I know everyone is after Tiger Woods for taking as long as he has to make his latest swing changes work at a competitive level, but I can tell you I identify with the dude: it’s one thing to bang balls on some nondescript, non-threatening driving range, it’s a whole ‘nutha thing to take those changes to a golf course and make things happen. It’s been a long, crazy trip from Goodboys 2014 to Goodboys 2015. Coming out of the debacle that was last year’s Goodboys I didn’t know where or how it was going to happen, but I knew some drastic changes had to be made to my golf game if I were to achieve my humble goal of simply playing consistent bogey golf. And while I didn’t exactly play bogey golf at this year’s Goodboys Invitational it was there for the taking, and then some. And it wouldn’t have happened were it not for Hunter Mahan, Alex Black, and my commitment to getting myself in better shape.
The Goodboys are a tough crowd – great guys, but a tough crowd. Oh sure, you’ll get the usual “nice shot” when you make one, but no one cares or notices how much work you might have put into your game – we just don’t see each other enough. So it felt pretty damned rewarding to get compliments from a couple of the guys as to my swing changes over the weekend.
“You’ve obviously been taking lessons!”
“I’ve never seen you swing the club so well.”
…not to mention “Killer” Kowalski telling me I’d become ‘sneaky long’ after I out-driving him on one of the par 5s on Sunday at CrossWinds.
What I’m most proud of is the fact that this was the first Goodboys I can remember where my swing held up over the entire weekend. That doesn’t mean I didn’t struggle at times: there were a couple of shanks, even a couple of whiffs – but I was always able to get back in my box and resume hitting quality shots. Throughout the weekend I was (at least for me) a virtual fairway-hitting machine: I think I hit ten fairways on Friday, nine on Saturday, and another ten on Sunday. And let me tell you, there were more than a few times over the weekend where I was waiting in the fairway for my playing partners to hit, having outdriven them all – something that rarely, if ever, happened before. Between my added length and my ability to hit (or come close to hitting) fairways I played the par 5s better than I’d ever done, making par on two each of the three days. And Alex would be happy to know I really focused on hitting my power draws and taking divots regularly!
Two shots come to mind that I never would have attempted before: #8 at Waverly Oaks, plays steep downhill, the pin tucked around a big declivity front and right. It was playing around 190, and in the past I probably would have tried to hit a straight 7-iron to put myself on a flat spot short of the green where I could then chip up and (hopefully) make two putts and walk away with my bogey. This year I grabbed 5-iron and pulverized a power draw that landed on the left side of the green, leaving forty feet for birdie. I two-putted and walked away with par. On Saturday at Pinehills, #5 is a 360-yard par 4 with a pond protecting the green on the right. I hit a nice drive that left me just short of the pond and 125 yards to the pin. Back in the old days I probably would have pitched left, taking the pond out of play and leaving me short of the green for another pitch on and two-putt. This year, I nutted an 8-iron that I thought would put me green center, instead I flew it over the green and ten yards into the woods. Took my penalty, duffed a chip and three-putted for a “triple-bogey blues, walk like a man” 7.
And that’s kind of the way my weekend went, exactly opposite how it would have gone in years past: instead of struggling to get to 100 yards out then using my short game to salvage holes, this year I hit the ball consistently well but couldn’t get the job done from 120 yards out. Sometimes I’d over-swing and yank the ball right, other times I’d take what I thought should be the right club and fly the green by ten or twenty yards. But the point is, I stayed with the plan, taking divots, putting good swings together. And come Sunday afternoon, as the Goodboys gathered for the awards ceremony and a last couple of brewskies before splitting to the four winds, rather than feeling mentally and physically spent, I felt energized about the way I played. My partner and I had finished second, seven shots back. All the hard work had paid off.
Of course there’s still plenty of work to be done. I have to do a better job of staying within myself and not over-swinging – especially with my short irons. I also have to re-learn my yardages, as my improved ball contact (and perhaps my gym work) has increased my distance – in some cases significantly. And, of course, let’s not forget the need to improve my overall consistency. But, unlike last year when I left Goodboys Invitational dazed, confused, and searching for a golf swing I could rely on, I’ve now got a great foundation to work from. I put a ton of hard work in this year and it finally paid off. Now me and the clubs get two months off to relax and recharge for (hopefully) some fall golf in New England and Vegas weekend in February. And then comes the ramp-up to the 2016 Goodboys Invitational. I can tell you this: I’d like to prepare for next year’s Goodboys by hitting the range less and the golf course more. We’ll see.
I miss hitting balls already.