Just as it does for most golfers, winter brings about a lot of free time when golf is not an option. Sure, there’s practice, simulators and launch monitors, but for me, limited practice is about the only golf I see from December to April.
I should be spending all that extra time going to the gym, or investing in some decent boots and bindings so that I can get back into X-country skiing. But I haven’t done those things.
So I find myself looking for projects in hopes of carrying me through to when the courses open.
A few years ago, I bought a few books and re-learned how to sight read music for the guitar. I then bought a cheap second-hand bass and started recorded songs using the GarageBand app. I have a brother down in Florida who, unlike me, is a skilled guitarist. We collaborated on a couple of songs and it became a very fulfilling hobby. I don't do lyrics so the song titles came from Urban Dictionary terms. I figured if “Steely Dan” can become a household name for a band, Paddling the Pink Canoe, Wisconsin Bubbler, and Chinese Lantern would serve as song titles. This activity lasted a couple of years and I’ve yet to get back into it with as much ambition. Even the most enjoyable activities seem to pale in comparison to golf.
Last year, I downloaded a 3D drawing application and became just knowledgable enough to draw some relatively simple objects — a case that holds my calipers, a prototype part design for a co-worker’s presentation at my company and a golf club head that I never completed.
Again, once golf season started no other hobby could hold my interest.
This winter I decided to learn about what many might consider an extremely boring subject – Lean Six Sigma. I chose the “Green Belt” certification.
While never having been the sharpest tool in the shed, I’ve always enjoyed math. That said, I never took any sort of advanced math in school. Relatively speaking, statistics are not easy, IMO. Some of the formulas and concepts can be what I’d consider advanced and when charts or graphs are posted here at TST, they can sometimes be difficult for me to understand. Needless to say, this course would be a decent challenge.
I finished the course this week and scored very high on the exam. As it turns out, there wasn't the need to learn a lot of the complex formulas because Excel, Google Sheets and online calculators can do a lot of that heavy lifting.
After finishing the course, I was struck by a couple of things.
First, these tools and methods have a substantial impact on improving a process. They can settle a lot pissing contests at an organization as they offer fact-based and statistical information instead of memory and an opinion or sense of what’s going on (feel ain't real).
Secondly, Erik and Dave must have used some of this when writing Lowest Score Wins. Separation Value or “SV” and “SCOR” (which help defines SV) reminds me of Risk Priority Number in Six Sigma which assigns a value to a problem based on severity, occurrence and detection. Practicing with a purpose and working on a priority ties into this as well. (I have to admit to using some of the concepts of LSW when writing "how to" guides at work, simply because their approach is so logical.)
In another month or two, the weather will clear and the field behind my house will thaw. The Six Sigma course will be a memory. I’ll collect all the lost golf balls and start my spring practice. This year brings a different approach to what I’ve tried in the past. Repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result is nuts as they say. So instead of improving my indoor swing, I want to figure out how to take it — however bad it is — outside. I’ll evaluate the results using ball flight. If the results are as good as they feel hitting into the net, I’ll try like hell to make that the swing I use at the course instead of reverting back – as I always seem to do – to a poorer swing that just seems more natural.
Maybe I’ll gather some data…create some control charts to evaluate how I perform the keys and the ball flight results... establish a mean and standard deviation. I’ll create a linear regression model to see if there’s any correlation or significance between certain keys, consistency of how well I execute those keys, and the resulting ball flight. These all seem like good ideas when I have all the time in the world.
Or, I could just enjoy hitting golf balls outside again, keep track of my scores, and be glad I'm not stuck in front of my computer all the time.
2017 wasn’t exactly the same, but the results are pretty close… set the bar low and fail to reach it.
I’m not sure why it’s so important for me to improve at golf or why failing to do so has the impact it does. There are plenty of things I’m not that good at that I still enjoy. Guitar, fishing, hunting, shooting, working on small engines, lawn and home maintenance… I’m ok with being mediocre with these. They are simply enjoyable activities that make up my version of a full life.
Unfortunately, golf is more than that to me.
It may be because I thought or hoped it would be something I could excel in. I’ve said it before, golf is the perfect activity for me. It doesn’t require exceptional power, or speed, or upper body strength, it can be enjoyed alone or with a group of friends, it takes place in an environment I feel very relaxed in, and can be played well into my later years. I have a lot of time to devote to practice and enough of a budget with which to play and purchase equipment. So naturally, I adopted golf as MY game.
The trouble is, golf is not my game. It’s something I’ll never excel at… ever. Given unlimited time, money, or even the best instruction, the ceiling would still be very low. The trick is learning to accept that fact, to be happy with the good shots and not care about the poor ones.
Easier said than done. But I have to work as hard at that mindset as I have in trying (and failing) to develop a decent game.
There were some positives during the season — just as in seasons past. I had a more relaxed approach in the off-season, shot a couple low scores, got together with other members of the forum, kept a legitimate handicap, bought some new equipment and developed an improved iron swing using the 5S’s of good practice. There were also small improvement in the short game in with putting.
But overall, my game was worse than last year. And until I learn to accept the bad with the good, golf will continue to frustrate me.
Last week I played a solo round at a favorite course. From the white tees, the course plays at 6,000 yards with a rating and slope of 68.3/122. It’s a perfect course and distance for my skill level and club distances and shot mid 90's there twice last year. On this day, I hit 33% of my greens, hit approach shots of 100 yds or less to within 15 yds 100% of the time, and 50% of the time from 100-200 yds. My distances were longer across the board than average…. and yet I failed to break 100. Maybe those numbers are average for that score, I don’t know.
Given the courses I play, my problem has less to do with a lack of a distance from off the tee and more from lack of accuracy — and it isn’t even a close.
While my iron swing can best be described as a full body dry-heave, it can produce good results (and for anyone who thinks a golfer's swings are all the same, I have some videos for you).
My problem isn’t an inability to make shots, it’s that the shots I miss are bad misses. It isn’t that I can’t do all the things needed to score low, it’s that I can’t do all the things needed to score low often enough. And I just don’t see that changing.
So going forward into next year, I have to develop a different way of looking at the game. Maybe less worrying about improvement or index, and more goofing off, risk-taking, experimenting with different shots and looking for the positives in golf that are within my control.
One of my pet peeves when discussing sports is when someone blames a loss of their favorite team on bad luck. There are certainly instances when it’s appropriate, but more often luck is overrated as the real cause.
Today’s round was going pretty well. I hadn’t totaled my score, but late in the round I knew it would be lower than normal. I’m trying to get a couple scores in the low 90’s to keep my index close to where it is, and was on track to do just that.
On the 16th, I hit a good tee shot and followed that up with a layup that had me about 110 to the center of the green. I opted to use the pitching wedge for my approach to the front hole position and hit what felt and looked to be the right shot, but the ball barely hit a branch which slowed it down just enough to land it in the bunker guarding the green.
When I crossed over the creek and got a closer look, I knew that unless I could pull off a Mickelson type shot, It’d take me two to get out. The ball was embedded high into the lip.
Two shots to get out…. If only I was that lucky.
4th (and 5th) shot: With my right foot in the bunker and my left on the grass above the lip, I hit the sand hard below the ball and upward. What happened next is a blur, but the ball seemed to be heading out of the trap when it hit my wedge a second time and bounced back in, rolling to the center of the bunker.
6th shot: I now had a decent lie so I opened the club face and tried to pop it out. Instead, I bladed it right into the side of the bunker again.
7th shot: From the bunker lip, I executed the “punch it back to the center of the trap” shot again but this time without the double hit.
8th shot: I finally got out of the bunker - 5 shots after going in - and ended up with a 10 on the par 5.
I bogeyed the 17th which brought me to the last hole. While the round wasn’t lost, the bunker debacle meant I had to score low on the 18th. I chose a 5w instead of driver to be safe…. and promptly pulled the first tee shot enough to go into the tree-lined creek. I Teed up another and repeated that result. My third tee shot finally hit the fairway.
Needless to say, I was pissed. I’d had a wonderful round but just couldn’t finish it off. The best I could do was hope one of those shots was in play - which was not bloody likely. I was certainly lying 5 and looking at another crappy score. Still, I gave the obligatory walk through just to make sure.
Lo and behold, there it was… the original ball I’d used for most of the round. Even more miraculous was the decent lie from which I was able to punch out successfully. I hit the resulting 9i approach shot to within 10 feet of the hole and 2 putt for a bogey.
Sorry for the long back story, but here’s my point…
My partner and I were discussing the round afterwards and he referenced the bad luck I’d had on 16. I told him I didn’t look at it as bad luck, but more bad play. I then went on to describe my philosophy of luck and that if anything, I have more good luck – as in when a shot is heading way out of bounds, bounces off a tree and back onto the fairway or putting green. At the very least, luck balances out. He immediately made the connection with how lucky I was at finding my errant tee shot and having an opportunity to salvage a decent score. While the bunker fiasco cost me 5 more shots than it would have had it landed a foot further, finding that needle-in-the-haystack tee shot two holes later saved those 5 shots back.
I can almost sense the collective cringes of those reading that title. We’ve seen newbies make this claim one week, only to post the next week how much they hate the game. I've certainly been guilty of it, though I’ve since learned my lesson.
While most of the time we are talking about the one swing thought or swing adjustment that will carry us to single-digit greatness, other times it’s a can’t miss epiphany on the strategy that will have us navigating around the course like a pro.
During yesterday’s round, I arrived at a par 5 that has a wide landing area for the driver. That's the easy part. A decent drive leaves about 270 to the green, but with a very narrow bottle neck about 100 yards from the green created by a fairway bunker and large tree on the left, and golf ball graveyard woods narrowing the gap from the right. My choices were to use a wood to carry the bottleneck, leaving a half swing wedge from where it opens back up, or mid-iron layup in front of the bunker leaving a good angle with a mid-iron to the green.
I chose the latter option and it worked out perfectly… I mean I couldn’t have walked up and placed my next two shots any better. An easy uphill 6 iron that stopped short of the bunker leaving me the best angle to the downhill blind green, followed by a full 6 iron that felt good coming off the club and confirmed when I walked over the hill to see the ball resting in the middle of the green.
I finished the hole thinking that was easy, I’ll just play it that way next time. Next time occurred an hour and a half later when I played the 9 hole course a second time.
An identical second drive set me up for my can’t miss strategy. I addressed the ball with all the confidence in the world and promptly hit a push slice to the right leaving a poor angle to the green.
Ok, no big deal. I’ve been hitting fades all day, I thought. I’ll just have to start the ball close to the tree line with a 4 iron and it should come back close to the green. What could go wrong?
A minute later I was hitting my approach shot with a pitching wedge after that “can’t miss” 4 iron started 3 yards too far right, hit a tree, dropped straight down and rolled out onto the center of the bottle neck a whopping 80 yards closer to my target. It could have been worse.
One of my favorite expressions is the Mike Tyson quote “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. I think it’s profound in that we tend to put all our eggs in one basket with little regard to something going wrong, hoping so hard for the plan to work that we fail to have a contingency plan or even consider an alternate one. Fortunately, poor execution in golf doesn’t result in a right cross to the jaw from Mike Tyson, though we often react as if it’s just as debilitating.
When I arrived home, a copy of “Arnie” by Tom Callahan was waiting for me on our table - a gift from my wife. I started reading it this morning and was struck by a quote.
“From the Masters on” Arnold said, “I had a philosophy of golf: when you miss a conservative shot, you’re in as much trouble as when you miss a bold one.”
Strategy, risk and reward, and execution are things we all love about this game. In my world, almost nothing really bad happens when I employ poor strategy or fail to execute. But somehow, it’s still important that it doesn’t happen. Yesterday, I was pleased that the bad results didn’t bother me.
I’ve finally got it!
Stay tuned for my next blog entry that asks the question "Should I quit golf?"
When someone is described as having demons, it’s usually to point out negative personality traits of an otherwise decent person. Weaknesses such as alcoholism, gambling, anger… damaging habits that cannot be fully controlled and either prevent a person from obtaining their full potential, or one which can rear it’s ugly face and derail whatever is good in his or her life.
I think this can be said for the golf swing as well. Words such as a “tendency”, or a “bad habit” are used to describe an issue that re-occurs even with the best of players, damaging an otherwise better score.
For me, demons serve as roadblocks to improvement.
I’ve always hated it when someone said “I can’t”, when a better description might be “that’s very difficult for me”. The idea being that learning a skill might be harder for some than others, but not impossible. Still, for whatever reason there is a finite level of golf of which any of us can obtain, even if provided all the time and money in the world. For some, that potential might be scratch or better. For others, it might be low teens. I’m not sure where I will end up before the inevitable decline in physical ability kicks in, but I have a pretty good idea of where it won’t be.
Here are a few of my demons…
Lack of discipline and/or focus when practicing. I start out with the intention of disregarding results, but that often deteriorates after a few swings. I also give up too soon on new methods and continue trying those proven to be ineffective.
Lack of understanding. While the hips move forward and rotate, the upper body only rotates. The hands and weight need to be in front of the ball at impact, but how can this happen when my arms are attached to the upper body…. which stays back? Quality information is readily available, but it serves no purpose if I can't make sense of it.
Being unaware of what’s really going on in 3D space. Feel ain’t real for almost everyone, but what I feel and what I see on video are worlds apart.
An inability to replace what I know are bad habits with those I believe are improvements. Learning to perform drills correctly seems easy. Applying them to the full swing, impossible.
To those who have more control over these things, the solution might seem easy. But telling me to apply the 5S's of good practice is the same as telling someone fighting obesity to just put down the fork.
All I can do is try to improve on the things that impede progress. I sometimes think about devoting an entire season towards developing better practice habits and reigning in my demons, simply say to hell with my scores. But there’s no proof that plan would succeed. Plus, I mostly enjoy playing my crappy level of golf… mostly.
A recent topic addressed the idea of modifying golf in an attempt to make the game more enjoyable.
There’s nothing new to the idea of simplifying or modifying rules in games. Rules are changed in Monopoly and Scrabble. Poker can become a completely different game by making various cards wild. When playing pickup games of football or basketball, our rules were nothing like those of official high school, NCAA, or the pro ranks. Even these levels of the same game have variance in the rules.
So it’s not that weird for the rules to change for casual golf or a practice round. Even golf leagues break the rules of golf to make the play faster, easier and more enjoyable in an attempt to get more to participate.
In these circumstances, golf is whatever those playing together can agree upon…. or not. I’ve been criticized for not taking an illegal drop on the green side of a hazard, for not repositioning the ball to get a better lie, and for not taking a mulligan or breakfast ball. “You’re just making the game harder than it has to be” I’ve been told.
Modifying the rules for casual golf is not an issue. But some want to actually amend the rule book because they feel some rules are just too hard. My favorite example… “I couldn't find the ball even though I saw it stay in the fairway from the tee box. I shouldn't have to suffer a stroke and distance penalty”. Again, it’s fine to take a drop in a casual game. I’ll do it all day long on a busy course.
But that one act automatically turns an official round into a practice round.
The rules of golf and the handicap system are standards. Choose to play by the rules and you know exactly where you stand compared to others who do the same. Use the handicap system and it not only gives a poor player a fair chance to beat a better one, it also forces the better player to bring his or her best game to the competition. What other sport does that?
Then there’s what constitutes a regulation course and the variations that exist from one course design to another. In addition, each course offers more variation in differing sets of tees. The best part about this system is that the difficulty of each is accounted for. I don’t fully understand the rating system, but it seems relatively logical, even if a bit convoluted. Playing from 6500 yards is more difficult than playing from 5800. The change in the rating and slope of each set of tees reflects that. More importantly, each players may find either option more enjoyable than the other on a given day.
The rules, handicap system and course rating system are pretty damned good as is. What’s even better is that no one is sticking a gun to my head making me follow the rules or keep score. If anything, more pressure is applied to break the rules in favor of faster play. I find it ironic that I tend to play more by the rules when playing a solo round, considering I can’t apply those rounds to an official handicap index.
While specific rule-breaking during a practice round may hone some skills, scoring lower as a result does not make me a better player. For me, leaving the flag in on short putts makes that part of the game easier. It’s psychological more than anything else, but I stopped doing it on all but the busiest days. Why? Because I want to get better at that skill in the event I start playing official competitions. The same goes with abiding by any of the rules.
I hope to get to the point where this desire to improve starts to subside a little. I want to have more days where my enjoyment on the course is less dependent on the score. But I’m not there yet. I still want to get considerably better. To me, the only way that happens is to include rounds where I play 100% by the rules and from a set of tees or a course rating that challenges the limits of my distance and ability.
According to 2014 Trackman data, the average LPGA pro gets about as much carry distance as I get from carry and roll combined.
Well, I’ve never been too embarrassed by it. The world is full women who can kick the tar out of me in a fight, are faster, stronger, throw harder, jump higher….
I guess the question becomes, should I worry that I don’t hit as far as the best 100 women on the planet?
The question has less to do with ego and more to do with practice, potential, and gaining a grasp on reality.
I’m fully aware of the advantage distance provides when comparing one golfer to another with all other skills being equal. I’m also aware that we all have physical and learning curve limitations.
I’m not sure how far I could hit my clubs if I had a perfect swing. As is the case with any other crappy player, I’ve hit shots with my irons that were freakishly long. I’m not talking about the few yards gained by just hitting the sweet spot, or those hit thin that carry almost as much as a normal shot but then fly through the green for 20 additional yards, or ones that hit a cart path or sprinkler head.
I mean shots where I did something to generate additional club head speed AND hit the center of the face, resulting in an otherwise normal trajectory that just continues to climb, bringing about a where the $@!% did that come from? thought, followed by a quick glance to make sure the correct club was pulled.
Fortunately, these types of shots rarely occur because they usually result in a missed target. But they do provide the only glimpse into what might be if my mechanics were sound.
When practicing with the same club, a pattern of variance becomes visible. Shots with too much side spin, or ones hit fat will be way short or will miss badly. There will be those hit “pure” and travel a bit beyond the average distance.
But it’s the percentage of “ok shots” that make or break my score.
These shots make up my shot zones and what club selection is based upon. When my ok shots are on, my iron game is at it’s best. Yes, there will always be the pulls or pushes and shots hit slightly fat or thin. But what drives me to improve throughout the winter is the hope of starting and finishing a season owning a swing that will provide the best chance to keep the ball in play and hit a lot of greens. A swing which reduces the really bad misses which destroy a round. A dependable, predictable swing.
Thinking about what the average PGA players hit is so far out of reach it becomes a pointless exercise, even-counter productive. Unless of course that PGA pro is Corey Pavin.
Hole 6 of my home course is a short par 4 dog leg left when played from the white tees. The fairway rolls downhill a bit. Because of the terrain, I averaged 160yds with my 7 iron on this hole, a full 20 yard beyond my stock distance for that club. But I then have to hit to an elevated green. Depending on where my tee shot lands left or right, I might use that same 7i full swing for a 125yd approach. Pulling off that approach shot is a great feeling despite the "shameful" distance. It meant I knew my game and was able to execute the shot that gave me the best chance.
So when practicing and trying to learn the 5 keys, this is what I’m really after. If realizing a greater distance potential comes about from an improved swing, great! But reducing those score damaging duffs, slices and hooks are what seems most important.
Am I the only one who’s fantasized about having a private golf course? There’s no logic to the thought. The knowledge, effort and cost necessary makes it, well, a really bad idea.
Still, it’s winter. I’ve cleared snow from the driveway, shoveled the deck and finished the laundry. My wife has taken her mother holiday shopping and I’ve done my 5 minutes of practice - a few times already.
In other words, I’m bored enough to imagine….
Slow play at the local courses has become unbearable (not hard to imagine that). I have a 25 acre wooded parcel of land, disposable income, a lot of ambition and considerable time on my hands. I own some excavation equipment, a modest collection of golf course equipment and am knowledgable about native grasses and how to get the most with the least amount of water and fertilizer.
I’ve also hired @MattM (not really Matt) to put in 4 synthetic putting surfaces on the property (https://thesandtrap.com/forums/topic/91834-just-finished-my-backyard-putting-green/#comment-1269307).
The terrain on my property has a little roll to it. There are groves of mixed soft and hardwood trees. The soil is healthy and we get a decent amount of annual rainfall.
While none of the above is true, if it were this would be the result :
This is a cluster - literally. I need to explain a few things.
The nine holes share common fairways and putting surfaces. The par 4's have a single landing area and the par 5's have two. Most of the ground is covered with native grasses. It gets mowed, but only on a weekly or twice a month basis. You can find your ball and hit out of it, but lies aren’t going to be good and you won’t get good distance. The advantage is that this grass doesn’t requires irrigation or fertilizer. Drought will turn it brown, but the grass is hearty and will bounce back.
There are four areas where the turf resembles that of an average municipal golf course. The surface is smooth, the grass is healthy and it’s mowed tight. The two larger fairway areas are each 73x73 yards. The two smaller ones are somewhere around 40x40 yards. Each of the four are surrounded by 1st cut rough. Because of the size, they require minimal time and money for upkeep.
The tee boxes and greens are made of synthetic turf. The greens are about 15 yards in diameter with fairway-like grass collars. Three of the greens are shared by two “holes”, the fourth is shared by three for a total of 9 holes.
The course totals a hair over 2800 yards from the back tees - not bad for using only 25 acres (unless I've made a gross math error). It’s short, but the tree lines and small greens make it difficult to drive the par 4’s or get on the greens in two on the par 5’s. The hard-to-play turf outside the greens and layup areas discourages too much risk taking. Long hitters may not like it but the distances are right in my wheelhouse.
Back to reality… I know nothing about what it takes to maintain - much less design or build - a golf course. I understand greens are very expensive as are large fairways which require a great deal of maintenance, irrigation and fertilizer, hence the synthetic greens and small manageable fairway or landing areas of this design.
So is there any way a small group of ambitious golfers could create a co-op of sorts and pull something like this off? Would the upside of always having an empty course waiting for you and a few friends be worth all the toil, money and effort? You certainly couldn't have more than one group out at a time. Would a course like this even be fun to play and, If so, how long would it take to become boring?
If nothing else, it would make a cool backyard.
I played what may have been the last round of golf in 2016 today and kept score on the front 9 for the first time in over a month. I had no intention of posting the score towards my handicap index so I played from a variety tee boxes. I also tracked this round on GameGolf which I hadn’t been doing much of either. Finally, I recorded video of a few shots to see if any of the work I’d put towards getting my weight forward was showing up on the course.
After taking Evolvr lessons during the winter, I felt a tinge of confidence coming into the year. My priority piece had been to start with more weight back on the backswing. It was counter-intuitive but was an easy piece to implement and seemed to help. It is still an important part of my swing.
I mapped shot zones in the early spring and the measured distances matched what I consider to be stock for each club. The dispersion was likely what one would expect for the scores I shoot.
Once the rounds had started, I decided to record many of them using an online handicap tracking service. I hadn’t realized the rule about recording solo rounds had changed, but it made little difference as the intent was to track improvement. In an attempt to avoid sandbagging or vanity capping, I was consistent in declaring (in my head of course) whether the round would be posted before I started. There were only two infractions committed that I’m aware of. One was updated immediately with the correct penalty strokes added, the other was not as the infraction was unknown until months later and I couldn’t remember the exact round. The point is, I believe all but one round were played strictly by the rules.
2016 was also the first year where the majority of rounds were recorded with GameGolf. That software is simply incredible.
From that first round played at Farmington Hills in March, to repeatedly shooting in the mid 90’s from a 6,000 course, to the point in late August where I finally broke 100 from the difficult blue tees at my home course, the season was succeeding in the form of measurable improvements.
Unfortunately, the improved play wouldn't carry over to the Fall. When the progress stalled and even reversed a little in September, I took video while playing on the course. I had no idea my swing looked so bad and so different from what I’d recorded during the last couple of years in my workshop. While I don’t give a rat’s ass whether I have a pretty swing or not, there were some serious flaws. And more than a month of very focused practice has done little to change the picture.
But this entry isn’t intended to be negative. I’ve always liked the phrase “what happens to me isn’t as important as how I react to it”. I envy and respect those who can accept their ability for what it is and never forget it's only a game, as much as I do those who excel at this game. I’ve given up on getting much better than bogey golf, but I still aspire to learn how to relax and try to enjoy my time out there.
Which brings me back to today’s round.
My overall game is not at mid-season form. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the area I’ve put so much time into — the full iron swing — was not one of them. While videos taken today still reveal an ugly, off-balance swing, the practice showed up in the form of better contact with the club bottoming out more correctly, and a swing path and face angle that provided pretty good starting lines and ball flight.
For the most part, the last round of the season was enjoyable.
For the last couple of months, I’ve been trying to implement some changes a local teaching pro had been kind enough to share with me. The results weren’t bad at first, but as I started to work in more of his advice, my iron swing became harder to control. Still, I remained patient with the poor results — that’s how it works after all. I anticipated the bad rounds and, for a while, was able to control the frustration.
The last two rounds pushed me over the edge.
I tracked many of my 2016 rounds with GameGolf - both the good and bad. While 35% of GIRs is nothing to brag about, it does indicate a level of competence with irons befitting a high ‘capper. The last 36 holes I played yielded exactly 0. The round played on Sunday was surreal — and not in a good way. Even the first couple of years learning the game offered the occasional good shot. Fortunately, there were few golfers out on the rain-soaked course Sunday because I was no longer just swearing under my breath. (Even with the absence of witnesses, it was an embarrassing meltdown.)
The aftermath of a poor round of golf normally brings about some sort of positive reflection. Not today friend I thought to myself. There was no optimism, no profound understanding that golf consists of good rounds and bad, and no plans moving forward. There was only the feeling that the train had jumped the tracks. I had taken a wrong exit with no idea of how to get back on the interstate.
By the time I’d arrived home, the madness had subsided and was replaced by the realization that there are worse things in life than sucking at golf. 20 minutes later I was out in the field taking easy swings — immediately understanding how much work would be needed just to get back to the level of golf I’d enjoyed during the summer.
The optimist in me wants to believe this may be a blessing in disguise. I am starting over from near scratch and would like to think some good habits can be developed. My daily practices consist mostly of easy, half swings working on a specific move while trying to maintain parts of the swing I feel are correct. The 5 Simple Keys are the real deal and I am trying harder than ever to ingrain them. But I’ve changed my opinion regarding the importance of results when trying to develop changes.
I used to buy into how results during practice should be of little concern. I’d read where better players will accept shanks and tops while working on a specific move, and I tried to adopt that way of thinking into my own practices. There’s one important difference… they know that what they’re working on will eventually prove beneficial. I have absolutely no idea of what will work. I can only look at video and recognize that no good player in the world does what I’m doing. That’s not anywhere near the same as knowing what I should be doing.
When I’m playing poorly, my result is anything from a weak fade to an all-out slice. I get the ball flight laws and believe I know what’s going on with the swing path and club face. What I fail to grasp is the reason(s). Might be keeping my weight back on the downswing, coming over the top, lacking a full shoulder turn, hands might be going outward from the top then in and across the ball at the last split second, any combination of these things or something I’ve never even considered.
So trial and error and assessment by way of the results are all I really have.
If I can achieve “better” results from a half swing where my keys — at least the first 3 - look somewhat correct, I’m going to assume I’m on the right track. If I can develop feels that will repeat the good results, I’ll gradually lengthen my backswing and speed up the club head through impact. Then, as the results begin to fail, I’ll hopefully be able dial everything back until the positive results return.
My 2016 season is likely over. I’m still happy with the progress made through to the beginning of September, but after Sunday’s ass beating, things have definitely changed.
There’s been at least one thread here on TST asking what we consider good golf. Single digit, scratch, Tour pro… From the perspective of a poor player like myself who rarely plays with anyone who’s good, there’s almost no reference.
Most of the folks I play with are hackers. Sure, they’ll talk about how they usually shoot a couple strokes over par, then I’ll watch as they play at a level of golf not far from mine. I played with a couple of brothers recently who told me they’d been shooting in the 80’s the last couple of weeks. He made a point of saying he doesn’t usually shoot that low, but they’d both been playing good golf recently. I beat the one by two strokes and the other by several more. Not good golfers I thought to myself.
A few weeks ago, I was joined by a married couple at the 2nd of 9 holes. The husband was playing from the blue (middle) tees - just over 3,000 yards on what I consider to be a challenging course. Despite being older than me, he outdrove me by 25 yards while keeping every tee shot on the fairway. I watched this guy hit great shot after great shot, just the way golf is supposed to be played. He parred most holes. The only poor shot I noticed him hit, still resulted in a bogey.
After a few holes, I asked him if he tracked his HC and he told me he was a 14. After we finished the last hole, I jokingly called BS on his 14. He assured me the round was better than most as he finished with a 38. I had witnessed good golf that day.
While a handicap index of 14 seems unreachable to me, I’ve always thought of it as somewhat average for an avid golfer who’s played for many years. I no longer believe that. So if a 14 can tame a course that so many have been beat up by, what does single-digit golf look like.
Before this season, I’d only seen one person play from the tips of this course with any success and it was impressive. Last Sunday while playing the middle tees, I managed to break 100 for the first time from that distance. This was a goal of mine at the beginning of the season. It didn’t feel like anything special while I was playing, but I minimized the mistakes and lucked out on enough shots for it to happen. At one point, I caught up to three kids who were waiting for the fairway to clear and we BS’ed for a few minutes. One kid was playing from the tips. While talking to him, I noticed he was wearing a 2016 Michigan High School Athletic Association state championship t-shirt. I asked him about it and he told me placed 8th in the state tourney. He seemed disappointed, told me it was tough course and only managed a couple of 78’s (I looked it up and he spoke the truth). I asked him what he normally shoots from the tips at this course. Mid 70’s he said. Turns out he played for the same high school my son did. When I asked my son about him, he told me this kid was basically a prodigy in a school that doesn’t turn out a ton of good golfers. Was beating up on some of the area’s best HS golfers as a freshman.
So while I’m feeling pretty good about breaking 100 from the middle tees, this modest 18 year old kid is shooting just over par from the tips. Not good golf, great golf.
Today I played a practice round from those same middle tees in preparation for a round I’m playing with an old friend in the morning. He and I used to play tennis every week and he’d kick my butt on a regular basis. We both quit playing tennis several years ago and both took up golf, purely by coincidence. Tomorrow will be the first time we’ve played golf together despite talking about it for the last few years. I’d really like to make a good showing.
I have no idea how good or bad he is, but I lost 12 balls in 18 holes today while working on keys 4 and 5 - probably a record. On the last hole, a turkey vulture kept hovering over the fairway and I imagined he mistook my round for a rotting carcass.
If tomorrows round is anything close to todays, my friend won’t be thinking about what good golf is.
Went to the range yesterday to work out a couple craptacular issues I saw on recent video. Armed with a phone for video and a game plan of slow, specific, short and success practice, I was prepared to make some real progresss. While paying for the two baskets of balls, the pro asked me how my game was. I told him I needed a better shoulder turn and proper weight shift. He suggested a drill for the weight shift and then offered to come out to the range to observe my swing. I told him I didn’t want free advice and would rather wait until I could afford to pay him. But he told me he didn’t care about the money and just wanted to help.
Believe it or not, this was an awkward predicament to be in. Anyone whose has ever really struggled with improvement understands the near desperation we can experience to move the needle. So a PGA pro offering advice should have been a blessing, right?
Trouble is, I don’t like mooching. It’s no different than on the many occasions when Erik or Mike have offered advice. There's a certain feeling of good fortune combined with a little guilt that these guys make a living from this. They’ll both tell you that they wouldn’t offer it if they didn’t want to. But from my perspective, it’s too easy to become “that guy” who takes a gift like that for granted. This may sound weird, but I’d rather suck at golf than ask for free advice from a pro (not talking about the discussions we have here at TST, even though there's a ton of useful information there as well).
Anyway, that was just one of the issues going through my mind. I’m also trying not to jump around from one method of learning to another. I almost never look up advice on youtube and rarely, if ever, watch the instructional content on the golf channel. Even if progress has been slower than molasses running uphill on a cold day, going from one fix to another will do little in the way of accelerating that progress.
Despite these thoughts, I accepted his offer (would have been rude not to).
Once on the range, I worked on the weight forward drill until he joined me a few minutes later. He watched me take a few swings and then went to work modifying my take-away, club position at the top, then having me make a full speed swing and full finish. He spent an hour of his own time out there trying to help me improve. In the back of my mind, I know sustained improvement isn’t likely to happen because the way I am, but the fact that he was willing to do that was impressive. The best I could do in return was offer, free of charge, some custom printing for his course. He said he would take me up on the offer.
At the risk of sounding unappreciative - which is not at all the case - his time would have been better spent with a kid or newbie who might actually benefit from it. I often lack the ability to get what is being taught and can’t help but wonder if those who’ve offered me help in the past are thinking “that asshole’s not even trying to apply what I told him”. I almost always get something out of a lesson or advice, but there’s always much more I don’t. And even when I fully understand a concept, properly applying it to my swing is another story. On the rare occasions when I understand the concept AND can apply it to the swing, the chances of retaining if from one season to the next are slim.
I gave his advice a great deal of effort today, as in several hours. Since he took the time to help, it's only fair I try and apply it. Even if that means finding a way to integrate it into the keys I’m working on and at a slower pace of practice than he suggested.
I guess what all this rambling comes down to is this… we should be grateful when we’re given the gift of free advice from someone whose livelihood normally depends on payment for that advice.
As someone who is used to walking an uncrowded course alone, the last couple of days were certainly a change of pace...
Nicklaus, Palmer and Travino
I had just walked through my 9 hole course this past Sunday morning and was making the turn back to the first green when a threesome in two carts went by. As I came up on the tee box, they suggested I should go ahead of them. I offered for them to join me and they accepted. As we introduced ourselves, there was something about the three of them that seem familiar. One of them was very outgoing and quick with a friendly insult. He had a resemblance to Lee Travino - both in looks and in personality. The second was a taller man, a bit more reserved but not without a quiet sense of humor. He of course would have to be Arnold. The third of the group who seemed to be my age or a bit younger, had the thoughtful demeanor of Jack Nicklaus. Of the four of us, he was the best golfer out there.
After we finished the first hole, we folded up my push cart and got it to fit into Jack’s cart. I would of course pay the cart fee when I got back to the office, but it beat the hell out of me trying to keep up on foot.
While Arnold was off on one side of the fairway of the second hole, Lee suggested I keep an eye on “that guy”. Apparently, Arnold was a bit loose with the rules of golf. Later in the round, Arnold told me “We’re just out here to have a good time. Only one of us takes this game very seriously” as he shot a glance over at Lee. Back in the cart, Jack told me the two had been friends and golfing partners for decades. It was easy to see that in the way the two would rag on one another. Lee was a stickler for playing by the rules. He hated gimme putts - he wouldn’t offer them and was even more adamant in not accepting them. His catch phrase was “just knock the hell out it!”. Didn’t matter if it was a par 5 drive or a 6 foot putt.
Throughout the round, the three old friends continued to give each other a hard time at every opportunity. All the while, Jack was racking up the good scores. I was doing ok after a shaky start and ended up with an average round. After a nice iron shot off the tee, I heard one of them say "man, I wish I could hit my irons like that". The whole time I'm thinking "man, I wish I could keep my driver in play like these guys can".
After the 9th hole, we all exchanged numbers with the promise of getting together whenever their normal 4th couldn’t make it. It turned out to be a very enjoyable round of golf. It gave me a glimpse of how much fun the game might be when played with good friends.
The League of Extraordinary Gentleman Hackers
The next day while at work, I got a call from the GM of my course asking if I’d be interested in subbing on one of the teams for the Monday Night league. I told him I would if he couldn’t find anyone else. When he called back two hours later and told me he’d struck out (I doubt he even made another call), I agreed to be there before 5.
I’ve never played in any level of competition during my short time of golfing. I was nervous as hell for the rest of the afternoon. I showed up early, was explained the rules, the shotgun format, and what a skin was. Man, there was a lot to take in. When I see these terms posted here at TST, I have to google them just to keep up. I was now faced with actual participation. I passed on the skins, reaffirmed I wasn’t interested in joining the league (despite the GM’s best sales pitch), paid my cart fee, met the opposing team, and waited for my partner to get there. I was so nervous, I took the wrong cart to my car to load my clubs. This prompted the guy with what was supposed to be my cart to stop by and tell me “for future reference, the little number on the key ring is supposed to match the number on the cart".
Great. This was going tits up in a hurry. To make matters worse, my playing partner hadn’t shown up and everyone was now out on the course. He finally arrived and we headed out to the 7th tee, trying to be as un-invasive as one can be driving a golf cart against the grain while 4 other teams are trying to play competitive golf.
We finally get to the tee box - and the moment of truth. No warmups and more nervous than I’d been in a long time. I take a practice swing, try to relax and remember what’s been working so well for me, and… I stripe a 4 iron right down the middle of the fairway.
Sadly, this would become the pinnacle of the match for me.
I could do almost nothing right the rest of the evening. I few ok shots amongst a myriad of pushes, tops and slices, but a complete loss of confidence in my full swing. My swing path was off and I didn't know how to fix it. My playing partner was right there in the weeds with me. Our opponents were both pretty good. I would have had to play my best golf to keep up with them. For the most part, they were pretty cool with what felt to me like a train wreck.
Then, on one of the par 4’s after my tee shot hit a tree and I was able to salvage a bogey, one of them called me out on my score. When both his partner and mine immediately confirmed the 5 was correct. he apologized profusely. I jokingly told him that with the way I’d been playing, I couldn’t blame him for questioning it. That broke the tension a bit and we ended up getting through the last few holes without anything else going horribly wrong.
Overall, it was a hellish round of golf and everything I’d feared it would be. In his book “Five Lessons”, Ben Hogan refers to a sound swing being able to hold up against the pressure of competition. Mine had folded like a tent.
As it turned out, my score wasn’t as bad as it felt but it still sucked. And the experience was so bad it was laughable. If anything positive came of this, it was the confirmation in my belief that a golf league just isn’t for me.
My yard consists of a couple of acres, made up predominately of what I believe to be Norway Spruce. There are a few “lanes” between these trees that can be used to practice full swing iron shots. Throughout the 7 or 8 months of the year when there’s no snow on the ground, I will go out almost nightly and work on my game. I’ll hit a dozen or so shots, go out and collect the balls, then hit them again. I don’t always hit my target (no shit, I have a 27hi), so there’ll be a few lost per night, but not at a rate where they can’t be replenished by those found on the course. At the end of the night, the balls were always left on the ground for the next night. I’ve been doing this for years.
While these collection consist exclusively of free balls, they are still of value. So when these piles began to disappear this summer, it became a minor concern…. and a bit of a mystery.
Were the neighborhood kids coming into my yard and swiping them? Crows flying off with them? Maybe senility had finally reached the point where I’d forgotten exactly where I’d left them the night before.
I started to leave them a bit closer to the house and making a point of remembering the exact spot. Still, no golf balls the next night. This all but ruled out the neighbor kids and senility as possibilities. When placed in a mesh bag, the balls would remain. Left on their own, they’d disappear.
I assumed some sort of wildlife was to blame. But which? We have porcupines, skunks, weasels, aforementioned crows… I thought about setting up a game camera, but decided against it. I finally just accepted it as one of those mysteries we experience in life not worth the effort to figure out the “why” or “where”. - along the lines of missing socks. They were free golf balls, after all. From that point on, I'd just put them in a mesh bag and call it good.
At some point this fall, I started noticing balls embedded into the ground. No mystery here. I’d simply run them over with the lawn mower tires and pushed them into the soft soil. But when it became more of an occurrence and long after the mowing season had ended, it finally clicked.
I mentioned my yard is made up of Spruce trees. The most common vermin in the yard are red squirrels, no doubt because of the endless supply of food. As wild animals go, most squirrel species, such as gray squirrels or fox squirrels. are ok to have around. They might go after bird feeders, or become a bit too comfortable around humans dumb enough to “tame” them, but for the most part, harmless. Red squirrels are different. They have no problem chewing threw through human structures, then nesting and/or storing food within. They can be as destructive as they are industrious.They collect and bury food sources intended to get them through the winter. In my yard, that consists of the seeds of spruce pine cones, maple nuts, acorns, walnuts, etc. And beginning this year, apparently golf balls.
After a particularly hard rain a week or so back, I noticed the tops of a few golf balls exposed, I brushed away the loose dirt and pine needles in the area with my foot. I unearthed a ball, then another, and another.. golf balls were everywhere… dozens of them. The horror… the horror!
Mystery solved. I came back into the house to let my better half know we finally had an answer. She gave me a blank look that said “you interrupted my reading to tell me that?”, then lowered her gaze back onto her Kindle and went back to reading without uttering a word. Hmmm, apparently, this wasn’t a big deal to her.
While I had never before noticed the abrupt disappearance of so many as I had this year, I started wondering how many balls had been lost to this evil rodent over the years. There must be hundreds buried out in the woods. Was this work of a single red squirrel, a genetic misfit unable to tell the difference between an organic food source and a resin-coated, synthetic, dimpled orb. Or had a dray of them simply gone nuts (sorry, I couldn’t resist.)? Maybe this was red squirrel payback for relocating so many of their population via the live trap - an epic conspiracy along the lines of the movie Ben.
None of that is important now. What matters is how I’ll react. This snow is temporarily gone and the ground is not yet frozen. Do I resist the temptation of digging up the top 2” of my entire yard to recover my collection of practice balls? Speaking of going nuts...
Perhaps it’s time I found a new hobby. Maybe small game hunting.
Earlier in the season, I started a thread about how to deal with ability - or lack of. (http://thesandtrap.com/forums/topic/81404-hitting-a-plateau-with-ability/#comment-354724). What I was after was more enjoyment out of what has become a very big part of my life. As is the case with many of my thoughts and opinion on golf, the idea that I can learn to be ok with a crappy game was mostly wrong. While I must learn to accept the current skill level at which I play, it’s difficult to suppress expectations on the course, and practice efforts off.
So, where the hell do I go from here?
I Still believe continuous lessons are the best way for improvement. I like the idea of taking lessons in person. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be instructors in this state - much less the area - who share a similar teaching methodology and philosophy as Erik and Mike. I do believe in choosing a system and sticking with it.
Earlier this year, I took a single lesson from a local PGA pro. I had spoke with him a few times and got a feel for his methods, which I immediately liked. I loaned my copy of LSW to him. He was very positive about what he read, which indicated he wasn’t completely set in his ways. So we worked out a lesson where he would watch me play nine holes, then give me a priority piece to work on. While he did give me some pointers on the short game (which were great BTW), for the most part, he sat back and observed my full swing without commenting. At the end of 9 holes, he told me the one thing I needed to work on was keeping my head angled UP more at address. The reason being that I wasn’t allowing room for my left should to come around which was causing my head to move.
Ok… well that’s completely opposite of what I’ve learned. Maybe I’d been overdoing it all this time, so I made a slight change (not to the extent he recommended) and the results were not all bad. The next time I showed up at the course, he asked how the priority piece was working and we talked about another lesson. He told me he was going to show me how to roll my hands to draw the ball. While I really like this instructor, his views on swing mechanics seem different than what I’ve learned here. Even though lessons are probably the best way to show real improvement, it’s not always easy finding the right instructor.
As it turns out, my budget wouldn’t allow for a series of lessons anyway, so that made the decision pretty easy. While this isn’t the only reason I don’t take lessons, it's likely the most impactful.
Lessons aren’t a cure-all. Besides the issues of money, and the lack of good instruction, there’s my inability to understand not only what is being taught, but how to apply it. When it comes to learning, but this it’s not easy. Applying drills to a slow swing, and a slow swing to a full speed swing is very difficult. If I’m going to improve my game, I’ll first have to improve how I practice.
How to turn successes into second-nature habits. What good is learning the best swing mechanics in the world when they will inevitably be forgotten? What seems to be common with better players, is they have no more than a single swing thought during a swing, while I’m trying to remember everything that I think has worked in the past - just before I push the shot OOB.
I don’t know how successful I’ll be at any of these, they’re just thoughts. It’s not like typing out and posting them is some guarantee they’ll get accomplished or even attempted. Plus, I’ve been wrong so many times over the last few years on what I thought was necessary towards improvement, that I’m kind of at a loss.
All I know is that playing well is so much more enjoyable that playing poorly.
Growing up, I hung out with the same group of friends pretty much every day. While we were pretty active with boating, fishing, football, basketball, tennis, etc., none of us were involved with golf, which kind of sucks.
Throughout the last four years, my son has been about the only person who I’ve played golf with on numerous occasions. With his calm demeanor, you couldn’t ask for a better playing partner. Those rounds have been the most enjoyable and memorable. Just last month, he accepted a job downstate and will be moving 4 hours away. I’m very happy for him, of course, because this is what he went to school for. And we’ve already looked up courses in the Farmington Hills area and it appears he’ll have plenty of them close to his new home.
The fact remains that I will be playing almost all of my golf now as a single.
I don’t make friends as easily as I used to. My lifestyle and available free time - in addition to my sometimes abrasive personality - don’t allow for the burden that friendships can bring. And the thought of seeking out playing partners just seems, well, kind of weird.
There are golf leagues I could join, but that brings back memories of playing in municipal softball leagues with a bunch of 20 and 30 year old bros who take a sport normally played by high school girls, way too seriously (that’s not meant as an insult to high school girls - their version of the game is much tougher). From what I understand about some of the golf leagues, the ends of winning justify the means of cheating. If there’s any truth to that, it doesn’t seem like a lot of fun.
For the most part, the random joining up with others has been a positive experience. There has been the occasional a-hole, but most people are pretty cool to spend a couple hours with. The nice thing about playing golf with others is that I tend to keep my emotions in check and I sometimes play a little better golf. I also get to see that I’m not the only one who hits tee shots into the woods, misses short approach shots, and has trouble getting out of the sand. On the rare occasions when I’ve played with skilled players, watching that level of golf has served both as entertainment and as a level to strive for. The older players I’ve joined up with have a certain pragmatic approach to the game that many of us can learn from. I can see how playing in a foursome every Sunday morning with folks I get along with would be enjoyable, even if not entirely necessary.
Golf is different things to different people. It can be competitive, relaxing, challenging, a good way to spend time with friends, or all of the above.
For me, it’s a good way to get away from the daily BS of the workplace, the “drama” of family (in-laws anyway) and to avoid what sometimes seems too much like effort to get along with others. It also serves as barometer that what I work on in the way of practicing is beneficial. As I’ve posted many times, the feeling that a perfectly struck approach shot brings is a high that keeps me coming back. And even when my game is in the toilet (which is often), a 4 mile walk on a beautiful course on a beautiful morning with no one else in sight is not the worst way to spend time.
So does playing with others make the game more enjoyable? Often times it does. Do I need the company of others to enjoy golf? Not at all.
Advance the ball, keep it between the ropes, GIR’s are King and occasionally, you hit it close and make a birdie (more like par). “Ok, I can do these four things” I tell myself as I’m walking to the first tee. I pull the 5 wood so I can put myself in decent position for a short approach shot from the dog leg.
The 5 wood. What used to be as close to automatic as any club I’ve ever swung, now scares the hell out of me as I address the ball. All I have to do is not top the ball, I think. I start my backswing slowly, keeping my arms connected, my right elbow, hands, shaft and club head tracing the imaginary path of my shoulder plane. Pressure on the inside of my right foot, I get to the top, my weight has already started to shift and then my only thought while starting my downswing is brushing the ground slightly as I make contact.
I know right away what has happened even as the sight of my shot barely skimming along the fairway begins to register. I look down and yup…the tell-tale “divot” in front of my tee tells me I’ve skulled another one and the adventure begins.
On another Sunday, I make this first shot, hit the green with the 2nd and par the hole. Doesn’t matter. If not on this one, it will happen on the next few. I will do something that will eliminate any chance of making par and often bogey on most holes.
There will be unnecessary layups, punches and penalties resulting in doubles and triples. A beautiful drive, following by a beautiful approach, followed by a three putt. Or a penalty followed by a perfect series of shots that earn me nothing better than 2 over for that hole. Cussing, self-deprecating, “placing” my putter back in the bag with entirely too much force. The few pars I get will not be enough to undue the damage. Makes you wonder how or why a crappy player could come back for more.
But I do. In fact, I can’t get enough of this. Even after the prospect of a good round has come and gone, there is still the likelihood of a good experience almost every time I go out.
I don’t like being bad at golf, but I love the feeling of good contact. In fact, I’m addicted to it. A well-struck long iron that starts high on a good line, draws or fades ever so slightly, lands and sticks on a tight green. Or getting into a rhythm with the driver to where I can put a little bit more into it and be confident it will remain in play. Even a chip shot that not only gets on the green, but rolls to within 1 putt territory. Occasionally, I’ll put together 3 hours with more of these than usual and be rewarded by a score I’m not embarrassed by. It’s very, very rare, but it happens. Probably the very best thing about golf is when I obtain a certain level of confidence in a stretch of a month or two. But it’s fleeting. Low points are followed by high points which are in turn followed by low points.
As each season comes and goes, and I see the handicaps of formerly high-capper TST members start to drop, I realize I struggle - probably more than average. But at the risk of conning myself, I also believe the needle is moving and the picture is very slowly changing.
I was going to react by saying "Nice," but I figured since I had to do some figuring what you meant (until I saw your post count was a reference), I'd list the latitude and longitude of Nice, France instead. I thought it'd be funny
I am currently reading Crown and Country The Kings and Queens of England: A History, and just read the chapter about The Battle of Hastings. Quite a coincidence.
BTW, William the Conquerer was kind of a tool. 😜