October 3, 2018

Target Handicap: 20.0
MyScorecard.com Handicap: 27.5 / Change: (+0.3)
Location: TPC Scottsdale – Stadium Course
Score: 53

Welcome to the Golf Quest – The Next Generation. You might note that, unlike previous Golf Quest posts, I’m no longer arranging my Golf Quest around prepping for the next Goodboys Invitational weekend. First of all, I have no clue as to when that weekend will be (a change of venues might be in the wind). Secondly, no matter when that might be, I’m admittedly on the fence and taking a wait-and-see attitude as far as my future participation goes. Given my age and my stage in life, it feels far more comfortable to have a target handicap I can work towards without having to worry about getting my game together within some predetermined time schedule. Now that I’m nearly 63 and (hopefully) four years from retirement, I’m much more comfortable making being a 20-handicap golfer a larger target in my overall golf experience. No pressure, just play whenever I can and see if I can make inroads towards that magic number.

It was with that mindset that I decided to try and play nine holes at TPC Scottsdale’s legendary Stadium Course this past weekend while Tracey and I were spending a couple of nights at the nearby Scottsdale Princess to celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary. It was Saturday, and Tracey had lined up a message and assorted activities at their spa, so I grabbed my clubs and took the shuttle down to the TPC to see how I might amuse myself for a few hours.

The golf shop folks at TPC were the most accommodating and gracious folks I’ve met at any golf shop, anywhere. Told them I had a few hours to kill and what would be the most cost-effective way of doing it. Was told I had my choice of spending $80 for an all-day pass with access to their driving range, chipping area, and putting green, or I could pay $112 for 9 holes at the Stadium course were I willing to wait an hour until the twilight rate kicked in. That was no-brainer – I could hit the Toro restaurant grill for a beer, then go out and work on my game for half-hour or so.

A beer and my own cart later, I’m at the driving range with unlimited balls to hit and the chipping and putting area just across the cart path. It was cool to think a hacker like The Great White Shank could be standing and hitting ball in the same exact place as any number of tour pros would be doing at the Waste Management Open. I felt relaxed and then reassured when I didn’t shank or skull the first few pitching wedges I hit to limber up. I felt even better when the first few drives I hit seemed to lack that friggin’ dipsy-do, right-to-left push/slice that had cropped out of nowhere when I played with my Goodboys pal Killer a few weeks ago.

I had been hitting balls for maybe fifteen minutes, just focusing on tempo and slowing down, slowing down, when Aiden, who had been so nice in escorting me to the driving range and showing where everything was, drives up and asks me if I want to get out a little early. Five minutes later, I’m standing on the first tee at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium course placing my orange Wilson 50 on a tee with my playing partners, a couple vacationing from China who spoke no English and some dude with tattoos all over his body just off a place from Vancouver, watching.

The course was absolutely gorgeous, a Tom Weiskopf design that you have to play to believe. A course with every hole laid out so beautifully. No 2,000 yard carries like at the tricked-up Foxwoods course we played during Goodboys weekend this year. Just a thinking man’s course where you can see the entire hole laid out in front of you, look at the little orange ball in your hand, and think about how best to get said ball into said hole in four or five strokes. The greens were perfect – you didn’t want to be above the hole, ever. And if you were below the hole you still had to give the ball a whack. But they rolled pure from beginning to end. And the sand trap? Like white powder – several of which I found myself in. Unbelievable.

The first tee has been a problem for me all this year.
This time I slammed a drive center-cut 230 yards smack-dab in the middle of the fairway.
We were off.

But this is The Great White Shank standing in the fairway, just 111 yards from the green. I grab my 9-iron and try and focus on taking an easy swing. I yank it 20 yards right, one bounce off a hill, and into someone’s back yard. Took a drop, chip and two putts for a double-bogey 6.

The Great White Shank can play double-bogey golf in his sleep.

But it was the triple bogey blues that got me on #s 2, 3, and 5. Three putts on two and three after chunking a 5-iron on #2, skulling a 5-wood OB on #3 (after another beautiful drive, no less), and on #5 after my drive trickled into a big and beautiful fairway bunker ending up just under the lip. All I could do was laugh at where it ended up and try and power it out backwards. Which I did, but then, after a majestic 7-iron fade to twenty feet, ol’ Mr. “Three Wiggle” got me again. But it couldn’t have been any more fun. You could just see the grins on our faces as we tried to navigate our way into good positions on each hole. It was golf the way it should be – multiple ways to play each hole, choose your risk and reward. In some ways it reminded me of two of my favorite courses, Passaconaway and Portsmouth – courses with character and your challenge laid our right in front of you.

I made a few mistakes out there, left (I’m guessing) six strokes out there, putted really poorly – 22 putts. But overall, it was just an enjoyable round. Finished bogey-bogey-bogey the last three holes which was very satisfying. The sun was setting low and the last 100-degree day of the year was working its way towards dusk. The Pinot Grigio in the Toro lounge afterwards tasted great as I drank in one of the great golf experiences of my life. Would have been nice to play 18 and the stadium par 3 #12 (without the stadium, which is put up and taken down every year), but nine holes was good enough. And a fantastic Mexican restaurant at the Princess was waiting.

I’ve still got a lot of work to do to get to a 20-handicap – besides working on that 3/4 swing my Goodboys pal “The Funny Guy” keeps encouraging me to do, I’ve got some work to do on the angle of my take-away and getting it less flat. But the short-game tip Killer gave me a few weeks ago is really paying off, and I’m confident my putting is going to come around. Sure, my handicap now stands at a whopping 27.5 (!) but I’m confident that with work 7 1/2 strokes isn’t going to be that hard to shave off.

But that’s my goal: 7 1/2 strokes. Whenever I can whittle them down. Could take me a year, could take me two. But it’s a nice goal to have. And when I finally achieve it, I’ll look back on an early fall Saturday afternoon at TPC Scottsdale with a sense of wonder and pleasurey. Paired with lodging at the Scottsdale Princess just down the street, it’s a golf destination combo that’s pretty damned hard to beat.

The Golf Quest is on…

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:13 | Comments (0)
July 4, 2018

Days until the 2018 Goodboys Invitational: 16
MyScorecard.com Handicap: 26.0 / Change: (+0.8)
Location: Stonecreek Golf Club
Score: 55 / 54 = 109

July 4th golf in the Valley of the Sun. Get there, get your round in, get out before the afternoon “witching hours” set in. My goal today was to adhere to the same three principles on every shot: 1) take a 3/4 swing; 2) keep my lower body quiet; 3) finish up on my back foot big toe. It’s all about trying to eliminate my tendencies to over-swing and yank the ball with an over-active shoulder turn. While the score wasn’t insignificant, I’m in Goodboys Invitational weekend preparation mode, so it was all about swing and target visualization, taking practice swings, and adhering to the three principles.

By and large, I’m pretty happy with my goal achievement today. While I only hit four fairways all day, there were only two drives I was unhappy with: an over-swing on the par 4 #6 which I pulled into a fairway bunker, and the par 4 #10 where I not only hit my drive, but my mulligan OB into the condos on the left with a big balloon push by not finishing my swing.

What killed me today was – surprisingly – my short game. Which, admittedly, I haven’t worked on at all, but it hadn’t been a problem until today. Today it was a huge problem. The 27 putts weren’t outrageously bad, but the three 3-putts on the back nine didn’t help. To be truthful, I never really gave myself much of a chance on the greens today – my chipping was awful. But it’s not something I’m going to worry about because: a) I was playing around with chipping with an 8-iron in anticipation of the grasses and greens back in New England, and b) I’ll work on my short game in earnest when in back in Massachusetts for Goodboys Week.

What really killed my round was a ghastly stretch of four eights in a span of five holes. On the par 4 #6 it took me two tries to get out of the fairway bunker, then I flared a 9-iron from 122 yards into a greenside bunker on the left, then had to take two tries to get out of that. On the par 5 #7, it took me 5 strokes to get the ball into the hole from 70 yards out. I messed up two chips before three-putting on that devilish green. After bogeying #8, I hit a decent drive on the par 4 #9 that left me 187 yards to the pin from the center of the fairway. Here I hit my first truly awful iron of the day, chunking a 5-iron, then yanking a 7-iron into a greenside bunker right. It took me two tries to get out of that bunker and then three-putting from twelve feet to earn that snowman. And then on the par 4 #10, lying three after my drive and mulligan OB, I chipped out into a good spot, then shanked a 9-iron from 120, then chunked a sand wedge into a greenside bunker.

….Ahh yes, my sand game. It killed me today. How many strokes did it take to get out of the eight – count ’em, eight! – bunkers I ended up in today? If you guessed 14, you’d be right. But seriously, I’m not going to worry about it or even lose sleep over it. And I’m not going to commit myself to standing in a sand trap for two hours on a blazing hot July afternoon to work on my sand game. The easiest way to deal with it is simply to try and avoid them at all cost.

At this point my round could have gone either way, but I regrouped on the ride to the eleventh tee and re-committed myself to what I was trying to do out there. And while my scores didn’t reflect it, I kinda sorta did pull it together the rest of the way in. Outside of the two par 3s – #12 and #15 – where I yanked two five irons into the water right (I do plan on working this out!) – I actually hit a number of quality shots until I got around the green. Threw a lot of strokes away with my short game down the stretch, but my ball-striking was pretty darned good. I hit my 5-wood consistently well all day, and I even tossed in a very aggressive 4-hybrid from 190 yards to twelve feet from the pin. I three-putted for bogey (of course), but the shot was a beauty to behold.

So that’s gonna close out my competitive golf here in the Valley of the Sun until at least November. I’ll probably hit the range to work on my “three principles” a couple of times before heading back, but overall I’m feeling pretty positive about my game. I’m getting more used to the distances on my M2s, and I’m looking forward to working on my short game on good ol’ New England grasses and greens. It’s disappointing to see that I’m back to being a 26-handicap, and I’m still committed to getting myself down to a 20 at some point, but it won’t be this year.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 20:21 | Comments (0)
June 27, 2018

Less than a month from Goodboys Invitational weekend. I’m in regular contact with Foxwoods Hotel & Casino in Connecticut, working out the finer logistical details: checking in, checking out, where our Champions Dinner will be held, shuttles to the Lake of Isles Golf Course, etc. In between, I’m trying to clear my desk of all kinds of work ahead of heading back to Massachusetts on the 14th – there’s training I have to get done, “The Client Who Shall Remain Nameless” keeps on putting demands on both my team and my patience, and there’s all kinds of other work-related stuff going on.

Had a rough outing at Superstition Springs Golf Club last Friday when all kinds of old demons crept back into my game. Part of it was the abysmal setting I was playing golf in – a grandfather teaching his 12-year old granddaughter how to play golf with me trying to offer words of encouragement as best I could while we backed up two groups behind us. By the time I shook them and the foursome in front of me it was just getting way too hot to golf and my attention (and my swing) began to wander. Ended up with a 51+54 for a 105, but it looked a lot worse than that.

My glass of Pinot Grigio wasn’t even half empty when I realized the bad habits I had fallen into, all the signs were there: fat hits, a few yanks, banana slices with the driver. I remembered my last session a couple of years back with my swing coach Alex Black, and the drills forcing me to shift my weight and take a divot in front of the ball. Woulda been nice to recognize that on the field of battle, but no one ever accused The Great White Shank of situational awareness when it comes to his golf swing. Me, I need a little separation from the action. A few years ago, I’d need weeks (if not months) and perhaps a lesson to work these things out; now I’m down to a half glass of white wine on the 19th tee.

Now that’s what I call progress!

Golf is a funny game. Every time you think you got things nailed down it comes back to bit your ass. What separates the good hackers in Goodboys Nation – Skeeta, Killer, The Funny Guy, and Deuce, for instance – from the average to mediocre everyday hackers like the rest of us is that they have a greater self-awareness about their swings; they can feel when they need to gear down and make the necessary adjustments then all of a sudden rip off four or five pars in the next seven or eight holes. I’m obviously not there yet.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not creeping closer, if only in tiny increments. On the front nine at the Springs I was spraying my driver everywhere. On the back nine, I made an adjustment and all of a sudden got the accuracy and distance back that I had been missing the day before at Papago Park. It’s all about weight shift and (for me) a mental picture of keeping my lower body quiet.

And that’s what I’ve been working on at the Kokopelli G.C driving range the past few days – crawling out of the abyss and getting back to the fundamentals of weight shift and keeping my lower body quiet. It was brutally hot out there today, me being the only one on the range. On days like this, where the temps are 110 or higher, you just get in, work on what has to be worked on, and make tracks to the A/C in your car. But I love the solitude of the range, playing games in my mind with where I want to place the ball and seeing how close I can get it.

Sometimes I wonder how long I’ll be able to hit balls at the range. My logical mind says I’ve got another twenty years or so of ball-hitting ahead of me, but you never know, do you? So I try to get the most out of my time there: if the mourning doves and foo-foo birds are making a ruckus I’ll talk to them. I don’t care what the “professionals” in their Titleist gear and designer golf clothes think. If a sudden breeze comes up to rustle the palms or stir the pine trees lining the first fairway I’ll stop and just listen for a minute. I like it like that. Not today, though – it was too damned hot to waste time.

I think I’m going to play this weekend and then next weekend and that will be a wrap ahead of my Massachusetts return for Goodboys Week. Maybe my handicap trend is four points higher than I wanted it to be by this time, but I think I’m in a good place – an even better place than I was last year. I’ve great clubs, enjoy working on my fundamentals, and am looking forward to (hopefully) surprising some people.

That’s where The Great White Shank is right now.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 18:48 | Comment (1)
June 21, 2018

Days until the 2018 Goodboys Invitational: 28
MyScorecard.com Handicap: 25.4 / Change: (+0.2)
Location: Papago Golf Course
Score: 45 / 50 = 95

Just to be clear, I’m not talking Charles Manson’s ghastly definition of “Helter Skelter”, I’m talking about Paul MCartney’s when he wrote that deep track classic for The Beatles’ “White Album” of 1968 – which is the Brit term for a roller coaster. How Charlie could have gotten it so wrong is beyong anyone’s guess, but that’s a discussion for another time.

I mean, how else does one describe a round that begins with not one, but two chip-in birdies to start, three holes in the back spent in the wilderness going triple bogey / quad bogey / triple bogey featuring a whiff and not one, but two shanks, then turning it back around to finish the round bogey / bogey / before a closing par on the #2 rated hole on the course? That, my compadres is a roller-coaster round for the ages.

Papago Golf Course is located only five minutes away from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, but you’d never know it – I think it’s actually on either Indian reservation land or land used by the Arizona National Guard – but its 18 holes winds its way through eucalyptus trees and desert scrub with views of some truly lovely buttes. For my money, it’s driving range is the most picturesque I’ve ever hit balls at. It’s usually my go-to spot for working on my game, but this year they’re building a clubhouse to replace the trailers, with a restaurant and patio that will overlook the 1st and 10th tees, so the range, chipping area, and putting green are temporarily gone, replaced by a construction staging area. Once everything re-opens this fall, I look forward to having an after-practice beverage or two on the clubhouse patio – it’s really going to be a thing of beauty.

I don’t recall the course being in as great a shape as it was today when I played nine holes one Friday many years ago. At that time I thought it was all kind of scrubby and claustrophobic with balls from adjacent fairways flying everywhere. Not today – the fairways were lush, the greens perfectly smooth and medium-fast in terms of speed. And with the temperatures already around the century mark when I teed off at 10 AM, the place was nearly empty. As it was, I played 18 holes by myself, and did it in 2 1/2 hours – the way golf should be played!

Without a practice facility there was no opportunity to warm up, so I took a couple of practice swings, stretched my back out a bit, placed an orange ball on the tee and promptly whacked one down the middle of the fairway. Hole #1 is a dog-leg par 5 that rounds a small pond. I had a great lie for a 5-wood, but I chunked my 5-wood (the first of several on the day – bad, bad 5-wood!), leaving me 180 to the pin. Grabbed my 5-iron and tattooed it, leaving me pin-high and short-sided, with a downhill, 20-foot chip to the pin. Which I promptly drained for birdie. Not a bad way to start.

On #2, a short par 4 of 311 yards, I put my second drive in the middle of a very narrow fairway, leaving me 94 yards to the hole. I yanked a sand wedge (shades of things to come) right of the green with a chip of perhaps five yards to the green with the pin uphill twenty feet from the fringe. And damned if I didn’t chip it in for a second birdie. I’ve done a lot of things in my golf life, but I’ve never walked to the third at -2 without a single registered putt. “Don’t get cocky, kid” I said to myself as I drove to the third hole.

After that blazing start I hopped a ride on the double-bogey train for a few holes as I found greenside bunkers on 3, 4, and 5. I’d never had to hit my sand wedge out of a real sand trap before, and it had been over six months since I’d ever put my golf shoes into golf course sand, so I was rusty. Took two to get out of the sand on #3, but I figured things out after that – and good thing, I would have plenty of opportunities.

I was starting to lose my driver after the second hole and fighting the yanks with both my driver and my irons. Nothing I tried to stop the over-swinging worked. Fortunately, my short game was, and it kept me in the round thereafter. I double-bogeyed both par 5s on #9 and #10, wasting two halfway-decent but short drives with chunked 5-woods. Not sure why I was so poor with the 5-wood today, guess I’m going to have to figure that out before I play for a second day in a row tomorrow – say, that’s redundant, isn’t it?

I temporarily righted the ship on #11, a par 3 requiring a 140-yard carry over a pond, stiffing a 6-iron that went over the pin, leaving me 15-feet for my birdie – not a great time for my first three-putt of the day. Things got even better on the short par 4 #12 where a decent-enough drive left me only 95 yards to the pin. I came off a sand wedge – hit it really poor – but chipped to one foot for a tap-in par.

Then the wheels fell off. Just like that.

Big push OB left off the #13 tee, then after a decent penalty drive, I couldn’t hit an iron to save my life. Poor chip, two putts, triple bogey. I quadruple-bogeyed the next hole as a result of some truly poor course management, for like the thousandth time violating the rule “when you get into trouble, get out of it”. There was a eucalyptus tree between me and the pin. Shoulda taken my medicine and just hit it out to the right, but thought I had a look to the left. Tried to get cute and whiffed my second shot. Third shot banged off the tree, and, well, that’s how you end up with a snowman on a 110-degree day. On the par 5 #15, I yanked a drive into the scrub right, and this time took my medicine. But once again, I chunked a 5-wood back into the scrub, and four shots later (two shanked) I dragged my double-bogeyed ass to the 16th tee.

It was getting hot, but I stayed cool after the last three holes. I hit a decent drive just off the fairway right, then slightly pulled a 3-hybrid 200 yards to just off the green to the right. Decent chip, two-putt for bogey. On the par 3 #17, a long, narrow hole with OB to the left (it was in no danger today!), I pulled the 3-hybrid from my bag and, yes, pulled it ten yards right and just short of the green. A chip and a two-putt later, I had my second bogey in a row. I was grinding, but that’s what The Great White Shank has gotten pretty damned good at (if I do say so myself). On #18, the second hardest-rated hole playing at 441 yards, I hit my best drive of the day long and straight (where did that come from?), leaving me 190 to the pin. I should have taken 5-iron and kept the bunkers protecting the green out of play, but I didn’t, pulling 4-hybrid instead. Luckily, I pushed it a bit, leaving it just in front of a big momma sand trap on the left. Another great chip on a day of great chips left me three feet for par, which I promptly drained.

Without that incredible start, I’d probably be looking at a score right around 100, give or take a stroke or two, so I can’t really be that happy with today’s round. The only thing I did consistently well all day was chip and putt (which is nice, of course), but all that jumping at the ball and over-swinging has got to be rectified before I play Superstition Springs tomorrow, another day where the temp is supposed to hit 110. Papago Golf Course doesn’t protect its greens like the Springs does, so you have to leave yourself in good places off the tee and hit good second shots. If I do there what I did today at Papago it will be a bloodbath. And I’ve got to figure out where the distance on my driver went – I think I’ve gotten into a habit of taking the club back too upright. We’ll see.

At least at the Springs I’ll have the chance to hit a few balls and try and get my s**t together before heading out. I guess it’s a sign of just how far I’ve come in the past fifteen months since rebuilding my swing from the ground up and then all the equipment changes – after all, if I’m saying I need to get my s**t together after shooting a 95 I must be making progress!

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 19:18 | Comments (0)
June 16, 2018

Days until the 2018 Goodboys Invitational: 33
MyScorecard.com Handicap: 25.2 / Change: (-0.7)
Location: Lone Tree Golf Club
Score: 45

We were getting our first monsoon rain of the season when I arrived at Lone Tree Golf Club for my first “real” round to be played since getting my new M2 graphite irons, but from the looks of the parking lot the rain wasn’t keeping folks away on this Father’s Day weekend. When I originally made my tee time two days ago, the course was wide open; now it was packed for pretty much the rest of the day. I guess everyone saw a chance to play in wet (but not too wet) conditions and temperatures only in the 70s. Can’t blame them – that’s December weather out here. There was no starter so I had to try my luck hitching on with a less-than foursome out there, and there weren’t many of those.

I spotted a threesome heading to the first tee, so I curtailed my warm-up after four balls and drove over to meet them. I asked if I could tag along, and for the first time in my memory I was actually asked not to join them, saying they were playing as a memorial to their dad. Pretty bizarre, but I was thinking they might have his ashes on them and were going to find a way to spread them across a course he might have loved to play. At least I’d like to think that was the case. They did point me to a twosome already by the first hole green and allowed me to hit my ball off the tee so I could catch up with them. Which I did, but that lasted only five minutes when their phone rang and they had to quit their round because one of the guy’s wives needed the baby car seat in his truck for her car. I kid you not.

So now I’m left by myself to finish the hole by myself. I’m 156 yards from the hole, grab my 6-iron and leave it just off the green on the right, short-sided and high above the pin. I had spent three hours last Wednesday afternoon over at Superstition Springs Golf Club revamping my chipping game from the ground up and playing with different set-up and address positions, and it paid off when I just barely missed chipping in for birdie. Rushed my short putt and missed it for par, but at least I could get away from the guys in back of me.

I love my M2 5-iron. Easy to hit, ball just jumps off the clubface, every time. With my Callaway Steelheads, my 5-iron was a 170-yard club at best. The #2 hole at Lone Tree was playing 180 yards slightly downhill, pin at the back. My tee ball went 183, landing just off the fringe on the left. Two putts later (one official) I make par. When I get to #4 the hole was empty, so I played away. Thinned my drive, skulled a 5-wood – two really bad shots – but still had only 93 yards to the pin. Not great, because I had short-sided myself once again and above the pin right. I’ve learned with my M2s that a sand wedge, 80 yards with the Callaways, is now 100 yards, so I eased up on a sand wedge and put it exactly where I wanted it. Rolled out more than I thought it would, though, and three putts later I had a double-bogey six. But a good double-bogey, because I’ve really been working hard on my wedge play inside 100 yards. With the M2 and a sand wedge, it’s become a lot easier.

When I reached the par 5 fifth, I see two walkers about three-quarters the way up the hole, so I hit my tee shot – my first really good strike of the day – and then drive up to where they were. Two twelve-year olds just kicking around, one kinda chubby, the other a dead-ringer for the kid in The Sixth Sense. I ask if I can play with them and they said sure. I go back to my tee ball and, not wanting to be a hindrance, rush my 5-wood and skull it forty yards. “Oh brother”, I’m thinking, “these kids will think I’m a hacker.” The chubby kid looks back and says, “Hey mister, take your time, we’re not going anywhere, there are some real hackers in front of us.” So that’s what I did: took my time, focused a little on the task at hand, and crushed my 5-wood with slight fade towards the green. “Wow!” the two kids yell in unison.

Taught them a lesson about how The Great White Shank can play.

We had a great time the rest of the way. The chubby kid was playing from the red tees – he said until he turns thirteen he’s required to do that in order to keep his 18-handicap. He routinely hit the ball 220 yards off the tee. Beautiful, athletic swing. The other kid played from the whites, wasn’t quite as good a player, but he had a nice short game and could putt lights-out. They both played no worse than bogey all the way in. I taught them some Goodboys-style golf with a little bit of trash-talk that they really got into, and we all gave as good as we got. Lots of laughs and a lot of fun. Better yet, they both liked to play quick – something the adult foursome in front of us obviously never heard of.

I double-bogeyed the par 5 fifth, my bogey putt hanging over the lip and refusing to go in, then parred #6 after a solid drive and an eased-off 9-iron from 117 yards that left me for a third time short-sided and above the hole before I almost holed a sand wedge chip. I parred #7 with another solid drive and a 4-hybrid that went 190 yards that left me pin-high but twenty yards off and above the green to the left. My Goodboys 2018 partner “The Funny Guy” Andrusaitis would have been proud to see me chip with an 8-iron (!) that left me twelve feet for par. Which I promptly drained to fist pumps all around.

I made a mental mistake on the par 3 eighth. Normally playing 184 yards, “Uncle Bushnell” had me at 154 yards. With the Callaways, that would be an obvious 6-iron, but I had a sneaky suspicion I could get there with a M2 7, Didn’t trust myself and tried to play an easy 6, but my upper body got ahead of my lower and I yanked it far right, down into a gully. But I’d worked really hard on my short game and made a nice uphill chip with a pitching wedge to six feet. For the second time, I left a putt on the lip. Rocking-chair bogey.

The kids had really gotten into golf Goodboys-style, so we agreed we’d play the final hole for the beverage of choice for whoever had the lowest score. I teed off first and made my worst swing of the day, a big push OB left. Teed it up for my third shot and pulverized it down the middle. It’s always easier the second time, isn’t it? Sixth Sense hooked his drive OB left as well, then pulverized his third shot down the middle. The chubby kid hit his drive of the day, 240 yards, leaving him just 180 yards to the pin. He had a great game all around so me and Sixth Sense were out of it. But that didn’t stop me from crushing a 5-wood to 93 yards, then easing off another sand wedge that bounced twice just before the green and rolled to eight feet from the pin. My putt rolled around the cup and bounced out for a double-bogey. But it would have been one hell of a bogey. The chubby kid hit his second shot to twelve feet and left his eagle putt short.

The kids were getting picked up by their dad, and I was going to be sandwiched between two foursomes, so I called it an early day. The sun was breaking out and it felt Florida-humid, so getting off the course just after noon wasn’t going to be a bad thing. But I accomplished what I wanted to: continue to validate the distances of the M2s and work on my tempo. I felt a move with my driver on #7 that I tried to replicate on #9 that I want to practice on a bit more.

Overall, it was a good round. Four fairways hit, 15 putts, three-for-three in hitting the green from less than 100 yards out. No greens in regulation (which was disappointing), but it gave me a chance to practice the chipping game changes I’d been working on. I’m feeling very confident in my game, and with just over a month before Goodboys Invitational weekend, I feel my game is rounding into shape nicely.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 19:27 | Comments (0)
June 9, 2018

First round of golf since December, and so much has changed. I’ve got the new TaylorMade M2s in the bag, Superstition Springs Golf Club has allowed most of the ponds to go dry and – especially on the 9th hole which used to have water all down the left side – replaced them with what I think are ultimately going to be waste areas filled with native grasses and flowers, and I’m anxious to see what kind of game I have.

Yanked my drive off the tee into a sand bunker, but had no trouble getting out with my 8-graphite, leaving me with a chip just off the green and a putt from 5 feet for a par. I’m thinking, here we go, baby!

Err, not so fast. Not the greatest drive on #2, but good enough to leave me 180 yards to the pin. The play here is not to get snookered into going for the green, because anything left is close to OB or short-siding you with a slippery downhill chip or putt. I choose my 5-iron, planning to leave it 30 yards to the right with a short, uphill approach with plenty of green to work with. I catch it good. But I’m not 30 yards short right, I’m 5 yards past pin-high to the right. 185 yards with a 5-iron. I’m stunned. Of course, haven’t spent much time on my short game, so I proceed to butcher the hole and end up with a six. But that’s OK, I’ll take that six and head to the next tee.

Ah, the next tee is the Springs’ first par 3. Normally 170 to the center, today it was tucked as far back and right as it could be, 180 yards with water right and behind, a large bunker protecting the approach. Back in the Callaway Steelhead days, this was a 5-iron all the way: don’t pull the hybrid because it’s just too unpredictable; instead, play it safe with a 5-iron and leave it just short off the green to the front. I pulled the 5-iron, but it’s way longer than I ever expected to hit a five; instead of nestling into the sand bunker, it’s over the bunker and in the water right. I pull a six-graphite to play my penalty, and it lands 170 yards just left of the green. This is uncharted territory for me – with my Steelheads I would figure my six to play at the most 155. So now I’m facing the prospect of having to gear down at a minimum one, perhaps even two less clubs with my M2 graphites.

And that’s how the rest of the round went: just feeling my way around, hitting clubs for distances I’d never dreamed of. A 7-iron that carried 150 yards. A sand wedge I grabbed for 105 yards and hit it pretty damned close to that distance. On #7, I pulled a six-graphite with 158 to the pin and hit it 172. On #9 I had 180 to the pin. Normally, that’s a 4-hybrid, but I pulled the 5-graphite instead, felt myself push it a little with a bit of a thin hit; it still went 170.

I wasn’t keeping score, but I figure I ended up around a 52 or something, but that wasn’t the point of the outing: I knew my short game was rusty and that I would need to get to work on that before my first bona fide 18-hole, keeping score outing. I threw away at least a dozen strokes just butchering chips and finesse shots from 40 yards or less out. But these new M2s are real, baby. Or rather, unreal in the distance improvement I’m seeing. I remember feeling that the 7-irons I was hitting back at the Golf & Ski looked like they were traveling lot longer than my usual 7-iron, but until you put the clubs under real playing conditions you just don’t know.

Now I know. And they do.

Next step is to get to work on my chipping and prepare for my first honest-to-goodness, every shot counts outing. Now that I have a general idea of what to expect from these new graphites, you can bet I’ll approach my yardages with a different club in mind than what I’ve been used to, like, forever. It’s the absolute coolest thing.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 20:38 | Comments (0)
April 11, 2018

Good Friday. Everyone at work had bailed by the time my afternoon nap following six very hard hours of work was over. I looked at the clock, saw I had plenty of time to hit a bucket of balls down the street at Kokopelli G.C. and still have time to go over to Lowe’s to arrange the install the last of the plantation shutters in our master bedroom. So that’s what I did.

The Kokopelli G.C. range was mobbed – doesn’t anyone work anymore? – but a guy and his three ghurkins were just finishing up so I grabbed the next to last spot on the left side of the range. A line of scruby pines on a hillside separating the range from the first fairway were filled with the pleasing sounds of cooing mourning doves and squawks and squeaks from a group of comical foo-foo birds. 70s disco music was obviously the choice of the day, and the likes of Donna Summer and Kool and the Gang mixed with the whooshes of fat hits, thin hits, and on-the-screw hits by folks of all ages. I paid for a large bucket with the intent of working on the Paula Creamer wide, low, and slow takeaway that she does so well and walked out into hazy blue skies, a warm sun and the emerald green of the range. I dumped the bucket of balls on the grass by my bag, stashed my wallet and keys, donned my sunglasses and glove, and began working through my session.

Right away I was struggling with my irons, lots of fat hits, then pulled a muscle in my lower abdominal but still kept flailing away. This was my third time out on the range since my three-month sabbatical, and the excuse of needing to “shake the rust off” was getting old, and fast. I didn’t feel comfortable with any of the swings I was making, so about halfway through the bucket I took a break and enjoyed a cold Pacifico.

In the spot next to me was (I’m guessing) a father and teenage son who were sharing a large bucket between them before heading out for a late afternoon nine. The father looked to me like a dead-ringer for Johnny Miller; his son, like most teenagers these days, could hit it a country mile. Unfortunately for him, that meant a country mile anywhere. Curiously (I could tell from their discussion), the son’s bag was filled with half brandy-new PXGs and half brandy-new Pings – high-end weaponry, for sure – and he’d smack a few with one, then smack a few with the other.

It wasn’t just the father’s looks that reminded me of Johnny Miller, it was his verbal demeanor and his obvious knowledge of the game. He didn’t push his son on anything, just offered up helpful advice while taking swings that were gorgeous to watch in terms of style and tempo. He was trying to convince his son (tell me if you’ve heard this before!) to take a little off and stay within himself. “You hit the ball a ton but you’re jumping out of your shoes”, he says. He quoted some Jack Nicklaus book (now I’m rolling my eyes) but encouraged his son to “swing your swing, not someone else’s” – something I thought to be fairly ironic, given what I out there trying.

The father then had his son do something that caught my attention. He used his smart phone to video his son launch a 5-iron over the netting on the far side of the range towards the area where the putting green, chipping area, and 18th green all kind of coalesce together, then asked his son to set up normally and take swings without a ball being there. The son, being the teenager he was, of course protested, telling his dad his idea was stupid, but there was no arguing with his father and the smartphone. I guess comparing the two swings must have resulted in a “come to Jesus” moment for the son (and why not, it being Good Friday!), because starting with the next ball, his swing and footwork all of a sudden became much more controlled. “Nice swing”, said the father, “swing as if the ball isn’t there and you’ll be more than fine.” While the son still hit it a country mile, the change in accuracy and consistency was nothing less than amazing. He didn’t like the whole idea of swinging in a more controlled fashion, but he sure couldn’t argue with the results.

In the meanwhile, I finished my bucket feeling fairly disenchanted and disheartened – not to mention hurting from my pulled abdominal muscle. Driving out of the parking lot, I decided then and there the next time I hit the range I wasn’t going to try and mimic anyone else’s swing but my own. But what exactly was my swing? I decided that whatever swing came out of me naturally would be the swing I would try to commit myself to going forward. I had built my own swing from the ground up last spring (slightly strong grip, irons slightly closed at address with a fairly upright take-away, hybrids and woods square-faced, the take-away flatter than the irons), and that was the swing I would return to and commit to as my own.


Holy Saturday. My abdominal muscle was feeling much better, and having finished a lunch of Mexican food and a margarita, then looked in on my sister-in-law Tam’s rabbits, I had a few hours to kill before suppertime. My clubs were still in the trunk from the previous day, so I figured I’d head over to my old haunts at Superstition Springs Golf Club and check the driving range out there. Again, it was pretty busy, but I grabbed a slot on the far right side of the range, dumped the bucket of balls on the grass by my bag, stashed my wallet and keys, donned my sunglasses and glove, and grabbed a pitching wedge out of my bag. I didn’t try to mimic anyone’s swing (sorry Paula!), I just did what felt most comfortable and natural.

The first couple were dead pulls, but I then remembered what the father had told his son the day before about swinging as if the ball wasn’t there. And all of a sudden, everything seemed to fall into place. All of a sudden, I was in mid-season form. All of a sudden, all of the confidence I had been lacking in my swing were a thing of the past. My irons became crisper, and my hybrids much more under control and consistent. And whenever I started over-swinging my driver (a tendency I’ll probably always have) I’d take a practice swing without a ball and then replicate that swing and realize quality results. As for Paula, I could keep her putting set-up and stroke (something I’ve grown very comfortable and confident with), but everything else would be home-grown, Great White Shank style.

I’ve had two range sessions since that Holy Saturday session at “the Springs”, and I feel like I’m in a really good place. My confidence is sky-high, and with a little more short-game work I’ll be ready to “take it to the course” for the first time in 2018. Lots of folks go to the range to hit balls; more than once I have found that you can learn as much by simply observing what’s going on around you as you can hitting a bucket of balls. I’m not sure who that “Johnny Miller” father figure was, but I can tell you I learned as much from him as I have any pro I’ve worked with in the past. And I’ve finally come to terms with owning up to my swing. Far better embracing the role of expert with your own swing and its limitations than trying to be something (and someone) you’re not.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 23:56 | Comments (0)
December 1, 2017

Days until the 2018 Goodboys Invitational: 232
Handicap: 26.3 / Change: (-0.7)
Location: Superstition Springs Golf Club
Score: 43 / 49 = 92

Best round of the year at “The Springs”, where luck and history have rarely been on The Great White Shank’s side. It was a cloudy and rather cool mid-morning when I arrived at Superstition Springs Golf Club nearly an hour a head of my scheduled tee time. When the starter told me there was a threesome already on the tee that I could join even before I even had a chance to warm up, I took it – after all, I had a Christmas tree to put up later in the day and an upcoming weekend in Las Vegas to pack for. I yanked my driver off the tee but nailed a 5-iron 170 yards to just short of the green (chipped on and two-putted for bogey), so maybe warming up isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The 43 I shot on the front nine was scary good – I made three pars and on the four holes I bogeyed, on each of them I missed the green in regulation from 115, 100, 94, and 83 yards, and ended up two-putting each of them on top of that. If you do the math, breaking 40 wouldn’t have been that hard. That’s how good I was striking the ball. On the back nine, I made four more pars – on the par 4 #10, and then on #s 13-15 (two par 4s and a par 3). Unfortunately, I got sloppy and lost my focus on #s 16-18, making a double bogey and two triples out of pure carelessness. It left a bad taste in my mouth, but it just goes to show I shouldn’t be making out my application to the Champions Tour just yet!

But, like Buffalo Springfield once sang, “something’s happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.” Thinkaboutit: last time out I made a all-time record six pars along with three bogeys; today, on a tougher Superstition Springs track I broke that record with seven pars along with five bogeys. That, my friends, is playing golf, and not the typical “Great White Shank” kind of golf I’m used to. The difference today from even last week was my ball-striking – I hit five of nine greens in regulation opportunities, hit the 5-iron as good as I’d ever hit it, and, in fact, felt very confident hitting all my clubs. I also hit quality shots with my 5-wood and 4-hybrid whenever I needed to, and the work I’ve been putting in on my short game really showed with five one-putts (34 in all). There’s still work to do with those damned short irons, but even on the last two holes en route to those triple bogeys I still dropped pitching wedges from 80 and 72 yards onto the green. So the progress being made is there.

So now it’s off to Las Vegas for a couple of rounds of golf with my Goodboys friend “Doggy Duval” McLaughlin, and after that I’m taking a long break – 2-3 months at the very least with all the work to do around the house. I’ve worked incredibly hard on my golf game this year and feel as if I’ve started to turn the corner and putting all that hard work to good use on the course.

We’ll be reporting back after “Viva Las Vegas, baby!”

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 16:28 | Comments (0)
November 25, 2017

Days until the 2018 Goodboys Invitational: 239
Handicap: 27.0 / Change: (-0.3)
Location: Trilogy Golf Club at Power Ranch
Score: 50 / 51 = 101

Pars – 6
Bogeys – 3

I know what you’re thinking: how is it someone who shoots +3 over nine holes – +3! – can’t break 100 for eighteen? Well, it’s easy:

Triples – 3
Quads – 3

When you shoot +21 over the span of six holes it’s pretty easy. Which pretty much explains the strangest round I think I’ve ever played. I’d been doing some quality work on my game since my return from Massachusetts a few weeks ago. Tried to focus more on staying on top of the ball in my take-away (i.e., no swaying) and staying behind the ball in my downswing (keeping my upper body quiet). I’d also changed my set-up at address and my ball position when chipping around the green, going to a slightly-more open stance and moving the ball from just off my back foot to the middle position. In both cases I think it showed in parts of my performance today, though most certainly not all. Notably, I did have four one-putts, which showed the improvement in my short game even though there were some hiccups along the way.

To say today’s performance was erratic is an understatement. With just a few exceptions I don’t feel I hit the ball particularly well all day, and a lack of focus and commitment to shots absolutely killed me. On the par 4 #2 after a solid drive left me only 110 yards to the pin I shanked a 9-iron into an adjoining back yard. On the next hole, the par 5 #3, after a solid drive and a halfway-decent 5-wood left me 150 yards to the pin, I chunked my 5-iron into a fairway bunker, yanked a pitching wedge way right, then took four strokes to get it in the hole for a rocking-chair nine. On the par 3 #4, a slightly-pulled 6-iron dribbled into the greenside bunker. My attempt at getting out caught all ball and sailed off to nowheresville (we never found it), then a crappy chip and two putts left steam coming out of my ears. On the par 4 #16 I hit my worst drive of the day OB, then hit my recovery 5-iron OB across the other side. I then chunked my 7-iron approach…well, you get the picture. And don’t get me started on what happened on #18 after a decent drive. Let’s just say I lost two more balls from 170 out.

But there was some pretty damned fine gold played as well. My drive on the par 4 #5 left me 160 yards to the pin with all kinds of trouble in front of me. I tattooed a 5-iron to sixteen feet and two-putted for par. I followed that up with a par on the next hole, the par 3 #6, smartly (for once!) hitting a 4-hybrid just short of the green then chipping to within a foot. After a triple-bogey on the par 5 #7 (bad drive OB, my only three-putt of the day) I hit a 3-hybrid just left of the par 3 #8 and chipped to less than a foot (short game!!). And then my best set of holes for the day: making pars on the par 5 #14 (solid drive, solid 5-wood, 8-iron from 120 out to ten feet), the par 3 #15 (a thinned 6-iron to ten feet), and the par 4 #16 (270-yard drive – yes, we measured it!), a pushed 9-iron left of the green but another nice chip to two feet). Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep the string going and sandwiched two double-pars on #s 16 and #18 around a solid bogey on the par 5 #17.

Even with those ghastly triples and quads there’s a lot I can take from today’s round. For one thing, my MyScorecard.com handicap is back to going in the right direction. I also hit four greens in regulation (a personal high). I guarantee I’ve never had a round with six pars, like, ever, and it doesn’t matter where you’re playing – Pebble Beach, Trilogy at Power Ranch, or Mrs. Cogswell’s “Executive Pitch n’ Putt” – you make that many pars, you’re doing something right. It’s funny, then, that during all of this, while there were some well-executed shots made along the way, I never felt as if I was striking the ball particularly well. The one thing I did feel today that was different was confidence in my short game and (even if they didn’t all pan out) confidence with my 5-wood and 3- and 4- hybrids. And all of this without much – if any – measure of focus.

The focus thing remains a concern and I don’t know why that is. I’d hit the ball beautifully (at least for me) at the range a couple of days ago and felt really good warming up. But once the round began I had a hard time focusing on making good decisions. Perhaps that’s something I’m never going to change – I’d just like to know why that is. At any rate, I’ll take the round for what it is and be glad for it. I’m clearly making strides, and it’s good to se my short game coming back. That can only help take pressure off of my approach shot and feeling the need to be perfect.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:26 | Comments (0)
October 29, 2017

Days until the 2018 Goodboys Invitational: 260
Handicap: 27.3 / Change: (+1.2)
Location: Pease Golf Course
Score: 59 / 50 = 109
Location: Passaconaway Country Club
Score: 57 / 57 = 114
Location: Portsmouth Country Club
Score: 57 / 50 = 107

I’m wrapping up my visit back to Massachusetts and have been fortunate to play in some of the nicest fall golf conditions I’ve ever played in. Warm, bright sunny days I could have played in shorts and a summer golf shirt I’d wanted to. And while all three of the outings have been enjoyable, as you can see from the above the quality of golf has left much to be desired. I’ve clearly taken a step back from where I was pre-Goodboys Invitational just a little over three months ago and find myself amidst the worst stretch of golf since I started tracking my scores at MyScorecard.com. Those miserably hot July days of having to shoot in the mid-to-high 80s to lower my handicap beneath 23.4 – I’ve added nearly three strokes – count ’em, three! in just those 3+ months – is just a memory.

It would be one thing if there were a single outstanding area that I’d been struggling with (not getting off the tee, for instance), but the truth is all facets of my game have been leaking, and, depending on the venue, one more than another. For example, just this past week, at Pease Golf Course I couldn’t hit any club anything but thin. Just couldn’t find my tempo and found myself over-swinging at everything. Old habits die hard, and when you’re struggling with all facets of your game, old demons especially. Sure, I sort of turned it around on the back nine with a 50, but that 50 also included four quadruple bogeys and a host of three-putted greens.

The round I played at Passaconaway Country Club last Monday was as bad as I’ve played in I don’t know how many years. The pair of 57s were a display of ugly golf and incredibly sloppy play around the greens. Had a few mist-hits off the tee, but by and large it was my iron play from top to bottom that really killed me. I actually putted the ball pretty well that day, but from one hundred yards in and then around the green I played as poorly as I ever had. Whether it was the yips, lack of focus, poor technique, poor course management, and/or any combination of the three, I was one lost soul out there. It was so bad that during a planned trip to the beach on Friday afternoon I took a detour back to Pease to spend an hour just to work on my irons and my short game. And it was there amidst falling leaves, pumpkins, and some cool Halloween scarecrows that I kinda-sorta think I found a little something.

It’s not, BTW, hard to see how a turn of events like this could occur: I’ve been playing around with my swing all year long and making significant changes to both my swing and my set-up, and I’m suffering from the ramifications. Not so different from a ballplayer who finds himself “in between” while he’s working his way out of a slump. In between working on all the swing changes I’ve neglected my short game to the point where I’ve completely lost my focus and my touch. Mastering and maintaining a short game requires hours of practice and play, and it’s been hard to focus on that aspect of my game while I’ve been implementing these swing changes. Now that I’ve settled on a set-up at address and swing technique I’m both comfortable with and can commit to, I can revisit those other aspects of my game that I’d been ignoring.

It all started to come back together on a lovely, relaxing day at Portsmouth Country Club yesterday with my good Goodboys friend “Killer” Kowalski. While the 107 score wasn’t much to write about, I did get back to driving the ball better off the tee, hitting my irons, and, most importantly, my short irons from 100 yards out or less. Overall, I felt much more comfortable over the ball and found my tempo starting to come back, but sloppy play around the green just continued to kill me.

For me, the big swing changes I’ve been making haven’t been about achieving quick results; it’s about the long term and looking ahead to a time in my life when I’m (God willing) able to play more regular golf. It’s been about standardizing my approach and having a swing that enables me to shoot in the 90s regularly and not having to guess what kind of swing is going to show up on any given day. While it’s true I didn’t expect my game to take the kind of dip it has, it has been the right thing to do, and I’m at the point now where I can revisit my short game. To that end, a reach out to my swing coach Alex Black is in order while I continue to refine the Paula Creamer “Pink Panther” swing I’ve adopted. I’m hoping I can look back and see this past week as the time where my handicap bottomed out and see it starting to decrease as fast as it has increased.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 08:01 | Comments (0)


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