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Progress Report: the Belle Haven Pro-Pro (with video)

If there is one thing you get out of this website I hope it is that I have inspired you to compete. It doesn’t matter what the competition is, only that you care about the results. True competition is the only meaningful testing ground for what you work on at the range and on the course. You play to test what you practice, you practice to play better. When you care about results your heart beats faster. It becomes even more of a challenge to execute your various swings, and you will quickly find your present weaknesses. At the end of the competition you either have something you can put on your resume’ or you know just what you need to work on to get ready for the next competition, or both. And playing for money doesn’t really count: no one will ever mention that you beat so-and-so for $500, but they will forever mention that you made it to the semi-finals of the State Am.
 
I wrote in a recent blog that I was going to keep everyone up on my tournament play this year, and I am doing just that. It is a bit of a different thing for me as I am not the type to talk a lot about my tournament play. My wife and daughters are barely conscious of the fact that I am playing, and I can recall winning events and never even mentioning it when I got home for dinner. I won the Section Championship one year (our biggest club pro event apart from the National Championship) and back at my club not one person, including the head pro, ever acknowledged the fact. It’s a funny thing though, that it never bothered me. I was perfectly happy to have that feeling of winning at the time of the win, and afterward I could bask in the feeling for quite a while. Anyway, I have never thought that anyone was that interested in my rounds, but now things have changed and I have to accept the fact that it will be helpful to everyone for me to go into more detail about what goes on in my tournament rounds.
 
This 2¬-man team event was kind of a pick-up game to have something to play in early in the year. We have a strong section, and some of the better players like to go to Florida and play in the PGA winter series in January and February, but most of the guys have been stuck up North since November, and even though the winter has been mild there are no tournaments to play in until the end of the month. I wasn’t going to play as I had a bad feeling about the weather (I didn’t think it could possible hold up) but as it turned out it got better rather than worse and on play day it was 70 degrees with about a 15 mile an hour breeze. It was a noon shotgun so I did my usual set of isometrics and stretches along with 10 minutes on the elliptical, but I skipped my usual workout. This is something I decided to do this year so as not to over-tax myself on tournament days. I usually feel like I’ve been beat up after I play so I figured doing more in the morning might not be a good idea. Anyway, I got there at 11, putted for 15 minutes, and then hit balls for about 20. I am hitting less practice balls to warm up this year as well, as I figure I have a limited number of decent swings in my body before I start to lose it and it is silly to waste them when they don’t count.
 
The first hole we play is number 11 (shotgun start), a par 4 playing about 435 yards dogleg right. A perfect drive is a hard cut which catches the contour and bounds forward. Anything right side is in the trees, down the left leaves a much longer 2nd. Historically I would say I’m not too bad on first drives, but usually they are not as long as I will be able to hit later in the round. This time, however, I hit a hard knuckling fade that hits perfectly in the fairway and rolls forever. My partner hits a pretty good one and when we get up to our balls I’m about 40 yards in front of him. He immediately checks out my driver and the shaft and wonders if I have some sort of souped-up club. It isn’t, although the new Taylormade R11S driver is the best I’ve had. It is a 9 degree head, and when I set on “low” (making it 8 degrees I think) and “C+” (closed) on the bottom plate adjustment I started hitting bullets that roll way further than any driver I’ve had for ages. Now I’ve got 123 to the pin, slightly downhill with a little breeze behind me. My 52 degree wedge maxes out at 115, so I’m pushing it to go 120. The pin is about as far front and right as it can be, and there is a bunker guarding that side of the green. From further out the other guys are toward the back of the green with their approach shots, which is pretty far away as the green measures about 40 yards front to back.
 
So right away here is a typical situation which calls for a decision. Do I knock down a pitching wedge knowing that it is the safe shot to carry the bunker but questionable as to whether or not it will skip and release well past the hole, or do I bust the 52 and have it stop right away next to the hole (if I hit it straight). I know that if I mishit the gap wedge I will not reach the green and might bury it in the bunker, but if I hit it hard and solid it will be the perfect club. I’ve got both clubs in my hand and then I say to myself “hit the 52”. One way or another you have to hit a shot. You have 45 seconds to pull the trigger, so a decision has to be made. That part is a given. The important part is that you be decisive about your decision. Think about that for a second. Make a decision, be decisive. Sport psychologists like to call that “committing to the shot”. I call it taking responsibility for your decision. Make up your mind then hit the shot. If it doesn’t turn out due to poor execution or it turns out that it was the wrong decision (you flush the shot and it still ends up buried in the bunker), then just go get the ball and concentrate on hitting that shot. Give the next shot the same treatment you gave the last one, and so forth for every shot during the round. Not many people can do this. The emotional ups and downs of a round of golf are physically and mentally taxing, and if you spend too much time angsting over the results of each shot you are not going to shoot your best score and you are not going to enjoy your round. “Taking one shot at a time” is one of the most common cliché’s uttered by good players, and it is so for a reason. It is the best way to approach the game and the only way to get through a round without making an ass out of yourself. How stupid do you feel after a self-berating, club-slamming episode followed by a pitch-in for birdie? Good players can sometimes channel their more intense negative emotions into good things, but most players simply go off on a tangent and self-destruct.
 
Anyway, I nail the shot to 6 feet and make the putt, and I’m off to a great start. I two putt from 15 feet on the next hole, a par 5, then smoke another drive on the long 13th and hit an 8 iron to 4 feet. I make that one to put the team 2 under, and I’m feeling pretty good. I haven’t played that well for a while and it is certainly nice to get it under fast, and when I birdie our 5th hole from 15 feet I’m starting to feel like its old times. The 16th is a par 5 with water left and pot bunkers down the right, and with the wind blowing left to right my thought is to challenge the left side of the fairway and let the wind drift the ball back. This is a course I have played a ton of times and I rarely hit a good drive on this hole, usually bailing to the right, so of course I get up and hit a major pull that nails a tree and kicks back into the fairway instead of going in the water. Don’t let anyone tell you that luck doesn’t play a large role in golf, and don’t believe that it “all evens out” in the end, unless you mean “the end” as the end of time. If you look at good luck and bad luck as the same thing you won’t get caught up in lamenting the fact that it seems like the whole universe is aligned against you. I don’t mind listening to stories of odd luck, both good and bad, but I can’t stand people who want to convince you that their failure is due to horrible breaks.
 
Anyway, I end up making par, and then arrive at the 17th, a 200 yard par 3 dead into the wind, the pin way back left. I know I can’t get my 4 iron there, so I hit my 3 hybrid (I’m still using the old TaylorMade Rescue FW from about 100 years ago) and drill it to 7 feet. It’s a great shot, and I’ve got the putt to go 4 under for the round, but I don’t hit it hard enough and miss the opportunity to start taking it low. It’s a good par, however, and after playing 18 well and two putting for par I go the par 5 first and rip a 3 wood off the tee. It is a new 3 wood for me, the Rocketballz Tour 14.5, and it is one hot club. I’ve never had a 3 wood I can hit this far (just as they claim) and it flights beautifully. I put a Diamana Ahina 80 gram stiff in it, and I put it in the bag after hitting it twice on the range. I now have 245 to the pin and while I pull the 3 wood a bit I am pin high left with an easy pitch. I get it to about 2 ½ feet above the hole while my partner, who hit the green in two, has run his first putt about 8 feet past. Now, I should wait for him to try his putt, but for some reason I decide to putt first and wouldn’t you know it, I miss, not even hitting the hole to the right. I have no idea what happened, but it does register that I feel a little shaky, almost like I need something to eat, but I shake it off and go to the next tee, a short par 4 that plays 4 iron- wedge. I hook my 4 iron around the corner to 75 yards out from the pin, while my partner is struggling over to the right in the trees. It’s a straight in shot, easy as could be, and I take aim, pull it back, and cold shank it so far right it almost hits my partner. I have done this at odd times in the past (I hit one in the practice round at Emerald Dunes two weeks ago), and I know immediately why it happens. I get a little too close to the ball at address with questionable posture, and then push my weight toward my left toes in the start down. The combination sends the hosel into the ball, and there it goes laterally to the right. One thing I have learned is to ignore the shot completely and forget about it as fast as possible, so I just get in the cart and drive over to the ball. I have no shot at the pin, so I bump the ball onto the green about 40 feet from the hole and almost make the downhill, snaking putt.
 
It is easy to have a good attitude and be a nice guy when things are going good, but the real test of your ability to control yourself is after something goes terribly wrong. It’s pretty simple: the round is not over, so you better collect yourself and get on with it. The only thing you can do is to try and minimize the damage and get along to the next hole, where it is extra important to focus in and hit a good shot. I do just that, and hit driver to 80 yard from the pin, where I am now faced with the exact same shot as I shanked on the last hole. I look at my partner and say “maybe I’ll stand a hair further from this one”, which gets a chuckle, but the funny thing is that that’s just what I do when I get over the shot, which I hit to 5 feet and make birdie. I bogey the next hole, a par 5, after hitting my 3 wood behind a tree, then birdie the next with a sensational 60 yard pitch to a super-tight pin, then make another bogey on our 16th hole after driving to the right.
 
Our last hole of the day is a tough downhill 180 yard par 3 with the pin hugging the right side of the green and the wind blowing hard right to left. The first two players hit the ball at the middle of the green and watch as the wind carries their shots off the green to the left, while the 3rd tries to play the ball out to the right and draw it in, and when the ball doesn’t quite draw enough the elevated green rejects it to the right. I decide to hit a hold-cut 5 iron into the middle of the green, and I pull it off perfectly. The ball starts at the middle of the green and moves slightly right, holding against the wind, under perfect control. Everything about the shot looks and feels right, and it ends up about 18 feet from the hole. I don’t make the putt, but it is just the right way to finish up the round. I am 2 under for the day and pretty satisfied with my play, especially since my back feels better than it usually does after a round.
 
The video that goes along with this lengthy report is from the next day, and I can see what I need to work on to continue my progress. Practice to play better, play to figure out what to practice, and try to win when you play: it is a never ending cycle that provides and endless but ultimately rewarding challenge.
 

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