Take charge or stay the same

I’m not sure if I was wearing a helmet or not, but I fell off the horse there and hit my head pretty hard.  But, as they say, it’s time to get back in that saddle and take charge of the future.  Otherwise I’m gonna keep smacking my head on the ground and that’s not the most appealing way to travel through this life.

I think I just had myself a slight case of writer’s block, to boot.

It was worse than that, actually.  For the two weeks I haven’t been sure what I needed to write about, but I also felt like I had lost control of my own practicing.  For the first time I felt kind of helpless and out of control and unclear as to what I should do to get over a setback.  In the past when I had a bad day or round or week I could pinpoint something and figure out what to do to make sure I improved and made it over a hump, but the past couple of weeks of tournament, and practice, rounds were morale killers.  They were mystifying.

If I had played the Royal Oaks Invitational Tournament (ROIT) two years ago and shot what I shot this year I would have been disappointed.  Two years ago!  As in, during my first season of tournament golf ever.  Add a couple thousand practice hours and entering with confidence and a good disposition and it was like being slapped in the face for three days straight.  The thing is, I didn’t hit the ball poorly or make any big mistakes, I just could not get the ball in the hole.  For the life of me, every single hole was a struggle to get that ball in the hole.  I had one day where every green I hit in regulation I bogeyed from putting and another day where my only pars came from sand saves.  I hit more fairways than I ever have in any tournament, but either hit the wrong part of the green on the approached or missed it all together.

I walked away shocked.  I shot 88-87-88 but I felt like I had played so much better than those scores.  I was about 10 strokes PER DAY over what I wanted to shoot.  I had 40 putts each day, which is about 8.5 more than my running average.  I hit 10 fairways the final day, which is about 5 more than my running average.  I did not have a single birdie over the three days, but had 13 looks from within 15 feet of the cup.   Zero for 13!  I almost chipped some in, but then managed to miss the 5-footer par putts and bogeyed even those holes.  It was a complete shit show and I couldn’t figure out how to turn it around.

I was pretty beat up.  To get my golfing mojo going again I tried to play a non-pressure round at Riverside the next day and struggled to score there, too.  I shot in the mid-80s on the round and then found myself stuck shooting mid-80s for a few days.  I know that there are ups and down in this game, but this felt different than in the past.  I felt like I had forgotten how to play the game, how to score, how to keep calm and how to hit quality iron shots.  Most importantly, how to get the ball in the hole.

I thought about this for a while.  I know a lot of really good golfers who can play an entire season as a plus 1 handicapper and then the next year they struggle to keep it at a 4 handicap, but then find their game again the year after that.  It’s an ebbing and flowing beast, this sport.  That said, I want to ebb and flow about ten strokes lower than I am currently.  I want my bad weeks/tournaments to be in the mid to upper 70s and my normal to be right around par and the good times to be mid to upper 60s.  10 strokes better.

After the ROIT and week of misfires, I spoke with a number of people trying to figure out how to make sure this doesn’t happen again.  I am willing and happy to put in the work, but I honestly didn’t know what needed to change in order to make sure this type of thing doesn’t happen again, or more importantly that a bad week is way better than the one I just had.  I spoke with a few of the human performance experts I have met along the way, my goal guru and some regular playing partners who have helped me along the road.  Each had some good advice and a couple pieces were similar across the board.

First off, one commonality was to work on the mental game.  When I say mental game I mean learning how to visualize, address and breakdown a round shot by shot while staying in the moment.  I have a tendency to dwell on a miss which potentially causes a string of bad shots.  I need to improve my ability to address the situation, make a firm decision, execute the shot, do a post-shot routine and be finished with it.  Too often I am putting while thinking about how I should have hit a wedge instead of a 9-iron on the previous shot; not thinking about the putt at hand.  The mental game, which can be harder to track and practice than swing mechanics as it’s somewhat elusive, was obviously a top priority.

To address this, I managed to get in touch with Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson of Vision 54 as they are highly regarded in the golfing community.  They also happen to be the #1 and #2 ranked female golf instructors in America.  I was told that I should attend their courses about a year ago, but couldn’t afford it at the time.  Finances haven’t changed, but I can’t miss out on something that could potentially be a boon for the Plan so am going to drive to Denver next week and attend their two-day course.  This is the first step in my new attack plan and I’m excited to learn implement their system and learn what they have been teaching.

The next step is stats.  Goal Guy Stuart suggested that I find five aspects of the game that I need to turn up to 11 in practice.  It could be any five parts; the importance being to figure out what needs the most work and then track those numbers to make sure I am improving at a steady tick.  Over the past couple of months I have devolved in my stats tracking and relied too heavily on simple numbers such as score, fairways, GIR and number of putts.  Those numbers can paint a decent picture of your game, but in my opinion don’t break it down enough to really see what is adding extra strokes.  So, I spent a few days thinking about which 5 stats to pay extra attention to and have finally made a decision.

My five improvement markers:

Score from within 100 yards.   This is more than just scrambling percentage.  It’s how many strokes it takes me to get the ball in the hole any time I am less than 100 yards to the green.  My ultimate goal is to average as close to 2 as possible.  This includes sand shots, pitches, chips, putts, etc.  If I hit a green in regulation from 110 yards out then this stat is not kept on that hole.  On my first round of tracking this I had 10 holes where I had shots from within 100 yards.  3 times I scored a 2 and 7 times it took 3 strokes to get the ball in the hole.

Iron shots from 120-200 yards out.  What I am interested in here is whether they hit the green or went left/right/short/long.  Pretty straight forward, I just want to see where I am going when I have a clean look at a green so that I can improve my iron play.

Quality tee shot.  This isn’t about fairways hit, it’s about executing a quality shot from the tee and includes all 18 holes, not just non-par 3s.  A quality tee shot is one in which I draw up a plan, make a good swing and the ball does what it was intended to do.  If the ball is topped or thinned or comes down 40 yards short or cuts when I intended to hit a draw it is not a quality tee shot.  But, if the ball starts on my intended line and draws how I envisioned but ends up in the first cut of rough it is a quality tee shot.  It’s more about execution than result.  Too often I hit a fairway and it counts as “fairway hit” but the ball was a worm burner barely getting off the ground or ended up on the far left of the fairway when I was aiming right.  Quality tee shot paints a better picture of the number of times I successfully executed my intentions.

Feet of putt made:  How many feet of putt drop on each hole.  A tap-in is 1 foot made, a long bomb can be 40-80 feet of putt.  My goal is to make 100 feet of putt every round.

Chipping proximity:  The number of feet to the hole remaining from every chip.  If you can knock it tighter you can make more up and downs.

These are my five new metrics that I want to first track and then improve.  Once I have a few weeks worth of data on these measures I can start to develop a practice plan to improve upon them.  Mix that in with the mental game work and it will help make sure I stop scoring in the upper 80s during important tournaments.

It feels good to have a new attack plan.  Without one it is easy to feel lost out there with all of the intangibles that make up this wonderful game.

One last thing.  I want to describe one hole that sums up my ROIT experience.

On the 17th hole on Saturday I walked up to the tee box after 3 putting a 210 yard par 3 for a bogey to go 12 over on the day.  On 17 I hit a good drive straight down the middle that ended up 170 yards to the middle of the green.  The pin was on the left side and the hole seemed to play a bit uphill and into a slight breeze.  I decided to play it safe and just go for the middle of the green with a smooth 6-iron to counter the hill and breeze.  The green had a backstop-like hill behind it and I figured anything from 170-180 would be a perfectly acceptable shot.  I made a good turn and caught it crisp.  The ball went high in the air and looked like it was going to drop in the middle of the green.  But, to my dismay and surprise, it sailed the green and the little hill behind it and landed on the tee box for the 18th hole 20 yards past the green.  I didn’t know what happened as my shot was from the fairway so I’m pretty sure I didn’t catch a flyer and hit it well. (Later a member told me the wind is deceptive and often plays downwind on that hole even though it feels into the wind).   I had a 20 yard chip that I needed to land on top of the little hill in order to hold the green which sloped away from me.  I hit it a bit high and it hit a branch falling down short of the green.  I then tried again to chip it to the top of the hill and did it, but the ball stopped dead perched up on the hill just off the green.  The green sloped hard down to the hole so I just tapped it as all day the greens had been flying.  This time it did not and my ball ended up 6 feet short of the hole.  I read the putt as breaking right and it held it’s line so I tapped in for a triple bogey.  I had made a good drive and thought I made the right call and swing with the 6-iron, but then ended up 3 over par.  That sums up my 3-day ROIT tourney.

It’s time to get back to work.  I have a lot of stats to improve upon.

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