Days until Goodboys Invitational weekend: 89
Location: Trilogy Golf Club at Power Ranch
Score: 49 + 45 = 94
Handicap: 26.4 / Trend: 25.7 (-0.7)
It has been better than 2 1/2 months since I last played a round of golf, at Stonecreek Golf Club where I shot a so-so 105, thanks primarily to my short game. At the time, my game had settled into the same all-too-predictable pattern: decent enough off the tee, an outta-bounds short game that saved my butt time and time again, but in between, an iron game that featured huge misses to the right (even with my short irons), to the point where anything inside 150 yards required 2-3 shots just to where I could chip or putt. Not a very good state to be in for someone aiming to play bogey golf consistently in 2016.
Between work and getting sick and then all kinds of personal stuff, I didn’t touch my clubs until the middle of March, which probably was a good thing, for it gave me time to re-examine what the heck I was doing as far as my swing was concerned. I went back to the February 2015 issue of GOLF Magazine and that iconic Hunter Mahan article, “7 New Ways To Hit Every Green” to see what I had been missing in my approach to my iron play. Looking at Hunter’s instruction, I realized I had fallen back into some bad habits – not going extra steep in my backswing and playing the ball too far forward were two obvious things that needed to be corrected. But I couldn’t help but feel something was missing.
So there I was, at the Kokopelli Golf Club driving range – my official headquarters for 2016 – on a cool, wind-blown March afternoon, and I’ve got the GOLF mag article with me. Maybe the other golfers hitting balls around me thought it was kind of strange, but I felt that hitting balls while checking what I was doing against what Hunter was telling me to do might shed some light on where I was going wrong. Somewhere along the way I knew there was something I just wasn’t getting.
I had hit a full bucket but still couldn’t stop pulling all my irons to the right. I then bought a small bucket and a beer and took a break to re-examine Hunter’s article, not reading his words but instead studying the illustrations that accompanied them. I laid the magazine on the ground and grabbed my sand wedge and slowly took a swing to the illustration. I think the guy next to me was chuckling – hey, I might have done the same thing myself! – but it was then I noticed that at the top of my swing I saw that, rather than my clubface pointing towards the target, as Hunter’s was, mine was pointed left of target, somewhere around two o’clock, I’d guess.
I’m thinking that can’t be right, so rather than keeping the face square to the top I allowed by hands to roll ever-so-slightly so that at the top my club face was pointing towards the target. And it was then I realized, after hitting the first sand wedges straight in I can’t remember how long, that I had also been robbing myself of distance by not getting any “snap” with my wrists coming through the ball. And while in doing so I seemed to be trading my beloved power draw at best, the hated big yank at the worst, for a slight fade, at least I was hitting the ball much straighter – especially with my short irons.
A month and several trips to the range later, I’m teeing it up for real at Trilogy Power Ranch. Nice course, fast greens, with just enough water and waste areas to keep one honest. To be truthful, I didn’t drive the ball (only 4 fairways hit) nor putt (38 putts) particularly well, but the difference in my iron play, while not where I want it to be, was still much improved over my last time out. Not only were the big pulls to the right gone, but I actually hit the green on several 120-yards or less shots – something heretofore unheard of! More importantly, I found that, even if I left my iron approaches short, they were short in front of the green where I could chip on and two-putt at worst instead of being so far right that there was only disaster with a capital “D”.
As a result, I found myself playing a strange kind of rocking-chair brand of near-bogey golf. Outside of a shaky first hole (a tattooed 7-iron missing the green by a yard leaving me an impossible lie in the sand), and a poor ninth (pulled drive OB followed by a chunky approach after my penalty drive) that resulted in triple-bogey sevens, I played solid the rest of the way. On the challenging back nine in a tough swirling wind that confounded by playing partners (a +3 golfer who plays in Champions Tour qualifying events and a 6-handicap) I shot bogey-bogey-par-bogey-bogey-bogey-par-bogey-bogey for a sweet 45 – the kind of golf I’ve been wanting to play for a while. And that without my best tee game to boot!
So, there it is: nearly three months to the day from Goodboys Invitational weekend I’ve made some swing changes that are really starting to pay off. I know I still need to get a little more steep in my backswing, not play the ball too forward, and, more than anything else, avoid jumping at the ball and over-swinging, but these are all things I’ll always be fighting. Which, BTW, is OK – I’m not trying to make the Tour, simply play bogey golf.
Today at Trilogy was a good start; I’ll have a far better idea of how these changes have taken after I play Stonecreek again in two weeks, and then after that the dreaded Superstition Springs – two courses where you absolutely, no-bleepin’-bones-about-it, must hit your irons straight. Those will be good tests, for sure.
By the time I head back to Massachusetts in one month’s time, I ought to have a real good idea where the state of my game lies.