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)
June 24, 2017

Not quite what the Tradewinds sang about, but you get the idea. Yep, that’s the view of the Kokopelli Golf Club driving range, looking from the far right-hand side of the range to the first fairway. It was 11:30 AM on a Friday, the sun was shining bright, the temperature was hovering around 106, and I felt like I was a member of a very exclusive golf club where I was the only member as I walked out onto the range. It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that, does it?

It’s my fourth time out in a week to try and nail down the incorporation of Matthew’s “Five-Minute Fix” into all the work I’ve put in since I got my new clubs six weeks ago. Am I 100% there yet? No. Do I feel as if I’m striking the ball better and more consistently than I ever have? Yes. Will it all translate to the course? I’ll tell y’all after my round at Trilogy Power Ranch tomorrow. The high is supposed to be around 115, and I’m going off at 9:30 AM, so hopefully I’ll be off the course by the time the witching hours of 2 PM and beyond come in. I will say I feel very confident about the changes that I’ve made with a lot of hard work, self-assessment, and, of course, Matthew’s tip. I’m still going to scull or shank the occasional ball, but the key is that when I do so, I know what I did wrong and can fix it pretty damned quickly.

My work on the 5-wood and the 3- and 4- hybrids continues to come along. Just trying not to over-swing and shift my weight with these clubs is so important, and still a work in progress, but I’m not going to play defensively: they either get the job done when they’re called upon or they don’t. But I guarantee you they will get their chance, fer shure.

Hard to believe that one month from today the 2017 Goodboys Invitational weekend will be history, the twelve Goodboys who have spent the last three months or so e-mailing and yukking it up in gleeful anticipation all scattered to the four winds like late autumn leaves. My clubs will find their normal place in the back corner of the garage until the fall, and I’ll go back to my normal routine – there’s lots to do around the house and the backyard.

Until that time, however, I’ll just focus on continuing to get my swing in order. There’s lots of golf to be played in the next month, and I’ll be playing at least once a week until I head back to Massachusetts for the third week in July. This weekend it’s Trilogy at Power Ranch, next weekend it will be Stonecreek Golf Club in Phoenix, with its ponds and gazillion sand traps. The Friday after that it will be back to Lone Tree Golf Club, and finally, two days before I head east, the traditional send-off at the quirky and always-tough Superstition Springs Golf Club. I have a feeling that by that time I’ll have a pretty damned good idea of where my game stands, and I think I’ll be ready. If not, well, let’s not talk like that, keep focusing on the progress I’ve been making. Sooner or later it will translate in scoring – you watch.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:47 | Comments (0)
June 19, 2017

I’m at the driving range at Kokopelli Golf Club, ten minutes from my house. It’s a bright, sunny late Saturday morning, the temperature already hovering around 100 degrees, and there’s just me and another guy four spots down hitting balls.

The goal of my session was to try and figure something out with my hybrids and my 5-wood. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’d hit them miserably during my round at Lone Tree, and I was determined to at least get to the bottom of the problem if not fix it altogether.

I wasn’t making a whole lot of progress. The 4-hybrid, in particular, was abysmal. I tried playing the ball forward in my stance, back in my stance, in the middle of my stance. Didn’t make any difference. I tried choking down on the 5-wood, playing that in the middle of my stance, then forward in my stance. Didn’t matter – just when I thought I’d found something, it seemed I’d scull the next two balls. Thin hits. Deep-trench fat hits. It was all weight shift, I knew – or at least I thought I knew – but I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. After one particularly ugly swing, I slammed the club on the ground then cursed myself.

The guy who was out there with me didn’t believe in taking his time between balls. I was probably halfway through my bucket when I saw him heading back into the pro shop to have his bucket refilled again. I’d already seen him hitting balls out there by himself as I walked from the parking lot into the pro shop, then I passed him as I walked out with my bucket, he walking inside to get his bucket refilled.

It was getting hot, so I set my club down, grabbed my towel, wiped my face, drank out of my bottle of water.

“You’re not keeping your ‘V’s, mate!”

I look up and see the guy who was hitting balls walking towards me.

“Your ‘V’s are breaking down, mate. I can see it from where I’m hitting.”

Now (at least in my mind) there’s an etiquette out on the driving range that I would never, ever consider breaking. As far as I’m concerned, you keep to your own shit no matter what else is happening around you. I’m not a great golfer by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve seen beginners hitting balls next or near to me, flailing away hopelessly, and even though I know I could help them with a simple recommendation, I would never consider invading their space. To me that would not just be improper, but rude. I mean, who do I think I am, David Leadbetter?

But here he is, David Leadbetter, or someone who looks like a dead ringer for him, walking towards me. He certainly looked the part: tall, sunglasses, wide-brimmed straw hat (it wasn’t Callaway), that Aussie accent and him calling me mate. Were there other people there I think I would have handled it differently. But since we were the only ones out there, I resisted the urge to say, “Thanks for your concern, podna, but you’re not exactly lighting it up out there yourself from what I can see. If you had, I doubt you’d be on your third large bucket, correctamundo?” Instead, I decided to allow him some of my space.

“I can see why you’re struggling, mate. It’s your ‘V’s. They’re breaking down. Here, let me show you.”

He demonstrates his swing to me, tries to show what it is I’m doing wrong.

“Y’see, if you’re not keeping your ‘V’s, then that makes it tougher to stay on top of the ball. If you’re not staying on top of the ball, then it’s much harder to transfer your weight from back to front. And it’s damned near impossible to make consistent contact with the ball. Let me demonstrate…”

He took one of my balls – I started to raise my hand in protest – but he was on a roll now. “See, this is what you’re doing…”

He takes a swing with his hybrid and stripes it down the middle, 190 yards.

“…well, in this case I guess I made up for it. But what you want to do…” He takes another of my balls, then takes a couple of practice swings “is this…”

He drubs one down the middle about thirty yards.

“OK, well that wasn’t so good.” He then takes another ball of mine and hooks one into the far left side of the range, just next to the first fairway. He then goes into a long spiel about his swing from the ground up, then from the top down. Tells me he used to be a boxer in Melbourne, and that he learned his weight transfer from learning how to throw punches.

“But you have to always be careful not to over-swing. Even if you’re keeping your ‘V’s it won’t make any difference if you over-swing. I’m tellin’ ya mate, you keep your ‘V’s and don’t over-swing you’ll be fine.”

While he’s talking I’m only half-listening, drinking from my water bottle. He’s tall and sun-burnt. When he smiles he has what looks like a gold or wooden tooth in the front. I reach out my hand, ask him his name.

“It’s Matthew, mate.”

I ask him why he’s hitting his third large bucket on such a hot day, and he tells me he’s working on a move where, at the top of his swing, he then turns the shaft slightly to closed before starting his downswing.

“I’m already getting ten more yards with that move.”

I thank him for his time, tell him I’ll definitely take a look at my ‘V’s.

Matthew goes back, yanks his next shot way left into the first fairway. I pick up my towel, wipe my face, take another sip of water. I grab my 5-wood, put the ball slightly forward in my stance, then focus only on keeping my ‘V’s and shortening my swing. Clean contact. The ball takes off like a rocket, 180 yards or so down the middle of the my make-believe fairway. I drop another ball, same thing. Drop a third ball down, same thing.

I look at Matthew, give him a thumbs up. He smiles, drops another ball and hits a big push into the netting separating the driving range from the putting green and chipping area.

It would make for a great story if I said that every ball I hit thereafter was striped down the middle. They weren’t. But I’m guessing the ratio was 70/30 good hits and sculls. And even with the sculls I could immediately feel that I had strayed from the program. I went back in, got a small bucket and started working my hybrids into the same program. Again, 70/30 decent shots to crap sandwich.

Halfway through my bucket, Matthew grabbed his now-empty large bucket and headed for the pro shop.

I went out on Sunday with just my hybrids and 5-wood, this time at the Papago Golf Club range. Different day, different range, different conditions, little bit hotter. I followed Matthew’s advice to the ‘T’ and found myself hitting the same ratio of solid hits to poor hits – something like 70/30. More importantly, I committed myself to two very simple, easy to understand swing thoughts: keep my ‘V’s and don’t over-swing. The idea being, if I do that everything else will fall into place all by itself. Thanks to Matthew, I’m starting to gain confidence in clubs that, just a little more than a day earlier, I had zero confidence in.

Sitting in the cool, dark Mexican restaurant over a margarita afterwards, I thought back to Saturday. I had finished my small bucket, and the heat was really starting to come on. Walking back to my car, I stopped and turned around to look in time to see Matthew, the only soul in sight, stripe a hybrid down the middle, then yank the next one into the first fairway.

Matthew may not be David Leadbetter, may not even be a good golfer, but as a golf instructor he’s good enough for me.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:50 | Comments (0)
June 17, 2017

Days until the 2017 Goodboys Invitational: 35
Location: Lone Tree Golf Club
Score: 50 / 53 = 103
Handicap: 23.7 / Trend: 23.7 (no change)

It’s a good thing I’ve got more than a month to go before Goodboys Invitational weekend because it’s clear that, while I’ve been working harder on my game and my swing than I ever have, I’m not seeing the kind of progress I would have expected to see at this point.

When I last played Lone Tree Golf Club a year ago, I shot 87, my lowest round ever. Now I wasn’t expecting to shoot another 87 this time out (there are too many things I’m working on), but a 103 is still pretty disappointing. Right now I just can’t seem to put good shots and good holes together. I’m having to do way too much scrambling out there, my hybrids and my 5-wood are absolutely killing me, and I just can’t get comfortable with the yardages and my new Steelhead XR irons.

A look at the raw numbers tells the story: I hit ten fairways today, yet played those holes fifteen over par and hit only one green in regulation. That’s just not getting the job done. The course played almost 6,500 yards, so there were some long par 4s, but that doesn’t excuse one quad and two triple bogeys. Granted, had I been trying to shoot as low a score as possible I would have left the 5-wood and the hybrids in the bag, but I’ve got to learn to hit them sooner or later. I thought I’d been baking progress at the range with them, but they killed me today. My putting improved a little bit (35 putts, six less than the last time out), and those ten fairways hit showed my recent work with my weight transfer is starting to pay off with the driver. I also did a better job out of the sand today than I have been doing, so that bucket of balls I hit solely out of the sand last weekend helped out.

My biggest issue continues to involve my iron play: the way I’m hitting them at the range still hasn’t translated to playing real golf. Today it seemed I was always “in between” and questioning my club choice, and then I started jumping at the ball and yanking them on the last four holes. I realize that between trying to change years of bad habits out there and breaking in new irons I’m not going to see results overnight – especially when I’m playing one time a week at the most, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating.

There’s a big difference between hitting balls and scoring, and right now the scoring part is eluding me in a big way. I’m not giving myself any chances at making par right now, and as long as that’s happening one can’t expect to shoot a good score. All I can do is keep working at it and have faith that sooner or later all the work is gonna pay off. The improvement I’m seeing right now may be only incremental, but improvement it is – I’m not lost out there like I was at times last year: when I make a bad shot I know what I did wrong, and when I make a good shot I know what I did right. The 5-wood and the hybrids remain a mystery but I will figure them out sooner or later – hopefully sooner.

With the big heat coming on there won’t be much of a chance for hitting balls next week. I’ve still got four rounds of golf planned before I head back to Massachusetts for Goodboys Invitational week, and then I plan on playing at least twice before Goodboys, so there is still time, but for right now all I seem to be doing is treading water.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:07 | Comments (0)
June 4, 2017

Days until the 2017 Goodboys Invitational: 40
Location: Trilogy Golf Club at Power Ranch
Score: 50 / 52 = 102
Handicap: 23.7 / Trend: 23.7 (no change)

Let’s start with the gory details about a round played under cloudless skies on a Saturday where the temp was 90 when we started, a blazing 106 by the time our foursome finished in a tidy 4 hours 15 minutes. The last two times I played at Trilogy Power Ranch I shot 94s, today it was eight strokes higher. I wouldn’t say TPR is a difficult course, but you have to work your way around it and bring your short game with you and today I didn’t. My chipping was sloppy and my putting on the fastest greens I’ve played in a long time was as bad as I can remember it being (41 putts). Pretty easy to see where those eight extra strokes came from, isn’t it?

That being said, I’m feeling pretty frustrated at my inability to replicate all the hard work I’ve been putting in at the driving range not just hitting balls but attempting to learn my swing – what works, what doesn’t. I started off hot today: bogeys on the first five holes without anything less than a two-putt. So I was hitting the ball pretty well. Then it all came apart: I lost my tempo, lost the feel for my driver, started jumping at the ball and over-swinging, playing the ball too far forward in my stance – all the old familiar swing demons – and I couldn’t make the necessary adjustments. And even at that, I discovered I can take one less club on all my yardages with the new Callaway Steelheads then I did with my old RAZR-Xs. So that, I guess, is a plus.

I’m still having a murder of a time trying to hit my new Cobra 5-wood and my hybrids, and today it really cost me. As much as I would have liked to simply keep pulling one 5-iron after another, if you’re not getting long off the tee (which I wasn’t) you gotta try and get some distance somehow. Not to mention the fact that on those occasions when your driver is making change on the dollar it would be nice to have another club you can fall back on, which is something I don’t have right now. Hitting ground balls to the second baseman is not a desired outcome!

The good news is that, unlike in past years, I know the way out of this mess. So it will be back to the driving range again, back to working on ball position and tempo with my irons, weight shift and tempo with my driver, and trying figuring out what I’m doing so wrong with the 5-wood and the hybrids. It’s not like I can’t hit them: I wouldn’t have bought them at the PGA Tour Superstore if I hadn’t hit them solid in the bays there – it’s a puzzle that simply has to be solved. And as far as my putting goes? I have to chip better and get the ball closer so that I don’t have to work so hard on the greens.

I’ve still got plenty of time before Goodboys Invitational weekend to nail this stuff down but clearly there is more work to do.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:05 | Comments (0)
May 25, 2017

Days until the 2017 Goodboys Invitational: 49
Location: Superstition Springs Golf Club
Score: 52 / 48 = 100
Handicap: 23.9 / Trend: 23.7 (-0.2)

A warm, breezy, and dusty day out at Superstition Springs, my go-to course whenever I need a gut-check as to where my game is. Where better, then, to officially open my preparation for the 2017 Goodboys Invitational weekend? Considering the new clubs and the first time in combat with them, today’s 102 wasn’t a bad start to the 2017 golf season. Could I have played better? Yes. Did I leave a bunch of strokes out there? Er, not that many. But considering the fact that 90% of my work to date has been on my iron play to the detriment of everything else (my short game especially) I’ll take it. Anytime I can play a 9-hole stretch at the Springs in the 40s, well, that’s not bad work.

Let’s start with the positives, because there were actually quite a few. I only hit five fairways all day, but my new Cobra F6 driver was a joy to hit all day. It’s not only long, it’s much more forgiving than my old Callaway RAZR-X. That doesn’t mean I can jump at the ball and over-swing – after all, the longer the ball travels, the farther it can go OB if I’m not careful. My iron play overall was OK. Had a few thin hits but no shanks – always a good thing. Would have liked to have had a couple swings back, but what 24-handicapper wouldn’t? But it works both ways.

Two examples come to mind: I had pulverized my drive on the 338-yard par 4 2nd (“Flat Iron”), leaving me just 118 yards to the pin set in the front of a long, thin green protected by trees on the left. Just off the fairway right, my 3/4 8-iron was pushed just enough to hit the green and dive into a bunker on the left side. I haven’t practiced sand shots in a year, and I hit it over the green 40 yards. I didn’t want to hit it long and end up back in the same bunker so I hit my pitch shot too easy, leaving another chip to the green then three-putted for an 8. That, my friends, is what is called throwing away shots.

On the other hand, I’m on the always nasty, always difficult (at least for me) 386-yard par 4 14th (“The Jungle”) which is nothing resembling a jungle. What it does have, however, is water to the front and right, and further out, water left all the way to the green. And a fairway that at its narrowest point is just twenty yards wide. I didn’t mean to, but I smacked my drive further left than I wanted to be, leaving me 140+ to the green with a large tree in front of me. I figured the longest club I could hit and get over the tree was a 7-iron, but I chunked it under the tree to a bare spot 80 yards from the pin. I didn’t want to wreck my new pitching wedge and should have just picked it up and dropped it a little further back on some grass, but I chose to try and pick it instead. It chunked off right, but fortunately hit the hill protecting the green on the right just right (no pun intended), then rolled to ten feet where I two-putted for bogey. The golf gods giveth as much as they take away.

On the not-so-great side was my short game and anything to do with my hybrids and my 5-wood. As far as the former went, that was to be expected, since I’ve hardly chipped or putted anything since Vegas back in January. My putting was especially atrocious on the front nine (19 putts) but I found a little something with my stroke I had forgotten doing on #8 and had three one-putts thereafter. Same thing with my chipping, which improved steadily on the back as I started getting used to the lightning-fast and fickle Superstition Springs greens. Clearly, however, there is still much work to do as far as my short game goes.

More alarmingly was thee way I hit (or didn’t hit) my hybrids and 5-wood. I got away with a thinned 4-hybrid at the par 4 fifth (“Billy’s Bend”), but the rest of the round the 3-hybrid and the 5 cost me dearly. On the first three par 5s I was sitting pretty long and in the middle of the fairway only to top, squib, and chunk (in that order) my second shot with the 5-wood. I can honestly say I’ve never hit a 5-wood so bad as I did today. Same goes with the 3-hybrid. Hopefully, now that I’m starting to get more comfortable with my irons I can spend a little quality time trying to figure that 5 and the two hybrids out.

The big thing is that I’ve taken the new clubs out and started to learn how to use them under game conditions. Hitting balls at the range and playing golf are two different things. The Steelhead XR irons are heavier than my old RAZR-X irons were; heavier than I remember them being when I was testing irons out at the PGA Tour Superstore, so it will take some time to get used to playing half and three-quarter short irons when the distance is less than 100 yards to tricky greens. But that’s half the fun of it: learning to play shots with new clubs.

I still have things to work on: continue tightening up those irons and trusting my swing, and the never-ending battle against jumping at the ball and maintaining my tempo, but today was a good enough start. A foundation to build on in some cases, the recognition that there is much work left to do in others. But it felt good to hit balls in a way that counted, and it felt good to grind out there on the back nine – I wasn’t striking the ball as well as I did on the front, but when I’m grinding and making bogeys instead of doubles and triples it means I’m playing with some focus and making and taking advantage of the breaks. A decent start, and looking forward to getting back out there again soon.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 16:00 | Comments (0)
May 13, 2017

It was during my last test drive of irons at the PGA Tour Superstore that Cain, the sales associate and golf instructor wannabe referenced in this post, offered up a couple of suggestions after watching me hit some balls. I’ll repeat the pertinent aspects here for the purposes of this post:

…[Cain] also didn’t like the position of my club at address, it was tilted too far forward. He wanted to see the shaft pointing out of my belly button.

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

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

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

He: “No wonder you fight the shanks. You seem to have to work really hard to keep that club face square when you come through the impact zone. You need to think about the changes I suggested. Otherwise, every swing you take is a shank waiting to happen.”

Ever since that conversation I’ll admit to being haunted by it, because I knew deep down everything he had said was true. Because for the past few years, outside of a couple of nice (albeit short) good streaks I had prior to the last two Goodboys, I’ve really struggled with my irons – most especially my short irons. Hitting a green in regulation has become a distant memory. Lots of pulls and outright yanks combined with increasingly-regular visitations from the shanks. And I surely didn’t tell him that it had gotten worse – much worse – over the past six months, to the point where I’d lost all my confidence in my irons.

The first time I tried out my new irons at the Kokopelli Golf Club driving range, I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t make a damned bit of difference in how I hit them or how well they performed. It doesn’t matter if you’re Tiger Woods or a 24-handicap: put a set of clubs in your hand – any set of clubs, from any manufacturer – and you’ll end up shooting around the same score. It’s not the clubs, stupid, it’s the person hitting them.

It didn’t take my new irons long to realize they weren’t in Kansas anymore. I shanked the first four balls hit with my brand spanking new pitching wedge. After which I yanked a couple way right.

“I can’t live like this”, I said to no one in particular after apologizing to my new clubs – after all, they certainly didn’t deserve this. And it was then I decided that Cain might be right: it was time to throw out my whole set-up at address with my irons and start over. From scratch.

It was a big change I’d be making, almost like learning how to hit a golf ball all over again. Who knows how long I had taken to holding my irons like that at address? Maybe it had been years. Maybe it was just a bad habit I had fallen into recently – after all, I’ve never had the shanks as bad as I’ve had them since last fall. And I certainly don’t remember my swing coach Alex Black mentioning anything about it during any of lessons together. But when you’re hitting your irons as bad as I have been there’s clearly nothing wrong with throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Two trips to the driving range and four buckets later, I can officially say I’m in no man’s land, struggling with the new set-up, but confident that if I could ever get comfortable with the club position at address Cain suggested I’m going to hit the ball a lot straighter and more consistently, which is what it’s all about. I remember reading somewhere that noted golf instructor Dr. Jim Suttie has said it takes a thousand golf swings to implement a swing change, and I’m feeling it right now. Holding my irons at set-up without any kind of forward angle feels foreign and awkward. Instinctively, I want to use my upper body to come through the ball because I’m so afraid to shank the ball. Which is stupid, because I was having so much trouble with the shanks prior to this change. I guess that’s why Dr. Suttie also has that great saying, “Golf is hard.”

Right now I’m so in between that the ball is going everywhere: shanks, pulls, slices, chunks, skulls. But every once in a while – and today I was able to keep it together for a dozen swings for the first time before losing it again – when I’m able to stay quiet, not jump at the ball, staying quiet with my upper body and just focus on making solid contact with the ball it travels high and, most importantly, straight. I’m not worried right now about distance: I figure that will come later as I learn to make more solid contact and gain some confidence. For now I just want to hit my short irons straight.

Which is something else I’m doing different that I’ve never done before: outside of a couple of balls with every club the first time out just to see how they felt, the only clubs I’m currently hitting are the pitching wedge, 9-iron, and 8-iron, nothing else. There’s a method to the madness: these are the scoring clubs. If I want to play bogey golf (that’s still my goal; right now 2027 looks like a good target year!) I have to chop six strokes off my handicap. And the only way I’m going to do that is to get better results whenever I’m inside 120 yards. I’ve looked at my performance over the past few years and have carefully watched the games of my Goodboys I play with most regularly, and know my sloppiness and inconsistency inside that range is what has been holding me back the most. So those three clubs are the only clubs I’m hitting right now, and that’s how it will stay until I’ve learned to hit them consistently. And the same holds true as far as playing actual golf is concerned: there will be no practice rounds, either. If it takes me up to Goodboys Invitational weekend (or even beyond that), so be it – I’m committed to making this change and will do it come hell or high water.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:42 | Comments (2)
May 5, 2017

..and ready for whatever the 2017 golf season might bring. Officially, I will be playing Callaway Steelhead XR irons, Cobra Fly-Z hybrids (3 & 4), Cobra King F6 driver and F6 5-wood, and my old Ping Scottsdale putter. Not to mention a well-used Callaway X Jaws Chrome 58-degree lob wedge. An eclectic assembly of clubs, fer shure, but one I’m feeling very comfortable with, and one I am confident will be up to the task as I resume my pursuit to be a somewhat bogey golfer by the end of 2017.

Yep, that’s my goal, and I’m sticking to it.

Of course, everyone knows – especially this 24-handicapper – that clubs alone aren’t going to make a six-stroke difference in and of themselves, but the player still has to be confident in his arsenal, and this is the first set of clubs I’ve ever actually spent a relatively significant amount of time testing against other manufacturers and models before buying. Meaning, if it all goes downhill from here there’s no one to blame but the person swinging the clubs. As it always has been.

After ordering my Callaway Steelhead XRs, there were a couple of absolute rules I planned to follow before going any further: 1) I wasn’t going to spend a lot of money on hybrids (I use them fairly infrequently and for very specific situations), and 2) I wasn’t going to put a 3-wood in my bag. The latter decision came down to both money and rationale: I wanted to limit my entire club and bag purchase to no more than $1,500 total, and having a 3-wood made little sense. For one thing, the 3-wood has always been my least-used club: if the hole is too narrow for driver, I’m more likely to use a 3-hybrid or a 5-wood. Secondly, I could never hit a 3-wood consistently: I practiced with it the least and (to be brutally honest) never liked the club to begin with. Finally, it came down to logistics: let’s say I hit my 3-hybrid 180, 185-190 if I really catch it. I hit my 5-wood 190-200. Driver is 210-225. For a 24-handicapper, buying a club simply to cover a distance of 25 yards makes absolutely no sense. If I’m hitting the driver well it’s my preferred club even if the holes are narrow; if I’m not, I can pull 5-wood or even 3-hybrid to just get it in the fairway.

The hybrids decision came quite soon: I had thought about ordering the same Callaway Big Bertha hybrids I had played during my Las Vegas “shank and yank” visit back in January – they had actually played nice. But getting them even in good condition from Callaway Pre-Owned would cost me ~ $280 for both the 3 and 4 – not worth it. After ordering my Steelhead XRs at the PGA Tour Superstore I was moseying around the discount clubs aisle and came upon the Cobra Fly-Zs at $60 and $70 for the 3 and 4, respectively. I took them over to one of the bays and found I could hit them pretty well, and comparable to the distances I hit my old Callaways RAZR-Xs.

$130 vs. $280? It was a no-brainer. I went back the next day and grabbed them right then and there.

As far as the 5-wood went, to be honest it really didn’t matter what particular brand and model I was going to get: whatever I ended up choosing for a driver I’d get the same model in a 5-wood. If I couldn’t hit it at first? Well, I’d just have to learn how to do so in the long run. But what, pray tell, to choose for a driver? The only rule of thumb in my book (well there were actually two) was: 1) I wasn’t paying over $400 for a driver, and 2) I had to fall in love-love-love with it: hey, if you’re gonna spend that kind of dough-re-mi on a club you better freakin’ love it, right?

I had checked around the PGA Tour Superstore site and came up with four models that looked nice to the eyes: the Ping G standard driver, the TaylorMade M2 460, the Callaway XR 16, and the Cobra King F7. I had hit the Callaway in Vegas and didn’t feel the love one way or another, but the price was right and maybe I was too sick in Vegas to appreciate its charms. So I decided to keep that in my pocket with the idea that if none of the others panned out it was a club I had played and perhaps could learn to love.

Two of my best Goodboys friends “Killer” Kowalski and “The Funny Guy” Andrusaitis joined me at the Golf & Ski in Hudson, NH during my trip back to Massachusetts last week and I gave the non-Callaways a whirl. The Ping distinguished itself right off the bat with the funky metallic sound it made on contact. If you caught it flush, the ball seemed to took off, but “forgiving” would hardly be the first word I would use to describe it. Still, I loved the black Nazi U-Boat color scheme; perhaps with enough practice it could be an equally trained killer. The TaylorMade M2 was cool – a mix of white and black, reminded me of a cow. And I hit some really good shots with it. Felt good, hit good. Killer especially liked the way I hit it, so after several hits I put it aside for another go-round.

The Cobra King F7 was an entirely different breed of cat: everything I hit seemed to absolutely jump off the club face. Forgiving? Tiger can only dream of Elin being half as forgiving as this club was. Of course, the downside was the ball could jump whether you came off of it with a push or slice or a pull or hook (I’m equally adept at each). Meaning – at least for this 24-handicapper, all that distance wouldn’t matter if the last 60-70 yards of it were into the woods or over a lake. But if I hit it anywhere near square, took a little off of the swing, the ball was absolutely pulverized. I can’t say at that moment I was in love-love-love; let’s just say I was very intrigued.

There really wasn’t anything more to be discovered in a second round with all the clubs – each performed pretty much like they did the first time around. No doubt the Cobra King F7 was numero uno, but I still liked the look, feel, and performance of that TaylorMade cow driver.

I’m back home in the Valley of the Sun to pick up my Steelheads, but I’ve got mighty mo in my favor following that afternoon at the Golf & Ski. I see Mark, yet another of the associates there, and ask him to set me up with the same three models from the Golf & Ski, plus the Callaway XR 16. He sets me up in the TaylorMade bay and I have at it. I take a few swings with the Ping before Mark asks me to make a subtle adjustment before I set up: he wants me to hold the driver straight out in front of me to make sure the club face is square in my hands before I take my address.

Once again, I notice the clanky sound of the Ping – according to the machine I hit it consistently at 185-197 yards, but it’s just not a forgiving club. I decide to discard the Ping; as much as I love the look it’s clearly not the club for me. I grab the TaylorMade M2 and find it once again quietly efficient, definitely more forgiving than the Ping. My drives are anywhere from 190-206 with a high of 211 – better than the Ping and definitely more enjoyable to hit. I hit a few balls with the Callaway and find it to be a near carbon copy of the TaylorMade in terms of feel and performance, but not nearly as enjoyable to hit.

I inform Mark that my choice will be between the TaylorMade and the Cobra King F7.

I grab the Cobra F7 and the difference from the TaylorMade is noticeable. Once again, I find the ball practically jumps off the club. I’m consistently 205-210, even if they’re pushes or near-banana slices or pulls. I smack several drives straight in a row that go anywhere from 215 to 218, and I’ve pretty much made the decision to go with the F7, but there’s still something holding me back: the price. After all, between the driver and the same model 5-wood, that’s gonna be a cool $650 out of my pocket – more than I care to spend. I tell Mark I’m gonna take a walk around the store and look at bags. But I really wanted to clear my head to think about options.

I’m looking at black bags that have a cool orange trim. Between my orange Wilson balls and what looks like the Cobra driver and fairway wood I’m gonna have a lot of orange working for me, so why not the bag? I find a good basic model that runs at $100 bucks, meaning that between the bag ($100), the hybrids ($130), and the irons ($740) I’m already in for $970. I’m well under my $1,500 budget, but the King F7 driver and 5-wood will blow that all to hell. I just couldn’t see doing it.

I was getting ready to leave the store when I suddenly remembered way, way, back at the start of my iron search seeing this left-handed Cobra driver in one of the demo bags. I hadn’t hit it, I had just noticed it at the time before I even started thinking about drivers. I found the club in one of the bags and saw it was a King F6 selling for $325. Much more to my liking, price-wise, fer shure. But what would it feel like? Could it come close to the F7? I go back to the TaylorMade stall and take a few swings, and all I can say is, wowee zowee! Same performance as the F7, but a slightly different but yet familiar feel to it. And the ball if anything seemed to be jumping a hair more, my drives going another 5-10 yards further when hit on the screws. Mark happened to be watching as I absolutely pulverized one a whopping (at least for me) 227 yards and said, “I guess you like that A flex (senior) shaft, huh?”

“I knew it!”, said I. My old RAZR-X driver had the same kind of shaft, no wonder it felt so familiar. I ask Mark if he had a 5-wood in the F6 line and sure enough, he did. Case closed.

I spent another half hour hitting balls with the F6 driver and 5-wood. They felt good, looked good. I was in love-love-love, and there was no stopping me. I grabbed the driver, 5-wood, and the bag and headed to the registers, credit card in tow. Standing in line, this attractive middle-aged lady compliments me on my purchases, saying, “Great colors. Hope they hit as good as they look!”

All I could was smile and think, “You and me both, sister!”

So the search is over, Tallying up the irons, the lob wedge, the driver and 5-wood and the bag, I’d come in slightly under my $1,500 target. I’ve now got a set of clubs that I took my time selecting, and frankly I’m ecstatic over it. Of course, the ecstasy might end with the very first ball I hit at the range, but that’s the chance a 24-handicapper has to take.

Let the ball-banging begin.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 00:27 | Comments (3)

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