March 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

I chose the clubs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t.

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

—-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great White Shank is back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:39 | Comments (0)
September 1, 2016

Target Handicap: 18.1
Location: Superstition Springs Golf Club
Score: 50 + 48 = 98
Handicap: 24.1 / Trend: 23.6 (-.5)

Hard to believe it was only six weeks ago that I last teed it in competition on Goodboys Invitational Sunday – it felt like a year ago. But nevertheless, it was time to kick off The Great White Shank’s “Six Strokes Across America” tour. The goal being to reduce my MyScorecard.com handicap (the handicap we Goodboys use as our bible) from 24.1 to 18.1 by March 1.

Seven months, six strokes. Doesn’t sound like much, but while the difference between, say, a 18-handicapper and a 24-handicapper may not be as noticeable in terms of who the person is swinging the clubs, it most certainly is when it comes to scoring with them. Simply put, the only way I’m going to knock six strokes off my handicap is to improve those areas of my game to where they can compare favorably against fellow Goodboys who have handicaps in the mid-to-high teens. And for today’s exercise let’s talk about the game of “The Funny Guy” Andrusaitis (MyScorecard.com handicap: 14.1), and how it compares to mine.

TFG can get it off the tee, for sure, but I’m not certain he can get it that much better than I can. Where the difference lies is what happens after his tee shot. Not only does TFG give himself more opportunities at par by hitting greens in regulation far more than I presently do (his short-to-mid iron play is, in my view, to die for), but he also doesn’t make mental mistakes (a.k.a. “unforced errors”) like I do. And while he might three-putt on occasion, he rarely throws away strokes carelessly as if they don’t mean anything like I do. And just as importantly, he also has an incredibly short memory when it comes to bad swings or bad outcomes – a quality every good golfer needs to have.

It’s, then, what happens after the tee shot where the six strokes I need to knock off my handicap lies. As TFG says, we’re all crappy golfers and are going to make bad shots from time to time; the trick is to not make them worse by amplifying their importance by compounding them and allowing them to influence the rest of your round. As Dr. Jim Suttie, renowned golf teacher says, “Golf is hard”; no need, then to make it harder on yourself through mental mistakes and careless play and decision-making.

There were no press, local or national, present when I stepped up to the first tee at Superstition Springs Golf Club when I pulled driver to formally kick off my “Six Strokes Tour”. Actually, there was no one around at all – the course was virtually empty. A slightly yanked drive to the right left me a really bad lie below my feet just in front of a big mama sand trap, but I was able to pick it clean. A chip on the green and a missed two-footer for par (there would be several of these today) started me off with bogey.

And so the front came and went without much fanfare. Even though I only hit three fairways in total, my only truly bad drive came on nine, resulting in my first lost ball of the tour. My return to my old chipping stroke resulted in a chip-in for par on the par 3 third, but some sloppy play around the green on the par 5 eighth resulted in a bogey when I was only twenty feet away for par. My putting was rusty – three missed putts from four feet or less, but more importantly, I let three golden opportunities to hit the green in regulation get away from me (see above!).

I started hot on the back nine, bogeying ten and eleven, but on the par 3 twelfth I pushed a 5-iron left of the green, then took two swings to get it on the green, then 3-putt from twelve feet for a triple bogey. The kind of play that simply can’t be allowed to happen on the “Six Strokes” tour! (It wouldn’t be the only par 3 on the back I triple bogeyed, BTW: the tee shot on fifteen that I though was pulled right into a bunker must have bounced into the pond even further right since I never found it. A drop, a crappy chip, and another three-putt made it two triples.) Fortunately, I fairly made up for those two holes with a par on the brutal #14 (pulverized drive, smart lay-up, chip to one foot) and a bogey on the #1 handicap hole, the par 5 seventeenth, with water everywhere and a semi-island green. I pushed my drive left but hit two 5-iron punches along the canal that lines the left-hand side, staying away from the water to ~ 130 yards, then dropping an exquisite 7-iron to six feet (applause from the group behind me – it was a beauty) but missed the damned par putt which would have been really something.

I threw away a couple more shots on 18 with some sloppy play all around to come in at 48 for a 98, but …whoa, all of a sudden it just got very dark here, looks like we have a dust storm blowing in… but by that time the humidity had come up, it was around 104, and I was ready for a cold, dark, 19th hole. And I’m satisfied with that 98 for my first time out in a while, on a very tough course, especially given the fact I played from the green tees at 6,700 – count ‘em, 6,700! – yards, the longest course I’ll ever play, and that I had to shake off some rust while breaking in a revamped short game.

All in all I felt like I started my “Six Strokes” tour off in the right direction. My driver was fairly solid all day, as were my iron play. Need to tighten things up around the greens (as usual), but I’m confident it will come around in time. I’ll take a .5 decrease every time out, for sure! I’m glad I chose Superstition Springs for my kick-off event, but frankly, I’m hoping this is the last I see of it for a while. It’s a tough course with a very quirky finish. I’m ready for some new challenges. And just think, you’ll all be coming along with me for the duration!

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 17:42 | Comments (0)
August 29, 2016

GILBERT, AZ (UPI): Following several days of mounting speculation and rumor run amok, The Great White Shank, one of the “founding fathers” of Goodboys Nation, and the founder of Gooboys Nation weblog, officially announced the kick-off of his 2016-17 “Six Strokes Across America” tour. Standing before a crowd of, well, no one, on The Great White Shank’s “Margaritaville patio” on a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon in the Valley of the Sun, Executive Director Gaylord Pellrine described the upcoming tour as, “a chance for The Great White Shank to greet his many fans and share his goal of taking six strokes of his MyScorecard.com handicap with the general public. Because, after all, he’s one of them, and they’re, er, uh, one with him. I think.”

Asked how many events The Great White Shank has planned for this tour, Pellrine responded, “The Great White Shank wants to play as much as possible, and in as many states as reasonably possible, between now and April 1, when he traditionally begins his preparation for Goodboys Invitational weekend. So, without knowing for sure, let’s just say it will be somewhere between the number of concerts Prince has scheduled for this year and the number of years Hillary Clinton will end up in prison once the Trump administration’s Department of Justice gets through with her.”

Pellrine announced the tour’s kick-off event will be held at Superstition Springs Golf Club in Mesa, AZ this coming Thursday, September 1st, with the next outing planned for Stonecreek Golf Club in Phoenix approximately two weeks hence. In addition, Pellrine announced plans to play Las Vegas National Golf Club on Thursday, October 6, and a New England leg of the tour planned for sometime mid-to-late October. Pellrine wouldn’t speculate on the New England courses that might be played during that leg, saying only that, “There are a number of courses who have reached out to us, and The Great White Shank looks forward to playing courses he has come to know full well.”

Superstition Springs Golf Club in Mesa, AZ was quick to respond to The Great White Shank’s announcement:

“Superstition Springs Golf Club is honored to be chosen as the kick-off venue for The Great White Shank’s 2016-17 “Six Strokes Across America” tour. We guarantee the course will be ready and waiting for him, and we humbly suggest he not forget to bring every facet of his game with him.”

Las Vegas National Golf Club also issued a statement in response to The Great White Shank’s announcement:

“Las Vegas National Golf Club, home of the legendary ‘Rat Pack’, welcomes its inclusion on The Great White Shank’s “Six Strokes Across America” tour. We’re sure that if Dean, Joey, Sammy, Peter, and Frank were still alive they’d be kicking themselves at the thought of TGWS teeing it up with them at our wonderful golf club. We wish TGWS the best of luck in his endeavor and look very much forward to his presence this coming October!”

While Pellrine declined to announce additional future venues for the Tour, it is widely speculated that courses in the San Diego and Myrtle Beach areas, as well as the state of Texas are also being discussed as possible venues.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:21 | Comments (0)
August 25, 2016

So last Sunday I finally decided to unpack the clubs from my travel bag and head out to hit a bucket of balls for the first time since Goodboys Invitational weekend. It felt good, and I’m pleased to say the swing is still there. My handicap presently sits at a 24.1; my goal for the coming year is to be at around a 18 by the time the 2017 Goodboys Invitational comes around. That’s six strokes to knock off, and I really think as a goal it is more than doable. The scores I posted during Goodboys weekend were OK enough, but my game inside 100 yards was abysmal.

It was at the turn on Goodboys Sunday that I decided to ditch the ridiculous Steve Stricker / no wrist technique I’d been playing around with starting around the turn of the year. While it’s true there were a couple of rounds where it seemed to work really well, it just killed me the first 54 holes of Goodboys weekend. So I went back to my old chipping technique simply to survive on Sunday, and it felt pretty comfortable.

After hitting a bucket on Sunday I spent the better part of an hour just chipping around the practice green at Papago Park, making a tweak here and there on my old technique to get it to a point where I felt it needed to be. I also hit half a bucket of pitching wedges and sand wedge to 60 yards and less, working on keeping my feet planted instead of coming up out of it: a bad habit I realized I had fallen into who knows when. Bottom line: I’m committed to working really hard on my short and not-so-short game in the coming weeks, as that’s where those six strokes will come from. A better short game means less putts, and less putts bring lower scores.

Everything else is there.

My swing coach Alex Black thinks I have the ability to get down to more than a 18: he thinks I can get to down to a 14, perhaps even a 13. We’ll see. But for now, a goal of six strokes seems like a great place to start. I’ll tee it up for the first time since Goodboys weekend a week from now, and I’m eager to see how the changes to my short game play out.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 20:30 | Comments (0)
July 14, 2016

Days until Goodboys Invitational weekend: 2
Location: Trull Brook Golf Club
Score: 49
Handicap: 23.8

A few of us Goodboys have made playing the back nine at Trull Brook a tradition over the years, and it’s a good test: A couple of tight holes and a couple of wide-open ones, all situation amongst rolling hills. It’s a nice way to gauge where your game is before you start teeing it up for real. There have been years where we got off early enough to get in as many as thirteen holes before darkness sets in, but this year we had just enough daylight to get nine in. The other guys were yukking it up (as usual) on seventeen, but as I stood on the hill in the growing dusk breathing in the fresh, clean air my thoughts were on Arizona and all the hard work I’d put in over the past four months to get me to this point.

Not to be lying four on the sharp, dogleg-right then uphill par 5: I’d crushed a 5-wood that split the fairway, then (for the second time – see below) mistakenly pulled my 3-hybrid instead of the four – I was using a pull-cart and my clubs were all sitting upside down from how they’re usually sitting standing up in a golf cart – and pushed it way, way right, then getting back into position with a 7-iron before leaving my 64-yard pitch just off the green right. No, I was thinking of the last six weeks and everything that had happened in my life since my last lesson with Alex Black. Golf has been more than just hitting balls with my Mom’s passing, it has been a much-needed diversion from real life. This past Saturday, I’d finally chosen to abandon completely the upright take-back I’d been employing since seeing that Hunter Mahan article in the February 2015 GOLF Magazine and going with a lower (flatter) takeaway – not just with my irons, but with my woods and hybrids as well. And the difference has been pretty marked: I’m now driving the ball straighter and longer than I ever had. The Goodboys are a tough bunch, so when you’re getting complimented on how well you’re driving the ball you know you’re doing something right.

On #10, my 240-yard drive left me on the uphill – something I’d never done before in the countless times I played there. A crushed, 250-yard drive on the uphill, dogleg left par 5 #12 left me only 210 to the middle of the green. On #14, a slight, uphill par 4 with a creek running ~ 190 yards from the tee that traditionally I’ve never tried to drive, I hit probably the best drive of my life: a dead-straight 230+ yard blast that left me only 110 to the pin. Doesn’t sound momentous, but you gotta understand: I’ve played these holes probably forty times over the years and have never found myself in territory like this. It made me feel as if all the process of discovery and tweaking this and that in between all the sadness and stress going on around it had been worth it.

Of course, it wasn’t all peaches and cream: a slightly-pulled pitching wedge left me off the green right and three putts gave me a double-bogey six; on twelve I meant to choke down on a 4-hybrid but mistakenly pulled the three instead and yanked it OB right, leading to a double-bogey seven. Throughout the nine I continued to struggle with my short irons and my short game (16 putts), but I did end up parring #14 as well as the par 3 #11 and par 4 #18, so the 49 I ended up posted sounded about right. But, boy, looking back, it could have been so much lower.

So that as they say is that: tomorrow the Goodboys Invitational starts and I’m as ready as I’m going to be. I know I’ve been trying to be too fine with my chipping and need to be more aggressive, forgetting about those lightning-fast Arizona greens. Of course, if the Plymouth courses feature faster greens than what I’ve been playing the last two days at Green Meadow and Trull, all the better, but I simply have to bear down and get the job done. It won’t be for lack of trying, however – my game is in the best state it has ever been, ball-striking wise. Now it’s just a matter of finding confidence and executing as I know I can.

Filed in: Golf Quest,Goodboys by The Great White Shank at 06:51 | Comments (0)

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