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Rattlewood – Course Review

Tee shot on the par-4 6th at Rattlewood

Summary

Rattlewood Golf Club in Mt. Airy, MD is on the border of Frederick and Montgomery Counties and is one of nine courses managed by Montgomery County Golf.  While not extraordinarily long at 6,501 yards from the championship tees, the course is challenging in certain spots and provides ample opportunities to score in others.  Located in a fairly rural setting, the terrain is rolling but without any significant changes in elevation.  I would not advise on walking because of the considerable distance from green to tee box on several holes.  Every time I have played here I ride and and enjoy the course routing which takes you through a secluded front nine and some nice homes on the back that border but do not intrude.

We played on May 27th and found the course in excellent condition from tee to green, with no bare spots in the rough and the putting surfaces rolling fast and pure.  A little local knowledge goes a long way and can help you avoid some serious pitfalls on what you’d think was a fairly benign track.

Playing notes:

  • #1 is a medium short uphill par-4 and a good drive will leave you with less than 150 yards in.  If the flag is cut in front, you must stay below the hole because putting from behind and downhill is a carnival.  It’s better to miss the green short than to have a 30 footer from behind.  When the hole is cut middle-back, go for it.
  • The approach on the par-4 second hole plays two clubs shorter than the yardage because of the amount of rollout.  If you have a short iron in, you better be able to spin the ball or you will go over.
  • #3 is an uphill par-5.  You cannot see the green on the second shot but you must avoid the fairway bunker protecting the right side.  Hit it and you’re looking at a 100-yard bunker shot so take the left side where you’ve got ample room to miss.
  • The par-4 fifth hole is a shortie but the tee shots bounce hard left.  Aim your driver or 3WD down the right side fairway/rough line to put yourself in the best position.  Over the green here is usually a lost ball so take care with your approach.
  • The par-4 sixth (pictured above) is another shortie.  You want to leave yourself enough room to spin a full wedge from the fairway, especially if the flag is in front because the green is shallow and only holds approaches that are well struck.  I like to lay up with a 3WD, which usually leaves a full sand wedge.
  • On the par-5 10th, if you hit a good drive, you’ll be tempted to go for the green in two.  Don’t.  The myriad of greenside bunkers can leave you with a very tough play so lay back into the fairway for an easy third.
  • The par-3 12th is a long tough hole.  The green rolls slopes from right to left making it even more difficult to get it close.  Missing short in the approach is preferred to right or left and I often take less club than I need if I’m not comfortable hitting a 3WD or 5WD from the tee.  Don’t get greedy here.
  • Hit your driver as hard as you can on the par-4 14th.  It plays short but the green is small and approaching with the shortest iron possible gives you the best chance to score.
  • #15 is a great risk/reward drivable par-4.  At 265 yards from the white tees, if the flag is in front and you’re feeling good, go for it because even a leave in one of the front bunkers is a nice play.  If the flag is in back, avoid the front bunkers and lay back in the fairway.

    Risk – reward tee shot on #15
  • #18 is a hard dogleg left that tempts you with a tee shot that can get pretty close to the green if you fly it over the pine trees guarding the parking lot on the left.  Mishit your shot and you are out of bounds.  I prefer to take a 3WD for position, which usually leaves me under 100 yards for an easy approach.

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

We played on the after 12 noon weekend rate of $38 which is an excellent value considering your cart is included and the quality of the golf is good.  The greens fee + cart rate before noon is $59, which is still reasonable.  A small basket of range balls runs you $4 and a yardage guide is available in the pro shop for free, which is a nice touch.

Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)

The facilities are a mixed bag.  The 18,000 square foot clubhouse is nice and provides ample room in the grill to relax and have some post round food and drink and take in a game on their big screen TV.  The pro-shop is of adequate size and is nicely stocked.  The practice putting green is large, has a variety of sloped/flat putts, and is located conveniently between the clubhouse and first tee.

Unfortunately, the driving range leaves much to be desired.  When it was created, the supporting concrete surface was not leveled leaving a ball above your feet shot (for righthanders) at each of the hitting stations.  Mats are the only surface provided.  A small pitching green is located in an odd bowl like depression between the range and clubhouse and the configuration doesn’t leave you with many flat lies to practice from.  The practice area is good enough to get loose but should be avoided by those serious about working on their games.

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

Booking tee times through Montgomery County Golf’s website is easy and there were ample tee times available one week in advance.    We arrived at the course at 11:15 a.m. for a 12:36 p.m. tee time and the starter offered to get us out ahead of three consecutive foresomes if we were willing to start at 12:00 noon.  We happily accepted his offer and were appreciative of the attention because our round was completed in under four hours and we didn’t wait on any shots and the group behind us never pushed us.

For the record, I played the white tees at 6,104 yards and shot a 5-over 77.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

McIlroy is fizzlin’ while Dufner is sizzlin’

Rory wingin’ metal

What is going on with Rory McIlroy and these all too frequent meltdowns in the big events?  The latest was at this week’s BMW Championship in Wentworth, England, and wasn’t pretty.  The club throwing incident in a two-over 74 in the first round was followed by an ungodly 7-over 79 in the second round and a missed cut in the biggest regular season event on the European Tour.  One of the post round reports had McIlroy indicating that he wasn’t working hard enough.  Huh?  Has he let the fame and fortune go to his head or is it something else?  Was there also this supposed lack of preparation before the missed cut at the TPC?  Either McIlroy has something going on in his personal life that’s causing a distraction that nobody knows about, or he should slow down, travel less, and dedicate more time to playing a consistent schedule against PGA Tour competition, which is still the best in the world.

Dufner wins again

Jason Dufner, the total opposite, plods along with minimal fanfare hitting fairways and greens and has snuck up on the PGA Tour with a couple wins sandwiched around getting married.  Talk about the poster child for getting your life, golf, moon, and stars aligned.  A quick look at his stats  shows superb ball striking with mediocre putting.  Indeed, his performance at the courses that require deft touch on difficult greens (The Masters and PLAYERS) was less than stellar with a tie for 24th and a tie for 68th respectively.  Big pressure events like Memorial and U.S. Open are coming up where players need to putt great and manage their nerves to contend but with Duf on cruise control, I expect him to win this weekend at Colonial.  Memorial is up next and should be a great one with the return of Tiger and all the drama of the world’s best on the same stage.

Who’s going to win at Jack’s place?

Golf psychology and mental game tips

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

What works best:

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

What does not work:

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

What are some of your best mental techniques?

Oh no, Bubba Watson is burned out!

Bad news from the Tour as Bubba has made it official and pulled out of next week’s PLAYERS Championship 😦  Sighting reasons that sound like burnout (need family time, need to take a month off from the game), it’s upsetting to hard core fans when the most popular players pull out of the best events.  Dustin Johnson pulled out as well sighting ongoing problems with his back.  But the trend of high profile post-major burnout continues, which makes you wonder, is anyone managing these guys?  Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open last year and basked so long in his popularity that didn’t play until a month later at the British Open and was hopelessly out of form.

I suspect the pressure to respond to the media after a major win, and the self imposed social networking obligations are taking a heavy toll on these players, with mental downtime at a premium.  Call me nuts, but if I won the Masters, spending the next few weeks tweeting my every thought and responding to all the media inquiries would run me ragged.  Remember how many talk shows Bubba did?  Just incredible.

In the everyday course of life, don’t you get burned out from too much connectivity?  I do, and when I hit the golf course, I make sure to unplug, go dark, and enjoy some serious disconnect.  Now you or I will never have the”problem” of winning The Masters, but what would you have done different if you were Bubba?

Can you have fun playing bad golf?

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

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

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

Golf tips – what’s the best and worst?

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

The best:  🙂

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

The worst:

WARNING:  MAY BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR GAME

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

John Daly’s walk off

John Daly. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

The big fella is a never-ending source of entertainment except for this time he’s outdone himself with some serious unsportsmanlike behavior and rubbed the powers that be the wrong way.  His seven balls in the lake and subsequent walk off at the Australian Open got him kicked out of the Australian PGA Championship in two weeks and now he’s incurring the wrath of sportswriters and fans alike.  What an embarrassment to the game.

JD needs some serious mental help.  Earlier I opined about his 13 at the John Deere Classic in July.  Had he posted a number from this waterlogged escapade, we were looking at big time double digits.  How many Joe six-packs out there post multiple double digit holes in the same season?  Shoot, I’ve posted one double digit in the last ten years and I’m not in Daly’s neighborhood or city when it comes to talent.  Get some help John, and while you’re at it, some better looking slacks.

Blue Mash – Course Review

Summary

Blue Mash golf course in Laytonsville, Maryland is a Joe Hills-Tom Healy design that combines links and parkland styles into a single theme that is both challenging and very fun to play.  The course is home to a fabulous grass driving range and large short game practice facility that begs the seasoned player and beginner alike to come and spend time.

Always in good condition, this upscale daily fee track smacks you right out of the box with three meaty par-4 holes each playing over 420 yards from the men’s tees.  Water and well placed fairway bunkers come into play and frame the approaches on several holes but there’s only one forced carry on the par-3 17th.  A mixture of short and medium length par-4s and 5s keep the route interesting with no two holes alike.  The true toughness of Blue Mash is evident in hot dry conditions when the greens are rolling fast.  I recently played on August 14, 2011 during “Diabolical Pins Week” where the course attempts to mirror some feature of the major tournament being played at the time (2011 PGA.)  The pins were cut on various humps and near the edges and needless to say, I made nothing outside of six feet.  Fortunately, some early rain had slowed the greens to a manageable pace but I left imagining what kind of day I could have had with these pins cut on fast rolling greens.

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

Greens fees for 2011 are $79 for morning weekend starting times.  This includes cart and range balls.  You can get $10 off if you elect to prepay.  A variety of weekday, 10-year, and corporate memberships are available that offer good value to the individual who plays a lot.

Facilities (4.0 out of 5.0)

Blue Mash is where I go when I need to do serious practice.  The driving range is the best I’ve found in Montgomery County and always seems to be in excellent condition.  The practice putting green can handle a large number of players quite comfortably and is always rolling smooth and true.  Nearby is a short game area that provides a variety of shots from all sides.  Several tightly mowed areas are provided as are a variety of tall grass configurations, as well as uphill and downhill lies.  Two bunkers at opposite ends of the green are much lower than the surface of the green and are the only awkward feature, as thinly struck sand shots from either can sometimes endanger players at the opposite end.

A modest sized clubhouse is home to a small pro shop and medium-sized grill area.  A good-sized patio  overlooks the short game area and is a great spot to enjoy some food and drink after a round.  Finally, a small set of lockers are available to the members for a nominal fee.  The allure of Blue Mash facilities are the course and practice area.

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

The pro shop staff and starters are friendly and accommodating.  With the driving range, putting green, and short game area closely situated to the clubhouse, the process of warm-up and teeing off was a cinch.  Everything moved orderly and we did a minimal amount of waiting on the course, albeit after teeing off on a less crowded rainy morning.  The course had aerated greens which I thought was a little awkward considering it was still late summer but then found that another local upscale daily fee (Whiskey Creek) had done the same a week later.  Perhaps there’s a reason, but I’m accustomed to a mid-Fall aeration schedule.  Anyway, the greens were a little slow because of the rain and not rolling true from aeration.  The course had drained very well from heavy early morning rains as we rode and played cart-path only.  Tee boxes and fairways were in good shape with the lone exception on the short par-4, 8th fairway which had many unrepaired divots left from numerous short iron approaches.

Overall Rating (4.0 out of 5.0)


Clustered Spires – Course Review

Summary

Clustered Spires is run by the city of Frederick, Maryland and is adjacent to the Frederick municipal airport (about 10 minutes from downtown Frederick).  We played on August 7, 2011 at the height of the summer heat and drought that’s gripped the Washington D.C. area.  Surprisingly, the course was in good shape, with well watered tee boxes, lush fairways, and thick receptive greens.  There’s not much length to the course with the regular men’s tees playing just over 6,200 yards.  Most par-4s are under 400 yards and several par-5s are reachable in two with a good tee shot.  Water comes into play on a few holes but there are no forced carries and ample bail-out areas for sprayers off the tee.

My last three times out at Clustered Spires, I’ve switched to a ball with a lower spin rate (Titleist DT Roll) as I’ve found my regular ball (Pro-V1) provides too much bite on these greens.  Again today, those in our group playing high spin balls were backing up full iron shots 10-20 feet.  Once on the greens, the surfaces rolled smooth and were easy to read, albeit a little slow, as the greens crew was clearly working to preserve them in the heat.

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

Greens fees are quite reasonable with a weekday fee of $40 to ride and $59 for Saturday/Sunday.  The combination of low greens fees and good course conditioning in the summer heat make Clustered Spires a very good value for your golfing dollar.

Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)

Clustered Spires has a good size clubhouse that encompasses a nice fully stocked pro shop, a walk up grill with a medium size indoor seating area, and a fairly large covered patio overlooking the 9th green and 1st tee.  Separate practice putting and chipping greens are available, but the chipping green lacks an extended closely mowed area for practicing longer pitch shots.  A good size grass driving range is available but was in very poor shape with hardly any grass remaining.  Either the hitting area had not been rotated, the summer heat and lack of water had taken their toll, or both.  As a result, I spent most of my warm up hitting woods and irons off a tee.  Our only complaint with the course was the hard packed crusty condition of the sand.  While consistent from hole to hole, it was too firm and hadn’t appeared to be groomed for quite some time.

Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)

Calling ahead for a reserved tee time was easy and there were ample times available one week in advance.  The staff in the pro shop and snack bar were friendly and helpful.  Our starter seemed organized but tried to be too accommodating and sent a twosome off ahead of us and in our time slot.  These guys had played nine holes on the back and were looking to squeeze in nine more.  As a result, we were frequently waiting on our front nine until the twosome mysteriously quit and rode in after six holes.  The pro shop staff should work to better ensure the integrity of the scheduled starting times.  On the course, the beverage cart came by every five or six holes and there was a good supply of fresh cold drinking water.  Starting in late morning, activity at the adjacent airport picked up with a fairly continuous drone of propeller driven aircraft and sightseeing helicopters.  If you’re looking for quiet secluded golf experience, Clustered Spires is not it, but for a fairly inexpensive municipal golf course with pretty good conditioning at reasonable prices, you can’t go wrong.  I’ll be back.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)


Olympic Golf – Really?

What is the point of adding golf to the Olympic Games?  I know this decision was made in 2009 for the 2016 games, but does anyone really think this will add any interest outside of what is already been generated on a global scale?  I’m sure the feel good set views this as bringing the game to those who can’t afford it or live in repressed areas where the opportunities don’t exist.  So as soon as Olympic golf takes the world by storm, we’ll start seeing youngsters in Jamaica and Republic of Chad participating by the thousands in newly constructed learning centers and tearing up their local mini tours and competing against the world’s best for spots on the PGA Tour.

This is really about letting the stars on the PGA and European Tours march around the opening ceremony waving their country’s flag and adding the title of Olympic Athlete to their resume.  The addition of professionals has permanently altered the landscape of the Olympics and not for the better.  I took great pride in the U.S. basketball and hockey teams trying to beat the “career” Olympians that the Russians continually fielded, but with the introduction of the U.S. Dream Team in 1992, the lure of the amateur competition eroded.  The world’s best professional golfers already compete every year on multiple occasions so adding Olympic golf will do nothing but over saturate the existing market.

Obviously this is a done deal, so somebody please tell me how the Olympic golf tournament will work.  How many entrants do you allocate to each country; four, six, unlimited?  Do you have qualifying with pros and amateurs like the U.S. Open and British Open?  If you insist upon participation from all countries you knowingly take spots away from the best players in the world, or do you let the top 80-100 professionals in the world ranking compete?  Would this be the 5th major?  The 2016 Olympics are set for August 5-21, right when the PGA is normally scheduled – do you move the PGA?  And what if Tiger Woods can’t qualify, God forbid.  Do you deny him the mantle of Olympic Athlete?

Avoiding distractions

So out I went on Sunday of the July 4th holiday weekend at 9:30 a.m. to my local muni with thoughts of spending a couple hours working on my game.  To my delight, I arrived at an empty short game area and began my putting drills only to find the beginner chipping clinic coming my way after five minutes.  So I situated myself at the far end of the green hoping to steer as clear as possible, but soon 12-15 students were zinging low screamers all over the place.  So I finished up there and headed down to the range and setup at a station adjacent to the husband and wife team that had just finished taking a lesson.  Of course the wife was hitting it slightly better than the husband who’s increasing frustration was apparent.  Halfway through my session, the young boyfriend/girlfriend combo set up shop in the two stalls behind me with the boyfriend providing the girlfriend “expert” golf instruction.  While they were technically out of my peripheral vision, girlfriend hit a couple toe doinks straight over the protective wall and into my hitting station which effectively ended my practice.

When distracted on the course, you can simply stop / start whatever you are doing but it’s much tougher to manage during practice.  For some, practice time is social time where folks get caught up with friends before a round, or find time for a spontaneous contest to see who can hit the tractor picking balls or see who can hit driver over the net at the end of the range.

If you’re serious about improvement, you need to concentrate without distractions and isolate yourself during practice.  So short of being identified as anti-social, you’re better off practicing early or very late in the day, when you can do your serious work.  Today, I was reminded of that the hard way.

The great debate: Walk or ride?

I’m in the walking camp and truly believe one’s game is enhanced to the tune of three strokes better per round by walking.  On foot you get into a rhythm, get a better feel for the course, can judge the effects of wind and terrain, and can play without delay.  Compare to the worst case cart scenario:  You are the driver, riding with a player that sprays the ball, who doesn’t play from the same tee box as you, and the course is wet and enforcing “Cart path only.”  There’s nothing worse than walking all the way across the fairway to hunt for lost balls or grabbing a bag full of clubs because you can’t measure yardage or visualize the correct shot parked on the cart path.  Everything is so much easier when you can just walk to your ball.

There are circumstances where you should be playing out of a cart.  On my recent trip to Myrtle Beach, golfing at The Legends would be nearly impossible for a walker.  The 54-hole complex and driving range is the size of a small airport and motorized transportation is a must.  We were blessed with good weather and could ride the carts in the fairways, which helped to speed play and allowed us to conserve energy for playing 36 holes in the summer heat.

Finally, a word of caution:  If you’re going to walk, make sure you’re physically up for the test.  Pulling or carrying your bag over four miles in summer heat is not trivial.  My back and legs used to get tired after 14 or 15 holes so I dedicated myself to an off-season workout regimen that included aerobic conditioning as well as core strengthening exercises.

Celtic Tiger?

Whoa, not so fast, Karen McKevitt.  She’s a politician in Northern Ireland, and coined the phrase to describe Rory McIlroy fresh off his U.S. Open triumph.  While McIlroy’s performance was stellar and dominating, a run of majors similar to to Tiger’s isn’t in the cards.  The competition is too tough and young guns like Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, and Luke Donald are too hungry.  Resurgent old timers like Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia are showing good form and are also primed for runs now that Tiger is off the scene.  So congrats on a great tournament but don’t get a big head and get ready to feel the heat at Royal St. Georges!

Great Saturday at the U.S. Open

I’ve been to a lot of professional golf tournaments but this was my first major and what an eye opener.  The place was packed because of the delayed start (2nd round finish in the morning) and 3rd round play didn’t put any golfers on the back nine until after noon and all the fans went with them early.

Some differences with regular tour events:  It was difficult to see where players stood, since every scoreboard was manually operated.  Regular PGA Tour events are replete with automated scoreboards showing real time updates.  Also, the size of the massive tent city erected to support the event was impressive and made the regular tour events pale in comparison.  One pleasant surprise was the food and drink concessions.  Prices seemed reasonable and the staff from the Prom company manning the refreshment stations were fast, courteous, helpful, and above all, competent.  Lines moved very quickly.

Despite the packed conditions in the morning, we managed to find some excellent viewing spots with our favorite being on the hill to the right of #7 tee, where you can simultaneously take in the play on #6 green and the 7th hole.  Also caught Bubba Watson throwing a club in frustration after backing a wedge approach off #9 green.  Despite his disappointment, the crowd was showing the love to Bubba, as he was decked out in camouflage slacks to show support for the troops.

The golf course appeared to be playing softer than normal due to the overnight rains and several in the field took advantage with scores in the 60s.  We spent a good hour on the hill behind #10 green watching a usually tough par-3 hole play very benign with most players attacking the flag for close birdie attempts and routine pars.  Fan favorite Phil Mickelson was not as fortunate and chopped his way to a 77, going seven-over on the back nine alone.  Maybe next year Phil.

Finally, as of Saturday night this one looks like it’s in the bag for Rory McIlroy as he enjoys an 8-shot lead going into Sunday.  I think the time is now for him to exercise those demons and put the final round 80 at Augusta out of his mind.  We’ll see tomorrow!

Play to your potential – every time out!

Ever wonder why your game seems in the zone on some days and you can’t hit the broad side of a barn the next?  Playing to our potential every time out would be wonderful, but as human beings is profoundly difficult.  From the number one player in the world down to the weekend 35-handicapper, we all fight the battle to elevate our consistency.  Here’s how to improve yours.

First, consider the old axiom that says, “If you can’t putt, you can’t score but if you can’t drive it, you can’t play.”  I’ve found this to be true to the extent that my most satisfying rounds are when my ball striking is on.  As a 5-handicap, a round in the low 70s is good and  I’d rather shoot 72 and hit 15 greens with a bunch of two-putts than shoot 72 with 8 greens and have to scramble all day.  Good ball striking allows you to relax your mind and puts less pressure on your short game.  To give yourself the best chance of having a good ball striking day, adopt this thought:  “Hit the shot you know you can hit, not the one you should be able to hit.”  I learned this from Dr. Bob Rotella, and found that the quicker the player can figure out that good scoring is driven by confidence and is not necessarily related to massaging one’s ego, the faster they will enjoy sustained consistency.  Yes, this is about managing the Driver, and admittedly is difficult because most players love to bomb long drives, but I’ve found that on days where I warm up and struggle with my driver, it’s best to leave it in the bag for the whole round and tee off with a club I know I can put in the fairway.  When I first implemented this strategy, I noticed my scores improved most on my bad ball striking days because I wasn’t trying to swing for the fences, or go after the sucker pins, or try the miraculous recoveries.   The importance of getting the ball in play is paramount to playing with confidence and nothing will crush your ball striking confidence faster than hitting a driver into trouble on the first couple of tee shots.  To affirm, take a quick mental inventory of your last bad round and I’ll bet that most of your trouble began with wayward drives.

Second, take care to not over analyze your swing while on the course.  Too many players tie themselves in knots trying to manipulate and contort their bodies with countless swing mechanics.  This only builds tension and is counter-productive.  Use one swing thought at a time and it should be as free from mechanics as possible.  Anything to promote rhythm or good tempo is best.   A thought like, “Target – Tempo” is perfect.  When I’m playing my best, I notice course management thoughts are in the front of my mind rather than my swing.

Finally, practice your full game the day before you play and make sure you dedicate plenty of time simulating game conditions.  Nothing prepares your mind and body better than making an easy transition from practice to play.

Good luck!

Ten minutes from parking lot to the tee – help!

It’s happened to every one of us, so how do you get an emergency warm-up in a rush situation?  Two keys to focus on:  prepare your body to make an athletic move and get a feel for how the course will play.  You’ll need to divide your prep time into two five-minute halves.

First half:  grab a club and hold it by both ends out in front of you.  Do 10 full squats, getting as low as you can, and raise the club as high over your head with each squat, returning it to its starting position as you raise up.  This will loosen the shoulders, hips, knees, and get your heart pumping.  Next, while still holding both ends of the club in front of you, tilt slightly from the waist and turn your upper body 90 degrees to the right and left without moving your legs.  The resistance of your lower body will provide an excellent rotational stretch.  Do 15 in each direction.

Second half:  spend the time hitting low running chips on the practice green; the longer the chip the better.  This will offer the opportunity to take your full swing grip, make a small golf swing, get the ball rolling to judge green speed, and focus on a target.  All the things required to be successful on the course.  Finish up by hitting six straight three-foot putts into a hole to build confidence and put you in a “make it” frame of mind.

Ready to go, hit ’em straight!

Heritage Club – Course Review

#8 tee Heritage

Summary

Heritage Club, on Pawleys Island, SC, is one of my favorite layouts in Myrtle Beach.  Two things make  Heritage unique;  a bevy of Live Oak trees draped with Spanish moss that line the entrance to the club and frame several outstanding holes, and huge undulating Bermuda greens that provide a daunting challenge to your short game.  This course is challenging and you MUST place your approach shots on the same level as the pins.  Missing the greens on the proper level is an easier play than playing from the wrong tier of the putting surface.  40 and 50 foot putts are not uncommon and will create havoc with your confidence and put big numbers on your scorecard.  You’ll need length off the tee, accuracy on approaches, and a deft short game to score at Heritage.  The course is an awesome test.

Value (4.0 out of 5.0).

Playing on The Legends rotation package, Heritage provides very good value considering the overall layout, scenic beauty and quality of course conditioning.  To get top billing, they need to include range balls in the cost, don’t charge an extra $2.00 to turn on the Logitec distance finder in each cart, and stock the range with some quality balls.  I bought a bag of 40, with nearly all the dimples wiped off.  Get them for $5 in the pro shop or the range shuttle driver will sell you a bag in route.  A classy course like Heritage doesn’t need to nickel and dime their customers.

Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)

The property is not that large but a shuttle is required to go everywhere.  To the range, back to the clubhouse, to the parking lot after the round.  The putting green is located adjacent to the range and not withing walking distance of the clubhouse, which is a bit awkward (also requires a shuttle.)  The attendant manning the cart staging area reminded us not to drive our clubs to our car after the round because of some insurance concern, which I found interesting since the other Legends courses mentioned no such restriction.

From the front and rear, the clubhouse is drop dead gorgeous and is reminiscent of the antebellum mansion that might have existed on the property in yesteryear.   Between our morning and afternoon round, we dined in the clubhouse and while the standard American fare was quite tasty, we found the service a bit on the slow side.

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

Despite all the pre and post round shuttling, we found all the staff very friendly and accommodating.  The pace of play was excellent for both morning and afternoon rounds, and the course a delight to play.   Bring your patience, nerve, and your A-game because from start to finish, Heritage is a fun stern test of every club in the bag.  I’d consider this a must play for anyone making the trip to Pawleys Island.

Overall Rating (4.0 out of 5.0)


Ouch! Sergio Garcia cards an 11 in the first round at Memphis

Just when you thought the guy was rounding into form he pulls this out of the bag.  After driving it 336 yards on the par – 5 third hole, he tried three times to hook a ball around a tree and carry a lake on a 216 yard approach.  Dumb!  I remember my last double digit hole; a 10 on a par – 5 at my local muni a couple of years ago.  That was full of dumb decisions and Sergio made the same mistake.  You simply cannot compound an initial error and need to know when to back off and take your medicine.  A professional tournament is rarely won on a single hole but can easily be lost on one.  Let’s see how this affects his attitude and performance in round 2.

Tiger Woods pulls out of the U.S. Open

So hobbling around in a walking boot apparently isn’t good preparation for a major.  This guy needs to be thinking about participation and making cuts before contemplating more major victories.  Tiger – Phase 1 is over and done.  Images of Tiger tooling around in a mini-cart like Casey Martin now come to mind and may come to fruition once the network suits figure out how much money they’re losing without Woods to anchor their telecasts.