Golf: Season Wrap Up

Even though there is golf yet to be played in Western Pennsylvania, the handicap season ended on November 15th and the golf will be hit and miss for the rest of the year. It is time to look back at the golf season of 2019 and see what was good, bad, and indifferent.  This was the year of 100% mental golf, and it was neither a success or a complete failure. I learned some things, but in the end, did not make much progress in improving my game.  I started the year with a 4.1 index and ended with a 4.8.  My highest was 5.2, and the lowest, other than my start, was 4.2.   Before I summarize the year, lets break down each section of my game for 2019.

Driver.  This was the best part of my game.   I would have a bad driving day once in awhile, but for the most part I drove the ball well, and kept my driving distance steady, and did not lose any distance this year.

Fairway wood.   Contrast this with the worst part of my game.  Fairway woods gave me the most problem for the year.  I bought some new 15 degree clubs, and they made things worse, and I went back to my old Orlimar fairway woods, of 16 and 20 degree, and this seemed to help some.  It was with the 15 and 16 degree clubs, that I had the most trouble getting the ball airborne.  This part of my game contributed a lot, to seeing my index go up .7 points.

Irons.  I had a fair year with the irons.   I changed to Titleist AP3 irons with regular graphite shafts.  Theses clubs had strong lofts so a 5 iron was like hitting a 4.5 iron.  These clubs gave me such increased  distance, that I had a hard time adjusting.  I did have some really good days with these irons and will continue to play them.  Even though I have been playing them, since Mid May, I still feel I am going through a learning process with them.

Short game.  This part of my game improved.  I got rid of the chip yips ( another blog) and I am getting better around the greens.  My sand game is still bad but hoping for improvement. One of the things that have helped me is, I went back to using a 60 degree wedge with zero bounce.    This club is the old Cleveland 485 60 degree wedge.  I acquired the club about 2 months ago and have been doing betting around the greens. I use to play this club all the time, and I am glad I went back to it.   Will discuss zero bounce more in another blog.

Putting.   This was the most inconsistent part of my game.  Most recently I have had a good run of putting, which has helped with some low scores, but not quite enough to offset some bad ball striking.  Again getting rid of the yips on the greens has helped immensely.

To summarize, the biggest problem I had this year was where my bad shots went.   I had a very prolonged slump in golf, that started at the end of 2015 and lasted until about June of 2017, and this was the same problem, except then it was much worse.  I had about 10 to 15 rounds in 2016 and 2017, where I did not break 80, but my handicap score was between 76 and 79 due equitable stroke control.  I had the same thing happen in 2019, but not as often. When you top a ball 80 yards, or hit it so far off line, that its in the woods, scoring goes out the window.  My fairway wood game was this bad.  I would hit some iron shots, and  trap shots, that were just as horrible.    So that will be the first goal, to hit better bad shots.  Easier said than done, but I will give it a try.  Now to 100% mental golf.  I am still undecided about how to split the game up between the mental and physical side, and I hope to come up with a solution soon.  First I thought it was a 50-50 split.  Then, I went all the way over to 100% mental, and still think that is possible.  It is difficult to remove the physical side of the game entirely.  Maybe I should go a long with Yogi Berra, when he said, baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical. The older I get, which is getting pretty old, I feel that golf will be that mystery game,  I will never solve.  Maybe in Wonderland, tornado anyone.

Golf: Wrist Cock, Part III

It’s hard to believe, but the last time I wrote about the wrists in the golf swing was December of 2015 The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer.  Since that time, I still feel the same, that the  wrists are  the most misunderstood aspect of the golf swing.  I have changed my mind on what the golfer should do, in regards to the position of the club face at the top of the swing.  Back in 2015, I said just let the wrists do what they are going to do, and don’t worry about.  But after doing some experimenting, on what the wrists do in my own golf swing,  I think I can come up with some recommendations on what to do, depending on your clubhead position at the top of the golf swing.  But first lets briefly review what the wrists can do and why this is so confusing to the golfer.

Rather than to get into such terms as supination and pronation, and other wristy terms, lets just take a look at the thumb, when you grip the club.  Just grip the club with one hand, either one is fine, and put your thumb straight down the shaft.  Now by just moving your wrists, you can make your thumb do six things.    You can move your thumb straight up and down.  You can turn your thumb to the left and to the right.  Finally you can roll your thumb to look at the right side of your thumb, and then the left side of your thumb.  These are very distinct moves.  The problem is, that the wrists can do any of these moves partially and some fully during the golf swing.  This results in the clubface being in various positions at top of swing.  None of these positions are wrong.  First let’s look at the two extreme positions.   The clubface is closed or you will hear the term shut faced at the top.  It’s easy to tell this position. At the top of the swing the club face is pointed to the sky.  The two best examples of this position are Dustin Johnson and Brooke Henderson.    Then there is the clubface that is open at the top of the swing.  This position will see the toe of the club pointed to the ground.  This position you can see in the swings of Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and in today’s game Webb Simpson.  In modern professional golf, most players will use the  shut faced or closed position. The open position is the least popular today.   You will see many positions in between, with some players  being square at the top of the swing. You would think this would be ideal, but certainly these players are not dominating the tour.  It really doesn’t matter what they are doing, as long as you know what you are doing at the top of the swing. You should also know the basic shot pattern that your position tends to create. Then you need to decide if you  should  make a conscious change.

The first modern great golfer with the closed clubface at the top was Arnold Palmer.  He did this because it helped him to keep from hooking, and most  of the shut faced players today, are faders of the golf ball.  Even though the club face is closed at the top of the swing, as the club starts down the wrists will rotate the club head in a clockwise fashion, delaying the release of the wrists, which prevents  the toe of the club head turning over resulting in a hook.  Despite being shut faced at the top, Palmer, because of his strength in the hands and wrists still hooked the ball. The shut faced position  helped him to keep from duck hooking.  Hogan had an extremely weak grip combined with being open at top, was his way of obtaining a full release of the wrists without worrying  about hooking the ball.   Sam Snead,  also had big strong hands and wrists, but a beautiful graceful swing, had no trouble drawing the ball from the open at the top club position.  So what is the recreational golfer to do?  The first thing to do, is to determine what is your natural wrist action in the golf swing.  Through video, or just stopping  and looking  at the top of your backswing, determine what is your club face position at the top.  Face pointing to the sky you are closed.  Toe of the clubhead pointing down to the ground, the face is opened.  Somewhere in between you are getting closer to square but try and determine if you are closer to open or shut faced.  It may be perfectly square.  If you are closed at the top, and hitting relatively straight shots, maybe with a little fade or draw, then you need to do nothing.   But if you are closed at the top and hitting a lot of shots to the right and slicing like crazy then maybe you better square up or go open at the top.  This is unnatural for you, so how do you do it.  At the start of your backswing, feel a distinct rolling of the wrists so that you feel that the right palm is facing the sky as your hands reach hip high.  This will easily get your club face in the open position at the top of the swing.  Now on the downswing the toe of the clubhead will begin to rotate in a counter clockwise direction which will help you draw the ball or hit it fairly straight, with a nice full release.  As you get use to this position at top of the swing, then you may not have to rotate the wrists so early in the backswing, but whatever works is fine.   If you are already an open at the top player and you are hitting everything pretty straight or with a slight draw or fade then you don’t want to change a thing.  But if you are open at top and hitting a bunch of duck hooks to the left, then you might want to try to get  closed at the top of the swing.  In order to do this you will need to rotate your wrists in the early part of the swing so you feel your right palm is pointing to the ground at the hip high junction of the swing.  Once you get the feel of your new position then you may not need to do such a distinct move at the start of the swing.   If you find you are somewhere in between but having a hooking or slicing problem then follow the above instructions accordingly. Get shut faced to help a hook and get open to help a slice.

What about doing this for the type of shot you want to play or the situation you are in.  This is what I am doing at the moment.  If trouble is on the left or I want something straight or with a little fade, then I will go shut faced which is more my natural swing. I will go shut faced if I want to take something off an iron shot.   If the trouble is on the right then I will go with an open face at the top. If I want to draw the ball and get a little more power then I will go to the open face position at the top. Since the moves of the wrists are infinite, the possibilities of what you can do with golf ball is infinite.  But in order to get all this benefit to your game you must use your wrists first, and then know what your natural position is at the top of the swing, and go from there.  Good luck, and here is to lower scores.

100% Mental Golf: Rounds 48 through 67

Have not blogged for about 6 weeks, and that usually means things are not going all that well.    Things are not going great, as my index has inched up to 4.8, but there have been some other circumstances that have made this a bit of a blog drought.  So let me count the ways.

First, I have gone though a major equipment change.   I have gone with graphite shafts in my irons and have gone from stiff to regular.   The irons I have now are the Titleist AP 3 irons 5 through the gap wedge.  The “gap wedge” is 48 degrees and the rest of the clubs are strong lofts too.  The irons are investment cast, and I have always been a forged guy.  I hit these irons freakish long and that has taken some time to get use to.    I have also gone to a regular shaft on my Driver and 3 wood.  My 5 wood still has a stiff shaft but I have not gotten around to get a new 5 wood yet.  My only steel shafted clubs now are a 54 degree Volkey Wedge and 58 degree  Calloway wedge.    I acquired a 51 degree gap wedge with the same graphite shaft.  I call it gap wedge II.   I don’t know why I am getting so much distance with these irons.   The clubs are about what I would call about a half a club stronger than normal.  I would consider my 5 iron, a 4.5 iron.  My normal 4 iron distance would be about 200 yards but that would be a true solid hit.   Now my 5 iron carries about 205 to 210.  Could be the shafts or the club head.

Second, the weather is still terrible.  There is not one thing you can do about it, but it is discouraging.  Most golf courses are a mess.  It’s not their fault but we have had more rain in the last 11 months that probably in history.  Since last August 1 we have not gone more than 5 days without rain and a lot of these days we have had heavy rains.  Its tough hitting balls where normally you would just walk up and find it, but now the area is not cut, because it is just one big mud hole.   I admit, I try not to let this get me down, but I have never experienced this before, for so long and I have been playing since 1958.  You can only say it is what it is, so many times and there is no end in sight.

Third and probably the most important, I have not really been 100% Mental all that much over the last 5 weeks.  I hang my head in shame.   This is one of these things that is hard to explain,  so I won’t really try.   When you are not getting the desired results, it’s almost impossible not to try something different with the golf swing.  The other thing about 100% Mental Golf is that it can be quite difficult to keep the concentration level up over the 18 holes of golf.  I don’t know if golf was meant to be this hard.  Putting has still been a problem  with luck not being on my side much.  On the plus side my last 3 or 4 rounds have been pretty good.  I can honestly say over the last 2 rounds in particular my short game has evolved to average.   That is a huge jump for me and we will see how long that lasts, and if that may improve.   In the next few weeks I will see how some of these physical changes I have made work, and see if the putting can get better.  Should be playing 3 to 4 times per week until the beginning of August when I take a little 5 day vacation to the beach.   I am not sure I should be that close to the ocean, depending how things go on the golf course.  Will blog again in about 8 or 9 days.

The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

The subject of today’s blog is the swing thought.   Why does it work, and why does it stop working.  We have all been there.  The only thing more seductive than a swing thought is a beautiful women in a low cut dress that stops at mid thigh.  It causes the golfer to think, I’ve got it.  This is the magic bullet.  Swing thoughts are many.   Slow down at the top, take it back low and slow, slide the hips,  hold the finish, and I could go on and on.  They can be pre swing thoughts like stand closer to the ball,  grip to the right, weight on the heels, and again many more.  They are brought about by desperation. The round is going horribly.  You may have even tried to use various thoughts to turn around the round with no success.  But then it happens.  You come up with a thought, and you hit a gorgeous shot and the  thought continues to work during the round.    This thought may even work when you start the next round.  It won’t be too long though, around the 4th or 5th hole, that the game will break down again and the thought will disappear into the vault of about 100 other swing thoughts that you were going to do the rest of your golfing life.

Swing thoughts are nothing new. Bobby Jones wrote about swing thoughts in the mid 1930’s.   “Sometimes by remembering to start the downstroke by shifting and turning the hips, highly satisfactory results may be obtained. While this continues, we are enjoying one of the peaks of our chart. But soon, either because we begin to exaggerate this one thing, or forget entirely about something else, the whole thing goes wrong and we have to begin over again. Again we set out to find another thought that will set things right”.   This was written in the 1930’s but if this same statement was in the latest issue of Golf Digest everyone would still be shaking their heads in agreement.    Jones even has an explanation why they stop working.     The point is this has always been accepted in golf practically forever.   You find the “magic ” swing thought, it works for awhile, and then, just as suddenly it stops working.     As much a I respect Bobby Jones as a golf writer and instructor,  I have to disagree with him on why these swing thoughts stop working.  Plus he gives no explanation why they start working.   I believe that this is what ties in to why they stop working .

So why does a certain swing thought seems to work?    It is a distraction as to what is going on, on the course.  This could also explain why you don’t find THE swing thought on the first try.  It is not enough of a distraction.  Do you ever noticed that the “right” swing thought is often easier to find on the practice tee.  The success of the swing thought has nothing to do with what the swing thought is but when you are thinking of the swing thought.  Let’s move back out to the course.   You start your round out and the ball striking is lousy and the score is going up and up and  by the 4th hole, you are in desperation mode.    The 5th hole is a difficult driving hole and you come up with your first new swing thought of the day.  But pow, off the ball goes into the woods.    Your second and third shots are not much better, and another bad score results.  But now you come to the 6th hole and easy par 3 with little trouble and a big green and today the pin is in an easy spot.   Now you go to a new thought, and you hit a very nice onto the green. The shot makes you feel good and the next hole the same thought gets you a drive right down the middle and you’ve got this game solved.  The first swing thought would have been just as good, if you had decided to use it on the 6th hole for the first time.  When you used it on the more difficult driving hole,  the trouble and the type of shot still had your mind occupied.  The sixth hole being much easier, your full attention was on the new swing thought and the result was great.  Maybe the results were  good to excellent even for the rest of the round, made a few birdies and salvaged the round with a mid 70 score.   Through the week you made it to the driving range, a couple of times, and this thought continued to work great through both practice sessions. Next blog I will write about why practice is a waste of time but to proceed.   Now you are at the course and you are brimming with confidence and ready to shoot a great round.   By the middle of the front nine you are 4 over par and looking for it again.   So what the hell happened.   Well that thought became so ingrained in your brain that it stopped being a distraction and all those little nasty places that your ball could go came back to the fore front.   So forget about swing thoughts and play free, at least from swing thoughts, you will probably have to pay.   Next blog,  practice, save your money and your time.

The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answe

Well, its been four months since the last blog, which is one of the longest periods in awhile that I have not blog.   I really do not have any good reason that I have not written anything for a long time.  I have been playing golf like I usually do, as this past Monday I just completed my 112th round.  My play as been ok.  In Western Pennsylvania, the handicap season ended on November 14th and I finished the year with a 4.7 index.  Which is not bad but no major improvement.   I really did not prove some of the concepts that I wrote about on that blog 4 months ago.  So today I thought I would review the last year and the last 4 months in particular.

The one constant over these last 4 months was that the weather was lousy.  In 112 rounds of golf I would say I saw the ball roll any amount distance in only about 15 rounds.   This was by far the wettest most humid year of golf I have ever played and I have played for 50 years.  You rarely could play the ball down and course conditions suffered mightily.  If fact one course, Village Green closed down permanently and the weather contributed to it’s demise.  It was difficult to evaluate one’s game under those conditions. The weather just got worse as we headed into fall, which most of the time is fairly dry.  In mid September we got about 20 plus inches of rain over about a 7 day period. I have come to detest the word mud.

I could not quite grasp the concept of golf being 100% mental when you are a single digit handicap.   I still believe this, but it can be very difficult to put into practice, because I feel we are brainwashed into thinking that bad golf play can be fix with some physical correction.   This can be ranging from anywhere to “fixing” your grip, stance, transition, swing plane, weight distribution, and anything you can think of about the physical execution of the golf swing.    Part of the problem is that you hear every week on the PGA tour that a player is working on some part of his swing and it is helping him.  I think this is wrong.    Having  problems with your golf game at that level and I believe at the level of the single handicapper  is strictly mental and any physical correction is only temporary and in the long run no help at all.   However this is so much easier said then done.  I will elaborate more on this in future blogs, and yes, they are going to be more frequent than one every 4 months.

The albatross in May was the highlight of my season and was easily the shot of the year and probably in my life.  I did not have an even par round this year and had only 2 that were one over par.  I was consistent and had a pretty good putting year and have putted very well the last couple of times out. I am determine to prove the 100 % mental theory. One of the best things that I have done over the past year and half is that I have played golf with no swing thoughts.  It has freed up my game and has made golf so much more enjoyable.     Developing my own putting style has contributed to my overall good scoring and was the main reason that I came out of an 18 month slump from the beginning of 2016 to the end of June  2017, which saw my index climb to 6.9.  My index would have been even higher if there was not a limit on the strokes you could take on one hole for handicap purposes. I had some really high numbers during that stretch, where I proved the axiom, its not where your good shots go, but where your bad shots wind up.   So my game is where it’s mostly been over the last 30 years when I started to play a lot of golf again, between a 3 and 5 handicap.  Next blog will be about swing thoughts, why they work and why they stop working.  The amazing thing is golf instructors were writing about swing thoughts in the 1930’s.  See you then.

 

 

The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

It’s been a while since the last blog, about 2 months, but I am still playing and still searching.   I have taken a totally different tact in trying to find the answer, and even though it has not improved my game by much, it hasn’t  made it any worse, and I am enjoying the game more than I ever have.  My index is 4.5 right now and is much better than it was about this time last year when it was about 6.5.  I feel I have learned more about the game in the last 6 months, than in any other time period of my life.  Today I will write about what I have learned in a series of statements that will express what I feel works to help improve one’s golf game, and what does not work.  Most of this will go against the grain of current golf thinking, and in this blog I am not going to defend these positions.  I will defend them in future blogs.  The following only applies to golfers with single digit handicaps that are looking to bring that handicap down to the holy grail of scratch.  This like everything else is an arbitrary number, which could be argued in either direction, that for this to be applied your handicap could be slightly higher or lower. But we have to start somewhere so single digit handicap is where this shall be. These are things that you need to do and not do in order to get that handicap down to zero.

I use to feel that golf could be divided into 50% Mental and 50% Physical and wrote a blog about it, stating that I felt too much emphasis was put on the mental aspect of the game.  Boy, was I ever wrong.   At the single handicap level the game is 100% mental.

Practicing is not going to get you down to scratch.  I have never been a big advocate of practice but I know positively that it is a complete waste of time. Sorry range owners.  Hey if you enjoy hitting balls and practicing other aspects of game go for it.  Just realize that it’s not going to lower your handicap.

Lessons are not going to bring your handicap down unless a psychologist is on hand. Instead of paying a pro for four or five lessons go see a shrink once.

I have learned why a new swing thought works and then why it stops working.  This was huge for me and now I play with no swing thoughts .

Accept the fact that putting is the most important part of the game.  Yes it is wonderful to hit that beautiful drive right down the middle, and watch that ball reach that apex against that perfect blue sky. Some may feel it’s the solid iron shot from 160 yards that ends up 4 feet from the pin that is the greatest  thrill of the game.   But the fact of the matter is, putt well and you score. Don’t putt well and you do not score.  Accept this and find a way to putt, even if this means sticking your putter up your ass.  If the ball goes in its worth it.

The swing is not the thing.  This is an old one but still is one of the most important.  IT IS NOT YOUR SWING THAT’S THE PROBLEM.

Learning what really causes bad shots and bad putts.

So there you have my holy grail for the moment.   My game has been more consistent than it has ever been and I feel I make progress almost every time I play.  More important I am having one hell of a good time.  My next blog will be about this idea about trying to limit the distance that the golf ball can go.  See you then.

 

The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

After about a 6 week hiatus the blog is back and it has been a very very busy 6 week period, especially for an old guy.  I have cut back my work schedule and I am playing more golf than ever.  Yesterday I completed my 74th round of the year.  This should be a record breaking year for the number of rounds. So how am I doing you might ask? In a word better, not great but better. I am still experimenting around, searching for the answer, but I have settled into a good routine. I will get into some of things that I have been doing, that may, or may not have contributed to a certain amount of resurgence in my game, that has been mired in an eighteen month slump.

Before I discuss that,  I did do something that  I have always wanted to do, but never could pull it off, until Monday June 26th. My young friend David and I played 54 holes in one day on three different golf courses.  We teed off at 7:44am at Fort Cherry golf course,  moved about 15 miles down the road to Indian Run for the second round and went another 3 miles down the road to Highland Springs and pulled out of their parking lot at exactly 6:30pm. Beating the dark was no problem.  There were two major factors that helped make the day go smoothly.  The weather was perfect, in the mid seventies with a little breeze and no humidity.  We never had to wait for one shot.  There was nobody in front of us the entire day.  The scores weren’t great, ranging from 79 to 86, but it was one the great golf days I have ever had.  There is no question, that hot dogs increase your stamina, especially when you put chili on them.

Last year at this time I was in the midst of a run where I did not break 80 for almost the entire summer.  This month I have had one 74, and two 75’s, with some 78’s and 79’s sprinkled in. I still feel that I have a ways to go but progress is being made. The first big difference is, I have found a way to putt.  Am I going to discuss this method? NO. Why? Because it is too goofy to write about at the moment. It goes against every putting principle that was ever written, but it is working for me. I have been putting this way for about 3 weeks, and it has held up in various pressure situations.  If it continues to work, then I will write about it.  I made it up and it is totally unique. There are three other things I am doing and I am going to discuss two of them. I have improved my posture at address and I am making sure my aim is correct.  Posture is by far the most important and I think even low handicap golfers get a little lazy in that respect. We have a tendency to get a little slumped in the shoulders and this has a very negative effect on our swing. The third one is a unique take away I am doing for each club and  I may delve into that later, if this continues to work. There are few other things I am doing different which I will discuss in later blogs. One thing that is not a factor is my increase play. Believe me, if your game is messed up and my game is, it doesn’t make any difference how much you play, your not going to improve.

I am going to leave all the  frustrated single digit handicappers who are trying to get to scratch, with one final thought.   It you want to get closer to 0 handicap, you must become Jim Furyk. Some day I may explain what that means. If I continue to make progress then the next blog will be sooner than later.  Please don’t hold your breath.