Posts tagged ‘Winter Golf’

April 2, 2013

Back from Pinehurst and Back to Work!

I am officially back from my trip down to Pinehurst and back at the desk. It is tough coming back to chilly Chicago after six days on the course in nice weather, but it is inevitable for us cube monkeys who don’t live in the ideal golf climate. The trip down south produced a few things I really liked and a few things I really didn’t like. Let’s start with the good.

1) My swing is MUCH better than it was last season. The work I have done with Mike Thornburg at Play 18 this off-season has helped a ton. During this trip I hit the ball the best I have ever hit it off the tee and produced some of the better iron shots I have ever hit as well. My irons were a bit less consistent, but the results were noticeably different.

2) My ability to go “Play” golf has improved as well. I did a great job of focusing on each shot as they came and left the worry and stress about my score and the technical aspects of the swing on the range. I shortened up my range warm up sessions in an attempt to not over think the game and just go play and it really helped. The main change I made was that if I hit a club well three times in a row during my warm up I was done with it. That was all the confidence I needed to take to the course.

3) I was surprisingly confident with the putter for not having worked on it much. The take away I had from this was that it is very easy to over think putting. I found that when I was more reactive to each putt I felt more natural as opposed to worrying about technique. There is something to be said for letting go of the concept of control on the greens.

Ok, time for the not so good.

1) My scores did not reflect the way I hit the ball tee to green.

2) My short game is still rusty and needs the most improvement. Part of this was that I practiced a lot with my wedges this off-season and got down to Pinehurst where the lies around the greens are much tighter than I expected and require much more bump and run shots or putting off the green. I was not ready for this at all and was a bit lost in the short game area. I eventually adjusted, but was very disappointed with the short game results.

3) I have a lot more work to do, but feel I am trending in the right direction.

4) Looking back on these rounds I didn’t set any real tangible goals to shoot for and I wish I had. I need to take a good long look at this upcoming season and set some real goals and stick to them.

This weekend could mark the beginning of the Chicago golf season for me even if the weather is still in the 50s. I have the itch to play again and I need to do something about it. Stay tuned as the journey continues!

February 22, 2013

Play 18 Session – 2/22/12

I just had a great session with Mike over at Play 18. The two weeks leading up to this session I have been working on short chip shots with my 7 iron working on hitting the ball first and moving my hips forward of center and towards the target. It helped but I still had some major issues going on. The dead right shank was still coming out when I tried to speed things up and hit full shots. Long and short of the problem was that I was coming too much from the inside with the club, my grip was too weak and too tight and I was swinging the club out and right of the target. All of this equalled an open club face and the hossel on the ball. To make things better, my left wrist at the top of the back swing was bending the wrong way. Seems like a lot to fix in one session, but I have to say Mike made it pretty simple to feel what I needed to feel to get my swing on plane.

First Mike told me he was going to get my swing on the proper plane by switching up three main things.

The first was my grip. Mike had me move the club in my left hand even further into the fingers. He had me hold it straight up in the air in front of me so it felt light. Once I had my left hand on it correctly he had me put my right hand on and keep the light feeling. After that, he said keep that pressure and feeling throughout the swing. I instantly felt that my grip was much tighter in my old swing than what he currently had me doing. I hit a few shots with the new lighter grip and it felt much smoother and had a bit more of effortless power.

The second item to address was my address set up. I was getting into my set up with too narrow of a stance. This was probably the most bizarre thing Mike had me do in our lesson. He had me take my set up without my club and close my eyes. From there I let my hands swing out and in. Because my stance was too narrow my hands were actually missing each other when I brought them together. When I widened my stance a little bit the started hitting perfectly together. I can’t explain why, but it was weird. Widening my stance made me feel more connected to the ground and on my back swing my weight was more in the instep of my right foot than rolled over to the outside. This actually made me feel more comfortable over the ball.

The last thing Mike had me work out was feeling like my hands were swinging to the left of my target. Mike put down a foam roller and put the ball right up next to it and gave me the classic “miss the foam roller, hit the ball.” My swing was hitting the ball and then right into the foam roller. Ahhhhh, so I am coming way too far from the inside? Bingo. Once Mike got me thinking about hitting the ball and getting the club to the left I started to miss the foam roller and hit the ball fairly well. The key here was that I wasn’t drastically hitting the ball to the left, but actually was getting the club back on a decent plane. The feeling for me that produced an on plane swing was getting my hands to the left of the target. The more I tried doing this the more comfortable it felt. It immediately got rid of my dead right shank shot.

I left today feeling much better about my swing and where I am heading. There are still a few things that I really need to get more comfortable with and work on. Mainly my left wrist at the top of my swing and feeling my hands swinging to the left of the target are things I need to work on a lot in the next few weeks. I have my big golf trip to North Carolina coming up in the next two weeks so I am going to get in a lot of practice and one more session with Mike. Hopefully this is the start of a great golf season!

January 30, 2013

Indoor Short Game Practice

This winter I have dedicated myself to fine tuning my short game and putting any way I can. I figured I would give a brief update on how I have been doing this. Every morning when I get up I do some putting on my carpet. I know this isn’t ideal, but it is better than nothing. Each morning I pick a different distance and hit about 30 putts. The longer putts are all about finding the right speed and the shorter ones are all about aim. This has been fun because it has been a good change of pace and it doesn’t feel very repetitive. It has also greatly boosted my confidence with the putter. There aren’t many better feelings in golf than sinking 30 five footers in a row into a coffee cup. Trust me, it is addicting.

The other piece to my short game tune up is my chipping. Last season I struggled with my chipping the most and finally took the approach of getting the ball on the green as quickly as possible. I hit a lot of 8 iron runners and it definitely helped. I realize that this isn’t the best approach, but last season I was desperate and needed a quick fix. After I hit my putts I move on to some ship shots. Every morning I pick a new club and a new landing spot. I don’t focus on where the ball ends up, just where it lands. Often times I will put a pillow down where I think the landing spot will be and I will hit chips onto the pillow. I will do this with my 7, 8, 9, pw, 50, 54 & 58 clubs. The biggest thing I have taken away from this is how the ball comes off each club and how much takeaway I need to get the ball to land on the pillow. I know that when I finally get outside and onto a green I will need to calibrate a little for the rollout of the longer clubs, but right now I am getting very confident in getting each club to come off higher or lower and land where I want it to.

It will be a few more months before I know if this new practice routine will pay off, but right now I have never felt more comfortable or confident with my putter or wedges in my hands. It has been fun changing it up each morning and I love the lack of doubt I now have especially with my chip shots. Last year I was just looking to get the ball on the green, now I feel like I can take advantage of my short game to help me really drop my scores down. The winter won’t keep me down this year.

January 21, 2013

Winter Work at Play 18 Chicago

Last week I got a chance to get some winter work on my game in. There is a facility here in Chicago called Play 18 that is very cool. They are located right in downtown and they have tons of hitting bays and simulators tucked away in their lofty space. The other cool item that Play 18 has is a Tour Bound Golf Academy Robot. I wasn’t completely sure what I was expecting the first time I walked in, but I was pleasantly surprised. The place is just down right cool.

I made my way to Play 18 to get a tune up from my coach Mike Thornburg. The session was great and I have made a ton of progress since we first started working together. There were a few standout areas that I need to work on that he identified early on in the session. With a few tips and drills I was on my way to straightening those out, but it will no doubt take some time to get the timing and feel down.

The strangest part of the lesson was getting on the Tour Bound machine. It was strange to be guided through what a tour pros swing feels like, but it was also a learning experience. The biggest thing I felt different was the lag. Wow do they create some serious lag in their swings. I couldn’t believe how much lag the machine made me feel. It also made it clear that I don’t create much in my swing at all. I’m not convinced that doing reps on the machine will make your swing perfect, but I am convinced it is a good learning tool to feel the difference between how the pros swing the club and how you swing the club. At the end of the day, I would recommend it as a learning tool for someone looking to get better.

I’m working on some drills that Mike gave me over the next two weeks and then getting back to Play 18 for another session. My golf trip to North Carolina is coming up in March so I don’t have a lot of time to get my swing tuned up. I’ll keep the updates coming and hopefully a video update on the swing soon. Here is to hitting ’em straight!

January 2, 2013

A Little Sunshine Helped My Game

I’m back in Chicago after my trip to San Diego for the holidays. The weather wasn’t ideal while I was there, but it was a vast improvement from the dropping temperature here in Chicago. I was able to play three rounds while in San Diego and for the most part I was happy with the results. I played two of my rounds with a big group of friends in a best ball format and contributed the majority of my shots to the team. We made some birdies, a handful of pars and one too many bogies to win against the other teams. I was happy with the way I played for being off the course for nearly two full months.

It is amazing how quickly your game can go away when you aren’t hitting balls and playing every day. It is also amazing how quickly some of it can come back when you have the chance to hit balls on a consistent basis. As soon as I landed in San Diego I went home to unpack and put my golf shoes on and went to the range. I got three solid range sessions in before my first full round and it helped a bunch. My full swing was in decent shape and my short game was surprisingly sharp. Where I left the most strokes on the course was my putting. I just didn’t have a good feel for my touch on the greens and it cost me about 6 – 7 strokes a round. I’m not overly worried about this because with some steady practice it will turn around.

The one round I did play on my own was a very early morning round with a group of guys who were in town from Northern California and Chicago strangely enough. I could tell the one guy was from Chicago because he was the only person crazy enough to wear shorts to the course at 6:40am. Needless to say, I liked him immediately. My round started off with a couple fairways, GIR and a few three putts. I wasn’t upset and was hitting the ball fairly straight. I made a couple of scramble pars near the turn and was in decent shape. The back nine turned up two balls OB which pretty much sealed the deal for me and stuck me in the high 80s. It was disappointing, but I also realize it could have been much worse.

My takeaway from this trip to San Diego was mainly that my game is not that far off. I need to keep up my chipping and putting and find a way to keep my full swing in shape. I am going to try to work with my guy Mike a bit more each month and suck up the cold weather at the range a few times to stay sharp. I have a 5 day golf trip in March with my brother-in-law that has us playing Pinehurst #2, Tobacco Road and a few courses in Myrtle Beach! I’m excited for the trip, but I have a lot of work to do to get my scores down close to breaking 80 by then. Here is to a lot of hard work in the next few months to drop some strokes in the bitter winter cold!

December 17, 2012

Sometimes Your Game Needs to Take a Little Trip

Living in Chicago makes practicing a tad more difficult than I would like. The driving range stays open and has heaters, but it can be absolutely brutal. Indoor facilities are expensive and not that common. I have been able to implement some indoor chipping and putting, but those can get tedious. The bottom line is, practicing in Chicago can be miserable during the winter months.

That is why I take my annual trip home for the holidays to see family and energize my golf game. This is easy to do when your destination is a golf mecca like San Diego. This year I am going to spend ten days in San Diego with family, friends and lots of golf.

Every year I go home and spend a good amount of time at the range and on the course. I always come back feeling great about my game and full of anticipation for the Chicago weather to turn warm and the courses to open back up. It would be nice to carry some of the momentum I gain while I am in San Diego with me throughout the winter. I have a few ideas of how I might be able to do that, but nothing is sticking out to me as the clear-cut solution.

As it stands now, I am enjoying my golf in San Diego and trying to increase my practice in Chicago leading up to the 2013 season. I have set some lofty goals this season and I will need to start the year right with commitment and consistent practice to achieve those goals. For me, this holiday season marks the beginning of my 2013 journey. Here is to a successful New Year!

November 5, 2012

Goal Setting Winter 2012 & 2013

Winter is creeping in on the city of Chicago and I am taking a look back on the goals I set for 2012. Sadly I didn’t accomplish a single goal this season. In 2011 I accomplished 4 out of the 11 I set. As I look at the goals I set this past year, I am upset that I didn’t accomplish any of them, but I am not completely at a loss. Over the winter I went through a swing overhaul and struggled with it for most of the season. The changes didn’t start to show meaningful results until the end portion of the season.

Below are the goals I set in 2012 for a point of reference.

Golf Goals 2012

  • Break 80 – Closest so far this summer is 87
  • Play a round with no 3 putts
  • Get up and down more than 50% of the time, including sand saves
  • Commit to playing the next shot at hand and not let myself focus on shooting a score (Subjective goal)
  • Never give up on a round

I am going to take a different approach to goal setting in 2013. I am going to set SMART goals. If you are unfamiliar with SMART goals, it stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

The first goal I am going to set for 2013 is that I am going to enter into a City of Chicago Public Golf tournament and I am going to break 80 in both rounds. This tournament takes place in August every year and it is only a two-day event. This goal is something I have wanted to do for a while and I am going to put it down here so I can’t back out.

In order to accomplish this first goal I am going to have to work much harder throughout the winter to increase my short game efficiency as well as maintain my full swing. I am going to do this, by chipping and putting every single morning until I play in the tournament. This goal is specific to my short game, measurable by checking off the days on whether I did it or not, attainable because I can easily chip and putt before work no matter the weather, relevant because my short game is the weakest aspect of my game and timely because there is a specific date that the tournament takes place on.

The second goal I am going to set is twice a month go to the outdoor driving range or the indoor simulators to work on my full swing. There is a new facility here in Chicago that has a room full of simulators and although it is pricey it is a great option when the outdoor range is just too cold to tolerate. The goal is specific to maintaining my full swing, measurable by checking off if I went twice a month or not, attainable because it is realistic to go twice a month, relevant because I need to maintain my full swing and timely because I will be able to do this twice a month until it gets warm enough to go play on the course.

Once it gets warmer and I survive the winter in Chicago I will reset my goals to be more specific to playing full rounds of golf, statistics and scoring. Right now, I want to make sure I have a plan in place that will help me improve over the winter months and not take a step back once I start playing again.

Please feel free to offer up any other suggestions for goals I should be setting or winter tune up tips.

April 26, 2012

My Winter Swing Tune Up – Part 5

Since my last meeting with mike I took 4,000 reps across three of the drills I mentioned last time.  The one drill I didn’t track was the drag the club down the line drill.  The reason for this is because this drill can be very effective without massive amounts of repetitions.  I did it a few times every night just to get the feeling and I really feel that this was sufficient.  I focused mainly on the set up to impact drill, the handle to impact drill and the rope swings.  I really enjoy the rope swing drill even though it is tough to get just right.

When I got to the meeting Mike and I discussed how he recently went to a chiropractic office and got a full physical evaluation.  He was having trouble clearing his left hip with his longer clubs and the guy at the chiropractic office told him that his left hip was definitely weak and considered a power leak.  He suggested that I go for an evaluation and I think he is right.  I am going to try and look into it this week.

After we were done talking I hit a few chips and they were pretty good.  Each time I go my impact position is getting better and better.  My chips are starting to feel better, sound better and look better.  The anxiety I used to have around chipping the ball is quickly dissipating as I am working through all of these drills.  I am much more comfortable and confident standing over the ball now as opposed to five weeks ago.

After I hit a few chips Mike told me that I was going to have my “aha” moment at this lesson.  When he said that I thought he was full of it, because how could he predict when it would all click for me?  Strangely enough, he was right.

He had me hold a golf ball in my right index finger and my thumb and take my back swing and try to throw the ball at a ball set up where I would normally have a ball I was trying to hit.  On my first throw, I threw the ball a good two feet behind the ball.  The next few got closer but they were going way off to the right.  The reason this was happening was that I was flipping my hands and not pushing my hands (the handle) through the ball.

Next, he moved the ball about five feet out in front of me and told me to throw the ball at that ball.  This was much easier for me to do and when I released the ball it was going straight and not off to the right.  Mike was trying to show me that my visual needs to be throwing my hands, and in particular my right index knuckle, out in front of the ball instead of directly down at the ball.  The reason this clicks for me is because I tend to bring the club back a bit from the inside, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily.

The next thing we did was take a golf ball and put it in between my index finger and thumb and then grip the club and hit chip shots.  I was visualizing throwing the ball in my fingers out in front of me at an imaginary ball.  This is when my chips really started to sound, look and feel really good.  I was having my “aha” moment.  I dropped the ball and hit a few shots without it and still trying to visualize throwing the ball.  I was able to do it fairly consistently and I was getting excited.

Next time I am bringing my 9 iron and we are going to start trying to take some of these fundamentals to more or a full swing.  Until then I am working on throwing the ball at a ball in front of me as well as swinging a club with a ball in my fingers and against the shaft.  The other drill I am working on is taking a shaft and holding it almost like a javelin on the handle between my index finger and thumb and taking my back swing and pointing it at a ball in front of me.  I am working on extending my right arm and keeping the angle of my right wrist in this drill.  I am going to do as many concentrated reps of each as I can over the next week, but I am not going to set a numeric goal this time around.

I am also going to add another piece to my workouts this week.  I went and got a chiropractic assessment this past week.  I wanted to see my range of motion and physical limitations and determine where I can work on my strength and flexibility in my swing.  I was pleased to find out that I am not that terrible in my range of motion and flexibility in my swing areas.

The doctor pointed out two key areas that he saw room for immediate improvement.  The first was in my hip flexors.  He said they were noticeably tight and probably restricting my hip release in the swing.  He gave me a few stretches to really open them up and I have been doing them every day at least twice a day.

The second area he mentioned to me was my upper shoulders and the muscles under my shoulder blades.  He said that my upper shoulder muscles were really tight and the muscles under my shoulder blades are weak.  This causes my shoulders to almost give out when they come down from being extended.

Both of these problems are largely caused from sitting at a desk all day so I am working on my posture as well as a few rehab exercises and stretches.

April 17, 2012

My Winter Swing Tune Up – Part 4

Before I went to this meeting I made 3,700 turns with a shaft across my chest to work on my back swing hip turn.  I didn’t make the full amount of turns that I had initially planned, but I still feel I made effective use of the practice I did do.

After the week of practice, I can feel myself dropping my right pocket back instead of swaying as well as keeping my weight on the inside of my right foot instead of swaying to the outside.  It was actually easier to make this change than some of the other changes in the past.  It is obviously something I still need to keep in my mind and work on, but it feels much better now.

When I got to the meeting, I hit a few chips just like I have in the past and I am still having a little bit of trouble letting go of my old habit of trying to hit the ball with the club head instead of leading with my hands in front of the club head.  It is frustrating because I know what I am doing wrong, but I have so much bad muscle memory stored up it is hard to break the old bad habits.  Mike wasn’t concerned.  He told me that what I am doing now is already 100% better than what I was doing when I first came to him.  He also said it is great that I am starting to understand what I am doing wrong.  He really wants me to understand what I am supposed to do so I can make adjustments and work on my own with out him.

After I hit the first batch of chips we started to circle back to working on impact position.  Mike gave me a few drills that will help me really feel where I am supposed to be at impact.  The first was to set up to the ball and then move into the impact position and hold it.  From there all I was supposed to do was bend my right elbow to take the club back and push my hands through the ball leading with the handle.  I really liked this drill and it also brought up the point that I was gripping the club too tightly.  I made a few attempts at this drill with my right index finger and thumb off the club to really feel a light grip and it was a very different feeling.  My grip pressure is something I will be working on a lot more throughout this process.

The next drill was to simply take the club from set up and drag it along the ground (in a straight line) all the way down the line.  The point of this is to feel the hands in front of the club head on a straight line.  I need to do this drill a lot.

The next drill was to swing a rope.  At first I thought Mike was crazy because how can you swing a rope like a golf club?  Then he showed me how you can.  The point of the drill is to get the rope swinging back and forth then make a back swing and pause until it comes to rest under your left armpit.  From there you just make your normal swing and try to get it to gently come to rest under your right armpit.  If the rope whips you at either point you know you are doing it wrong.  It was hard, but definitely do-able.  This also helped me feel loose in my swing instead of griping the club tightly and trying to muscle shots.

The last drill Mike gave me before I left for the night was to work on my impact position with just a grip handle.  He said it is much easier to feel where your hands should be when there is no club head attached to the handle.  He was right.  All I am doing with this drill is making small swings with just the handle to try and finish with the handle in the proper impact position.  Hopefully that will translate to a better position when I start swinging the club next week.

My goal is to make 2,000 swings of each drill over the next week.  It is a tall order, but that is my goal.

April 11, 2012

My Winter Swing Tune Up – Part 3

Since last Tuesday I was able to make 5,000 total practice swings with a yardstick and hitting an impact bag.  My main focus during those swings was to keep my head and body quite, fanning my right hand on the take away, taking the club to parallel and no further and then swinging the club through to the impact position and hitting the impact bag while leading with my hands in front of the club.

When I got to the lesson, I hit a few chip shots and with a small adjustment from Mike I was hitting much better chips.  It felt natural and I wasn’t thinking about anything technical other than where my hands should finish.  I can tell that I am starting to lose some of the anxiety and uncertainty that I have had for so long around short game shots.  I attribute this relaxed feeling to the focus Mike has placed on understanding the fundamentals of the swing.  Now that I have a better idea of what I am trying to do it isn’t such a daunting task.

I am very pleased with the step-by-step approach Mike is having me go through right now.  At first, I thought I was going to get frustrated with not being able to hit golf balls and make full swings, but I understand what he is doing.  By getting me to focus on the fundamentals of my right and left arm first then adding in both hands and a focus on the impact position he is allowing me to piece it together on my own.  I am able to take one piece away from each meeting and work on it for a full week, then when I get to the next meeting we tie it together, talk about it and add another layer.  It feels like I am learning and not just replicating a desired swing fix.  When I miss hit chips I can feel what I did wrong.  I am starting to understand a lot more.

The approach is also keeping me excited about the practice and anticipating what he will add at the next meeting.  It feels like the material is fresh every time we talk.  I have fully committed myself to following this approach and will not waver from it.  I am not going ahead of his plan by going to the driving range and hitting balls, just yet.  I am taking this step-by-step.  No promises once the weather clears up in Chicago though!

The focus of this latest meeting was getting me to work on my shoulder and hip turn on the back swing.  I have taken a few lessons in the past and most of the teachers have pointed out that my back swing needs improvement, but none have given me a plan for making that happen.  This wasn’t the case with Mike.  He saw what I was doing wrong with my turn during our first lesson together, but hasn’t brought it up until now.  He allowed me to focus on the other fundamentals first so now that I am ready to work on back swing my fundamentals of the take away and impact position are much improved and ready to work in conjunction with the added layer.

The basic message he was giving me was that I put my weight on the outside of my right foot on the turn and this makes me move my head and straighten my right leg.  These moves are not good and add to inconsistency in my shots.  As soon as he explained it and I took a back swing I could see what he meant.  I wasn’t even aware that my weight was on the wrong side and as soon as I made an adjustment it felt much different.  Just like the other changes, it felt awkward at first, but I know that after a week of practice it will feel much better.

The drill I am working on this week is to take a shaft and put it across my chest and cross my arms over it and make a back swing.  My focus is on the visual of having my right pocket move directly back and turning my right butt cheek to the target all while keeping my weight on the inside of my right foot, not letting it straighten all while not moving my head.  I am dropping my right pocket directly back and not swaying forward.

This might sound like a lot initially, but it really isn’t.  As soon as I started focusing on just keeping my right knee bent with my weight on the inside of my foot and turning my right butt cheek to the target the rest fell into place.  Those are the keys I am going to really focus on this week while I am practicing.  I am also not forgetting to focus on keeping my head still!

The last thing I will be working on this week is my flexibility.  I am committing myself to 30 minutes of stretching every day to improve the flexibility of my hamstrings, lower back and my legs in general.  Right now, I can’t even touch my toes and that is just embarrassing.  This won’t be the case come next week.

My goal for next week is to be more flexible than I am today (touch the ground in front of me with flat hands).  I am also going to make 1,000 back swing turns a day to get it engrained in my muscle memory.  The 1,000 a day seems to be helping so I don’t see any reason to change it.