Tag Archives: practice

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!

2020 Goal – Do You Have One?

I have one goal for 2020 and it’s process oriented.  Before detailing, I’ve been drawing a tremendous amount of inspiration from the book:  The Score Takes Care of Itself, by Bill Walsh.   The Hall of Fame football coach details his controversial approach to leadership and building a world class organization, but the underlying takeaway is to get immersed in the details of process and good results will naturally be forthcoming.  While a common theme from most sports psychologists, I needed to read his specifics about not confusing effort with results and found it inspiring.

Last season, I stumbled on a process-oriented adjustment in September and rode that to higher confidence and better performance in the Fall, and over the Winter.  The experience was so positive that I will try to leverage for 2020.  In 2013 I had experimented using the nine-shot drill that Tiger Woods made famous and found that difficult to implement.  The drill requires you to hit low, medium, and high trajectories with straight, draw, and fade shot shapes.  I couldn’t do them all but last Fall, during practice sessions and warm-ups I began hitting low, medium, and high straight shots with each club in the bag (lob wedge through 4-iron).  Suddenly while on the course, I felt comfortable calling on any of these trajectories, which allowed me to play more aggressively and with greater confidence.  To execute, you simply move your ball position from back to middle to front with each club.  I practiced this way and warmed-up this way.  The advantage, especially during warm-ups, is that on some days I’d find only one trajectory was working but I could take that one to the course with confidence.

Granted, this is somewhat of an advanced technique and you should have your swing mechanics in pretty good order.  During a lesson last year, my instructor had me hitting full wedge shots using my lob, sand, and gap from the back position, and we really liked the ball flight.  He recommended that I add the shot to my arsenal, and I did.  I then added the other ball positions after experimenting.

Fast forward to this year.   My goal is to get comfortable working the ball.  Do I need to add all six other trajectories in the nine-shot drill?  No.  I’d just like to be able to control a draw or fade with the most comfortable trajectory.  I know my biggest challenge will be with the fade because I hit a little natural draw and I can’t remember fading a ball on demand, but think I can learn this using the same approach.  First up, some experimentation on the range, then off to my instructor to dialog the plan.  If I can work the ball with the same level of confidence, great things are going to happen!

What are your goals for 2020?

Play well!

The Three Keys to Great Golf

Whether you are a beginner or a life-long enthusiast, there are three keys you need to play better golf.  Depending on your skill level, the percentage of your time spent on each will vary.  If you continue to work them all, I guarantee your golf journey will be an enjoyable one.  I use the word “journey” because you never have anything permanently solved in this game.  It’s a constant process of reaching peaks and valleys, and working the Keys will ensure an upward curve of improvement.  Your goal of maximizing the peaks and minimizing the valleys is doable so let’s get started.

The Three Keys:

  1. Mastery of fundamentals
  2. Purposeful practice
  3. Self-accountability

KEY 1 – Mastery of fundamentals:

Most highly accomplished players are ground in a solid understanding of the fundamentals. These include:  grip, aim, posture, conditioning, and learning the proper physical sequence to make solid contact.  There are players on the world stage that are unique in their approach to fundamentals, but one commonality is they almost look identical at impact.  They are particularly adept at learning the proper body sequencing to get them to strike solid shots.  To illustrate, look at the similarities of Jim Furyk and John Daly down-the-line at impact – amazingly similar, and such different players!

Jim Furyk

John Daly

A commitment to solid fundamentals is essential.  Many self-proclaimed hackers stay at their current level because of a reluctance to make this commitment.  Yes, it is hard.  Yes, it is time consuming, but think of anything you are trying to gain a mastery of.  Doesn’t that require a deep understanding of fundamentals and a commitment to improve them?  Golf is no different.

For the average amateur, fundamentals are best learned early, and under the watchful eye of a professional instructor.  Improvement can also be made by the seasoned player at any point by seeking professional help, but the deeper bad fundamentals are ingrained in a player’s swing, the more difficult they are to break.

I took my first lessons 42 years ago and my instructor provided a lot of the fundamentals I needed.  However, he missed on a critical one, and I’ve been working very hard with my current instructor to break the bad habit and re-learn a good one.  I’ve made the commitment and it’s difficult.

Instruction is a lot different today than when I first learned.  The explosion of materials on the internet can confuse a student to the point of reverse productivity if the student doesn’t know how to filter the incoming data.  My recommendation is to find a qualified instructor, take an honest look at your fundamentals, and develop a focused learning improvement plan.  (Generally, the fewer fundamentals you try to fix at once, the better.)  A big side-benefit is that when you make a mistake on the course or during practice, you’ll have a better way to identify anti-patterns, and will stop trying too many different fixes.  Reduce confusion, work your plan, and reap the rewards.

KEY 2 – Purposeful practice:

It actually takes practice to learn how to practice.  Purposeful practice means getting a method to help you learn and retain skill that you can use to execute on the golf course.  Most amateurs don’t practice correctly.  They buy a bucket of balls and head out to the driving range for an hour of banging drivers as far as possible.  This will build ample callouses on your hands, and maybe a good sweat, but will do nothing for your golf game.

Start by seeking out a good practice facility which might include a driving range, practice green for short game, separate putting green, and maybe a bunker.  A lot of serious golfers keep a shag bag with some good quality practice balls nearby.  Mine lives in the car trunk.  You’ll never know when you arrive at a practice facility if there are no balls to work with in the short game area.  Most shag bags have a picker contraption to collect balls without making you stoop over – a must have if you practice a lot of short game.

My Bag Shag

Beginning players should spend about 75% of their practice time working to improve their basic fundamentals – that means full swing.  One school of thought is to learn the game backwards (putting first, moving back to short game, and then full swing), but I am not in favor.  It’s very hard for a beginner to gain enough satisfaction just knocking in three-foot putts.  You need to build enthusiasm with the novice player and golf is an athletic activity.  The thrill of hitting a flush shot is a powerful force.  I remember when I made my first good contact, how amazed I was to be able to hit the ball so far.

As players gain more experience, the percentage of their practice time should begin to favor the short game because of the intricacies of greenside shots.  The spectrum is limitless and the more you can practice a core set of go-to short shots, the more confident you will be on the course and the lower your scores will go.

I have different types of practice routines depending on what I want to work on, but I also have a stock  session I use the day before I play.  It takes about 90 minutes and covers my full game.  It works like this:

  • Start with 30 minutes of short game. I work on chipping with my lob wedge, pitching wedge, and 8-iron.  I’ll try to hit three different chip shots with the lob wedge (low, medium, and high) and I do this by varying the ball position.  Then I’ll hit some stock chips with the PW and 8-iron.  Next, I work on pitching with my lob wedge and sand wedge and I try to vary the distance from the hole.  Finally, I wrap up with a few lob shots and if the practice green is clear, a half dozen bunker shots.
  • Next is 30 minutes on the range. I’ll hit three balls with each of my lob wedge through 7-iron (low, medium, and high trajectories).  Then I’ll skip to my 4-iron for three, and finally take three stock 3WDs and three drivers.  Next I’ll play three simulated holes which uses six or seven balls.  Great things happen in groups of three 🙂  This helps to get my mind off mechanics and in game mode.  The low-medium-high iron shots are a recent change that I’ve found very beneficial and I’ll often repeat this shot pattern warming up the day of a round.  It gives me an excellent feel for the trajectory I’m most comfortable with for that day.  Note how few drivers I hit.  I picked this up after reading an article on how Dustin Johnson practices.  He saves energy and focuses on the shorter clubs which has helped his scoring.
  • The last 30 minutes is for putting. I’ll frame a hole with my alignment sticks and take five groups of 10 putts within the sticks.  This grooves my stroke incredibly well and boosts my confidence within five feet.  I’ll take three long lag putts between the groups of ten, just to break up the routine.  Finally, I’ll finish with two rounds of the 5-star drill.  This is where you place five balls in a star pattern around a hole and try to make all five going through your full pre-shot routine.

Putting station using alignment sticks

KEY 3 – Self-accountability:

Golfers fall into two camps.  Those that play for fun and those that are more serious about their games.  There is nothing wrong with either and you can certainly have fun while being serious about your game.  If you play for fun, enjoy yourself, be courteous to your playing partners, mind the pace of play, and leave the course better than you found it.  That’s all the accountability you’ll need.  But if you are a serious player, you need to exhibit an honest approach regarding scoring.  Being accurate with your score means playing by the rules, taking your penalty shots, and putting out the shorties.  You will find that if you hold yourself accountable during the casual rounds, tournament play is much less of an adjustment.  You’ll be surprised how many players get thrown off their game when they must hole every three-foot putt.  Bang ‘em in during practice, bang ‘em in during casual play, and you’ll have a much better shot when it matters.

For those that carry a handicap, accountability means keeping an accurate index.  You also need to pay off any gambling losses immediately.  Once you get caught playing to a lower handicap in a tournament (sandbagging) your reputation will precede you in a bad way.  Welching on bets or worse, being labeled a cheater because you’ve taken other’s money unfairly, can stay with you forever.  If winning a small side-wager or even a large tournament purse is more important than playing fairly, you need to find another endeavor.  Just do the right thing and you’ll be fine.

Summary:

As a life-long enthusiast, I have been afforded the luxury of excellent professional instruction.  It’s a great way to get introduced to the game if you’re just starting.  I’ve also had the opportunity to try new things (and fail a lot), and to work hard to understand the psychological aspect of the game.  It all adds up to a tremendous experience framed and punctuated by the Three Keys.  Work the Three Keys and enjoy the journey.

Play well!

Looking down #1 tee at Surf Club in Myrtle Beach

Northwest Club Championship

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

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

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

Day One:

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

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

Day Two:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Play well!

 

 

 

 

When Is Too Much Golf?

Have you ever played too much golf?  Has excessive golf negatively affected your game?  How do you come out of an indulgence-induced swing coma and continue to enjoy the game at the height of the season?

You guessed it, I’m in a slump and the problems started with an elevated amount of play.  I’ll spare you the ugly vagaries of what the slump looks like and nail down what happened to help you avoid for yourself.

Back up one month and I was on my annual golf trip in Boyne Highlands, Michigan.  The effort on these week-long sojourns is to overindulge, and the temptation is enticing.   With beautiful weather and pure golf courses, you want to be engaged for every waking hour.  A typical day has you arrive at the course at 7:30 a.m., warm up for a half hour, play your first round, eat lunch, re-warm up for 15 minutes, and play another 18.  The day usually finishes around 7:30 p.m.  You grab a shower, eat a late dinner and do it all over again (five or six straight days).

After two days (72 holes) I was feeling fresh.  On Wednesday, we completed our morning round at Crooked Tree, and I played well, shooting 78 with 11 GIR, but the afternoon round was scheduled on the same course.  The first two days, we had played four rounds over four different courses and the newness of each experience kept your mind fresh.  Crooked Tree is a drop-dead gorgeous track on the south shores of the Little Traverse Bay, but the allure of the beautiful holes and tremendous scenery were absent for round two.  It appears that a slump may be induced as much by mental fatigue as physical, because my concentration and swing departed in the afternoon.  On day four, I awoke with a pain in the left side of my neck and couldn’t even turn my head 90 degrees to look at my target.  The morning round was a disaster and after nine Advil, it finally loosened so I could at least play the afternoon.  On day five, I was whipped enough to only play 18 and was just going through the motions.

When you’re on a trip, you desperately want to play your best, and when your swing goes, you can ride the poor streak out and hope it comes back or try and fix it.  The lethal combo I encountered was fatigue + mechanical thoughts (trying to fix it).  For me, good play begins with the driver.  Excellent play begins with dialed in irons.  On day three, my driving became erratic and ever since I’ve been back, I’ve struggled to hit the fairway.  Clearly, I need a reset and have scheduled a lesson next Saturday.  The good thing about my instructor is that even when we work on my swing mechanics, the message is single-threaded.  He has me focus on one thing and the simplicity of message gets me re-focused.

On future trips, the message is also clear.  I need to conserve mental and physical energy which means restricting myself to 18 holes per day.  I realize that this year, after day two, I had played as many holes and hit as many practice balls as a regular tour pro on a tournament week (well almost).  That’s a bit much for this desk jockey.

Have you had a recent slump?  I hope these lessons learned will help you avoid the next one.  Play well!

 

Learning From My Putting Overhaul

This is the story of how I am working a significant change in my putting and how you may be able to leverage some of my changes to help yourself.  While I generally try to improve every aspect of my game, rarely do I attempt a component overhaul as I have done with my putting in 2019.  The decision was driven by my frustration with poor distance control, and inability to hit short putts with confidence.  The timing of the change was ideal in 2019 because every year I travel to Myrtle Beach to play a week of golf and the transition to the southern putting surfaces (mostly Bermuda) drives me nuts.  To grapple with the slower green speeds and grainy surfaces, I found myself altering my grip pressure, changing the pace of my stroke, and struggling to get the ball to the hole.  But this year, we are not going to Myrtle Beach and have opted for a week at the Boyne Highlands resort in Michigan.  At Boyne, all the surfaces are Bentgrass and are consistent with what we play on in the mid-Atlantic.  I figured with that parameter controlled, what better time to go for a putting overhaul.

To frame the problem, you first need an honest assessment of yourself.  Here’s mine:  In the past, the closer I got to the green, the worse I’ve played.  My strength has always been my driving and course management and my Achilles heel; my putting and short game.  For the past three seasons I had averaged 32.5 putts per round which was unacceptable.  Prior to the overhaul, this season I was averaging 33.6.

My struggles have been twofold:  distance control on the lags and confidence on the shorties.  Last year I paced off my putts and tried to groove a stroke for different distances.  This worked for a while until I found myself on greens with different speeds.  I couldn’t adjust, and the system fell apart.  In accordance, I had a reluctance to hit the ball hard enough on the shorties.  I could not make myself do it, and putts not hit with pace are affected too much by break and usually miss low. It was truly an endless source of frustration.  After a particularly costly miss of a short putt in a round on May 25 of this year, I decided to launch the overhaul.   I wanted to ram in my short putts and develop a great feel for distance on the long ones.  A simple metric to prove success or failure would be an average of sub 30 putts per round after the changes.

Conventional thinking says you shouldn’t get too mechanical when you practice golf because you’ll never be able to transition from practice to the course and there’s a lot of truth to that.  But I felt my primary problem was one of consistency borne from a lack of confidence.  So, I designed a practice routine blending fundamentals with feel.  Here it is.

Enhanced Putting Drill Station

To improve my short putting, I started by committing to taking 50 4-foot putts every time I practiced.  Whether I was at the range or putting green or doing some chipping, some part of the practice had to include these 50, and since I started, that’s amounted to at least 150 per week.  I began by putting into a hole framed by two alignment sticks but found that two tees spaced 4 inches apart worked better and were slightly smaller than a regulation cup (at 4 ¼ inches).  Additionally, I could set up this station anywhere on a putting green and not interfere with other players.  I’ve recently enhanced the drill by placing a couple irons behind the tees (see photo) to catch my golf balls. IMPORTANT:  The key in using this configuration is to always have enough pace to have the ball roll through the tees, hit the front club, pop up, and settle between the two clubs.  Seriously, it works!  Use this feedback to teach yourself what a firm well struck short putt feels like.  If you don’t make that ball pop over the first club, you are putting too tentatively.  To measure success, I will count how many passed through my tees without touching one.   On good days, I make all 50.  My worst has been 43, and I’ve learned to use this drill to focus on making a good rhythmical swing.  I’ll use a mantra of “Tick-Tock” to get the ball rolling with enough oomph to pop over that first club.   I borrowed the thought from Paige Spiranac who uses “One Potato – Two Potato” in her video.

Use whatever works that helps you build rhythm, because rhythm is the best yip fighter on the planet and you will trust yourself to bang those shorties in the back of the cup.

To build feel for distance, I’ve experimented a lot and have settled on a very simple method.  During your setup for any length putt, set your putter behind the ball and align it at your target.  Sight your target next to or in the hole and stare at it for a couple seconds.  Burn the vision of the target into your mind’s eye.  Then look down and immediately begin your stroke.  The more time you spend looking at your target and the less spent looking at the ball helps associate your brain with the force required to cover the distance.  Do not sit there locked up over your putt staring at the ball.  That builds tension.  Inevitably you will get more balls to or past the hole using this method.  It’s analogous to shooting free throws with a basketball.  You toe the line, bounce the ball, maybe spin it a little, regrip it, but the whole time you have your eyes on the back of the rim, your target.  You never look at the basketball right before you shoot, do you?  Watch any professional baseball pitcher.  They have all kinds of different windups but are always looking at where they wish to locate the pitch, not at the baseball in their hands.  Same concept.

It’s been a month and a half since I started the overhaul and my putts per round average has fallen to 30.17 so I’m encouraged.  This is difficult and what I learned about improvement on this scale is that there is no magic bullet.  It’s about consistent practice and small tweaks to your approach.  If you keep working the fundamentals over time, the odds will rebalance in your favor.

Give this a try if you want to improve your putting and let me know how it goes.  I’m off to bang another 50 free throws.  Play well.

The Hardest Shot in Golf – Conquered!

Playing from a fairway bunker at Oyster Bay

What’s your hardest shot?  For me, it’s the long bunker shot.  You know, 50-60 yards and perhaps over another bunker or with water behind the green.  The shot places seeds of doubt in your mind and what follows is not pretty.  It’s made more difficult by the infrequency that it occurs.  I don’t practice it, will go several rounds without confronting it, and often play away from it altogether.  Yesterday, I learned how to hit it.

I had been struggling with consistency in my green-side bunker game and went to my pro for a lesson.  He had me hit a few shots to a close in flag with my lob wedge and quickly identified a flaw in technique.  I was forward pressing the grip and that was causing me to hit the shot heavy (take too much sand and leave the ball short).  The fix was to move my hands back – even or slightly behind the ball which allowed me to use the bounce in my wedge to slap the sand in a more aggressive motion.  Not very complicated and the burst of adrenaline from the “ah ha” moment teased me with anticipation.

This practice bunker has targets at 20, 40, and 60 yards and the lesson progressed into hitting shots with the new technique at varying distances.  I changed out to my 54-degree sand wedge for the longer green-side shots.  The new setup allowed me to approach with an attack mindset.  I now controlled distance with club selection, how fast I swung, how hard I hit the sand, and with the confidence that I wasn’t going to chunk or blade the shot.

In the past, my aversion to the long bunker shot was rooted in the belief that I didn’t have enough power to take sand and get the ball to the hole.  But I do!  We talked about choice of wedge for this shot and my pro said he adjusts by squaring the face on a sand wedge or gap wedge.  Gap wedge?  I had never thought of that and tried a few with the square blade at 60 yards and presto!  Never in a million years did I think I could hit an explosion and cover the distance.

We then moved to uphill, downhill, and side-hill bunker shots.  I hit a few out of footprints and learned this was an excellent way to practice.  Don’t get married to hitting simple 20-yard shots from a perfectly raked lie.  We finished up with some 9-iron, 7-iron, and 4-iron fairway bunker shots.  Of utmost importance out of the fairway bunkers is to keep your lower body and your head as still as possible.  I made good contact on most of these but without the lower body rotation, pulled them a bit.  I learned I need to aim a little right and allow for it.

Finally, we dialoged set make-up.  I recently purchased a TaylorMade M6 3-hybrid and had been considering dropping a wedge to get to 14 clubs.  He advised against this because the wedges are key in scoring situations which should be my top priority.  We agreed I should remove my 3-iron instead.

This was a fantastic learning experience.  My only regret was that a steady wind was blowing in our face for the entire lesson.  After nearly a hundred balls I was caked; but was beaming with confidence. 😊

What is your toughest shot to execute?  Need any help with that?

Play well!

 

Zombie State – Broken!

From vectortoons.com

Dr. Bob Rotella is fond of saying, “putt like you don’t care if you make it.”  The advice is supposed to keep you focused on your routine and not let pressure situations alter your nerves or approach. Can you take this to the extreme?  I did, and was not getting mad at myself when I’d three-putt or miss a make-able shortie and had started to wonder; do I really care?  Why am I playing like a Zombie?  That was until two weekends ago playing The Links At Gettysburg.  We were coming up the 18th (a reachable par-5) and I had ripped a long drive to within 180 yards in the left rough.

18 green seen from the clubhouse

The approach was over water and I picked a 4-iron and stuck it two feet from the cup.  As I approached the green, I sort of conceded the eagle putt in my mind.  It was one of those that would normally be conceded in a match but if you’re just playing for score, you should putt it out. . .because it’s for eagle.  So, I casually strolled up, tapped it and missed left.  Now that was surly the shortest eagle putt I have ever blown and at the time I felt a little numb but just shrugged it off – because I didn’t care.  But on the drive home I started stewing.  Why hadn’t I gone through my regular routine on that damn putt!

Now the story gets better.  I’m drawing inspiration from my friend Jim, over at The Grateful Golfer.  Jim was working all winter on his chipping and putting in his basement, waiting for the snow to melt.  He reported his short game was sharp at the season’s start, and I’m reminded of a winter long ago when I built a putting track and used it for a few months.  That spring I was automatic from inside six feet.  So after the round at Gettysburg, I decided to work short game and putting – exclusively.  I even dragged out my old alignment stick drill

Putting drill with alignment sticks

and have been banging groups of 50 4-foot putts to build good rhythm, get centeredness of contact, and start the ball on line.  I want automatic again.  Now this drill is VERY mechanical, but it has worked before and just payed off.

Fast forward to yesterday’s round at my home course, Blue Mash.  “The Mash” hits you with three par-4s at the start of 424, 428, and 453 yards – hard holes.  I hit good putts on 1 and 2 that didn’t go in and bogeyed both.  After a nice two putt par on #3, I hit a great tee shot to #4 which is a 190-yard par-3.  From 20 feet straight uphill, I blew it by six feet and three-putted, but here was the difference.  I got pissed and back in the cart, slammed my fist on the seat.  And then something happened after that burst of emotion; I felt a weird sense of relief, like some strange burden was lifted off my shoulders.  Almost immediately, I regained an amazing level of concentration with my putter and rolled in five birdies and ended up shooting 71 (even par).   It felt good to get mad again because I realized I do care and missed putts do matter.

I seemed to have rescued myself from this zombie like state.  Have you ever gone “Rotella” too far in the opposite direction?

Game Improvement: Managing The Distance Gap

Do you have a specific distance in your game you play away from?  Most players do and it’s because they don’t have a club to cover the yardage or they’ve hit poor shots in the past from the spot.  Since I was fitted for my current set of irons, my gap is 200-215 yards.  I usually hit my 3WD 230 yards but can pooch it 220.  My 3-iron is good up to 195 yards but when I land in my gap, I’m a bit lost.  I have a 5WD that can cover the distance but have hit some horrendous pull-hooks and don’t trust it.  Carpenter or tool?  Probably carpenter, but you need confidence in your stick.

A week ago, my son’s roommate was getting rid of an old set of clubs.  I took them and found a 3 and 4 hybrid included.  They were a little short and had a shaft that was too soft, but I went to the range for a session and found I was pretty comfortable hitting both.  So I threw them, along with my 5WD, in the bag for my Saturday round at Links At Gettysburg.  Turns out it was TaylorMade demo day at the club and the rep set me up with a M6 3-hybrid that I could test in a bake-off with these second hand giveaways.  Looks like I found my Father’s Day present!

The concern now is what to take out to get to the regulation 14 clubs.  Maybe my 4-iron?  Can I just choke down on a three at the appropriate distance?  Or my lob wedge?  I usually hit either a lob or sand wedge out of green-side bunkers depending on the distance of the shot.  I’m sure I can open up the blade on my sand wedge for high pitches without too much trouble.  Sounds like a good discussion for my next golf lesson.

On a side note, it is Memorial Day.  A big note of thanks to those in our armed services and for those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of our great nation.  I’ll leave you with a gallery of photos of a recent tour my son and I took of Fort Sumter and the USS Yorktown in Charleston, SC.

Play well!

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The Flip Wedge On The Par-5s

Intimidating wedge shot at The Legends -Moorland in Myrtle Beach, SC

Well it’s time for the first tournament of the year on Monday and it’s a scramble.  We’ve discussed strategy and preparation for scrambles before, but I’m taking a slightly different approach.  Generally, scrambles are all about driving, wedge play, and putting.  That much has not changed.  What I’ve struggled with is the short wedge shot on the par-5s.  You absolutely need this shot to birdie or eagle the fives to have a chance.  The flip wedge is not my strong suit and when playing my own ball, I play away from it.  Last time out, I was on a par-5 and drilled a drive and three-wood to 35 yards from the pin.  With no trouble in front of me, I had no clue how to hit the shot because I don’t practice it.  I would hate for the scramble team to have to lay back to a yardage on a par-5.  I simply need to learn this shot.   Whether playing a casual round or in a tournament, this shot can make the difference between an up-and-down birdie or a disappointing approach and two-putt.  Of course, there are times you’ll need to lay back, especially when there’s trouble 30-50 yards from the green.  Nobody wants a bunker shot of that length, but I want that flip wedge in my repertoire; I NEED that flip wedge!

Last Saturday, I took my first lesson of the year and addressed with my instructor.   He had me hit about 100 balls during the session, with nothing but my 58, 54, and 50.  We worked on partial swings with each club and he showed me the right way to hit these shots.  I learned that most amateurs take too big a backswing on partial wedge shots and try to control the shot by slowing the down swing.  This often results in an over-the-top pull or a chunk, because the hands and arms get way too active.  If you want to see if you’re susceptible, try hitting five full sand wedges and then pick a target 30 yards out and try to get it close.  When I did this, I bladed the first two.  It’s hard to swing close to full with a finesse club like a wedge and then throttle down.

I learned that you need to control the shot with your body.  Take a slightly open stance with the ball a little back of center and make a short backswing.  Then accelerate your lower body turn to make a good pivot.  This is where you get your swing speed, your aggressive strike, a small divot, that lower ball flight, and that sweet little check to stick it close.  You might hit it with a little cut spin, but that’s okay.  When you learn to control shots with your body and quiet the hands, you’ll have more success here and in every aspect of your short game.

Here’s a great drill.  If you are going to work your wedges, take a club and pick three targets at varying lengths and rotate every ball between them.  During the lesson, he had me hit my lob wedge at targets 60, 40, and 30 yards out, but never the same shot twice.  When you get comfortable with the length of the short backswings and driving the shot with your pivot, you’ll know you’re on the right track.  I’ve got the technique, definitely need to practice, and am excited to develop this new part of my game.

No more laying up on the par-5s!

Play well.