April 18, 2017

“What the [Callaway] Steelhead XR might lack in visual flair is made up for with speed and power. An updated face cup combines with improved welding and manufacturing to generate COR numbers up to the USGA limit, which results in 2 mph more ball speed over current XR irons.

The hollow bore-through hosel, last seen in X-22 irons, allows up to five grams to be shifted toward the toe, boosting head stability. The CG is positioned dead center (heel to toe) to help with forgiveness. In addition, the CG is higher in the short irons than where you normally impact the ball, resulting in a lower, boring flight. In the long irons, the CG it is below the impact point for higher-flying approaches.”Callaway Steelhead XR review at Golf.com

Third session at the PGA Tour Superstore, third different sales associate. This one, a young Texan named Cain, appeared to fancy himself as an amateur golf instructor as well, since, after I had taken a few swings with a Mizuno JPX-900 6-iron, with a Cobra F7 7-iron and a Callaway Steelhead XR Pro 6-iron awaiting their respective turns, he asked me to stop.

He: “Mind if I make a suggestion?” Oh boy, I’m thinking, here we go…

Me: “If you’re talking about my golf swing, I thought the idea was to establish the constants of machine, conditions, and clubs, with the brands themselves and the shafts being the variables. Now you want to introduce another variable?”

He: “I think with a couple of minor adjustments I can get you ten more yards with every club, maybe a few more.”

Me: “Cain, there’s no such thing in golf as a minor adjustment. I’m a 24-handicap. Ten more yards to a good golfer might make a world of difference, but to The Great White Shank it amounts to bupkis. I’ll listen to what you have to say, but I can’t make those changes part of this test. Deal?”

It seemed Cain didn’t like the position of my top hand in my grip, said he likes to see two knuckles whereas I was only showing one. He also didn’t like the position of my club at address, it was too far forward. He wanted to see the shaft pointing at my belly button. He then asked me to take my normal address, close my eyes, and stick the club out straight. He turned the club head in my hands slightly (for me) counter-clockwise, perhaps no more than an inch, maybe two.

He: “Does the club feel lighter in your hands?”

Me: I dunno, maybe a little.”

Cain explained to me that having the club forward in my stance and my grip taken together promote mis-hits because the club face was never square at address.

He: “I’ll bet you pull a lot of shots to your right.”

Me: “When I’m not shanking them to the left.”

Cain asked me to just consider what he was suggesting. Now I didn’t know this Cain from Abel, and I’d never heard my swing guru Alex Black over at Superstition Springs make either of those suggestions. I will grant him this, however: he was definitely onto something when he asked after watching me take a few more swings (this time with the Cobra F7), if I had any mobility issues with my back. When I replied none that I was aware of, he mentioned I had this annoying (to him) habit of sliding into the hitting zone, and not turning with my lower body.

He: “No wonder you fight the shanks. You seem to have to work really hard to get that club face closed when you come through the impact zone. You need to think about the changes I suggested. Otherwise, every swing you take is a shank waiting to happen. There’s one good thing, though…”

Me: “I’m all ears.”

He: “Your shank is a heckuva lot easier to fix than a slice or a hook would.”

After hitting the Mizuno (very nice feel, but still to expensive for my pocketbook) and the Cobra F7 (from the very first swing I ever took with it to the last, very consistent in its performance) it was time to take some swings with the Steelhead XR. I didn’t look at the club, I just assumed he gave me the same club I’d been using in my prior two tests. After three balls I knew something was up.

Me: “This isn’t the same club I’ve been hitting. And it looks different, too.”

He: “I gave you the Steelhead XR Pro. It has a thinner clubhead, supposed to be more forgiving.”

Me: “Well, maybe that’s true for a pro, but I can tell you it doesn’t feel more forgiving to this 24-handicap. It feels like a completely different club altogether.”

Cain fetched a Steelhead XR, and from the moment it was in my hand I knew this was the club for me. I liked the steel shaft, the way the ball jumped off the club face, it felt very familiar to me, but Cain persisted (after all, in addition to golf instructor wannabe he was a sales associate) in that he still felt like he could get an extra 5-10 yards if I went with a graphite or another kind of shaft (I forget the name) that’s kind of a hybrid between steel and graphite. I was ready to pull the trigger, but hey, I’d come this far, I might as well go the distance.

I hit a number of shots with both the graphite and the hybrid shafts. Cain was watching the machine and analyzing all the stats it pushed out, said he’d recommend graphite shafts, but asked me what I thought. Frankly, I couldn’t tell the difference one way or the other, and steel was cheaper, so…

Me: “I’m ready to pull the trigger, let’s close the deal.”

He grabbed a ruler, asked me to stand up straight with my arms at my side, told me there was no need to special order. Said I could take the set they have in stock right off the rack if I wanted. That wasn’t going to happen because I already knew that I’d want the 4-iron that came standard swapped out with a sand wedge, which didn’t, and at no extra cost except for the shipping and handling. Which he was willing to do. The end result being, I got a great deal on what I hope will be a great set of irons for years to come.

I’m glad I went through the process and took the time I did. It was fun working with different sales folks and getting their input. Now it’s on to the next step, which is to pick out a driver and a fairway wood. Let the process begin!!

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:52 | Comments (2)
April 14, 2017

Sure enough, after yesterday’s tryout at the PGA Tour Superstore I couldn’t get the look and the feel of that Callaway Steelhead XR 7-iron out of my head. Maybe I had, after all, fallen in love with that girl that looked, talked, and moved so nice – I fall in love so easily!

But there was something bothering me about this whole clinical trial business: it was all being done under the same controlled conditions. In some ways that’s good – anyone who ever had a 8th grade biology class and dissected fetal pigs will tell you any experiment worth its salt requires a control along with the variables. In my case, the control was the PGA Tour Superstore setting and the clubs they gave you to try out; the variables being The Great White Shank’s swing and mental attitude that can change from one day to another.

It was late last night, and it was lovely sitting under happy pineapple lights with a glass of Pinot Grigio, the palms stirring restlessly in a slight breeze, the bright moon basking the patio in a liquid silver. I liked that Steelhead XR a lot, I thought, but what would I really accomplish by heading to the PGA Tour Superstore and hitting the same club again? How could I be sure? How could anyone be sure in my position? And what’s really behind that Ben Affleck / Jennifer Garner divorce? Did they just outgrow each other? Did Jennifer get tired of picking Ben’s clothes up off the floor? Did Ben get sick of Jennifer’s routine of sitting in front of the TV, eating bon-bons and watching Lucifer reruns?

The important questions. Mind you, I never thought JG was that cute to begin with, so maybe I’m on Ben’s side on this. But what do I know?

It was then I decided I was going to do something completely uncharacteristic. I’d go to another golf place, Van’s Golf Shop, and roll the dice. Play dumb and see what they offered me to hit along with, oh by the way, a Steelhead XR (if they had one I could hit). And then hit balls under entirely different conditions.

I had been at Van’s before and I wasn’t impressed. The PGA Tour Superstore is big, bright, and open, whereas the Van’s is a kinda small – claustrophobic even – a store that reminds me of the golf version of the old Building 19 1/2 outlet chain back in my Massachusetts days. Everything crowded into a small place with a few nets you could hit into. They didn’t have a huge selection, but Brandon the sales associate set me up on a spot with a lower-tech version of the swing machine that PGA Tour Superstore has in spades. He had the Steelhead XR 7-iron and he had a Ping G30 with a graphite shaft that I could compare against.

I took a couple of practice swings with the Steelhead and just felt like my swing was off from even yesterday’s clinical trial. Still, we set up and I proceeded to hit a few pushes, a few pulls, and a couple of straight ones, all traveling between 143 and 150. Hell, the most I used to get out of my old RAZR-X 7-iron was 135-140! I grabbed the Ping and hit a bunch of shots, none of them exceeding 135 yards. I’m thinking that can’t be right, so I asked Brandon to make sure I was setting everything thing up exactly the same so I could hit three balls apiece with the Callaway and the Ping.

I actually hits some pretty good shots – at least for The Great White Shank. The Steelhead went 143 (a push), 142 (a pull), and 153 yards (on the screws), in that order. The Ping went 133 (straight), 135 (straight), 133 (a push).

“Wow”, says I. “That’s quite a difference. Do you think it’s the graphite shaft?”

Brandon smirked. “Must be, it’s never the person swinging the club.”

So that as they say is that. I’ve hit the Callaway Steelhead XR 7-iron on two different occasions, in two different locations, using two different 7-irons, and with two different kinds of machines to measure swing and distance. That’s enough variables in and of themselves, dontcha think? And in both cases, I’m consistently hitting that 7-iron nearly ten yards further than I hit my old RAZR-X 7-iron. I mean, what’s up with that?

I’m thinking a decision is about to be made.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:52 | Comments (0)
April 13, 2017

It’s my second outing at the PGA Tour Superstore down the street as I try to come closer to making a decision on what irons I’m going to put in my as-yet-to-be-purchased bag for the 2017 Goodboys Invitational and beyond. After last week’s session, I had spoken to my good friend and fellow Goodboy “The Funny Guy” Andrusaitis and he suggested I take a look at the Callaway Steelhead XRs; so, because I wasn’t impressed with the Callaway XRs I had already tried, when Tyler the sales associate came over to me, I asked him for samples of three clubs:

Mizuno JPX-850
Cobra King F7
Callaway Steelhead XR

Tyler set me up in the TaylorMade performance booth and I went to work. Strangely enough (or perhaps not so strange), I felt just a little bit out of kilter as I warmed up as compared to how I felt last week. But that was OK – I wanted to try hitting these clubs under every kind of Great White Shank condition (and when you’re a 24-handicap there are always a lot of conditions!) possible. Since I hit the Mizuno so well in last week’s trial I grabbed it again and proceeded to skull my first ball approximately (so the machine said) 50 yards. My second ball was a shank that didn’t even register on the machine – after all, it can’t measure anything the ball doesn’t hit.

I didn’t panic at this point, and was damned glad to look behind me and see that Tyler was helping another customer. I almost expected to hear over the loudspeaker, “Shank in the TaylorMade booth! I repeat, shank in the TaylorMade booth! All associates to the TaylorMade booth!!”. So I now knew that the Mizuno JPX-850s, for all their cost (they run about $1K for the iron set) didn’t feature any kind of anti-shank technology in its design. Which, in some ways, was good: it made me realize that my handicap, my swing, was just like a PGA Tour pro in the sense that it really didn’t matter what clubs I ultimately chose; there’s no set of clubs that’s going to turn me into a, say, 16-handicap no matter how good or how expensive they are.

Fortunately, I didn’t let those first two hits bother me. I grabbed another ball, striped it 156 yards – a good five yards further than I normally hit my 6 (by this time Tyler was watching and said, “good swing, really solid”). I hit a bunch more and set the Mizuno aside.

Next up was the Cobra F7 7-iron. It’s funny how your memories of recent experiences can change in such a short period of time. At that first session I remembered the Mizuno 6-iron having a kind of heavy feel to it, and the Cobra F7 7-iron as being light as a feather. Today it seemed just the opposite. Still, I seemed to hit it about the same as I remembered from last week. It’s a nice club, for sure, but nothing that stands out and screams, “HIT ME TO THE CENTER OF THE GREEN AND I’LL LEAVE YOU WITH JUST FIVE FEET FROM THE PIN, YOU DUMBASS!.”

Tyler had disappeared again at this point. He had had a pink purse in his hand (I didn’t ask), so I’m guessing (hoping) he was off to the lost and found. I grabbed the Callaway Steelhead XR 7-iron and immediate said out loud with a shake of the head and a grin, “You bastard!”. Not sure if anyone heard me, but I was talking to The Funny Guy, the one who had suggested trying out the Steelhead XRs to begin with.

(You see, here’s the thing about The Funny Guy: not only is he infuriating in the amount of times he’s right about things, but he also excels when it comes to spending other people’s money. I could tell y’all the story about when – and I’m talking years ago, like decades – he took Tracey shopping for golf-related Christmas gifts for me. But it’s best I not, and for everyone concerned!)

Like I was saying, The Funny Guy has this way of combining knowledge, audacity, and out-and-out chicanery when it comes to knowing how to spend other people’s money – especially mine. And I have this sneaking sense that after all these years he has come to know my swing better than anyone, even my swing coach, Alex Black. At any rate, after taking that first look at the Steelhead XR 7-iron, I knew it just looked right to my eyes. And the first few hits? Well, all I can say is that it is one damned forgiving club. Even the slight mis-hits I made seemed to have little difference in terms of trajectory and distance. By the fourth swing that I had hit my usually-reliable 130-135 yard 7-iron 142, 147, 149 and 138 yards, respectively, upon which Tyler remarked, “nice turn, nice swing!”.

But this is one time I refuse to fall in love with the girl simply because she looks, acts, talks, moves, and smells great. So I played it coy and set the club back down and grabbed the Mizuno for several swings. I was starting to feel a little more comfortable and made some nice shots. That Mizuno is a damned nice club, one I’d have no hesitation about with dropping in my bag (if I had one, that is). I also hit a number of decent shots with the Cobra F7, although I have to admit the feeling stayed with me that there was nothing exceptional about that particular club.

I went back to the Callaway Steelhead XR and I again hit some nice shots: a big push or two and a pull or two as well, but there was no doubt in my mind that it’s a very, very nice club. And at $699 for a set, the Steelheads are $200 cheaper than the Cobra King F7s and a whopping $400 cheaper than the Mizuno JPX-850s. I realize now that I was hitting the wrong Mizuno model – I meant to ask for the JPX-EZ (much more affordable), and hope to do that on my next – and hopefully final – trip back.

So, after two rounds here is where things stand:

1. Callaway Steelhead XR
2. Mizuno JPX-850
3. Cobra F7

It’s my plan not to let this whole process drag out a whole lot longer – I am, after all, a 24-handicap, and you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what. But I will admit – and damn you, Funny Guy! – I have a feeling that as I fall asleep tonight I’m going to be thinking about those first few hits with that Callaway Steelhead XR 7-iron. After my Las Vegas disaster I never thought I’d ever be playing Callaway again (and I might still not, I gotta get my hands on those Mizuno JPX-EZs!) but I could sure do a whole lot worse.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:30 | Comments (0)
April 4, 2017

It’s been over a month since I last hit a golf ball, sinking that 3-footer for a crowd-pleasing triple-bogey seven on the last hole at Las Vegas National, and I’ll admit I was starting to feel itchy. Even more so after talking with my good Goodboys friend The Funny Guy about getting my swing checked out at the Hudson, NH Golf & Ski when I’m back in Massachusetts the last week of this month. The idea being, ask to try a few different brands of clubs out in their bays where you can hit outside – not at a damned screen – and see what feels good.

I had a ton of work today but had to go out and get a haircut, so I was already in the general vicinity of the PGA Tour Superstore five minutes away from me and on a whim decided to stop in. I have to admit, just being around something associated with golf rekindled a kind of excitement – after all, being a free agent with no clubs in my garage except my Ping Scottsdale putter is a position I’ve never been in. And with more than three months still to go until Goodboys Invitational weekend I have the time and leisure to pick out the kind of clubs I want and do it in a way that allows me to make a good and informed decision.

I sauntered up to the counter by all the hitting bays and talked with Ryan, told him my situation, told him I was a 24 handicap, told him I hadn’t hit balls for a month and that I was just getting over an acute case of the shanks, and – most importantly – let him know the process I was planning to follow. That right now I just wanted to try out a few different kinds of irons just to get a feel for what would be a different set of clubs, no matter what happened. Steel shafts off the rack would be fine. That at this point I didn’t even want to think of woods and various combinations, that I just wanted to hit three different brands of irons.

I had already stopped in a couple of weeks go just to feel the different kinds of brands out there and felt comfortable narrowing my search in irons to the Calloway XR, Cobra King F7, and Mizuno JPX. If I didn’t like any of those, then I’d toss something else into the mix. Afternoons are quiet at the PGA Tour Superstore this time of year – everyone’s out playing golf – so there was no rush, all the bays being empty. And Ryan, being the astute sales associate (and PGA professional) that he was, knew this was no time for a “my way or the highway” attitude: after all, new club sales for anything except the most exotic and boutique stuff are pretty flat and that it was in his interest to make me comfortable with my process.

He gave me a Mizuno JPX 6-iron and 7-irons for the Callaway and Cobra, told me to take my time and have at the machine. I’ll admit to being a little nervous as I put on my golf glove. Would I shank the first ball I hit? And if I did, what then – hit a second? And then what if I shanked that one? I guess I’d just take off my glove, hand the clubs back to Ryan, and go home to craft my farewell letter to my fellow Goodboys in the nation. I mean, that’s how bad my last two golf experiences were. Maybe it was because I was so sick at the time (and sick I was, I ended up losing fifteen pounds and it was only last week that quick moves no longer left me lightheaded), but gee-whiz, what if it wasn’t because of that? What if I was a casualty of the game in the making like Ian Baker-Finch was – after all, he had to quit the game because it was destroying him psychologically.

So there was a lot riding on that first swing at some stupid bay at a PGA Tour Superstore this first week of April. I grabbed the Mizuno 6 and took a swing. Didn’t even take a practice swing, just grabbed a ball and hit it. Amazingly, it actually went straight! As did the second one. I topped the third, then yanked the fourth, but I started to enjoy myself, feeling the anxiousness leave me as I took a few more swings. I then grabbed the Cobra 7 and hit some pretty decent shots. Ryan encouraged me to start swinging a little harder to try and get as much out of the clubs as I could, telling me that was the only way I’d get a real feel for what these clubs could do. So that’s what I did, and I could actually feel a little more confidence coming back. Perhaps being sick in Vegas had left a swing thought of just swinging easy as a way to get through the rounds and it was doing that that encouraged the shanks – I mean, who knows?

What a head case I am.

Anyways, I tried the Callaway 7 and really didn’t like it. I’m not sure why, but after a few swings I found myself gravitating back to that Mizuno 6. I really liked that club, felt like I could really wail away at it. Then back to the Cobra, then back to the Callaway. After a good 30 minutes, I had racked up some pretty decent golf swings, being complimented by Ryan on several occasions. I told him I’d be back to try them all again because with my swing, who knows what will show up on any given day. But here are a few thoughts:

1. If I were to rank the clubs I hit today it would be the Mizuno, Cobra, and Callaway in that order.
2. I’m really not interested in a complete set of the same brand just for the sake of playing a single brand.
3. By the time I hit the Golf & Ski I’m going to be down to two iron choices and start looking at drivers and woods.
4. Depending on how the sets play out, whatever serves as hybrids (#3 / 4 iron replacements) will be a crap-shoot.

Arriving home I cracked open a Sam Adams (I knew I was finally over being sick this past weekend when a Sam Adams Boston Lager actually tasted good for the first time since, like, forever) and put on some mellow surf music. And it all felt good. And it all felt right.

The Great White Shank had taken his first step forward to rejoining the golf-playing community.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:27 | Comments (3)
March 11, 2017

We’re less than a month away from the Masters, and just a little over four months away from Goodboys Invitational weekend, and the only golf club I have left in my possession is my Ping Scottsdale putter. The newer Callaways I got to replace the older Callaway woods and hybrids that were stolen have been returned for a 90% refund, and my RAZR-X irons have been sold to the Golf Liquidator folks for a whopping $100, which is just about all they were worth.

In golf equipment terms, I am officially a free agent.

To those wondering what the hell happened, I guess it all started on the #6 hole at Las Vegas National a week ago Wednesday. Because we started off on the back nine, it was my fifteenth hole of the day. As mentioned in an earlier post, I was feeling like crap and battling the shanks and the yanks for the second straight day. #6 is a lovely hole – one of my favorites, actually – a slight doggy left with a good-sized landing area. I had yanked my drive way right, my ball stopping just before a ditch that marked the OB line. Meaning to just get out of trouble, I pulled a 5-iron and shanked it across the fairway and through a fence that marked OB on the left. I found my ball and pulled a 7-iron to coax it back out under the fence. Imagine my surprise when I saw being pulled out along with the 7-iron what seemed to be half the inner lining from inside my bag. Just what I needed, right? And that’s when I also noticed a hole the size of a half-dollar on the side of my bag, probably the result of one of the trips to and from Massachusetts over the years.

I didn’t know what to do. Resisting the urge to tell my playing partners I was done and just walk off the course, I stuffed the lining back inside the bag best I could and took a good look at the 7-iron I had pulled. The grip worn out, a couple of good-sized hacks at the bottom of the club, the hole in my bag, me feeling like crap. What on earth was I trying to accomplish out there? It was at that moment I knew the Callaway replacements were going back, and I was getting rid of everything else as well. I’ll admit it: this time having the shanks as bad as I did really frightened me. The yanks? I could always chalk them up to playing with woods I wasn’t yet fully familiar or comfortable with. But those shanks, and with my old reliable Callaway RAZR-X HLs? That bothered me. Still does. And not just because I didn’t know what I was doing to cause them (which I didn’t and still don’t) but because no matter what I tried to do I couldn’t fix them. I couldn’t fix me. So either I had to go, or the clubs did.

I chose the clubs.

So all the clubs are gone, except for the Ping Scottsdale. Even if we haven’t always seen eye to eye, that’s a club worth keeping and taking care of – heck, I’ve even bought a replacement cover for it.

So where do I go from here, you ask? Well, I haven’t received my invite to the Masters, so there’s no real rush to find new clubs. And even if I had clubs, I wouldn’t really start preparing for Goodboys Invitational weekend until April at the earliest. Original plans to perhaps travel to San Diego for some golf in May have been cancelled due to more important stuff, so there’s really no need to have clubs until around, say, oh, the second weekend in July when (at least theoretically) I’d be wanting to start hitting balls in Massachusetts as part of my last-minute Goodboys Invitational preparation. So I’ve got plenty of time.

More than anything else, I’m not even going to think about trying new clubs on for size until I feel a whole lot better than I do now. I’m on the mend for sure, but my legs are still shaky and I haven’t even got the strength to get back to the gym, let along try out new clubs and hit golf balls.

So I’m going to take my time this time. Maybe go down to the PGA Tour Superstore come April and have Chris do an analysis of my swing. And if I start shanking the ball again, maybe he’ll suggest I try ping-pong or tennis. And if that happens I’ll just give it all up. Hopefully, though, that won’t be the case. With my handicap (presently 27) there’s no point in spending big dough-re-mi on brandy-new clubs, but it would be nice to find clubs with only a year or two of use. Maybe I’ll look at some of the later Callaway models, but I’m thinking it’s time for a change. I like the look of the new Cobra stuff, and I still remember that set of Mizunos I played in (I think) Vegas a few years ago; they were really nice. But no matter what I end up choosing, having clubs fitted for my size and swing can’t hurt – heck, my swing coach Alex Black has been encouraging me to do that ever since we started working together.

After last week, I’m ready for a fresh start. And I’m gonna take my time going about it.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:35 | Comments (0)
March 1, 2017

Wish I felt better to spend my three nights in Vegas anywhere else but my hotel room, but let’s face it: you can do a whole lot worse than spending your nights trying to get your strength back at the Wynn Las Vegas looking out over a beautiful landscape, the mountains and lights spreading out all before you. It doesn’t get old in its breathtaking brilliance. A nice bed, a couple bottles of bottled water, and a good book – well, it just goes to show there really are a hundred ways of enjoying Vegas, and after this visit I can honestly say I think I’ve tried ‘em all and they’ve all been good.

I wish I could say the same thing about my golf game. Two rounds on beautiful courses, with nines of 61-59-59-63. That’s right: a 120 at Stallion Mountain, a 122 at Las Vegas National. So how does a supposedly great ball-striker like The Great White Shank shoot such bloated scores? Well, for one thing, by living up to his nickname. Look, I don’t about the shanks and where they come from. No one does. All I know is, after a couple of decent (albeit abbreviated) range sessions last week, I grabbed my pitching wedge at the Stallion Mountain driving range and proceeded to hit three shanks in a row. I then grabbed a 8-iron and did the same damned thing. And then grabbed my new 3-wood and hit a couple of big yanks right. And did the same thing with my new driver. I didn’t know what to think, but figured out I’d work it out on the course.

I didn’t.

The shanks stayed with me the entire round, on virtually every iron I tried to hit. And the yanks did as well, on virtually every wood I tried to hit. I was in defense mode all day long. Never had that happen to me in as long as I can remember, if ever. It was as if some stranger had occupied my golf body, making it do things I couldn’t stop from happening. I didn’t know who I was, had no clue as to what I was doing out there. Heck, I was even shanking my chips from just off the green. Try doing that at home, folks. Fortunately, the people I was playing with were also just a bunch of hackers, so they didn’t care: we all had a good time just moving the ball around.

—-

I was hoping to be able to try and work out the shanks on the range before my round at Las Vegas National, but it didn’t work out: I was just getting ready to hit my first pitching wedge when the starter came over and asked if I’d mind hooking up with the twosome already on the first tee. What could I say? When the starter says go, you go. So less than fifteen minutes after pulling into the parking lot I’m getting ready to hit with two real Las Vegas showbiz types: Bill, a lawyer to the entertainment industry here, and the other guy (I forget his name) who plays a Frank Valli-type role in a show at Bally’s. He even looked the part. Real nice guys, lots of laughs to play with, lots of showbiz names being dropped between shots throughout the round.

Unfortunately, I really could have used that range session. From beginning to end I had zero clue where any ball I was hitting went. I just couldn’t play a clean hole from start to finish. Decent drive? I’d chunk or shank my approach shot. Lost ball yanked off the tee? I’d make a decent enough before completely messing up around the green. And don’t even get me started if my ball ended up in the sand. I was totally lost. In the end it wasn’t all for not: I got comp’d for the show at Ballys and heard a couple of some funny stories about Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon (none of them flattering) and others. Danny Aiello sounds like a really nice guy.

But to be truthful, as enjoyable as the two rounds were, and they were enjoyable – I had a great time – but something came out of me as a result of all this. It was a lot of work out there, and I really don’t feel like picking up a club anytime soon. As I texted my good Goodboys friend Killer after the round, golf is a harsh mistress. You put so much time and effort into it, and very seldom do you get anything near in return for it. I finally hit two really good pitching wedges on the last two holes, from 90 and 98 yards, but there was no joy in it. All I could ask was why. I didn’t feel like I did anything different on those two shots than two holes prior when I shanked not one, not two, but three 6-irons in a row OB. And if there was another hole or two left to play what’s to say I wouldn’t shank something else? Is it rhythm, tempo, technique, stupidity? I mean, who wants to deal with that? And what’s to say that, even if I were to, say, hit the range and the shanks weren’t there, what’s to say they wouldn’t appear the next time I’m warming up for my next round of golf? Because I know they’re there, a monster within, just like that TV show.

So I honestly don’t know where my game (or lack thereof) goes from here. The sad thing is, I really felt late last summer and early fall I was really close to playing something akin to bogey and a half golf. Now I can’t even come close to double-bogey golf. Maybe it’s time to just give it all a rest. Or maybe I need to take this whole experience to my swing guy Alex Black and learn some coping mechanisms. Or most likely both, but all in their own good time.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 20:10 | Comments (0)
February 22, 2017

Yesterday I got a chance to hit balls for the first time in nearly four months. Chamber of Commerce weather: the sun shining bright, 74 degrees, and the driving range at Kokopelli Golf Club packed with men and women of all ages. Still feeling a little woozy from the flu, but I just had to get out and give the new clubs a look-see. The verdict? I have to say that, between using a different eye and trying out the new hybrids and woods, everything went OK. The adjustment to using my dominant (lead) eye was fairly seamless as soon as I got used to playing the ball just a tad further back than what I was used to. A few balls were topped, but I chalk it up to just getting a little more familiar with the hand/eye coordination.

The new clubs are fine: the Big Berta hybrids have a little more substantial feeling than the old RAZR/X ones I had, which always seemed so light that they were like twigs in my hand. The Big Berthas have a little more weight and a bigger club head; I found them easier to take an easy swing with. The XR 16 fairway woods and driver I wasn’t able to try out with more than a ball or two – after about thirty balls I was already sweating my brains out and feeling fatigued from being sick – but they all seemed just fine. At my level of competency all you’re looking for are clubs that feel good in your hands to swing, anyways.

I left a dozen balls or more behind and was really interested in seeing what it would be like to putt and chip with a different eye. I’m pleased to say I really didn’t notice much of a difference. Again, I think I have to play the ball just a smidgen back in my chipping and putting stance to accommodate what my lead eye sees as opposed to what my trailing eye did. But it all went OK.

Over all, I’m very pleased at my so-called “coming out party”. In particular, I was very pleased at my overall swing and tempo. As I mentioned in my other post, while I hadn’t actually been hitting balls these past four months, I’d been thinking about golf in more abstract ways, and one of those ways involved my whole approach to swinging a golf club. For some reason, I kept going back to that Hunter Mahan article in the February 2015 issue of GOLF Magazine and his seven keys to hitting irons – in particular, his comment about practicing how you want to finish. His point being, if you can finish on your front foot, hands high, chest facing the target, and completely balanced it really doesn’t matter how you get there: you’ve pretty much guaranteed yourself a successful shot. And that’s what I tried to do yesterday: in fact, I found using my lead eye made it easier for me to stay on top of the ball and therefore promote a better finish. And it showed in the number of quality results. So I was very pleased about that.

And so, the first test was passed. I was hitting off of mats because of all the recent rain, so this weekend I hope to head out to my old haunt of Superstition Springs and hit off of grass and do a little more putting and chipping to see how it all still feels. Then next week, if the weather holds, I’ll be playing Stallion Mountain and Las Vegas National in Sin City. No expectations, just seeing if I can move a golf ball around a course.

I know one thing: the days of hitting large buckets every week (or more) are over. From now on, whenever I go out I’ll just hit a small bucket, and even at that perhaps only a dozen balls or so, solely to work on rhythm and timing. I just think you fall into bad habits trying to do more than that. If I can hit a small bucket and play a round of golf every three weeks or so I think I’ll have achieved the right balance I’m seeking. And I’ve got a great new Hawaiian shirt to show off in Las Vegas and when Goodboys weekend comes around!

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 19:53 | Comments (0)
February 20, 2017

…a nod not as much to John Lennon’s song, but more so to the fact that he and George Harrison, as Phil Spector music fans, seemed to enjoy putting words in parenthesis as part of a song’s title – something Phil did quite a bit.

A lot has happened since the last time I picked up a golf club, which was late October of last year. There was, of course, the election of Donald Trump. The holidays (mercifully) came and went as a much ado about nothing. You had the much-ballyhooed comeback of Tiger Woods that lasted only three rounds; now it’s an open question whether we ever see him pick up a club in competition again. On the personal front, we finally completed the work on our living trust, all the work involving my sister-in-law’s divorce is complete (just waiting for the formal judgment to be released), we refinanced our house, and for the first time ever not only have our financial affairs completely in order, but, working with the folks at Edelman Financial, a strategy to keep our retirement plans on track. Taxes are ahead of schedule for the first time in years, and work is finally starting to quiet down from the frenzied pace of the last few months.

All of this taking place since the last time I touched a golf club.

And not that there isn’t still more to do – heck, there’s always more stuff in the queue: taxes to complete, living trust documents to update, and stuff involving the house that has patiently been waiting its turn while all this other “must be done” activity is put in the rear-view mirror. But the brightly-colored and highly-organized file folders that sit on our dining room table once numbering eight has been reduced to four, and even that is about ready to drop to only two as soon as I get around to filing them.

In short, it’s time to start thinking about golf again.

Typically, the end of February is when Exec-Comm (those chaps at the top right) starts thinking about what they want to do about Goodboys Invitational weekend (third weekend of July). I know a few of the boys are already have travel plans in place for spring golf in some very nice places, and I’m actually planning on a few days in Vegas next week without the laptop as a gift for the nose-to-grindstone work I’ve driven these past five months. Tracey would like to go to San Diego in May, and if we do there will have to be a return trip to The Crossings, the nicest course I’ve ever played. So now sounds like a good time to start thinking about picking up the clubs again.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about golf during this time away, mostly in an abstract way. I know at one time I had actually planned on committing myself to lopping a whopping six strokes off my MyScorecard.com 24-handicap (actually 23.9 right now), or at the very least get it down below 20, but looking back I think that was more about giving myself something to focus on in the wake of my Mom’s passing three months earlier. My good Goodboys pal “The Funny Guy” has always stated that hackers like us are what we are, and no amount of effort short of completely giving everything else up and playing and working on golf 24/7 with a bona fide instructor is going to change that. Could a goal of, say, lopping one stroke off my handicap this year be more reasonable and lead to enjoying the game much more? I think that’s where my head is more or less at right now – anything beyond that just seems too difficult and too time-consuming to pursue.

There are other challenges I’m going to be facing as I pick the game back up. For one thing, as I mentioned in an earlier post, someone stole my Callaway RAZR/X woods and hybrids from my garage the other day. I still can’t believe they’re gone. Not that they were valuable in any way (they were five years old and used at that), but more than anything else they were my golf companions even if I never truly figured out how to hit any of them with any consistency (especially the hybrids!). In the mail are Callaway Big Bertha hybrids (3 and 4), a Callaway XR 16 driver, and XR 16 3- and 5-woods. All pre-owned, of course – no need for spending big dough-re-mi on clubs that won’t make a huge difference in my scores one way or the other.

The biggest change – and challenge – I’m going to face is having to use my right eye as my dominant eye instead of my left as I’ve done ever since picking up the game. My eye doc says I’m at the age where they can only put so much prescription in my left eye to accommodate distance (since my LASIK surgery in 1999 I’ve had monovision, meaning that without glasses I use my left eye for reading and up close and my right eye for distance). But I’ve always been more comfortable using my (as a lefty) trailing left eye as my main eye for golf. I could really feel the change in my prescription last year and was having such a hard time seeing the ball clearly with my left eye that I know my friends got tired of me asking, “did you see where that one went?”. It was really impacting my game, and I was hoping new glasses would help get my left eye distance vision back to where it needed to be. It now seems like that’s no longer going to be the case. So, starting this year I’ll be attempting to use my dominant (lead) eye for golf. Will it matter? I’ve consulted all sorts of golf sites and there seems no right or wrong answer. Frankly, I’m a little nervous about how it’s all going to work out, but maybe it won’t be so bad or as much as an adjustment as I think. We’ll see.

And finally, recognizing that I’m a hacker and will always be so means I’m going back to what I liked best about playing golf – wearing my Hawaiian shirts and hitting those orange Wilson 50s. I’ve got four dozen in the garage ready to go, and I won’t be afraid of losing them nearly so much as I would those really nice Callaway Supersofts I’d been using the last couple of years. The way I look at it, it just gives me less to worry about out there: have I marked my ball or marked it correctly? Did I just hit someone else’s ball by mistake? I’ve played literally hundreds of rounds and have yet to come across someone else playing another orange ball, let alone a Wilson 50. I figure I’m going to have enough to worry about just keeping my own shit together out there without having to worry about how to look and act like a golfer. So keeping it simple and familiar and focusing on the basics (see the ball, hit the ball, keep moving) seems like the way to go.

The Great White Shank is back.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:11 | Comments (3)
October 13, 2016

Target Handicap: 18.1
Location: Las Vegas National Golf Club
Score: 52 + 54 = 106
Handicap: 23.6 / Trend: 23.9 (+0.3)

Not the greatest round of golf I’ve ever played – in fact, it was pretty mediocre by my new standards. But if there was such a thing as giving one’s self a mulligan I’m inclined to make this an occasion. I can’t say I was hungover – I wasn’t – but on my fourth day in Vegas I can honestly say I was pretty much tapped out. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t a great day to play golf and it didn’t have a great time playing with the couple the pro shop paired me up with from Lichtenstein. That’s right – Lichtenstein.

Before I get to the golf, I’d like to just state that in all my travels – and there have been quite a few – I’ve never come close to playing with people as rich as Karl and Edna were. How rich were they? Rich enough that they come to Vegas and stay at the Wynn for two weeks – count ‘em – two weeks – every year. And it’s not as if they’re staying in the standard 750-ft. room with king bed – no, they’re staying in a suite. For two weeks! And they don’t even gamble!

They were very nice people who right off the top begged my indulgence by saying Edna was learning to play golf and that it might be a little slow out there. I didn’t care – heck, I figure the longer I’m outside of the Wynn / Encore boundaries I’m probably actually making money simply by not being there. They were right: Edna was pretty bad, but we weren’t being pressed by anyone behind us, Karl (he a very savvy 10-handicap) insisted on paying for cocktails before, during and after, and the day was lovely.

Having driven up I had my clubs with me and hit the ball great on the range. I’m at the point now where my swing and the results are pretty predictable, and the things I’m working on – my play from 100 yards in – is the kind of thing you can improve upon only by playing. Enjoying glasses of Moët & Chandon on the patio afterwards (my offer of Pinot Grigios respectfully declined), we traded stories of Vegas long ago (when the town was greater than it is now but not as great as it was before then), how they were friends with Siegfried and Roy, how they travel the world on Silversea cruises, the stars they’ve met and the places they’ve been. They were beyond rich, but very nice, very down to earth, and appreciative of my sharing an enjoyable, carefree round of golf with them.

Karl was a cool guy. very competitive on the course but in a nice way. Before we teed off, over Coronas on the patio I had bought as a gesture of friendship and goodwill (this was before I found out how rich they were!) he asked me about my game. When I told him I was a 24-handicap with a goal of getting to an 18, he said in kind of a funny way that he’d be the judge of that. I thought that was kind of a strange comment, but he was so nice and so enthusiastic about playing it really didn’t make a mark one way or the other.

OK, on to the golf. The final tally was five fairways hit, 39 putts, and only one green in regulation. I had been driving the ball pretty well all year, but on this day I repeatedly found myself, even if just off the fairway, out of position. Whenever I made a good shot it was all recovery recover recovery. Whenever I found myself in great poition to hit a green in regulation I just couldn’t do it. My short game was tolerable, but the greens were exceedingly slow and I just (once again, I might add) couldn’t make the adjustment.

Case in point, the par 5 seventh. Playing from the back tees, a tight fairway with a slight dogleg left to a slightly elevated tee, I pulverized a drive that for the only time of the day beat Karl by a few yards. I followed up with an equally-impressive 5-wood that left me 20 yards short of the green. So now Karl and I are sitting next to each other, he just a yard behind me, laying two. He chips to five feet, being careful to leave it below the hole. I, on the other hand, chip it twelve feet past and above the hole. I’ve got a downhill putt and leave it five feet short. My second putt is two feet short. My third putt goes one foot past the hole. You get the picture: I four-putted for a seven. Karl misses his birdie putt but sinks it for a par.

And that was the day. Oh, there were a couple of holes I simply blew out: two sliced drives into a swimming pool on #6, two more balls into a neighbor’s yard on #16, but more often than not it was just mediocre golf – something I find myself getting all too good at. When I needed to make a putt I couldn’t. When I was in the go-zone for a green in regulation I couldn’t make the shot. But when I was forced to make something fancy out of trouble – heck, I was like Seve out there!

“You have very good swing, my friend”, says Karl over our second glass of Moët, my back starting to tighten up and my head starting to long for a whirlpool at the Encore Spa, “but you won’t achieve your goal without having a good game. You are so very close. I learned a long time ago that strokes are like women – the fewer the better. (I’d never heard that one before.) Right now you’re worrying too much about the shot you are making, you’re not playing the hole. There’s a big difference! You play defensively not to make a mistake when you should be attacking – always! These are all things that you have the ability to do, I’m sure of it. Just have confidence!”

I’m not sure Karl is right, but, basking in the 103-degree whirlpool at the Encore Spa I can understand where he’s coming from. Maybe he’s right, maybe it is a confidence thing. Maybe I still haven’t gotten over the old days when disaster was always lurking around the corner, a shanked 7-iron away. I mean, I can play double-bogey golf now with my eyes closed. Maybe there is something to this idea of fearing success on a golf course. Or maybe it’s all bullshit. Just hit the friggin’ ball, right?

There’s a hurdle here I need to get over. I’m not exactly sure what that hurdle is, but I have to stop sabotaging myself. It’s a frustrating thing. And until I figure it out I’m going to remain in this gray zone where nothing is really happening, just mediocre scores being put up on the scorecard with memories of all those opportunities pissed away as if strokes don’t mean a thing.

Filed in: Golf Quest,Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:35 | Comments (0)
September 13, 2016

Target Handicap: 18.1
Location: Stonecreek Golf Club
Score: 57 + 52 = 109
Handicap: 24.1 / Trend: 23.6 (unchanged)

So close, then again so far away
Where are the answers, I hear them everyday
— Stephen Stills, “Sugar Babe”

I’m not gonna use the fact that, thanks to a major intrastate road closure (only in Arizona have I ever seen them close an entire road on a weekend for paving), I never had a chance to warm up before teeing it up at Stonecreek Golf Club this past Saturday. That being said, I went the entire round feeling as if I hadn’t hit a golf ball for a year even though it had only been nine days since my last outing at Superstition Springs, and I have to think being able to warm up properly would have shaved a few strokes off the 109 I ended up shooting.

It was a strange day, to say the least. The short game was OK – there were a couple of flubs but that’s going to happen even on the best of days. The 34 putts I made weren’t all that bad (especially given the fact I had a four putt from sixteen feet – don’t ask!). But my game from inside 110 yards was inexplicably bad – perhaps the worst it has been all year. And this on a day when I drove the ball arguably the best I have all year. I was playing with a twelve and a fourteen handicap (Paul and Craig from Washington state, nice guys) and consistently out-drove them all day, anywhere from five to ten yards. The scorecard will show I hit only seven fairways, but except for one hole where I ended up in a sand trap, if I didn’t hit a fairway, believe me I was just off.

So I put myself in position all day long. On par 4s I was sitting anywhere from 110 to (on the longer ones) as much as 160 yards away. On the par 5s, after two shots I had no more than 150 yards away on all three. But I could not hit a green to save my life, and on several cases I couldn’t get it on the green after two additional tries. It was very frustrating to say the least.

Case in point hole #10, a tough hole that is all downhill until a ditch, after which it goes uphill to an elevated green. I nailed my drive center-cut, leaving me 148 to the pin. I chunked my 6-iron, then, with no more than 60 yards left, chunked my pitching wedge into the ditch. Took my drop, hit the next one just off the green, then chipped it to six inches for a crowd-pleasing seven. I just cannot be doing that kind of thing if I want to make my “Six Strokes Across America” tour a success! There was also a hole on the front nine where I lost my swing completely, shanking two pitching wedges into first a sand trap, and then a pond, but I was able to recognize I was over-swinging and jumping at the ball and (sort of) got it back under control on the next hole. And on the back nine, outside of that tenth hole and the eighteenth where I did the exact same thing, I was able to fairly well right the ship.

Of course, there were a couple of holes where my course management contributed to a couple of extra strokes, but that’s something I just have to recognize will always be an issue from time to time. But not hitting my irons crisply like I’ve been doing over the past two months is more of a concern, and you can bet I’ll be hitting the range a couple of times before I head out to play again. I simply have to learn to convert those opportunities when I have a chance to get on (or at least closely near) a green in regulation. I can’t let those kinds of opportunities slip past me if I hope to get my game to the next level.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:39 | Comments (0)

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