Archive for July, 2011

July 27, 2011

Playing Faster to Quiet Swing Thoughts

I was back in San Diego this past weekend and I was able to get up every morning and go practice.  The range I go to in SD has grass hitting stalls, two chipping greens and a large putting green.  Going there every morning was like going to Disneyland for a city golfer like me.  I worked on my full swing every morning, but the biggest strides I made were in my short game, putting and mental game.  I was able to get out and play a brand new course while I was home and put all of my changes to the test as well.

The first change I made to my game was last week when I took a good hard look at my short game and decided I needed to make a change.  I was constantly hitting bad chips with my sand wedge when I went out and played.  My solution was to use a 9 Iron whenever I could and roll the ball up to the hole instead of trying to fly in the entire way.  The results have been much more consistent and I feel more confident that I can chip and run a 9 Iron to 5 feet rather than fly a sand wedge to 5 feet.  When I went out and played my scrambling went from about 1% to 28.6%!!  That is a huge leap and I plan on sticking with this method.  If I am going to break 80 this summer I am going to do it with my short game and putting.

My putting is decent, but I felt like I never really made any putts outside of the 3 to 5 foot range.  When I was down in South Carolina my caddy told me that my putter was toe up and to stand closer to the ball.  This helped me flatten the putter, but I didn’t feel comfortable and I didn’t feel like I was rolling the ball.  My solution was to lay the putter flat but have my hands further away from my body and really focus on rolling the ball.  The solution was 1.89 putts per hole in my round with 4 one putts and only two 3 putts.  I felt comfortable and confident that I could make it from anywhere.  Very exciting change and lets hope it lasts.

The last change I made was my mental approach to playing my round.  A lot of times I will sit behind the ball before a shot and think about my swing keys and visualize the shot and take a decent amount of time.  This time I committed myself to visualizing the shot taking a small practice swing then stepping up and hitting the shot.  No matter what the result was I was committed to walking to the next shot and moving on.  The quicker pace of play actually helped me get rid of a lot of negative swing thoughts and worry about screwing up.  It let me be much more reactionary to the situation.  This was most true on chip shots and putts.  Just stepping up and hitting the shots removed a lot of the fear of failure that I have experienced in the past.  I also want to make it clear that there is a difference between playing quicker and rushing.  I don’t recommend playing super fast just to play fast, but speeding things up helped me just play golf instead of fear my misses.

The mental reprieve playing quicker gave me was my biggest take away from my round and I play to utilize it moving forward.  Hopefully Southwest actually delivers my “misplaced” clubs this morning and I am able to get out and play again very soon.  I don’t want to waste all of the momentum I gained out in San Diego.  After all, “If you rest, you rust!” (Helen Hayes)

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July 21, 2011

The Value of NOT Practicing

When I set my mind to a goal, no matter how large or small, I tend to go after it fanatically.  I have my whole life.  I have never been very good at balancing other areas of my life when I am dead set on achieving the goal I have set for myself.  It is because I have gone through fanatical cycles in the past trying to achieve my goals that I understand the concept of becoming burned out fairly well.

My current goal in golf is to lower my handicap to single digits by the end of the season and I have been practicing when I can and trying to achieve this goal while maintaining my personal and work life.  I am trying to take a non fanatical approach to this goal because I want this golfing achievement to last.  I don’t want it to be something I do and then move on from.  I want to instill lasting improvement to my golf game and my approach to the game.  After all, I fully intend to play for the rest of my life!

I just traveled from Chicago to San Diego to spend some time with my family and I decided not to practice my golf game today.  Normally I would see this as a wasted opportunity to practice and get better.  It constantly runs through my head that there is no reason to make excuses not to practice, just get up and go do it.  Is this really the case though?

Since I didn’t practice this afternoon I can’t stop thinking about getting up tomorrow morning and going to the range to practice for a few hours.  I feel energetic about getting up and putting the work in.  If I had gone this afternoon I know I would have been out there hitting balls to hit balls, like I have done so many times in the past.  Is it ok that I said, “today is not the day” and passed up on practice?  I’m not 100% sure and to be honest I am torn about the subject.  I don’t like the fact that I could have hit balls today and didn’t, but I also like the fact that it has made me want to practice even more.

I think there is something to be said for finding that “refreshed” feeling in your practice routine.  I don’t think it is the end of the world if you say to yourself that you need a day off now and then (not all the time) and approach your next session with more energy and focus.  I hope I am right on this one, otherwise I just wasted a perfect San Diego day to practice in!

July 20, 2011

The Adversity Drill

Back when I played Lacrosse in college my coach used to run this drill he called the “Adversity Drill” and it was a running joke on our team whenever we saw it on the practice schedule.  The reason we thought it was so funny was because our coach would run around during our scrimmage and throw his clip board at players, blow the whistle and throw a new ball out to the other team, call outrageous penalties and make up rules to help the losing team score more goals on the fly.  It was basically a half hour of frustration because you never knew what was going to happen and the minute you figured it out and were winning the rules would change and you would have to adjust and fight your way back.

At the time I just thought it was funny, but looking back on it now I see how valuable that drill was.  As a team, we never complained to the refs about anything during a game, we never thought we were out of a game no matter what the score and most importantly we never got down on ourselves or stopped fighting.  It was a lesson I have not soon forgotten and have tried to bring it over into my golf game.

Golf is by far the most frustrating game I have ever played, but also one of the most rewarding.  I look back on those cold winter practices and all of the times I went through the adversity drill and I know it helps me with my golf game.  I find that I don’t get as frustrated when I make mistakes.  I still get frustrated, but I don’t throw my hands up and say “my round is ruined” because I am not playing well.  I know that in golf more than any other sport you are never out of the game.  Every hole in golf is an opportunity to perform to your fullest.  It doesn’t matter what you got on the hole before because the hole you are about to play will never change.  If it is a 450 yard par 4 it will still be a 450 yard par 4 regardless if you made birdie, bogey or triple bogey on the hole before.

I can recall many times when I have been out on the course and found myself tied up in a bad hole I had earlier in my round.  All of a sudden my scorecard looks consistently bad and I haven’t had an ounce of fun.  This is where I have tried to think back about the adversity drill and take a “so what?  Bring it on” attitude towards golf.  I don’t play golf because it is easy.  I play golf because it is challenging and rewarding.  I don’t understand players who pout or looked amazed when they make a mistake.  It happens to every golfer and the ones that are successful in this game are the ones that move on and control their emotions.

I laughed whenever I saw “Adversity Drill” on my teams practice schedule back in college, but now I write “Adversity Drill” on the top of every score card I take out.  It is a constant reminder to roll with the punches and move on positively.  I think we can all learn from our own “Adversity Drill” and try to handle our mis-steps a little bit better on the course.

July 19, 2011

Short Game Practice Re-Cap

I complain a lot about the lack of practice facilities in the city and how my short game has suffered because of it.   As much as I actually think this is true, I also realize I am making excuses by simply saying “there are no good practice facilities in downtown Chicago so I can’t work on my short game.”  I know that is bogus and this weekend I took a step to remedy my situation.

Most of the time when I think about practicing my short game I think about hitting high chip shots with a sand wedge or 60 degree wedge from all areas around the green.  It is great to have these shots in the bag and a lot of times they are 100% necessary during your round.  I took a good hard look back on my recent rounds and gave myself an honest assessment of the shots I am using around the greens and if they are best for helping me improve.  What I realized was that I was wasting shots around the green by using the wrong type of shots just because it is what I have always done.  Ever since I started playing golf it has been my natural play to grab the sand wedge for all types of short game shots.  Is this really the best way to go about getting up and down?  Heck no!

This weekend I went out to a golf course on the south side of the city that has a fantastic practice facility and spent a good chunk of time hitting shots from around the green with different clubs.  First I took my normal sand wedge and hit chips to a flag about 20 feet away.  The results were ok, but from the rough I would catch a few high on the face and the ball would shoot way up high and die fast on the green with no roll.  This is A-typical for me.  I will hit a few good chips and a few bad chips, but I never hit great chips.  Next, I took my 9 Iron and started hitting bump and run shots to the flag.  Immediately I saw more consistency in my distance control.  All ten of the chips were within the ten foot range which is a realistic distance to make some putts.  I felt much more confident with this club selection and feel like it is something I need to implement in my game more.

I am not saying that every shot around the greens should be a 9 Iron bump and run shot, but I am saying that my mindset around my short game was leading me to neglect this shot.  I have been under using this shot when it could be helping me add consistency to my short game and hopefully get up and down a few more times.  I am a terrible scrambler and rarely get up and down when I miss greens so anything I can do to help that I am going to try.  This is also something I can practice in my apartment.  I don’t need any more space than I use now for long putts.  I can just as easily try to chip balls into the cup from 20 feet as I can putt them in.  This will hopefully help my short game  and give me one more thing to practice indoors when I am not able to get out to a course with decent practice greens.

Anyone else out there have good indoor short game tips?

July 18, 2011

Late Takeaways from the Open

I am going to go ahead and say that the Open championship is my least favorite Major.  I know a lot of people out there will say I am an idiot because Golf was created for Links style play and the Open is the truest test any golfer can face.  Is it really though?  It seemed more than anything else a test of who got the best weather conditions and who got the best bounces.

I am not even kidding when I say that Daren Clarke almost lost the championship when he was faced with a down hill shot out of the rough and it came shooting out low caught a lucky bounce and shot over the pot bunker in the fairway and rolled onto the green.  If his ball had come to rest in the bunker it would have been an automatic 1 shot swing.  No doubt in my mind there.  Can you really call that shot a true test of golf or is it luck?  It seemed more like a miss hit rewarded  rather than good links style golf, but there is one thing I won’t take away from Clarke this week.  That was his clutch putting and great short game.  He was stellar and there is no disputing that.

I don’t want to take anything away from Darren Clarke here.  His story is fantastic and he seems like a great guy and a deserving champion.  Bravo to him.

The other think that struck me during the Open was the American presence in the Top 10.  Anthony Kim, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Phil all finished in the Top Ten.  European dominance?  Not so fast guys.  Not only did some big name Americans play well, but they did it on Europe’s home court.  I think American golf will be just fine.

July 13, 2011

Top 5 Expectations for the Open

Here are the Top 5 things I expect to see tomorrow at the Open Championship.

1) I expect to see pretty much every writer, broadcaster and player talking about the wind.  We get it.  It is the Open Championship and it is windy let’s all move on and talk about something else.  The only thing more annoying than hearing about the poor conditions at the Open Championship year in and year out is hearing about how American players are trying the local cuisine and how they like it.  I really don’t care if Bubba Watson tried the haggis or not.

2) A lot of scores around or above par.  I think the first two days of the tournament aren’t going to see really low scores.  Anyone who hovers around Par for the first two days will have a shot to make a move on the weekend for a win.

3) A lot of the top European players in the mix.  I fully expect to see McIlroy, Westwood and Donald all in the mix at this major.  Westwood and Donald both played great last week and will continue to do so this week.  I am interested to see how Rory does with all the expectation laying on his shoulders, but I expect his pure talent to keep him in the mix.  I think these guys are really going to fuel the tournament heading into Sunday and I hope I am right on this one.  It would be great to see top players battle it out for a major.

4) A dark horse to be leading or near the top of the leader board.  I fully expect to see a dark horse player right up on the leader board during the first two days.  My pick for this guy is Steve Marino, but I think we could see anyone from Charles Howell III to Tom Lehman up there competing.  The Open Championship is great because of the links style of play.  The course allows for a lot of chance to come into play.  Bad and good bounces happen all the time and often times gets a guy higher on the leader board than he has ever been.  I think we are going to see this, but don’t necessarily think they will stick around through the weekend.  I just don’t see another Oousthuizen situation happening again this year.

5) An American to seriously compete for the Championship.  I expect to see Stricker, Bubba, Rickie, Marino or Watney seriously compete for the Claret Jug.  I don’t think the Euros are going to be able to dominate the tourney without a little bit of resistance from the good old USA.  I hope one of these guys takes a serious run at the tournament because it would be amazing to see any of them win a Major.  Either way, I am looking forward to seeing how everything plays out over the weekend.

July 12, 2011

Three Ideal Story Lines for the Open

I have been reading a lot of conflicting predictions for the upcoming Open this week.  I have heard that Royal St. George will produce a Dark Horse winner that no one expects, but I have also heard that it is a course where the best tend to win.  I have no idea which it will be, but I hope it is the scenario where the best wins.

Last week we saw the field absolutely demolish the Scottish Open due to non-existent winds and a soft course.  I don’t think the Open will be nearly as soft, and you never know with the wind.  If anything at all can be taken away from the Scottish Open it is that the top players in the world are playing well right now.  Donald, Westwood, Kuchar and McDowell (for three rounds) all played great golf last week.  Phil played decent but not great.

I think there are a few potentially explosive story lines going into next week that are a real possibility.  The first I could see playing out is a Northern Ireland heavy leader board.  I could very easily see McDowell and McIlroy high up on the leaderboard battling it out for the championship over the weekend.  Wouldn’t that be something to see the past two U.S. Open Champions slugging it out at the British Open for their second major?  I for one would be glued to the T.V. and really do believe this is a strong possibility.

The second story line is similar to the first but it involves two Englishmen instead of Irishmen.  It is a very real possibility that we will see both Donald and Westwood high up on the leader board during this championship.  Donald is fresh off his win last week and Westwood has been playing good golf pretty much all year.  He always finds a way to play well in Major championships and it really feels like it is his time.  He can’t go his whole career without winning a major, can he?  A Donald vs. Westwood showdown would be fantastic in its own right, but the fact that it would be a rematch from when Luke snatched the world #1 ranking from Westwood at the BMW PGA Championship in Wentworth would make it that much more exciting.  I can’t decide which is more likely, Donald vs. Westwood or McDowell vs. McIlroy, but both would be fantastic.

The last story line I would love to see play out this weekend is pretty much any American making a run at the Claret Jug.  Do I think they will?  Not really, but I think Matt Kuchar is our best shot.  Watney may get hot and get in the mix but I don’t see it happening.  Kuchar was playing in the Scottish Open last week and played very well.  He is Mr. Consistent and seems like the kind of player who will win a major in his career.  Why not now?

The biggest dark horse American player I can think of who has a decent shot is Steve Marino.  I know he hasn’t wo on Tour but he has a good resume on links courses and is a relentless grinder.  You need to be able to handle bad breaks and Marino has tasted bad breaks this year, but keeps chugging along.

At the end of the day I am still going to go with pretty much everyone’s favorite pick thus far.  I think Rory is going to be lifting the Claret Jug come Thursday.

July 11, 2011

Making Progress

I finally got out and played this weekend for the first time in two weeks.  I didn’t shoot my lowest score of the summer by any means but I finally felt comfortable and confident over every shot.  It was clear that I need to work on my putting, but my irons, driver and short game were all in good form.

The main key for me recently has been my grip pressure (keeping it lighter), using a 3/4 swing and having a swing thought of an “oily” swing.  I have noticed a huge leap in my accuracy when I actually implement these keys.  It can sometimes be scary to take one extra club and swing smoother, but it really is the best practice for more controlled shots.  I have had to re-think all of my previous distances, but I think this change is going to be a huge help for me for the rest of the summer.

I started out my nine-hole outing +2 over my first 5 holes and then played the last 4 holes at +5.  It was very frustrating to finish so poorly, but I missed a few very make-able par putts coming in.  That was the real difference in my score.  Had I made those putts I would have been closer to 40 or sub 40 which is where I am trying to get.  I need to find a way to focus my practice time to continue making progress on my swing but also incorporate more putting practice.

It is tough in the city to find anywhere that has decent practice facilities, but that isn’t going to stop me.  Anyone out there have any good recommendations for indoor putting aids that I can use in my apartment?  If I can start hitting more putts from that dreaded 3 to 5 foot range my scores are going to start dropping and dropping fast.

All in all, I was very happy with the way my swing felt and I feel good about continuing my quest to break 80 this summer.  I still need to drop 5 shots off my handicap to get to a single digit handicap, but have to take it one step at a time.  As long as I keep making good swings on the course I know my goals will take care of themselves.

July 6, 2011

Keys from my Practice Journal

There are a few key things I have identified as keys to success recently in my practice sessions.  I define success in golf not by score but by my ability to repeat my swing.  Some days are better than others, but as long as I am able to repeat my swing consistently I know that I will be able to limit my misses as much as possible.

Recently I have been falling off the wagon with my positive thought process.  Just last night I got back on a bit and the results showed.  I was getting in a funk and letting negative thoughts enter my head during my swing.  By re-committing myself to positive swing thoughts I was able to let go of the fear that accompanies poor results.  It is never fun to hit bad shots, but if all you are thinking about is bad shots you will probably continue to hit bad shots.  It boils down to visualization for me.  The ball isn’t always going to end up exactly where I want it to, but if I visualize my aim and trajectory the misses become much smaller.

The second key I was working on was keeping my right elbow into my body more.  This obviously restricts my backswing and works in conjunction with my commitment to using more of a 3/4 feeling swing.  I was not losing a ton of distance and the results were much straighter.  When I pair this with a mental thought of a smooth “oily” 80%  down swing the results are much better and the swing is effortless.  My balance on the follow through is much better and I don’t feel out of whack at any time in my swing.

I have always found it hard not to swing hard at the golf ball, but a restricted backswing, a lighter grip and a smoother down swing are the keys for me going forward.  They allow me to produce a controlled swing that I am able to repeat.  If I can’t get my swing to repeat there is no way I will break 80.  I am still in the process of feeling more comfortable with the changes, but I am committed to them and know deep down this is the best thing for my game.

July 5, 2011

Americans Heating Up for the British Open?

There are two main reasons I am not going to jump the gun and say that American golf is back on track after Watney’s win this weekend.  The first has to do with the fact that the field this week at the AT&T can hardly be considered an internationally heavy field.  Most of the world’s top golfers weren’t even playing.  The second reason I am not going to get too excited is because the young American golfers like Watney have yet to prove themselves on the big stage at a major.

Seeing a bunch of young American players play well this weekend was exciting though.  I am not going to deny that part of me was getting fired up to see American players all over the leader board.  It doesn’t matter to me if American’s are winning or not, but I love the competitive story line it breads.  Nothing gets people more interested in golf tournaments like a foreign player winning a major championship, and that goes for an American winning the British Open as well.

All of this America vs. Europe talk is only going to escalate leading up to the next Ryder Cup and it gets me so fired up that it is going to be played here in America.  If we want to stand a chance we need guys like Watney, Overton and Fowler to get hot at the right time.  It sounds like they are starting to get more comfortable when they are in contention than they have been in the past.  As we saw last year there is no bigger pressure spot in golf than the Ryder Cup.  The more experience these young guys get in pressure situations the better.

Quite frankly, I don’t really care if they win a ton of tournaments leading up to the Ryder Cup.  If they don’t win a bunch I can see it fueling their fire even more to prove that they can stack up against the Euros.  As much as I love the fact that golf is incredibly internationally these days I still love the American golf story line.  I think the British Open will be a very interesting tournament this year.  It is probably the hardest major every year to predict a winner just because you never know who will adjust to the conditions and step up their game.  If an American golfer goes over there and wins what will the international golf conversation shift to?  It will spice things up to say the least.