Monday, December 8, 2008

The First Test: Sunday, December 7, 2008

Despite my best intentions, I have to agree with English Dave and Kiwi as of late when they started asking why the hell I was at the range all the time—and not playing. My original theory was to iron out the fundamentals and groove a decent swing BEFORE I started scrambling and getting all serious on the golf course. But what I’m finding is that the more comfortable I get with my swing again, the easier it is to get bored at the range—especially when I haven’t had a true test of golf in a while, and so I don’t even know how to prioritize my practice sessions at this point. So that’s what today was all about: quantifying my progress and seeing what glaring weaknesses were going to hit me in the face.

Today was my first round of golf in over 6 months (I don’t count the two rounds I played at that 3300 yard course, as it isn’t 1896 and we’re now using Titleists instead of leather balls filled with feathers). The starter paired me with an older twosome—real estate moguls from Missouri or some crap—who had no idea the importance of my round today. A poor showing today would certainly detract from all the time at the range, calling into question my current practice schedule. Then again, golf is golf, and anything could happen.

Aw who am I kidding? If I hit snap-hooks and shanks all day, I’m going to be pissed.

The course was a local gem nearby my house, playing 7000 yards from the back tees. With a links layout, water on every hole, consistent wind gusts, and greens stimping around 10, I knew I was in for a fun-filled test of golf.

After I met the twosome I’d be playing with, for some strange reason I immediately dropped a few balls down on the practice green and started rolling putts. No stretching, no warm-up swings. Those are for pansies. Then again, because I haven’t hit a driver in over a month due to the nature of my practice sessions (I’ve just been focusing on mid and short irons), I was in for a rude awakening on the first tee.

As I walked to the tee-box, I envisioned some plump Scottish starter with a belly-full of haggis screaming over the wind: Ladies and Gentleman! Now on the tee…Some schmuck who actually thinks he can hang with the big boys! An annoying little bastard who’ll probably snap-hook his tee-ball out of bounds and run home crying to mama! Let’s hear it for the guy who thinks he can spend all his time at the range and still play this game with the best of them! Tooooommmmmmmm Collins.

(Waiting for applause to subside)

“Thank you…I love you all.”

Practice swing. Smack.

Left rough. Dead pull. Fantastic. At least my grip was still strong and quite manly. And, with a fat second shot and a poor chip, I finished the first hole with a bogey. Awesome.

The second hole was worse. Even with my Hogan-esque grip on the club (back before his legendary book of instruction when he would snap hook his putter), I managed to hit a high, weak fade with my DRIVER into the right rough, leaving me 265 yards into a very birdie-able par 5. I was forced to punch out my second, as I found the only set of bushes on the hole—or maybe they were merely decorations for a nearby house and not really meant to be an obstacle at all—and then proceeded to hit my third just short of the greenside trap. I tried to get cute with my fourth, meaning I screwed up an easy flop shot (although, since when are those easy?) and hit a graceful floater right into the bunker. You better believe I had the confident swagger of a PGA Tour pro as I grabbed the pencil after that hole was over and etched a crowd-pleasing double-bogey 7 onto my card.

Honestly, I don’t even remember what the third hole was (3, 4 or 5), I just remember bogeying it and looking at the scorecard carefully, wondering if I could somehow use it as a bandage or tourniquet to stop the bleeding.

And then it happened: a par. And it was a “ho-hum” par at that. Then another. Then more crap, and then I had to get out my graphing calculator to accurately document and present the exponential 43 that existed after 9 holes.

Fortunately, however, my swing was showing signs of life. I know it’s hard to believe with a front side like that, but I played very well on the back nine, carding three birdies and shooting a 36, to finish with a 79 for the day. Maybe that horrendous front side was just what I needed to wake up my game. That had to have been the reason, because the back side was much more difficult than the front, with even more water to carry and smaller landing areas off of the tee. Then again, I started doing everything better: my driver went from crappy to dependable, my irons were crisp, and I rolled in a 20 and 30 footer on the back, finishing the day without a single three putt.

The 18th was an interesting finishing hole. From the back tees, the hole was only 291, but it had creek running in front of the green, meaning you could either hit a 4-6 iron and play it safe or man-up and try to carry the water. Of course I whipped out the driver. With a 43 on the front side and a little wind behind me, I was looking to try and finish the back nine 1-under. Fortunately, I smoked the driver, flying the creek and putting me just off of the green. Unfortunately, however, it took me 3 shots to get down from there. I think I could’ve used a pool cue from where I was and made birdie. But hey, that’s golf. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.

In looking over my round, I would say that the finesse shots around the greens were the first big chink in the armor. I was striking the ball solidly by the back 9, but I didn’t seem to have any distance control with either the flop or bump-and-run shots I used to know and love. And I also need to practice my bunker play. I was only in two bunkers today, but the fact that I remembered both instances only proves how much I need to work on my technique again. I mean sure, I got out and onto the green, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous hitting a freakin’ bunker shot. I used to love them.

Aside from that, I think the only other thing I should work on (in addition to everything else) is shaping my iron shots. I made the newbie mistake today of taking dead aim at my targets, trying to hit straight shots. Occasionally I’d try the smart thing and let the wind carry the ball to the target, but overall, I need to be fading or drawing my mid and long-irons into the greens more often. Granted, I did a good job of aiming at the right sections of the greens today, allowing for a mishit or some movement, but I think it would be better to take control of the direction rather than to simply leave it up to whatever my swing feels like producing on a particular day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Stupid Range-Finder

Saturday, November 22, 2008

As I arrived at the range, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to work on. So far, my main focus has been on my impact position, alignment and grip. Now, that’s not to say those things aren’t important, but at this point, I need to move onto the next step.

And I think my next set of practice sessions will be devoted to one thing: distances for my half-wedge swings. Three to four years ago, I took Pelz’s Short Game Bible to heart, and bought a laser range-finder (this was prior to my days of caddying, where I spent 3 years HATING these devices because of how OBSOLETE they were) to focus on distances for my pitching, sand and lob wedges with ¼, ½, and ¾ wedge swings. Pelz’s theory was that I would then have 9 yardages inside of 100 yards that I could draw from while on the course. Now, it’s a nice thought, but one thing I found out all too quickly was how difficult it was to stay focused when you’re making these baby wedge swings for an hour on the range. So I shortened his suggestion and simply recorded distances for half (9 o’clock) swings with my three wedges. I would make sure that I had made at least 10-15 “solid” shots with each wedge, and then used that infernal range-finder contraption to obtain the average distances. I remember that for the next couple of months after I began practicing these shots, I won a crap-load of money off of my playing partners because my ability to get up and down from inside of 100 yards increased dramatically.

So I decided that today, after warming up with my 6-iron with a few punch shots, half and full swings, I would focus on recording yardages for my pitching, sand and lob wedges.

At least, that was the plan.

Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened. First, I left my range-finder at home (probably an old habit from my caddying days, where a range-finder is to a caddie what garlic is to a vampire), and there weren’t really any yardages at the range, so practicing with my wedges didn’t really materialize. There was, however, one challenge I wasn’t really expecting: the ground below my feet.

As I walked over to the range, the wind was blowing hard enough to create white-caps on the water and turn it black. With the location of the range, I knew I’d have to deal with hard right to left gusts today. To be honest, that was just fine with me, as my strong grip has led me to believe that such a wind direction could very well be my Achilles heel. Good. I get to work on a weakness today.

But when I arrived at my station, I immediately noticed a new challenge. The teeing ground was moved up to the front of the range, and the front of this range…is…crowned earth. Now, I’ve been a caddie, worked on the outside staff and been responsible for setting up the range, etc (as an aside, driving that range cart to pick up golf balls is not as fun as advertised. You often have to go over the same patch of balls multiple times before you’re able to pick them up, and you KNOW every golfer and their mother are gunning for you.). So I’ve been responsible for setting up a driving range before. I’m not saying it’s hard, but WHY would you set up the teeing ground right on the FREAKIN CROWN. I know not all driving ranges can be perfectly flat the whole way around, but why would you MAKE golfers hit from uneven lies. That sort of punishment should be self-induced.

I hate to be that picky, but I was a little frustrated because I wanted to keep working on fundamentals and getting back the swing I remember…I wasn’t in the mood to hit 70 awkward shots with a strong crosswind. Then again, I’m sure there are plenty of professional golfers out there who would LOVE to practice under those conditions so they can be prepared for all situations. Well fine…I guess that means I’m HAPPY about it. GREAT.

The first few swings were UGLY. Chunk, back-tweak, chunk, chunky-monkey. It wasn’t until I started remembering some of my basic golf instruction material that it started to work out for me. First, obviously, I made sure to angle my shoulders with the slope. Then I took a few short swings without a weight shift, keeping my lower body still. It was only after I started making consistent contact that I started to make full swings again. But even after I started becoming comfortable with the ball position, stance and alignment (because of course I had to aim right of my target due to both the wind and the lie), I couldn’t seem to stop falling forward after each swing. The downhill/side-hill lie made it impossible to end with a balanced finish position. So every swing looked and felt awkward. I suppose the plus here is that after 20-30 balls, I became fairly proficient with it, putting a good move on the ball and letting the wind carry it to my target. I’m sure my back will feel great on Sunday.

I didn’t finish the day without some putting practice though. The strong winds and firm greens proved to be both annoying and highly enjoyable. Enjoyable because I didn’t have to take the putter-head back very far for a hell of a lot of roll, which is great because I’ve been working on a good impact position with my putter as much if not more than my full swing. The annoying part came in because the ball oscillated each and every time I was about to putt, and due to the firm greens, there were some ridiculously subtle breaks that blew my mind. But after 30-40 minutes, I discovered that what I loved most about practicing my putting was not about getting it in the hole. It was about hitting the ball on the line you wanted and being able to repeat the same swing and resulting distance 3-4 times in a row without a mistake. I mean, if you think about it, the same goes for the full swing: if you know that you usually draw or pull your long irons, wouldn’t you make sure you aligned yourself right of your intended target from those distances? If caddying for players has taught me anything, it’s that golf is all about managing your mishits.

Anyway, I’m rambling, but the important thing I learned is not to fight things like the wind or the lie, contorting your swing or putting all of your force into an awkward shot, but to try and use the circumstances you’re given to produce the easiest shot for your own abilities.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I made sure to bring my range-finder on Sunday, dead-set on getting at least 2 yardages down for my PW and SW. I had some wind behind me, however, so I know these yardages are a little off. I started my warm-up with the 6-iron again, punching balls with little half-swings and getting a good feel for my impact position again. Once I felt I had a pretty good grasp of my swing, I grabbed my pitching wedge and tried to mimic the guidelines set by Dave Pelz in his Short Game Bible: neutral grip, use the big muscles to take the club back, and check your ball position for consistency prior to the shot.

Chunk. Super chunk.

Guess I’m not really ready to dive into this…So I just took normal half-swings, hoping my strong grip would still suffice, and I started making solid contact again. After 15 balls, I got a good sense of an average distance, and zeroed in using my laser: 115. Now, I’m taking that as an average. My balls ranged from 108 to 125, all with what I thought were half-swings. Now remember, I had a fairly constant wind at my back, and so my 115 average is probably about 10 yards too far. But at least I was consistent throughout and didn’t deviate too much from my intended target line. Although, that’s pretty hard to screw up with a pitching wedge in your hand. I could understand a 3 or 4 iron spraying quite a bit, but a pitching wedge? Alright, 115. I can work with that.

Then I moved onto my sand wedge. For whatever reason, I play with a 54-degree wedge. I know back in the day I had a good reason for this. Maybe it was because I feel better about playing a 54-degree from the fairway than a 56-degree. Or something like that. It’s all psychological.

So again, after getting comfortable with the first few shots, and then moving onto my 10-15 balls for an average, I was landing the ball anywhere from 86 to 100 yards. Obviously, I need to keep coming back and practicing, because even if I take an average, and factor in the fact that the wind was at my back, that’s still a large spectrum of possible yardages. So for now, let’s say I was averaging 90 yards. Again, this is probably off due to the wind, but for right now, I can remember that yardage for the course and see how it works out for me.

Now, I still have to laser-in my lob wedge, because right now, I don’t have any of those fun distances from 50-75 yards “dialed in” yet. I just hope the next time I’m at the range I won’t run into so much wind. But with my luck, it’ll probably be right in my face and I’ll be hitting my lob wedge 5-10 yards with a full swing and a Tiger-esque-stinger-flair. Who knows, if I get under it, it might even fly over my head and end up 10 yards behind me. Although, if that happens, I’ll probably have to patent the shot or something because that’s a shot Phil might want to steal and pull out when he’s in one of his “going for broke” moods on any given Sunday.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Me and My Shadow

I went to the range today with just one goal in mind: working on getting comfortable with a strong weight shift onto my right side. As I mentioned before, due to my half-swing practice regimen thus far, I’ve been steadily improving my impact position and making good, crisp contact, but when it came to me transitioning to the full-swing, my muscle memory seemed a little weak when it came to loading up my right side.

So that was my goal. At least, that was the initial plan. I only say that because once I actually arrived there, I realized there were a couple more obstacles to deal with today: wind and my own damn shadow.

Now don’t get me wrong—this was a great thing. As long as the wind isn’t blowing directly behind you, taking all spin off of the ball and making you look like King Kong with a pitching wedge, having the wind blowing strong can really help you work on things like balance, tempo, contact, and overall focus. I can’t remember how many times back in the day I’d be caddying for some poor guy and the wind would gust up right as he was about to hit the ball. Having wind in my face that SAILORS would envy today was a good thing.

My shadow: it’s funny, but only in the last year or so has this been a real issue. I don’t know what it is, but I seem to get incredibly distracted when my shadow is cast over the ball and within my field of vision. I’m more apt to watch my own swing than the ball. And it sounds like a ridiculous problem…and you’re right. But at least today I got to exercise some demons and try to work out a solution.

I started with my pitching wedge, doing some quick stretches and taking my routine half-swings to get the session going. I decided not to wear a glove today, as I felt my last practice session yielded some great feedback without one. Well, that, and I’ve always idolized Ben Hogan and perhaps at some point my hands will bleed while hitting balls as well. But I don’t think I’ve reached that deity status yet.

After the first few shots, I grabbed another club and aligned myself at a far-off flagstick, just to make sure that I wasn’t slacking off in the alignment department. And I’m really glad I did, because I immediately noticed a problem: my shoulders were out of alignment. For some strange reason, my shoulders naturally align slightly closed. Now, I’m not sure what Mr. Haney, Mr. Smith, Butch, or the rest of the gurus would say about that. Perhaps new school knowledge would tell us that my natural shoulder alignment is acceptable. But nevertheless, I opened up my shoulders a bit to keep them square, and something strange happened when I moved onto my 6-iron: I didn’t pull-hook the ball even once today. All of my shots today were straight or had a slight fade. Normally, my ball-flight is either straight, slight draw, or pull hook. I blame that on my strong grip. I think I’m going to have to look this up somewhere, because I’m not sure how much of a factor changing the alignment of my shoulders affects ball-flight, but my shots really did look unfamiliar today. Then again, it very well could’ve been the wind. But even with a strong left to right wind, a pull-hook is a pull-hook is a pull-hook. Oh well. At any rate, it felt great to have a very consistent ball flight today.

Surprisingly, the only moment today when I screwed up a shot because of my own shadow was when I was on my last ball of the day and said: “I can’t believe my shadow hasn’t screwed me up today.” Shank. Normally, I would’ve braved the balls of fury from the surrounding amateurs and grabbed another ball from the range to re-tee it and end on a good note, but I just laughed. I think the solution I came up with for dealing with my shadow today was just to stay focused on the ball. And that wasn’t hard to do, especially when I was working on loading my right side and finally making a good weight-shift. I’d say my focus on achieving that goal today overshadowed issues with my shadow. Ha…sorry for the redundancy there.

But I was amazed at how easy it was to make a proper weight shift. I didn’t feel out of alignment or feel like my swing-path was compromised at all. The new issue, however, is my follow-thru. I’ve put so much thought into my backswing and impact position lately that it seems I’ve become un-focused with my follow-thru. I feel like after making a good backswing, staying steady and making solid impact, the rest of the swing should take care of itself. But what I saw today was that if I didn’t focus on releasing my hands and making solid contact all the way around, my poor follow-thru seemed to pro-rate issues from follow-thru to impact, meaning my impact position started becoming weak and I could feel the feedback in my hands as I “toed” or “thinned” a shot I knew I could’ve smoked.

And after reading over that last sentence, I feel like it doesn’t make any sense at all outside of my own head. But basically, I just need to focus on more of a full-release throughout the follow-thru.

But that’s it for now. At least I know what to keep working on next time. Then again, I’m sure the next time I go to the range I’ll be opening up another massive can of worms. A golf swing is, of course, a house of cards.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Glove-less Practice

I apologize for the hiatus, but two rare events prevented me from practicing recently: an incredible amount of rain decided to fall precisely from 7-6 pm both days this past weekend, and the Buffalo Bills lost to the Miami Dolphins the weekend before.

Now, I understand the rain. But come on…the Bills losing to the Dolphins? Ridiculous. And of course, a Dolphins fan came with me to see the game. So my golf game had to take a backseat to the trash-talk and drinking. Then again, I suppose trash-talking and drinking are sort of where the game of golf started with those crazy Scottish guys, so I suppose it wasn’t a FULL break from this great game we all love and respect.

But one thing I have been doing is keeping up with my work-out regimen and stretching everyday. And wouldn’t you know it: I actually feel like I’m grooving a swing again. I think one of the most frustrating things I’ve had to work through recently is trying to get my body to react to the demands of my brain. What I mean is, back when I was playing regularly, I witnessed and catalogued the shots I was able to pull-off. Now that I’m back to playing again, finding myself in these similar situations is depressing, because I know what I was capable of at one time. I try to visualize, align myself properly and let it fly, but it just doesn’t seem to work as well as it once did. It’s like I’m going through some sort of rehabilitation process where I’m hoping to retain full-use of my motor skills at the outset.

One thing I’ve noticed recently is how much feedback I’m able to receive when I practice at the range without a glove. Perhaps it’s all in my head, but once I take off my glove and work my way through a bucket, I can feel exactly where on the club-face the ball makes contact as well as every subtle twist of the club-head at impact. Obviously, this wouldn’t really work on a hot day. And I know a golf glove is rather thin, so it doesn’t seem like swinging without one would make much of a difference, but it did.

And, after the first 10-15 balls as I started putting together strings of solid shots—meaning I passed my own “glove-less impact test”—my mind began to drift to other parts of my swing, and for some reason I became focused solely on my backswing. More specifically, the weight transfer onto my right foot. There is such a fine line between proper weight transfer and “swaying,” isn’t there? Right now, I feel like I’m not loading my right side enough or that I’m potentially overdoing it, feeling like I’m falling out of my own personal “swing track.”

But I guess one more thing to focus on couldn’t hurt, right? I guess the weight transfer was never something I thought about, but now that I’m trying to groove a swing again, it’s the most noticeable part of my swing now. I almost want to blame by practice drills: I’m achieving the impact position I want, but due to all of the half-swings, the weight-transfer necessary to achieve a full backswing has somewhat atrophied. Well, it’ll come back. “Practice makes permanent” as David Leadbetter would say.

As a bonus, I was extremely comfortable with my putting today. My contact and speed control were consistent and controllable, as evidenced by the small rings of balls around the holes on the putting green. Perhaps my work thus far is starting to pay off. Well, either that or I just feel comfortable with my new putter. I’m sure many of you would attest to putting really well with a putter you like. It’s weird how something so simple as the design of a putter-head could affect the way people perform. Take me for example: I can’t stand those three-ball putters. If some of you out there own and love them, great. But for me, they look like you could either cook an egg and bacon breakfast on them or plug a set of earphones into them and rock out to some mp3’s.

Take care everyone.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Alignment Work

Although I’ve enjoyed my recent laid-back excursions to the range, today I decided to try something a little different. Whereas before I would turn on my iPod, hit shuffle, and crank up the tunes while I went through my normal routine of practicing my impact position via punch-shots, today I decided to turn it up a notch and remove the music.

And what I found was a little annoying. It was annoying because I found, like so many other golfers, just how boring it can be to plug away at a bucket of balls. But what I also discovered was something valuable: combining visualization with execution. So often, you hear professional golfers talking about visualizing a shot before they hit it. Well, although it takes a lot of focus and patience, I tried my damndest to visualize the shot I wanted to hit, and then saw if I was able to execute it. So far, I think I was only able to execute about 50% of the shots I wanted to, but I think my range time was much more productive today because of it.

I also did something else: I placed two clubs on the ground. One to line up my feet, and one as a visual-aid on the other side of the ball. While they were lined up squarely at my intended target, and while I could feel my posture and alignment follow suit, my ball flight did not. I was still striking the ball squarely, but the ball was flying a good 15-20 yards left of my intended target. Damn my strong left-hand grip. Damn it! But I LOVED the rotation. Felt good.

So obviously, I started working on straightening out my draw / quasi-pull. After about 20 balls, I started hitting my shots dead straight, but I came across another problem: poor contact. I was focusing so much on the angle of my clubface at impact that I forgot to make solid contact.

But that’s golf, right? If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.

Fortunately, after another 20-30 balls, I was able to put the two together and removed the clubs to see if my posture and alignment still felt solid after my lines were taken away. Well, so far so good. In particular, I’m glad I’m currently working on strengthening my lower back. It’s the first thing to get sore on the range or on the putting green, and I have no doubt where it came from: 3 years of running with bags on my shoulders. I just wish the gym in my apartment complex wasn’t so cheap with the fitness equipment. I’ll probably have to join a gym soon.

I was also thankful the wind was in my face today. I’ve found over the years that although trying to determine accurate yardages for your clubs is impossible when the wind is gusting up your nostrils, any deviation in your swing is revealed instantly, as it exaggerates the spin you impart on the ball and turns a fade into a slice and a draw into a championship hook. I was happy to see that my shots held fairly straight, even if there was an occasional tendency to bear left.

By the end of my session, something else struck me as odd: I don’t have a comfortable full backswing. What I mean is, I’ve become so accustomed to taking half to three-quarter backswings that a full backswing seems to knock me slightly off balance. And, seeing how my yardages are just the same or a little further using a three-quarter backswing, I think I’ll stick with that for a while and see what happens. I figure the fewer moving parts you have, the more repeatable your swing, right?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Little Range Time

Today I ventured to a new golf course a little south of where I normally play to see if their prices for golf varied enough to change my normal routine. Turns out I was pleasantly surprised: great rates ($20 for 18 holes with a cart) and an interesting membership possibility ($240 for unlimited range balls for 1 year).

The course is a Fazio design, and from my previous experiences with caddying, I have to say, I’m a huge fan of Fazio. Not a whole lot of cut-thru’s for caddies (much like Nicklaus-designed courses), but the layouts are usually quite challenging, with undulating greens that do just exactly what they should: punish poor shots and reward excellent ones. Now, I haven’t played this particular course yet, but from what I’ve seen so far, I think it’ll do nicely.

Plus, I’m hoping to get another job soon, which would be closer to this particular course. Not only that, but the new job would also offer more flexibility in work hours—meaning I could play golf or hit balls before work, go in, do my thing, and even play some more golf before coming home. That’s awesome. That would really help my current golf schedule, which is no more than once or twice a week at this point. To get my game in shape, I really need to be playing every day if possible.

Today, however, I just went to the range and practiced putting. While my putting stroke feels pretty solid—as in, I’m getting a nice shoulders-only-stroke down and I’m re-acquiring the feel I need—there are still a couple things that I need to work on before I go out and play another round of golf.

First is endurance. I’ve been over this before, but the problem I’m starting to see is that regardless of my daily stretching routines and my cardiovascular work (I’m up to 2 miles every other day), I’m still freakin’ tired after a bucket of balls. Now, I’m not looking to be any kind of Vijay Singh, but I should be able to hit at least 200 balls in a practice session before getting tired. I shouldn’t have to call it quits after 70-80. After much thought, I think the answer is simple: I need more range time. Hopefully, by getting this new job, or at the very least, buying a range membership, I can hit balls 3-4 days a week and get my body used to swinging a club that often. I suppose golf is like downhill skiing in that respect…you can work out all you want for it, but nothing improves your downhill skiing endurance like downhill skiing. I’m sure golf is the same. I just need to keep hitting balls and pushing myself.

The other thing I noticed was that although I was constantly working on a solid impact position, I felt as though I should be focusing more on fundamental movements. What I mean is, PGA Tour pros are always quoted as saying that they work on fundamentals more than anything else on the range. And, other than grip and a fairly solid understanding of posture and aim, I’m not really sure what else I should be working on. PGA pros always caution amateurs heading to the range by saying, “You should really have a PLAN when you go to the range. Don’t just beat balls with your driver without really PRACTICING something.” And, I have to agree with them.

But I don’t want to overdo it. I do want to keep improving my swing, but first things first: I need to build up my endurance on the range. I also feel, however, that I should be inputting little drills here and there to help focus my mind when I’m out there. As much as I love listening to my iPod while I’m practicing draws, hooks, slices or the occasional shank, I have to remain focused on the task at hand, whatever that may be.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Saturday Scramble

So yesterday was my preliminary “assessment.” My task? Play a 3,300 yard golf course in a scramble format. My goal? I had no idea. I think a part of me wanted to get to at least 10-under par, as this course is less than HALF the length of normal tournament courses and SHOULD be no problem whatsoever to dominate. So I guess my goal was to rape and pillage.

At least, that was the plan.

I pull in at 7:35 am to try and find myself a team. The scramble was put together to benefit a local women’s club in town, and for $35, you received coffee, donuts, possible prize money, and a gift basket at the door.

Now, as an aside, I want you all to know that I had a few beers the night before…to uhh…you know, celebrate the start of this little “experiment.” Now, that’s not an excuse. I’m merely stating that so you can understand the way in which I approached reporting on this little event.

Old people everywhere. Dozens of them. Whining about the coffee, the crappy prizes, and how inept the bag staff was at finding their carts. People limped about every which way and it was by the sheer grace of God that I found the sign-up table. Two women sat at a table covered with flyers, gift baskets, money, and a massive tee-sheet.


“Tom Collins, of course.”

“Tee time?”

“I don’t have one. I was told to come in early and you would pair me up with someone.”

“Alright…how about—“

Just then, an older gentleman with glasses as thick as your fist butted in: “Where the fuck is my golf cart?”

“Mr. Glasses, it should be right outside…oh, and Tom here is going to be playing with you at 8:10. You guys will be teeing off of the back nine.”

We both turned and sized each other up, me being 6’2 and he being a spark-plug all of 5’1.

“Are you any fucking good? Do you know where our cart is?”

“I don’t know. I’ll go out and look, I guess.”

We both shrugged our shoulders and parted ways. I walked outside, grabbed my bag, and started searching for the elusive golf cart. In looking around, I quickly surmised the logistics of this little event: one line of carts was for the front nine tee times and one line was for the back nine. I did NOT know, however, which one was which. The tee times were carefully planted with post-its on the front of the carts. The one in front of me read 8:45 am. A sudden gust of wind blew it away.

Just then, I heard a shriek rise up from behind me: “You’re not on my team!”

I turned to find an older woman in a turquoise-striped golf outfit pointing a boney finger in my direction.

“Excuse me?”

“You’re not on my team! That cart there belongs to Ethel!”

Now, at this point, other than Mr. Glasses, I had no idea who was on my team, so I said the first thing that came to mind. I assumed she WAS on my team.

“I’m not on your team? That makes me sad. Why can’t I be on your team?”

But she didn’t bite on the cuteness factor.

“You’re not on my team!”

Seeing no end to this solid, well thought-out argument on her part, I decided to turn to someone with a nametag and ask where the hell my cart was.

“Excuse me, sir? I’m going off at 8:10 and I have no idea where my cart is.”

“He’s not on my team!”


“Your cart? Are you on the front or the back nine? Cause the back nine carts are over there.”

“Ah, thank you.”

“Told you! He’s not on my team!”

Yes, thank you. I think we got it.

So I trudge over in time to meet up with Mr. Glasses, and we slam our bags on the back of trusty cart number 48. I liked that number, as it should also correlate to our 18 hole score for the day. Gross. I retrieved my gift bag to see what my hard-earned money had provided. Well that’s nice: Anti-Age Cream and a Pencil.


Just then, two older gents pass by my cart, huffing and puffing as they carry their 95-pound cart bags (as a former caddie, I shudder just looking at them) to nowhere in particular. This was the second time they had walked by, so I figured I would try and help them out.

“Where are you guys going?”

“We’re trying to find our cart…we’re teeing off at 9:10.”

“Well, we’re 8:10, so I think your cart should back that way.”

“No, we’ve been back there. There’s nothing.”

“Hang on. Let me go ask someone.”

So I walked back to ask another guy with a nametag where the hell the 9:10 cart was. Sure enough, after finding someone, he just shrugged his shoulders and turned the other way. Awesome. Another bag-attendant who would rather stand around and WATCH this debacle unfold than to try and remedy the situation.

So I came back empty-handed, telling these gents that I couldn’t find out any useful information whatsoever. One of them uttered: “Well, don’t you work here?”

“No, I don’t work here. But I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”

I couldn’t resist. They just stared at me. Well, good. Chew on that one while you rub that Anti-Age Cream on yourselves. In fact, use mine. What the hell am I going to do with it anyway?

Finally, after all of the shenanigans, I met up with another member of our team: an older gentleman I named Mr. Bad-Eyesight, because he had no idea where his ball went after the first 20 feet. As it turned out, our team would only be a threesome, so we would be alternating every three holes on who would get to play an extra shot.

You know, I just realized I named one of these guys “Glasses” and the other one “Bad-Eyesight.” That’s hilarious. I suppose subconsciously I was hoping that putting the two together would yield something special. Or cancel each other out. Whichever is better.

And so it came to pass, that at 8:10 am, on Saturday, October 04, 2008, I embarked with Mr. Glasses and Mr. Bad-Eyesight to win ourselves a freakin’ scramble. I was hoping that their combined ages of 158 meant that I would be able to soak in nothing but wisdom and pleasant insights in the 3-hour round to come. But, nay, it was not to be.

We started off strong with birdies on the first two holes. My plan to rape and pillage this golf course was going off without a hitch, and my swing felt surprisingly good after just a sip of coffee, which normally tweaks my muscles into periodic spasms. Must’ve been the recent stretching exercises.

Then we bogeyed the 153-yard 3rd for no good reason whatsoever. I think we were all asleep or something. It’s like the course was lulling our team into a state of over-confidence, and instead of actually PLAYING golf, I felt as if I was just watching myself play it. I needed to refocus.

For the next four holes, we set ourselves up for birdies on the grueling 110-yard 4th, the 270-yard 5th, and the 225 yard 6th (the pars being 3, 4 and 4 respectively), but were unable to convert due to merciless lip-outs. I don’t know how it happened. Maybe it was the weight of both of them on my shoulders that caused undue tension to build up in my putting stroke.

And then the incredible happened: I was struck with a golf ball.

Now, up until this point, my fearless playing partners could not stop talking about how far Big Red—the 300-pound golf-ball-crushing-beast-of-a-man who was playing behind us—could hit his driver. “Oh, he can do this…he can do that…he can hit every par 4 on this course.”

Well…yeah…the longest par 4 is 315 yards. I would say a lot of people could do that.

So here we were: my team was setting up for another birdie try on the unbearable 257 yard 7th, when I feel something slap the side of my right leg. Hard. Confused, I turn to see a ball roll gently away from me toward the front of the green. In thinking about it, I’m surprised how long it took me to realize what had happened: Big Red…that wanker… hit me on the fly from 257 yards away. What are the freakin’ odds.

The pain didn’t seem that bad at first. Just sort of a dull stinging. But after about 5 minutes, it was like every muscle in my right leg decided it was a good idea to tense up and ache right along with ground zero. Fortunately, Mr. Glasses rolled in the birdie, and we all waited on the green for Big Red and the rest of his posse to approach us. When they arrived, Mr. Glasses turned into an attack dog.

“Didn’t you fuckers see us on the green? We’ve had to wait for the ladies in front of us to clear on every hole…didn’t you think YOU should wait too? Fuckers!”

The group looked more confused than anything else. Predictably, Big Red apologized, but I couldn’t help but notice his complete lack of interest in what had just happened. In fact, during the apology, he kept looking over his shoulder at his ball, which now rested 20 feet away from the flagstick because of me. Nice shot wanker.

“Hey man…I’m…uhh…really sorry.”

“Did it occur to any of you to yell fore?”

“But I hit it over left of the green. I saw it curling over this way—“

“So you saw the ball curling toward the green?”

“Yeah…I uhh—“

“And you didn’t yell fore?”


“Nice shot wanker.”

He just stared at me. I think it was more the word “wanker” than anything else that confused him and forced him to collect his thoughts. Either way, I was done with the conversation. As mad as I was, the odds of hitting someone from that far away are really freakin’ slim. I’m just glad he didn’t hit me in the head. Otherwise you would be reading a post that would look something like this:

I love pancakes…blahahahaldoggies…puppysnots…wankerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr….

That would have been one sweet post. Anyway, back to reality: now, instead of raping and pillaging this petite track of land, I was forced to play the rest of the day like Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines. Well…I guess it wasn’t anything like that. But close. Really freakin’ close.

From that point forward, it was like I had to reconfigure my swing. I had to put a little more weight on my left foot, which limited the coiling action in my backswing. This meant that I had to use an extra club most of the time, which pissed me off even more, because the course was already short as can be. But despite the limping, the missed putts and the fact that we didn’t use a single shot from Mr. Bad-Eyesight all day, our team still finished 6-under par. On this particular course, that meant we shot a 56.

I didn’t even stay around for the awards presentation. I don’t even know what place we came in. I didn’t want to sit around for 2 more hours and wait for everyone to finish WITHOUT some painkillers or alcohol or SOMETHING to distract me from Big Red’s dumbass.

But, in driving home, I realized something important about my game: I still need a lot of work with my wedges from 50-100 yards. Unless you’re playing on greens with a stimp-rating of 12 or higher, there’s no reason you can’t be within 15 feet from those yardages. I should be getting up and down much more often than I am right now. Although I was hitting the green and giving myself a putt, it was always from 20 feet or more. In addition, when it comes to putting, I seem to flip-flop between keeping my head down as I putt and looking up as I make contact with the ball. I need to keep my head down all the time, and “listen to the ball as it finds the cup.” Or whatever that saying is.

As for today, I might go to the range to work on some wedges, depending on how my leg feels. I’ll certainly be stretching it out this morning and taking plenty of Aleve. But hey, if Tiger can walk for 5 rounds of golf on a bum knee on a course like Torrey Pines, so can I. I think I just need to stretch first.

Take care everyone.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Plan of Action

After giving it some thought, I realized today that while I do have an ultimate goal of getting my game in shape to enter a local qualifier for a US Open, I need to determine ways of defining intermediate goals along the way to make sure that I’m making progress.

This, of course, is an issue as well. Everyone knows that golf is a funny game: you can shoot lights-out one round and then have no idea what you’re doing the next. My handicap index will be the ultimate barometer of my progress, but until I start stringing together consecutive low rounds, I know my handicap will not change. Due to the nature of calculating a handicap, it can be hard—as everyone knows—to lower or even to RAISE your handicap without a few LARGE numbers thrown into the mix.

I suppose the one advantage I have right now is that I do not have a formal handicap. That means that once I start playing every weekend, I might start out with a handicap lower than a 6, and I will already be that much closer to my goal. Or, it could mean that I’ll have 10 bad rounds in a row, and my handicap will be higher. I guess only time will tell.

Either way, one thing I need to figure out is if I can find a local course around the area that will “sponsor” me to some degree. Let’s face it, with the economy where it is, I couldn’t afford to play every day if I wanted to. But, if the golf course is willing to cut me a deal for the sake of this little experiment, that would give me more of an opportunity to play and lower my handicap. So I guess my first order of business as I begin my conditioning routines is to construct a proposal for local golf courses to see if I would be able to get any free rounds or range time. Even a reduced rate would be helpful. The tough thing, however, is that with gas prices where they are, my travel radius is a wee bit smaller than I expected and I don’t have a lot of course options. In that case, I suppose I should make my proposals pretty convincing. Here are a couple of samples that I’m considering:


Dear Golf Course Owner,

You lucky bastard. How dare you own a golf course and get to play on it any damn day you want while the rest of us have to work for a living. No, I’m just kidding. I know running a golf course can be hard, especially when 90% of your staff would rather be playing golf than WORKING anyway. I ought to know: I used to work at a golf course.

My reason for writing to you today is simple: I want to play golf for free. I mean, it’s a free country, isn’t it? Why shouldn’t I be able to hit a little white ball on some land you manicured for that exact purpose at no cost to me? I mean, I DID buy my own clubs and balls, right? Right. I knew you’d see it my way. You lucky bastard.


Tom Collins

Well…perhaps I need to take more of a business approach. Something that a savvy golf course owner could relate to: like dollars and cents. And overt compliments.


Dear Extremely Handsome and Skilled Golf Course Owner,

I am writing to you today to propose a mutually beneficial business relationship whereby you will obtain a constant stream of free advertising and positive course reviews in return for free use of your driving range and available tee times.

As an avid golfer and online content provider, I have created a site which will document my daily and weekly struggles to lower my handicap in an attempt to be eligible for a US Open local qualifier. Through a combination of text and banner advertisements, it is my hope that your golf course will receive more business and exposure on an International scale for assisting me with my objective.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Tom Collins

That’s a little better I guess. But I still like the first one better. In addition, I suppose if it came down to it, I might volunteer some time to help them on the weekends working at the bag drop or cleaning carts. I mean hell, I’ve done it before. Then again, that would take time away from focusing on my golf game. So I’m not so sure I want to subject my busy schedule to that kind of commitment.

In the meantime, I’m stretching every day now, and I have to say, it really doesn’t take that much time at all. Only about 10-15 minutes, and I’m set for the day. I also have a tournament I’m playing in this weekend—a scramble—so we’ll see how I fair under these intense playing conditions. Especially on a course that’s 3,300 yards from the tips.

Yes, that’s right. I said 3,300 yards from the tips. Kind of makes your brain fart, doesn’t it?

Well, at the very least, I just put a little more pressure on myself to perform now that you guys know how short this course is. Now, there IS a crap-load of water, but if I "pull a Tiger" and hit irons off of the tee all day, I really don’t have an excuse for playing poorly—especially when I have 3 other people keeping me sane. Or at least that’s the idea.

Take care all.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Stretching Routine

Upon further reading of “Complete Conditioning for Golf,” by Pete Draovitch and Ralph Simpson, I prepared a daily stretching routine to help increase my flexibility as I begin this crazy journey.

In my preliminary assessment, I found deficiencies in the following areas:

Hip Mobility – After doing the squats required for the test, I couldn’t help but feel that my right hip was slightly higher than my left as I performed the exercise.

Upper Back (Ribcage) Rotation – I experienced tightness in my left side when I turned to the right. At the time, I didn’t see a problem with this, as I could simply wreak havoc with my follow-thru. But, as it turns out, unless I increase my flexibility in this area, I’m limiting my rotation and therefore my ability to coil properly on the backswing. This, of course, can lead to a loss of power, and I’m not freakin’ letting that happen.

Weight-Bearing Lower Body Rotation – Although the angles I created with my hips met the requirements, I still feel I need to loosen them up a bit.

Abdominal Strength – While I was up against a wall pretending to sit in a chair, I couldn’t help but notice how difficult it was to keep my lower back against the wall while I raised each foot. While I would like to blame this indiscretion on my abdominal strength, I think my lower back also had a part in this. If my lower back were stronger, I could’ve forced it to remain stationary on the wall. So in addition to abdominal work, I need to figure out a way to increase my lower-back strength as well, if for no other reason than to prevent it from hurting like a bitch after an hour on the putting green. Standing over the same putts can hurt your back after a while. Man I’m getting old.

Lateral Torso Endurance – In trying to support myself on one elbow, I couldn’t help but notice that my right side felt weaker than my left.

Push-ups – Although I was able to do 30, I don’t think it would be too hard to get above 36 or 40. I remember reading somewhere that push-ups are really good for your golf swing, so it can’t hurt.

Static Balance Test – Again, this test pissed me off more than any other. I mean, how hard is it to balance on one foot? Apparently I’m no Shawn Johnson. My best time so far on one foot is 8 seconds. I have to get over 10. In fact, make it 15 seconds.

Before I share the routine I’m going to use, I thought I’d share a few things from my reading thus far.

Firstly, greater amounts of force can be delivered when a muscle is pre-stretched before performing an activity demanded of it. When a muscle is pre-stretched, it creates “elastic recoil” that applies additional force for a more powerful contraction of the muscle. This pre-stretching procedure is called “preloading the muscle.”

Another interesting concept I found in this book relates to “escape routes.” When there is (or are) a glaring restriction in your range of movement or flexibility, your body compensates by moving around the problem or adding excessive pressure and stress on another area, and that area can become easily injured.

Come to think of it, I can think of a time when I had a GLARING escape route. Maybe some of you can relate: until a friend of mine pointed it out, I was sliding my hips toward the target on the downswing, instead of rotating them. My poor hip rotation caused a lateral “shearing” of my spine. Granted, I was only 25 at the time, so my youth might have saved me a bit. But you get the point: a good range of motion can help prevent injury in the long run.

So, keeping these issues in mind as well as using my previous evaluation, I put together the following routine:

Spine Rotation Recovery

90/90 Side-Lying Stretch – Lie on your side with your legs in the fetal position. Rotate your top shoulder down toward the floor, and stop at the first barrier of movement. Hold for 30 seconds. Then, straighten the knee of your top leg while extending your top arm up and behind you, and hold for 30 seconds. Do the same on the other side.

Standing Wall Twist – With your back 6-8 inches away from the wall, turn like you’re making a backswing, placing your right palm against the wall and crossing your left to reach. Hold for 20-30 seconds, and do the same on the other side.

Extension of Middle Back and Ribcage

Extensions – Roll a towel and place it just under your shoulder blades on the floor. Arch your back, keeping your lower back on the floor; support your head using your hands. Only hold this for 2-3 seconds, and then move the rolled-up towel on top of your shoulder blades, repeating the exercise. Do it once more where the towel is just above your shoulder blades.

As an aside, I really didn’t get the point of that last one, but I did feel SOMETHING happen. So I guess that’s good.

Pectoral and Neck Stretch – Grasp your hands behind your back and move them away, keeping your shoulders stationary. Turn your head to the left and hold, and then do the same on the right side.

Hip Rotation Recovery

Supine Figure Four Hip Rotation – Lie on your back with the towel supporting your head. Your legs should look as if you’re sitting in a chair, at 90 degrees, with your feet flat against the wall. Raise your right foot and rest it on your left knee, pressing against your right knee to feel the stretch in your hips. Do this on each side at least once.

Crossover Stretch – Similar to the last stretch, except after you rest your right foot on your left knee, you’re going to pull your knee toward your chest. Stop if you feel a pinching sensation in your groin (definitely). Repeat exercise on the other side.

Hip Extension

Kneeling Hip-Flexor Stretch – Kneel with your right knee on the floor, and lean forward towards your left foot. Raise your right arm and bend your upper body to the left. Do the same on the other side.

Side-Lying Quad – Get on your side in the fetal position, and prop yourself up on an elbow. Grab the ankle on the top leg and pull the heel toward your butt, keeping your bottom leg in the fetal position. Repeat 1-2 times on each leg.

And that’s about it. Other than spending 5-10 minutes with a brisk walk outside to get the muscles ready to stretch, I think I can get this whole routine down to under 20 minutes a day. The book recommends doing it every day for 4-5 weeks, because after that point, even if you’re only able to stretch for 1 day per week, you will have still attained long-range benefits from your exercises. Granted, I’m not going to be stretching like this before I go out to play. I would imagine there are pre-round “minor” stretches I’m going to learn soon for that.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Baseline Evaluation

Today I performed an initial “screening” to determine different areas of restriction that currently exist in my golf swing. The test was designed by Pete Draovitch and Ralph Simpson, who wrote “Complete Conditioning for Golf.” The evaluation assesses components of flexibility, strength, balance, and coordination. So basically, today is the day I officially start this whole process, determining my physical golfing deficiencies and customizing a work-out plan to improve these areas before I start focusing exclusively on my golf game.

It’s go-time bitches.

I would be interested to hear some feedback on people who try these tests alongside me, just to see how common or uncommon my results are. After you read through this list, performing the actual assessment for yourself should only take 10-15 minutes.

Cardio-respiratory Endurance

In the book, they say that you should be able to walk 1 mile in 16 minutes or 2 miles in 34 minutes. Now, I’m not a hardcore runner by any stretch, but after all of the caddying I’ve done and my regular running routine of 1.5-2 miles 3 days a week, I think I’m alright in this category.


Hip Mobility – Perform a squat with your legs shoulder-width apart and your feet flat on the floor. When you reach your lowest point in the squat, see if one hip is higher than the other.

When I performed this, it was hard to tell, but if anything, I felt like my right hip was slightly higher than my left.

Upper-Back Mobility – Perform another squat, this time holding a golf club over your head using both arms (I used a long-iron for comfort). During the squat, pull your arms back as far as they will go, and notate your limit (the easiest way to tell is if you check the position in relation to your ear). After you’ve found the farthest point, take a quick breather, and then sit up against a wall (without the club this time), making sure your lower back is flat against the wall. Perform the same exercise, and see how far you can bring your arms back towards the wall. If you are unable to achieve the same result, then your upper-back should be targeted in training.

For me, I was able to achieve the same result both times. It was, however, a little tricky to get my lower back flat against the wall. Hope my spine isn’t screwed up.

Upper-Back (Ribcage) Rotation – Hold a long-iron against your upper back, keeping your shoulder-blades squeezed together. As you lean with your butt up against a counter top or bench, turn to the right and turn to the left to see the angle you are able to create relative to the countertop (or whatever you’re leaning against). This means, that if you are able to turn so that the club is perpendicular to the counter (which I hope that isn’t the case, because then you belong in a circus), that would be 90 degrees. When performing this test, 45-55 degrees is preferable. In addition, try to get a sense if one side feels tighter than the other.

I noticed more tightness in my left side, as I turned right (which would be my backswing). For me, turning right only yielded 30-40 degrees, and turning left was normal, around 45-55 degrees. I guess that makes sense, as a follow-thru is more or less a ballistic stretch for your entire body…and I do like to rip it from time to time.

Weight-Bearing Lower Body Rotation – This is very similar to the last test, except now you’re holding the iron against your chest with both hands, keeping your shoulder-blades pinched together as much as possible. Now, however, you’re focusing on turning your navel only, first to the right, and then to the left. Now you’re noticing what angle you can achieve with your hips relative to the club you’re holding. In this case, a 45-degree angle is preferable.

While I could achieve the range of motion necessary, I definitely felt that my hips were a little stiff. It’s not like I WANT to have hips that’ll fire to 90 degrees (unless of course I want to swing like Camilo Villegas, for all those who watched the BMW and saw his swing in slow-motion), but I think they need to be a little looser nonetheless.

Non-weight Bearing Rotation – This one is going to be difficult to describe without using pictures, so I think I’ll use a weird example to see if I can bring these images into your head. Alright, say you’re sitting in a chair, and your arch-rival comes by and pushes you to the ground (don’t worry about him/her, cause you’re going to kick his/her ass on the golf course anyway). Strangely enough, when you hit the ground, you maintain the same posture you had while sitting erect in a chair. So, in other words, you’re lying on your side, looking like you’re sitting in a chair. Now take your free hand and use it to pull your knees a little past 90 degrees (towards your chest), while keeping your back straight. Now with this exercise, try to move your “top shoulder” towards the floor by rotating your upper body, stopping at the first “barrier of movement.” I had a hard time figuring out what this meant until I did the exercise. What this means is, if you’re trying like a maniac to get that shoulder really close to the floor and you feel a strain in your lower back, you’ve gone too far. The first barrier of movement is when you stop moving your shoulder comfortably to the floor. Tour players get to 1-2 inches from the floor, and the recommended distance is 3-4 inches. Perform this test on both sides.

I was able to get within the recommended range. This test, however, does not make any sense to me yet. I mean, I look like I’m in the fetal position and I just want to hit the crap out of the ball. That’s not very manly.

Strength and Stability

Abdominal Strength – Perform a squat with your back flat against a wall. So basically, it’s like you’re sitting in a chair, but there’s no chair. Now raise one foot (only slightly…like 4-6 inches), then the other for 2 seconds each. If you are unable to do this without moving your back away from the wall, you need to strengthen your abs.

Now, I could DO this…I swear…but again, I had a hard time keeping my back flat against the wall. Not sure if I have an abdominal weakness or just a strange skeletal structure.

Abdominal Endurance – This book is obsessed with this whole “chair” image, because here it comes again: this is where you’re trying to hold a sit-up for as long as you possibly can. Now, unless you have someone holding your feet, you’re going to have to wedge your feet underneath a couch or a heavy chair to do this. Remember that chair image? Flat back, 90 degrees with the legs? That’s what the sit-up position should look like.

Bottom line: I went 10 seconds before I went, “Okay, I’m freakin’ done.”

Lower-Back Endurance – To be perfectly honest, I was unable to do this exercise. The main reason was because my apartment isn’t a gym, and I didn’t have a big enough table or a partner to help me with this. This exercise is the mirror image (kind of…if you’re in a fun-house) of the last test, except this time you’re testing your lower back. You’re supposed to lay face down on a table with your upper body hanging off the end (obviously, this is where I needed a partner to hold my feet). You cross your arms over your chest, and see how long you can hold that position with good posture before your body goes limp like a…deflated balloon. Any-hoo…if anyone out there has the ability to do this test, go for it. The main thing is that your Abdominal Endurance time and your Lower-Back Endurance time should be just about equal, or there’s an imbalance in your “musculature,” and you should work on that deficiency to bring them up to being equal.

Lateral Torso Endurance – Get into a side-bridge position—meaning you’re holding your body up on one elbow and keeping the rest of your body as straight as possible—and stagger your feet so that the “top foot” is in front of the other. Place your free hand on the opposite shoulder, and see how long you can hold this position with good posture. After timing yourself on both sides, add the times together, and see how they relate to your lower back endurance test. If you figure out the ratio (in seconds) to be .75 or greater, you have an imbalance in these muscles.

Alright, first off, I was not able to compute this ratio because I could not perform the Lower-Back Endurance test. Secondly, just to go over this “ratio” again, this means that your muscles are imbalanced if you’re able to hold each side-bridge position long enough so that the total time for both sides is equal to your lower back endurance time. At first, I was confused, because I figured hey, the longer you can hold this “side-bridge” position, the better off you are, right? Well, I guess what they’re trying to say is that your lower back should always be stronger than the muscles you utilize doing a side-bridge. At any rate, when I performed this test, I was able to hold the right side for 12 seconds, and the left side for 15 seconds. Obviously, being a right-hander, my right-side isn’t utilized as much as my left during the swing. But again, both sides have to be balanced to help avoid over-compensation or injury in the future.

Push-up Test – We all knew it was coming. Push-ups are a great exercise for your golf swing. I’ve heard that since high school. According to the chart they provided, men from ages 20-29 should be able to do 22-28 push-ups on average before they stop and need a break for…oh I don’t know…5 hours?

Somehow, I was able to do 30, which put me in the “above average section.” The “excellent” ranking was if you were able to do more than 36. To get a look at a chart for comparison, click here. Now bear in mind, this is not the same chart found in this book. It does, however, give you a basic idea of where you stand.

Static Balance Test – This was the most annoying test of all. Technically, golfers should be able to do this for at least 10 seconds. That is the minimum. Standing on one foot with your hands on your hips, raise your free foot to just below the knee of the supporting leg and raise your heel. You have 3 consecutive attempts with each foot to record your best time.

My best time for my right foot was 8 seconds, and my best time for my left was 7 seconds. Apparently I have balance issues. And honestly, I’m not surprised. Balance has been something that has plagued me over the years. If anything, I tend to fall forward after my follow-thru. I guess I need to start working on that.

Thank you for sticking with me. The preceding tests constituted a “baseline” evaluation. The book also has a second evaluation, which you need a partner for because you need to notate specific things like spine alignment and overall posture. I might share that test in a later post, as that is more of an “in-depth” assessment. But for now, these tests should give me a good of my limitations and areas of restriction. Knowing this information will make it much easier to determine what exercises I need to focus on in order to obtain a balanced golf-swing.

Alright. Rock-on.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Initial Reading and Range-Time

Over the last few days, I’ve been surfing the net and reading different books regarding “golf fitness,” and finally came across a book I think I’m going to stick with, cover to cover, because it’s incredibly thorough and helps me design a custom-made fitness regimen based on my areas of weakness.

While this book and my subsequent training program may appear to be a little hardcore, I assure you that will not be the case. Despite my lofty intentions of getting my game in shape, I don’t have the time to spend 2 hours in the gym each day and hours upon hours to spend at the range. Now, I WISH that were the case, but it isn’t. So whatever fitness program I decide upon, it has to be manageable. The book is called “Complete Conditioning for Golf,” and it is written by Pete Draovitch and Ralph Simpson. The book starts out by listing the seven main components of a successful golf training program. These points are listed below.

1. Cardio-respiratory Endurance, which means you get your heart pumping to the tune of 20-30 minutes a day, 3 days a week at your training heart rate (220 minus age, multiplied by .70).

2. Postural Imbalances / Symmetry. Because golf causes the body to use certain muscles more than others, “muscular imbalances” are inevitable and you need to focus on practicing good posture regularly.

3. Golf-specific Strength: while your hips and legs produce the most force, a well-rounded strength training program helps to assure a proper power transfer during the downswing.

4. Functional Flexibility: obviously, a fluid golf swing is the result of a free-range of motion, and so daily stretching exercises are recommended.

5. Balance: other than being an absolute necessity in the golf swing, a positive side-effect of a balanced golf swing is that the swing itself is steady and controlled easily.

6. Motor Learning: by using these drills, you’re helping yourself produce and repeat the easiest movements with the least amount of stress. Stress, as it relates to joints and muscles. Not STRESS, as in: I just chunked a wedge into the water from 60 yards away and I’m freakin’ flippin’ out right now.

7. Nutrition: well yeah I guess…but I just want to pound my driver 350 yards…who cares if I want an extra piece of chocolate cake?

Just as an aside, I remember one of my teachers back in high school telling me that golf was not a “sport,” but a “game.” He, of course, was a baseball player, and thought that golf was for pansies. Well, I found a great quote from this book that will alleviate some of the emotional trauma my teacher caused me on that day:

“There is perhaps no single action in sport that requires more overall muscular strength, joint flexibility, and movement coordination than a perfectly executed golf swing.”

End-quote. Boo-yeah.

After getting pumped up by that quote, I went to the range to start getting a feel for my golf-swing again. I think one of the hardest things for an amateur to do is to slow down their swing and be patient on the range. What I mean by that is, after a few missed shots, the average golfer’s muscles tighten up and the driver comes out of the bag to wail away at 70 golf balls. Or, at the very least, the average golfer will start swinging faster and harder to try and make up for the 7-iron they just shanked.

That was the case for me today. I started out slowly, using a 7-iron to hit easy punch-shots with half-swings. I always love doing this, because it’s easier to focus on my impact position and really try to feel like I’m “pinching” the ball against the turf on the follow-thru. Once I get a solid feel for a good impact position, I start trying to shape shots around the range. Low hooks, high fades, whatever. It’s funny, but the last thing I try to hit is a straight shot at my target.

In fact, as I was watching the Ryder Cup today—ahem, GO USA—I kept hearing Johnny Miller say things like: “He’s going to try and play a high fade into this green.” Now, I understand the reasoning: a high fade will bite much faster on a green than a draw. But to an amateur, shaping a shot into a green doesn’t really compute. It’s not really something we think about. I mean sure, if there’s a hard right-to-left wind up near the green, I’ll be sure to aim right or try to play a fade, but I don’t usually think about shaping shots into greens. Sounds like a cool concept, actually. But I’m more accustomed to shaping shots under or around trees than having a great look at a flagstick from the middle of the fairway—with no wind—and saying, “Yeah, let me curl it in there from the right just for shits-and-giggles.”

Then again, hitting a straight shot into a green is always much harder, as even a small deviation in your swing can send the ball ANYWHERE. At least with shaping a shot you know what to expect.

After 20-30 balls, I moved onto my wedges, trying to hit crisp 100-yard shots along with several flop shots to make sure I can still pull those bastards off.

Bottom line: today was a day to get back in the saddle and take those first few steps towards a controlled golf-swing. But like I mentioned before, I think the fitness aspect of my game comes first. I have a feeling my swing will be much more pliable when I start getting into the nitty-gritty of swing mechanics if I can nail down a manageable fitness regimen now.

Take care all.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


In order to help me start this whole crazy process, I went to the bookstore today and picked up a few books on the game of golf. One focused on tempo, one claimed that it was the only instructional book I would ever need, and one was a logbook to help me track absolutely everything in my game, right down to the amount of obscenities I use in an average round of golf.

After buying my incredibly expensive cup of coffee and finding a quiet area of the store to sit down and begin to absorb the material, I became paralyzed. It was weird. I opened the first book, skimmed the table of contents and began to read the foreword. It was at that point that I began to feel queasy. I paused, set the books on the floor, and promptly left the store.

I knew at that very moment what was wrong: I’m scared to death to analyze my golf game. That may sound ridiculous, as the main point of this blog IS to analyze my golf game and get it in shape enough to try and qualify for a US Open. But at this point, I feel that analyzing my game the way I know I have to would be an unproductive effort with a crap-load of bad side effects. Why? Because at this point, I have a 6 handicap. Although my practice and playing times are limited, I can go out on any given day and shoot a 78-80. Now, obviously, that isn’t anywhere near good enough to try out for a US Open. But my point is this: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Right now, the deficiencies you will find in my golf game involve feel around the greens, putting, and distance control with my wedges inside of 100 yards. All three of these things can be practiced without having to dissect my golf swing. So I figure, other than working on these three weaknesses, why deconstruct my golf swing and make the job of improving my game that much more difficult?

So, if I’m not going to devour every golf magazine and instructional manual out there—at least for now—what am I going to do to improve my golf game?

After careful thought, I have a 4-step plan I’m going to enact prior to dissecting my golf swing, IF that day ever comes. These steps are: fitness, activities at home, practicing at the driving range, and finally, playing consecutive rounds of golf.

Once I left the bookstore, I jumped into my car and drove to the nearest driving range. While I worked my way through the bucket, one thing became very apparent to me: fitness. Bottom line: I should be able to get through at least a bucket of balls before I start to feel fatigued. In fact, I would go so far to say that unless I can get through 200 golf balls before I start to feel tired, my endurance is not where it needs to be. So my first step in this process is fitness.

Over the next week, I’m going to be researching the fitness side of golf to see if there are any other exercises I would like to add, but for right now, I’m going to be focusing in on only a few areas: legs, lower back, abdominals, endurance lifting, stretching and cardiovascular fitness. In my experience, a strong lower body pays huge dividends in your golf game. In addition, having a strong lower back and abs can really help with posture, and help you stay fresh and focused while you pound away at 200-plus range balls (and on-course swings as well). Stretching is obvious, as flexibility plays a huge role in a good golf swing; endurance lifting and cardiovascular work will be my way of toning up and feeling comfortable walking 36 holes any day of the week.

Another thing I’ll be researching this week are drills you can do inside or just outside your home that can help improve your golf swing while you’re away from the course. Things like posture, checking and re-checking your grip, or swinging your golf clubs both with a weight and without are all things that can help re-groove a golf swing. As I said, I can go out and shoot a decent round right now, but my swing still feels derailed. I need to feel comfortable with it once again if I am to focus on other aspects of my game.

When I do finally make it to the range, I need to make sure I have a plan, because as I mentioned before, my time available for practice is quite limited, and I need to make the most of it. First and foremost, I feel I’ll be practicing consistent contact, hitting a lot of half-swing shots with my 7-iron to focus on a good impact position. I’ll also be shaping shots and making sure I’m comfortable hitting anything from a low stinger to a high slice. And, as I mentioned before, I need to regain some feel with my wedges, so in addition to laser-ing in yardages with my pitching, sand and lob wedges, I’ll need to work on my “Dave Pelz 9 o’clock swings” as well as practicing flop shots, bump-and-runs and regular pitch swings.

And, when I finally reach a point where my swing feels good, I’m back in shape and I feel like I can finally attack a golf course again, I plan on playing 4-5 rounds where I keep track of everything (things like GIR, fairways hit, 3-putts, sand saves, etc) in order to analyze this information and determine where my game stands. It will be at THIS point that I will pick up a book or two or enlist the help of a certified PGA Instructor (as a last resort) to find drills or practice routines that will help with my glaring weaknesses.

Once I get to that stage, I’ll have to reassess where I am and then go from there. And I do realize that certain parts of this plan—such as all of the things I hope to accomplish at the range—may seem too general. Part of the reason for this is that although I have a good idea of what I need to do to improve my game, I still need to research a bit to really nail down the actual reps, drills and practice routines I’ll need to use to make it all happen.

And that’s the whole reason for this site: to share with you my findings and my progress along the way. As I mentioned in my first post, there is a very real chance that regardless of how hard I work, I may never be able to get down to a 1.4 index to try and qualify for the US Open. But hey, it’s always been a dream of mine and it’s worth a shot. It’s a win-win either way.

That’s it for now. Take care everyone.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

One Man's Quest To Qualify

Ever since I was a 12 years old, I have wanted to play on the PGA Tour. Growing up, I devoured anything and everything related to golf: I read books on the mental game, fitness, golf instruction, and even cut out my favorite pages or articles from GOLF Magazine and plastered them all over my walls. After one season you couldn’t even see the paint anymore.

I played golf in High School and loved every minute of it. At that point, I figured I’d play college golf, qualify for the tour, and all would be right with the world.

But the reality of college golf was a little different than the fantasy. I decided to attend a Division 1 school when I knew my skills were Division 2 at best. I wasn’t recruited, and so my only option was to try and “walk on” to the golf team. I ended up missing the team by two strokes.

But that’s golf, right?

I had just assumed that I would be playing college golf, and now that I wasn’t, I was at a loss as to what I should pursue. Surprisingly, however, I wasn’t crushed. I ended up having a great 4 years at college, and I truly feel that missing the cut was the best thing that could have happened to me. I was able to accomplish so much while I was there, and having to deal with traveling, missing classes and missing out on late nights with friends would have detracted from the overall college experience.

Move forward 2 more years, and I find myself caddying at a private golf course in Northern Virginia. Initially, I took the job because it was an escape from some of my problems at the time and it surrounded me with friends and a game I loved. It was almost like college again, minus the challenging academic coursework and any responsibilities whatsoever. But, after two years, the job started to feel like work. I took on management responsibilities and ran into some of the politics involved in dealing with other members of the management team. More specifically, the owner had one plan for me, and I felt another path was more appropriate—so I left.

But the caddying experience reinvigorated my passion for the game. It had been so long since I was able to enjoy golf, and to be able to talk golf all day every day made me feel like I was a kid again, back home, waking up every morning at 6 am to ride my bike over to the golf course and play 36 holes. To have just a taste of that obsession once more was really special.

It has been almost a year now since I left the caddying world and tried to move onto bigger and better things. Currently, I have a stereotypical office job helping clients resolve their tax issues with the government. It’s not golf, but because of the work schedule I now have something I haven’t had in 5 years: consistent days off. I have never had a job where every Saturday and Sunday I get to wake up and do absolutely nothing. Or, perhaps I wake up and do WHATEVER I WANT. Aside from Lasik surgery, this was one of the happiest moments of my life.

So now that I am a part of the formal “workforce” and will always have weekends off, a thought popped into my head: weekend golf. I can now spend a few hours, two days a week, working on my golf game. I thought: hey, that’s pretty awesome.

But then I thought: wait a minute. What if I could actually get my game into shape to play in a big tournament or something? That would be even better.

Or hey: what about the US Open? A 2 handicap (1.4 index, to be exact) is currently the “handicap limit” to try and qualify. If I can get under that limit, I could try out for the US Open. That would be FREAKIN’ awesome.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I have a 6 handicap right now, which isn’t even “formal.” I need to join a course or enter my scores online or something to get a “real” handicap. Plus, going from a 6 handicap to a 2 handicap is no walk in the park. It may not seem like a lot, but shaving 4-6 shots off of my handicap is going to be really freaking hard.

But I have freakin’ weekends off, dude!

So that is the whole purpose of this site: to track my progress as I pursue a better golf game. I’m sure a few of my weekend “excursions” to the golf course will be included, as well as drills and other instructional snippets to not only help me stay on top of my game, but also offer up helpful tips to readers as well. And, I suppose if I am successful in lowering my handicap, and I am able to play in a local qualifier for the US Open, I would be happily reporting on that experience as well. But again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I have an incredible amount of work to do before I get to that point. If I ever do.

I guess the last thing I will say is that the main goal of this site is not to sit here and complain about missed shots or “if only’s.” The main focus of this site will be on the various processes I use to improve my game, so that at the very least, one or two readers may stumble upon an article or a story that will instruct and inspire them to work on their own golf games.

Because seriously, who would enjoy visiting a site that does nothing but complain about a golf score every day?

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this site. And if anyone ever has any suggestions or comments, feel free to share. I have a good idea of what I’ll need to practice to get my handicap down to size, but there might be some enlightened souls out there who might just put the right words together for me to feel inspired.