June 9, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I know. And they do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pars – 6
Bogeys – 3

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

Triples – 3
Quads – 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 08:01 | Comments (0)
September 30, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

And that was it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 01:31 | Comments (0)
September 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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