Preview: Sky Caddie SGX

SkyGolf will be releasing their new flagship GPS the SkyCadie SGX to the public on March 15th.  It will have some new features that can truly help make better decisions on the golf course and improve confidence.  These developments should help golfers to improve their games.  See the press release here.

One of the basic ways that GPS units help golfers is by providing them with accurate distance information.  However, golfers need more than distance information in order to make good decisions, especially when approaching the green.  The SGX’s new or improved green features should give golfers the information they need to approach greens with more confidence.

IntelliGreen Pro provides distances to green contours, false fronts, and any other point on the green.  Although it is not available on all SkyCaddie courses (including the course I play), for those courses that it is available it should be very helpful.

I’m most excited about seeing the “Smart Club” technology in person.  If the SGX can deliver on its promise to track club data (club used, distance hit) etc, that could really help the average golfer.  It would provide and easy way for people to really know how far they hit each club.

Currently, tracking that information by hand is certainly doable, but tedious.  I imagine that few people actually do it, and when they do, they may fall into the trap of only writing down their best shots.  The SGX could provide players with more accurate data as it could capture every shot.  One could potentially track it over time and see trends, etc.  This could take some of the “ego” out of the game so that players can make decisions based on realistic data.

Overall the SGX unit looks promising.  It appears SkyGolf is serious about helping golfers to actually improve their golf games.  They also seem to be responding to their competition by pre-loading the unit with 30,000 courses.  All of this competition between GPS manufacturers should end up enhancing this game we love.

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Use your natural autopilot to play your best golf

golfer

“Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course…the space between your ears.”

Bobby Jones

Ah, the mental game of golf.  Have you ever noticed that some of your best rounds occur when you can just get out of your own way?

When you look at the literature surrounding the mental game, whether it’s Dr. Bob Rotella, Dr. Joseph Parent, or any of the other excellent sports psychologists and mental game coaches, one of the recurring themes is getting out of our own way,

They all have their own approaches to achieving this but it is certainly not easy.  Especially not when something is riding on the line (your club championship, your best round, your first time breaking 100, 90 or 80).

One of the reasons that I kept the word Zen in this website is that I have come to believe that the Zen philosophy is completely applicable to golf.  My view of Zen is that optimal performance occurs when the thinking mind is silent, when we allow the body to do what it has learned, to simply react to the shot and situation.  But how often does that happen?

The truth is that we enter an autopilot like state nearly everyday.  If you drive a car, you do it instinctively.  Have you ever had the experience of driving, and during the drive you “zone out” for a few minutes, and you look around and recognize that you are still driving perfectly well, miles down the road?  That’s the autopilot taking over.

That can be used in golf.

However the main obstacle that gets in the way is thinking about technique.  Often when we hit a poor shot, we automatically go into diagnosis mode and technique mode.  We try to figure out what went wrong.  Did my elbow stick out?  Was my backswing too long?  Did I take the club back too far inside?

I think the first response should be “Did I pick out a good target?”  or something along those lines.  Once you are on the golf course it is too difficult to change technique.  Many of the bad shots that we do have don’t come from bad swings, but they come from bad decisions.

A bad decision can happen when we don’t inspect the lie carefully.  It can happen when we don’t take the slope or the wind into consideration.  It can happen when we don’t know our distances very well and under club.   I would imagine that the average golfer can shave 5 strokes off their game by making better decisions.

Ray Floyd in his excellent book “The Elements of Scoring” says that if he was playing against you, and he had the same physical game as you, he could beat you every time because he would make better decisions.

That’s something to think about.  Those decisions are not related to swing technique (although your options are constrained by your skill level).  They are related to your game plan and what information you take into account.

Elements to a successful mental game

  1. Carefully evaluate the situation
  2. Plan your shot
  3. Visualize the shot vividly
  4. Fully Commit to the shot
  5. Execute

The steps above can help to keep you away from entering a technique mindset.  Focusing on the target, visualizing the ball flight, and trusting your swing will usually produce excellent results.  Focusing on technique brings your conscious mind into play.  Your conscious mind is not the best swinger of the club.  Your unconscious or subconscious mind that runs your body does a far better job.  Keep your conscious mind occupied on strategy, visualization and trust and you can allow your subconscious to produce the swing you need.

Do your best to keep technique-related thoughts out of your mind while playing a round.  Changing your mental game will take practice and discipline but it should pay dividends.

Do you know your yardage gaps?

whispering-creek-golf-club-hole-15

There is a very interesting thread over on GolfWRX about Ryan Moore’s set.  He doesn’t have his irons stamped with the traditional iron numbers.  Instead he has them stamped with the loft of the club.

What we’ve been told is that this gives him a very consistent yardage between clubs.  He is a real feel player and this helps to visualize the type of shot he wants to hit to get it close to the pin.

I would like to know my yardage gaps better but I don’t.  For the amateur golfer it is not as easy to get them.  Here’s why.

  1. We don’t often accurately know how far we hit each club.
  2. We’re not as consistent striking the ball as the pros, there is a greater difference in distance between our poor and solid strikes.
  3. We’re typically forced to hit poor driving range balls instead of the usual balls that we play with.
  4. Little access to a good launch monitor.
  5. If we play public courses, we can’t just go out and hit shots and measure them because we’ll hold up play.

Without accurate knowledge of our yardage gaps how are we supposed to plan our set makeup and of course how are we supposed to plan our shots to the greens?   I think this is one of the reasons that I’ve heard pros say over and over that amateurs under club.  Knowing your yardage gaps and your distances with each club enables you to plan your shots and factor slope, wind and temperature with confidence.

There’s a psychological benefit to knowing this information as well.  If you know the information, and you know that the club you selected is the right one, then you can more confidently setup and strike a good shot.  However, if you’re uncertain that you have the right club because you might have too much or too little club, that uncertainty will be expressed in your swing.  You may compensate for under clubbing by swinging harder, or you may decelerate if you feel you have taken too much club.

What are the solutions to getting your yardage gaps checked?

  1. Rent some time on a launch monitor.
  2. If you belong to a private club, then go when it is empty, bring a laser range finder, or a gps with a shot marking feature, and hit shots with each club.  Measure both your solid and your mediocre shots and see what the difference is.
  3. Write down the information that you get and understand it.  Are your yardage gaps consistent?  Do they make sense for your game?
  4. Seek out a teaching pro and get confirmation that your distances and yardage gaps make sense.  The pro can make some recommendations for you to get some of your clubs bent, or may recommend adding hybrids or wedges, depending on how your numbers came out.

Get to know this information and it will help you on the golf course.  If you have a forced carry, then you need to know what club will get your ball safely to the next shot.  If there is trouble behind the green, you need to know which club will get you on the green, but take the back of the green out of play.  Get to know your yardages and your gaps and you can make smarter decisions on the golf course.

Scoring when you don’t have your best stuff

Being a scratch player, to me, means being able to score well when you’re not playing particularly well.  When some part of your game is off it takes guts to grind out a good score.

My scores in the last 3 rounds have been about 10 strokes over my course handicap.  Ouch.  Now, I am working on some swing changes so that takes time and patience before it translates onto the course.  But it is difficult to know you can shoot a 78 and end up with and 87.  It’s tough when you can feel the round slipping away but you don’t know how to get it back on track.

Today I feel I learned something important.  Throughout the round I did not feel like I had my best stuff.  My ball striking was off and I wasn’t sure where the ball was going to go.  I had a slow start 3 over par for the first 5 holes.  But I finished strong going 3 over par over the next 15 holes.  I really had to grind on each shot.  I only hit 7 greens in regulation, 4 fairways, but I only needed 26 putts.

What were the keys to this round?

1. Staying patient

2. Vividly visualizing

3. Staying within my capabilities

1. Staying patient

For me this was probably the most difficult thing to do.  It was very frustrating to hit those early misses.  I had some of the worst ball striking I’ve had in a while.  I also had to rein in the feeling that the round was getting away from me.  I reminded myself that this was really early in the round and to just try and play comfortable, and not go for too much.

2. Vividly Visualizing

I think this was a major key.  Normally I pick out a target and I think about what I want the ball to do, then I do a slow half-swing emphasizing the movement I want to feel.  Today I did something different.

I would walk up to the ball, and from behind vividly imagine the flight path.  I would see the ball take off a roughly the same speed that an actual shot would, but I would see it leave a bit of trail (sort of like the tail of a comet) as it headed to the hole.  From this point of view of looking at the ball from behind it I would also see me taking the swing that would hit the shot.  Sort of like watching a preview of it.  I had never really done this before this way.  I also would not address the ball until I had really clear visualization.  Then once the visualization was really clear and I addressed the ball, it sort of felt like stepping into the shot that I saw.  I would address the ball, see the path again and swing.  Once I started to do this it was amazing how many shots actually took the path that I visualized.  Obviously not every shot did, but it was amazing to me how many actually did what I saw in my minds eye.

3. Staying within my capabilities

Although it was tempting to hit the “hero” shot, I did my best to stay within shots I knew I could pull off.  When I was chipping or pitching instead of really trying to get it to the hole I gave myself slightly bigger margin for error.  I think this took some pressure off me, and the pitches and chips came off really well, on a number of holes I was left with easy tap ins for par this way.

Although my ball striking was not where I wanted it to be, I was happy with the score at the end and I felt that I am on my way to being a scorer and a scratch player.

Applying Fearless Golf

How difficult is it to play Fearless Golf?

In ordinary situations, on your favorite course, on your favorite hole, with your favorite club, and with ideal weather it’s probably not that hard.  But what happens when you are in a tournament, or there is some money riding on a putt, or you’re on the 16th hole needing pars in that last two holes to beat your best score.  Is it easy then to play fearless golf?  Probably not.

I think playing fearless golf requires awareness.  You must become aware of when the fear mechanism is triggered and act accordingly.  Too often we get caught up in the moment and instead of taking a moment to gather ourselves we push through, for whatever reasons we have.  Usually we end up with a bad result, a hooked or sliced shot, a shot OB or into the hazard, or a stubbed chip, or a weak or overly strong putt.

I set out this morning to play Fearless Golf in difficult conditions on my home course (temperature in the upper 40s, wind blowing around 30 MPH, with a threat of rain on the way).  You would think that in these conditions it would be difficult to play fearless golf.  What’s the wind going to do to my shots?  How much shorter will the ball fly in the cold?  What are the greens going to be like?  Will my hands be too cold to get any real feel putting or chipping?

I noticed the fear response came up a number of times.  I pictured a drive being taken by a slice wind way right OB.  At that point I had a choice.  What do I do about it?  I didn’t want to just hit then because I had a really ugly picture in my head.  I told my self “You’re playing fearless golf, you’ve hit this drive great before lots of times.”  I would then picture my ball flight as I wanted, relaxed by body, and especially my hands, and swung with confidence.  I hit it down the middle in ideal position.

I made several key birdie putts in the round by thinking “Fearless Putting”, including some breaking downhillers.  In the end I ended up with a score about 7 shots better than I expected.  I was fearless and it worked.

Fearless Golf

I got a new book today, by Dr. Gio Valiante and Mike Stachura.

One chapter into I would considering recommending it.  When I look at the differences when I am able to pull off great shots and when I’m not there does seem to be an element of fear in it.  I think a lot of pressure comes from fear; fear of losing, fear of looking foolish, fear of slicing, fear of hooking, fear of hitting it fat, etc.

Do you ever notice when you are practicing that effortlessly a lot of shots come off great.  Your chips are closer to the hole with several going in, your putts are firm, on line and track right in, your drives are long and straight?  Then you get on the course and that ease is gone…

I think a big reason is that there are now consequences, penalty shots, lost balls (OB or in hazards), difficult lies etc.  All of these things that can go wrong creep into your thoughts unless you are determined to keep a strong mindset.  But like Dr. Valiante says, we actually get the fear response before we can even consciously recognize it.  If we don’t do anything about it when we do recognize it (hopefully before we swing), then it’s too late.

The next time I go out to play, I’m going to make a point of approaching every shot with confidence and certainty that I can pull it off.  Obviously it is unlikely that I’ll pull off every shot, but going into it confident that I can will make a big difference.

Mechanical thoughts led to a difficult round

So today I had a bit of a disappointing round after my recent scores in the 70s.  I shot an 82 that felt like a 92.  I managed to score ok, but it felt like a lot of work,  I really had to grind on a lot of holes and I didn’t feel like I knew where the ball was going.  My driving which had been really good recently suddenly left me, and my iron play was mediocre.

I think I put too much pressure on myself after my recent good scores.

Instead of being in the moment for each shot I kept looking back on mistakes or trying to figure out how bad this round was going to be.  Once my shots started to go astray, my thoughts turned very mechanical. Somehow I was able to save the round, as it could have been worse but it was definitely frustrating.

I haven’t hit the driving range in a while so maybe that has something to do with it.  I’ll get back on the simulator and see what’s going on with my swing path and face angle.

Is patience the secret to breaking through?

Ever feel like you’re playing well but then you kind of get stuck on a plateau?  At some point your scores get stuck around the same number?  It’s happening right now and it’s pretty frustrating.

My last 5 18-hole scores in relation to my course handicap.

  1. +1
  2. -1
  3. -2
  4. E
  5. -1

They are not bad, in fact, I’m achieving my goal of shooting better than my course handicap.  But I’m not content.

The reason is that I feel like I’m leaving a lot of shots on the table due to short game errors.  I need to come up with a good plan for improving my short game.

What’s been especially frustrating has been the putting.  I’m hitting most of my putts on the line I want, at the speed I want, and they are just not going in.  I’m burning so many edges that it is really annoying.

I spoke with a PGA pro I know and he recommnded patience.  He said that sometimes it just goes like that with the putting.  But if you’re patient you can start making a couple of extra putts per round, then you start making a couple more, and your scores drop from 79 to 76 to 73, etc.

I know he’s right but it’s not easy to do.

Observations from today’s round

I am pretty happy with the progress I’m making.  My handicap is steadily going down, my consistency in scoring is much better, and my swing feels like it’s on solid ground.  Some things to still bug me.

I don’t get up and down enough.  I know that I have to improve my short game.  I need to leave short game shots close enough to easily one putt but it’s tricky.  This is my next challenge.  I feel like I’m plateauing around the 79-81 range.  And yet walking off the course I know where I left shots on the table.  Today I had an 81, which is one under for my course handicap so again, it was a solid round.  Although I do feel it could easily have been 4 or 5 strokes better.

I had a thought that was helpful on the golf course today. The image of the inner workings of a clock, seeing all the gears moving, synchronized, no one gear speeding up.  It seemed to keep me much more synchronized and helped with the long game.  I had a really good driving day and I had a lot of good shots.  It does get to me when I have a wonderful tee shot, and a bad approach shot.  It’s a nice drive wasted and it drives me crazy.  I had two of those, with the approach shots coming up way short (I had enough club but actually hit the ball fat).  I’m pretty sure that is just a mental game thing.

A couple of things were interesting.  I really felt comfortable driving the ball, and I also felt really comfortable with my fairway woods.  I’m not sure why that was but it was nice.  On 18 I hit my drive off the toe but still got it out with pretty good distance and in the fairway.  I had about 230 up hill and I hit a nice 4 wood, pin high, but in the rough on the left side of the green.  I ended up 1 putting for a par 5 but could easily have had a birdie if I had chipped it close.

I burned the edge on so many putts today.  Had a few of those gone in it could have been a stellar round for me.  I realized that I was reading 1″ too much break on each putt.  I didn’t correct that until the 17th hole but it made a difference once I figured that out.

A good fall round

Another fall round today.  Actually, it’s my first time on the course since last week.  Anyway I posted a 79.  I hit 6 GIR, 9/14 Fairways and had 32 putts.  Not a bad score considering only 6 GIR.  I shot par for my course handicap so I’m pretty happy with the score.  I didn’t make any birdies though which was disappointing.

Overall I was pretty happy with my ball striking today.  I had a couple of bad chips and a few bad putts, but as I said I felt I scored well, all things considered.  I had a few errant drives, and although I hit some fades I didn’t have any big slices.  I basically kept the ball in play and recovered from a couple of miscues.  I know that I need to hit more greens.  That will definitely lower my scores. I crushed a few drives but I’m still not sure the driver fits me totally, but it’s kind of too late in the season to change it up.

On the 9th hole, a very short par 3, I hit sand wedge from 109 yards.  I landed the ball pin high (then pin was about 10 feet from the front of the green), then spun it back to about 10 feet off the green (for a total spin back of about 20 ft).  That’s what happens when you’ve been playing a low spin ball and decide to switch to a tour ball.  Way too much spin.  I only needed some controlled spin and it just over spun on me.  Oh well, at least I got up and down for par.