Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Quick Shout Out

So I was watching Playing Lessons from the Pros, on the Golf Channel yesterday and came across Gary McCord’s episode filmed in Arizona. Overall, the show offered very little in lessons, but McCord was pretty amusing. Regardless, I’m not writing about the show really.

I’m writing to voice my approval of the cart girl featured in a bit where McCord is boozing while joking about hydrating. I don’t remember the course or her name, but if any Golf Channel people are out there: I want to learn a little more about hydration in the dessert. Seriously, how many hours of infomercials can we watch? Does anyone need to see the Big Break 47 times a week? Would it be too much to ask for a show that lifted notable cart girls up from obscurity? Make it an elimination game show and the winner hosts a half hour spot on the ‘Inside Approach.’ I don’t care.

Just my two cents.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Four Balls and an Empty Bag

My theory on winter golf is this: The winter is there to allow you to improve. I liken it to the off-season in the NBA. Remember how Michael Jordan came back with a jumper in 1991? I am looking to come back to golf in 2006 with added dimensions to my game.

That is what I tell myself when my tee shot hits the green, bounces 30 feet in the air, and finally stops 30 yards later. As much as I like the mild climate of the great North West; it is not Los Angeles, and frost is finally becoming a big problem. Temporary greens and rock-hard tee boxes are getting into my way. Judging chips and pitches has become impossible on the frozen tundra, and my only recourse has been to refocus myself on “off-season improvement.”

Ball flight has been a major focus of mine lately. On the course, I am constantly trying to produce different flights. Some of them are appropriate for the circumstances, and some of them are just for the practice. Regardless, I stopped carrying a card, so I can allow myself to practice. Practicing on the golf course is liberating. I had always been of the school of thought that practice was done at the range, and the course was for playing. Well, winter golf has doubled my practice time and I hope it will help my game during my playing time come this spring.

The reason I’m writing is to share a practice drill I have started at the range based on my limited success “working the ball” on the course. As recently as 4 months ago, I would have told you I could hit draws and fades on the range, but couldn’t reliably carry it onto the course. I would have been telling you the truth, or at least, I would have thought so. Then I found myself struggling to do it on the course and decided to really test how well I could do it at the range. Everyone always says routines and goals are important when practicing, so I cooked this one up to give me a true indication of my progress.

I place a bucket of balls down next to me without pouring them into the tray. I pull 4 balls out and place them on the mat. With my PW, I try to hit a high straight shot, a lower punch shot, a fade, and a draw. If I am successful, I put the club back into my bag. If I don’t pull it off, I put the club against the rail, and move to my 9i. I will do this with every club up to a 4i. Whatever clubs are still against the rail get a second shot as I start over: rinse-repeat. I have yet to get every club back into my bag before finishing a bucket, but I am making progress.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Golf Review Rant

So I was trolling the threads on Golf Review this morning at work. You have to love productivity. While reading the various posts I stumbled upon a few about Callaway irons in the great cavity verses blade debate of the day. It seems that same debate rears its head twice a week on golf forums; however, there is never any shortage of opinions.

So here is mine: I don’t care whether a player likes cavities or blades. I’m pretty sure that a good swing is a good swing and a bad swing is a bad swing, but I could be wrong. So, I don’t care. What I do care about are some of the brands and the reasons people choose them. In particular, I care about Callaways.

I admit it; I cannot stand Callaways. I call them shovels, I lift my nose, and I find any excuse I can to put them down.

Devil’s Advocate: Why? There are plenty of clubs out there that are every bit as thick soled, and forgiving. Why do Callaway irons hold a special place in the blackness of your heart?

Me: Well, truthfully, I wasn’t sure. The feeling was so visceral I just went with it until today.

Devil’s Advocate: (now playing the role of my much needed shrink) What happened today?

Me: While I was reading this morning, I finally stumbled upon the reason. Callaways are extremely expensive.

Devil’s Advocate: Well, so are a lot of other brands, and you don’t hate them.

Me: That is true, but Callaway combines a big price tag with customers that endlessly talk about the performance of the clubs being paramount in their decision to buy them.

Devil’s Advocate: Shouldn’t performance matter when selecting a club?

Me: You bet your ass. My real problem is that the extra expense has nothing to do with performance. Like I said before, any number of clubs offer the forgiving cavity back style and thick heel of a Callaway for a fraction of the cost.

I never hear anyone with Callaway irons claim they bought them because they thought they were “sweet.” I never hear anyone say, these things are “money,” or “don’t they look bad-ass.” They always say something to the effect of, “I just hit these better,” or “they looked great at address and boosted my confidence.”


In their hearts, they love the logo, love the name, and probably love the ‘performance.’ Why can’t they say, I spent 1,100 bucks on them because they are so freakin’ awesome? Why cover it up with how pure their love of the game is and their desire to play better golf?

No shit, they want to play better golf? What a surprise, I thought the more strokes the better. All this time and I had no idea. Oh course they want those things from their clubs, but they cannot admit that on top of it, they want some Callaways because Lefty’s got them.

Why not? I can’t afford it, but I want a Scotty Cameron because Tiger has one. I’m pretty sure that it won’t help my putting to the tune of the extra 200 bucks but screw it, the thing is sweet. It is money. I would buy it, pull head-cover off and show it to my friends so I could feel good about it. It may not be pure, but the feeling is genuine.

Callaway owners of the world unite. Throw off the pompous, holier-than-thou, rhetoric about performance and stand up. Stand up and shout, “I love these things, they cost a ton, and you wish you had them too!”

I would still think they look like garden tools you bought at the Sharper Image, but at least you could respect yourself in the morning.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bandon Trails

Before I begin, here is a little warning: This entry is about a new course I played a couple months ago named Bandon Trails, and I am an admitted Bandon-phile. I’m seeking help from a support group but none of us really want to get better.

Ten years ago, Mike Keiser, the recycled paper mogul, had an affinity for links golf and an enviable glut in his checking account. That combination allowed his dream to become my reality: world class links golf in the Pacific Northwest. In case you had not heard, he built the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, and attached the tag line: “Golf as it was meant to be.”

Fast forward to 2005.

In the summer of 2005, Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore unveiled the third course at the Bandon resort: Bandon Trails. Trails is a very different course from its predecessors, Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes. The latter are links style; wind-swept, ocean-side courses that dazzle you with their postcard views while mystifying you with their undulating greens and dastardly bunkers. Trails takes a different route. It turns away from the ocean and heads into the hills.

Literally, the golf course starts with as panoramic an ocean view as can be found on the property only to turn inland, meander through the hills, and finally swing back to the sea. Initially, I read about the routing, saw the layout on the website, and thought: why? Why stray away from the ocean and the style of golf that put Bandon on the map in the first place?

A few months ago I got a call, and with it, an opportunity to play the third course free of charge. I was excited, but my excitement was tempered with my hesitation about this third course. After 18 holes, I discovered why that hesitation and the questions I had were unfounded. I am writing about it now to share the reason with all 3 of my readers. The short answer is that Trails is a links/parkland hybrid with tremendous natural beauty, and unparalleled shot variety.

The long answer is the same, but I’ll try and fill in some things I liked and disliked in particular. The first tee is tremendous. The view is breathtaking. It is almost too much for an opening hole. I found myself trying to walk and talk slowly in order to calm myself down. Adrenaline has a tendency to hurt my golf swing more than it helps it, and accuracy is pretty important as there is gorse left and the beach right. I will actually go into a bit of detail here as I thought the first hole was illustrative of Creshaw’s thought process as much as any other on the course.

If you play a fade off the tee and are interested in being safe, then you need to choose how far right you want to go. There is room far enough right to call it bail out space, but with the way the hole sets up, the longer and farther right your tee shot goes, the more obstructed your view of the green becomes on the approach. A better player will tease the left but as their shot travels it can find serious trouble due to the gorse and slop of the fairway. The safe play is short middle or left. A shot that is short and right will not hurt you too bad, but it is not ideal. I found myself fairly long and right.

For my approach, my lie was below my feet, and I could not see where I wanted to land my shot. It was occasions like these that made the caddie worth every penny. If only I realized that at the time… He encouraged me to pull a shorter club and even changed my line a bit. Of course, I followed half of his advice and ended up taking too much club. I was on in regulation but had a long putt from above the hole. My friend found himself chipping from below it after heeding the caddie’s advice. At the time, I thought I had done alright following my gut. Then I hit my putt well. Well, I thought I did. I proceeded to watch it gather speed, roll past the hole, and then end up farther off the green than my friend had been after his approach.

I have said it to a number of friends and I will write it here for posterity’s sake: nothing in life had prepared me for those greens. I hit the ball wonderfully that day. I hit more than half the greens in regulation and shot a 92. As I like to say, ‘in real life’, I’m an average putter. At Bandon, I was awful. It became funny after awhile. I started wearing the growing number of three-jacks like a medal, but my ability to keep a sense of humor about it never helped much. As we neared the end of our round our caddie told us something I thought was hilarious. He said: “Pacific Dunes is proof that Tom Doak hates people, and Bandon Trails is Ben Crenshaw’s way of telling the world he is a great putter and you’re not.”

The greens were in wonderful shape, they rolled true, but there are no easy putts on that golf course. The variety of the scenery as you play the course is matched quite well by the variety of shots required from you. There are vistas and postcard views like its predecessors but not in the same quantity. The ocean is always present in your senses, but rarely in your sights. The truth is that Bandon Trails is a great golf course that is different from its siblings. Nevertheless, after playing a round there I trust, like myself, that you will find it lives up to the lofty ambition of the resort. It is indeed: Golf as it was meant to be.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Monday, Monday…

After a cold weekend that allowed just enough sun to play a few chilly rounds, I thought I’d report that the fade I wrote about last week in, “The Secret to Golf” was a smashing success. In the words of Tiger, Ranger Rick made an appearance on the golf course. It was the new shot in my bag that left me with two things to think about this Monday.

The first thing is a sense of concern. You see, usually my ‘secrets’ work on the range and fail spectacularly on the golf course. Sometimes, they are discovered on the golf course, and cease to work immediately after the 18th hole. Either way, they never successfully migrate from one to the other. With those two truisms demolished, I am left questioning: what I am to make of this? More importantly, can I trust it?

The second is yet another lesson from this mysterious game. Ironically, the fact I was able to move the ball from left to right (almost at will) did not help my score at all. I found myself tasting a little success and then, like a freshman at a kegger, unthinkingly trying to gulp down the rest. I found a way justify a fade on every iron shot and ended up leaving myself in a lot of bad positions.

Sidebar: I thought about a Greek tragedy/hubris reference in that last paragraph. Then I thought about tying it to the Greek system/kegger reference. By the time I thought better of it, I figured enough work had gone into it to expound here in italics. The lesson for anyone reading this: never read the italics.

Getting back on point, despite an average round on the card and a mystery left to solve, I am happy. After all, I woke up on a cold Monday excited about golf. What more can I ask?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Secret to Golf

I have figured out the secret to golf roughly 239 times this past year. The beauty of doing it so many times is that I have the routine down. Surprisingly, no matter how often I stumble upon it, I never get any less excited.

I love that feeling of having the game figured out. I love it, even when it lasts only one swing. It is too bad the secret is constantly changing. I was a big fan of the secret the time it took the form of a reliable punch shot; talk about a scoring revolution for yours truly. Then there was the glorious round when a brush 7 iron from the fairway became easy to hit and judge. I would sooner forget my first kiss than forget how great it was to have a confident stance over a 40 yard pitch. ‘Quiet legs’ was a secret that extended to a number of other shots as well.

If you are anything like me, the secret, no matter how elusive, is the reason you partake in this maddening game. Well friends, I have another one for you. How would you like to be able to hit a fade with your irons without changing your swing any?

I thought so.

To fully explain, you might need a bit of information about me. When I’m sober and fairly on top of my game, I hit my irons straight with the exception of a 5 to 10 yard pull now and again. I can draw them reasonably well when I want but have to get pretty fippy with my hands to do so. When I try to fade the ball one of three things happens; I hit it straight, I push it straight, or I top it ten yards.

That in mind, the new secret’s story started last week. I went to play a round at a local par three and got paired with some magical human manifestation of a benevolent golf god. We’ll call him Bob. Bob and I played stroke play for a beer and ended up with a tie. Then we played chipping games to decide the winner. By the time it became a best out of 15 we decided to buy each other beers and called it a draw. Over beer we realized that both of us wanted a winner more than either of us wanted a free beer. We took the game to the range to play a closest to the pin challenge that, sadly, Bob won.

Then Bob said, “How are you at working the ball with your irons?”

“Rubbish” I said.

Then Bob showed me the latest and greatest secret to golf. He simply played the ball forward in his stance and closed the face of his club 10 degrees or so. With his grip set on a closed club he turned the face open and made a regular swing. The important thing to remember is that he tried to hold the face open through impact. I have a number of theories as to why this works and most of them are simple once you try it. What is important is that it does work. It works so easily it felt like cheating. I found I could fade the ball less than five yards by closing the club a certain degree and increase that to ten yards by turning it a few more degrees. It is almost like a dial you set before the swing to dictate the amount of spin you impart.

I was speechless and have yet to get over it. The latest edition of the secret to golf should have me occupied for the next few weeks at least. I hope this helps.