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

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