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!

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Fleeting Nature of Good Golf

In my July 8th post I recounted how well I was striking the ball in the prior two rounds. That stretch of excellent ball striking continued through my next round at Keswick Hall last Monday, and through 16 holes of a Tuesday round at Stumpy Lake.

During this stretch my drives were nothing short of exceptional. Time and time again I found that I was able to essentially place the ball within just a few yards of my target. My hybrid and iron play was also solid.

Then, suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, on the 17th hole at Stumpy Lake last Tuesday I badly heeled my tee shot. (It would have been a shank had I been swinging an iron.) I then stubbed an iron and limped to a double bogey. This was in stark contrast to my play earlier that day. Hole after hole I had been carding easy pars, just missing birdie putts. Through 16 holes I was just 3 over par and prior to a bogey on 16 was thinking about how I was going to card a couple of birdies and shoot par for the round.

So, after the fiasco at 17 I thought, "Okay, just forget that hole and play on". I felt like I was in a good frame of mind on the 18th tee, but once again - as it seems to happen with the shanks - I heeled my tee shot just as I had on 17. I recovered enough to bogey the hole, but my confidence, sky high just a few holes earlier, was a bit shaken.

So after finishing the Stumpy round so poorly I was eager to get back on the course, which I was able to do at Bow Creek on Friday. I could tell immediately that my ball striking was not at the same level it had been for the previous several rounds. I limped around the course, alternating good shots with poor ones, carding bogey after bogey and at the end of the day my confidence was badly damaged.

So then came yesterday. On the range prior to the round I struggled to regain form but except for a few good swings I couldn't find it. Then I played. As excellent as my recent ball striking has been - yesterday's was the polar opposite. So bad was my play, in fact, that I actually can't remember the last time I stuck the ball so poorly. At this point my confidence is pretty much shattered.

So, now it's on to the recovery stage.

My task now is to figure out where my swing went wrong. Did I over cook something? Is my complete lack of confidence a result of, or the cause of my swing failures?

My oh my, how quickly things change in this joyful yet frustrating game.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


I had a wonderful ball striking round last Sunday.

So this post is primarily to remind myself of my Sunday swing thoughts. Successful golf being the fleeting entity it is I am hoping that I might be able to refer to this post in the future to recapture last Sunday's magic.

It all started on Thursday, actually. I was playing at Bow Creek - the course on which I learned to play golf and the course that I return to anytime I feel that my psyche is in need of repair, and after dropping seven strokes in my last three holes the week before my psyche was in definite need of repair.

About half-way through the Thursday round a memory of my trip to Augusta a few years ago came to mind.

My friend Nick and I were there for a practice round. For both of us it was our first time at Augusta. We wanted to see the full course so instead of camping behind a hole and waiting for all the golfers to come to us we walked the course.

My memory was of an observation while I was standing behind the tee box at eleven. Ernie Els, Adam Scott and two other golfers whom I didn't recognize came walking up the hill to the tee box. I've long been a fan of Ernie Els' languid swing and I closely watched his mannerisms as he approached the tee box. He was so relaxed, and... athletic. But then I noticed that each of the other 3 golfers had the same mannerisms. Had Ernie rubbed off on them or was I noticing a commonality?

As each teed off I became convinced that it was a commonality. Each golfer displayed easy, athletic, balanced yet powerful swings on that eleventh tee box at August. I burned the memory of those swings into my brain and that memory reappeared for me Thursday.

So I tried to duplicate those swings. The common characteristics were:
- at address each player seemed completely "grounded", as if their feet were nailed into the ground.
- each player displayed perfect balance both before and during the swing. There was no leakage of power or loss of ball control due to swaying. There was no swaying at all in their swings.
- more than anything else, I remember thinking to myself that each player seemed completely "centered". Centered in both the mental and physical sense. Each displayed both a mental and physical calmness before, during and after the swing. Each swing looked effortless, yet each was powerful and sure.

On Thursday, recalling these memories, I was able to come close to duplicating this "centeredness". I was able to "swing within myself", yet maintain and in fact improve on my usual distance and accuracy. In some sense, I think I found "the zone".

I want to stress again that there was both a physical AND mental aspect to this experience. By "centered" I am referring to both a mental and physical "balanced" feeling. Mentally I was calm and unconcerned about the outcome of the shot. (That's not a completely accurate description - it's more like I was completely convinced what the outcome would be so I was therefore not concerned.)

Physically I was calm and so both concentration and the actual physical swing came easy. Perhaps the mental surety carried over into the physical realm? I'm not sure. All I know is that BOTH were present.

And I was able to recapture these feelings on Sunday.

Will I be able to carry this into my next round?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Maintaining the Lag

Happy Independence Day, USA!

Well, long time no post, but that doesn't mean I haven't been working on my game.

The Bobby Clampett book The Impact Zone, discussed in my last post in March, has had a huge impact on my approach to the golf swing if not my scoring. Since reading the book I've been working on a number of swing changes prime among them maintaining the lag in my swing. I believe that I have improved this aspect of my swing with the result being an increase in swing speed and overall distance.

The key to my improvement has been a single change in my stance - bringing my back (right) foot forward (towards the target line) by somewhere between 3 to 6 inches. Why I did this will require some explanation.

First, my old stance was quite closed with my right heel setting up several inches behind my left. I developed this stance because it helped me bring the club into the ball on an in-to-out swing plane which encouraged a draw, my preferred swing shape. Until recently though, I didn't understand how this robbed me of power.

Several years ago an assistant pro at a driving range I would frequent would watch me swing and tell me to move my back foot forward. Since my stance was closed, he was essentially just telling me to move my right heel even with my left - parallel to the target line. He never explained why I should do this but whenever I made the change I found that I was able to bring quite a bit more power into impact. But the stance change felt funny and seemed to encourage pulls and so I would inevitably drift back into my closed stance.

After reading The Impact Zone I did some searching on the web for hints on maintaining wrist lag and I came across this writeup by Jeff Mann, which contained a link to this Hogan video. Watching the video it finally occurred to me why the pro's driving range tip seemed to work for me. Moving the right foot forward allows me to clear my hips in the manner that Hogan demonstrates in the video, and thereby helps me maintain a significant additional amount of lag in my swing.

Ergo, additional swing speed at impact, translated into additional distance!

Any swing change feels funny at first but I stuck with this one and it's finally paying off. Initially I experienced directional problems (pulls) but lately I've adjusted my swing path enough that my pulls are much less frequent. The extra distance has also played havoc with my club selection.

But these are adjustments that I'm happy to make in return for the extra distance.

Thanks Bobby Clampett, Jeff Mann, and Ben Hogan!