Project 2 Handicap

Online log of a quest to drop my golf handicap from a nine to a two within sixty months. Sink or swim, I'll give it my best shot. Advice is not only appreciated, it's encouraged!

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Anatomy of a Poor Round

Partnering with my friend Dan, I shot a disappointing 88 in our member/member tournament yesterday. I'd really prefer to forget about this round but I said I'm keeping it real here, so here goes.

Conditions: Windy, with strong gusts at times. During the round I let the wind psych me out a bit. It was indeed affecting my shots, but at times I overcompensated - selecting too little club downwind and too much club into the wind. The wind was affecting putts and I overcompensated there too - one of the reasons that I had six 3 putts.

Driving: My drives were generally straight and long. My bad shot recently has been a pull hook, and it did surface during the round - on the first tee, and again on eight, nine and sixteen. Three of the four mistakes cost me a shot.

Fairway woods/Long irons: I hit solid long irons on one, three, six and nine - only the four iron on three which went a little long led to a lost shot. I hit poor seven woods on four, five, sixteen and eighteen. Three of the four shots were hit on the heel - resulting in low pulls and leading to lost shots on each hole. My only solid seven wood came on seven - so solid that I flew the green leading to a double bogey. I had three, three wood shots. On nine I flared the shot to the right from a tough lie. Hit a good shot on fourteen, and hit a thinned low liner on seventeen. None of the three wood shots led to lost shots though.

Mid/Short irons: Nice shots on two, four, thirteen and fifeteen. Three consistent mistakes - slight pulls on eleven, twelve and fourteen. Only one flub - a chunk on ten. This shot and the pulls on twelve and fourteen led to dropped shots.

Short game: The length of the course and the conditions led to some challenging up and down opportunities, almost all of which I failed to convert. Up and down on one, missed on three, seven, eight, ten, sixteen, seventeen and eighteen.

Putting: Six three putts says it all. (Chalk it up to the conditions and forget about it?)

Homework this week: short game, short game, short game. And find out why I'm heeling the seven wood and pulling the short irons.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Time for a Plan

So, how am I going to do this?

Well. Okay. I need to learn how to control my emotions - especially anger. That's doable, so I'm not worried about that. I'll just focus on playing the shot at hand instead of reliving the last shot. (Yea sure, we'll just see how easy that turns out to be!)

But clearly, what I really need to do is focus on getting in shape, and on shot making.

I know how to get in shape. I've done it before. When I was in my 30's I started a running and weight lifting program. My motivation was a report from the doc that my cholesterol and triglycerides were way too high and that I was going to need to be put on medications. So I went on a health kick. Lost a bunch of weight and got fairly buff and surprised the doc when I showed back up thin and with more than acceptable lipid levels. I still remember the shocked look on his face and his words; "whatever you're doing, keep doing it!"

So I can do that - and I will. In fact I've already started.

But the shot making - I'm gonna need some help with that.

Oh I have some shots, but I need to improve in several areas before I can reasonably expect to improve my handicap to low single digits. Specifically, my greatest weakness at the moment is clearly with my fairway woods and long irons.

Yea, give me a short course where I can hit driver and wedge and I'll shoot in the 70's more often than not. But when I have to use my long irons or woods on most holes I'm doing well to scrape it up somewhere near the green. If my short game is on I might be able to shoot in the low 80's, but if not - hello 90's.

So that needs to change. But how?

I'm thinking lessons... which I've avoided my entire golfing life. I just love self-learning. Not only does the stuff that I learn on my own sink in more deeply than if somebody spoon feeds me, but I get such a thrill when that light goes off and I realize that I taught myself something!

Another reason I've avoided lessons is that, on the few occasions when I've explored starting them, I keep running into the guy who wants to start me fresh from scratch. "Just sign up for this 8 lesson package, dude. Now, let's start with the grip...".

Please! I need to find a pro who can pick up from where I am. I ain't no rank beginner and I ain't got the time to waste!

So, for the lessons I'm thinking about going the immersion route. Maybe explore a golf school where I can focus on nothing but the game for a couple of full days running and know that - at least by the end of the final day - the pro may get to the a point where I can learn something from him... or her (let's not be sexist here, Annika wannabe.)

The other area I surely need to improve is the short game. Mine isn't terrible, but if there's any low hanging fruit still within reach this is it.

Sand shots, for example. I can escape the sand, no problem... but up and down? Not likely.

My putting is pretty good, but there's room for improvement with chips and pitches. I do know how to hit the Michelson flop shot though (I'm proud of that!) and I use it frequently. It's saved me many strokes.

So, time to pull out Dave Pelz and get to work.

Oh man, what have I got myself into here?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Self Evaluation

I've been reading a book by Annika Sorenstam's coaches, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriot, called; Every Shot Must Have a Purpose. It's all about the Vision 54 thing - the idea that we should approach our rounds (as Annika does) thinking birdie on every hole - instead of (as I often do) "how do I keep from screwing up on this next shot?"

They break their game improvement philosophy down into five elements; Physical, Technical, Mental, Emotional, and Social. I decided to rate myself on each element, from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) in the hope that going through the exercise will give me a sense of where I most need to improve.

  • Physical: (Includes; fitness, posture, nutrition, proper rest, proper warm up etc...) My rating: 2. No getting around this fact... I'm out of shape. I need to lose at least 30 pounds, closer to 40 to consider myself fit again. And I need to work on my strength and especially flexibility. If I'm serious about this quest I'll get working on it. (Am I serious yet?)
  • Technical: (Includes; swing, grip, stance, aim, fundementals, equipment fitting, shot making ability etc...) My rating: 3. I do have some skills beyond the beginner. My fundementals are sound, and I play with good equipment. I have some shot making ability but I have to believe that in order to reach my goal I will need to improve my skills fairly substantially. (Serious weaknesses; long irons, fairway woods.)
  • Mental: (Includes; focus, motivation, decision making, goal setting etc...) My rating: 4. This element is my strength at the moment. Still room for improvement though.
  • Emotional: (Controlling fear, nerves, anxiety, anger) My rating: 3. I do, on occasion, lose my cool. Still need to learn how to - consistently - put the last shot behind me and focus entirely on the only thing I can influence - the next shot.
  • Social: (Includes; interaction with playing partners, family, etc...) My rating: not sure 'cause I don't yet really understand what they're getting at here.
Hmmm... not a bad reality check.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I wanna play like... a woman

Byron Nelson said that amateur golfers should try to find a tour professional to pattern their game after. I've been thinking about that and I've decided that the professional I'd most like to play like is... Annika Sorenstam.

Okay, I hear the guys snickering, but I can defend this.

First, of course I admire much in the games of the old time greats that I grew up watching. Jack's strategy, Trevino's wind cheater fade, Ray Floyd's competitive fire, Chi Chi's shot making skills. And of course I can certainly appreciate elements of the games of many of the current professionals on the PGA tour. For example, I really love:

  • The effortless swings of Freddie Couples and Ernie Els.
  • Phil Mickelson's "Arnie-esque" go for it attitude and his magical short game.
  • The grind it out games of guys like Jim Furyk and Tom Lehman.
  • And of course, Tiger's power, competitiveness, focus and sheer determination to win.
But then there's Annika.

She just makes the game look so... simple. I love how she moves quickly into her setup after visualizing her shot. She just steps up to the ball and swings, and her swing is precise - without any wasted effort. She seems almost robotic at times.

I think you could give Annika an air gun capable of shooting golf balls and she'd end up with the same result. "Fire"... ball's in the fairway. "Fire"... ball's on the green. Putt for birdie. Move to next hole. "Fire"... ball's in the fairway...

She just never seems to struggle with her game. If the putts are falling, she wins. Otherwise she finishes top ten and just moves on to the next tourney. It's as simple as that. Golf is just... simple.

So there it is.

Snicker away boys.

Annika's is the game I want!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

So what's the big deal?

If you're a non golfer you're probably thinking that going from a 9 to a 2 handicap shouldn't be much trouble. Just practice, right?


Dropping seven strokes from a nine to a two is going to be a very tough goal to accomplish.

You may not think so but we nine handicappers are already fairly accomplished golfers. We know the basics of the game, including swing mechanics, strategy, shotmaking and equipment. In short, we've already picked the low hanging fruit.

How good is a nine handicapper? Well, according to the USGA's men's golf index, a nine handicap male golfer is in the top quintile of male golfers. So, if there are 49 other randomly selected golfers in a room with me there are ten or so who can kick my butt more often than not. But I'm going to dominate the other forty (on average, of course).

Now, how good do I have to get at this game to be a two handicapper? Two handicappers are in the top two percentiles, so given the same fifty randomly selected golfers chances are that I'm going to be the best golfer in the room!

So here's one way to look at this quest of mine. In order to become a two handicap golfer I'm going to have to figure out how to beat those ten out of every fifty guys who rule me today.

I'm gonna keep it real here.

I don't really like my chances.

Monday, April 24, 2006

2 is My Goal

A wise man once said (and many others repeated) that significant goals are rarely achieved unless they are written down. That may or may not be true but it's hard to argue with the idea that by documenting my goal by starting a blog, and then telling family and friends about it so they can follow my progress or lack thereof, I'm at least gonna be more likely to stick with the plan.

Anyway, everybody else seems to have a blog so why not me?

So here goes...

Project 2 handicap will document my progress towards my goal of reducing my official USGA golf handicap to a 2.

Not much of a goal you say? Well maybe not in the scheme of things, but hey, I work to live and goodness knows I spend enough time working at things I don't enjoy that I should be able to spend time working at something I do enjoy.

So there it is. My goals is to drop my official USGA handicap from it's present lofty level of 8.9 to 2, and I will do so within the next 60 months.

Wish me luck, 'cause I think I'm gonna need it!