Today’s Round – swing changes and surprising strategy pay off

Today I headed up to play Richter Park Golf Course, one of the public course gems in Danbury, Connecticut.  I was unsure of what results I was going to get as this morning I decided to implement some swing changes.  I also upon arrival at the course, took my 4 wood out of the bag.  This club has been giving me trouble recently as the shaft has a completely different flex than what I am now used to in my irons.  I decided that I did not even want to be tempted by it.

After hitting a few wayward drives (two that went OB on me) I decided to also leave the driver in the bag the rest of the round.  I just wasn’t feeling comfortable with it and it just wasn’t working well with the swing changes.  Besides Richter Park is not so long that I would miss the driver.  So I spent most of the round teeing off my 18 degree Cobra Baffler pro hybrid and decided that I would play the par 5s as 3 shot holes.

I was hitting the hybrid probably 20 yards behind where I would normally hit my driver and so much straighter.  On one hole I went hybrid – lob wedge and ended up about 8 feet from the pin slightly above the hole.  The only hole where driver would really have made a difference for me was 18.  I thinned the hybrid and ended up with 205 to the back of the green, to a green perched roughly 15 yards above me.  I would have proffered a shorter second shot but that’s golf.

I was pretty amazed at how well the swing changes worked.  My irons were crisp and very straight.  I ended up with an 81 that could have been even better had I left the driver in the car from the beginning.  I had 2 drives that went OB on me, and without those penalties the score could have been much lower.  However, my irons were crisp, as were my wedges.  I had really solid distance control all day and I’m excited for what these swing changes will bring.

During the round I also decided to implement the strategy from this article about asking the right questions.  The other thing that has improved my scoring is Game Sense.  Even when I don’t hit pure shots, I’m leaving myself good opportunities to save my score.  Deciding on the correct strategy based on what I brought to the course that day has now become second nature and it really makes the game so much more fun.  I recognize what the course architects are trying to do to trick golfers and I can very easily select the right strategy.  Sun Tzu said, and I’m paraphrasingm that every battle is won or lost before it has even begun.  Although golf is not a battle it is a competition between you and the golf course.  Use the right strategies and make the best decisions and you give yourself good opportunities to play well.

Winter Golf Round

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Okay, so there wasn’t any snow on the ground.  And that’s not a picture of the course I played.  But it was an unbelievable 62 degress in December in the Northeast.

Had to take advantage of it so I went out and played a round.  The course was pretty spongy and wet from all the rain we got last night.  But I can’t complain too much as I think the rain was responsible for the warm temperatures.

I warmed up at home with the Orange Whip Trainer, then headed out to the course.  My rhythm felt good and I felt like it was going to be a good ball striking day.

I started the round off with a 4 wood that flew quite a bit longer than my driver usually does.  It flew a good 40-50 yards further.  I don’t know if it was the warmer air or I just hit the ball extremely solid but I was very pleased with that shot.  On the next hole I hit an enormous drive, GPS measured to 302.  That is long for me.  Lately I’ve been carrying it out about 265-270.  There was very little roll on the course due to the wet conditions so I was amazed when we got the GPS measurement on it.

For the most part the day went somewhat like this.  I was hitting my irons very crisp again.  I continued to try to use as light a grip as possible.  I got a little over excited with the driver a couple of times and tried to force it (which resulted in some predictable blocks).  I was pretty much zeroed in with my wedges.  The only thing that let me down today was the putting.  I needed 33 putts which is why I ended up with an 81.  It’s a respectable round but it could have been so much better.  I think my work with the Orange Whip and the Country Club Elite golf mats is really starting to pay some dividends.  I feel like I’m a lot more patient on the course and I feel like my rhythm has just improved so much.

The effect of using a light grip

On Monday I played another round at my local course.  Ended up with a good score in cold windy conditions.  I attribute my scoring to solid iron play.

I was hitting my irons particularly solid that day and I think a lot of that had to do with a light grip on the club.

With a light grip the club seemed to swing more freely and with less effort.  On a day when my shots should have been 1 club or more shorter than in the summer, I was getting my full distance and then some.  With a light grip I could really feel the acceleration of the club down through the impact zone.  I could really feel the ball compress and even though I was playing a non-tour ball (Nike One Vapor), I was still getting a lot of spin, much more than I anticipated.

The other interesting effect that the light grip had was on the flight path of the golf ball.  I had a number of shots during the round when I know I had a tighter grip on the club.  On those shots, I tended to lose the ball to the right with a weak fade.  My shots with the lighter grip were controlled draws.

So there were several benefits from using a light grip:

1) More solid contact

2) More clubhead speed

3) Controlled draw vs a weak fade

4) Optimal spin

5) Improved Distance and accuracy

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.

Today’s round with stats

What a beautiful day today.  It’s early November and I got to play a round with with a temperature in the mid 60s.

Still working on the stuff from my lesson and my ball striking was definitely off today.  It is difficult not to be mechanical when trying to apply what I’ve been working on since the lesson last week.

I hit a few really good shots, and I had an ok score, but it was difficult trusting my swing.  I’m sure that things will get better, and I have the whole winter to get my swing improved so having a mediocre round is not a big deal.  It was nice to be out there though.

Stats for the round:

7/14 Fairways (50%), 8/18 GIR (44%), 29 Putts (2.0 putts per green in regulation, 1.61 putts per green overall, 1.5 putts per green not in regulation), 29 Putts for an 80.  Did not hit into a single bunker.

Every green missed cost me .8 strokes.  That is a lot.  I should keep working on my ballstriking, but the short game will really help save strokes.  I need to dramatically reduce how many strokes a missed green costs me.  I also need to putt better when I get on the green in regulation.

Par 5 scoring:   +1

Par 3 scoring: E

Par 4 scoring: +7

Par 5s are my best opportunities for birdies.  Par 4s are where I really need to score.  Each par 3 cost me about .7 shots today.  That really needs work.

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.

4 Keys to a great round today

Just got back from upstate NY where I got to play one of my favorite courses, Orchard Creek in Altamont, NY.  I had a 77 on a tough, very wet course.  Drives were only rolling about a foot, and the rough was pretty wet.  The sand in the bunkers was heavy.  The greens were still fast as usual though.  Things I learned during this round:

1) Putting Speed

The best way I’ve found to control my speed on fast greens is with a stroke that is short on the backswing and long on the forward swing.  With this stroke my speed was not only much better but the roll was truer.  I marked my golf balls with alignment lines and I was amazed at how true my putts were rolling with that end over end roll.  Although unfortunately I didn’t have any short birdie putts, I was able to make plenty of long (10+ feet) putts for par which went a long way toward saving the score.

2) Reading the Line

I’ve been writing about how many putts I lipped out, or burned the edges on.  I realized that this came from reading too much break into the putts.  It is a difficult thing to change because when you are used to reading a certain amount of break it is actually uncomfortable to play less break than that.  I had to learn to trust that the amount of break was actually correct even if it seemed like too little.

Yesterday I went to the putting green to practice armed with an excellent practice aid to help me read the greens.  It is basically a circular level that shows you in what direction the green is breaking at the point where you place it.  I learned to correlate the amount of change on the level to the amount of break and I really was shocked at how much break I had been reading into the putts.  Once I started to play less break and feel comfortable with it I started sinking a lot of putts on a fast practice green.

Combining #1 and #2 above really allowed me to feel comfortable putting.  It led to making a lot of nice long putts.  A few putts that didn’t go in where on exactly the right lines, they just needed a bit more speed.  Overall I was very happy with my putting.

3) Approach Shots from 120 Yards

This shot has been troubling me lately.  It’s not a full pitching wedge, and it’s too much for a sandwedge (52 or 56 degree).  I started playing a knockdown pitching wedge and it turned out to be the best way to hit this shot for me.  I had a number of these during the round and I started feeling very confident from this range.  As a result I hit many more greens today then usual.

4) Short Game

This is the one area that let me down today.  I feel like the 77 could have been a 74 or maybe even a 72 if my short game had been on.  Pitches from 15 to 30 yards where my biggest weakness during the day and turned some pars into bogies.  This area definitely remains fertile ground for improvement and I look forward to being a much better short game artist next season.

I did a lot of things well today on a tough course in cold, wet and windy conditions.  I was very pleased with my play and saw some serious room for improvement still.  But I do feel like it is doable and like I should be able to reach mid to low seventies next season on a regular basis.

Today’s Round

I shot a 78 even though I only hit 6 greens and had 31 putts.

It was a good round though.  I hit the ball very solid.  I had a lot of good tee shots leaving me with wedges into the greens.  Most of my misses came on the approach shots.  I flew a few greens from 125 yards and in, since I’m still getting used to hitting the ball at bit further (even with the colder weather) so my distances are not totally dialed in.  I had a couple of nice birdies and just had a good round overall.  My putting can definitely improve and that’s something I’m going to work on.  I also need to get a bit more accurate with my irons, especially the short irons.  Getting into the mid and low seventies is going to be a challenge but I’m definitely looking forward to spending more time in the seventies.  I feel like I’m getting to know the game better and that I can score well even when I’m not hitting a lot of greens.  I feel like I’m becoming a better scrambler though of course I would prefer to hit more greens.  I’m confident that will happen.  My main miss is a pull when I get bit quick but I’m begining to more consistently hit nice baby draws.

Handicap Drop: 8.0

Yesterday GHIN adjusted my handicap for the last time this season.  I’m happy to report that I finished with an 8.0.  I made solid improvement throughout the course of the season.  I started the season off with a handicap of 12.4, was as high as 13.0, and steadily worked it back down to an 8.0.

I’m thrilled with the way the season went but I’m also a bit sad that I won’t be able to post any scores until April when the official 2010 season kicks off.

I played today and shot an 80 with 27 putts.  It was a pretty non-eventful 80 with a few really good shots, and a couple of nice putts that went in.  But it seemed like a pretty typical round and I know that I left a bunch of shots on the table.

I was pretty excited by how I was driving the ball.  I hit a lot of really good drives.  I definitely need to hit more greens in regulation.  My iron play was decent but not stellar.  My short game was pretty good although I did have a couple of errant chips, but most ended up within about 2-3 feet of the hole.

Does anyone know of a good indoor facility where I can practice my short game in fairfield county or westchester?  Mostly I’d like to practice putting, chipping and bunker shots.  There was a place I really liked in Norwalk, The Golf Training Center, but it closed down earlier this year.  I plan of updating this blog regularly anyway as I will continue to work on my game over the winter.  The plan for the winter is to continue to develop solid fundamentals on the full swing, and somehow find a place to practice my short game so I can get a killer short game over the winter.