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.