March 12, 2013

I counted the steps – it was thirty-four from the driving range at Toka Sticks G.C., where I couldn’t have hit the ball worse if I tried, to the first tee, where I effortlessly striped a 3-wood dead center in the fairway. A pulled 5-iron, a fabulous flop shot with a sand wedge over a yawning bunker to two feet, and a single putt later, I’m marking my bogey five on the card and wondering how on earth this always seems to happen.

I dunno – there’s something about me and warming up before a round that puzzles me. I mean, I usually stink, but few times as bad as I was today. Ground balls with a pitching wedge, duffed 3-woods, skulled irons of every type. I could practically hear the guy behind me waiting to hit his practice balls saying to himself, “it’ll be my luck that I’m going to get stuck behind this clown.” But it didn’t bother me. After finishing up with a big banana sliced 3-wood, I grabbed my bag, smiled at him, and in my most confident voice said, “now, let’s take it to the course!”

Today was round #3 with my Callaway RAZR-X HLs, and it was a breakthrough day for me, for not only did I break 100 for the first time with them (46 + 52 = 98), I had my first birdie with them as well (on a par-5, no less!), and did it in a way I feel is very important as I begin preparations for this year’s Goodboys Invitational weekend. Not because I broke 100 – believe it or not, I’ve done that several times before (though certainly not as often as I would like). Not because I had a birdie (although for me they’re pretty rare; I can count the number of birdies I’ve had since starting golf on my two hands).

No, the reason today’s round was so important was that, for the first time, I took into it a mindset completely different than any I had ever tried since the first time I took up golf two decades ago. This mindset, simply put, came from a series of conversations recounted by Tom Coyne in his fine and enjoyable book Paper Tiger: An Obsessed Golfer’s Quest to Play with the Pros with Dr. Bob Winters, Sports Psychologist with the Leadbetter Golf Academy. Coyne had gone to see Winters about improving the mental aspect of his game, and these conversations really hit home with me, to the point where I made my own commitment to give them a try myself the next time I played.

Discussing the importance of learning how to play golf “in the moment”, Coyne writes:

Doc explains the phenomenon experienced by tour players who are going low, players in the zone who are reeling off eight, nine birdies in a round [Ed. note: like someone we saw last weekend]. If you ask them what they shot before they look at their card, nine times out of ten they would have no idea, or would drastically underestimate their score.

“That’s being in the moment,” he explains, “when you have absolutely no idea what you might be shooting. In that state of mind, you’re not thinking about birdie putts or bogey putts – there is no such thing as either. I want you to forget about birdies and bogeys altogether. That putt is worth one stroke, same as the one before, same as the one after. People say, ‘Wow, I gave one back there,’, or, ‘I made bogey, I have to get one back now.’ And you know what I say to them? I say they are fooling themseves. I don’t care if they eagle the next hole, they will never get a stroke back that has already been played. If you are focused on giving strokes up, getting strokes back, then you are certainly not playing golf in the moment. Don’t think about birdies. Think about giving full effort on each and every golf shot. If you can do that, when you get to the scorer’s table, the birdies will be waiting for you.”

Now Coyne was concerned about birdies and bogeys; at my level my concern has always been about pars and bogeys and avoiding that big number that ruins a round before it is even well underway. In this regard, Winters gave Coyne some additional advice I found especially sage:

Doc and I discuss a European golfer’s mentality vs. how we think about our golf here in America. Americans tend to more result-oriented – nice birdie, nice five, good par, always aware of the score, focused on the end result. You hear the broadcasters in the British Open talking about how a hole was well-played, or a putt was well-holed.

“We would do well to borrow a little of that attitude on the golf course, to get away from the fixation on outcome,” Dr. Winters explains. “If you are out there on the golf course thinking about a certain score, it is almost an absolute guarantee that you will not shoot it. If all you can think about over a golf shot is winning a tournament, then you might as well pack your bags, because it isn’t going to happen. But if you can get to the point where you do nothing but focus on executing one golf shot, then the winning often takes care of itself.”

I remember reading these words for the first time and saying to myself, “holy sh*t”, that’s me to a ‘T’. So in preparing myself for today’s round I made Dr. Winters’ words my pure focus. I didn’t worry about my score, and while I knew I was putting a good front nine together, I resisted the urge to look ahead and project what I might score if I could just bogey or par my way in. And you know what? It worked. Not only was the 46 as good a nine-hole score as I’ve had in the past, I found myself enjoying the challenge of attempting each shot free from the pressure I’ve always put on myself to make a particular number.

Of course, it didn’t work all the time – especially on the back nine there were lapses in focus and a couple of very poor shot selections (an ill-advised 4-hybrid over a pond to a sinful pin placement instead of taking trouble out of the way with a 6-iron layup was especially punitive), but the big thing was that I didn’t allow these to snowball into a string of mistakes. And, at least for me, that was a breakthrough of sorts.

Now let’s be realistic – at a Goodboys Invitational weekend, with your partner depending on you, the trash talk, the bets all over the pigeon sheet, and all the other usual distractions going on around you this kind of mindset, while advisable, is simply not possible 100% of the time. Yet, there’s still a great deal of wisdom in Winters’ words – it’s not only good advice, it leads to a greater level of enjoyment in playing the game, and it worked well for me today.

What I’m most proud of is that I played ten holes at bogey or better – something I doubt I’ve ever done before. for me. Unfortunately, after that blistering front nine, things got a little loosey-goosey on the back – especially off the tee – but I still was able to grind out a good recovery shot (or two) on each hole to keep the final score under 100. Better yet, there’s still plenty of room for improvement – after all, I only hit six fairways today, and while my total number of putts was still a little higher than I’d like (30), I one-putted four times and didn’t three-putt once. That’s definitely moving in the right direction.

The only thing that would have made the day more satisfying would have been a post-round whirlpool at the Wynn Las Vegas spa.

Now it’s onto Saturday and the first formal golf lesson I’ve ever looked forward to. Expect a full after-action report here at Goodboys Nation weblog.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 22:12 | Comments (2)
  1. Congrats on breaking 100, bro!

    Back nine drop-offs are usually due to conditioning and fatigue. You ain’t a pro and you ain’t young anymore!

    Don’t be surprised if the results of the lesson increases your score for a while. One of the universal constants in life is that a golf pro will screw up your game in the short run.

    Comment by Dave Richard — March 13, 2013 @ 5:49 am

  2. Ix-nay on the conditioning and fatigue, bro – in fact, if anything, my short game and irons got crisper as the back nine went along. I came within inches of holing out a flop sand wedge on 15, then left a birdie chip for bogey on 18 sitting on the edge of the cup. And I was just stupid going for the pin over the water on 14 – that was The Great White Shank being, well, The Great White Shank. I blamed my caddy for that one (more on that in another post).

    Comment by The Great White Shank — March 13, 2013 @ 5:48 pm

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