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.


Kiwi said...

And this people is why I don't practice, I end up depressed.
The other week I'd had a couple of hard long days at work. Get up Sat Morning for my normal Sat comp round. Had to drag myself out the door to motivate myself. Stopped at the gas station on the way. Bought 3 energy drinks, the BIG cans. Mowed one of those before I got to the course, and the 2nd inside the 1st 6 holes. Then the last one of the back 9. I was amped to the max. Had the shakes when putting, wanted run to my ball. Even played well, finished with a 68.
Sure I nearly crashed the car on the way home when it all wore and I just about fell asleep, kinda been to worried o try it again now.

Matt said...

Hi Tom,

Glad to hear the practice is going well...

Two questions: is your handicap falling closer to your goal of 1.4? And if so, are you entering qualifying this year?

Continued good luck,

Tom Collins said...

Awesome round Kiwi. A man after my own heart. In fact...that's insane...3 energy drinks? I guess my love for caffeine seems pretty small and pathetic compared to a jittery Kiwi.

Seriously though...I'd like to hear more about that round. My best round so far is a 69, and I just couldn't miss. If you were amped up and damn-near crashed the car on the way home and still shot a 68...I must learn from you...that's all I can say.

And Matt...funny you should mention that...although I could probably bribe some sleazy golf pro into verifying a handicap for me, I think I'm probably going to wait until next year to see if I can get my handicap down to a 1.4 by then. I'm at a 5 right now, and it's slow-going...those last few strokes are just not coming off. I mean, I guess I never really expected them to, but I think the thorough practice and maybe entering some local events will put me in a better mindset to make that decision next year.

Plus, from the sound of it, my money's on Kiwi to win the 2009 US Open anyway. Hey going out for it, or what?

Kiwi said...

My best is 66 (-6) and the hole was as big as bucket that day, or at least it felt it.
I will back myself to get up and down all day from everywhere, basically because with some of the places I hit the ball I don't have a choice if I want too score.

So on the days when i get the big dog going straight if I putt good I have a chance of going under the card.

Currently a 1.2. But the US Open. Hell I couldn't even get myself motivated enough to have a crack at qualifying for The NZ Open (nationwide tour) which was on last weekend.

My first ever handicap was 16. I got got to 9 within 12 months. Took me 2 years to get to 5. Then another 4 to get too scratch for the first time.

My major downfall is I tend to blow my stack if I get a on a bad run, then I may as well go home the round is lost