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.

2 comments:

English Dave said...

Tom!

You're alive! Man, I was just getting ready to post a comment on your last entry, bitching and whining about nothing for a month, and there you are. Sorry it's taken me a couple of days to comment - it was a public holiday over here on Monday and I extended it by a day.

I'm glad to hear the irons are nice and crisp, but it sounds like a dodgy driver can ste the tone for the day. I'm much the same - if I can hit my driver relatively clean and straight and keep the ball in play off the tee, normally I score OK, but, if not, I struggle all day long. Fortunately, since I've made a couple of adjustments over the last year or so, I'm a much better driver of the ball than I used to be, but I can still miss fairways and hit crap drives - mostly when I'm not really concentrating, admittedly.

Upgrade your driver, pal. You can get a Titleist 905 for virtually nothing now and they are MUCH better than the old 975. The jump in performance ios huge from the 975 to the 905, but not so much from the 905 to the new 909's. Make sure you get the right shaft in the new driver for you, too - that makes a big difference. Changing from a regular flex to a stiff shaft helped me immensely.

If you're missing a lot of putts right, try standing a little further away from the ball. When I stand to close to my putts, I tend to make a little figure of 8 stroke and end up pushing them. If I make sure to stand with eyes directly over the ball, I can take the putter straight back and through and get the ball started on the proper line.

Cutting corners on drives, while fun, is very rarely the right thing to do. The fairway and corner are where they are for a reason. There's always something to be said for trying to hit the ball where, or only as far as, you can see it. Play the course the way it was intended. I do that on a remodelled short par 4 on my home course and now, in trying to lay up off the tee, I fuck it up virtually every time. On Saturday, I'm going to pull the big dog out and just smash it as far as I fucking can. See what happens. That'll learn it. Do as I say, not as I do. Or something.

Our home 18th is a similar style of hole to "The Spoiler". There is no water, but it's an uphill slightly right to left 400 yarder with OOB up the right and trees all the way up the left. The tee points you straight at the OOB and the wind, because of the way it gusts through the course, is always in your face and left to right. It's my least favourite tee shot on the entire course, not least because the fairway also slopes hard left to right towards the OOB and your effective hitting line is over the trees on the left to a landing area of about 10 yards at my distance. Most of the rest of my group play it as a par 5, since it plays about 450+ with the wind and slope and it's so easy to make 6, 7 or more. It's a bastard to finish on if you're on a good score after 17 holes.

Your game's coming, old pal. You just need to get out on the course and keep playing once or twice a week, at minimum. And register to be handicapped, too. You'll get better parking.

I can't believe I said that. I refuse to delete it, though. Take care, champ. All the best,

David

Tom Collins said...

Hey bud. Great to hear from you. I'm not sure how it will turn up in next month's issue, but I ended up getting my hands on a ticket for the final round of The Masters last month, and I wrote a rather long article (you know me) for Universal Golf Magazine on the experience. The combination of that crazy weekend, work, and whatever else prevented me from playing golf for most of last month, but I think my schedule is pretty much back to normal now.

I'm not sure how the article will be edited/cut, so I might just send you my draft just so you can see what it was like. Without going too much into it, I would have to say that I wish every golfer had an opportunity to go at some point in their life. I was speechless most of the day. And Tiger and Phil's rivalry didn't hurt the experience either.

Thanks for the golf tips. I'm feeling much better about my game, but I'm finding a lose focus at times during the round, and that's normally when I screw up--just when I think my game is on auto-pilot.

But I hope all is going well with you, and I hope to hear from you again soon.