State of my Game — Represented by the final four holes at the State Open

The only picture I took from the event, from my cart, on the par 5 7th where I got outhit by a mile. I was the only one in a cart that round and figured I should document how far past their tee shots ended up. I still hit the green with a 4 iron and two putted for birdie, so it all worked out in the end.

The State Open finished last week up in the Sheboygan area – 54 holes at Blackwolf Run’s Meadow Valley, and 18 holes at Pine Hills. I finished, +3, T20, which felt pretty pathetic when driving back from the final round and thinking about how I played.

The whole event I felt like I was only hovering around par and didn’t have the ability to get under par and stay there. A big reason for my bad play was that I couldn’t ever get a sense of the greens on either of the courses. Issues with speed meant I had trouble with lags, and issues with reading the break lead to not making putts over 5 feet without luck. Hole to hole, I’d make a bogey or two, follow with a couple birdies to get it back, only to make a bogey again. Or sometimes I’d flip that, where I’d alternate from a birdie on one hole to a bogey on the next hole.

The biggest note of my scoring was I played the par 4 10th hole at MV a combined +5 in the three rounds played there. The makeshift hole is quite dumb, if you’ve played there you know what I mean. But then again, everyone had to play it three times, so not like I was the only one who had problems on it. Other than that hole, I had one double meaning I wasn’t taking huge steps back at any time. Just consistent bogeys.

I’ve always had a weak mental side of my game. I can count on one hand the number of times in my amateur career that I was in the zone for longer than 5 holes at a time (one example being the final 9 holes at the US Am qualifier in 2018 where I played it -2 in the 20 mph winds and penalty areas all over). My weaknesses are all over, an I can come up with plenty of individual examples showing the weakness (like the 72nd hole of 2011 State Am where I just whacked the 4 footer to tie and force a playoff rather than trying to make it).

When looking back and how I did in the State Open this year, I found that the story of my final four holes does a good job of explaining how to be good at on the course, and how frequent my weaknesses come up. This is my attempt at summarizing.

After making a random 20 footer on 14 for birdie to get to +4 overall, I get in the cart, drive over the rackety bridge up the hill to the 15th teeing area…

15, Par 3

The 15th is a slightly downhill par 3 we measuring 188 yards in the fourth round. Pin was front right on a giant green, where a miss short would be in a penalty area which likely would lead to drop zone of ~150 yards, a long miss slightly left would end up in a ravine five feet below where the pin was, a miss further left would be on another part of the green where you’d have to putt down to the ravine and then up to the hole, and a miss right would miss the green to having a short chip from longer rough. Basically the only play was to be directly at the pin and not be short.

The light wind of the day was in with maybe a slight quarter from left to right, but the quarter was negligible considering the inconsistency of the wind.

A note about lie of irons. I’ve talked to many people about importance of lie-loft machines and a huge difference they can make in both visual and physical feelings. With clubs bent too flat, I look down and can see that I have to change my swing to make solid contact by either strengthening my grip and / or opening up my body quicker. Similarly with a flatter iron, I can feel how the weight of the toe is further down, which means when I take it back, I can be thrown off and feel that I get into bad positions at the top and try to compensate on the downswing. Both cases cause problems.

I’ve spent so much time this summer bending clubs, the next day going to the range to test, realizing some are too flat or too upright, and then having to find another time to go back to the machine and try again. To bend each club, it takes a few minutes to set up the machine where I have to make sure it’s perfectly aligned to begin with, tighten the screws, then recheck that it’s still aligned. Then have to trust both lie and loft the numbers from the machine are correct, or in the end use a visual guess before moving to the next club. It’s a pain and struggle to not know what to trust and to know that you’re not going to get it perfect unless you’re able to hit balls in real time. Right now and at time of the State Open, a couple of my clubs are clearly too flat, but I don’t have a machine to do this (if you know of a used one someone wants to sell, dead serious, let me know).

My 7 iron however, is perfectly aligned. I can set up over the 7 iron and see and feel the club to know that even if my swing isn’t on the perfect path, meaning hitting the ball from inside or outside, it’ll be flat and solid at impact.

Back to the 15th. Light wind is into us, it’s slightly downhill which canceled that out, pin is 188, and my perfectly lied 7 iron lands 185-190 when swung solidly. With all of this thought about, I’m able to tell myself that there’s no excuse for me to hit a bad shot and to have confidence to be able to hit it perfect as I’ve done many times with it in the past.

The result was a perfect swing. The ball was hit dead solid, great trajectory, never left the target of the pin, landed 4 feet short, and rolled 4 feet past to the point where I’m not sure how I didn’t make it. John Jensen was the spotter on the green and he said it didn’t miss by more and an inch or two.

I wasn’t perfectly sure of how much the break was in the putt, but because I was 4 feet, and even though it broke more than I read, I still made it for a birdie 2. Par 3 birdies are rare, especially with a small landing area at the 15th.

16, Par 5

The 16th hole is a par 5 with an uphill tee shot with an angled dropoff on the right side of the landing area where the further right you hit your shot, the further you have to carry the ball to get to the fairway. If you get to the fairway, you can have ~225 downhill yards to the middle of the green. That green is angled back right however and has a giant low bunker guarding the green for more than 50 yards. Back left of the green however is light rough and a full green to work with, so pretty much stay left and go long and you’ll be fine. It’s a classic Pete Dye hole.

In the final round I hit a good tee shot but fell right to where it didn’t cover the dropoff to get to the fairway, so I had the 10ft high grass lip I had to hit it over to get back in play. This meant I wasn’t able to go to for the green. Instead, I was able to launch that perfectly lied 7 iron way left of the green and get it far enough that the low bunker wasn’t in play for my 50 yard approach. Really was a great second shot to get out of slight trouble.

Those two shots lead to a prime example of my golf course patheticness. The shot was 50 yards off the fairway, where the pin was 10 yards on the green. Flat from the ball to the hole and nothing in the way. The fairway grass was well kept enough that the amount of grain was negligible so that wouldn’t affect the ball if I landed it short of the green.

Flashback to the 3rd round in the morning. The pin then was way back right, and my second shot was a good miss to where I was within a foot of the green on the left which left almost 40 yards of green from ball to hole. I had two choices. First would be a long putt over multiple rolling hills on the green. The second was to hit a pitch shot that had the ideal landing area for any pitch shot. If I didn’t hit the ball hard enough, it would land on an downslopeing part of the green 40 feet short and get a kick forward to make up for the difference. If I hit the pitch too hard it would hit an upslopeing part of the green to take off some of that energy. In either case, the ball would have the right speed to get over the final upslope to the flat part where the hole is. I bet readers know of that kind of giant landing area and love it like I do. For that shot, I hit my 60, had it land at the bottom of the downslope, and it rolled the 20 feet to a tap in birdie. Good example of me thinking and performing.

For the 4th round though, I didn’t think, and I didn’t perform. I’m having trouble describing what I even did for that shot because I didn’t have a plan. I think a few seconds before I stepped up to it I thought “oohh I can leave this short of the green and it’ll bounce right up!” but after that I didn’t think about where on the clubface to hit the shot to determine spin, how high the ball should go, and what length of swing would give that result. I just whacked it and the ball didn’t even get to the green.

I was stunned. The hole before I was focused and hit an infinitely more difficult shot really well; here, I didn’t even hit the green from just off the front. I yelled at myself and asked what the hell I was doing. Such a waste getting the ball to that spot and having only short grass between my ball and the hole for such a good opportunity of a birdie. Imagine if there was a 50 yard par 3. Pretty sure we’d all be going for birdie. Instead I must have been too pleased with getting to a position that I had, where a bogey was off the table.

The green had some break to it in both directions, but even though I was a couple inches off the green, I barely read the putt because I didn’t deserve to have a birdie after that pitch approach that I couldn’t even get on the green. A pathetic par.

17, Par 3

The 17th hole at MV is the final par 3, similar to the one two holes before where you’re not exactly left with a bailout area. If you miss to the left of the green, you’ll have a 15 foot hill to flop up and over to get to green level. If you miss further to the left you’re in a penalty area. A miss to the right you’ll be in what I considered the longest rough of the course. So another case of hit the green or you’re probably making bogey.

Pin was lasered at 177, left side of the green but in the middle of the depth, and into the slight breeze. I consider a solid 8 iron lands ~175, so with a teed up flat lie, I’d be able to swing as hard as I wanted and the ball wouldn’t go too long. There was enough room short of the pin as well so a mishit, wouldn’t land short and in the penalty area there. This is one of the swings you want to have on an approach shot.

Unlike my perfect 7 iron, my 8 iron is still lies flat, which means when I change my swing to make up for it, the tendency is a little pull. So here, I aimed meaning slightly right of the pin, hit the slight pull, to where the ball ended up right in front of the pin about 20 feet short. Exactly what I thought would happen.

I could have shortened my swing with the 7 iron I talk so much about, but that would have been almost too much of a change from normal swing. In the future, and this is something I consider importance to be a really high level player, I’m going to want to have a swing and confidence to be able to club up and take distance off the longer iron in all cases. But here, I smartly knew what would give me the best result both in birdie chance and lack of high score.

As for the putt, this was a rare case of me having the correct read and speed where I hit the putt far enough to the right and it broke dead center with great speed. A few feet out I kind of walked it in while slightly surprised I read it that well. Another birdie on a par 3, where each one of those you’re gaining on the field.

18, Par 4

The 18th is a par 4, a quarter dogleg to the right, where the second shot to a huge rolling green is over the river. There’s also a second green on the hole straight out from the tee used by those playing the forward tees, which is to offer a second shot that doesn’t have to fly the 50 yards over water. That second green does come into play for either playing of the hole as bunkers and rough of that green that start ~300 yards from where our tees were.

I hit a really solid 5 wood that I drilled dead straight where the ball bounced enough in the fairway to get into that rough around the secondary green. It was a really great tee shot especially considering missing left or right brings in much more trouble where you can end up with a lie in the thick rough which makes covering the river tough for us, something we’re not used to in public play.

I found myself left with 163 to the back left pin. There was probably ~12 yards of landing area short of the pin, and then less than 5 steps past the pin until we hit the rough that is growing on a four foot kind of a wall of backstop to guard the clubhouse area against people who don’t know how far they hit it. My lie wasn’t bad where it didn’t have much grass behind it to affect the shot, I’d just need to hit is solid. I was in the same place my first round with a worse lie that did affected the ball flight.

Looking back, my pre-shot thoughts should have been that a solid 9 iron from fairway flies ~155-160. The little wind is crossing right to left, and because the greens had been firming, I’d probably want to land it 150-155. So I should aim a few steps right, take the 3/4 backswing, stay down and hit as solid where if the little grass behind the ball had an impact, it’d be to hit it longer. I hit 3/4 swing shots like that a lot in practice and on shots earlier in the tournament, so it’s not like it’d be a completely new swing. I feel quite comfortable with it and know that the result would keep the ball safe and let me get a birdie chance I wanted.

Instead, I saw the 163 show up on the range finder, thought to myself that that number is longer than the 155-160 a 9 irons usually goes, how I didn’t want to be short, so I need to swing really hard. I had the correct aim point to the right, and I did take that hard full swing my mind said I should. The ball was hit perfectly solid, but nothing short of nuked to where it landed past the pin, ~165, and bounced over into the rough on that little hill. In the cart ride from the fairway, over the long bridge to the green, I couldn’t help but think how dumb I was for not thinking about how I needed to land it the 10 yards short. I pulled the move of seeing the number and going with that rather than where to land it.

The lie by the green was so downhill in that rought that I couldn’t do any sort of flop without the risk of the club going under the ball and leaving it short. All I could do is land it in the rough 1-2 feet short of the back fringe and maybe get lucky with the bounce. I didn’t get that luck, and the ball bounced and rolled 30 feet past and ended up a two putt for a bogey and overall -1 on the last four holes.

What’s to Learn?

Some of what happened in the closing holes is different than what I do normally on a course. For instance, if we only counted par 5s, I was -11 for the tournament and 4th overall. On par 3s though, I was +6 and way down the ranking. In these final four holes though, I birdied both the par 3s and made par on the par 5.

Ignoring that difference of overall holes, the results of the individual shots was right in line with my issues. If I think through and really know what kind of shot I need to hit, I can have the results. Those really were two good irons on 15 and 17. My approach on 18 was a good swing and result of that swing, but my reasoning on why to take that swing was quite wrong.. On 16, I didn’t even think about the what pitch to hit or how to hit it. I have that happen many times around as it’s a lot easier to just swing and whack than to think.

The main thing to learn from these results is to remember and store the feelings I had standing over the shots on 15 and 17. Both cases I had confidence that I had the best club for me, which is the mental state I need to have for all shots. After the round and after I thought through all parts of my finish, I made sure to think about those individual shots to try to imprint into my mind the feelings that I had when standing over the shot and during the swing. The goal of that is to have shots I can think back on when faced with shots in the future. For example, next time I’m on a par 3, I want recreate the feelings I had before the successful swings. Writing about the shots in this post also helps imprint them in my mind.

The other part I want to learn from this ending is how dumb I feel for 16 and 18. By writing out the thought by thought / play by play of what happened, in the future I’m hoping to avoid making mental mistakes because of how I don’t want that feeling of stupidness again. Feelings of success == good. Feelings of weakness == bad.

As an overall statement, playing golf in cruise mode without thinking is much easier than playing golf while doing planning thoughts for every shot. So often, especially in random play on weekends, I go around and just hit the ball, find it, and hit it again. My game’s good enough and courses we play are easy enough where I can do that and still play alright. Why would I want to use my mind on a Saturday morning when it’s a lot easier to just hit and find and enjoy the sun?

I had that feeling in college most of the time. I played so many tournaments every other week that rounds became something I had to do so I didn’t feel like wasting mental energy on thinking. (The one time this really stuck out was end of my sophomore year when we had some good players on the team and kind of peaked at regionals. Having teammates that are all trying really hard meant I had to as well. That spring and summer was probably the best I’ve played, and also when I subtly realized I wasn’t good enough to be a pro in the future. That’s another story however).

There are many sport quotes that go around talking about how players are supposed to think back on a past game only after it completed, learn from it what they can, and then move on to the next game or event. That’s what I’ll have to do here.

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