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!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Clearing the mind

I heard something interesting yesterday on a Golf Smarter podcast. PGA pro Seth Glasco was discussing how we golfers tend to get in our own way mentally by overthinking.

He pointed out that this is easy to do in golf since the golf swing is one of the few athletic actions where we have time to think about the action. There are a few other examples of this in sports - the serve in tennis and the foul shot in basketball - where the ball is stationary and the athlete initiates the action. But these athletic actions are atypical. In the typical athletic act - catching or throwing or kicking - we are reacting, and as a result we have less time to think and if we're at all athletic we tend to perform well in these situations.

Of course the problem with having time to think is that we can think of all the things that we can screw up. Witness Shaquille O'Neill at the free throw line, or the many times we've observed a tennis pro double fault at the least opportune time in a match. Or witness your average golfer on the first tee - especially when others are around to observe.

Or, witness your "driving range pro" who is unable to take his game to the course. As Seth Glasco points out, that's because on the practice range the golfer is able to simply swing away without worrying about where the ball ends up, wherease on the course he sees all of the trouble in front of him - the water to the right, the bunker and trees to the left - and if he thinks about all of this then he tightens up and hits lousy shots.

So the fact that we have all of this time to think before our shots is one of the things that makes the game so hard. Unfortunately, there's really no way to not think at all, but what we can try to do is to think positively, and to focus on staying loose and athletic as we start the swing. We want to get as close as we can get to a reactive athletic move when we start our swing.

I know that when I play my best golf I'm doing exactly that. When I'm most confident in my game I'm not thinking about hitting the ball in the water to the right or the trees to the left, I'm thinking about nothing but striping it exactly where I want it to go. I feel loose and I actually know as I set my tee in the ground that my golf shot is going to be a good one. I just visualize the shot, take a practice swing or two to feel the swing that I'm going to put on the ball, then just step up and swing.

So my swing thought for my round tomorrow is going to be exactly that. I will not start my swing until I have cleared my mind of all negative thoughts and am thinking only of hiting the great golf shot that I visualized.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Course Management

The Mickelson and Monty meltdowns at the US Open yesterday, plus mental mistakes I made in my own round, have me thinking about course management tonight.

Yesterday I shot an unsatisfying 10 over 82, with a triple bogey, two doubles, five bogeys, eight pars and two birdies. The triple and the two doubles were each set up by poor drives, but then exacerbated by attempts to salvage the hole by trying dangerous second shots.

On the triple, I pulled my tee shot into a deep fairway bunker on a par 5. Rather than just wedge out I tried to advance my ball with a less lofted iron - hoping to put myself in position to still be able to reach the green with my next shot. Instead, my shot lodged in the side of the bunker, requiring my next stroke to be a drop back in the bunker. In the end, I did well to triple the hole.

Same thing with the two doubles. Rather than just take my medicine I tried to do more with the second shot than I should have and in both cases this led to more trouble and to dropping additional shots on both holes.

But here's what has me scratching my head.

In each case, I weighed my options and played shots that I thought I could pull off. I thought that they were all high percentage shots.

So, did I mishit these shots badly?

No, none of them were perfect but neither were they terrible misses. So maybe I overestimated my ability on these three shots.

Phil Mickelson is kicking himself tonight for trying that tough recovery shot on 18. If I can't learn from my own mistakes maybe I can learn from his.

Maybe today's lesson is to be more realistic about the likelyhood of pulling off the tough recovery shot, and at the same time to be a bit more accepting of taking the medicine - difficult as it is to swallow sometimes.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Graphing Progress

I once was successful losing a bunch of weight by charting my progress with a graph like this one. The idea is to chart your weight (or in this case, handicap) against a goal line that maps a way to your desired goal. By charting my handicap each month on this graph I'll be able to measure my progress as compared to my goal line.

There are two lines on the graph. The blue line represents my handicap, charted by month. (I entered monthly handicaps for the past two years for historical perspective.)

The orange line represents the planned goal line, which maps a way for me to reach my desired handicap over the next 60 months.

As it turns out, I have to drop my handicap by an average of .155 strokes per month over the next 60 months in order to reach my goal. (The plateaus on the goal line represent the four months per year during which we do not post our scores.)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Deja Vu All Over Again

Prior to starting this online blog I kept notes on my golf game in a journal. Tonight I pulled my journal off the shelf and opened it to the first page.

11/9/97 Some pre-swing setup thoughts that seem to be working:
  • Keeping the right foot perpendicular to the line, and kicking the right knee in just a bit helps me get the weight on the inside of the right foot on the backswing. Keeping the weight there, instead of on the outside of the foot, allows for an easier weight transfer back to the left side on the downswing, and helps me push off from the right foot for added power.
  • At the three quarter point of the backswing and downswing the end of the club grip should be pointing down at the ball. On the downswing I think about hitting the ball with the end of the grip. This is in line with Hogan's admonition not to break the "pane of glass" extending from the ball past the shoulders.
Amazing. This is exactly what I've been working on in the past few weeks.

This just confirms what Roger and I were discussing the other day. The golf swing requires constant maintenance. When we fall into bad habits we need to go back to basics to get our swings back on track.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Adjusting to Change

June 2006 USGA Handicap Index: 9.2 (down .7 from May)

Shot a solid 77 at Signature yesterday, albeit on a day after heavy rains. To compensate for the wetness, they moved the tees forward, but the pin placements may have been set purposely tough to even the score.

The swing change that I've been working on finally made it's way to the course. That is, I developed enough trust in it to use it on the course.

During the round I kept to two setup thoughts and two swing thoughts.

Setup thoughts:
  • Make sure the back foot is pointing directly parallel to the target line, not outward, so as to help keep the weight on the inside of that foot on the backswing, and
  • Remember to put the clubhead in a flatter position on the backswing, so as to encourage a more in to out swing, with speed.
I found this second thought to be difficult since the flatter position that I'm looking for still doesn't feel natural. So before each swing I would take several practice swings, searching for the right feel, and when I found it I would just step into the actual swing.

Swing thoughts:
  • Keep the weight on the inside of the back foot on the backswing, and
  • Swing with authority, allowing the left arm to control the club.
Starting with the 4th hole, I found a groove with my driver. By the time we reached the back nine I was confident and completely in control with that club or the three wood off the tee.

I also hit the irons with some confidence, but still found it difficult to trust my swing and release on a few shots - which resulted in a few blocks to the right.

Most exciting, I made solid contact on all three fairway wood shots. While two of the three shots were well off line, the solid contact is what I've been looking for.

All in all, an encouraging ball striking round!