One of the small prices to pay when you play Covid-19 golf in Montgomery County, MD is that golf courses removed rakes from their bunkers. The expectation was that you smooth the footprints with your foot or a club. We now know that the virus is not transmitted on inanimate objects like rakes, golf holes, and flag sticks, but the regulations were implemented out of an abundance of caution. Well, I chuckled last weekend as I sat in my cart next to the 5th tee, removed my left shoe, and dumped a small load of sand that I picked up from smoothing bunkers on holes 2, 3, and 4.
Fast forward to yesterday where I played nine holes at my local muni after work. Bam! No masks in the clubhouse. No pool noodles in the holes. Rakes in the bunkers. Imagine being confronted with all this luxury. We pulled flag sticks, smoothed our footprints, and shook hands with our playing partners. It was like watching the pros on TV and was just awesome.
I realize the pandemic is not over, especially in countries outside the United States. The status of the Olympics in Japan is in doubt and many of the colleagues I work with in India, on a daily basis, have been severely affected. Thanks to the vaccines, we are starting to reopen and my little sojourn into golf course normalcy was a pleasant surprise.
When the average feels like luxury. Hope you are getting back to normal wherever you are.
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!
Today was the first day back from Covid hiatus and I am beaming with satisfaction. It did not hurt that it was 85 degrees and sunny and a perfect day for playing hooky from work. I have been practicing weekly during the pandemic and even though it has been two months between actual rounds, it was really my 10th round of the year when you factor in my five pre-Covid rounds and five days of February golf in Myrtle Beach. All things considered; my game was sharp. I drove it well, hit some solid short irons and carded a 6-over 77.
Courses in Maryland have been open over a week and are widely divergent in how each are handling their response to the emergency. I am fortunate because my club, Blue Mash, is focused on providing a golf experience as close to normal as possible. First, the golf course and all practice facilities were in excellent shape. The crew had obviously taken the down time and spent it wisely. Greens were running fast and true, bunkers were nicely edged, and the sand was smooth (but without rakes), and all sources of shared water were removed from the course. Most excellent was the handling of the pins. They set the traditional flag stick holders upside down in the cups which allowed us to sink putts and have the ball just rest slightly below the grass for easy retrieval. I was happy they didn’t deploy a system that would leave some ambiguity as to whether the ball was holed. We played one player per cart, but you could double up with a family member or someone from the same household. Either way, there were no openings on the tee sheet until 5:30 p.m. and when we completed at 2 p.m. they had run out of carts. Finally, it was nice that the outside portion of the grill was open, where golfers could congregate and socially distance comfortably for some food and drink after their rounds.
There were only two minor issues. I detected a smell on the driving range from a recent fertilization that I would not want to be out in all day, but it was fine for a 30-minute warm up. Second, was the sensitivity of the cart’s newly installed GPS units. On several occasions, we were riding the rough of the hole being played and got audible warning beeps that our carts were out of position. I explained to the shop staff and they said they would make an adjustment.
Blue Mash was packed for a Friday and that’s understandable given how cooped up people were feeling. It was awesome to get out and play real golf again; the season has officially re-started. 😊
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!
Lots of great tidbits floating around Royal Portrush this week adding to the specter of the championship and interest in general.
Justin Rose complaining?
Let’s start with Justin and his criticism of the tour’s condensed major scheduling. Rose never complains about anything and this is the first I’ve heard any top-tier player criticize the format. While I love the back-to-back-to-back rapid fire cadence, I’m with him on this because he’s exposed the tour’s three dirty little secrets. 1) There are too many events in the Fall with the FedEx Cup playoffs being the primary culprit. 2) Autumn in North America is for football. 3) They have their eye on the 2020 Olympics falling into the PGA Championship’s traditional slot in August, as was the case in 2016. So, they squeezed everything up front. The football argument is reasonable and there’s nothing they can do. The other two are related. Rose was spot on when he said the majors are the measuring stick for professional success and career legacy. The FedEx Cup is just a money-ratings grab and always has been. Olympic golf doesn’t matter. Rory McIlroy said as much when he declined to participate at Rio. Is anyone going to remember Rose won the gold medal and the FedEx Cup? Probably not. If you eliminate FedEx and leave the Olympics to the amateurs and move the PGA back to its traditional August spot, everything is solved. . .and Justin and Rory can go have a pint.
A new lunch entree?
Speaking of Rory, I don’t recall ever watching a perfectly reasonable round of even-par golf at a major squeezed between a quadruple and triple bogey on #1 and #18. Should we call that a “Rory Sandwich”?
What is up with Phil Mickelson? He looks great after starving himself for six days and consuming nothing but coffee. Admittedly, he did lose 15 pounds, and at 49 must be trying to defy gravity or get a Starbucks logo on his bag. At least he warned us that this “might” not do anything positive for his golf game. After shooting +5 in round one he was right.
And finally, some in the press made a big deal out of Brooks Koepka not acknowledging Tiger’s request for a practice round and possible brain picking session with Koepka’s caddy, Portrush native Ricky Elliott. Sorry Tiger, there are no shortcuts. And where have you been while trying to peak your game for the majors? It certainly hasn’t been out on tour. Will Tiger miss another cut? Was The Masters a fluke?
What makes him tick? As we approach the final major of the season, my intrigue continues to grow with his amazing success. He is extraordinary in the big events but rather ordinary in the regular tour stops. How does he turn on the mental supercharger for the majors? Few athletes in history have been able to turn it on in big events to the same extent. Great golfers like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods demonstrated fantastic ability to concentrate, but their performance was more evenly distributed across all their events.
Sports fans old enough to remember the Hall of Fame running back John Riggins, recall Riggo hated to practice and almost never did. He was often in the hospital injured during the week, or out carousing and making trouble, but come game day, he could turn on an amazing level of focus and concentration and performed brilliantly. Football is a sport where you are very dependent on the performance of others. Golf is not. Koepka has no offensive line to run behind which makes his majors performances even more remarkable.
In perhaps his greatest book on sports psychology (How Champions Think), Bob Rotella sites “single-mindedness” as the most important key. The greats demonstrate it time and again and sometimes at the cost of other important aspects in their lives. Tiger certainly had single-mindedness and learned it from his dad. Maybe his personal failings later in life were a cry for help due to the strains of single-mindedness at an early age. Michele Wie’s parents tried to enforce single-mindedness before she was ready and may have ruined a great golf career.
Koepka doesn’t appear to be single-minded at all. He doesn’t sweat the majors any more than you or I would going to an important meeting at the office. He does abide by a corny half-baked idea that it’s easier to win the majors because he has fewer opponents that will be in contention for a variety of reasons. Does that really work; can you trick yourself into performing better by simply believing you are superior? For example, could your son or daughter excel in an important event like taking the SAT and expect superlative performance by thinking half the other students in the class will choke under the pressure? There may be some truth to it.
More importantly, is there something we (the average amateur) can adopt from his approach that will help our games? Think back to a time when you put on a great performance for a big event. A couple months back, I presented at a professional conference and was rather nervous at the thought of getting up in front of my peers for an hour. What if I stumbled or said something stupid? But, I nailed the presentation. How? I practiced the heck out of it until I was so sick of it I could do it forwards and backwards. On a few occasions, I’ve been able to mentally trick myself into performing better on the golf course by playing without any swing thoughts, but that doesn’t sustain for more than a few holes. The only tried and true method I’ve found is consistent practice, but it’s important to get feedback from someone other than yourself during the practice. I did that presentation alone and for family members and got constructive feedback that made it better.
So next time you’re on the practice tee or working short game, ask for feedback. In the best case, get it from a professional instructor. Learn the right way and practice.
And yes, Brooks Koepka is my pick for the 2019 British Open. I’ll ride him until he bucks me off.
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.
Unless you live on Pluto, you can’t help but notice the recent trend of professional sports franchises “tanking” one or more consecutive seasons to improve the future prospects for their organization. Specifically, tanking refers to the deliberate and knowing attempt to lose games or have poor seasons and lower your team’s position in the standings and thereby garner higher draft picks. It’s commonplace in the four major sports and was most recently on display with the outhouse to penthouse success stories of the 2016 Chicago Cubs and 2017 Houston Astros. Recently, Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA Dallas Mavericks, was fined $600K for outwardly proposing to his team that they tank games. Tanking is something you do, but it’s bad form to discuss it. Personally, I find the practice disturbing. As a fan, and a paying customer, I’m always looking for my teams to put their best product on the field at all times.
Would tanking be permissible in golf? Does it happen in unbeknownst ways? What I love about professional golf is the pure meritocracy. Nobody better exemplifies this than the greatest player in the 21st century, Tiger Woods. Whenever asked about his goal for the week or tournament, Tiger responds with the same answer; “Win the tournament.” I have no doubt given Tiger’s history, he may set winning as a goal every time out, but does he really believe it? I don’t think so. Give his recent bout with injuries, he may not think he can win, but that doesn’t mean he’s tanking. On a few rare occasions, Tiger appears to go through the motions when he’s not playing well, but he’s still trying. He just may not be there mentally. It’s happened to everyone who’s played the game and is not tanking.
Tanking in golf would be extremely hard because each player is an individual competitor. You’d have very little to gain and you can’t control the actions of other players. The most remote example I could conjure up would be a player holding down the final Ryder Cup position on either the US or European team. If that player wasn’t playing well, and wasn’t injured, they would be expected to play for the team if they secured a spot. What if that player “took one for the team” and deliberately played poorly enough in the final qualifying events to allow another player to overcome them in the standings. Would this be a tank? What would your opinion be of this practice? I’m a little mixed on this.
2017 was an awesome year of resurrection for my golf game. Going into the season, my index had crept up over 6.0, my ball striking was in the crapper, and I had turned 56. I was beginning to ask questions like, “Will I ever play good again?” It hadn’t escaped me that on the senior tour, guys traditionally hit the wall at 56 and fail to seriously compete because of their advancing age. Was this happening to me?
To find out, I bit the bullet and signed up for a series of golf lessons with an instructor who had given me some hope with a single lesson in the summer of 2016. I liked his teaching style, he got results, and I had tried to DIY for the last few years without success. The one metric I focused on was improving greens in regulation from eight to 10 per round. I found that a single goal helped improve my focus and dedication. After all, I was trying to break 40 years of bad habits, build some good habits, and enjoy myself during the process. Trying to focus on too many things would confuse my pea brain.
I started lessons in April and found the first couple difficult. Breaking the bad habits was very hard. Playing right after lessons is even more difficult but I had committed to playing more “golf swing” than “golf” for the entire season, which helped me be patient. In mid-series, I took my annual golf trip to Myrtle Beach. We typically play long difficult courses and you’d better strike it well to have a chance. With my mind still in mechanical mode, I managed to average 8.3 GIR on the trip and only had four rough rounds out of 10. I noticed I was enjoying a significant distance add with my driver, but was still experiencing too many big misses (pull hook) with mid and long irons. My last round was an 88 at TPC of Myrtle Beach. TPC is a course where big misses punish you. The course was also in my head and I never have played well there. A funny thing happened though. After the round, we had a quick bite and went out for a replay. We got in nine holes before lightning terminated the round, but I started to play better and left the course filled with hope.
After the trip, the lessons started to take hold and I experienced a great stretch from July 9 through mid-October where I averaged 10.75 GIR and played better than I have in years. On November 3, after a great 1-over round on a tough golf course (Hog Neck), my index dropped to 3.9 which was all the validation I needed that my approach had been correct. I finished the season with a 4.0 index and while not having hit my goal of 10 GIR (actual was 9.03), couldn’t have been more satisfied.
The big takeaway: I am not finished because of age 🙂 The guys on the senior tour slip at 56 because they’ve been playing close to the top of their ability when age hits. In my case, I had (and still have) loads of room for improvement, and even as I age, should be able to better my technique.
We never put our clubs away here for winter in the DMV and last year we had no snow and played right through to spring, but I’m considering this season a wrap. The year was mentally exhausting and I need a break. In 2018, I’m signing up for another series of lessons and hope to continue the journey wherever it takes me.
Have you ever tried to change something in your golf swing and experienced profound rapid success? And then you tried the exact same move the next day only to have nothing work?
The following story is true. . .
On Thursday of last week, I reviewed five years of down the line swing videos of myself. Of course, I was looking for a swing key that would carry me the next three days on my golf trip to the eastern shore. What’s amazing is that over the five years, I worked on many parts of my swing and implemented many changes, but my move looked strikingly similar in each video. With the slight exception of my most recent video, I tended to lift my head up about three inches on the backswing and then move about three inches backward during the downswing. My “reverse L” was clearly causing me to lose my spine angle. How could anyone hit the ball correctly with this much head movement? So, to remedy, instead of one swing key, I picked two. I would point my left shoulder at the ball on the backswing (to keep my head from rising) and sit into my left glute on the downswing (to start the swing from the ground up and maintain my posture).
During my pre-round warm up on Friday at Hog Neck, I was hitting big push cuts with this move, so I did what any reasonable fellow would do and discarded my range session swings as aberrations. On the first tee, I blew a big push cut into the woods and was fortunate to make bogey. I scraped a 2-over front side together on the sheer luck of great putting, all the while struggling with these two moves. On the back side, I jettisoned the sit down move and just focused on “left shoulder down” and began pounding my driver and nutting irons dead at flags. THE MAGIC MOVE HAD ARRIVED!!! After finishing the inward half at 1-under, I was extremely pumped to play on day two.
Ever fill up a balloon and let it fly around the room making funny noises until empty? Armed with “left shoulder down” on Saturday at Eagles Landing, I pumped up and nailed my first three drives, but quickly evolved into a fluttering mess of pull cuts, pop-ups, and chunked irons. What happened? After 18 holes, I looked and felt like that spent balloon.
At Heritage Shores on Sunday, I started with nothing but weak pull cuts off the tee and fat irons. After one particular chunk with a gap wedge from 98 yards that threw a divot almost 45 degrees to the left, I heel spanked a driver on the next tee, and decided something was fundamentally wrong with my swing, but I couldn’t identify. The only thing I felt was unathletic. So, the change I made was to get in a more athletic position at address and forget left shoulder down. I simply flexed my knees a bit more and for the last seven holes was rifling my driver and hitting the irons spot on. What happened here?
In retrospect, when I bent my knees, I re-engaged my spine angle. Just try this and see if you don’t feel some tension return to your lower back. Left shoulder down had become left hip in and a reverse pivot. GAWD this game will drive you nuts!!!
So now I am filled with hope that this latest correction is the one. I should probably go back to my instructor for some serious correction but it’s getting late in the season. We’ll see what happens after tomorrow evening’s range session.
Have you ever asked yourself, “Why can’t I play this sport to the level that I’d like?” Have you also observed folks very proficient in a particular sport and noticed that they have no life outside the sport? This two-way phenomena is known as opportunity cost. From our Economics 101 text book, opportunity cost is defined as: “The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.” It is the chief reason why people underachieve in recreational or competitive activities, and why some who excel in those same activities, may suffer from the failure to take care of themselves in other areas of their lives.
Opportunity cost is not good or bad, it’s just a judgement call each of us make every day about many things. The opportunity cost of an avid football fan who watches 15 hours of games every weekend might be that he has a poor golf game. The opportunity cost of a mom or dad shuttling their kids to youth soccer games, practices, and tournaments every hour of every week might be the inability to work, socialize, or exercise.
To get more clarity, I’m reading Dr. Bob Rotella’s “How Champions Think.” This book gets in the minds of competitors from several sports who’ve made it to the top and identifies some common recurring themes. Single-mindedness is huge. These folks dedicate a good portion of their lives to mastering a craft and it often comes with significant opportunity cost. There are ruined marriages, neglected children, repetitive stress, and burnout, and they are a bit disturbing to read about. If you’re looking to become a champion, this book provides an uncommon but necessary view. Rotella advocates for single-mindedness, but points out it takes very special individuals to manage the competing factions that this level of dedication requires. He cites Jack and Barbara Nicklaus as two of the best in handling them. Unlike a lot of marriages and relationships with tour players and spouses, Jack and Barbara understood how their significant other needed to operate and made it work so that Jack enjoyed the greatest golf career ever, and mostly Barbara raised a wonderful loving and understanding family.
I also just finished Bob Ladouceur’s “Chasing Perfection”. Ladouceur was the head football coach at De La Salle High School in California and led his teams to 12 consecutive undefeated seasons and accumulated a record of 399-25-3 during his tenure. I wanted to know what his secret sauce was. In one passage, he discusses the desires of other kids to transfer to De La Salle and become part of the winning tradition. Most of these transfers washed out when they discovered the level of dedication and demands he placed on his players and coaches for single-mindedness and preparation. These were eerily similar in effort and opportunity cost to the athletes Rotella describes. This book is an eye-opening read.
As an avid golfer, I’ve dedicated more than my fair share of time to gaining and maintaining the skills I need to play to a certain level. I have also suffered the opportunity costs. Let’s face it, golf is a game that requires a lot of time. Each of us has a level of dedication and desire that we need to apply to satisfy ourselves, and mine is more than the average player, but doesn’t come close to the extremes I’ve recently read about. I would be very uncomfortable ignoring key factions of my life to become the best player I could be.
Have you experienced this dichotomy? What’s your level of dedication and single-mindedness? Suffered any significant opportunity costs?
Recently, a friend forwarded an article at The Atlantic by Jean Twenge. The title; Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? It’s a long, disturbing eye-opening read that I highly recommend. The gist is that screen addiction with our youngest generation is worsening their mental health. I have seen first hand some of these effects with loved ones, and to a certain extent myself. I suspect heavy users of devices and social media, such as myself, all are affected by the phenomena of F.O.M.O. (Fear Of Missing Out) to some degree. This is a disorder where you feel the constant need to check your sites, and the distractions associated with the pull of your screens and devices. Folks handle it differently, and I think I manage it reasonably well but have suspected that it’s hurting my powers of concentration. This is not just on the golf course, but at work, at home, in the car; essentially everywhere. I suspect it’s been the case for years and it’s getting worse. So I’m going to run an experiment.
To reduce the effects of device induced FOMO, I will make three changes:
No more checking work email during non-working hours
No more daily use of social media sites (including this one)
Complete elimination of any contact with Facebook for the month of August
So what am I going to do with all my spare time? Play and practice more golf, increase my levels of physical activity, read a book. Doesn’t sound so bad does it?
So if you don’t hear from me in a while, I’m not ignoring you. Just in the lab experimenting with improved concentration!
Readers of this blog know that I’ve committed this season to improving my ball striking through a series of lessons and concentrated practice. I’m giving it all year to see improvement, but sometimes I get inpatient trying to get results that don’t happen when I think they should. But a thought came up after my last round: When things DO break right for you, can you manage success properly? In yesterday’s round, I did not.
The day before, I played nine holes in the morning and then went to the range to practice and gather some swings on film. I wanted to make sure that I was correctly implementing the positions my instructor wanted me in. After lunch, I reviewed the film and spotted a couple areas to work on and headed back out to the range.
Yesterday’s outing at Clustered Spires in Frederick, MD started off well. I warmed up on the range and felt loose and comfortable. At 6,200 yards, Clustered Spires is not terribly long and my game plan was to get as many sand wedge, gap wedge, and pitching wedge approach shots as possible, since I’d been practicing those the most. That would require a good day with the driver and it started out great as I was busting it long and straight. The changes I worked on the day before were clicking.
To make a long story short, the true measure of ball striking success is greens in regulation (GIR), and I hit the first 15. While I didn’t see this ball striking bonanza coming, I was thrilled that the changes I had worked on were taking hold, but at the same time, I was at 3-under par and was STARTING TO EXIT MY COMFORT ZONE!
What happened next was where you figure out how good you are at handling success (or adversity). On the par-3 16th, I missed the green right into a bunker with a 3-iron. The streak was over and it threw my equilibrium off – I had been thinking about it the whole day as the round progressed. I played a nice bunker shot but misjudged the amount of fringe I had to carry and played a poor approach putt from the first cut. I struggled to make bogey. I knew I was choking because I hadn’t hit a short shot in 16 holes and wasn’t sure I could. Still, it was just a bogey and I figured a physical error was bound to happen. It was deflating, as my 18 GIR fantasy bubble was busted.
#17 is a medium length par-4 that I usually hit with a driver/8-iron, and I caught a huge break. My drive hit the cart path on the right and catapulted forward another 50 yards shortening the hole considerably. I was between a sand wedge and a gap wedge but got greedy and went with the gap and tried to fly it all the way to a back left sucker pin. I went long and short-sided myself into a bad lie. Again I choked on the chip trying to be too perfect, left it short, and made double.
#18 is a longer par-4 and my drive was solid but trickled just into the left rough, but the lie was deep in three-inch grass. I pulled an 8-iron left into a bunker and short sided myself again. With no green to work with, I blasted out 30 feet past the flag and three-putted for another double. Wow! Now that’s handling success. Went from 3-under to 2-over in the bat of an eyelash.
I learned a hard lesson here and sometimes you need to learn it more than once. Even when it feels like you’re on cruise control, you MUST take it one shot at a time. Forget your score, forget your streaks, forget your fantasies, and focus on your routine. I’m not disappointed about #16 and #18 because they were physical errors. That happens. But the greedy play on #17 could have been avoided by dropping a sand wedge on the middle of the green and two-putting for a routine par.
Despite the mental breakdown, I’m very excited to see the hard work starting to pay off, and for the first time in a while it felt like I was playing golf instead of golf swing.
How’s your game coming? Handling success and adversity equally as well?
Last weekend I played my 20th round of the year. Tomorrow I embark on the inward half of the journey to completing 40 for the season. The news is mostly good.
After finishing a series of four lessons with my instructor, I’ve seen payoff in three primary areas; driving distance, consistency of contact with the fairway woods, and accuracy with the wedges inside 100 yards. The latter of which was my primary reason for seeking professional assistance. The long iron game remains a work in progress. Mentally, I’m more at peace around the greens after switching back to my old Cleveland Tour Action sand wedge.
What’s most encouraging is my ability to play a good round right after a bad one, and I attribute that to the conviction in my approach. During a period of learning, your swing WILL fall off the rails, but rather than search for a band-aid, if you return to the fundamentals you are trying to correct, more often than not, you will have your fix. Fans of Tiger Woods know that when he changed instructors to Sean Foley, he entered a perpetual state of playing golf swing instead of playing golf. He became an engineer instead of an artist. This is to be avoided at all costs and my goal is to move steadily away from engineering to artistry. I’m still at some point in between but the difference is that when I hit a bad shot, I can take comfort knowing that it’s just the old habits reappearing.
Whether you’re an engineer or artist, at the end of the day, we measure improvement by score. 2016 concluded with my index rising to a recent historical high of 6.3. It’s down to 4.9 which is super encouraging since I’ve just completed the most difficult stretch of the season (Myrtle Beach trip). I had one goal at the beginning of the year and that was to improve to 10+ GIR. Through the tough stretch, I’m still between eight and nine but my index is down which is telling me my proximity performance with the wedges has improved. I also feel more confident with my short game. Now as I distance myself from the bi-weekly instruction, it will be interesting to see how quickly I can return to thinking about shots rather than mechanics.
So the learning process has been very satisfactory. One final note on instruction. My last lesson included only 15 minutes on the practice tee and then we went for a four-hole playing lesson. Get a playing lesson if you can. The time spent on the course with my instructor watching every aspect of my game was invaluable. I picked up information on ball position for bunker shots, course management, club selection, and a simple putting tip that made a huge difference in my round the following day (took only 27 putts).
On Tuesday, May 30, 2017, our travel group teed it up at the Wild Wing Plantation (Avocet course) in Conway, SC. Wild Wing used to host a magnificent 72 hole facility. There was Avocet, Hummingbird, Woodstock, and Falcon. But alas in 2006, Woodstock and Falcon closed as did nine holes on Hummingbird. The huge clubhouse that was previously servicing this golf factory is still there but is sparsely outfitted and looks like it’s more utilized for banquets. In the last ten years, the Grand Strand has lost about 25 golf courses, mostly to housing development, and Wild Wing is certainly a top casualty.
When you enter the grounds, you are confronted with a parking lot the size of the Myrtle Beach International Airport, which is also a leftover from the previous decade of vibrancy. The bad drop was staffed by a single guy who did the unloading, fetching of carts from the barn, and staging of groups for play. Clearly they could have used more help, and we felt something was a little off kilter.
Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)
Our day started off rough because the driving range was closed. I asked the bag guy if I could borrow a cart to go take pictures of the range and he was kind enough to grant that request. The range is actually quite large and beautiful, and is all grass but it was soaking. Balls are sold in the pro shop for $4.00 a bag and it appeared to be a good decision to keep it closed. Playing a strange course with no warm-up and cart path only for the first four holes was rough. Most of the guys were hacking and trying to get loose. The course was wet and played fairly long from the blue tees (6,658/72.7/131).
Now, the Good, Bad, and Ugly.
The golf course is a great play. The greens used to be bent grass but were redone in Mini-Verde Bermuda after the brutal summer of 2011. They were beautiful and rolling true with a medium fast pace despite the moisture. The course has a mixture of parkland routing framing a lot of the par 4s and 5s, and links style architecture around the greens with big undulations on the surfaces, tall mounds protecting the approaches, water in play on tee shots and approaches, and deep penal green side bunkering. You will struggle to get it up and down if your ball striking is off but I thought this was an awesomely interesting mixture of holes with many being unique and memorable. Several of the par-4s are long. #6 at 451 yards with water all down the left, was playing into a stiff breeze. I knew I couldn’t reach and played it like a short par-5. #7, a par-5 at 553 yards was playing in the same direction and took two massive hits to have a shot to reach. #14 is a cool short par-4 with so many bunkers it looked like the face of the moon. Even with rangefinder in hand, it was a bit of guesswork as to where to hit it first time through.
The green part of the golf course was the allure at Wild Wing, with the excellent layout and conditioning. The rest of the grounds needed serious work. Several holes played adjacent in a back and forth direction which is fine, but there were shared cart paths which left you dangerously close to the ball flight of opposing groups and occasionally left you playing a game of chicken with the carts. A lot of the cart paths were crumbling and in a state of disrepair. There were only two water coolers on the entire course, which is a major ding, and one ran dry around 3:00 p.m. This can be dangerous in the summer time heat, as most courses take care to ensure you have fresh water every 3-5 holes. And finally, the on course restrooms were filthy.
Mike and I were the only ones to replay in the afternoon. We were parked by the par-5 15th green and as we were preparing to exit our golf cart, the beverage cart rammed into our golf cart. Mike was holding the steering wheel and the impact jerked our front tires and wrenched Mike’s hand. The cart lady didn’t even apologize and insisted on blaming us for the collision. This left a very sour taste in our mouths and some pain in Mike’s hand and wrist for the rest of the afternoon. As we drove up the 18th hole, we saw the cart lady parked in the rough with her head down. Couldn’t tell if she was texting someone or sleeping off a hangover from sampling her own wares, but she was parked in the same spot for several minutes – very unprofessional.
Value (3.5 out of 5.0)
Avocet isn’t a bad value for just pure golf. Our greens fee on the Founders package was the lowest of any course at $56 and we replayed for $40. This course seems to be a low budget affair with regard to facilities, maintenance, number of staff, and they sink their available funds into keeping the golf course in as good as shape as it’s in. As a traveler and avid player, the whole experience was a bit of a disappointment. There is also some previous day bias because Monday we had opened our trip at Grand Dunes Resort and everything there is first class.
Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)
What’s odd is that everyone working at Avocet was very accommodating, kind, and professional, except for the beverage cart operator. A special thank you goes out to Meagan, who operated the Players Pub and assisted Mike with some ice for his hand after our on course accident. The starter was very flexible and helpful in getting us out for the afternoon. He suggested we start on the 2nd tee to avoid a foursome that had just teed off #1. We appreciated that and played #1 as our final hole after zipping around in 3.5 hours.
Overall Rating (3.0 out of 5.0)
You need some local knowledge to score on this golf course. I shot 88 in the morning and followed that up with a 79 after I was suitably warmed up and knew where to hit it. Again, the course is a fun play but only if you don’t mind the marginal facilities and low budget feel of the place. I’m mixed on a return trip to Avocet.
On Thursday, June 1st, 2017, our travel group teed it up at the Willbrook Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC. The plantation was established in 1798 and a visit here provides a mix of lovely old southern charm with a humbling history lesson. The place is beautiful with large live oaks framing the clubhouse, course, and surrounding residential areas, but you also can find historical markers noting the location of slave quarters and burial grounds that remind you of our 18th and 19th century culture and lifestyle. Everything is done tastefully and the atmosphere is welcoming to all.
Our group has played Willbrook on several previous trips and unfortunately most of those visits were spent in the clubhouse watching doppler radar and sitting on the porch in stately rocking chairs waiting out torrential rain storms. No problem with the weather on this day as we enjoyed broken clouds and temperatures in the 80s, but we had our full rain gear packed.
Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)
You’ll notice as you first enter the facility that everything is on the small size, from the parking lot, to the clubhouse, to the grill area, to the driving range. The range was all grass and was in wonderful shape but only had about seven hitting stations. Balls were $4.00 per bag and were sold in the pro shop. There were two medium sized putting greens; one between the range and clubhouse and the other conveniently located between the clubhouse and first tee. Traffic flowed nicely around the staging area.
Willbrook has Bermuda grass through the green and on this day, the putting surfaces were rolling true and at medium speed but had a light layer of sand applied. The course conditioning was very good with all the tee boxes, fringes, and bunkers neatly manicured. I only remembered a few of the holes, probably because the last time through, we were so focused on keeping ourselves and our equipment dry, the course play-ability and routing were not at the forefront of our minds.
At 6,292 yards from the white tees (70.3 / 129), the course is not an overly stern test. It has a mixture of short to medium length par-4s with all the par-5s playing over 500 yards. If you are driving it straight you can score. As it was, they had many of the pins cut on small crowns and slopes, and while I hit 11 greens, I couldn’t make any putts, but managed to avoid any three-putts, and carded a solid 4-over 76. I recall a much tougher time playing in the rain from the blue tees at 6,722 yards.
A few playing notes:
#1 tee shot is tight (pictured below). You have a big tree on the right to contend with and water on the left. Drive it straight 🙂
#10 is a par-4 that only plays 356 yards but a large oak tree guards the right side of the green. Shots right center in the fairway may be blocked from coming in high, even with a short iron. There’s plenty of room left even though it doesn’t look like it on the tee. Take it.
#18 is a hard dogleg right par-5 and is super tight. There’s a bunker at the end of the fairway 250 yards from the tee. Long hitters should lay up. There’s a big tree on the right guarding the dogleg so you have to get it far enough out there to avoid. Up by the green, there are more large oaks that block the left side of the approach. If you can get it to 100 yards, you can get over them with a wedge, otherwise, you are blocked. Try to keep it right. I felt this hole was a smidgen unfair, as did others in my group.
Value (4.0 out of 5.0)
Willbrook was $71 on our Founders package. The replay rate was $40, which is a good value, and the beauty of the package is that it included a $100 gift card to use at all 21 of the Founders courses. We also learned that the replay rate at Willbrook could be applied at a higher end course, which is exactly what we did. We booked a replay at Willbrook and decided not to use it but called Myrtle Beach National – Kings North, and they let us play the afternoon for the Willbrook price, which was $22 less than the Kings North price. As long as you played your first round on a Founders group course, you can leverage this benefit and I would take advantage of that again.
Customer Experience (3.75 out of 5.0)
The bag drop guys provided snappy service as soon as we pulled in. The pro only had a single replay time when we inquired so we grabbed it. The tee sheet evidently fills up quite fast at this course and I was glad we had the opportunity to replay, but there’s a chance we could have got shut out. We also figured with one replay time, the course would be full and slow. When we replay, we usually enjoy a quicker pace because most courses in the area are empty. It pays to look for courses with more than 18 holes when you consider replaying. Our decision to play at Kings North was a good one, as they have 54 holes and we flew around in under four hours.
On the course, the marshals kept play moving and were friendly and helpful. The pace was good as we were in threesomes and were never pushed and did not have to wait on any shots.
The grill area is small and has a limited selection of food items. After the morning round, I settled for a chili dog, chips and soda that cost me $6.00.
Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)
I enjoy playing this course and will come back to Willbrook on future trips. If you want a medium end course that’s not too difficult or expensive, add it to your playlist.
Erin Hills, site of the 2017 US Open, has been characterized as long, bouncy, devoid of trees, and with perfect greens. No major has ever been contested here and the course otherwise remains a mystery. A par-72 layout is rare for the US Open and may lend itself to less of the traditional fairways and greens grind and more of a birdie-fest. You’d think that’s not in the best interest of the USGA, and I hope they set it up tough but fair. After all, this is not La Quinta, and golf fans don’t expect to see 20-under win the tournament.
Unlike The Masters, not all the big names are in top form. Rory McIlroy is coming off a broken rib and missed the BMW Championship in Europe in late May. Ruled out. Dustin Johnson, would be a natural pick and he may be fully recovered from his butt busting slip down the stairs at Augusta, but his game hasn’t recovered. I didn’t like his form at Memorial (+8 and a missed cut).
A key statistic I like for the US Open is the little known “bogey avoidance”. This is an excellent indicator of short game proficiency, course management, and mental toughness, all critical elements for US Open success. DJ is ranked #2 which demonstrates the improvements he’s made to his short game. I was considering Jason Day, but he’s way down at 129th. Day gets into too much trouble with his driver and his putting and concentration seem off this year. He’s out.
I like the form Justin Thomas and John Rahm are showing, but mentally they lack a bit of the even keel needed to steady themselves over the grind. Rahm is a hot head and Thomas gets too pouty when things go wrong. This tournament will come down to three individuals. Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, and Masters champ, Sergio Garcia. Rose is hungry after his playoff loss at Augusta. He’s been preparing diligently for this tournament and even skipped last week’s Memorial, which I’m not sure was a good idea, but he’s focused and I’m throwing out his final round 80 at The PLAYERS as an aberration. Spieth has seen a remarkable resurgence in his GIR stats, going from 145th last year to 4th in 2017. Garcia, is arguably the first or second best ball striker in the world, which ultimately won him The Masters. Despite his first major win, I still didn’t like the way he putted at Augusta, and his putting stats are just awful. You can’t win the US Open putting badly.
Put a great course manager and the best putter in the world on great greens, and you have a champion. The All About Golf US Open kiss of death goes to Jordan Spieth.
The “One Ninety” is the new roller coaster at Busch Gardens named after my recent golf trip to Myrtle Beach. Playing 189 holes in six days with a series of golf lessons fresh in your mind was the inspiration. What the hell was I thinking? Folks, don’t try this at home without plenty of cold beer and Advil.
First the good news. The weather was terrific and the company of my friends was fantastic. Most days we had six players and went off as two threesomes and sometimes a single would be paired along giving us the opportunity to meet fellow travelers and on occasion, a local retiree.
On the golf course, of the ten full rounds played, I managed to break 80 five times, which is good for me and the most since the 2011 trip. The bad news was three of the other rounds were 88, 88, and 89 but I seemed to follow a bad one with a good one more easily than in the past. In short, the fun part was pulling off shots I knew I couldn’t hit in previous years because of the swing work I’d been doing with my instructor. The hard part was obviously playing golf swing while attempting to play a ton of golf shots over a protracted duration. But whenever I got into a bad rut, I would return to the swing keys my instructor gave me and usually correct on the spot. In the past, I’d often be searching in many different directions for a band-aid. While the courses were beautiful, some were very difficult, and I had hoped after two months of instruction and practice that the new habits would be more ingrained, but alas I wasn’t quite ready to go Justin Thomas on Hawaii.
My review for TPC of Myrtle Beach is up and reviews are coming for Willbrook and Wild Wing Avocet. Most of the courses have gone to Bermuda greens in lieu of the higher maintenance cool season grasses. It was a pleasure to play six straight days on the same surfaces, albeit with different speeds and undulations. Putting Bermuda is difficult coming from Bentgrass greens because it is grainy. When the ball slows near the hole, the grain will throw it off line and often on longer putts, part of the putt will be with the grain and part against. Up close, you need to summon the courage to bang your short putts and take some of the break out. Generally, I had a good feel for the speed but didn’t master the shorties. Game report card:
Fairway woods: A-
Mid and long irons: C-
Short irons and wedges: B
Short game: B
Lag putting: A
Short putting: D
Course management: B
I loved this trip and just to cap the roller coaster ride, our plane trip home to Baltimore was uneventful until the final 30 seconds. We were literally seconds from touching down and the pilot pulled back hard on the stick and gunned his engines sending our stomachs to the floor and the blood rushing from our heads. He informed us as he circled around that another aircraft was on our runway. Thank God our guy was paying attention even if the air traffic controllers were not!
On Saturday, June 3rd, 2017, our travel group had the pleasure of playing TPC of Myrtle Beach in Murrells Inlet, SC. For visitors to the southern end of the Grand Strand, this Tom Fazio design is in the the top tier of courses along with True Blue, Caledonia, and Pawleys Plantation. Most golf courses have one defensive feature whether it be fast greens, narrow fairways, or whatever. TPC has them all. The course is lined with tall pines and strategically placed fairway bunkers that frame long difficult tee shots. There are deep green side bunkers, plenty of water, and fast Bermuda greens. An outing here is not for the faint of heart or those with crooked drivers. Bring your A-game, plenty of golf balls, and prepare for one heckuva challenge!
Facilities (4.5 out of 5.0)
TPC was built in 1999 and has a prestigious history. The course hosted the 2000 Senior PGA Tour Championship (won by Tom Watson) and is the present day home to the Dustin Johnson School of Golf. Inside the clubhouse are several cases smartly displaying DJ’s memorabilia, and the presentation reminded me of the Payne Stewart display at Pinehurst.
After checking in, we started the morning by warming up at the fabulous short game area. The bunkering and approaches were neatly manicured and there were ample spots to set up for all kinds of shots without getting in your neighbor’s way. I don’t usually take sand shots before a round, but the bunkers were beautiful and inviting, and the prospects of visiting sand during the round were high.
When you check in, the bag drop guys get you on a cart immediately which allows you to drive to the range. The grass stations were beautiful, the balls complimentary, and everything was in top shape. At the end of the driving range was a medium sized putting green. If I had a minor pet peeve it was that you couldn’t easily walk to the putting green from the clubhouse and staging area. It seems like it was designed to have players putt last, and right up to the time before they teed off. Again, minor issue, but if I just wanted to come out and putt, the jaunt to the area would be a little inconvenient.
The course was double teeing and we were sent off #10. I find the back nine here more difficult than the front and #10 is a tough hole to start on. While only 360 yards from the blue tees, the tee shot is tight and water comes right up to the front of the green. Sure enough, I rinsed my approach, but manage to get up and down from 100 yards and was thrilled with my bogey 5. We started our afternoon round on #1 which is a par-4 of roughly the same length but has a little more room off the tee and no water guarding. For some reason my eye doesn’t fit #10 and I recall struggling there in previous rounds. Given my druthers, I’d start on #1 every time.
The front nine features three par-4s over 425 yards and #9 actually had the tees at the back markers and was playing 472 yards. Oddly enough, I was more comfortable hitting driver and a fairway wood into these longer holes than some of the shorter par 4s that were tight and well bunkered. The premium on the par-5s is the second shot. You don’t need a fairway wood but MUST stay out of fairway bunkers and water. In short, there’s a premium on excellent ball striking. The greens are fast but are not tricked up. You have to avoid some of the mounding that surround the approaches because pitches from these lies to fast greens are difficult. A word of caution on the par-4 15th hole. The fairway runs diagonal and you must carry a marsh on the left and avoid woods on the right. Take your range finder and shoot a comfortable distance on the far bank of the marsh to aim for. I didn’t measure, thought I hit a perfect drive, and ended up in the woods and with a seven on my scorecard.
We played the blue tees at 6,600 yards and normally that’s a comfortable distance for me. Out here, I’d say if you have a handicap of 5 or less, those markers are suitable but if your iron game is off, as mine was, you’ll get punished. You’ll have a better chance to score playing the whites at 6,193. Next time I may just try them.
Value (4.0 out of 5.0)
As part of our Founders Group package, the cost to play TPC was $109. Our replay was only $42 which was a genuine bargain for a course of this caliber. After 27 holes, the lightning detection system went off and they had to clear the course. It never rained but after a brief delay, we elected to call it quits and the course provided a 9-hole rain check which was good at any time. At this price and the quality of operation and facility, this is a very good value.
Customer Experience (4.25 out of 5.0)
The bag drop staff were excellent and had us loaded literally as soon as we arrived. There was no waiting around to get set up and the organization of the place was evident. The marshals on the course were courteous and had supplies of cool drinking water on their carts. There were ample supplies of water at rest rooms and rest stops which is important when it gets hot and the humidity is stifling. The lady running the beverage cart seemed a bit disinterested in servicing the players and was more focused on just completing her rounds of the course. She did stop in the afternoon when one of our players made a point to flag her down.
Overall Rating (4.25 out of 5.0)
I will be back to TPC and try my luck again next time I’m in Myrtle Beach. This is an awesome golf course from the point of layout, conditioning, and operation. Everything about TPC is first class. Good luck if you give it a try!
Conversation about course reviews, travel, instruction,and opinion. Please join in!