Archive for September, 2011

September 27, 2011

Good Golfers Have Good Days – Everyday

I once had a friend tell me that leaders have great days every day.  My initial reaction to his comment was pure skepticism.  How can someone have a great day every single day?  There is just no way.  People get upset about little things in their day all the time.  They get pissed off about traffic, politics, expenses, fights with family or loved ones and a plethora of other things.  This is true in life and even more out on the golf course.

How many times have you played a round with someone who gets overly frustrated by bad shots in their round?  They might throw clubs, swear or declare the game idiotic and renounce playing it ever again.  I have seen people break clubs, walk off the course and simply give up on their round before.  Since this is most common among amateur golfers and weekend warriors, I started to think more about what characteristics I see among average golfers and good golfers.

Average golfers let the little things get to them.  They are unable to move onto the next shot and fight back to salvage their round after a bad shot or a bad score on a hole.  There seems to be a point where the average golfer lets outside factors get to him more than the pros do.  Don’t get me wrong, we have all seen Tiger throw his clubs, curse and WD from tournaments.  For the most part professional golfers don’t show their negative emotions even if they are feeling them.  They are able to give off the appearance of a calm demeanor even when they hit balls in the water or double bogey holes.  They simply move on.

It is unrealistic to think that the pros don’t get pissed off and angry when they are playing poorly and a lot of their post round interviews reflect that.  They are never satisfied with their swing, putting stroke or score.  They are constantly thinking they could have done better, but they don’t show their negative emotions on the course like most amateurs do.  Why is this?  Because being able to control their emotions is a large reason they are in fact professional golfers.  It is the mark of a good golfer.  All of us could take a page out of KJ Choi’s book on golf course behavior and demeanor.  The guy doesn’t get rattled.

Think back on your past few rounds.  How many times did you blurt out a negative comment about the course or your game?  Did it help you play better?  Probably not and I include myself in this category.  The next time I go out and play I am going to set the goal to not say one single negative comment.  This doesn’t mean I won’t think it, but I simply won’t say them out loud to my playing partners.  Give it a shot and see how it helps your focus and ability to move on to the next shot.  I think you will be surprised.

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September 22, 2011

Changing up my Pre-Round Warm Up Routine

I am all set to play this saturday with a couple of buddies and I am excited for two reasons.  The first is that there are not many rounds left in the golf season here in Chicago so if I am going to break 80 it needs to happen in a hurry.  This Saturday provides a great opportunity for me to take a run at my summer goal.  Will it happen?  Who knows, but I feel like I am at a point in my game where it is only a matter of time before it all comes together.

The second reason I am excited for my round this weekend is I am going to try out a new pre-round warm up routine.  In the past I have spent the majority of my pre-round warm up time hitting my irons and driver at the range.  That is if I warmed up at all!  By looking at my stats from past rounds I know that I am going to miss fairways and greens, it is inevitable, but I don’t get up and down enough.  I have been practicing my short game and putting a considerable amount as of late and it has been paying off.  I have been giving my self good opportunities to save pars where in the past I never even had a realistic shot.

Prior to my round this weekend I have decided to switch up my traditional warm up routine by hitting a bunch of wedge shots a few mid irons and a few drivers on the range.  After that I am going to go to the chipping green and spend a solid 20 – 25 minutes chipping with both my sand wedge and 9 iron.  Once I have dialed in my chip shots I am going to hit the putting green and make as many 3 – 5 foot putts as I can before my tee time.  I am confident enough in my lag putting that I know I can get the ball within 3 – 5 feet 95% of the time.  Once I am at that range I want to be lights out and have no reservations about making putts from that range.

I know that by doing a pre-round routine like this I won’t have some magic fix to my game.  I am not expecting to all of a sudden make every single putt from inside 5 feet just because I practiced it before the round.  I know it takes much more work than that, but what I am hoping to do is give myself a good confidence boost prior to my round.  If I can erase even an ounce of doubt that exists around my short game I will consider the new routine a success.  I simply want to shift my focus towards being more comfortable with my chip shots and short game in general.  I have been neglecting it for far too long and it has held me back.

September 21, 2011

Our Greatest Strength is Letting Go

One of my co-workers wrote a blog today that focused on how to find peace and minimize stress in our daily lives.  There were a few lines in her post that I couldn’t help but apply to my golf game and I wanted to share them.  The first line was the following,

“When we can’t find peace within, we tend to look outward for distractions from our internal struggle. We look for relief by accumulating things. By achieving that title, buying that house in the high status neighborhood or being seen in the latest “in” spot. Or we spend a week at the ocean or 10 minutes in a quiet room and hope it’s enough to bring us internal peace.”

Was there ever a truer statement ever written about golfers?  When our swing goes south and our game suffers what do we tend to do?  We don’t look at our work ethic, practice methods or swing fundamentals.  We get in the car and go to the golf shop to pick up a new box of balls that fly straighter or a new driver that guarantees more distance.  When we are at odds with our golf game we tend to look outward for quick fix items that will make us feel good about playing again.

I think deep down we all know that the only way to get truly better at the game of golf is to put the time in and truly want to get better.   If there were a magic ball or driver out there that could make the average golfer better, everyone would have it and the game would be easy for everyone.  It doesn’t exist.  I do believe that being properly fit for equipment is important, but the average player doesn’t take the time do it.  They tend to buy the latest fad in the game every season with the hopes it will work for them.  These are the same people who always have new gear, but the same old handicap.

The second line that caught my attention was the following,

“We must begin and continue our own journey to quiet our inner battles, empty our minds and make room for peace. It begins with identifying what is filling us up.  With this awareness, we can surrender those things that are not serving us. Sometimes our greatest strength is in letting go.”

Wow.  What a great quote to take with you to the golf course.  I myself am a tinkerer and I am constantly trying new things with my swing to get better, but I have a hard time playing the swing I have on the course.  I tend to take my range mentality with me to the course.  If I were able to empty my mind with all of my tinkering swing thoughts and allow myself the peace of mind of just playing my swing I am sure my scores would drop dramatically.

I also love the concept of emptying your mind to make room for peace.  I thought about what I normally think about during a round and it is crazy how many thoughts run through my head.  (Where is the OB, what is my score at right now?, what do I have to shoot on the back 9 to break 80?, I don’t want to push this next drive like I did on the last hole, whatever you do don’t hit it in that bunker.)  The list goes on and on and on.  I would love to be able to look at those thoughts and accept that they are not helping my game and then allow them to slip from my mind during my round.  There is nothing productive about them and I guarantee they are hurting my game.

The best concept in my co-worker’s post was that our greatest strength is letting go.  By the time we get to the course our swing is what it is.  The course conditions are what they are.  We will hit bad shots and we will hit good shots.  Either way they don’t affect our next swing in any way shape or form, so there is no point getting caught up in the past or future.  The most important shot in your round is your next one and letting go of everything you think you know about the game of golf or your swing is a powerful tool.  The best part is that it is at your disposal whenever you want to take advantage of it.

 

September 20, 2011

Video from my Iron Fitting

A few weeks ago I did a full iron fitting with the guys over at Club Champion.  I wasn’t sure how a fitting would really help my game because I wasn’t sure my swing was repeating enough to require a certain club, shaft, etc.  During my fitting I was surprised to find that my swing speed, angle of attack and path were pretty consistent.  Once I saw this I began to see how different combinations of shaft length and weight could get my ball contact more towards the sweet spot.  I didn’t change a single thing to my swing during my fitting and I started hitting the sweet spot more often.

In the video Michael Thornburg (@mthorn316) explains in greater detail exactly what he did during my fitting to get me hitting the sweet spot.  If you have ever considered getting fit for clubs I highly suggest it and you will see why in the video.

Here is the video from my fitting…check it out!

September 19, 2011

Takeaways from BMW Driving Range

When I was out at the BMW Championship this weekend and I spent a large amount of my time there just sitting at the driving range and watching the players warm up and work with their coaches.  It was great to watch the pros out on the course, but watching them on the range was truly amazing.  The first thing I was surprised by was how many shorter shots they hit from around 75 to 100 yards.  The amount of time they spent hitting their scoring clubs was much more than the amount of time they spent hitting irons and their drivers.  This is the opposite of what I do when I am at the range and I know I need to change this in order to get much better.

The other things I noticed when I was at the range was that most of the players didn’t have the cookie cutter “perfect” swing that so many coaches and commentators preach.  Most of the players out there have a very unique swing that is based around sound fundamentals like proper set up, smooth swings and a balanced finish.  Most of the players like Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson Sergio Garcia, Tommy Gainey, Luke Donald, Steve Marino, Jason Duffner, Ryan Moore and KJ Choi all have a very distinct look to them.  They aren’t some ideal swing that is considered the perfect golf swing.  These guys know what works for them and they have learned how to be successful with their very own repeatable swing.  It makes me feel like if I can harness my strengths in my own swing I can get much better at golf.  None of us are going to be able to have a swing like Tiger or Rory so why do we spend countless unsuccessful hours trying to get there.  We would be much served working on getting our own swings to repeat more often and play that swing.

As amateur golfers go we all need to be better about swinging more within ourselves and maintain our balance at set up and through our finish.  We all need to work more on our short games and manage our games around the swing we have.  I love the idea of letting go of the idea of an “ideal” swing and playing your game around what you have.  I am not saying you shouldn’t try to work on your swing fundamentals to get better, but I do think the average golfer can benefit greatly from playing the swing we have to the best of our ability instead of trying to hit it straight and hoping it goes there.  I’m not a swing coach by any means, but I like the idea that players can excel with solid fundamentals and the ability to manage their swings.

September 15, 2011

Top 5 Things I Saw at Cog Hill

I spent all day today out at Cog Hill for the first round of the BMW Championship and it was quite a day.  I got to see a lot of great players as well as some things I didn’t expect to see at all.  I started my day off sitting at the driving range watching guys warm up which I would recommend to any golf fan.  A quick side note, Charley Hoffman was the first guy out on the putting green this morning and I watched him miss four putts in a row from three feet.  I guess that is why he was out there practicing.

Here is a list of the top 5 things I saw this afternoon:

#1 Sean Foley & Butch Harmon talking on the driving range.  Sean and Butch seemed to be pretty friendly on the range this morning as they chatted it up on the range.  Butch spent a lot of time working with Dustin Johnson this morning and they primarily worked on his wedge shots from about 75 to 100 yards.  It obviously didn’t work since DJ shot a +5 76.

#2 Dustin Johnson hitting a 340 yard drive.  I was standing on the side of the fairway on the Par 4 13th when Dustin’s group teed off.  Webb Simpson hit his ball in the middle of the fairway and Dustin Johnson flew his ball a good 40 yards past Webb’s ball right in the middle of the fairway.  Dustin went on to hit his wedge shot to about three feet and then three putt for a bogey.  It was bizarre, shocking and amazing all at once.

#3  Watching Webb Simpson on the driving range.  This kid is the real deal.  He was like a machine the way he was hitting shot after shot just dead straight no matter what club he had in his hand.  I got a chance to watch him play out on the course as well and it was equally impressive.

#4 Seeing Phil & Bubba birdie the par 5 9th hole.  First off, watching the group of Phil, Bubba and Gary Woodland tee off was incredible.  All three of them absolutely crush the ball and even though they weren’t playing that great they were drawing the biggest crowds by far.  Phil crushed his drive right down the middle on the 9th and Bubba annihilated his shot 40 yards to the left and next to the tee box on the 2nd hole.  They both went for the green in two and came up short.  After their chip shots they both knocked in their putts for birdie and the crowds responded accordingly.  Very cool to see in person.

#5 An up close look at the Trackman system.  The good people over at Club Champion arranged for me to meet up with a member of the Trackman team before the tournament started to get a look at how they operate at PGA Tour events.  I met up with the Trackman guy around 11am before any of the groups had made it to the 18th tee box and he showed me how they use the Trackman software and radars to track the player’s stats.  It was very impressive how they are able to capture the real-time data of the players right from the tee box, but the thing that impressed me the most about Trackman was how accurate it is and how usefully it can be to the everyday player and not just the tour pros.  When I first heard about it I thought it was just something for really good golfers and tour pros, but after I got fitted for my clubs at Club Champion and actually hit balls on the Trackman I understood how beneficial it can be.  The biggest surprise for me was to see how consistently my club head speed, angle of attack, swing path etc actually were even though I don’t consider myself to be anything other than an average golfer.  It was through this data that I was able to get clubs in my hands that work the best with my swing.  I think the Trackman system has a lot of benefit for the average golfer and I am excited to see them apply their system to other areas of the golf world and make them more accessible to the every day golfer.  Who knows what exactly they will come out with, but I hope it is something the average joe can take to the range and learn from.

September 13, 2011

Headed Out to Cog Hill Thursday & Saturday

I’m happy to report that I will be making my way out to Cog Hill for the first and third rounds of the BMW Championship this week!  I went to two practice rounds during the 08 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, but have never actually been to a PGA Tour event so needless to say I am pumped up.  Not only will this be my first PGA Tour event, but there are only 70 players in the field!  How can I go wrong with picking a group to go watch?

I was looking at the tee times this afternoon and it seems like a pretty clear choice to go check out Phil, Gary Woodland and Bubba for at least part of the day.  Teeing off right after them is Luke Donald, Brandt Snedeker and Jason Day!  Those two groups alone are going to be amazing, but I don’t think I would be a true golf fan if I didn’t take the time to go watch Ernie swing a club in person even if it is on the driving range!  There are a few guys I am determined to go see, especially since there is no guarantee that they will all make it to Saturday when I go back out there.

Watching these guys play in person is something I have always wanted to do, but I am also equally excited to go spend some time watching them on the range both before and after their rounds.  I am very interested to see how the prepare for their rounds on the range and how they practice after as well.  I know that most of them will be amazing out on the course, but I really want to see how they spend their practice time on the range and what their practice routine is like compared my own.  I know it will be drastically different and I can’t wait to see what I can take away from that experience and apply to my own game.

I know for sure that I need to work on my own short game if I am going to break 80 in the next month or two, but I don’t have a great practice routine right now.  What better place to get an idea of what the pros work on than at an actual event?  I think I will spend a good deal of time on Thursday as well as Saturday morning hanging around the putting and chipping greens just to get an understanding of how good these guys are around the greens.  I know they are good, but I need to see it for myself in person.

As of now I am just going to check out the tournament on Saturday, but Thursday I might have a pretty cool experience up my sleeve to share with everyone so definitely keep an eye out for the report on that one.

September 12, 2011

Update on my Golf Trip

I just got back from my weekend golf trip to San Diego and I must say it was a successful one.  My flight was cancelled on Thursday night due to the blackouts in Southern California.  I had to get re-booked on a 6am flight that didn’t get me in to San Diego until 10:30am the next morning.  Straight from the airport I had to go pick my friend up and run home to change in order to make our 1:30 tee time.  I had time for a quick bite to eat, a rinse in the shower and to unpack my clubs before we had to take off for the course.

We made out tee time, but were only able to hit about ten balls each on the practice range.  Obviously, this wasn’t an ideal warm up situation, but hey what can you do?  What happened next was a prime example of why I love golf.  I should have been all over the course coming off not much sleep and a stressful travel day, but the exact opposite happened.  I shot my best round to date with an 83.  I had two birdies, hit 71% of the fairways and 55% of the Greens in Regulation.  It was one of those rounds where everything was effortless.  If I had made just a few more putts I would have broken 80 for the first time in my life.

I found it incredibly humorous that my best round to date came after such hectic travel day and not from a round where I felt very rested and prepared.  Maybe there is something to be said for not over thinking the game.  Maybe the reason I played my best was because I didn’t expect to or I didn’t feel pressure to.  If I played poorly it would have made sense due to all the outside factors effecting me.  In a way, all of the outside factors allowed me to let go and push all of the normal pressure I feel to the side.  I’m not 100% sure this was the case, but it kind of feels that way.

After that round, I feel as though my game is right there on the verge of being really good and I also feel as though I made a big step mentally.  I shot a 42 on my front nine with a double and triple bogey.  Neither one of those scores phased me for some reason.  Ya it was frustrating, but I just kept chugging along and made my handful of pars and threw in a birdie on the par 5 9th after hitting the green in two!  How about that for a next shot mentality?

All in all, I have never felt this good about my game and I am ready to break 80 in the next few weeks.  I know it is going to happen, I just need to get out and play as much as I can before the winter gets here in Chicago.

September 8, 2011

The Importance of Up & Down

I got an interesting piece of advice recently while I was getting fit for my new irons (which are amazing by the way).  It came up in conversation that I am going to the BMW Championship next Saturday at Cog Hill.  My clubfitter told me that I shouldn’t go watch the players in the lead.  I thought this was a curious comment and asked why not?  He told me that I would be absolutely shocked at how poorly the guys at the bottom of the leader board were hitting the ball.  I believe his quote was, “they are slapping the ball all over the place!”  My natural response was along the lines of why the heck would I want to go watch that?  His response was, “because they still get up and down from everywhere.”

When he said that I wasn’t that surprised that PGA Tour players get up and down more often than not, but it also made me realize that I am putting the majority of my practice time towards my irons and driver instead of putting and short game.  I have mentioned this before and it is largely because I don’t have great access to a chipping or putting area in downtown Chicago.  As much as this is true, I know that I need to figure out a way around this.  There has to be a way to get good short game practice indoors during the winter so my game doesn’t go to absolute mush this winter.  Any tips anyone?

Looking back on my rounds I know for a fact that I don’t get up and down often enough.  When it happens I find myself saying, “wow!  Up and down from the bunker!  That’s a bonus.”  That needs to change if I am going to drop to a single digit handicap.  I am always going to miss fairways and greens.  The best players in the world miss fairways and greens, but the best players in the world get up and down.  I am determined to make my short game a strength in my game as opposed to one of my weaknesses.  Winter or no winter, I am determined to get up & down from everywhere!

 

September 6, 2011

Golf & Stress

Every time I go out to play golf I find that I experience differing levels of stress throughout my round.  It can vary from anxiety over hitting your first tee shot in front of strangers, hitting a ball OB at an important point in your match with a buddy or even no stress at all since you are just out screwing around with some friends which can lead you to not focus enough and make haphazard swings.

The funny thing about stress and golf is that sometimes I feel like certain levels of stress or anxiety can actually help me focus.  I am not talking about the kind of stress where you walk up to the tee box and all you can think about is the OB water to your right and you inevitably hit your ball dead right into the water.  I am also not talking about the kind of stress where all you can think about is the potential negative outcomes that surround your next shot, rather I am talking about the kind of anxiety that makes you take into account all of the hazards in your way before hitting a shot.

It is not wise, in my opinion, to just hit shots and not take into account the possible pitfalls around each shot.  That to me seems a bit cavalier.  Rather, I like to see the hazards in front of me, accept them for what they are and visualize my shot once I have registered them.  There is nothing wrong with seeing hazards for what they are, accepting them as potential hazard and moving on.  To pretend they do not exist is naive.

I find that when I am able to feel that sense of anxiety on the course and accept it for what it is it allows me to focus on the shot I need to hit as opposed to just hitting a shot and hoping it works out.  The course is what it is and it does not change much each time you play it so why do we let ourselves get caught up in the negative outcomes that can potentially take place instead of thriving in the moment and visualizing success?  If there were an easy answer to this question more people would be better at golf, but I would be interested to hear what some of the mental coaches out there think about stress on the golf course.