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.

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