Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Winter of Our Discontent

With Thanksgiving upon us, I felt it was time to address a common ailment suffered by most weekend hackers, duffers, and even some single digits: seasonal rust.

Let’s face it; in most parts of the country, golf slows down around the holidays and waits, like the rest of us, for the thaw. When spring returns, we approach the new season with enthusiasm only to find our game has fallen a few steps behind our imaginations. The low numbers we remember posting in August balloon as we search for our swings.

Most of the rust falls off a golf swing fairly quickly. Even if it that were not the case, there are simple solutions to keeping old man winter away from you full swing. Driving ranges remain open, covered, and heated year round. Banks also remain open to cash golf pros’ checks. They even make equipment cheaper and more enticing to try during the off-season while the new stuff trickles in to tease us for next year.

The real trick is the short game. The short game goes first and returns last. It is a lot harder to motivate oneself to get out to a practice green in the winter. If motivation and bravery in the face of the elements are not your hurdles, then the lack of daylight can still obstruct the pure of heart.

I am not writing to lament. I am writing to bring a solution. Make a covered short game practice facility for yourself. The idea struck me while reading about Michael Jordan’s basement in Chicago. The man has a 9 hole putting course in his house. Why can’t I? Because I live in a modestly sized home and split the rent with my brother is the answer. Then inspiration hit harder one night when, in an effort to annoy my brother, I was flopping golf balls into a laundry basket. He was sitting on the sofa, the basket was next to him, and my misses tended to graze his head. Naturally, the game turned into a betting affair and shortly thereafter I had created an indoor course.

I have been using this model for a couple of weeks. The golf season is still lingering here in the Pacific North West and my creation has already brought about a revolution in my short game. Now, I have one!

Originally, I tried chipping the ball to various spots with different clubs. That progressed to combinations and eventually I had laid out a course. A typical hole will be something like this: chip past the chair but short of the door, the more room you leave to the left the better for the next shot; then chip under the table and short of the sofa; etc… In the end, try and leave a medium to long shot to a small circle, maybe two feet in diameter. Count the strokes it would take to do it perfectly, add one as a tap in, and you have figured out par. Play the course with one club, then again with another. It is challenging with a putter, SW, or an 8i. It has taught me all about trajectory and spin control on short chips and longer runners. There are linoleum hazards, penalty strokes for unplayable lies against a table leg, and numerous opportunities to wager. I have found playing the whole course with one club has helped my game a great deal. My course suits itself to a 60 degree wedge as stopping the balls short is a premium on 6 of the 9 holes.
Maybe the most important thing it has done for me, that an indoor putting machine (a glass on the floor) never has, is create a little pressure. In golf, every shot counts and your score matters. With my new indoor short game clinic, the same is true. There are course records, memorable shots, and a real element of competition.

In a small house, I have a 9 hole course. Par is an unattainable 36. I’m getting better but the third hole is a beast.

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