It says something for the addictive nature of golf, or the eternal optimism of the player that whenever I finish a round, I am already looking forward to the next round. If I have just had a good round, then I want to play soon so that I can continue my good form. If I have played below expectations, then I want to get out there and make amends.
There’s plugged lies and there are unplayable lies – but sometimes at my home club, the trees and bushes swallow the golf ball whole and it is never seen again. (Until the next time gale force winds shake it loose.) A couple of examples of lies I have encountered ….
Between Christmas and New Year, I figured it was time to re-read my very favourite golf book. I cannot remember when I first got this book or even how I cam to know about it but it has had a profound effect on my thining about the game of golf but sadly, it hasn’t really helped to show in an improved golf game. That is not the fault of the book itself, but on my own lack of application of the book’s principles.
It is not an instruction book but a book on the psychology of golf – one of the first that I had ever encountered. It is a book that is as much about learning as it is about golf, and how the human mind can get in the way of itself when trying to achieve goals. I know I used a quote from this book way back in 1997 when I was presenting to my panel when I was going through the process to become an Advanced Skills Teacher 1. When re-reading this book, I tried to find the quote I used again, and I pushed some key quotes out to Twitter but could not find the one I was looking for. I found it in the very last chapter.
“To perpetrate doubt in the educational system or in parent-child or manager-employee relationships is one of the most debilitating though – unconscious crimes against human potential.”
The basic premise of the book is that doubt is the undoer of our potential when playing golf. If we can learn to keep doubt at bay, then we free our unconscious minds to play shots that open up our potential. Gallwey talks about two parts of consciousness, Self 1 and Self 2. Self 1 is the little voice inside your brain that has a running commentary about your game and I could recognise that concept straight away. It is the idea that pops into your head about avoiding the water on the right but then swinging in such a way that creates a big slice that dumps your ball in the wetlands. It is the angry name calling under your breath (or out loud) when you duff a shot or misjudge a break or hit a shot straight towards trouble. And then keeps you brewing over it long enough to ruin the next shot, or the next hole, or even the entire rest of the round. It is that voice that tells me I am in a slump, or that I can’t possibly keep a run of good holes going. None of this is helpful to an improving golf game.
Gallwey’s other Self 2 is the state of mind when you just swing and the shot happens well or as required without any mental forcing. Some athletes call it the zone, and everyone who has played golf has experienced, even fleetingly. The Inner Game is about trying to find that sweet spot more often.
It really is a complex read and I have not put everything he suggests to the test, or as a routine. But it is about increasing awareness of your surroundings, of your body, of your tempo and letting that be your reality rather than letting your inner Self 1 start over analysing or talking down your possibilities. I have a recent example from two rounds ago where I found the zone in a round of golf, and then got in my own way.
I was playing the East course at Grange for the first time in nearly two months after experiencing a steady run of results on the West.I wasn’t sure how that would translate to the East, and it was only the second time that my new Callaway driver would see action on this course. So mentally, all sorts of things were racing through my mind. Would the Callaway give me extra distance and get me using shorter irons into the greens? Would my steady form follow me from the West? I was about to lose a “flagged” round from my rolling handicap and I wanted a decent round to maintain my current handicap. But I had been reading this book, and I was conscious in trying to keep these Self 1 thoughts at bay, focussing on the swing, accepting results as they came and letting things flow. I was also playing with a friend who is still a novice golfer (his own description) who was feeling a bit edgy about the East course being a tough course for his own perceived standard, so I wanted him to enjoy the day.
I succeeded on the first drive, sending a nice long shot down the centre much further than normal. I only had a wedge for my second when normally I am hitting 7 iron, but I hit it thin and sent it through to the back of the green through the light rough and onto the soil surrounds. I was pleased that the shot didn’t bother me so decided that a putter would work best as the next shot was downhill and through a large swale. I focussed on awareness of my putter and picked a place to put to that I thought would release to the hole and it worked out pretty well, settling down four feet from the hole. I sank that – par – not a bad start.
The second hole was another nice drive that worked from left to right up closer that normal to the green. My next shot was a 7 iron that felt a bit pushed but climbed over the right hand bunkers and lobbed softly on the green. Easy two putt territory and there was my second par.The third is a par 3, and again I reached for a club shorter than normal as I was focussing on a routine that had been working over the last month with my address. It was keeping the Self 1 stuff out of my mind and this one also found the green, although it hit a down slope and ran away from the hole settling eight or so metres away. My putting seemed to be well paced and I lagged it up for another par. Things were going well – I noticed the trend but didn’t get too excited which was a good sign.
The fourth is a short but challenging hole that doglegs around to the right past a wetlands water hazard. I usually take a three wood here because a pulled driver will go deep into the trees on the left hand side and a slice will surely drown the golf ball. This three wood came out a little low but arrow straight and was longer than my partner’s drive. I was only 60 metres away and I could feel myself tensing over the shot – the mind tried to stay focussed but tightness produced the worst shot of all a topped slice (almost shank) straight across the corner of the green and into the reeds. That hole did not amount to a score (playing stableford and no stroke being an index 17 hole) and then I got my focus back. I hit the next par 3 in regulation and parred. The next par four also had water down the right but no way was I making the same mistake twice! Or so I thought. This time instead of tension and tightness, I over relaxed and topped the ball to the left barely a hundred metres. It was the swing away from focus to another opposing detrimental state of mind and body. My next hybrid iron advanced me down the fairway to the left not too badly and I thought I could still easily get bogey if I got back to the balanced state of mind. The approach wedge was a slightly longer replica of the push/topped slice from hole 4 and I drowned my second golf ball. Another scratch on the card.
Funnily enough, I managed to birdie the next hole after the longest drive of the day, a hybrid that ended up in the right hand bunker, a nicely played bunker shot down to about six feet and a putt that never looked like missing. The next hole was a Self 1 fiesta where I pulled my drive, chipped out from a bush, played up , chipped on and two putted. I thought I was self sabotaging in a major way especially when my drive on nine was a pull, extra low that ended up in the left hand hazard two or three metres from the embankment joining it to the fairway. I had to play the shot with a wedge to ensure that I cleared the lip of the embankment but didn’t want to hit it too high and catch the overhanging branches. A good situation to focus, and trust that my Self 2 would manufacture a shot that would work. It did, catching it just right – high enough to clear, low enough to dodge and with a lot of forward momentum that carried it up to around 150 metres from the pin of this par 5. Suddenly I had my trust back and hit a beautiful 5 iron onto the green for another par. I was pleased that I hadn’t let a few serious lapses stop me from bouncing back and recording a score below my handicap for the nine, but of course my Self 1 voice couldn’t help but mentally calculate the amazing score I would have if “I hadn’t stuffed those couple of shots”.
I won’t analyse the second nine because the focus wasn’t as sharp, and the day was really hot so I did feel a bit like I was forcing shots heading back to the clubhouse. But it was a timely reminder to feel the potential of Self 2 and to really aim to do the things that need to be done to allow that state of mind to happen more often. Thank you, Inner Game Of Golf.
Just a really quick post here seeing it is New Year’s Day and I’ve been busy doing nothing all day. We have had some seriously hot days of late – I think that 3 out of the last 4 rounds that I have played have been on days when the forecast has been 39 degrees C (102 F) or higher. The key to feeling good all the way round on those days is pretty simple – fluid and lots of it.
I also try to wear lighter coloured clothing and wear a white cap (although finding a decent bucket hat would be a better option) but it’s making sure that liquid is on hand that is key. This summer I have been getting two 750 ml bottles and an extra 1 litre bottle and freezing them half full overnight. I top them up with spring water in the morning just before I leave for the course, and I add in a Powerade just to break things up.
I found out yesterday that the Powerade is a pretty crucial factor for me, as I started to feel a bit heat affected on the seventeenth green. I could really feel the blood pounding in my head as I crouched down to read my putt and all of a sudden, the sunlight seemed to be extra glarey. Because it was only forecast to be 38 (100 F), I thought that two and half litres of cold water would be enough but in hindsight, I think I was wrong. I would normally drink the Powerade towards the end of the front nine as it was not semi-frozen and the cooler bag only keeps things cold for so long. Whatever a sports drink has in it, it obviously gets absorbed pretty fast by the body in a extreme heat situation but it makes the rest of the water last perfectly for the remainder of the round.
Luckily, Grange is not that far from the ocean so usually there is some form of breeze helping to make things more comfortable. I certainly prefer a dry heat to excess humidity and dry is more common here in Adelaide. And keeping the fluids up is going to be a smart idea as I get older as well.
I put an asterisk next to the title because any round that I’ve shot under 80 in the past twenty years has some qualifying circumstances that made that score easier to achieve. I’m just an average golfer so breaking 80 is a nirvanic barrier to try and achieve. On a full blown metropolitan course without any asterisks, the best I have been able to must is 81. Every time I have broken 80, it has been on a shortened course undergoing renovations, or a sand greens course.
I used to play a bit of sand greens golf prior to my kids being born. These courses are all through rural South Australia and I’ve played a number of these in my single life as a beginning teacher. My lowest round was a 76, one day at Wirrabara Golf Club (back when my father and I were on speaking terms). Sand greens or “scrapes” as they are known are quite a bit easier to play on than actual green greens. In fact, there really isn’t much call for a short game besides knowing how to chip and run a seven iron, and there are no bunkers to speak of. Add in the fact that you have year round preferred lies, and the fact that they ran sheep on the course so that the grass was even throughout (sheep don’t discriminate between fairway or rough) means that my 76 isn’t really that amazing. anyway, it is the best score I have had thus far – and I don’t play those country courses any more.
It was a summer’s day in January, 2001. I had just completed eight holes in the Saturday comp with my partner for the day, Barry, and I stood on the tee of the ninth hole at Flagstaff Hill. I had a six iron in my hand; the distance was 135 metres uphill to the cup. I settled over the ball, swung through and watched the ball soar towards the green. That looks pretty good, I thought; it ought to be pretty close. From the tee block, the green has an upside down saucer look to it and the pin was back left. “That might even be through the green”, I remarked to Barry as we started to pull our buggies towards the ninth pin.
As I got close to the green, I scanned the back looking for the ball but couldn’t see anything. It was in the hole! The junior apprentice pro was standing on the verandah of the pro shop just twenty or so metres from the green and he said that he saw the ball bounce twice on the green before jamming into the gap between the front edge of the hole and the pin sticking up. It was pretty exciting and I remembered the advice of my brother-in-law when he got his hole in one – put the golf ball in a safe place so that you don’t lose it! He said that someone who he had played with scored a hole in one and then drowned that same ball on the next hole in a water hazard. My piece of personal golfing memorabilia is safely wedged in the appropriate gap on the six dollar trophy the club gave me for my achievement.
Once upon a time, SA Golfer magazine had a scotch whiskey company as the sponsor of its Hole In One Club. If a registered member of SAGA had a hole in one during an official club competition then details would be forwarded to the magazine and the recipients would get a certificate, a mention in the magazine and a nice bottle of the company’s finest as their prize. By the time I achieved that honour, Precept were the new sponsors and I got a Precept golf cap instead. Still not a bad deal, and certainly better than some other people’s hole in one stories.
A deputy who I worked with had two holes in one, but both were during practice rounds with no witnesses and on temporary holes that were in play during course renovations. Not only was there no prizes or official recognition, he got ribbed about wasting his once (or in his case, twice) in a lifetime achievement on shots that didn’t really count! Another story I heard from a teacher friend of mine who worked at Port Broughton who said he had seen the world’s worst hole in one – a 36 handicapper who scrubbed his 3 wood shot along the ground that bounced, bounced and finally rolled into the cup.
I saw a hole in one another time at Flagstaff Hill on the long par 3 on the back nine. We were on the green, marked our balls and called the group up behind us. One the guys there bladed his tee shot, turned his back on the green and slammed his club into the ground in disgust. Meanwhile the ball hit the front surrounds of the green taking the bulk of the pace off the ball and it then arced its way into the hole. He didn’t turn around until he heard us cheering and yelling out to him. He had missed the whole thing! Another story I heard was from a guy called Peter who I played with regularly who had what he called a Clayton’s hole in one. He was on the seventh at Flagstaff Hill which calls for a tee shot across the corner of a large dam. This tee shot can make a golfer feel a bit anxious and many, many golf balls have been drowned in that watery grave. Peter did the same with his tee shot but then holed out with his third shot off the tee – the hole in one you have when you aren’t having a hole in one.
But my favourite hole in one story with direct involvement involved a group member when we were playing a money game. The game involves pairing up within a foursome and playing best score for fifty cents a hole, but with handicap playing into account. We were playing the 18th which was a shortish par 3 back then (it has since been converted to being the final part of a long par 5) and he holed out for a hole in one. I had put my ball within four feet and drained the birdie putt, and because of my handicap had managed to halve the hole with him! I remember apologising to him for spoiling his moment of glory – I mean a hole in one should win the hole for your team every single time – but he said no problems, it just adds to the story.
I’ve always been a work-things-out-for-myself type of golfer. I’ve only had one lesson ever from a professional which was an interesting exercise in itself as the pro had a sprained wrist at the time. In the end the main thing I got out of that thirty minutes was the whole idea of actually aiming at something very specific rather than something vague (like the entire fairway or the whole green) and even the pro pointed out that someone with a little bit of intelligence like a teacher should have been able to work that out for myself.
I’ve always been that way with golf equipment, choosing what I want based on a compromise between quality and price, which meant buying off the shelf or straight out of the bargain bin. This brings me to my latest purchase which bucks that trend – my new driver which I had fitted by the pro at my club.
I’ve owned a few drivers over the years starting back in 1989 when I bought a Taylor Made Burner Plus to replace the actual (made of wood) 1-wood that came with my first full set of Carnegie Clarks from the pro based at the Ceduna Open weekend. That was replaced by an updated Burner out of a bin at Grange Golf Club in the late eighties during a Country Golf Week visit. That served me well for quite a while until I bought a set of Tommy Armour Silver Scot 845s in the early nineties so I switched to the one metal that came with that set with a head smaller than a average three metal today.
I was introduced to the marvels of graphite shafts when I bought a second hand Callaway Big Bertha upon my return to Adelaide in the mid-90s, from the Pete’s Golf Factory shop at Darlington, which was eventually upgraded to a Cobra Ti, the ones with the dual dimples in the crown that Greg Norman promoted for quite a while. That lasted me for a while until I tried a demo Cobra 400 SZ one day on a whim. I liked it and bought it. About five years ago, I bought another demo, returning to my TaylorMade roots, this time a R9 that I thought served me quite well.
When I was swinging well, I was able to work the driver either way with a draw or a fade. Problem is that I have never been that consistent as a golfer but I was happy with it and it brought me good results. It sparked a bit of a trend with my Sunday foursome where two other guys in that group also followed suit and bought R9s to their preferred specifications as well.
Then one of the guys bought a new driver this year from eBay and I developed a strong case of club envy. His new weapon was a white R15 (which has since snapped in the handle but that’s another story for another post) and it made me wonder if I was actually using a driver that was best suited to my swing. I went on the web to check out the various golf forums to see what the average enthusiast was recommending for the mid-handicapper. One club kept coming up – the Ping G30. So I starting trying the demo one from the Pro Shop and I was beginning to see this as my potential new purchase. But I thought that this time, for the very first time, I would get fitted properly for the club.
I thought I actually got fitted for my irons a few years ago but in retrospect it was more a case of being told that my stance, swing etc suited an off the shelf set of clubs. I didn’t buy these from my club pro so I am definitely wiser for the future. So while I was developing an affinity for the Ping, I suspected that maybe there might be a more suitable driver in the marketplace for me.
I booked in with Warren the pro, and he used the camera and software system that is all part of the modern fitting process, and got me hitting my R9 in the nets. He then pulled out a couple of clubs, clicked in shafts that he deemed appropriate and got me hitting them. Turns out that I needed a club that flexes closer to the head and my R9 flexes closer to my hands. That would work well if I was close to a professional level golfer but sadly, I am not. He had me hit the Ping and offered the opinion that it offered nothing better in terms of consistency or extra length and got me hitting with his identified choice, the new Great Big Bertha. This offered tighter dispersion and according to the computer analyser, an average of 17 metres extra in drive distance! He tweaked the 9 degrees down to 8 degrees to produce a lower ball flight.
Thirty minutes later, I walked out with my new weapon, and allowing for the fact that a new driver still can’t mask fundamental errors in bad swings, it is certainly producing much greater consistency, the promised extra length and can be sneaky long on what feels like a mishit push that doesn’t slice. I would definitely recommend fitting, and know that when I want some new irons, fitting will be the way to go with my club pro and nowhere else.