Tag Archives: practice

The Power Of Visualization

We golfers are a weird lot.  When we experience success on the golf course, we try to reverse engineer our process, thinking, mechanics, and whatever else happened during the round and attribute it to something we deliberately did.  Then we have the secret sauce.  Once captured, we simply replicate for every shot in every round and presto! We are a better player.  So, here’s mine from today 😊 

It started on the range last weekend.  I had watched a lesson with Lee Trevino where he stood conventional wisdom on its head and recommended to the student to, “not aim at anything and just get a consistent ball flight.  Once you see that, you can start aiming.”  Have you seen this video circulating?  I love the Merry Mex and tried this for about 10 balls before dispensing.  That tip is for the birds. . .you should always be aiming at something.  After a reset, I tried a visualization exercise in my pre-shot routine.  From behind the ball, I tried to envision the exact ball flight I wanted.  I held it in my mind’s eye, and astride in my setup, continued to visualize the ball flight.  This was the only thing I was thinking of.  As soon as I looked down at the ball, I pulled the trigger.  Results were impressive.  11 GIR and a 4-over round after five straight weeks of not touching a club.  I used this technique for full swings and all short game shots. 

After the round, I thought about how relaxed I felt all day, and determined it’s related to swing thoughts.  The number of swing thoughts you retain is directly proportional to the amount of tension in your body.  Kill the swing thoughts; release the tension.  It works.

Playing without swing thoughts is not easy and requires practice.  Go hit a bucket using these simple techniques of shot visualization and practice your short game focusing only on the trajectory and landing point for your shots.  See if that doesn’t free you up for some great golf.  Let me know how it goes.

Play well!

Make a Golf Improvement Map

Been getting a few questions lately about methods for improving one’s golf game and overcoming frustrations along the way.  Both are tough nuts to crack, but let’s first address the frustrations.  Recognize that golf is an activity that requires continual learning.  It takes time, effort, persistence, and must be treated as a journey and not a result.  Frustration and satisfaction are companions on the ride.  Players and students of the game come to this realization slowly if they don’t set expectations up front.  The expectations should be documented in an improvement map and include a goal and specific how-to’s.  You’ll find it’s difficult to pursue a general plan like “become a better golfer, “ because the words connote a moving target.

Your improvement map needs specifics.  For example, say you are a player who regularly shoots between 100 and 110.  There’s room for improvement in almost every aspect of your game but not getting focused on where to work can hurt.  Your map should have a goal like:  “Break 100 for seven of 10 rounds by the end of September.”  Then add in the how-to.  This could be:  “Sign up for a series of six lessons on ball striking.  Take one lesson every two weeks.  Practice the lessons twice per week.  Include one round of golf per week.”  Over the course of this journey, you will hit snags and setbacks, but with persistence should expect the balance of instruction, practice, and play to yield benefits.  You may also begin to notice shortcomings in other areas of your game, like chipping or putting.  But remain on task and focused because there will be plenty of time to work on other things.  At this level, you’ll gain a higher level of satisfaction from improved ball striking and eliminating those severely wayward full swing misses. 

Now, say you are a player that shoots in the low 80s.  Totally different map because your swing is more refined.  The more competence you demonstrate, the harder incremental improvement becomes and at this level, a higher degree of dedication is required to improve.  Again, your map should be specific with a goal like:  “Break 80 in five of 10 rounds by the end of September.”  The how-to:   “Take a lesson in chipping and putting.  Practice your learned technique two times per week and play two times per week.  After one month, take another lesson in pitching and bunker play.  Repeat the practice/play cadence.” The focus on short game along with the increased frequency of practice and play should pay dividends.

At any level, increasing frequency is the key because the techniques you learn become second nature.  When you can rely on technique, you think more about making shots. This is where the improvement happens.  The instruction is important because practicing the wrong technique can set you back.  Most golfers struggle with these two areas because they need to find an instructor they can trust and need to make the required time commitment.  Solve for those two, add in an improvement map, and you’re on your way.

Play well.            

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.

Better Golf Through Better Simulation

Perusing the shops in downtown St. Augustine, FL

Regular readers know that I’m a big fan of simulation during practice.  Exercises using this technique have been a great stroke saver because it preps your mind for real course action, gets you out of mechanical thinking mode, focuses you on shot making, and is an exceptional time saver.  Either full round simulation or short game simulation is beneficial. 

This morning, I had two hours to practice and devoted most of my time to a simulated 18-hole round at my home course of Blue Mash.  The whole exercise took about an hour and that included time warming up with about 20 balls.  The best simulations are when you are focusing intently on each shot and do not rush.  Today, I took 30-60 seconds between swings, wiped down the club head and grip after every shot, took an occasional sip of water, and chatted up my neighbor a little.  We were hitting from the absolute front tee on our large grass range and weren’t allowed to use drivers since the last target flag was only 230 yards out.  I resorted to using 3WD on all the tee shots where I’d normally use driver and may have stumbled upon something.

Have you ever thought how much better you’d score if you left your driver in the bag most of the time?  I found this out after only missing one tee shot with the 3WD, and not badly enough so that the ball went into trouble.  Upon reflection, I normally hit driver on 11 of our 18 holes but only need to on five.  You can certainly leave driver in the bag on the par-5s unless you think you can reach the green in two.  I’m not long enough to hit any of our par-5s in two and driver only serves to occasionally get you in trouble.  Just put a 3WD in play and hit one more club on the layup shot and you alleviate a lot of risk.  Anyway, I hit all these 3WDs and shot a solid simulated 2-over round with 13 GIR.  Very encouraging.   

Tomorrow, I’m playing the course for real and am thinking of only hitting driver on the five necessary holes.  This is very important because when you keep the ball in play, your mind remains engaged at a much higher level than when you fight wildness.  The last two times I employed this 3WD strategy in competition, I met with very successful outcomes.  I think I’ll give it a try.

Tee shot on #17 at TPC Sawgrass. Pretty tight!

On a side note, in my recent jaunt to St. Augustine, FL and TPC Sawgrass, I sampled some Jambalaya at Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille in downtown St. Augustine.  It has vaulted up our Jambalaya rankings into the #2 position!  (Rankings are in the left margin of the All About Golf home page).  Harry’s is a New Orleans Cajun style seafood restaurant and is excellent.  If you’re ever in St. Augustine, stop by for a heaping plate of this goodness!

Play well.

You Can benefit from hard practice

If you can break 90 with regularity, you are an advanced player.  One of the hardest things advanced players struggle with is transitioning from practice to play.  If you can steel yourself during preparation the game will come so much easier to you.   If you are in this group, your fundamentals are sound and you have good control of your golf ball around the green.  Follow these practice techniques and you will find transitioning to play is much easier.  Those who don’t usually break 90 should focus their practice on mechanics and not attempt these techniques until achieving a higher level of consistency.  The last thing we want to do is try something that will breed uncertainty and frustration. 

As an advanced player you can pitch, chip, hit bunker shots, and putt with reasonably solid technique.  You’ll need them all in this exercise.  To start, find a short game practice area that allows you to land shots on a green and putt.  Ideally, your practice green has some slope around the edges or is built on a small hill.  My home course has a putting green and chipping/pitching green, but you cannot putt on the chipping green so, I’ve located an alternate facility that satisfies the requirement.  For those in Montgomery County, MD, the venue is Poolesville Golf Course.

This session should take about an hour.  First, warm up your short game.  Take some pitches, chips, and putts from various distances.  Use a variety of clubs.  Next grab two mobile targets.  A lot of courses are using the practice pins that stick in the ground and can be moved.  These are best.  If not available, use two colored golf balls.  Next, place these targets at the top and bottom of sloped areas on the green, so getting a short shot close to either will be extremely difficult and there are no straight putts in close unless you manage to be directly above or below the targets.  The faster the surface the better.  For a visual, think of #15 green at Augusta National at The Masters.  The more difficult the better.

Green Markers; photo courtesy of paraide.com

The drill:

Now play 18 holes of up-and-down.  Throw a golf ball into a greenside lie and don’t improve the lie.  Hit the appropriate short shot to the chosen target and putt your approach until holed.  Use a variety of uphill, downhill, long and short-sided situations.  If you have an old scorecard it often helps to record your score on each hole.  Par is two strokes for each hole.  You will find even your good short shots end up considerably outside of gimme range.  As a reference point, when I play this game at my local muni with flat lies, I usually shoot 42-44 or between 6 and 8-over par for 18 holes.  Today’s session on my difficult setup left me at 50 strokes or 14-over par and I felt I played well. 

Why involve yourself in this masochistic activity?  You’ll find the difficult shots will force creativity into your mind.  It will help you focus on your landing point, the trajectory, spin, and club selection.  Everything but mechanics!  Training your mind to “paint a picture” of the shot is the key to becoming a good feel player around the greens.  This drill is more like playing real golf than dumping a bag shag of 50 balls and chipping each with the same club to a flat target. 

Let’s level set expectations:  You may get frustrated, you may get a little angry, but you will get very satisfied when you hit a great shot, and as you transition to the real course, you’ll notice very few short shots are as challenging at the drill.  Making practice harder than the real game is the secret sauce.  Give this drill a try, then play a real round of golf the next day and let me know how you made out.

Play well!      

If You Watched The Players Championship. . .

You learned three critical lessons.

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

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

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

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

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

Play well!

Does It Take 10,000 Reps To Form A Habit?

Graphic from scaleo.io

I was only eight or nine years old when I first picked up a golf club.  At 16, my parents got me my first set of lessons.  It was a series of six full swing sessions with the local pro.  After the third lesson, I started making pretty good contact.  After the fifth lesson, my instructor asked me if I had broken 80 yet.  What?  I was incredibly confused because I was starting to play regularly and was shooting in the 90s and remember thinking, “I can’t even hit a bunker shot because nobody has shown me how.  How does he think I can break 80?”   He was building in expectations of excellence, but I didn’t know it at the time that he was also teaching me to strike the ball the old fashion way.  On the lesson tee, he was rolling my hands over time and again through the hitting zone and ingraining a reliance on the hand-eye coordination I had developed as a young man.  This worked pretty well, through my 20s and 30s, but I’ve since come to learn that the method he taught has left me with a serious swing flaw (early release) and led me down a path that I need to exit from.

The modern-day player is taught to make the swing from the ground up and initiate the downswing with the big muscles of the legs and butt.  This generates an inside to outside swing path and a powerful strike due to the kinetic energy built up from properly releasing the club late.  You lead with your body, and the hands are along for the ride.  I was given none of that and 44 years later, I’ve come to the conclusion, that to take the next step in game improvement, I need to unlearn this bad habit.

Sounds like a tall task for a weekend jockey, but I’ve got a plan.  Step one has already been accomplished because I’ve identified the problem through video and lesson tee analysis from multiple swing instructors.  All my bad shots stem from this core dysfunction.  I’m still carrying a 4-handicap and you may be thinking, “What’s the problem, that’s pretty good shooting.”  Well, I have been scraping by on short game improvements, and to get more fulfillment, I’ve got to gain more consistency in my ball striking.

Step two is underway.  Deactivate my right hand – the main culprit in the early release.  I’ve removed it from my swing and taken to hitting left hand only shots in my back yard off my range mat. These are little 20 yard pitch shots, but if I release the club too early instead of letting my body pull my hand through the shot, I hit it incredibly fat.  If I do it right, I finish in balance over my left foot with my left arm tucked neatly into my left side (no chicken wing).  Two weekends ago, I hit 100 balls like this.  Last weekend another 100.  Today, I hit 50 one-handed, and mixed in two-handed shots with the last 50. I love this drill because of the pronounced positive and negative feedback.  Right now, about one in four left-handed shots are mishit, but when I put both hands on, the contact is very good so I’m directionally pleased.

Someone said it takes 10,000 repetitions to build a habit.  At this rate, it’ll take 1.5 years to build that in.  I hope it goes quicker than that – wish me luck!  Are you working on any swing changes this winter?

Play well!

Getting Too Mechanical

Photo courtesy of Pinterest

 

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

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

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

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

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

Play well.

 

New Waves of Golf Participants

 

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

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

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

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

Play well!

Your Best Friend

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

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

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

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

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

Do you confuse effort with results?

Are you your own best friend?

Play well!      

Are You Proactive or Reactive?

photo from unwisdom.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play well!

 

 

 

 

 

Playing Great Golf on a Time Budget!

On #13 tee at Arthur Hills – Boyne, MI

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!

 

 

 

Turning Good Exercise into Great Play!

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!

 

 

 

Are You a Good Putter?

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:

Line

Speed

Weather

Difficulty of the green (grass surface and undulations)

Nerves

Quality of short game

Course management

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.

How do you measure your success on the greens?

Play well.

 

 

Is Top Golf Practice??

Top Golf Facility – photo from morethanthecurve.com

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.

Indoor putting green at PGA Superstore – photo by prnewswire.com

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?

Play well!

Help With My Swing!

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!

Thanks!

Driver Face On

Driver Down The Line

7-iron Face on

7-iron Down The Line

 

Striking Solid Iron Shots – Like Matt Wolff

Matt Wolff – photo from bostonglobe.com

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:

Matt Wolff’s Swing 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!

Ready to Restart Your Golf Game?

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

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

Packed practice green and driving range at Reston National Golf Club

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

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

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

Play well!

Great sight out my back yard. Mowing fairways!

COVID-19’s Uneven Effect on Golf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!