September 4, 2017

It felt kind of funny as I took a couple of practice swings at the Papago Golf Course driving range for the first time since Goodboys Invitational weekend. It had been a little over a month since I’d even looked at my clubs, and the swings I was taking felt awkward and unnatural to me, but I was embarking on a new journey swing-wise – one far different than the swing I had patched together for Goodboys weekend.

And patched together was the word for it. Ever since I started getting the itch back to hit golf balls again, I’d been doing a lot of thinking about my golf swing and re-reading the blog posts from the weeks leading up to Goodboys Invitational weekend. And, truth be told, while I still think I struck the ball better that weekend than I had ever done in any Goodboys Invitational weekend prior, the fact remained that I went into the weekend without my 5-wood and hybrids as reliable weapons, and it killed me. I mean, how right can your swing be if it doesn’t translate to all the clubs in your bag? Not to mention the fact that I had played lousy the Tuesday before Goodboys weekend at Green Meadow and only “found” my driver the next day while playing nine holes at Trull Brook. So whatever I was able to patch together for this year’s Goodboys weekend still left more than a little room for improvement.

As folks who frequent this blog know, I’ve always been a huge fan of LPGA golfer Paula Creamer. She’s sexy and adorable, but a fierce competitor with a swing that’s just drop-dead gorgeous. Fellow Goodboy “Killer” Kowalski thinks her swing plane is too flat on takeaway – and I can see where he’s coming from – but I love-love-love the way she goes down and gets it on her downswing. Look at her wide stance with the driver and the way and how early her back foot comes up as she drives through the ball. I also like the way her knees are bent at address – she seems to have a better weight distribution on her feet than I typically do. But what I really like most is her tempo, and how long her swing is to generate the power she seems to get without swinging hard. Taken together, since I really don’t have a swing I can call my own at the present time, why not start from scratch and see how it goes?

And so that’s what I decided to do upon my return to the range for the first time since Goodboys Invitational weekend. I was hoping to hear an announcer say over the loudspeaker, “And now, for his first appearance since his runner-up performance in the 2017 Goodboys Invitational: Doug “The Great White Shank” Richard!” But alas, there was none, and no one seemed to notice my arrival. But I felt different: I had worked hard on my swing prior to Goodboys weekend and had seen first-hand the results of all that hard work. I knew if I had to, I’d find the swing I had six weeks ago and try and fine-tune from there, but there would still be that issue with the 5-wood and the hybrids, so I felt a certain sense of freedom in trying a different kind of swing simply for the hell of it.

I took a lot of practice swings without a ball in front of me – far more than I would normally – because I wanted to try and get my footwork right. If there’s one thing I’ve learned these past few years, a good golf swing is built from the ground up, not the bottom down. It felt totally alien to me, but I was content simply with trying something different. The first few 8-irons I tried hitting were all topped as I tried to get the timing down: it was clear I would have to slow my swing down in order to get it right. But once I did, I was pretty darned happy with the results. One of the things I wanted to fix immediately from my Goodboys Invitational swing was to eliminate the slightly-closed club face at address I was using and keeping during my very upright take-away. I know it was kinda-sorta working for me, but I also knew in the back of my mind that all I was doing was cheating. So getting the club face back to neutral at address and then mimicking Paula’s down-swing also meant putting a premium on not jumping at the ball; if I did it was a big pull to the right.

For this first range session all I wanted to do was hit 8-iron, 6-iron, 4-hybrid, and 5-wood. If it didn’t work I’d call it a day and just go back to working more on what I was doing before Goodboys my next time out. So after a bunch of 8s, I dropped down to my 6-iron. Once again, while there were more than a few sculls as I tried to find the right tempo, I finally got it down and really enjoyed the higher trajectory I was getting from having my club properly set at address. The day wasn’t too hot, so I grabbed a water and took a few moments to look at a new set of high clouds coming in from the southwest from Tropical Storm Lidia before heading on to my 4-hybrid and 5-wood:

The moment of truth had arrived. My hybrids had been a mystery to me prior to Goodboys Invitational weekend but there were times I really needed to hit them during that weekend and they cost me strokes. I was hoping this new swing approach might result in something different. I took a bunch of practice swings, again to get my timing and footwork down, then dropped a ball. A big hit, long and straight followed by a pull, a push, a scull, but then another monster hit straight. What I noticed more than anything else – once again – was the trajectory I got when I caught it good. Higher and softer-landing than anything I could ever remember hitting since I got these clubs. And the same thing was true with the 5-wood: three swings that went boom-boom in the zoom-zoom room with the same lovely, high trajectory I’d suddenly got addicted to seeing scattered around a couple of sculls and pushes where I didn’t get the timing right.

For me, it’s now all about results, the predictable kind. Follow the axiom and you’ll get the desired results. Go off the reservation in any way and the results become unpredictable. I’m not 100% sold on the Paula Creamer swing yet, but let’s just say I’m very intrigued by it. It’s going to take a bit of work, but starting this weekend I think I’ll try to hit balls on a weekly basis to try and further refine the footwork and the timing this new swing requires. But if in the end it means finding my hybrids and 5-wood, it would be make me one happy dog, fer shure! I’m having a lot of fun trying something different, but it’s only because of all the work I had put in this year leading up to Goodboys Invitational weekend that makes taking the risk and diving head-first into a different pool – at least swing-wise – worthwhile.

It will be interesting to see where this ends up taking me.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:27 | Comments (0)
August 25, 2017

It was two weekends ago while watching the PGA Championship that I felt it: the first itch to get back out there and start hitting balls. And that itch only got a little bigger while watching the ladies compete for the Solheim Cup last weekend. I was actually thinking about hitting balls this weekend, but the temps are going to be back up around 110, and the spirit is just not willing enough to have to lube up with sunscreen in order to do it. Instead I’ll work on hose organizing in air-conditioned comfort!

But the feeling is there, and I’ve already started figuring out what I want to work on when I get back out there. I’ve had enough time since Goodboys Invitational weekend to reflect back on my play that weekend, and I have to say that, unlike other years where if I played kind of well I wasn’t exactly sure why I did and when I didn’t I wasn’t able to diagnose the reasons why, this year all the work I put in the two months prior made a huge difference. Could I have played better? Sure. But there were times both Saturday and Sunday where, unlike in the past I would fold my tent and collapse after hitting a rough stretch, this year I was largely able to work my way through them. I made some mistakes managing my way around on both days, but I feel I struck the ball better than I had at any Goodboys Invitational weekend before. So I’ve got a good place to start from.

Of course, what lost it for our team (“Skeeta” Clark and me) was my putting, which was as atrocious throughout the weekend as it has been throughout the year. We finished second by five strokes; I three-putt six greens on Sunday and four-putt another. As they say, do the math. I’m not exactly sure why my putting has gotten so bad, but I’m very certain about not being willing to work on it. Sure, I could traipse over to the Kokopelli Golf Club putting green ten minutes from my house and practice putting for an hour every day for the rest of my life, but every golf course has different greens and different speeds, so I’m not sure what exactly that would get me.

Much more important in my view is trying to get my 5-wood and my 3- and 4-hybrids figured out. Those are the clubs that on par 5s and long par 4s can get me closer to approach shot range, and with shorter irons. I think I’ll give them one more try at the range and if they still don’t cooperate I’ll send up a flare to my swing instructor Alex Black and see if he can diagnose what’s going on. And, of course, I need to improve my short iron play. While I hit a number of good shots from 120 yards out during Goodboys weekend, I know that’s an area that could still see some improvement. Because, going forward it’s all about hitting fairways and greens, and greens in regulation.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my goal over the next year is to try and lop six strokes off my handicap so that I’m somewhere around an 18 by next year’s Goodboys Invitational. Hitting more greens in regulation would take the pressure off of my short game and putter, so making better swings with the 5-wood, hybrids, and short irons could (emphasis on “could”) take the pressure off my putter and allow me to post better scores.

Not sure exactly when I’ll get back out there again, but hopefully it will be soon because the itch is back.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:40 | Comments (0)
July 28, 2017

It was all the way back on May 25th that my formal prep for this year’s Goodboys Invitational began. My new bag, flush with new clubs still smarting from a month’s worth of range sessions designed to familiarize myself with my new gear and retool my swing from the bottom up (literally – I began with working on my footwork and weight shift without balls and worked my way up!), was strapped to the back of a golf cart at Superstition Springs Golf Club, and from that point all the work I had put in at the range started being applied in real golf settings. As I’ve mentioned before in this forum, there’s a vast difference between hitting balls at a driving range and playing golf. While you’re still hitting balls, it’s an entirely different thing altogether. One is about grooving a swing, the other is about scoring and putting that little white ball (in my case, orange) in that little round hole in as few swings as possible.

From the very start, my focus was on ball-striking: my irons first and my driver second. Everything else came after that, and I went into this year’s Goodboys weekend under no misconceptions that every facet of my game would be in place. As they say about the baseball season, what I’m attempting to do golf-wise is a marathon, not a sprint, and there was simply not enough time to work on everything. Which was OK – my goal really didn’t have anything to do with winning, or even competing, at the Goodboys Invitational. It was all about building a swing I could rely on that would enable me to enjoy my later years hitting balls and playing golf without worrying about shanking the ball and fighting my swing from day to day.

After the debacle in Vegas last March, where for two days straight all I did was hit shanks with my irons OB left and yank my driver OB right, I knew I had reached a defining moment. Golf had ceased to be fun, and I was more than willing to give the sport up if I couldn’t prevent that kind of thing from happening, not just on a regular basis, but ever. Having my clubs stolen shortly thereafter gave me a new reason to start from nothing and build a new swing from scratch. Not from my swing coach Alex Black, not from that February 2015 GOLF Magazine article by Hunter Mahan I had used, then tossed aside, then used again last year – this was going to be my swing built from scratch by me. Sure, I borrowed liberally from both of these sources (the ideas were too good!), but my main goal was to create a swing that I myself owned, not borrowed from someone or someplace else.

The whole issue as I saw it came down to ball-striking, and the need to hit down on my irons crisply and compress the ball. Reduce the fat hits, reduce the thin hits, and make the kind of contact that caused the ball to jump off the center of the club face. Of course, in order to do that I had to improve my footwork and weight shift, then work on eliminating bad habits I had accumulated over the years, like jumping at the ball and over-swinging. It took a lot of buckets of balls and a lot of trial and error, but two weeks before Goodboys Invitational week it all started to come together in the nick of time.

And the same was true with my driver off the tee. I played with all kinds of alignments and strategies for hitting the ball the way I wanted to, and it was only during the Wednesday of Goodboys week during a twilight nine-hole outing on the back side of Trull Brook that I felt it fall into place. And while I had my share of mis-hits during Goodboys invitational weekend (what 24-handicap wouldn’t?) I felt I drove the ball fairly consistently throughout the weekend, to the point where on numerous occasions where my short game would fail me and I’d three-putt for double or triple bogey I could forget about it and pound a decent drive off the next tee. So in both of those primary areas of concern, all the balls in all the buckets in all that sun and dust and heat and dripping sweat made all the difference, giving me a great foundation to build upon when I pick it all up again.

And it was that foundation that enabled me to persevere even when things seemed to go awry. I went into this year’s Goodboys Invitational weekend a 24-handicap and came out of it the same. But unlike other years, where I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing right when I played well and likewise when I didn’t, this year I went in with a plan and executed it from the first ball I hit at the range on Friday until the last putt dropped on Sunday. It didn’t always work (that’s obvious!) but I never deviated from my swing nor my strategy – even when things got shaky like on holes 5-8 and 14-15 at Segregansett on Saturday and the first three holes at Triggs Memorial on Sunday. That’s the thing I’m most proud of.

So where do I go from here? Well, I’ll be taking a nice month off from the driving range and the course. The clubs will get a nice bath this coming weekend, and then they’ll have the month of August off (at the very least) before I head back out again in preparation for (hopefully) some fall golf in San Diego at The Crossings and again back home in New England (can someone say, Portsmouth Country Club?) that I have planned.

There’s still work to do, that’s for sure. It was embarrassing how badly I hit my 5-wood and my hybrids, and I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to go about trying to figure them out. If worse comes to worse I could schedule a session with Alex, or I could try to figure it out all out by myself, but either way I’ve got to learn how to hit those clubs consistently. Not that I needed much evidence to the contrary, but this past weekend’s play hammered home the fact that it’s difficult, if near impossible, to shoot the kind of scores I want to shoot (90-95) if I can’t hit those clubs. It’s also painfully obvious I need to work on my putting and chipping more – something I’ll be doing whenever I kick things back into gear. Whether you’re talking about golf in Arizona, or California, or New England, I need to do a better job on and around the greens, and that all starts with continuing to improve my iron play. Hitting more greens in regulation would take the pressure off of my short game and putter, so henceforth GIR will be added to the stats I keep whenever I play alongside fairways hit and putts attempted. It’ll be a challenge, but a fun one at that!

Being a 18-handicap sounds kinda nice, and it’s something I think is achievable, even at my age and with my abilities. We all need that carrot hanging from that stick, so that will be my goal for next year’s Goodboys Invitational weekend: going in as a 18-handicap. Whether I make it or not is not the point – everyone’s got to have a goal to shoot for, and that’s mine. Whether I achieve that goal or not isn’t the point, however – I’ve already achieved what I set out to do when I started this whole thing three months ago. It’s all about putting in the work, and it’s something I’ve enjoyed doing and look forward to doing more of.

Now back to your regular Goodboys Nation weblog programming.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 09:19 | Comments (0)
July 24, 2017

And so another Goodboys Invitational is in the books.

First of all, the good news: by and large, all the hard work I’d put in over the past two months paid off “bigly” – I drove the ball fairly well and pretty consistently throughout the weekend. My ball-striking with my irons was also consistent throughout the weekend – the most important thing, in my humble opinion. For what seems like forever I would dread any long iron shot or par 3 over crap that came along, afraid that I would chunk it into the junk or shank it and and thereby send me off on a one-way ticket to Nowhereville for the rest of the day (if not the entire weekend). Not this year, daddy-o, not after all the hours I put in in the heat and the dust of a Phoenix summer. No, for the first time in my Goodboys Invitational career I attacked with my irons fearlessly. Sure, I got into trouble with some yanks and over-swings, but I pulled irons out of my bag with abandon throughout the weekend – something I was committed above anything else to do. In that regard the weekend was an unqualified success and something to build upon.

The bad news, and the honest-to-God truth was, I give away the Goodboys Invitational championship, and did it in the worst way possible, as my short game (especially my putting) completely left me on Sunday and in turn let my team down. Was it akin to the infamous “cheap bridge table collapse” of the “Killer” Kowalski and “Gaylord” Perry team at Killington in 1993, where, with the Spielberg Memorial Trophy seemingly in the bag with seven holes to play, allowed yours truly and “The Funny Guy” Andrusaitis to win in improbable fashion? No, but it was pretty bad.

I know what you’re thinking: that’s like saying, “So, apart from that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” But that’s getting ahead of things. Let’s first walk through the entire weekend just so y’all’s clear on just how much of a success it was for The Great White Shank, regardless of how events played out.

On Friday the Goodboys gathered at Agawam Hunt Club in Providence. A nice course, perfect for a Goodboys Invitational opening round. Wide fairways, generous landing areas, fast but consistent greens – similar to what I’m used to here in the Valley of the Sun. I had told my Goodboys pal The Funny Guy after my dismal Tuesday outing at Green Meadow that I was this close to putting my game together, and put it together I did. Just two days prior, on Wednesday night, playing nine holes in the twilight with my Goodboys pal Killer at Trull Brook, I made par on four of the last five holes on the back nine for a crowd-pleasing 46. In doing so, I found a little something on the twelfth hole that would keep me in fairly good stead off the tee throughout Goodboys Invitational weekend. So on Friday at Agawam, I drove the ball exceptionally well, as well as I’d done in many a day. We were playing a four-man bramble off the tee, and I’m pleased to say my foursome used several of my drives for their second shots in. Overall, I hit seven fairways and had 34 putts – a damned good performance. My shot of the day was on #3, a par 4 where after a duffed second shot I was left with 124 yards to the pin, then stuck an 8-iron to 1 foot for par, which I happily converted. By the end of the day, with all our Goodboys handicaps taken into consideration, I had shot a second-best 82 (conservatively, had I played my own ball in I’m guessing I would have shot somewhere around a 96), and my partner “Skeeta” Clark and I had a two-stroke lead going into Saturday.

Segregansett Country Club in Taunton was, by and large, a tough sled for most, if not all, of the Goodboys. A little local knowledge on this tight, shot-makers course would have gone a long way; unfortunately, none of us had ever played it before. It was here that the first cracks started to show in my game, and, not surprisingly, it was courtesy of my 5-wood and hybrids, clubs I have struggled with since I brought them home two months ago. At Segregansett, there was no hiding the need to use those particular clubs: there were tee shots on several holes that one simply couldn’t pull driver on, and I paid the price dearly for it. Looking back at the card, I can see those clubs costing me a good four strokes. Given the quirkiness of the layout, I felt happy with a 53 / 55 = 108 on a course I had only hit three fairways on. And while the greens were quick and a little tougher to read than at Agawam, the 33 putts I hit didn’t cause me any grief. What I was most proud of was the fact that I lost my tempo for a good portion of the front nine but clawed my way back. My 108 wasn’t especially great, but pretty much all the Goodboys had a tough time of it that day. Knowing what I now know, Segregansett was a course I wouldn’t mind playing again. Going into Sunday, Skeeta and I were five strokes up on our nearest competitor. With the way I had played and how I was striking the ball, there was every reason to believe we had a better than even shot of taking home the Goodboys Invitational trophy.

Things didn’t get off to a good start on Sunday at Triggs Memorial Golf Course in Providence. The fairways weren’t unusually narrow, but the rough just off was so thick that if you strayed even slightly the best you could hope for was to get it back in play; there would be no going for the green out of the rough at Triggs. I found that out on the very first hole – a sculled drive that took two tries to get it onto the fairway. Unfortunately, I pushed a 5-iron waaaay left, then it took me two shots to get it on the green before two-putting for a double par.

It wouldn’t get a whole lot better from there.

Triggs is an old Donald Ross-designed course – meaning, lots of elevated and undulating greens protected by bunkers and thick rough off the fringes. If you weren’t pin-point in your accuracy with your approach shots it was too bad for you: if you were off a little, you were off a lot. Which I was. I stopped counting the number of times my approach shots would roll off the green into the thickest of roughs with downhill putts. Maybe others have that kind of game, but we just don’t see that kind of crap here in the Valley of the Sun. And how do you practice for it? The greens themselves were inconsistent and just slower than what I was used to, and it caused me fits. After a while they just wore you down, and I was worn down, tired, and frustrated by my short game from start to finish. While I hit only four fairways all day I don’t feel as if I drove the ball all that badly, but when I didn’t hit the fairway bad things just sort of happened. And I don’t feel as if I hit my irons that bad either, although I was clearly a hair off.

Once again, my 5-wood and hybrids treated me harshly. There are some very long par 4s on the front nine at Triggs, and three increasingly long par 5s on the back – holes requiring precision with hybrids and fairway woods. And with the rough waiting to gobble your ball like a Great White Shark, dumping a 5-iron down the hole wasn’t an option – not when you’re 3-putting greens and missing every two-foot putt, which I was. And in each case, I simply couldn’t hit the damned things – duff after duff after duff. It became such a hopeless task. But what ended up truly killing me was my putting – a total of 41 putts (even with a chip-in on #6), including seven – count ‘em, seven! – three-putts. I know I’ve had days with more putts than that, but not on a Goodboys Sunday with everything on the line. And it cost our team dearly. I managed only two holes at bogey or better all day and a Goodboys high score of 115. And that on a day when my partner Skeeta blistered the course with a rockin’ 78.

Sitting on the Triggs patio afterwards, I was still hoping against hope that our scores would hold up, but, like Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff last November when the numbers started coming in, I was starting to get a little nervous. The other scores were better than I expected, and my partner was hoping against hope that one of the teams would catch us from behind so that he (i.e., we) wouldn’t be stuck with having to run next year’s event as tradition dictates. When it was announced that the team of “Possum” Shepter and “Mothra” Nolan had beat us by five strokes, all I could do was look at my card and see all those three-putt holes and the long par 4s and par 5s where even a halfway decently-hit 5-iron or hybrid might have made the difference. Skeeta wasn’t unhappy with the results, but I was pissed. I hadn’t just thrown the potential for a decent round away, I had given away the 2017 Goodboys Invitational!

This one’s gonna smart for awhile.

Still, it wasn’t all for naught. For the first time in my Goodboys career since we started paying a monetary reward for first- and second-place finishes, I actually took home some dough-re-mi. Second place wasn’t first place, but knowing that it was my play on Friday that gave us the head start heading into the weekend helped ease the sting of Sunday’s fiasco. And looking back, I feel confident that with another go at Triggs Memorial I could go out and put up a decent number, and the same goes for Segregansett. I’m not just close, I’m very close to where I want to be.

All in all, I have no complaints with how things went down this Goodboys Invitational weekend. Would it have been nice to win? Absolutely. But we came close and that’s good enough for me. It would have been nice to have figured out my 5-wood and hybrids, but that wasn’t my primary area of focus these past two months. It would have been nice to chip and putt better on Sunday at Triggs, but I just don’t have the opportunity to play those kinds of greens and learn the kinds of shots those kinds of greens demand out in Arizona. What I wanted to do this Goodboys weekend was strike my irons with authority and drive the ball reasonably well, and in both cases it was “mission accomplished”.

Now it’s time for a nice, long break until the fall.

Congratulations to the new Exec-Comm, Possum and Mothra. You’ll have the privilege of seeing their happy mugs at the upper-right of the Goodboys Nation weblog main page until someone takes it away from them.

And, finally, a “YUUUGE” muchas gracias to the former Exec-Comm, “Goose” Dwyer and “Deuce” Doucette for two great years of Goodboys Invitational weekend planning. I’m sure they’re grateful for the chance to not have to play with each other for a third straight year, but, more especially, at not having to worry about planning yet another Goodboys Invitational.

Filed in: Golf Quest,Goodboys by The Great White Shank at 00:12 | Comments (0)
July 19, 2017

Days until the 2017 Goodboys Invitational: 3
Location: Green Meadow Golf Club (Jungle Course)
Score: 58 / 56 = 114
Handicap: 24.0 / Change: +0.6

There’s a running joke my Goodboys pals have whenever I struggle playing golf back here in New England (which is, frankly, most of the time. Using their best Quint impression from that classic scene from “Jaws”, they’ll say something like:

“…not like playing some Scottsdale muni, is it Chief?”

And the fact is, they’re right. Playing golf in New England isn’t like playing golf in the Valley of the Sun – it’s not even close. Oh, you have the same clubs, you play by the same rules, and keep score the same way, but that’s where the similarities end. The courses are laid out differently, there are few elevation changes, the grasses used are different and employed in different fashion. The biggest difference is in the rough and where it is deployed. On the courses I cycle through there may be rough – even around the greens – but it’s not nearly as thick. And while there are trees, they’re not big trees with lots of them gathered together and lining the fairways like freakin’ sentinels guarding the Queen’s jewels. The biggest difference is the kind of trouble you can get into. I mean, you can smash balls OB into someone’s back yard or swimming pool, or into a desert area where you wouldn’t want to go into because of snakes and cactus and brush, but in either case you take your penalty, drop a ball, and move on.

And that’s the hardest thing I find getting re-accustomed to whenever I play golf in New England. The idea that the first rule of thumb is that when you get into trouble, get out of it. Swallow your pride, don’t cute, and get out of your predicament as quickly and efficiently as possible. Take your medicine, and along with it the likelihood of a big number.

I didn’t do that yesterday at Green Meadow playing alongside my Goodboys pals The Funny Guy and Doggy Duval, and as you can tell from my score, I paid dearly for it. Trying to advance the ball back on the fairway through narrow openings that would have gotten me closer to the hole than had I gone out sideways (or even backwards) I hit four – count ‘em, four big trees hard and square so that I lost six strokes in just four swings – four shots I had to play over and one that I had to take an unplayable on after I whiffed trying to get it back in play. And that doesn’t count an ill-advised 5-iron on #1 that ended up on gorse worthy of this week’s Open Championship that I should have just taken an unplayable on but tried to hack it out (it went six inches) and whiffed on the next one before giving up. I’m no math genius, but that’s nine strokes just thrown away as if they didn’t mean anything. All of a sudden that’s a respectable (at least for me) 105 that I could have been satisfied with, especially with the other issues I faced during the round.

Let’s go back to the rough for a moment. Maybe some folks think of Green Meadow as a wide-open course for hackers but I found the rough particularly thick if you weren’t playing fairways and greens as The Funny Guy does so well (he shot his usual 88) – especially around the greens. As a result I really struggled around the greens. My putting was typically lousy but not atrociously so (34), but I was pissing strokes away trying to judge how hard I should hit my pitching wedge and under what conditions I should have dropped down to something like an 8-iron. Found myself with a lot of putts short of the hole, and not by any small measure, either. Towards the very end I think I found something – chipping with a flatter takeaway than I would normally be accustomed to – but we’ll see tonight during my final (and traditional) nine-hole tune-up at Trull Brook.

Of course, a lot of the above wouldn’t have happened so much had I been getting off the tee OK, but I had brought to the course with me that ugly push/slice that not just looks awful, but drains loses yardage with every sick yard of trajectory. I kinda sorta figured out on #8 that I had been swaying backward in my take-away and, outside of a couple of holes, drove the ball better on the back nine. But whenever I didn’t, I added to my troubles with poor course management. How does one shoot a ghastly 114 at Green Meadow? By driving the ball poorly (I hit only three fairways), managed the course poorly (no pars, only seven bogeys), and brought with me an abysmal short game (the worst of the year). Sure, I feel like I struck the ball well with my irons all day, but that’s like the old joke, “So, other than that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”

Fortunately, I can take the above as a learning experience ahead of Goodboys Invitational weekend. While time might be short there is still time. I truly feel as if I’m “almost there”. We’ll see…

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 07:00 | Comment (1)
July 14, 2017

Days until the 2017 Goodboys Invitational: 7
Location: Superstition Springs Golf Club
Score: 48 / 48 = 96
Handicap: 23.4 / Change: -0.6

The par 5 #8 hole at Superstition Springs is long – over 550 yards, starts out straight and wide (although you really can’t go left because of all the moguls and crap they have over there, and you can’t go right because of the bunkers strategically placed down the right side, so maybe it’s not as wide as it looks) then doglegs slightly right, shrinking to a narrow but long green. It has always been trouble for me, especially because of the narrow approach shot it demands. Today, I had split the fairway with my drive, and for the second-straight par 5 pulverized a 5-wood that left me only 123 yards to the pin.

I was in a great spot and brimming with confidence: not only had I birdied the previous par 5, but I had hit the previous green in regulation (the tight par 3 seventh) with a crushed 175-yard 5-iron before three-putting from 30 feet for a bogey. I felt like all the hard work and driving range visits I’d put in over the past month were finally – finally kicking in. And for once I had a healthy mindset as well: I wasn’t thinking “Don’t f**k this up, you moron!”, it was more like, “OK, you’re in the go-zone, let’s try and birdie this thing!” I pulled 8-iron out of the bag, visualized my target, took a couple of practice swings..

Oops, forgot to take a deep breath. Yanked it ten yards off target into the bunker right of the green, took two to get out, then three-putted again for an 8.

I’m dispensing with the negatives early, because my last round in the stifling heat and humidity (at least for these parts) is finally over. In the past 2+ weeks I’d played golf twice and hit the driving range five times, coming home each time as a walking talking human dish rag, peeling my clothes off as soon as I walked in the door and jumping into the relative refreshment of our 94-degree pool. Today would be no exception, except for one thing: it would be the last time I would have to do this. As I told my clubs as I changed out of my shoes in the blistering Superstition Springs parking lot, their next destination would be a nice bath in a bucket of water, then the driving range at the Golf & Ski in Hudson, New Hampshire where the air would be cooler, the grass thicker, and the breezes refreshing to the skin. It’s been a long, hot, and hard past three months, and I have never (and will probably never again) work as hard on my golf game ever again. But there were fundamentals I needed to get down and a swing change to introduce, and you don’t make that happen going out just once a week and hit a few dozen balls. Simply put, I’ve paid my dues.

While the 96 I shot today was my best round ever at “the Springs”, it wasn’t anywhere near the best I’ve ever played, not even for the couple of stretches where I made bogey or par on three out of four holes (holes 4-7 and 12-15). But what stood out today was the way I kept my mental focus virtually throughout the round. With the exception of a ten-minute stretch between that 8-iron on #8 and a nifty out from the sand on #9 to six inches that even I couldn’t miss for a nifty bogey 5, I kept my wits about me, didn’t over-swing, and struck my irons more consistently than I have all year.

Two examples of my mental toughness: on the par 3 #15 I tried a 3-hybrid from 195 yards and pushed it far left. Downhill lie to an uphill green thirty yards away, overhanging tree in front. Choked down on a 5-iron and smacked it into the bank, where it eased to ten feet away. A gutsy play that earned kudos from my playing partners. Then, on the par 5 #16, the second-highest handicapped hole, big pond and water down the right and water both left and right of the hole, I hit exactly the drive I planned (left side of fairway), hit a perfectly controlled 7-iron to 110 yards, then dropped a 9-iron twenty feet from the hole. Smart plays, good focus, great course management.

Because I was keeping track, I had six opportunities from 120 yards or less to hit the green in regulation and made only two. But that’s OK – these are the kinds of things I still need to work on. But the trend is definitely in my favor: I made a birdie for the second straight round, and, after tracking my scores and handicap on MyScorecard.com for the past five years, this is the first time I’ve broken 100 in three of my last four outings. I can’t – and won’t – say that I’m peaking in time for Goodboys Invitational week, but I now believe all the work in the sun and the heat over thee past three months is starting to pay dividends. Whether it’s swing thoughts or swings, I feel as if I’m getting more consistent with what I’m trying to do. That doesn’t mean it will always translate into good scores and consistent play, but I’m trying to change habits out there on the golf course, and those are the kinds of things that always take more time.

So, while I’m going into Goodboys Invitational week with a bit of confidence there are still things I know I need to work on: those short irons and getting more consistent with my driver. I’ve given up trying to hit my hybrids for now and would only drag them out if I were in the wide-open spaces. And then there’s the damned 5-wood: I had two really great hits today, then on the first par 5 on the back what did I do? Scull it into a fairway bunker. For right now I’ll just have to accept it’s going to be hit-or-miss. But if that’s all I have to worry about that would be a good thing! For Goodboys Invitational week the only swing thoughts I will have in mind is “keeping my Vs” and “compress the ball”. Then whatever happens, happens.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 21:02 | Comments (0)
July 7, 2017

Days until the 2017 Goodboys Invitational: 35
Location: Lone Tree Golf Club
Score: 49 / 48 = 97
Handicap: 23.9 / Trend: 24.0 (no change)

It’s two weeks out from the 2017 Goodboys Invitational weekend and I’m about to tee it up at Lone Tree Golf Club. It’s already damned hot at 9 AM – the temperature on the pro shop thermometer read 102 – heading for a record high of 117. We’re under another Excessive Heat Warning, and the place looked like a ghost town when I walked into the cool, dark pro shop. Oh, there were golfers out there (I saw them as I drove through the main entrance) but they were on the back nine, working their way feverishly to get out of the sun and into a cold pitcher of suds before the real heat started to rise. Alone at the driving range, taking my practice swings with a small bag of balls at my feet, I could feel the heat already rising through the damp ground as if I was playing in Texas or Louisiana. Six balls in, I said screw it and headed straight to the first tee. If I were lucky, I’d motor my way around the course in three hours and get outta Dodge no later than 12:30.

I beat that time by twenty minutes. And a damned good thing, too, because it was really starting to broil out there. As lubed up and hydrated as I was, it was getting hard to stay focused out there. Sure, I wanted to play well, but it was all about survival, and the kind of heat we’re having is nothing to take lightly. Just the day before, while hitting a large bucket at the Kokopelli Golf Club driving range, I heard a fire truck and paramedics drive up to attend to a gentleman who appeared to have been overcome by the heat at the other end of the range. Smacking my opening drive down the left side of the fairway, I looked at my phone, noted the time, drank some water, and kicked into my round into gear.

Lone Tree is a pretty wide open track, but I went into the round in full Goodboys preparation mode. Sure, you can miss the fairways and play the ball off the wide waste areas that line both sides of the course as it winds its way through the walled-in golf community, but I committed myself to considering any drive that ended up in those areas as OB, as if it were New England woods. My Goodboys pal “The Funny Guy” likes to chide me whenever I would hit a ball into the woods back home, saying, “Not like playing a Scottsdale muni, is it chief?”, so for this round and my final Arizona round at Superstition Springs next Friday that’s the way I would play it.

One other thing I did differently today was to try and imagine myself in Goodboys competition. Before I teed off on each hole, I would look at it and imagine a hole I’d played from Goodboys Invitational past. It was both challenging and fun. I might have been out at Lone Tree, but in my mind I was playing at The Ledges, or Breakfast Hill, or The Captains, or Waverly Oaks. It was an interesting exercise, and it made me feel in some ways connected to my buds who are going about their own Goodboys weekend preparations in their own ways.

The 49 on the front nine wasn’t bad, but I threw away a lot of strokes. I had a few opportunities thanks to some decent enough driving, but I couldn’t get the ball on the green in regulation when I had the chance, and to compound the problem my chipping and putting were lousy. Still, I was striking the ball solidly enough, I just couldn’t make anything happen. Taking five shots to get in from 60 yards on the par 4 fifth was embarrassingly sloppy, and the eight I made on the par 5 ninth resulted from taking the same number of shots to get in from 122 yards. Two opportunities to make good scores frittered away as if strokes don’t mean a thing.

The back nine could – could have been magical. I somehow lost my ability to hit my driver straight at the turn and didn’t get it back until the seventeenth, but I was scrambling like crazy. The elderly gentleman who joined me at the turn took to calling me “Seve” for the way I kept escaping out of trouble with my sand wedge and pitching wedge, neither of which I could hit on the front nine. I birdied the par 3 twelfth – an island green, no less! – by flaring a 6-iron from 153 yards to seven feet. I bogeyed the par 4 #13 after hitting my drive into a fairway bunker, then hitting my approach shot into a sand trap and a nearly-impossible downhill lie. On the par 4 #14, I had a sharply-downhill chip to an elevated green and left myself only twelve feet for par.

The reason I say the back nine could have been magical is that it all started to go to shit from there. I four-putted from twelve feet for a triple-bogey seven. On the par 4 #15 I drove the ball into a fairway bunker, then hit a 5-iron to 40 yards left of the green into a gnarly mess of junk. I got applause from my playing partner when I hacked it out to eight inches from the cup. Bill gave it to me, but because at Goodboys you have to putt it all the way in I told him I still had to putt it. I missed. On the long par 5 #18 I wasted a perfect drive with two sculled attempts at a 5-wood, then tried to get cute by going for the pin with a 5-iron from 162 yards protected by a pond. Lying three as I was, the smart play would have been to hit an easy 6-iron right of the pond and try and fade it in, but I was frying both mentally and physically and went for it. I missed carrying the pond by a yard. Instead of playing for double-bogey I made snowman.

I can take a lot from today’s round. Clearly, the work I’ve been putting in at the range is starting to pay off. If I make that 8-inch putt, two-putt instead of that four-putt, and play #18 a little smarter I’d be penciling in a 44 for a 93 – exactly the kind of golf I want to be playing. I’ve still got some work to do at the range: my iron-play from 120 yards in, tightening up my driver a little bit more, learn to hit that damned 5-wood, but I really feel as if I’m close. Superstition Springs – my usual pre-Goodboys week send-off – will be it’s usual challenge and gauge as to where my game really is before I head back to Massachusetts. After today, I’m really looking forward to getting out of this heat and playing golf with my friends.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 20:34 | Comment (1)
July 1, 2017

Days until the 2017 Goodboys Invitational: 20
Location: Stonecreek Golf Club
Score: 53 / 55 = 108
Handicap: 23.9 / Trend: 24.2 (+.03)

Going into today’s round I really felt good about my game and the direction it was heading. Standing on the first tee at Stonecreek Golf Club, not only had I’d had three solid range sessions since last Saturday’s round at Trilogy Power Ranch, but I’d had absolutely the best warm-up I can remember having. Stonecreek has always been a tough course for me, but I felt like I was prepared for a good round, and everything was clicking.

Everything, that is, until I yanked my first drive of the day so far right I didn’t even bother looking for it.

And yanked my second drive of the day into a pond.

And yanked a 5-iron far right off the tee on the par 3 third.

Mind you, I hadn’t hit yanks like that since my two rounds in Vegas back in January when I was sick. Starting off bogey / triple / double was clearly not what I had in mind. I’d worked so damned hard on my driver this week, and this is what I get for all that hard work? Still, the situation hadn’t gone totally condition red: I’d made some nice swings to minimize the damage on those holes, and I’d actually settle into a nice groove by the time I found myself smack-dab in the middle of the ninth fairway, 132 yards from the pin. Over the past four holes I’d righted the ship, bogeying two of the last four holes, (including the #1 handicap hole), and would have at least bogeyed the eighth if a crushed 5-wood destined for the center of the green hadn’t hit a bunker rake (of all things) and careened waaay far right. My short game was, of course, MIA, and my putting back to its typical atrocious state (clearly, that hadn’t carried over from last week), but still, I was sitting at 46 with a good chance at a 50 or, at worst, a 51. I could still shoot a low number on the back and turn it into a decent round.

I still don’t know what happened. My playing partner Greg gave me the distance – 132 yards. There was sand both left and right of the green, but the pin was set in front. I mentioned to Greg that I was between clubs – I was thinking about jumping on an 8, but we finally agreed that an easy 7 was the smarter choice. I thought my set-up was good, even took a good practice swing. I visualized the shot, was ready for the kill.

Shank alert! A shank far left beyond the waste area that lined the length of the fairway. I then shanked a pitching wedge even further left. I chunked another sand wedge into the green-side bunker, took two to get out, then two-putted for an 8.

The tenth was a re-run of the ninth: solid drive, but this time it was the 5-iron that was shanked. Then a chunked 6-iron into the junk, then another chunk and another two putt for another quad bogey.

Rinse and repeat on #11: solid drive, a chunked 3-hybrid that went all of four yards, then a yanked 5-iron OB. I chunked my penalty, then bladed a pitching wedge completely off the green, then a putt for my third 8 in a row.

And just to show I didn’t discriminate on par 4s alone, I shanked my 5-iron off the tee. An incredible recovery shot out of the crap (my best in four holes) left me sixteen feet for a par but I four-putted for a triple-bogey six.

All that hard work over the past week gone to crapola. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The round was gone.

And then, suddenly, from seemingly out of nowhere, I righted the ship. A yanked 9-iron nearly OB was my only poor swing on the par 5 #13 but I continued to drive the ball well and even blasted another good 5-wood along the way. Then I really settled in, going par / bogey / par (a long par 5 and another big 5-wood) / bogey before once again yanking an iron OB on #18 leading to a triple. But in that stretch I had really overcome adversity and played well. It didn’t matter, of course – the round was long gone, but I had my pride to play for and I impressed my playing partners with some great strikes on those holes.

So here I am, less than three weeks out from Goodboys, and I’m not feeling a whole lotta love in return for all the work I’ve put in. Sure, I could argue – and rightly – that after those initial yanks I stuck to my plan of aiming slightly right of center and ended up driving the ball better than I have all year (eight fairways hit). I can also say that after that stretch of three quads I did figure out a way to right the ship. Still, those shanks and yanks – all due to over-swinging or a poor set-up, or probably both – is just mind-numbing, especially after all that hard work. Where’s the fix for that?

The other area of concern is that my short game is terrible. Another round with more than forty putts, and it would take more than one hand to count the number of bladed chips I hit today. I suppose I could hit the range tomorrow and work on my short game, but my inability to take what I’m doing at the range and apply it on the course is what’s killing me right now. And it doesn’t make me feel better to think that I’ve gotten to the point where I can have forty-one putts, lose six balls, chip like crap, and make three quad bogeys in a row, and still shoot double-bogey golf. I’d rather clean the house and do chores.

I’ve got two more rounds to figure it all out before I head back to Massachusetts. I know it doesn’t sound it, but I feel as if I’m this close to putting it all together. Tomorrow I’ll be back out at the Papago Park range, working on everything – including my short game. Everything that transpired today is correctable, just tweaks. I have the basics down, I just have to figure out how to take it to the course and keep it there.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 19:39 | Comments (0)
June 28, 2017

I’ve finally gotten to the point in my range work where I can start working on achieving a Vulcan mind meld with my King Cobra F6 driver. It’s been two months since I got my new clubs and I’ve worked harder than I ever have on understanding my swing and focusing on the things I needed to in order to be a better ball-striker. I’m now at a point I’ve never been, like, ever in my golfing life: being able to go to the range and see the same results from one session to another. It’s not only made my range work more enjoyable, it’s allowed me to be able to work on the kinds of little things I’ve never been able to work on before – little things like playing around with opening up the club face a little more, or trying to hit cuts or draws just for the hell of it. Knowing that if I follow the same axioms like set-up, keeping my Vs, and not jumping at the ball and over-swinging I’ll get the same results.

It doesn’t mean I won’t hit the occasional shank or get out of sorts for a few balls, but unlike in the past when doing so would freak me out and send me into a downward spiral of more shanks and greater over-swings, now it’s an adjustment I can make. Just go back to focusing on what I’d been doing right before and it’s almost like it never happened.

I’m not going to lie to you: Matthew’s Five-Minute Fix from ten days ago might sound moronic – it certainly did to the guy I was playing with last Saturday when I told him about it – but maybe it takes a moron like myself to find a swing key in something moronic. It has made a difference in the results I’ve been getting at the range ever since. And that front-nine 44 at Trilogy Power Ranch was no fluke: I followed the same axioms during that nine that I’d been doing at the range the four – count ‘em, four! – days I hit balls last week in 110+ degree temperatures. Sure, the back nine wasn’t great, but looking back on that round I could see where and how it started to get away from me, and I took something away from it.

Which brings me to today’s post: hitting my driver. Because I’ve spent so much time working on my irons, my driver and my putter have gotten the short end of the stick, but at least as far as the driver goes that ended this week. So on Sunday, yesterday, and this coming Friday I’ll get a large bucket of balls, hit six sand wedges, six pitching wedges, six 5- or 6-irons, a few hybrids and six 5-woods, then settle down with the driver for the rest of the bucket.

It’s something I’ve never done before, but looking at Saturday’s round I’ve come to view my driver as the canary in The Great White Shank’s coal mine, at least as far as over-swinging goes. It usually manifests itself around the third or fourth hole where drives that had started out pretty controlled and straight start to get pushed left, and increasingly so as the round goes on until it reaches a point where I feel I have to start steering the club to just find a fairway. You can kinda-sorta get away with that kind of thing out here in Arizona where one can hit bank-shots off the subdivision walls and fences, but in New England those balls are in the woods and long gone.

Right now I’m just trying to figure out much I can get away with as far as shoulder turn and length of swing go. I know if I jump at the ball and over-swing there’s gonna be a big push to the right. Not a slice, a push. Less frequently do I seem to come over the top and yank or pull the ball to the right (the dreaded two-way miss), and if I do that’s a clear indication I’m over-swinging. So I’ve decided on a strategy that takes the left side out of play: square up aimed slightly right of center and allow the Cobra F6′s natural fade to bring the ball left into (hopefully) the middle of the fairway. At worst, the left side of the fairway or the left rough. I’m also deliberately hitting a lot of balls so that I do start to over-swing and have to force myself to cut down on my swing so that I learn how to adjust when (not if) I start doing it on the course. Not baby the swing, not try to steer the ball, just cut down the length of my swing and swing normally.

It’s been a fun challenge to work on something so esoteric as my trajectory and ball flight, but I see it as an indication as to how far I’ve come in the past two months. Having the basic fundamentals down I feel as if I have the time and luxury of truly learning how to hit my driver. Whether this works or not, well, ask me after Goodboys Invitational weekend: like I say, playing golf in the Valley of the Sun is different from playing in New England. But, agreeing with Greg “The Great White Shark” Norman, who says the ball off the tee is the most important shot you hit on any hole, I feel I’m at a point now where if I can keep my drives in the fairway I stand a damned good chance of making bogey or better.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:40 | Comments (2)
June 25, 2017

Days until the 2017 Goodboys Invitational: 27
Location: Trilogy Golf at Power Ranch
Score: 44 / 52 = 96
Handicap: 23.7 / Trend: 23.9 (+.02)

Would have been a great day for some David Lee Roth out at Trilogy Golf Club at Power Ranch, because crazy from the heat did we get. It was already 105 at 9:30 AM when we teed off, by the time we finished in a tidy 3:15, it was 115. And not a whiff of a breeze out there to move the air around. Definitely the hottest conditions I’ve ever played in out here, tho’ still not as brutal as that day on Goodboys Friday at The Ledges in York, Maine where it hit 105 degrees with humidity. Comparing today like that day in 2013 is like comparing the steam room and the sauna at the Wynn Las Vegas Spa – different kinds of heat, neither suitable for playing golf.

But with just 27 days remaining until Goodboys Invitational weekend I gotta play, so me and my playing partner for the day, Ryan (a 13-handicap, he) kept pushing the fluids to stay hydrated and got the round in and done without getting hurt or getting heat stroke. But it was hot: so hot, in fact, that beside the par 5 7th, in the shade of a large Palo Verde, a family of thirteen – count ‘em, thirteen – rabbits, everything from adults to young ‘uns, just lay there in the open trying to stay cool, not even moving a muscle when we sauntered up to the tee just yards away from them. Wish I had a pic, but that would have meant walking back to the cart to grab my camera. Believe me, there was no extra walking if we didn’t have to.

On to the golf. Obviously if you make the turn – any turn – in 44 you’ve doing something right, but I was scrambling out there because of my driver. One of my take-aways from today’s round is that I have to do a better job of hitting my driver once I get a few holes in. I can feel it starting to slip away from me: my swing gets a little longer, I start pushing the ball out to the left, and by the tenth hole I’m missing fairways entirely. But for that opening nine, my ball-striking was the best it has been all year (thanks Matthew!), and while I missed two putts less than two feet in length, I also made a magnificent (and lucky!) birdie on the par 3 8th out of the sand – on a downhill lie, no less, that came out silky, hit the stick, and dropped into the cup. The short game giveth, the short game taketh away.

It was on the back nine that I started to get sloppy. Maybe it was the heat, but I didn’t help things with some questionable course management decisions. I gave up the prospect of a certain bogey on #10 by pulling my 3-hybrid from 190 yards away (given the hole and the angle a 3/4 5-iron would have been more than enough), but I wanted to hit my hybrids as much as possible today and it was an opportunity. I caught it good and the last time we saw my orange ball it was rocketing its way over the restrooms well left and beyond. Triple-bogey seven. On #12, knowing I was pushing my driver I should have aimed left of the fairway, but there’s a road on the other side of the fence I didn’t want to take a chance with, so my big push left disappeared into the dirt and brush by an adjoining subdivision. Could we have found it? Probably, but in New England that ball was OB in the woods. A couple of sloppy recovery shots and a two-putt, and that was another triple-bogey seven. Fortunately, the par 3s (bogey, par) and the par 5s (par, bogey) kept my back nine from going completely off the rails. Another big push on the par 4 #16 (#1 handicap hole) and more sloppy play (including a shanked 9-iron) led to a third triple-bogey, and a quad bogey on #18 after finding the fairway (including a whiffed 5-iron) led to a 52 that could have been even worse were it not for my short game.

There’s a lot of good I can take away from today’s round – 12 holes bogey or better, 33 putts, much better ball-striking with my irons. I even hit two really solid 5-woods that helped me par and bogey two of the par 5s (needed to see that, fer shure). But looking ahead to Goodboys weekend I’ve got to tighten my game up once I start getting deeper into the round. By the back nine I was falling back into bad habits: over-swinging, playing the ball too far forward, etc., so my work this coming week and my next planned round at Stonecreek Golf Club will be focused on staying within myself. I need to learn to slow down and take more practice swings until I feel exactly the swing I want to make, then replicate it – especially when I’m on the tee. Stonecreek will pose a sterner test than Trilogy, so reigning my excesses in will definitely be needed.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:43 | Comments (0)

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