Thursday, November 12, 2009

New Project

I realize that last post was a bit on the morbid side, and for that I apologize. I had just reached a point where concerns about my wrists and the stress of my job had pushed me over the edge. But at least that's all over and done with. I left my job near the end of September, and I'm in the midst of working on a new project that like to tell you about.

In the end of August, I was admitted into the Golf Writers Association of America. After years of wondering just what exactly I wanted to do with my life, a committee seemed to have validated that for me in one wonderful e-mail. This news jumpstarted my thinking, and all of a sudden I hatched a plan for 2010. I want to follow the PGA Tour on the road, in my car, and publish weekly e-books about my experiences. I now have the ability to obtain a press credentials, and I feel like tour coverage from the perspective of an obsessed fan, on the road, with a media pass, might just be something worth reading.

It's hard to explain without going to my new site, but in a nutshell, I am not happy with the current state of golf writing. If someone like me, who loves golf and loves writing, can't even make it through your average golf article without losing interest, then I feel there is something wrong with golf journalism today. I'm not saying I'm an expert on golf or on golf writing, but I feel like I know the sort of content that would hold my interest, and I'd like to throw my hat in the literary arena and give next year a try.

The problem is, I have no idea when I might be able to tee it up again. I'm moving back up north to New York to live with my parents for about a month before I head west to start my season-long journey to follow the PGA Tour, and between finishing up my book on my experiences caddying and preparing for the trip, I don't know when I'll be able to play golf. Well, the weather up in New York this time of year doesn't help either.

That is not to say that I want to stop this site, because it is possible that if I'm successful with what I'm doing, I will be able to afford to play golf and one or two days a week at whatever municipal track just happens to be near the tour stop. I mean come on: do you really think that I would follow the PGA Tour for a year and not bring my golf clubs? I am sure, however, that for the first two or three months I won't have the money to play golf because every spare dime I have will go toward gas, food, and caffeine. But I'm willing to make whatever sacrifices I need to in order to make next year work. I just need to put this site on hold for a while. Then again, I really haven't been posting anything of interest due to my wrists anyway, and for that I am truly sorry.

I'm going to make a serious effort to keep my golf game in shape while on the road, so that I'm ready to take advantage of any golfing opportunity that comes my way.

In October, I was able to score some media credentials for the Turning Stone Resort Championship, and I kept a detailed account of my experience for all seven days that I was there. I even had an editor look over my work, and organized everything in the form of an e-book. The e-book is free to download from the new site, and it should give you some indication as to how my writing will look during next season. I'd like to hear what you guys think.

I cannot thank you guys enough for reading me while I was trying this little endeavor, and this is something I will most certainly pursue in the future, but for now I need to prepare for one hell of a 2010. I hope to hear from you while I'm on the road.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Little Hiatus

Be forewarned: this post is a little sobering. But it's something I need to get off of my chest.

Out of the blue, I started to experience pain in my wrists and forearms. Having never experienced pain like this before, I wrote it off as a temporary inconvenience. When the pain and discomfort started to escalate, however, I began to consider the reasons why: well, I type like a madman at work, I type like a madman when I get home because I want to write, and I play golf like a madman on the weekends, which can only add stress to my wrists and forearms.

Then came the research on the Internet, speaking with friends, and coming to my own disastrous conclusions...could I have carpal tunnel syndrome?

On June 16th, I decided to finally use my health insurance and visit an orthopedist to determine what the hell was wrong with me. After a few x-rays and other tests, the doctor concluded that I had tendinitis in both wrists, and that my current job was the culprit. Not as bad as carpal tunnel, and it's not like surgery is required, but it still scared the living crap out of me. That, and I realized the irony of the situation: that the work and people who caused the problem are the same people I turned to for health insurance coverage. Personally, I think that's a waste of health insurance. Your health insurance should be for more important things--like cancer or surgery--and not just to keep you healthy enough to work.

On that day, my doctor informed me not to play golf for at least four weeks. I also needed to take two weeks off from work, taking it easy and ingesting a lot of anti-inflammatory pills to quell the pain and swelling.

To be honest, those two weeks were just exactly what I needed-- a wake-up call. There I was busting my ass, saving up what little money I could to play golf on the weekends and pursue my passions part-time. The result: my full-time job-- the very thing that was taking up the majority of my time-- threatened to take away my two main passions. Namely: writing and golf. You can imagine the kind of conclusions I came to about life and about what I feel is important to me.

On Friday, July 17th, I had a follow-up appointment to see how I was progressing. Fortunately, I've healed up enough to begin physical therapy, but I haven't quite reached the point where I can play golf again. I was told I have to wait another six weeks. Six weeks? Really? I know it's necessary-- but come on man.

So I hope all is well with the rest of you, and I'll certainly be working on my articles for Universal Golf and watching the Open Championship (which, by the time I’m posting this, my heart is aching for Tom Watson). And I will most certainly update everyone when I begin my practice routines and rounds once again. But for now, know this: I am doing everything in my power to pursue my passions full-time, and leave the rest of those "secure pursuits" -- like a full-time corporate job-- in my dust, as I am living proof of what can happen when you lose sight of your priorities.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Finally..Another Round

Yesterday, I spent almost 3 hours at the driving range, taking full advantage of the $10 “all-day” pass. Unlimited golf balls, bunker practice, putting practice, and plenty of targets? Who could resist that?

I was preparing for two reasons: first, I knew I was going to be playing golf today, and so I wanted to keep narrowing my focus as far as my current weaknesses on the course are concerned. Second, I’m going to get a chance to play Grand Cypress in Orlando next weekend, and I want to make sure I don’t stink up the place.

To be honest, other than additional mileage, I wasn’t really focusing on any one aspect of my game when I was at the range. Anytime I came across a few bad swings, I’d try and diagnose the problem—such as a few pull-hooks with my mid and long-irons midway through my routine. So, I’d drop a club to the dirt and make sure I was aligned properly. After discovering that I was in fact lined up at my chosen target, I determined that it was my strong left-hand that was to blame. So, I spent 30-40 balls working on my timing so that I could still use a strong left-hand and still keep the ball in play.

Personally, I love a strong left-hand grip. I never have to worry about going right, and as long as I stay focused, I usually produce either a straight shot or a little draw. I also usually make pretty solid contact with the ball, as a strong left-hand grip encourages hand rotation. Plus, as I’m more a fan of an abbreviated backswing, I rely on solid contact to hit my irons to respectable distances. The problems I’ve noticed only occur when I lose a little focus and over-cook a shot, which results in me being 30+ yards left of my intended target. But hey, nobody’s perfect.

The only real problem I came across while jamming out with my iPod at the range was my driver. I still play with a Titleist 975D (I know, I know…I need to get something from like…this decade), and so if my game is a little off, the club isn’t really as forgiving as some of the nitrogen-infused 600cc driver’s out there today. I couldn’t seem to hit the thing straight, and by the time I got around to practicing with it, I was already a little wobbly from the 200+ balls I had smacked beforehand. So I was swaying all over the place, and couldn’t seem to get a handle on hitting the ball straight. Normally, I love my driver, and can’t help but hit it well. But I just couldn’t get it together, and I was a little concerned about my upcoming round and how I would fair on those faithful 14 swings.

Today, however, was pretty successful. My driver was still quite unpredictable, and caused me pain and suffering on 3 or 4 holes, but I was a fast learner, and kept it in my bag for most of today. The course I played was a local muni course near my apartment, and measured 6,800 yards from the tees we were playing. The tips were around 7,000, but my buddy wasn’t having it. Oh well. The course relies much more on placement than yardage, as the architect crowned most of the fairways to solve any and all drainage issues. This of course sucks hardcore if you catch the wrong part of a fairway, as your ball will ricochet into the nearest gator-infested swamp if given the opportunity.

I finished the day with a 78. I had with 4 birdies, 3 three-putts, and 2 drivers that were so far left I think I offended some of the Republicans who were playing the course today. It was a highly sporadic round, as I started bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie. At the same time, however, the round almost felt easy, as I lipped out three birdie attempts and one eagle attempt. I switched back to my old putter, which for some reason can hold a better line than my new one. The touch is a little different, and that probably explains my affinity for three-putts. Overall, however, I feel like I’m on the verge of some really great scores. My focus is there—I think I just needed to hit a few more fairways.

But, golf is such a game of “what-ifs,” so who really knows what could’ve happened.

We’ll see what happens next weekend. I’m planning on playing 27 holes on Saturday and 18 on Sunday, so I should get an even better idea of how my game is holding up. And I don’t care what anyone says—I’m playing the freakin’ tips. If Torrey Pines is over 7,600 yards, I need to sack up.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Day Pass

Tomorrow I’m going to try and meet up with some friends to play, so I figured today I’d hit the range and try to practice a few areas of my game that have been plaguing me lately: driving, bunker-play, and putting. I decided to splurge, and spend $10 at a local range for a “day-pass,” which meant unlimited balls and a special area of the range with a bunker, putting green, and rest-area where you could drink water, beer, whatever. Well, I don’t know about the beer, but that would’ve been a prime location for a cart-girl to drive by, seeing as how half of the people I ran into today looked pissed off at their golf games.

I also discovered how perfect the location of the range was: facing directly into the wind. In my opinion, that is optimal, because any hint of side-spin you put on the ball is amplified 100 times over, and any distaste you have for non-stop wind will be conquered after a couple hours of unrelenting gusts. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I get extremely frustrated when playing under windy conditions. For the first 10 or 11 holes, I tend to fare better than most, but by the time I reach number 12, I’m ready to decapitate the nearest squirrel or wrestle an alligator I’m so angry. I think players who obtain an unyielding level of patience in the wind undoubtedly have an edge. I’m not saying I’ll ever get to that point, but it’s nice to dream, right?

I began with slow, half-swings with my pitching wedge, focusing on impact, alignment, and my grip. After I felt I had a good handle on my golf swing again, I moved to my 7-iron, where I promptly pulled 6-7 in a row like a champion. That’s the thing with my grip: I like it to remain strong, so I can say hello to at least two knuckles on my left hand, as my resulting shot normally ends up crisp and long. If I lose focus on squaring up at impact, however, my left hand naturally rolls all my hopes and dreams 40 yards left of my intended target. And with all the wind in my face today, that is no exaggeration.

But being that far offline my first several swings really helped me to pinpoint exactly why my ball ended up so poorly, and I soon learned to hold-off on releasing my hands till the last possible moment, garnishing a solid shot with a draw.

The other problem I have with a strong left-hand is lining up my driver correctly. The longer the club, the more my strong left hand can wreck havoc on my resulting flight pattern, but I’ve found if I simply focus on a slow, smooth swing, the shot normally ends up right where I want it to go. Now, when I try to smash the living hell out of the ball Angel Cabrera-style, that’s when a strong pull-hook will result, and I’m back to the drawing-board. That is, unless I focus on trying to play a fade, which usually results in a straight shot.

Then I hit the bunker, but I was little disappointed, as the lack of sand made it nearly impossible to hit a high, floating bunker shot that landed and stopped quickly. My first few attempts rocketed over the green with the style and grace of an F-14 Tomcat. Then I remembered an old article I read back in the day which explained that to hit a soft and short bunker shot, you can try experimenting with a short follow-thru. The tough part, which I found out very quickly, is that it’s hard to keep your swing under control when you know the follow-thru is going to be so damn abbreviated. My first few attempts were way too fast, and it wasn’t until I adopted a lazy, Fred Couples-esque backswing that I was able to start hitting the shorter bunker shots I wanted to.

The heart-breaker today was my putting. For the last few months, I’ve been using a new putter: The White Hot Tour #9 by Odyssey, but for some reason I’ve been having a real problem lately keeping it on line. I originally purchased the putter because when I tested it out on the fast-as-hell artificial store greens, I liked how well it rolled the ball on a slick surface. The hybrid nature of the putter made me feel like I could get creative with fast down-hillers, playing the ball off the toe and just nudging the ball in the hole. Unfortunately, the greens I’m rocking-out on these days are all pretty slow with a lot of bumps, and so a true roll or a delicate touch isn’t really needed. Half of the time, I figure I could use a 7-iron and putt more effectively. So, in an act of desperation, I went back to my old putter, which I had used for about 10 years. It’s an old-school Odyssey that I don’t even think they make any more, but it was so easy to line up my putts and keep them on my intended line. The putter also had a much needed “pop” whenever the ball came off the club face, conquering all of the little imperfections on the green on its way to the hole. I could also control the distance without a problem. So, after hardly any deliberation at all, I decided to go back to my old putter for now. I know everyone changes putters, so it shouldn’t really bother me. I guess I was just hoping this new putter would come through in the clutch for me. But, it wasn’t meant to be for now.

I finished out my day hitting half-swings with my lob, sand, and pitching wedges, zapping in yardages with my rangefinder to see what I might be able to utilize inside 100 yards. Granted, a healthy wind was in my face, but after 15-20 swings with each club, I found that my lob wedge went an average of 58 yards, my sand wedge went 84 yards, and my pitching wedge went 95 yards with half swings. I remember I dialed in these yardages one faithful summer and won a crap-load of side-bets with friends, so practicing these shots should prove to be worthwhile. After about 30 minutes, I had dirt and sand caked all over my arms, face, and legs. The combination of wind in my face and the fresh layer of sand and fertilizer the range-crew sprinkled in my brief absence on the putting green caused for quite a few blasts of crap in my face, and by the time I had had enough, I looked like a cinnamon-glazed donut.

I have high hopes for tomorrow. Thus far, I’ve taken a somewhat casual approach to working on my game, but I think now is the perfect time to tighten the screws as the golf rates drop for the summer and my game gets back in recognizable shape. I don’t know where I’m playing tomorrow, but I don’t care. It’s just so nice to play regular golf again.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Lesson Learned?

So I was finally able to hit the links yesterday after an unnecessary hiatus. Honestly, I don’t know what the problem was. I guess the unfortunate part of having weekends off is that this is also the only time when friends and other plans can actually take place. Stupid friends and their jumbled priorities.

I have been going to the range every weekend, but yesterday was the first time in a while that I’ve been able to tee it up and get a better idea of my progress. There were some positives: all of my irons, from my 3-iron to my lob wedge, seem to be cooperating in the contact department. I don’t think there was a single shot yesterday that I didn’t catch just the way I wanted to. Even my short game is holding up. But, like any round, there were some noticeable negatives: my driver was all over the place, I couldn’t hit a bunker shot to save my life, and I wasn’t hitting the majority of my putts on my chosen target line.

Some friends from work heard that I played golf, and so they wanted to meet up yesterday for some “twilight” discounts. They had heard I used to caddie, so I can only assume that their expectations were high. But I didn’t care. I was just there to assess my own game and see where I stood.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to warm-up at all before we kicked things off. Surprisingly, however, after some quick stretches and a few swings, I felt comfortable over the ball and thinned my driver up the middle. I still play with a Titleist 975D, and—even though I love that club and feel like I can smack the crap out of it at times—the head can be a little unforgiving when you’re not ready to tame the beast. But, seeing as how golf is all about managing your mishits, I just figured as long as I was in the fairway, no big deal, right?

And I just had a random but important thought: I need to sign up with the nationwide handicapping service and get an official handicap going. Sure, practicing and playing is all well and good, but if I can’t consistently measure my progress, there’s no point in doing any of this.

I started off with a couple pars and a bogey, after a high tee shot faded over into a lateral hazard. For some reason, I just wanted to rip at my driver on that hole, without considering the effects of the wind. I must admit, I do get quite impatient with the wind at times—almost like when I play poker with friends…after a while I get so bored with playing it safe, I decide to take a big gamble out of the blue. And, just like on the poker table, this habit never seems to pan out very well for me.

On the fourth hole, a par-5, I smoked my drive and hit a long iron to about 20 feet. But I couldn’t hit my putt on the correct line, and missed my eagle quite handily.

I misjudged the wind again on 5, underestimating how much it would knock my ball down, and ended up short of the green, which annoyed me because the hole was just a simple freakin’ par 3. Fortunately, the pin was up front and I was able to convert my par after a crisp, spinning lob wedge which checked up next to the hole. My co-workers were blown away by that, but I have to admit, the spin was somewhat unintentional. I had a thin lie, and I just wanted to make sure I didn’t catch the shot fat or thin, so I struck down on it and didn’t really follow through. I guess I was just giving MYSELF a clinic on how to hit that shot.

I pulled my drive on the par-5 6th, and ended up in a fairway bunker. For some reason, I’ve always liked hitting out of fairway bunkers. Well, as long as there isn’t a massive lip preventing me from hitting a long-iron. Fortunately, I had enough room to get a 4-iron over the lip, and ended up about 70 yards from the flagstick. It was at this point I had some more luck come my way: my third ended up being a low, spinning sand-wedge that landed 2 feet from the hole, skipped about 15 feet past, and spun back to about 10 feet. None of my playing partners saw it, as a couple of wayward approaches kept them occupied in the trees to the right. But I think I’m glad they didn’t see my shot because any praise I received would’ve been undeserved. I mean sure, I hit the damn shot, but I was actually trying to come in a little higher at the pin, and I ended up tensing up at the last minute and hitting a crisp, low sand-wedge that seemed to break-dance in front of me. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to pull that shot off consistently on purpose. I ended up missing my birdie, and began to notice a pattern—when I miss my line, it’s always a push. Maybe I need to try and hook my putts.

On 7, 8, and 9, my drives were all over the place, and I scrambled my way to either a bogey or a double on each, finishing the front 9 with a crowd-pleasing 40. My playing partners were impressed, and it was difficult to hide my frustration. I wanted to be as carefree and relaxed as they all were, but I was just frustrated at myself for losing focus and not keeping my drives in the fairway.

Perhaps as a subconscious reaction to my poor course management thus far from the tee-box, I hit a long iron on the 10th, trying to avoid the lateral on the left and trees on the right. And surprise: it worked out great. Sure, I had a longer iron into the green than I would’ve liked, but I walked off with a carefree par that made me feel like I stole something.

My defensive play came with two ho-hum pars on 11 and 12, but 13 is where I threw all of my focus out the window and decided to try and take advantage of the tailwind. The 13th is a funky par-5 with a wicked dog-leg right. The hole forces the “smart” player to play a safe tee-ball to the left, safely avoiding the water and setting up an easier second shot. The “manly” golfer, however, can aim right over the water and try to cut the dog-leg. The downside, however, is that even if you’re able to carry the water, the narrow fairway slopes away from you at that point, and it is very easy to run a ball past all the “desirable areas” and into the rough behind any number of bushes or trees that will successfully block out any and all attempts at hitting a shot toward the hole. My result was the latter, and I had to punch out sideways just to try and get on the green in three. Unfortunately, I had a brain fart with my punch shot and didn’t even get it out of the crap on the left, resulting in a crowd pleasing double bogey.

I made a similar mistake on 15, where I tried to fire at the green from the tee, ignoring the trees in my way and predictably hitting one of them, blocking out my approach shot and leading to another bogey.

I was able to stop the bleeding with a birdie on the par-5 17th, with a rare putt that actually utilized the speed and line it was supposed to, making me feel stupid for hitting the ball any other way.

The par-4 18th at this course is known as “The Spoiler.” From the sky, the fairway looks like a boomerang surrounded by water. You can either play it safe and aim for the fat part of the fairway on the right, leaving yourself a long iron in to an elevated, narrow, two-tiered green, or, if you’re a “manly” golfer like me, you can be a complete idiot and try to carry the water on the left, effectively cutting the dog-leg and leaving yourself a much more manageable shot into the green. In theory, that plan sounds great. In reality, however, trying to stop a bombed drive on a narrow fairway isn’t really that easy. And, perhaps even more unfortunate, is that if you are unable to stop your creamed tee-ball in the narrow fairway, you’re in the water on the other side.

Well, I decided to screw myself twice on this hole. First, I thinned my tee-ball, splashing down in the water on the left. Using my newfound frustration, I crushed my second tee-ball and bounced through the fairway into the second water hazard. I dropped a ball, hit my 5th shot pin-high, and then two-putted my way to a triple bogey.

And that, my friends, is why that hole is aptly named “The Spoiler.” I turned my semi-decent round into a sod-fest by the 18th hole. I finished the day 40-41, and screwed myself out of another good score by a lack of focus and stupidity. I mean sure, par golf can be boring to watch on television, but I would’ve been much happier leaving the course with a score a little closer to par than that. When am I going to learn?

Oh well. But, on the plus-side, I hit a lot of solid shots and my swing is feeling much more automatic than a few months ago. Now, if I can just get my putter on line and tighten the screws on my driver, maybe next time will be different. Then again, I think if overall I can adopt a better pre-shot routine to focus on the higher-percentage plays from the tee, I think I’d see 3-4 shots fall off my game overnight. But, this is golf. Who knows what I might screw up tomorrow.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Windy Lesson

Today I played with a friend at a familiar 6800-yard track in order to determine who would be crowned “Master of the Universe.” He’s an old college roommate with an ultra-competitive spirit, and we engage in our regular ritual of “man golf” every time he visits. For those of you who don’t know, “man golf” can be defined simply as: going for everything. No laying-up. No conceded holes, and certainly no complaints when the trash-talking begins. Personally, I felt a round of ultra-competitive match play would suit my present practice schedule just fine and dandy. We started our round at 8:06 am, and by 9, somebody decided to turn on the wind.

First off, I have to say that I’m really enjoying my golf swing right now. All those sessions working on a solid impact position and pre-round stretches have me nice and loose over the ball, and my swings are becoming more and more aggressive. I’m getting more confident with shaping shots, whether it be keeping a ball low or drawing a shot around an obstruction. All signs point to progress, but there’s nothing like playing in 30-40 mph winds to bring in a little humility and point out just exactly what’s wrong with your game.

I started out strong, with some ho-hum pars and solid chances for birdie. My driver was even behaving, and I almost drove the 3rd, a 343-yard par 4. My friend, in an act of sheer manliness, one-upped me and drove the bastard, leaving himself a 30-footer for eagle. My ball was in a bunker roughly pin-high, and that’s when the trouble started.

As an aside, I consider long greenside bunker shots to be among the most difficult to play, simply because there so much room for error. At least with a fairway bunker, you can just rip at the ball and try to pick it clean. But when you have to control the distance from 30-40 yards out, your instincts kick in and touch is the last thing on my mind. I tend to go for rule number one and just try to get the ball out of there. Unfortunately, that means flying the green on many occasions, and today was no different. So while my buddy tapped in for a crowd pleasing par (his belly putter occasionally fails him), I now had to hit a flop shot to a tight pin from behind a hill to save my par. Now don’t get me wrong: I love flop shots. In fact, with a slight breeze in my face, I felt pretty much unstoppable in my quest for par, as I could use the wind as a back-stop in case I flew it a little too far. Well, that would’ve worked if I had actually hit it solidly. Instead, I caught it a little heavy, and I was unable to convert my par.

I share this story because it seemed to be the through-line for my entire performance today: good drive, decent iron into the green, and then either trouble with the putter or trouble getting up and down. I don’t know what was with my putter today, but I couldn’t hit it to save my life. I never struck the ball squarely, and my ball never started on the right line. My 15-footers turned into defensive lag-putts for much of the back 9, as sudden wind gusts would often break my concentration and cast some sort of “yip-spell” on my hands and shoulders, making me look more like Kramer bursting through Seinfelds’ door than a golfer making a good, smooth putting stroke.

Meanwhile, the war waged on, and the match went back and forth almost the entire day. On the par 5 9th, my opponent stuck his second shot 15 feet above the hole, giving him a tantalizing look at eagle to square up the match. I caught my tee-ball a little on the toe, and so I wasn’t able to get my second shot all the way to the green. I pitched the ball to 10 feet, and watched as my friend burned the left edge to miss his second eagle attempt of the day, tapping in for birdie. For some reason, I felt very comfortable over my putt, and struck perhaps my only solid roll of the day, dropping the ball in the center of the cup. It almost made me look like I knew what the hell I was doing out there.

I think the main reason I struggled with my short game today was the cut of the fairways and areas around the green. It’s been awhile since I’ve played off of tight lies, and so pitches and flop-shots almost felt like new experiences for me today. I think because my main focus thus far has been my impact position and shaping shots with my irons, I should start to shift my focus more toward zeroing in on shots around the greens so that I can practice off of tight lies, as well as nailing down the big 3: my half swings with my lob, sand, and pitching wedges.

In “Dave Pelz’s Short Game Bible,” Mr. Pelz has a great section about “7:30, 9:00 and 10:30” golf swings. In fact, if you get nothing else out of the book, this is the most valuable lesson you can learn. His theory is that if you carry 4 wedges (he suggests the three I’ve mentioned along with an “extra-lofted wedge,” which I believe is 64-degrees for those who like to flip pancakes before their round), you will then have 12 yardages from inside of 100 yards. He advises readers to tape the numbers right onto the shaft of these clubs after shooting in the yardages with a laser. Several years ago, I half-assed this exercise and obtained three yardages: my half swings with the three wedges in my bag. Without too much gushing, let me just say that I dominated the golf course that summer from inside of 100 yards.

Now, I understand some of you are more of the “feel player” persuasion, and don’t believe in getting this technical. But I think this exercise makes your job that much easier out there, as you don’t even have to think about a thing: just grab a club and hit the yardage you’ve dialed in a hundred times before.

But back to the round for a moment. I’ve already established that I sucked it up with my wedges and putting today, and that my long game was pretty solid. I also discovered one more little nugget about my ability: my focus in the wind. I found that after 10-11 holes of dueling it out with the wind, I began to lose focus. More specifically, I start to lose focus throughout my golf swing. Normally, I envision a shot in my head and make a swing at the ball, trying my best to replicate it. Well, by 14, I took my aim, thought about nothing in particular, and swung for the fences. No thoughts, no focus. It was unfortunate, because I had 3 blow-up holes today that could’ve easily been avoided had I kept my focus down the stretch.

Well that, and I could’ve won the match with a little more flair. Due to my blow-ups and lack of focus, my buddy was 1-up through 16 holes. Fortunately, I won 17 and 18, but some of that was because he jacked his drive on 17 so far out of bounds I thought he was aiming for the kid on the tricycle over the road. He almost nailed him too. The kid might’ve been crying, but I couldn’t hear him because of the wind.

Even though we were playing match play, we did keep score, and I posted a horrendous 83 today. But, that’s what I get for not converting pars around the greens. Blow-up holes are so much easier to deal with when you only need one-putt to finish. Then again, I did learn a hell of a lot about where my game stands right now, and I’m glad I was out there playing.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Balance This

So, I will be brief. I was scheduled to play golf this weekend, but the weather never really got the memo: it rained hard in the morning, so I waited and waited; then by the afternoon, when the sun was out and I swear I didn’t see one damn cloud formation in the sky, it began to rain right as I pulled into the golf course.

After 10-15 minutes of solid, zero-visibility-esque rain, it was like someone decided to turn off the shower and give me a window to do SOMETHING with the few spare moments of daylight I had left. So I raced inside, bought my tokens, and headed back to the range, trying to think of something worthwhile that I could practice. At this point, I think I need more time on the golf course to identify where my weaknesses lie, because I’m really starting to stripe the ball on the range and I need to find some humility. It’s hard to feel penalized or demoralized on the range.

But anyway, I decided after striking a few shots that what I really need to work on is balance. It’s incredibly fundamental, and should have been taken care of at this point, but for some reason I can only attain a balanced follow through about 60% of the time. I don’t consider myself to have a wild swing by any means, but I would say—if anything—I tend to wobble forwards shortly after impact. Well, not so much wobble, but usually feel like I should take a step forward with my right foot after impact. Which sounds funny, but I almost think I saw a drill somewhere that instructed people to do that after hitting the ball, in order to insure a proper weight transfer. So I guess I got the whole weight-transfer thing going for me—which is nice.

To combat my instinctive “walk-thru” on the follow-thru, I started focusing on a balanced finish. To accomplish this, I focused on staying more centered throughout the swing, even the follow-thru.

The results weren’t that great.

My shots started fading right (which never happens due to my strong left hand), and with an occasional wind gust, my 5-irons turned into banana-split-machines. After 10-15 of those, I decided against the exercise altogether, and went back to my occasional “un-balanced” follow-thru. Now, I know what Jim McClean and the rest of the top-10 professional instructors would say: only practice and patience with a new swing thought or move will yield an effective change in the future. Yeah, yeah nerdy-nerds. To hell with that. I’d rather stick to an unconventional follow-thru that works for me. At least I’m getting down and thru the ball the way I want to.

Plus, the way I figure it: after impact, who the hell cares what your body is doing anyway? As long as you strike the ball the way you want to, and can do it consistently, you could let your club go right after impact and see how far it goes. One of my favorite golf books included that drill as its main focal point, in order to help people feel what a good impact position would be like (the drill was to have you learn what position your hands would have to be at during impact in order to launch a golf club the farthest you possibly could).

But I digress. So I worked my way through the bag today, and realized one painful practice session I must endure—at some point—is to drop a bucket of balls in front of my 3-iron and have a duel. I realize I don’t hit my 3-iron that often, but I want to feel like I can smoke the damn thing—rather than thin the crap out of it and send that wonderful jarring sensation up the shaft, into my hands and throughout my entire body. Perhaps I could even shape some shots at some point. But hey, let’s not push it. I just think that if you can strike a 3-iron consistently well, the rest of the sweet-spots in the bag must look like birthday balloons.

I think so, anyway.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Major Championship Simulation

As I waited for the torrential rainfall to cease from the comfort of a local bookstore, I began to notice that I was shaking. After three cups of coffee and a small breakfast, I guess I hadn’t anticipated the effects of indulging in a little overdose of caffeine. But then I thought…hey…I could use this to my advantage and spice up my practice routine today. I mean seriously: how often am I shaking and jumpy over a golf ball? I would imagine it would be the exact same sensation that anyone OTHER than Tiger Woods would feel standing over a 3-footer to win a major. So today I decided to see how my ball-striking would fair against an unpredictable golf swing.

So as I was saying: I was super-caffeinated. Not only that, but it was windy, the ground was wet, and there was a little nip in the air. In essence, everything around me was working against a smooth, repeatable swing. And, to make my situation a little more interesting, I vowed not to stretch or warm-up either. Looking back, I’m still not sure why I WANTED to make the practice session that hard on myself, but it certainly yielded some interesting results.

I decided to bring only three clubs with me to the range: my 3, 5, and 7-irons. The way I saw it, the 7 would be used to practice my impact position with if things started to go awry (which they did quickly), my 5 would be used to practice shaping shots (in case I couldn’t hit anything straight), and my 3 would be used as the ultimate test of nerves (because I don’t own a 2-iron).

I walked up to the teeing-ground, plopped down my clubs, dropped the balls, grabbed my 7-iron and shanked the living crap out of my first shot. The guy next to me started laughing. I lined up the second shot, skulled it into a bunker 100 yards out, and looked up to see that same jack-hole chuckling and crossing his arms. I guess he was just getting comfortable, preparing for my third attempt.

This was when I paused for a moment and thought about why my first two swings royally sucked. I mean yes, it was obviously a combination of all sorts of unfavorable factors, most notably the jack-ass next to me who had now stopped his practice routine just to scrutinize mine. But then I thought about my impact position, and realized that regardless of what my swing looked like right now, I needed to make sure that my left hand was slightly ahead of the ball at impact and that I caught the ball with a descending blow.

So, for my next trick…

I focused on a slow takeaway and then really tried to drive the club-head down and through the ball, trying to prevent my body from tensing up at impact and catching the ball thin. And what do you know: a decent shot. Granted, it didn’t go as far as I wanted because I caught it a little on the toe, but a decent shot nonetheless.

Without looking at Mr. Jack-Hole, I pulled another ball into position and took an aggressive swing, really trying to drive the club-head down and through the ball. The resulting shot was a keeper. Crisp with just a hint of a draw, right at my intended target. I looked over to see Mr. Jack-Hole watching my ball take its last few hops. He turned and then started hitting balls again.

What, am I not that interesting anymore jack-hole?

After a few more successful 7-irons, I moved to my 5, where I ran into similar problems as I eased into a longer iron. And by “eased into” I mean the equivalent of Kramer bursting through Jerry’s apartment door on Seinfeld. I almost cut the first few balls in half, jarring the club-head and sending that unforgettable “thwang” up the shaft and into my entire body. I had forgotten how well the wind and cold amplify a bad golf swing.

To get into the groove with my 5-iron, I decided on hitting a few punch shots. I kept trying to imagine hundreds of people watching me, and that every single swing had dire consequences. Surprisingly, I started hitting my 5-iron really well. I moved onto the full swing, focusing on a smooth takeaway and driving down with my left hand, which yielded consistent results as long as I kept my balance. That wasn’t always easy with the wind and my caffeine overdose.

After another 10-15 balls, when I started getting cocky in a herky-jerky sort of way, I decided to try and shape a few shots. Now, due to my strong grip, hitting CHAMPIONSHIP hooks is never a problem. It’s the cuts and all-out banana slices that I can’t seem to pull off. So after a few hooks that scared the crap out of the fish in a nearby pond, I attempted a banana split. It didn’t really work out so well: my first attempt slammed against the hozel of my club and Mr. Jack-Hole turned once again to admire a familiar sound. Soon, the fish came out of hiding and laughed with Mr. Jack-Hole at my horrendous shot. I would’ve tried to explain to him that I was TRYING to do something like that, but I had a feeling he’s heard that one before.

So I weakened my grip, slowed down my swing and just tried to make good contact. Eureka…finally a small cut. Nothing to write home about, but at least Mr. Jack-Ass or Jack-Hole or whatever his name was lost interest once again, and I could get to focusing on my caffeine and artful slices in peace.

After a few more successful fades, I pulled out the 3-iron, which looked like it had zero-degrees of loft as far as I was concerned. Or, maybe high doses of caffeine result in frightening hallucinations. My first few shots were low and short, as my descending blows that SEEMED to work with a 5-iron laid over a little too much turf as far as the 3-iron was concerned. I suppose Mr. Jack-Ass would’ve turned around again but he was too busy whiffing his driver 10-15 yards in front of the tee. Must be that new Taylor Made Driver. At least it looks nice.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to hit a solid 3-iron. I hit a few that went far enough to be considered for 3-iron-dom, but I never caught one very well. So I guess that’s an important thing to keep in mind: when the pressure is on, I should probably try to juice a 4 or 5-iron than hit the 3. And if I NEED to make sure I hit the ball long enough to carry some trouble, just take the 4-wood. Higher-percentage plays are always a good idea, even if they make you look like a sissy-girl. From my past experiences with caddying, I can’t tell you how many players stood over a golf ball full-well knowing that they probably weren’t going to be able to pull off their upcoming shot. I know this because they would all look up at me before their valiant effort and mumble: “You sure this is the right club, Tom?” Yet they all still tried to hit it, and they all regretted it later. Serves them right for taking me as a caddie.

Just kidding.

All in all, today was a great practice session. It proved to me that I can still hit solid golf shots, even when my body is doing its own thing. The only thing I wasn’t able to test today, which I should focus on in a future practice session, is the use of caffeine with my short game. As Dave Pelz says, when you’re in a pressure-packed situation, adrenaline always attacks the small muscles first. I was using a lot of my bigger (ahem, manly) muscles today, and so I may not have seen the full effects of my experiment. If I had been trying to putt, bump-and-run, or flop a shot in a pressure-packed situation, it might have been a different story. That will most certainly be on my schedule for a later date. Or, perhaps I’ll make sure I’m highly caffeinated when I join up with an unknowing twosome or threesome.

Take care everyone.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Second Evaluation

Well it had to happen sooner or later. I needed another test. I’ve been going to the range every weekend and working on my game as best I can, but just like English Dave and the rest pointed out earlier: at this point, I need to be playing golf rather than practicing.

And today I did just that. The course is a Jim Fazio design, and although I’d like to act like I know the significance of that fact, I really have no idea how he’s different from other course designers. If you were to say Pete Dye, I’d probably expect that the greens would be a bitch. If you say Robert Trent Jones, I would say ridiculous undulations all over the freakin’ golf course, so be prepared to hit off of uneven lies. But Fazio? It’s funny, but when I used to caddie I worked at TWO different Fazio designs, and I still don’t really know his signature traits. Although, the courses were TOM Fazio, and today I was playing a JIM Fazio design. Oh well. It’s too confusing to continue this rant.

I arrived at the course at the crack of 10 am, and, seeing how the weather was 72 degrees and sunny, the course was mobbed. But, I was just a single, so I figured I still had a good chance to get out. I approached a fossilized old lady at the computer and asked when the hell I could tee off. She radioed over to the starter’s shack, and the guy verified that I could get out with a twosome at 10:30. He advised, however, that I would need to “move my ass” (over the radio, no less) in order to make it in time. Surprisingly, I didn’t really feel rushed until the old bag with eyes asked for my name. I told her “Tom,” and for the next 5 minutes she struggled to spell “Tomlinson.” I would’ve corrected her, but after her long journey at the keyboard I didn’t want her to have a heart attack and die in front of me. I had some freakin’ golf to play, and I wasn’t going to be late.

So I fetched my clubs, threw them on the back of a cart, and rushed over to the first tee. Then a familiar thought smacks me in the face: I haven’t stretched or hit any balls. Now, this may not seem like a big deal, but during my last round I made the same mistake and spent the first 9 holes crawling out of the 7th layer of hell for a decent golf swing. Well, here goes nothing.

As I pulled up to the first tee, I looked at the card: “Championship Tees – 6,709 yards; Rating – 71.8.” Sweet. At least it’s better than that other course I’m used to playing…Ahem…3,300 yards for 18 holes from the BACK tees. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

When I looked up, I noticed that the older couple joining me was playing the forward tees, a good 50 yards ahead of where I was. I felt bad they had to kick their cart in reverse to greet me, but then again, it was probably in their best interest. I really had no idea where that first tee shot was going.

For some reason I was nervous, stepping up there in front of old-man-starter, the twosome I was paired up with and the foursome of young-guns waiting to tee off after me. I took a quick stretch, a practice swing, and tried to keep my balance. Surprisingly, the drive ended up alright. Maybe a little right of where I wanted it, but I wasn’t ready to play a draw yet and potentially over-cook the bastard into the trees on the left.

Wouldn’t you know it: I finished the first hole with a par. On in regulation and two boring putts.

The second hole was just stupid. I hit a fantastic drive up the left side and was sitting pretty with 160 to go. The pin was up towards the front of the green, and it didn’t even really look that far. I decided to try an 8-iron, working on a nice smooth swing just to keep warming up.

Oh, wait: did I say nice smooth swing? I meant a horrific shank-ass tension-laced-juicer that flew off of the hozel so hard I thought I had broken my left wrist. The ball went dead-right with a gorgeous fade, and flew over into the high weeds and brush out of bounds, never to be seen again.

I just laughed. It’s a shot I didn’t know I had in the bag, and honestly, I may need that shot someday. I dropped another ball and hit a fine shot, but I had ignored the stiff headwind and my ball ended up a little short of the green. And, with a mediocre chip and a crowd-pleasing two-putt, I carded a 7. I heart triple-bogeys.

But I have to say that getting a 7 on the 2nd hole really helped me focus. I ended up with pars on the next 6 holes. Not only that, but my short-game was spot on. A beautiful flop shot on 4 put me within gimme range. My putt on 8 from off of the green took the crazy right-to-left break perfectly and curled up to an inch from the cup. I even carried a 4-iron 210 yards and stuck it to 10 feet on the par-3 5th, which looked like a tunnel of evil trees from the tee. I’m serious—I didn’t even think there was a landing area.

On the 417 yard 9th, however, reality hit me again. I put my drive into a fairway bunker on the left, and, seeing how I’m only in a fairway bunker once every 6 months, I did the best I could, but couldn’t get it onto the green. Worse yet, I wasn’t able to get up and down from there. So I finished the front 9 with a 4-over 40, which in my opinion could’ve easily been 1-over. But, I know that repeatedly speaking in terms of “ifs” can drive you mad on the golf course, so I’ll shut up. But that 8-iron on 2 was just silly.

I snagged a free hotdog and a soda at the turn, and completely butchered my tee shot on 10. The landing area was rather small to begin with, and I think the food caused me to sway a little more than normal. I keep forgetting that I really should only have a banana or granola bar, because any overdose on food screws up my next few swings. But, I’m always hungry, and I never learn.

So I over-cooked my draw and ended up in the lateral hazard. And, after a flubbed pitch shot from 63 yards, I carded a 6. I always hate it when I try to get “cute” with a wedge and end up coming short. It’s those decelerations that really kill you.

But, just as before, the crappy 6 really helped me to focus. I played the next 6 holes even par, with a great faded iron on 15. My drive ended up 20-30 yards short of a group of trees, which were directly in my line. Problem was, they were tall enough to impede the flight of my pitching wedge. So I took a 7-iron and played a low fade, which I was able to get on the green.

On the par-5 17th, I had 213 yards left to the center of the green for my second shot. The green was elevated and there was a stiff wind in my face, and for some strange reason I decided it would be a good idea to play my 220 club. Not surprisingly, I came up about 20 yards short. But I was able to get up and down for the birdie.

The 18th at this course—a 418 yard par 4—is named “The Spoiler.” It wasn’t hard to see why: a tight landing area from the tee with water left, right, and long. For the second shot, you were faced with a narrow, elevated green with water on the right hand side. I was 5-over going into this hole, and I was most definitely thinking birdie. Unfortunately, the hole had other plans for me.

Without a doubt, I smacked the hell out of my tee shot. Straight down the middle, perfect placement in the fairway. When I approached my second shot, however, I once again ignored the wind in my face, and played an 8-iron from 160, when in retrospect I probably should’ve played a smooth 6. The wind caught it and carried it right, my ball rolling down a hill towards the water. Surprisingly, it was actually playable when I found it. The weeds had suspended the ball above the ground just short of the water. Unfortunately, I didn’t take advantage of this good fortune and proceeded to get under it a little too much. I put the ball in the trap, then on the green, then another crowd-pleasing two-putt and another crappy 6.

So 79 was the verdict for today, which frustrates me because it could’ve easily been a 75 if I had actually warmed up or focused and realized what wind can do to a golf ball. But I’ll take it. It was a beautiful day, and it felt great to encounter different scenery rather than the same old view from the range.

But I suppose things are starting to come together. I just need to nail down a quick but efficient warm-up routine and stick with it. Well that, and work on my putting some more. I couldn’t seem to hit any of my intended lines today. At least working on putting is something that can be done from the comfort of my home.

Take care everyone.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Back To The Grind

I apologize for the hiatus, but the holidays turned out to be a little busier than expected, and I haven’t really been able to practice until this weekend. It’s always a downer when life gets in the way of golf.

So the last time I posted something here I had just finished a rollercoaster round of golf that brought to light a few of the weaknesses in my game, and so today begins my practice to try and fix them. Meanwhile, Steve Stricker fires 33-under par after four rounds and feel like the pressure is on a little more than usual. But I have to remember that my main goal is pretty simple in comparison: bring the handicap down low enough to be able to play in a local US Open qualifier. No green jackets or Claret Jugs dancing through my head at this point. I just want to keep things realistic.

It kills me to admit it, but this weekend was a little depressing as far as practice was concerned. My main frustration was my backswing. I don’t feel like I have a full-range of motion. I began my practice routines working on a good impact position, which meant I was working with abbreviated backswings to start. That abbreviated backswing notion carried over to my “full swing,” as I realized that a ¾ swing would still fly the ball as far as before, so I figured: why take a John-Daly-esque backswing when I don’t need to? But the problem I’m running into now is that I feel there is a definite limit on my range of motion, and I think I need to refocus on stretching once again just to make sure that my ¾ swing doesn’t become permanent. Well, I don’t know. Maybe a shorter swing isn’t the worst thing in the world. It worked back in the day when shafts were made of hickory and a full backswing caused the club-head to wrap around your neck.

For the most part, the swing felt solid today. I only worked on my mid and long irons for a short part of my session today, because I wanted to spend the majority of my practice time with my wedges to work on my short game. But the mid and long irons I did strike went just as far as before. The only problem, of course, was that they ended up drifting a little right in a slight pull-slice motion. Normally, I would’ve dropped everything and spent the rest of the day correcting this, but the moron who set up the driving range put the “teeing area” on a freakin’ downhill slope again. Moron.

I’d apologize for saying that, but just like him, I used to have to set up the range in the morning, and not once did I subject a golfer to that kind of punishment. I’m sure tour pros will practice on uneven lies just for giggles, but for someone trying to get a good handle on a repeatable swing? Forget about it. Moron.

So maybe it was a good thing I focused on my wedges today, as my full-swings were off of consistently crappy lies. I mean I love tweaking my back out just as much as the next guy, but not today. I spent the majority of my time using a lob wedge, getting more comfortable with flop shots. The last round I played illuminated a glaring weakness in this department, which was a little unnerving because I’ve never really had a problem with these shots. Just like my experience on the golf course, I was catching the ball a little too low on the clubface. The resulting shot looked quite dangerous, like innocent squirrels or cart-girls might be future victims. But, after my fair share of heat-seeking-squirrel-missles, I was able to achieve a nice string of crisp floaters. As long as I focused on striking the ball in the middle of the clubface and made sure not to peek, things worked out fine.

And, as we speak, I’m sending out my e-mails to a few of the local courses in the area to see what sort of website management / writing services I can provide for free golf. I’m hoping to get a positive response soon so I won’t have to worry about pesky greens-fees while I’m working on my game. Well that, and I just can’t wait to start getting into matches with fellow weekend-warriors.