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)
September 30, 2017

Days until the 2018 Goodboys Invitational: 292
Target Handicap: 16.0 / Handicap: 25.4
Location: Superstition Springs Golf Club
Score: 55 / 59 = 114
Trending Handicap: 26.0 (+0.6)

Oh boy. Two rounds and I’ve already lost two strokes off my handicap since Goodboys Invitational Sunday. (Actually, if you count Goodboys Invitational weekend I’ve lost four strokes off my handicap since the middle of July.) It’s hard to fathom, and I won’t argue with you – it’s a little damaging to the psyche. But what else can The Great White Shank do but keep on plugging away? I figure, at some point it’s gonna turn around. But looking at my MyScorecard.com record since the 98 I put up at Superstition Springs back on July 14 shows nothing short of wreckage:

7/18 – Green Meadow Golf Club – 114
7/22 – Segregansett Golf Club – 108
7/23 – Triggs Memorial – 115
9/28 – Lone Tree Golf Club – 108
9/30 – Superstition Springs Golf Club – 114

It’s hard to believe that just yesterday I’d had absolutely the best range session I’d ever had, then followed it up this morning prior to teeing off at Superstition Springs with the absolute best warm-up session I’d ever had. You’ve heard folks talk about being “in the zone” during a round of golf and playing out of their shoes? Well that’s where I was, for the first time I can remember in my golf life. Oh, I’ve had decent range sessions before, good warm-ups, and even very good rounds (87 being my best ever), but at no time I can remember the game feeling so easy, my tempo and rhythm so in sync, the results exactly what I expected with every swing. And maybe I’ll never experience that feeling again, but while I had it, it was worth it, and memorable.

Today’s round started out as a continuation of my warm-up: after a blistering drive on the 380-yard par 4 opening hole, I had only 93 yards to the pin. I missed the green long on my approach shot but still two-putted for bogey. I flushed my second drive of the day and thought I’d hit a decent enough 6-iron into the second green but neglected to take into account a bunker on the left-hand side. I made a mess of that and ended up with a double-bogey six. I yanked my drive on the par 3 third into a bunker right (another pin I had no business going after) then made a mess of that as well for a triple-bogey six. On the fourth hole, a short par 4 with a pond in front, I hit the best 3-hybrid in my life to 80 yards, but pushed my pitching wedge off the green left (another opportunity for a green in regulation missed), but still ended up making par.

And that was it.

On the fifth hole I lost my tempo and rhythm, started over-swinging, and the day was a mess from that point forward. I lost my distance control. I lost my touch on anything requiring even the slightest bit of finesse. I once again lost the ability to hit my 5-wood (for the day I was 0-6 in 5-wood attempts, not even hitting one halfway decently, resulting in two 9s and an 8 on the par 5s). Most importantly, I started losing my driver off the tee, hitting one worm-burner after another. I then lost my irons, yanking even the shortest pitch shot. And that’s the way the rest of the day went. Every swing became an adventure, every shot leading to another lost stroke.

By the time we hit the final hole I was fried, both mentally and physically. My 3-hybrid off the tee was pushed left, requiring me to lay up with a 5-yard pitch before a stream that crossed the fairway. I yanked a pitching wedge dead right into the stream. Dropping my ball 190 yards from the pin, I crushed a 4-hybrid that drifted right into a grass bunker right of the pin that left me with an awkward side-bunker stance. I had only twenty yards to the pin but hit it fifty yards into a bunker that I couldn’t get out of. A perfect way to end the day.

The only thing I can say that worked for me all day long was my putting. I had a total of thirty putts and made everything inside of four feet, the result of some diligent work on the Superstition Springs putting green prior to the round. I’m proud of that because my putting has been so bad for so long. But that was the only good stat of the day: otherwise, I hit only four fairways off the tee and was 0-6 in opportunities for greens in regulation made. Most dishearteningly, my course management was as bad as I can remember – for all the times I’ve played this friggin’ track one would think I’d have learned how to play it by now. My playing partner Randy, a 6-handicap, real nice guy, was moved to tell me in the cart that he’d never seen anyone throw away strokes like I was doing, saying, “You know, sometimes you’ve got to play to your abilities.” That made my day!

After a day like this I might seriously consider folding my tent golf-wise were it not for the truly magical feeling yesterday’s range session and today’s warm-up gave me. Maybe, in the end, that’s the extent of my golf abilities – hitting balls off mats or grass when there’s nothing on the line. You’re just hitting balls to targets with numbers on them and nothing else matters: there’s no score, no handicap, no awkward stances, no implications if you make the wrong choice as far as distance is concerned, no balls to lose in creeks, ponds, subdivisions, woods, and canals. No course to manage. I don’t understand how I can lose that feeling and sense of touch on a golf course, but I’ll tell you this: not even Paula Creamer can help you if your set-up is poor, your aiming point is wrong, you’re playing the ball too far forward in your stance, and you’re over-swinging and yanking everything in front of you.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 18:15 | Comments (0)
September 28, 2017

Days until the 2018 Goodboys Invitational: 294 /
Target Handicap: 16.0 / Current Handicap: 24.0
Location: Lone Tree Golf Club
Score: 47 / 61 = 108
Trending Handicap: 25.4 (+1.4)

The PGA Tour’s 2018 season gets underway next week, but The Great White Shank’s opener was today – a clear, rather warm mid-90s day under a hot sun at Lone Tree Golf Club. It had been more than two months since I played, but those who visit this humble outpost in the blogsphere know I’ve been remaking my swing for the second time this year, this one in an attempt to at least somewhat resemble that of LPGA star Paula Creamer (a.k.a., the “Pink Panther”). I’ve been working diligently in that regard over the past month in weekly range sessions, but at some point you just have to get out there and mark your progress and felt I did some good things out there today while also marking those things I need to work on.

The whole point in going all “Pink Panther” was really four-fold: 1) to hit my hybrids and 5-wood at least semi-consistently, 2) be more consistent (and hopefully longer) with my driver, 3) because my putting has been soooo bad for it seems like years, adopt her putting stance to see if it makes my putting game more consistent, all of which to help me 4) shave six strokes off my 24.0 handicap by the start of Goodboys Invitational weekend 2018. In addition, I’ve decided to listen to fellow Goodboy “The Funny Guy” and start using my 8-iron to chip when the circumstances demand a lengthy chip. Finally, besides tracking the number of fairways hit and putts, I’m now tracking what I call OGIR – opportunities for greens in regulation, meaning: being on the fairway 150 yards or less from the pin with an opportunity to make birdie by hitting the green. These are all significant areas targeted for improvement, surely, but while it’s a long way to the start of Goodboys 2018, in the words of Patrick O’Brian’s Captain Jack Aubrey, “there’s not a moment to lose.”

Before I get into my progress as far as the “Pantherization” of my swing goes, a few words about today’s round. While it’s true that all strokes count, that 61 on the back side wasn’t as bad as it looks (although, fer shure, it does look bad). The back nine featured three double pars: a six on the island green par 3 #12 where I three-putted from 20 feet after my 6-iron off the tee hit the island fringe and bounce into the pond, a six on the par 3 #14 where I pulled a 6-iron off the tee into a bunker and made a mess of the hole thereafter, and a big fat ten on the par 5 #18, where, after a beautiful drive and an equally-stunning 5-wood (thanks, Paula!) that left me sitting pretty 123 yards from the pin, I proceeded to put three balls into the water left. I had no business going for the pin on my third shot, but I was feeling frisky after my performance on the par 5 ninth (see below) and made some very poor shot-making choices to turn a chicken salad opportunity into chicken sh*t. And it should be mentioned that my putting demons which were somewhat held in check on the front emerged from out of nowhere on the back where I had two three-putts and a four-putt.

Oh well, no on ever accused Paula Creamer of being a miracle worker…

So clearly there’s more work to be done, but there’s still a whole lot of positives I can take from today’s round. First of all, that 47 on the front could have been even better. I was really rusty from not playing for two months, and it showed up in my short game around the greens which, from beginning to end, was pretty dreadful. Secondly, I seemed absolutely lost from 120 yards in; couldn’t hit a pitching wedge to save my life. This I chalk up to a bit of rust, a bit of still not feeling comfortable with the Pink Panther swing on my short irons. Still not sure what I’m going to do about that…

But I drove the ball really well all day: even while fooling around with ball position I hit seven fairways. Of the five opportunities I had to hit my 5-wood, I had four really good hits and one duff. Of the three opportunities I had to hit my hybrids, I had one outstanding hit, another crushed but sent way left into the adjoining subdivision, and one so-so. So good progress being seen there. Not so good was my OGIR score: I had nine opportunities – count ‘em, nine! – to make the green in regulation from the fairway 150 yards out or less but made only one. One! A pretty pathetic performance, I would say. Putting wise? I like Creamer’s putting stance and set-up. still, I missed three putts from less than two feet, but then again I haven’t practiced my putting at all, so I’m gonna just chalk it up on rust and whistle myself past the graveyard.

But if there was one example of the opportunities this new swing presents it was hole #9, a long par 5 with a sharp dogleg left at the very end, a pond protecting the green acting as the elbow. I had thinned my drive just short of the fairway, but hit a monster 5-wood that arced like a pro shot dead straight, leaving me 150 yards in the center of the fairway. I grabbed my 6-iron then intentionally aimed left to play a fade into the green. Took my Paula Creamer stance, gave it a Paula Creamer waggle, then feathered it to six feet and made the putt for birdie. Sucker golf that makes you realize the potential of the work you’re putting in, seducing you into wanting to come back for more.

So the 2017-18 Great White Shank golf season is off and running. A mixed bag for sure, but opportunities for improvement abounding and a road map in place for where I want to go.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 20:02 | Comments (0)
September 25, 2017

Well, it’s been three solid weeks of practice, transforming my golf swing into something akin to the swing of LPGA star Paula “The Pink Panther” Creamer, and I’ll admit – it’s been as much fun as it has been tough. I doubt I’m going to be able to make a complete transformation, but I’d like to think I’ll achieve a “compromised pantherization” – focusing on mimicking a lot of her set-up and down-swing, but keeping the take-away I had been using prior to this year’s Goodboys Invitational as my own. But maybe that’s just in my own mind – maybe I’m closer to hers than I realize. Or maybe I just think I’m mimicking her swing and retaining a lot of my own. I guess the proof will be in the results, whatever they are.

The set-up at address is something I’ve definitely adopted – I’ve got my knees bent and my back less hunched over than what I’d been doing before. I’m also doing that waggle she does in order to remind herself of the tempo she’s trying to achieve. I was never a waggle kind of guy, but I recognize the importance of it in Paula’s swing – she’s not just using it to relax whatever tension there might be, but I swear she’s also trying to keep the flat of her forward hand pointed towards target.

The biggest changes I’ve made are with my driver. I’ve now got a wider stance at address than I ever had, and I continue to work on slowing my tempo down to create the widest arc possible. All I can say is, when it works it really works.

Irons? The only changes I’ve made are to adopt Creamer’s setup at address and open up my clubface a tad (it was slightly closed during Goodboys Invitational weekend. I’ve also – on my own – chosen to adopt a bit pf a closed stance and play the ball a little further back at address. The irons remain a work in progress; I’m still experimenting with ball position and the angle in which I take the club away. But it’s all good, baby…

The biggest improvement I’m seeing to date is with my hybrids and 5-wood, which I absolutely could. not. hit. during Goodboys Invitational weekend. I’m not quite at 100% yet – it’s more like ninety – but the improvement is there and the confidence I’m feeling hitting these clubs is growing every time I head out to the range.

…Then there’s the short game, something that absolutely has been killing me for what seems like forever.

One significant change I’ve made isn’t exactly pantherization, it’s more something that my Goodboys friend “The Funny Guy” has been after me to do for years, which is, chipping with my 8-iron as well as well as my pitching wedge, and it’s something I’m getting more comfortable with.

What is pantherization is that I’ve adopted Paula’s putting stance, ditching the “feet together” technique I’ve been using since like, forever. I’ve tried it a few times on the Papago Park putting green and I’m ready to try it in real-game situations.

All in all, it’s been a fun three weeks, and I’m ready to take it to the course. I’m planning on playing a couple of times over the next week and seeing how it all goes.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:31 | Comments (0)
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)

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