Category Archives: Golf

Back in the saddle

Originally posted June 30, 2010

After more than a year of writing for the Examiner site, I’ve opted to quit writing about golf their way and return to doing what I want when I want here. I know there are exactly zero avid followers out there reading this right now, but somehow it felt more real to put it into writing and put it out there. Like that will somehow bring me back into the fold of writing on a regular basis again.

Writing for someone else was educational, and I quickly learned how to cater my writing style to garner the most clicks. Clicks = pay, and I managed to get over 270,000 clicks last year. Examiner.com bought me new clubs and bought me a new flat-screen TV. In fact, it was pretty much the day that I got said TV that I stopped writing for them.

I quit writing before Thanksgiving, so I missed all of the Tiger Woods meltdown. Thankfully. It was hard enough to watch one of my favorite sports figures fall from grace from a distance, I would have felt dirty profiting heavily from it. And judging from past results, I could have probably gotten a down-payment on a car from his indescretions.

Think of this: there was a tournament where it seemed as if Tiger farted on camera. A link to that video with a catchy headline got me $120.00 in a single day. So very sad. I can only imagine how much scrill I could have cobbled together off of some photos of his porn-star honey. I’m glad I didn’t.

The original goal was to write about golf on my terms: what I like, my own quest to get better, courses I play, etc. I may go pull down some of my equipment and course reviews from Examiner to post here, but more likely I will just keep on keeping on from here. Beautiful thing about the Internet: everything you do stays out here forever. Like herpes.

Inching Ever Downward: Are Mid-90’s the New Plateau?

Originaly posted 9/11/08

This past Monday I headed out to Lincoln Park to play a round and see just how far along my inner game quest has taken me. The hard part lately has been expectation management, which is pretty much a constant with this game. It was overblown expectation that sank my ship the last time I played Golden Gate Park’s nine-hole course, taking me from five-under my best round ever to thermonuclear explosion.

Given that I only get to play a round every week or so, it is hard to keep my expectations in check. It also means I have lots of time to think about golf, and try to find ways to focus the next time I do play. This past Monday, I wanted to make sure I focused on having fun, and kept my expectations realistic. I really wanted to stay focused on playing every hole as if par were 5. Not as if it were a par 5, mind you, but as if par were 5. There’s a subtle distinction in there somewhere, I’m sure.

I also wanted to start working on pre-shot visualization: picturing the ball flight I want to hit for each and every shot. Without narration. Any time I catch myself thinking, “I want to hit a high soaring sand-wedge shot that sits next to the cup” I start over and try to just picture it. It is tough to do, but my golf self seems to respond.

The first four holes were far from stellar: double bogey, bogey, double, double. I was playing as a solo, and the threesome ahead of me was pulling away while the twosome behind me started pushing. The walk from the fourth green to the fifth tee was the turning point. I fought back the urge to go thermonuclear, and posited the question to myself: why do I play golf?

Re-focused on having fun and enjoying some time outside, I reset my expectations and relaxed. I found a key to focus on in my pre-swing routine for that next drive, and managed to par the hardest hole on the course. I got all jacked up for the next hole, took another double, and then parred the seventh.

I shot a 47 on the front, which isn’t a record for me at Lincoln by any stretch. I’ve shot a 42 on the front there once before. But I managed to keep my train running pretty smoothly for the rest of the round. I made a huge bogey save on #10, and then hit an 88-yard approach on #11 to within four feet to save par.

Coming into the home stretch of 15 – 18, I knew I was in good shape for overall score. I knew I was going to go way under my previous personal best of 98 at Lincoln, and might have even been facing a chance to break 90. I opted not to count up my score so I wouldn’t know for sure. I wanted to try and stick to playing each hole as it came, and not get caught up in the overall.

On fifteen, my approach shot came up short, but was right online. I chipped to within four feet and dropped the putt (I failed to mention that they aerated the greens the week before I played, and they were all sandy, slow and uneven. More so than normal). I took a bogey on the par-3 16h, and suddenly had just two holes to play, sitting on what must be a good score.

My drive on #17 was what I visualized, but my alignment was off. I got out of the sandtrap easily enough, but three putted. Then there was #18. I hit three horrible shots before I finally calmed down and hit a good iron to exactly where I was aiming. Too bad that by then I’d lost faith in myself, and wasn’t aiming at the green. Chip on, two putts and that’s a 7 to close out the round.

I got a drink and sat down to count up my score: 46 on the back (I think that’s my best back nine at Lincoln yet) combined with the 47 for my best round ever anywhere, Lincoln or otherwise. There were a lot of bright spots in the round, but surprisingly the number of fairways hit was not one of them. Every time I did hit a fairway, though, I reached the green in regulation.

Relevant stats:

Fairways hit: 3
Greens in Regulation: 3
Ups & Downs: 2
Pars: 4
Putts: 35
Fun Points: 33
Handicap before round: 30.8
Handicap after round: 30.3

Steeling your nerves the Ryder way

Originally posted 9/4/08

The weather in San Francisco has been absolutely stunning for the past couple of weeks. If you don’t live in the city, allow me to explain how incredibly rare this is. Our summers consist of fair mornings that give way to windy and foggy afternoons, usually with an afternoon high in the low-60’s or high-50’s. Ten days in a row of fogless, blue skies makes for amazing, unheard-of San Francisco golf weather.

Provided, of course, that you can actually make time to get out and play some golf. I managed to structure the past week-plus so that I had meetings or commitments every day that left only time to hit the range twice. Both times with my three-year old son, Ryder.

My father-in-law got Ryder a set of clubs for the holidays last year, and ever since I’ve been taking Ryder to the range. Up until recently, I would leave my bag at home and focus solely on having a good time with him. We’d go to the driving cage at the nine-hole in Golden Gate Park, where the astroturf slopes downhill from the tees into a net 50 feet away. I wanted him to have fun, feel successful, and not be intimidated by how far other people can hit the ball.

Just a couple of weeks ago this all changed. I announced that I was heading off to the range to hit some balls, and Ryder dropped what he was doing and came running out of his room exclaiming, “I want to hit balls too, Daddy!” This is the stuff golf dads dream of! I mean, I’m no Earl Woods – I respect the man and what he taught his son – but I do hope that Ryder will want to learn the game and that he and I will have the rest of my lifetime to enjoy rounds of golf together.

I instantly said yes, and we grabbed both of our bags and headed to the Presidio, which was closed (Monday afternoons, FYI), so we wound up at GGP, which he was already familiar with. I told him that since we’d both have our clubs, we’d need to either each pick a stall and hit on our own, or take turns hitting from the same tee in the same stall. He opted to share a stall and take turns.

I hadn’t anticipated how much my expectations would shift as soon as I had my clubs in tow. I kept unconciously shifting from father mode – which is extremely patient, forgiving and understanding of the extreme shifts in focus that come with a pre-schooler – to golf training mode – which is impatient, relentless and lacks compassion. I know, none of that bodes well for my golf game, let alone playing golf with Ryder.

If you have a pre-schooler you know that a child’s level of focus can be amazing and extreme…until their interest wanes. Then it is off to the next thing or things, as the case may be. My son loves to hit balls at the range. He also loves to talk about everything he sees while he’s hitting balls at the range. Which is fine and dandy out at Golden Gate Park, where he’s on par with most of the duffers who are taking up the game, and I feel no pressure about containing his wonderful running monologue.

But a week later, when we were out at Harding Park, another dynamic came into play: caring about what other people around us thought, and worrying about his verbosity angering other players.For whatever reason, at Harding Ryder lost his concentration early. He wanted to play a new game, which involved getting every tee out of my bag and sinking it into the astroturf.

He was happy to run around, “matching” up our clubs, so our drivers could meet, lining all of the tees up in little rows, and when it was his turn to hit, he’d just as soon talk about the ball collector as swing his club. In a sport focused so singularly on results, it is tough to disengage and simply have fun. But it is extremely educational.

At first, when it was my turn to swing and Ryder was talking through my entire swing, I’d tighten up and slice to holy hell. I imagined the guys on either side of me getting fed up with having to listen to this youngster blabber on, and slice even more viciously.  I took a step back and realized that this if this was how I was going to approach it, this wasn’t going to work out: I’d be forever frustrated, and Ryder would have no fun.

So I encouraged him to keep playing whatever games he enjoyed, even showing him a secret stash of tees in another pocket in my bag. Then I chose to find a new level of concentration that would allow me to focus and enter into golf traning mode long enough to make a good swing, before returning to father mode. Instead of worrying about the guys around me, I chose to see it as an opportunity for them to learn to swing with a whole new level of distraction. Truth is, most of them got a kick out of seeing Ryder swing his little clubs, and probably couldn’t care less.

After the bucket of balls, we went over to the chipping area, and this is where I discovered that the key to enjoyment is to find a game both of us can play. Ryder loves chipping, and we had a little two-ball chipping game for another 15 minutes before he completely burned out. At which point, I made the best discovery of all: he loves raking sand traps as much as I love hitting out of ’em. I almost felt guilty, hitting two shots at a time out of the trap and then handing him the rake to hit, but he completely loved it.

The best part is that the next time I went out to actually play, I was able to achieve an incredible new level of focus and concentration. Members of my group talking during my setup or even in my backswing? People on the clubhouse patio murmering while on the first tee? Ha! That’s nothing compared to what my son can do (I look forward to saying that about his golf game someday, too).  If you want to work on your game, we’re available for training sessions for a nominal fee: Ryder likes 2.5″ tees.

All a Shambles at Silverado

Yesterday I played in the Queen of the Valley Hospital Foundation’s Day for the Queen fundraising golf tournament. The format of the event was a shamble, which I enjoyed immensely and wrote about extensively on my Examiner golf blog. The basics of a shamble are this: everyone tees off, you choose the best ball to play from, then everyone plays their own ball in from there and you record your two lowest net scores.

It made for two shots at redemption on every hole: off the tee, and then into the green. As a team we needed to make sure we used two drives of each player by the end of the round. I’d played a similar format tournament at Sonoma Golf Club last summer, where we each needed three drives on the card. I started off hot, but my group kept opting to go for comparable drives, figuring that I’d be strong through the end of the round. By the time we made our turn, I still needed a couple more drives and felt the pressure mounting.

I related this story to my group before we started the tournament, and then proceeded to start red-hot off of the tee. On the first hole it was a close choice between my ball and another, but mine was on a flat lie, and just a little closer to the hole. On the fifth hole I outdrove the group with my 3-wood, crushing a career drive 183 yards (I measured it backwards with the rangefinders). I had my drives out of the way by our fifth hole.

Interestingly enough, as the day wore on my drives started to fade. Literally. After crushing drives straight down the pipe, I suddenly began slicing everything. Look at the setup on the 18th tee, our 10th hole of the day:

At address on the 18th tee

Setup seems ok. My shoulders are a little rounded,  and back a little bent, but I like the distance from the ball,  and stance.   Interesting to note that I’m setup for the right side of the fairway, thinking draw, then hitting slice. The top of the takeaway on the next shot is revealing:

The club angle at the top is far too upright. Looks like I am set up to return the club back to the ball outside in, playing slice only. Funny thing: on the next hole, I set up facing the left side of the fairway expecting to play a fade, relaxed, swung inside-out, and crushed it perfectly straight…out of the fairway.

My remedy was to pull out my driver and truly swing easier. I started hitting the fairway again, and managed to relax my swing overall. But I never would have known what the problem was if I hadn’t asked one of my teammates to snap some photos of me. Interesting to note, and I’m going to try and make a habit of using a camera on occassion.

My putting was on fire, until I started thinking about what each putt meant. But early on I was dropping huge putts for net birdies and even a net eagle. I missed two crucial putts on the last four holes, and re-grouped to make the only birdie on our final hole of the day, a downhill, 186-yard par-3.  In fact, it was my drive and my putt that gave us our only birdie on that hole. Gotta love high handicaps and net birds.

Techno-Love: Range Finders

When I first took up golf, my wife said, “Well, at least it’s not a gear sport.” I presumed she was kidding. It took us both a few months to figure out she wasn’t, and it is.

The product cycle of new golf technology is now down to a staggeringly short six-month time period. Drivers that used to be considered “current” for two years are now rotated out of the prime retail locations twice a year. The Golf Channel has Fore Inventors Only, a program dedicated solely to inventors who are trying to create golf’s Next Big Thing™.

I’m a technology and gadget fiend. I watched Fore Inventors Only with a passion, but have yet to buy any of the products on the show. I keep meaning to, just to support the people I rooted for, but it really isn’t that big a hassle for me to bend over and pick my clubs up off of the ground when I’m out of a cart near the green.

One of the places I did invest in golf technology, however, was a set of range-finders. I say “invest” because any technology I acquire for golf should come with a payoff. In this case, I had three goals:

1. Learn how far I hit each of my clubs,

2. Know how far I have to every target zone, and

3. Learn how to gauge distance

There are a variety of range finders on the market, and they come down to two basic types: binoculars/laser or GPS. I thought that the various GPS devices available were easily the sexiest, and not just because Natalie Gulbis is the front-woman for SkyCaddie.

In the end, however, I went with a set of Bushnell Pinseeker 1500’s, with slope. Sure, they’re not legal for tournament play, but I don’t play tournaments. And what they help me accomplish, the key differentiator between them and the SkyCaddie, was determine how far I’m hitting my clubs, each and every day.

SkyCaddie does have a function that will enable you to measure off a paced distance: click a button, start walking, and click again and it gives you the distance between the two points. Brilliant for measuring how far you bombed that last drive, not recommended for finding out exactly how far it is to the yellow flag on your local driving range. Let alone all of the flags at the range, that sand trap I keep hitting into, and how far my last wedge shot flew.

Anytime I use my range finders with a new group of playing partners it is an interesting social experiment. People who have been golfing for a long time have their own systems for gauging distance, and when my numbers don’t match up to their own I’ve learned to defer to their prior experience, for them anyway.

My buddy, Mike, for example, couldn’t believe that the white tees on the par-3 8th hole at Glen Eagles in San Francisco were 165 yards back one day. “It’s just a wedge shot!” he exclaimed. He’d played “The Eeg” many a time, and had developed his own familiarity with each and every hole. The 8th had always been a wedge shot for him. A de-lofted, full-force, guerilla-assault wedge shot, but a wedge shot nonetheless. Me? I opted for a different club. One I could swing easy, and know it would get there; my goal on every approach shot.

Having a set of range finders at the range and on the course has been extremely valuable for me, and it has increased my speed of play. To teach myself how to accurately gauge distance, I play a game called “guess the distance” on each and every shot. I’m getting better at distances 150 yards and under, but still have a hard time with the longer shots.

When it comes time to choose a club, I’m able to narrow down all of my variables quickly and efficiently, and arrive at a club selection with high confidence. The kind of confidence I lacked when I wasn’t sure if that sprinkler meant I had 150 yards to the flag, the center or the front of the green.

Of course, your yardage may vary.

In the 90’s and Sweating in Alabama

When I found out that the event I was doing in Birmingham was going to be held at Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa, I started making contingency plans in case my schedule would permit a round of golf. When it all fell into place and I got dropped into an 8:30am threesome on Saturday morning, my last hope was that my shoulder would hold up for a round of golf.

It had been almost three weeks to the day since I over-swam my shoulder, and I was more nervous about how I’d hold up than how I’d play. On the range, my focus was all over the place, and so were my shots. After I calmed down, and sweated some of the coffee out of my system, I was able to get some consistency going. I was amazed by how hot it was at 8am. This did not bode well for the final six holes that we’d be playing between 11:30am and 1pm.

The par-3 fourth hole

The course is a stunner. Part of the Robert Trent Jones Trail, Ross Bridge plays from the tips as the third longest course in the world: an insidious 8,139 yards. I opted to play from the whites, 6,200 yards with a rating of 68.7 and a slope of 118. Over the course of 18 holes there was never a repeat drive, never a repeat hole. The par 3 holes were all extremely memorable, the course a classic RTJ “tough par, easy bogey” risk/reward setup.

Not usually a fan of carts, I was thankful to have one in the Alabama heat. The temperature was 80 by the time we teed off, and was well over 90 by the end of the first nine. My shoulder actually seemed to like the heat, as if playing in a sauna was exactly what it needed. I didn’t feel it once during the round.

I kept track of fun points, but no one else in my group was really into the concept, which took some of the shine off of it. Overall, I hit some good shots, and only had 3 horrific flubs, all of them topped shots. I managed a birdie on a 163 yard par 3, knocking my tee shot to 6 feet and dropping the putt. But I was 7-over on the par-5’s alone: one bogey and three doubles. If there is anything I can take away from the day, it is a need to improve my game on the long holes.

Once again, I ended well. The final hole is a par-4 that plays over water on the tee shot, and then tempts you with another shot over water to reach the green. My tee shot was safe, a little too safe, as it left me 184 yards to the elevated green, 160 of which was carry over water. I buried my approach shot in the hillside, carrying the water but not quite making the putting surface. A chip and two putts and I was home in 99, marking my fourth round in a row under 100, and my sixth round in double-digits ever.

The Day’s Stats

Fairways hit: 6
Greens in Regulation: 1
Ups & Downs: 2
Pars: 0
Birdies: 1
Putts: 33
Fun Points: 28
Handicap before round: 31.4
Handicap after round: 30.8