Other than the fact that Tiger Woods and I were both born in California, we share very little regarding our golf. That is until recently… Currently we both are suffering from a golfing plateau. They are different by a margin that is hard to explain in words, but we are both stuck in a rut.
Tiger's plateau is simply identified by the number fourteen - the number of majors at which Tiger has been stuck for the past five years. Majors have been hard to come by for Tiger and for a time we could argue that he was changing his swing, but he has won other big tournaments which should tell us that he is ready to launch again from this plateau. But he hasn't, and has only come up short in the biggest events.
My plateau is altogether a different situation. About five or six years ago I discovered the Internet golf scene. This led me on a wild and crazy golf odyssey where I tried just about everything out there that one could try. You name it, and I have likely tried it. As with any journey, sometimes getting lost is the best thing that could happen to you because you learn so much about what you are trying to find, the neighborhood, who has good directions, and who you should avoid. I was deeply lost at times. I often took one step forward and three steps back.
In the last year, after trying everything, I started to work on one piece at a time. This laser focus allowed me to really start to improve. I have gained about two clubs of distance on my irons, so where I was hitting a seven iron, I now hit a nine, and if it is a warm day I may need to dial that nine back a bit. I picked up twenty to thirty yards of distance with the driver after getting on a launch monitor and learning what "hitting up on the ball" really meant. An after-effect of all of this is I have improved my score. My handicap before would hover between six and nine and with the recent changes it now hovers between four and six.
But here comes the part about the plateau. I have now stalled. The past six-plus months the handicap has not improved. I have still been working on what I call "priority pieces" but my swing is getting to a point I am not sure how much more a guy like me is going to get out of it. I could probably be slightly more consistent, but I am unsure how many I'll be able to shave from the handicap when I get to play once a week and - if I'm lucky - get to the range once a week.
The real problem with scoring as I can see comes down to a couple of factors that are difficult to practice on a limited time budget. For one, half wedges - anywhere from thirty to sixty yards - are tough to practice given limited time. When I watched the women and men professionals play recently, they were beyond deadly from these distances. I may fat the shot and hit it halfway there, I may skull it, and I may stiff it. Standing over such a shot, I really never know what the result will be.
Next, getting the speed of the greens right is difficult. Some days I am deadly good, some days I will blow it by four or five feet or leave them short at the same distance. I will also be very streaky when chipping the ball. From one hole to the next same guy, often very different results.
The last one that seems to affect scoring a great deal is hitting the driver within some vicinity of the fairway I am playing. I can at times be very wild and this will lead to some crazy score variations. I could probably throw in there some poor course management decisions as well.
The question I have been asking myself is whether a golfer who plays once a week and hits the range two times a month able to button up these areas of scoring? Honestly, I don't really have a place to hit sixty yards wedges to practice that shot. Most ranges where I live are mats and that is a terrible representation for half wedges because a fat shot might not appear all that bad on a mat. Putting, maybe I could skip one of the range sessions for a hour of putting and chipping, that might work but it might also cause the long game to regress a bit which would be a pretty big mistake.
So is this all there is for me? Have I permanently plateaued? Bad news for me is that Tiger is not far away from getting that next major and once he gets one I feel they will start to come in mass again. So we will no longer be able to share the fact that we are at plateaus. I am not sure how to currently escape my plateau. I will continue to work, because this is what is fun about the game of golf. That one plateau is rarely the end of the road. I will again discover something to improve my game and reach the next plateau.
Photo credits: © Stuart Franklin.