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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Video Tells the Story

Back in January, I took my video camera with me on a golf trip to Hilton Head. Earlier this week, I brought it out again when I played three times locally with my cousin Tripp McKeon. While it's cumbersome to pull out the camera every time I play, I think I'm going to use it often because it shows me exactly what's right and wrong with my swing.

Tripp and I played back the Hilton Head video and the nine minutes we shot this week. It was incredibly revealing. Though I managed to patch together some decent rounds on the days I used the camera, it's painfully obvious that I'm going to need to change a few things if I want to get my scoring average down from 90.5 to the 86 or 87 range.

What did I see? On the positive side, I have pretty good posture and decent alignment. Still, they both could be improved. On my bad shots, I'm moving my hips and hands through the ball too early, and the result is a pull. It's probably a result of overswinging and not allowing my hands to stay back and let the club do the talking. It's a problem that can be fixed now that I see it on tape.

On both my good and bad shots, I noticed something that will require lots of attention and hard work to change. I'm getting my hands in a terrible position at the top of my backswing and pulling everything down and through (to the left) on my downswing to compensate for the poor position at the top. The result is an over-the-top move where I'm sort of chopping down and through the ball. When it works, I hit a power cut, and when it doesn't work, I wipe the ball, and it flies nastily left-to-right. The wipe creates a weak shot and has the potential to put me in trouble on my next shot.

So, I think I'm going to bring the camera to the range and see if I can flatten out my takeaway and get my hands in a better, lower position so I don't feel the need to do an outside-in jobbie to make good contact. It's not going to feel comfortable at first, but it should result on a more "on plane" swing that should eliminate the weak cuts/wipes.

I don't know when this all started because I had never really seen my swing on tape. But, my old ball flight was a slight draw, and now I can't draw the ball if my life depended on it. At least now I can see why this is the case.

If you're having issues with your swing (I assume you all do to some extent), be a geek and have one of your playing partners videotape your swing. Do it from the side (seeing that angle showed that I usually take my club past parallel on my backswing) a few times, but make sure you tape yourself from behind. It's the most revealing angle.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Powerball: A New Era in Golf Betting

For years, my friend Jack Hession had been talking about how we needed to employ a "Powerball" during our death matches on the golf course. What exactly he meant by a Powerball was far from concrete, but the basic idea was that everyone in the match would get a Powerball that they could bring out at any time during the round and use it to their advantage. Of course, the Powerball would be yellow.
For a long golf weekend this January in Hilton Head, Jack brought a box of yellow Top-Flites with him. He was insistent that the Powerball Era begin in Hilton Head. We argued about how we should set up the rules during the nine hour drive, but we didn't come up with anything definitive until we had a thorough 60 minute discussion at Chez Marin in Hilton Head.
Here's what we decided. Each player gets one Powerball per round. He can pull it out at any time, as long as it's used when teeing off. You have to announce that you are going to use it and how you are going to use it. There are two ways to use the Powerball: 1) As a Mulligan Ball -- this is self-explanatory, or 2) As a Zero Ball -- this means you can step up to the tee, yellow ball in hand, and state to the rest of the group, "Zero Ball!" The Zero Ball is a pre-emptive strike at the other team because after you hit your shot, you lie zero.
The Zero Ball became the major weapon of the weekend, although plenty of Mulligan Balls were used. The Zero Ball is an incredibly strategic tool because it enables you to take further advantage of any strokes you might be getting in the match, and it can serve as a method for stepping on your opponents' necks when you're really beating them down. Most of the time, unless we were desperate for a spark, we would hold onto the Powerball until late in the round. If it was burning a hole in our pockets, at a critical juncture in the match the Zero Ball was usually pulled.
Sometimes the strategy didn't work out. As a matter of fact, most of the time we hit terrible shots with the Powerball. I guess it carries with it an extra bit of pressure. I used my Zero Ball at a very opportune moment late in our round at Heron Point on a par 5, but I proceeded to push-slice my drive into the other county. Zero Ball gone -- retee -- hitting two (instead of three). It was a pathetic display, but it made the round that much more fun.
We should figure out a way to trademark the Powerball, but I don't know how it's possible to make any money off of it. I would be satisfied if the game caught on and became an international phenomenon, which I think it could if enough people are exposed to it. We'll know it will have hit the big-time when we start reading reports from Top-Flite about skyrocketing sales of their yellow balls.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Improvement in My Game Is Taking Time

My main goal for 2008 is to play in a local qualifier for the U.S. Amateur Public Links in June. To enter, I need to have an index of 8.4 or lower. I was hoping by now I would be under 11, but I'm finding that even incremental improvement is slow if I continue with my current strategy of hitting balls once per week until the weather gets better.

My scores from the winter (from locations where the handicap season runs year-round) have been counted toward my VSGA handicap, which did its first revision of the year on March 1. I had a couple of good scores and several terrible ones, and a number of good scores were kicked out. So, it looks like my handicap is on the rise.

The Virginia State Golf Association updates handicaps on a monthly basis, but they offer a "real time" index called an instant index. Currently, my official index is 11.4, and my instant index is 12.9. So I think what that means is that unless I can post some good scores in the next four weeks, I'm going to be closer to a 13 than an 11 by the beginning of April. That would be accurate, as I've been way too inconsistent (from hole to hole, let alone round to round) to warrant an 11.

If I can turn the tide and take the positives from the range to the course, I should be able to hold steady through March and begin to lower the handicap in April. Still, it's a tall order to drop three points by the middle of June. My interim goals are to be in the 11ish range by April 1 and about a 10.2 by May 1. If I can get some really good scores in during May, there's an outside chance that I could crack the 9 barrier by June.

These are the things I must do in order to achieve these interim goals:
1) Go to golf school. I have a 3-day school picked out. Now I just need to schedule it. I have picked up a few bad habits since my last lesson 20+ years ago, and I need some drills to free myself of them.
2) Hit balls twice per week and put in at least 90 minutes per week on the putting green.
3) When I play, try not to shoot a score. I have a bad habit of playing defense sometimes when I'm playing well, and inevitably it leads to a couple of blowup holes (i.e. front nine at La Cana) that ruin my score.
4) Play as much as possible with my friends who like playing for money. I've found that I usually play better when there's something substantial on the line (at least a $5 Nassau with some side action). Maybe I'm searching for something that's not real here, but when I was recently in D.R., we didn't play for money, and my focus wandered during each round.

So that's the plan. I'll try my best to stick to it. If anyone has some brilliant suggestions for how I can hack 3-4 strokes off my current average, please leave a comment.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

What's Your Dream Golf Destination?

This post about Pebble Beach over at Playing the Top 100 Golf Courses in the World got me thinking about my dream golf destinations. In the post, he makes a comparison between Pebble and Bandon Dunes --neither of which I've visited.

I've teed it up at several of the standard golf meccas, including Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, Florida, Hawaii, the Dominican Republic, Cabo, and Scotland. And, I've played some cool courses in places that aren't necessarily known for golf, including Iceland, Portugal, Nova Scotia, and Idaho. But there are plenty of places I either haven't visited or where I haven't played golf when I visited that are worth mentioning.

Some of these are very far away from my home and will take some doing to get there, but I plan on golfing them all someday. Here are my current dream golfing destinations:

1) Ireland - I've been there twice, but I wasn't able to play either time. Hopefully, 2009 is the year for the Emerald Isle.
2) South Africa - I've been there too, but golfing wasn't on the agenda. Ideally, I'd like to take about three or four weeks to sample the golf and the wines.
3) Australia - I've never been, but I hear the golf is Aussi-ome!
4) Japan - Something tells me that golfing in Japan would be a truly unique experience for a westerner like me.
5) England - I lived in London for six months back in the late '90s, but I didn't have any money.
6) Bandon Dunes - Everyone says this is THE place to play.
7) Spain - I've been there, but golf wasn't the reason --unfortunately.
8) Dubai - I'm sure the current batch of courses aren't great, but I imagine excellent courses will be plentiful within the next five years.
9) Argentina - It's a beautiful country with many golf options. I'd like to go back soon and check out their offerings.
10) Arizona - I've never golfed in Arizona. I think I'll test it out some September when it's not overly hot and the rates are reasonable.

I'd like to hear where others consider their dream golf destinations. I'm sure I'm leaving out dozens. Comment away!

Pac-Mac and The Masters

If you haven't seen, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, move it to the top of your Netflix queue as soon as possible. It's a hilarious documentary about classic "gamers" who are the best in the world at early '80s video games like Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, MAPPY, and Burgertime.

Make sure you watch the special features, especially the interviews. You won't believe these guys are real. One part of the movie I found particularly amusing was when one of the key figures in the film, Billy Mitchell (the first person to ever get a perfect score in Pac-Man) uses a golf analogy to describe why real champions need to prove their ability in front of others rather than just mailing in their top scores on video-tape.

Here's the line from Billy: "To me, most important is to travel to a sanctioned location, like Funspot, that makes it official; if tomorrow Tiger Woods golfs a 59, big deal. If he does it at Augusta, that's where it counts."

Monday, March 03, 2008

No Respect for the Non-Tigers on Tour

There have been a rash of articles lately about the possibility of Tiger Woods winning every tournament he enters on the PGA Tour in 2008. I find this a little bit disturbing, not because Tiger isn't by far the best player in the world and on a serious hot streak, but because it gives little credit to the other top-notch players on Tour. Like the marketing guys from Ponte Vedra Beach like to say, "These guys are good." They don't say, "This guy Tiger is awesome!" -- even though the talking heads on the telecasts would have you believe he's the Tour's only asset.

No matter how good Tiger is, and no matter how much he cherry-picks his schedule to play in tournaments he likes and where he has had immense success in the past, golf is a fickle game. A bad week of putting, some errant drives, or one big week from an equally hot golfer will break Tiger's streak. Saying that Tiger will win them all is very disrespectful to all of the other excellent players.

I imagine he'll win a bunch of tournaments this year (I predicted nine wins in a previous post), but because golf is golf, and there are lots of talented players at the game's highest level, I think any talk of an undefeated year should be shelved until he wins at least five or six more in a row. If that happens, the other players will be running scared even more than they are now, and they'll be helping Tiger fulfill the golf writers' prophecies.