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.