was at 33.  I was advised that when you’ve played golf for over 40 years, it’s very difficult to change your fundamental golf swing, as Brant Kasbohm from FixYourGame.com so indicated during a video lesson in 2011.  I appreciate his candor and now, just attempt minor tweaks and adjustments between rounds and during play.  So there is nothing to overhaul and I’m enjoying the game more.  My handicap index continues to hover in the 4.5 to 4.9 range, and I don’t expect it to change much.

The third difference is I am finally feeling like myself again after struggling with health issues from October through May.  I am filled with gratitude every time I tee it up after confronting the prospect of not being able to play the game I love.

So, I’m very much looking forward to summer and fall because the hard courses (Myrtle Beach) on my schedule are behind me.  Who knows, maybe I can slice a shot off the old index?  While the total metrics grade out in the B to C range, it’s feeling like straight A’s!

How’s the mid-point state of your season coming?  Ready for the big July 4th weekend on the golf course?  I am!

 

When Is It Time To Quit?

On a fall afternoon in 1973, I remember watching my home town Washington Redskins do battle with the San Diego Chargers.  I was only 12 years old at the time, but the image of Johnny Unitas, struggling to stay upright, and fully embarrassing himself at the helm of the Chargers offense will always be etched in my mind.  I was too young to remember Unitas in his glory years, but recall my father telling me how great he was as the leader of the Baltimore Colts.  I was a little sad, and was left to ponder why someone would extend their playing career past their ability to compete.  Thankfully he retired after that season.  Unitas was 40 years old.

For athletes who’ve competed from adolescence through the present day, the hardest thing for them in life is to know when to quit.  Usually the deterioration in capacity is gradual, with the mind remaining sharp as the physical skills slowly atrophy.  Derek Jeter comes to mind, with his retirement feeling timely and right.

Tiger Pulls out of Farmers Photo by ESPN
Tiger Pulls out of Farmers
Photo by ESPN

For the last two years, I’ve been watching the Tiger Woods saga and pontificating about his decline in performance and how his chances of catching Jack Nicklaus were nill, and how maintaining this charade of injury and comeback attempts was no longer continuing to the betterment of the professional game.  We all know that golf is a unique sport in which players can compete at the elite levels for longer because the physical demands are not the same as other professional sports.  However, Tiger’s performance at The Farmers was Johnny U.  He’s clearly done from a physical standpoint and should retire before the embarrassment gets worse.  We can hold on to the greatness of the Tiger memories, but too much time in the gym, too much Navy Seal training, and too much repetitive stress on his back and legs has taken its final toll.  I actually believe he is capable of recovering from his mental foibles, but his body is sending a clear message.  It is time.

Do we continue with the false hope that he’ll somehow recover the old magic, or is it time to take his seat in the booth next to Jim and Sir Nick?  How do you see it?

Is Losing Becoming A Habit?

from golfweek.com
from golfweek.com

The fallout from the U.S. Ryder Cup Team’s defeat has settled, but theories of defeat are still abound as new details come out regarding behind the scenes team dynamics.  Let’s give Tom Watson a break, forget all the crap, and simplify:  When a team loses in golf or in any sport, the reason is usually that they have inferior players.  When losing is systemic in an organization, always look to the highest reaches of the organization for the answer.  In this case, the highest levels are the PGA Tour and the process it uses to select players.

All things being equal, the U.S. Team should have an inherent advantage year after year, being able to stock their roster with the largest pool of talented golfers in the world.  Yet they continually go down to defeat.  I propose that it’s time to remove the earning of qualifying points, over a two year period, and jettison captain’s picks.  Put the selection in the hands of the players.  Every U.S. professional with current year’s PGA Tour exempt status be allowed to vote on their Ryder Cup team representation, with the stipulation that they cannot vote for themselves.  The vote would take place one month in advance of the competition and would ensure the best and hottest players at tournament time would complete the team.  Imagine if we elected our political leaders on the polling results they accumulated over their last two years in office.  That’s crazy, and is why we have Election Day.

And someone please explain why being elected and serving as a Ryder Cup team captain is so important and is considered a full time job for two years?  If the player’s elect their own representation, you take the onus off the captain and let him focus on more important things like selecting the best and most colorful rain suits and focusing on how many gluten free options will be on the menu at the team meal.  All these guys should really be doing is working the line-up cards during the competition and keeping their players on an even emotional keel.  Seriously, how much preparation can you do over two years for a three day golf tournament?

The Ryder Cup will be at Hazeltine in 2016.  I’ll be watching and hopefully we’ll get it figured out by then.

Golden Nuggets from THE PLAYERS

GoldGot some gems to share from this year’s coverage of THE PLAYERS Championship.  Normally during the majors and big tournaments, I try to avoid over-saturating my brain with the available round the clock coverage but for some reason I’ve been compelled this week, and am picking up some great stuff.

Nugget One:  If you watched “Live from THE PLAYERS” on Golf Channel early Saturday, you watched Zach Johnson warming up on the putting green using an alignment stick to ensure his upper body and hands were working together.  You need a putter that you can hook the stick on top of the club and anchor the other end to your sternum.  My Ping Answer worked perfectly (see photos).  As you rock your shoulders, make sure the stick stays anchored and the putter shaft does not cross under the stick.  This ensures you’ve maintained a solid lead wrist and have not broken down with a handsy stroke.  It’s easy to do and is an awesome simple concept.  Has anyone tried this?

Good Stroke
Good Stroke

Bad Stroke
Bad Stroke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nugget Two:  Same episode of “Live. . .” Kelly Tilghman was discussing an interview she did with Jordan Spieth during a segment when the preeminent talking heads were trying to figure out Spieth’s secret sauce of success.

Jordan Spieth From bostonherald.com
Jordan Spieth
From bostonherald.com

Supposedly when Tilghman asked Spieth  if he would take millions of dollars to make an equipment change and risk introducing a distraction to what had made him successful to date (ala Rory McIlroy), he  emphatically said, “No.”

Spieth’s sensibilities and game management are spot on and is why fans are being drawn to him.  Listen during Sunday’s coverage and you’ll hear the cheers of “Spieeeeeeeth,” reverberating through the TPC.  This guy has guts, an awesome short game, commits to his game plan, and shows some personality.  Sure he gets hot after a bad shot, but he gets it out and doesn’t let it burn for more than 30 seconds.  It’s refreshing to see him fist bumping the fans and showing some up and down emotion.  Too often our coverage is punctuated with the totally stoic faces of the grinders, like Jason Dufner, or the sunken-eyed look of a Tiger Woods, who can’t seem to enjoy golf even when he’s winning.  Count me as a big Spieth fan.

Nugget Three:  There is a changing dichotomy in professional golf as we settle into a period of non-domination.  There are so many good players who excel in short bursts but can’t seem to sustain long term.  Since the end of the Tiger Major Era, which I’ll identify as the post-2008 U.S. Open period, there have been 23 majors contested and only Rory McIlroy and Bubba Watson have demonstrated the ability to win multiple times (two each).  While domination by a single player is better for television ratings and growing the game globally, those days are over.  Many pundits think we are entering a popping of the golf bubble that was inflated by the influx of Tiger Woods’ supporters.   Do you think that’s the case?  What’s that wooshing sound I hear?

 

The Hard Work Of Breaking A Golf Slump

First, many thanks to all those who provided advice on how to break out, especially Vet.  The address position analysis (grip change) continues to help immensely and the slump is almost over.  Technically, I’m still in the slump because my 81 today is the 10th straight round at 80 or above (my Mendoza Line), but I can feel the wind in my sails.

Today’s round had some very critical data points.  First, I got off to a good start parring my first four holes.  The slump has been punctuated by horrible starts with double or triple bogey as a a frequent and unwelcome lead-off visitor.  Yes, I did make a triple on my 7th hole, but used that as motivation.  Sure I was down on myself, and the root cause was again a lateral hit from a downhill lie in a bunker but I told myself, I could either accept the fact that I was destined to remain in this horrid slump or double down to concentrate harder. I bogeyed 8 and 9 and turned in 7-over 43.  Normally, I don’t add up my score until the round is complete, but I was mad as hell for blowing a good start and felt like checking.

For some reason that score check improved my focus on the 10th tee and I hammered a drive down the middle and made birdie on the par-5.  God, that birdie felt good because it’s been so long since I made a birdie that I couldn’t remember the last one.  Then I enjoyed a first in my 40 years of playing golf.  I drove a legitimate par-4 and sunk an 8-foot putt for eagle.  I have made eagle on par-4s before but always from the fairway and never after driving the green.  My tee shot measured 323 yards and was down hill and slightly down wind, and yes, I had hit into the group in front.  At first, I couldn’t find my ball but noticed one on the surface as they were leaving the green.  I apologized, sank the putt, and was 3-under after two holes on the back.  I gradually gave away my gains with some shoddy iron play but drove it well all the way around and finished with a 2-over 38.

My reason for hope is twofold.  A very simple change (grip) has made a huge difference and I’m playing my best shots without any swing thoughts.  When the mind is clear and your fundamentals are in order, this game can be played well.

Next up is a tournament at Queenstown on Thursday.  Hoping to leverage these gains and help the team win.

Golf psychology and mental game tips

Been fielding a lot of questions from friends, colleagues, and playing partners on how to improve their golf without a lot of practice.  Perfect opportunity to discuss the mental game because it doesn’t take a lot of time.  I’m not a sports psychologist but have read many books and articles and will share several techniques that work for me and should help you.

What works best:

  • Develop a reliable and consistent pre-shot routine.  Do this for every club in the bag and execute on every shot no matter how important.  Akin to putting your body and mind on autopilot.  Works great to handle pressure situations.
  • Be decisive.  For every shot, carefully decide on your approach and then play without delay.  John Wooden’s “Be quick but don’t hurry,” comes to mind because delay allows indecision to creep in and is deadly.  Build the timing of your rehearsal swings and pulling the trigger into your pre-shot routine and practice them.   Super effective for chipping and putting.
  • Game plan every hole.  Step on the tee and know how you want to play the hole to the finest detail.  Consider these two approaches for playing a long par-4 where you know you can’t reach the green.  Approach One:  “I’ll play a 3WD into the right side of the fairway, layup with a 5-iron to avoid the bunkers in front which will leave an easy third with my sand wedge, that will give me the best chance for a par.”  Approach Two:  “Wail on a driver.”  Which do you think will be more successful?  Game planning improves your focus and will reduce the dumb shots which are usually played out of emotion or indifference.
  • Visualize Success.  Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” says that everything happens twice, once in your mind and then again in reality. It’s easier to execute on what your desired outcome is if you visualize it first.  See the shot in your mind in the finest detail, then pull the trigger.  Also helps to avoid playing those dumb shots like that 3WD off a hardpan lie from the middle of the woods.
  • Identify the smallest target possible.  Helps to focus the mind on where you want the ball to go and less on swing mechanics.  Pick a small target for every shot and you’ll increase your margin for error.
  • Stay in the moment.  Focus only on the shot you are about to play.  The 50-foot birdie putt you just sank or the ball you just hit out of bounds, or the long par-3 over water coming up in two holes are in the past or future and don’t matter.  Let them go and devote your full attention to the current shot.
  • You are your best friend on the course.  This is difficult, but you must not criticize but rather encourage yourself after a bad shot.  The first time I tried this it was awkward but it helps you to forget mistakes quicker.  Thinking positive thoughts and playing with confidence is always preferred, and positive reinforcement helps.

What does not work:

  • Thinking about swing mechanics.  Very difficult to do especially when you’re hitting bad shots.  Your best golf will be played using one swing key and keeping your focus on the target.  When you start hitting the ball badly, resist the temptation to tinker with your swing and just play more conservatively.  Throttle down and use whatever club you need to to keep the ball in play.  Continue making aggressive swings with conservative club selections, but don’t mess with your swing on the course.
  • Thinking about trouble.  Think where you want to hit the ball and avoid thoughts about hitting into hazards or out of bounds.  Always play with your target in mind and you’ll get there more often.
  • Staying angry.  It’s okay to get mad at yourself but let it go and do it quickly.  Golf is an incredibly frustrating and difficult game and you need to play tension and distraction free.  Anger builds tension and is the worst of distractions.  Two things I’ve found here are to think about trying your hardest on every shot and to have fun on every shot.  Know that you are human and will make mistakes.  This will keep your bad shots in the proper perspective and allow you to let go more easily.

What are some of your best mental techniques?

Great putting tip; done with Stockton!

Earlier I had written a post on the Stockton putting method and my attempts to implement.  A few rounds of trying to pull my left hand at the target eventually killed all feel on my lag putts and I hit rock bottom last week with my career worst 98, which included 40-putts.  Dave Stockton doesn’t take 40 putts in a round of golf but I cannot endorse his method any longer; it’s clearly not for me.  I’m now in full ‘Stockton recovery, ‘ and have adopted a new simple pre-shot routine of two practice strokes with the right hand only (looking at the hole) and BINGO, roll, feel, and confidence are back!  With the right hand only practice stroke, I take the club back considerably farther, which appears to be the key to regaining touch on the long putts.  Prior to making the actual stroke, I gently place my left hand on the club and then stroke the putt without delay, making a totally right hand dominated stroke and attempting to duplicate the length and feel of the practice stroke.  This is completely opposite of the Stockton notion of pulling the putt with the left hand and consciously trying to keep the blade low to the ground.  I now feel relaxed and able to make a free flowing non-mechanical stroke.

I played today, one round removed from the 98 and validated with a great putting effort and managed to sink three lengthy birdie putts on my way to an even-par 70, which was my lowest score for the season.  I now have come across several web sites advocating for the method and interestingly enough, Tiger Woods reportedly practices routinely by just stroking right-handed putts to ensure he’s releasing the putter properly.  Here’s the best site I’ve found detailing the benefits of right hand dominance.  Anyone out there had any luck with this method?

Can you have fun playing bad golf?

Think back to the worst round of golf you’ve played.  I don’t have to go far because today was mine.  This four-handicap shot a 27-over 98 at Blue Mash but still had fun.  Can you have fun playing bad golf?  Maybe the old adage that a bad day on the golf course is still better than a good day at work is true because I took the day off to hack.

The round started out ominous as I warmed up on the range hitting weak cuts with every club in the bag.  My search for a WOOD band-aid to get me around the course came up empty and I arrived at the first tee with zero confidence.  It showed early as I started off double bogey, triple bogey, double bogey.  I’ve read advice from several sources about warming up poorly and the conventional thinking is to write off a bad range session because it’s not an indicator of how you’ll play.  Wrong!  I’m different because my warm up, is always an indicator of how I’ll play.  Oddly enough, I had warmed up well on the putting green and was brimming with confidence in my reads and stroke but the poor ball striking infiltrated my putting and I ended the day with 40 putts.  Egad – how could this be fun?

The weather started off cloudy and warm with a few rain squalls, but on about the fourth hole a cold front blew through and the temperature began dropping and the wind increased.    When we turned, we were dealing with a gale force wind that bent flagsticks, oscillated balls on the greens, and played havoc with our club selection.  We were live at the British Open!  My thoughts had shifted from my horrible ball striking to how to execute shots I had never practiced but now needed to use.  This was fun!  With my mind off my swing and on the demands of the game, my ball striking improved.  On the par-3 17th, I hit a full three wood from 190 yards and missed the green left.  My short greenside pitch was blown 90 degrees sideways after the first bounce.  Never witnessed that on the golf course.  Short putts (inside six to eight feet) were being pushed six inches off line.  Finally we finished on #18, a par-5 playing straight into the wind at 540 yards.  I estimated effective yardage at about 640 yards and crushed a driver and two three-irons to within 40 yards of the green.  A full sand wedge purely struck and three putts later, I had my final double bogey and a 98.  I left the course humbled and exhausted, yet somewhat exhilarated at the experience.  Have you ever had as much fun playing bad golf as I did today?

Golf tips – what’s the best and worst?

On a recent business trip, I pulled out the latest Golf Tips magazine and scoured cover-to-cover looking for that elusive nugget to give me an edge.  This being their “100 best” issue, I was certain I would find the treasure I was seeking but quickly realized how insanely conflicting the information in a single magazine can be.  Anyone without a serious understanding of the fundamentals can get terribly confused by the plethora of opposing opinions and methods.  Consider the best and worst of what I found.

The best:  🙂

John Stahlschmidt, PGA professional at the Tour Academy in Scottsdale, AZ advises on improving feel for speed on lag putts:  “Take one or two practice strokes and hold your finish for the amount of time you think it’ll take the ball to arrive at the hole.”  Great simple tip for improving feel, eliminating a jerky stabbing motion and promoting an accelerating move; all key essentials.  I’ve been putting scared lately and am certain I’m having troubles with trusting my feel for distance.  Rather than trying to make everything, I’m thinking about avoiding the three-putt.  I implemented this drill today on the practice green and got that refreshing boost of confidence you enjoy when a missing fundamental clicks; you know the feeling.

The worst:

WARNING:  MAY BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR GAME

The recoil bunker shot.    Open the blade, make contact, and recoil for buried lies in a bunker, with a tight pin; are you kidding?  I don’t care that this was recommended by Briny Baird, you don’t publish this in a magazine for the general public and I’m surprised a teaching pro (Jon Paupore) from a Jim McLean golf school is advocating.  Even the video is contradictory as he hits toward a pin with plenty of room to run the shot out- just awful.

Do you golf like a gorilla or a surgeon?

What kind of personality do you play to on the golf course?  Are you constantly trying to muscle up, bust the driver, and hit all the par fives in two?  Do you get your greatest thrill from thrilling others?  Or are you calculating and planning, dissecting every move and possibility down to the finest detail?  However you play, your course personality should fit your everyday personality, or you are going to struggle.

Just finished reading Gia Valiante’s “Fearless Golf” and his point of identifying if you are a ego-based or mastery-based player resonated well.  Phil Mickelson is the classic ego-based player who derives his greatest pleasure from wooing people with his extraordinary short game and daring recovery skills.  Sure he loves to win and definitely comes to the course with a game plan, but you see him time and again chuck the plan and take the daredevil approach.  Sometimes it plays out, as it did with his 6-iron through the pine trees at Augusta, other times he implodes under the weight of his own ego, as was the case on the 72nd hole at the 2006 U.S. Open.  As these unspeakables unfold, we ask ourselves, “how can he be so stupid?” but Phil is the consummate gambler on and off the course and it makes sense for him to play to his personality.  Is this you?

Or do you play like Jim Furyk?  Seems like he always has a plan, sticks to the plan, and nobody’s opinion of him or his swing is going to change that plan.  This is the mastery-based approach, where you execute on your skills, only play shots that you practice, and calculate risk/reward for every aspect of the game.  I’m known as a planner off the course and play to this personality (the surgeon) on the course.  When I cross from surgeon to gorilla, I pay a dear price.  A few years ago during a mid-summer round when everything was dry and rolling out, I hit a few par-5 holes in two and managed to drain an eagle putt.  All of a sudden I had gained the capacity to overpower courses and it took some very bad scoring for the balance of the year and some serious self examination to determine root cause.  It doesn’t make sense for a surgeon to play like a gorilla and in the same regard, someone like Phil Mickelson probably is more effective taking risks and riding the roller coasters.

To help you self-identify, consider:  Would you rather shoot even par for 18 holes by making five birdies, three bogeys, and a double bogey, or making 18 pars?

Greg Norman weighs in on Tiger

Great article at golf.com on Norman’s views on Tiger.  I was a huge Greg Norman fan in his heyday and found his points on the lack of a mentor for Tiger very telling and was interested to learn that Norman leaned on Nicklaus, Watson, Floyd, and Trevino when times got tough.  Norman never struck me as the type to seek out help, especially after his blow-up at the 1996 Masters, and he seemed to lose his swagger after that defeat.  I wonder if he consulted the aforementioned greats before or after the loss.

Clearly, Tiger lost his mentor when his dad passed and I suspect that was the start of his downfall, although he sustained his professional success for several years while the seeds of his personal implosion were germinating.

Norman’s statement that, “Nobody’s bigger than the game or anybody else,” is true and I suspect Tiger never got the message.

Pinehurst – Resort and Course Reviews

Resort Review:

The Carolina Hotel – Pinehurst, NC

Just returned from an excellent trip to Pinehurst Resort for three days of golf at one of America’s premier destinations.  Here’s a link to the trip photo and video album.  Played the #8 course on Saturday, #4 on Sunday, and finished out on the storied #2 course on Labor Day.

Pinehurst sells a variety of all inclusive deals with various lodging and playing options.  We played on a three-day, two-night package and stayed at the Manor Inn which was the least expensive choice for lodging but was more than adequate for our needs.  The Manor is an older building with clean rooms, nice comfortable beds, mahogany desks and wardrobes, modern bathrooms, and high speed internet access.  Manor is very convenient to the rest of the resort as free shuttle buses can be summoned from any resort property and will take you anywhere.

The Carolina Hotel, pictured above, is the center of Pinehurst operations and is the largest of the lodging options.  We enjoyed our three course dinners and morning breakfast buffets (all included) at the Carolina in their formal dining room.  The food was delicious and the service impeccable.  The staff at the Manor and Carolina were friendly and helpful and exuded class and plenty of old Southern charm.

Upon arrival, you are assigned a bag tag with your tee times and course numbers for your entire stay.  You leave your golf bag at the main club and every day the staff has your clubs loaded on a cart at the course you are scheduled to play.  Courses 1-5 play out of the main clubhouse and 6-8 are off-site.  The main clubhouse is a tremendous facility with two pro shops managing play (#2 has it’s own).  A huge grass driving range and extensive putting green are available along with several practice chipping and pitching areas.  The practice facilities are simply the best I’ve ever played at.  Inside the main clubhouse along the long corridor from the entrance to the locker rooms are displays detailing the wonderful history of Pinehurst and the various championships, trophies, and tributes to the winners.

Payne Stewart, 1999 US Open Champion

Course Reviews:

Pinehurst #2

Pinehurst #2 – 17 tee

The original 1907 Donald Ross design has been altered considerably by Coors and Crenshaw in 2010.  Gone is most of the rough, replaced by natural looking waste areas containing sand, grasses, and pine straw.  The par-3 17th pictured above, features this to the right.  In some instances, bunkers have been placed within the waste areas blurring the line between hazard and waste area.  My group was wondering how a ball on the edge of a bunker within a sandy waste area should be played.  On a pre-round tour of the course, I thought I’d be playing several 3-woods off the tees for position since the waste areas extend the length of most par 4 and 5 holes, but surprisingly I found ample landing area in the fairways and hit driver on all holes.  Making clean contact from the various lies in the waste areas was difficult and we also noted that after playing the first few holes with the same waste area look, subsequent holes were fairly indistinguishable from the previous.  At the end of the round, no single hole stood out for its features or magnificence.

Our biggest disappointment was learning that the greens had been aerated and top dressed four days before our round.  This was supposedly a surprise to everyone including the pro shop staff, as the greens superintendent had judged that the Bent grass greens were under tremendous stress from the summer heat and needed to be saved.  I was highly suspicious of this reasoning until I learned that they aerated one day before a major member guest tournament.  Maybe it was true?  Either way, our round was played on bumpy sandy greens and we payed the full $175 surcharge.   Elsewhere the course was in excellent shape with the Bermuda fairways and tees quite immaculate, and good quality sand in the bunkers.  I found the lack of formal elevated tee boxes and the all-sand cart paths interesting, as an obvious attempt had been made to preserve the most natural of looks to the land.  Also the closeness of several greens to teeing areas made me wonder how the 2014 US Open and Woman’s US Open participants would manage the proximity to other groups and the associated distractions.  Finally, in contrast with the other Pinehurst courses, there were no indicators for pin positions and guessing yardages was difficult since the only markings were on the sprinkler heads.  The course requests that you keep carts on the paths at all times and there are no distance indicators on the paths.  The other seven courses employ the Red, White, Yellow flags to indicate positioning but the #2 pins are all white with the #2 logo emblazoned and unless you take a caddy or are equipped with a range finder, you’ll end up guessing the yardage and lugging a handful of clubs from cart to ball.

For the record, I played the white tees at 6,307 yards and carded an 82 and was left with the impression that #2 was an impressive layout but was a bit over-hyped.

Pinehurst #4

Pinehurst #4 – 13 green

The Tom Fazio 2000 rework of #4 produced a stunning must-play.  The course was the best conditioned of our three with the greens rolling smooth and true, although not very fast, and the tees and fairways in excellent shape.  Fazio has framed several tee shots with clusters of pot bunkers, most notably on the edges of dogleg par 4s and 5s.  Additional pots are cleverly placed green side to defend against wayward approaches.  I found myself hitting 3-wood off several tees for pot bunker avoidance which turned out to be a good strategy.  You have to think your way around this course and can score by avoiding the trouble.

Each hole is unique and memorable.  They do a great job on hole #4 which is a beautiful downhill par-3 that requires a forced carry over water, and reuse the same lake on #13 to present a sweeping dogleg left par-5 that is the consummate risk-reward adventure.  The fun continues on the par-3, 14th which features the same lake all the way down the left.   A few of the holes have significant elevation changes that adds to the uniqueness of the track.

Inevitably, you will visit some of the 140+ pot bunkers so bring your sand game but if you can avoid the majority, you’ll do well.  We played from the blue tees at 6,658 yards and I shot a five-over 77.  #4 was clearly our favorite play on this trip.

Pinehurst #8

Pinehurst #8 – 17 tee

Number 8 plays off it’s own clubhouse and is another Tom Fazio design and was built to commemorate the Pinehurst centennial year of 1996.  The layout of this course was varied and very enjoyable however conditioning was an issue.  The greens had obviously been stressed by summer heat and had significant brown patches.  Some of the collars were completely killed and were being actively worked on.  The Bermuda grass tees and fairways were in excellent shape, as they were across all courses.  After the sum of our experiences on the three courses, we thought the resort may want to resurface all putting surfaces with Bermuda to better manage the heat.

The key to playing #8 is placement off the tee.  you MUST hit the fairway or are left with awkward lies in very penal Bermuda rough.  Once in the second cut, either off the fairway or green side, the ball sat down and was very difficult to extract with clean contact.  Despite the ragged conditions on the greens, I managed to have a good day putting as the surface of the practice putting green mirrored that of the course and left me very comfortable with the speed.

#8 has its own driving range which was beautiful but was only half opened and got very crowded during the morning warm-up with some folks waiting a few minutes for a spot.  Double teeing was the culprit and I’d like to see the course avoid that practice.  There was an excellent short game area that included several mowed approaches and a good size bunker.  A second smaller putting green was located next to the first tee which was convenient.

We left thinking that if conditions were better, #8 would be a great play.  That being said, we had a very fun day and I carded a six-over 78 from the blue tees which were playing at 6,698 yards.

Pinehurst #8 – post round on the range

Game is peaking for Pinehurst!

11 days and counting until Pinehurst!  The good news is that last weekend I practiced twice at Bear Trap Dunes in Delaware and felt real good.  The second day’s practice included full swing and short game and was extremely productive.  One more pre-trip tune up round scheduled for this weekend and I should be set.  Hopefully Hurricane Irene will hold off long enough to get in my work on Saturday.

The line-up for Pinehurst:

Saturday, 9/3 – #8

Sunday, 9/4 – #4

Monday, 9/5 – Bucket list round on #2, yeah baby!

If anyone has any playing tips for any of the three courses, send ’em my way, thanks!