November 6, 2015

Where does a golf season end, and where does a new one begin? For the PGA Tour, the season ends in late September with the FedEx Cup championship, then, following a brief hiatus, kicks off a new season in mid-October at the Fry’s. For most New England golfers, the sticks are usually put away before the falling of the first flakes for a good five months or so until the days begin to warm and the courses start to dry out in April.

Here in the Valley of the Sun, the golf season never really ends, so where one season ends and another begins is a purely arbitrary exercise. For me, I’ve always chosen to call one season over following my last round of the season in New England, typically right around Halloween, with the new season beginning during the annual Goodboys weekend in Vegas in February. This year things are going to play out a little differently, so this post looks back at what was a significant year for my golf game and provides a glimpse as to where I take things from here.

If I were to look back at the past season numbers-wise (purely from a handicap perspective), I can’t say I could call it a success, for, even without my Goodboys Invitational weekend scores posted on the Goodboys board at (and what’s up with that, Exec-Comm??) I doubt my handicap changed much, if at all. After all, once you’ve been posting scores there for a few years as we all have, it would take a significant string of numbers to move my handicap one way or the other, and I just don’t play enough in order to do that. I did play well enough to help bring my partner “Cubby” Myerow and I into a 2nd place finish during this year’s Goodboys Invitational; that alone shows the improvement I have made and makes up for any disappointment on the handicap front.

The bottom line is that my game as it stands today is in a far better place than it was at this point last year, where my game was really adrift. I’d always wanted to find a swing that not only worked for my abilities but could be repeatable, and thanks to Hunter Mahan and that Golf Magazine article from last February I’ve found that. In addition, the work I did with my swing instructor Alex Black helped hone the technique taught by Hunter so that I’m learning to square up better, take a divot, and attempting to play a power draw as opposed to my customary fade. That alone has made going to the range a heckuva lot more challenging and fun than it used to be. And as I mentioned in my Goodboys Invitational recap, having a couple of my fellow Goodboys compliment my game that weekend made all the work I had put in during the spring and early summer that much more rewarding.

I’m not sure whether it’s the improved technique that has resulted in better ball contact, the working out I’ve been doing at the gym, or both, but the big improvement this year has been with the distance I’m now hitting my driver and fairway woods. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed: none other than “Killer” Kowalski (the longest hitter of all the Goodboys) called me “sneaky long” during our Sunday round at the Goodboys Invitational, and the round we played together at Portsmouth Country Club two weeks ago turned into a pitched battle of “who beat who?” off the tee even when he would pull out driver: we figured on the hideously long 17th and 18th par 4s after hitting our drives with just yards of each other we had both banged them out some 250+-yards.

And that was the story throughout the year: me playing my second shots from distances I was completely unfamiliar with on familiar courses – in some cases 50-60 yards better than what I had remembered playing from before. I wish I could say that the additional distance translated into lower scores, but that never really happened: the reasons being 1) my accuracy from, oh say, 120 yards out never really improved much, 2) my short game never really came together during the year, and 3) my putting throughout the year was abysmal at best, averaging somewhere around 38 putts per round. It’s hard to shoot low scores when you’re making anywhere from tree to five (or more) three-putts per round. So there’s work to do, for sure, and a go-forward plan to not just address the areas of my game that need work, but build upon what I’ve accomplished over the past year.

First and foremost, I’m planning to play more rounds of golf and bang balls at the driving range less. There are, as you would expect in this golf paradise, any number of golf league configurations, so I’m planning on joining a league where I can play, say, every two weeks, even if it’s just for nine holes on a weekday afternoon. I’m hoping that playing more will improve my overall consistency and help to tighten up my short game. I liked the change I made with my chipping technique during a practice session just before my outing at Portsmouth, so I’m going to stick with it and see how it goes.

That doesn’t mean, of course, no trips to the range; there’s still work to be done there. I’m still learning to trust what Hunter Mahan and Alex Black have taught me this year. That means learning not to jump at the ball and over-swing, and not to fall back into old habits like playing the ball too far forward and not taking a divot with my irons. My putting game has to improve (a no-brainer there), as does my sand game. But overall, I just want to play a little more golf than I have in the past. My game’s in a place where I’m no longer afraid of looking like a fool and shanking the ball all over the place, so why not get out there a little more often?

And there’s not a moment to lose, for our Vegas weekend has been moved up to December to accommodate two of us old farts turning the big 6-0. One month from today I’ll be (hopefully) teeing it up with Killer as we await the arrival of The Funny Guy (OF #2) and Doggy Duval. If I can get a round or two in before that it will be a great way to kick off the 2015-16 season.

Secondly, it’s time The Great White Shank gets serious about his golf game, so this year I’m going to work through the Arizona USGA and get myself a real USGA handicap and start playing by the USGA handicap system. When playing with the Goodboys I’ll be more than happy to take my mulligan on each nine and pick up my ball after three-putting for the seventh time that day when I hit double par, but that won’t be the case when I’m out playing on the desert courses amongst the great unwashed. And you can be sure I’ll be using software to carefully track my greens in regulation (the few there are), number of fairways hit, and number of putts taken. And if I don’t see any improvement in my short game soon, it’ll be back to Alex Black for a lesson.

A new golf season is upon The Great White Shank. Bring. It. On.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 23:32 | Comments Off on Looking Back….And Forward
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