2023 Season Prep #2 — Fixing Sleep
The importance of sleep is pretty well known in the golf world. At the recent Players, the second question off the 18th green that Scheffler was asked was about how he slept the night before. In his post-win press conference as well, he mentions rest and recovery three different times as well. After his quarter final win in the Match Play, Sam Burns said he’s most looking forward to sleep. Sleep is king.
But unlike professional golf, sleep isn’t considered as important, or at least for some reason, people think it’s weird to ask or tell others about. Just like fitness, sleep is an activity that improves every aspect of your life, physically and mentally. Though I listed this as #2 in my list of things I want to get better at for the 2023 season, sleep is truly the number one aspect of life that it’s worth getting better at. If you sleep well, you’ll have energy to workout. And I have found good sleep to be trainable and worth talking about.
Why Good is Sleep Important for Life and Golf
Sleep is the time the body has to recover. During activity, such as walking and thinking on a golf course, our bodies use energy in muscles and the brain to perform. It’s like when you’re trying to make food, and you end up with a bunch of dirty dishes in the sink and dispersion on the countertop. If you don’t clean, you’ll still be able to cook the next day, but it’ll be much more difficult and you’ll spend time moving things around during food making instead of paying attention to the food production.
When any one of us sleeps poorly, besides tiredness, our bodies are not as coordinated and have lower energy, along with many mental issues. One big example is the worse I sleep, the more irritable I become. When I was younger, after a bad night of sleep, I’d much more frequently say hurtful things to people compared to much less after a good night of sleep. I also have trouble concentrating on any task, or even having motivation to do anything, golf or work. I was mostly looking forward to the end of the day to where I’ll be able to sleep again and hopefully feel better the next day.
On a golf course, this means I’d overreact in anger much more to a bad shot which could lead to club slamming and hateful self-talk. I also have big trouble focusing on individual shots or on a tournament situation. Golf is such a mental game, and bad sleep makes mental ability infinitely harder.
From the physical angle, after a bad sleep night, my swing would be all over the place as if my muscles were completely disconnected. Swing speed goes down, and the timing of the swing gets way off. This is why I work on having a swing that depends less on timing, but if I sleep well and am recovered, timing can be spot on.
On the other side of the bed, after a good night of sleep, everything gets better. The feelings of energy, excitement, and wanting to perform shows up. A bad shot is accepted and I want to prove I can recover in an efficient way. And instead of a feeling of headache and tiredness, my mind can focus on other things, like talking, or in the golf world, practice and wanting to play well.
When you sleep well, everything in life improves.
How I Sleep
My typical sleep pattern for the past 10 years has been one where I would wake up and have to use the bathroom, usually between 3:00-5:00 depending on the end of a sleep cycle and how much liquid I had before going to bed. If this was early enough in the night, I’d be able to fall asleep and get a couple more cycles in. If this was later in the early morning, there was very little chance I’d be able to get back to sleep, meaning the day that hadn’t yet started would already be of low quality.
If I was able to get back to sleep, every other day I’d seem to have issues where I’d have the aching feeling, which I talked about my specific sleeping issues in my 2022 Year in Review post:
When I don’t sleep well, I end up having a sick, empty feeling in my stomach. Eyes feel hollow, and sometimes I have shaky limbs, and a weak core. My body knows how important sleep is, which takes away my ability to concentrate and even if I’m able to do that, the weakness of my arm and core muscles means I can’t swing in a solid way. I’ve had this for a while, and still haven’t figured out a good way of overcoming these feelings other than being able to take a nap.
Sometimes, the two issues of 1) not being able to fall back asleep, and 2) aching pain could double up and my body and mind would be so disconnected I never would perform well on the golf course, or when trying to do anything else during the day.
What this meant was before or during any event, the best I could do was try to get to bed and fall asleep as early as possible. If I wasn’t going to be efficient, I needed to give myself the most time possible. I’d tried in the past to improve, doing some small changes, but never gave it the importance as I should have. This winter though, I finally came to grips with the fact that I couldn’t go on like this forever. I didn’t want to leave sleep up to chance. I wanted to be able to know what to do to sleep well and be able to replicate it every night
Tape your Mouth
If you search online for “how to sleep better”, you’ll find tons of articles and commentators giving their quick solutions or giant lists of things to do. Seeing these can be overwhelming, especially with something you only get to try once per day, and it’s important to keep an open mind and try all the solutions that people give. Experience and doing are the ways to improve anything.
In part of overall health research and idea finding, I read the book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor. The book was awarded Best General Nonfiction Book of 2020 by the American Society of Journalists and Authors, where it includes stories of him talking to professional and amateur breath researchers and practitioners about how breathing differently can clearly change feelings and experiences.Read more: 2023 Season Prep #2 — Fixing Sleep
The book really does have a bunch of ideas and techniques that I think are worth looking at and experiencing yourself. For example, the start of the book is a story about how important nasal breathing is compared to mouth breathing, and what happens to your body and mind if they plug your nose and only let the air come through your mouth. Or about how diaphragm breathing, with air going to the lower part of your lungs, gives you a much calmer feeling than breathing in the upper chest, regardless of if the air is through your nose or mouth.
I found the start of my sleep fix at the end of Chapter 3 of the title “Nose”, where Nestor goes through and talks about the benefits of taping your mouth shut when you sleep. One of the many benefits he shares about taping your mouth shut is that the need to get up and use the bathroom in the middle of the night will go away. With the ease of finding the suggested 3M micropore tape, and just like Ben Gates at the climax of National Treasure I thought to myself, could it really be that simple? I put two giant straps over my mouth to shut it and went to sleep.
That first night with tape was the best night of sleep I’d had in years. Seriously. According to my whoop data, I slept an hour less than my normal range. And I also felt so different than any other night of good sleep I’d gotten in years. My mind felt so alert, much clearer and cleaner than before, and no eye pain, headache, or stomach ache. I used tape the next night, and the same thing happened, an hour less of sleep but still feeling different and better. All because of tape.
The whoop screenshots below here show the changes:
Before the tape, my sleep matched well with what Whoop was saying that I needed. The first night of mouth tape was on Jan 22, which is the last point on the first pic, and you can see the drop. After that, whoop kept thinking I needed more sleep than I actually did. And that mismatch continued for a while.
Whoop says that “Sleep need is calculated each day based on your personalized baseline, as well as sleep debt, Day Strain and naps. It is a measure of how much sleep you need in order to hit peak performance”.
This is meaning that Whoop kept thinking I needed more sleep, because my sleep before mouth tape and tongue change was much less efficient, where I legit needed a ton more time. The green dots were overestimating how much sleep I needed because my personalized baseline was from the much worse sleep I had before the mouth tape.
After little over a week after this change, however, I regressed slightly. I still didn’t have to use the bathroom in the middles, but every few days I’d go back to having the eye pain and shaky feeling that I had pre tape. What this meant was the tape completely fixed one of my big sleep issues and gave me a glimpse of the solution for the other. What this meant was something else was occurring, and a fix I still needed to find.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
I kept reading Breath, and later on, there’s a chapter on the impact of the amount of carbon dioxide in our blood. It says, and this is something I didn’t know before, the stressful feeling of needing to breathe is not from lack of oxygen, but rather your body wanting to get rid of carbon dioxide.
Second, if you don’t have enough CO2, then blood vessels constrict which makes it harder for oxygen to get to where it needs to be, such as the brain. Nestor writes that in order to get more oxygen to the brain, you need to hold your breath
Whenever a body is forced to take in more air than it needs, we’ll exhale too much carbon dioxide, which will narrow the blood vessels and decrease circulation, especially in the brain. With just a few minutes, or even seconds, of over-breathing, brain blood flow can decrease by 40 percent, an incredible amount.
This was an important finding for me. Last year, when I’d wake up and have head pain, I found that if I was able to yawn, the headache would subside, slightly. To induce this yawn, I’d hold my breath until I felt a big urge to get a breath, and then 10 seconds longer. A couple of those and a yawn would come. Not a complete recovery, but I did feel better. Reading about how too little CO2 constricts blood vessels to where oxygen can’t get to the brain fit very well with what I did, meaning I was on the right track.
This led me to do more internet searching about sleep issues, specifically about breathing issues during sleep. This search somehow led me to the description of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Before this find, I always assumed that sleep apnea is only when people wake up, gasping for air in the middle of the night and find themselves with very low blood oxygen levels. Instead, OSA is a spectrum. It’s similar to seizures, where most people consider them to always be a person on the ground, shaking without control. But there are different types of seizures that are much different. Same with OSA, where you don’t have to snore, or be woken up gasping for air multiple times a night. You can simply have an obstruction that changes how you breathe that leads to not enough CO2 and less blood to your brain, something that happens when you’re not aware.
Looking at the Mayo Clinic’s page on OSA, you’ll see a list of symptoms, and the one that hit for me was that headache. The picture they use to show what it looks like is simply your tongue dropping back and obstructing air to come into your lungs. When this happens, you don’t get enough oxygen to the brain.
That was the key for me. I realized that my untrained weak tongue falls back to my throat during sleep where it blocks air from getting in and out, which leads to overbreathing to get rid of too much CO2 and not enough oxygen to the brain. When I’d do the breath holding exercises, the CO2 would build up and oxygen would start getting back to the brain cells and I’d feel a little better.
That first night after this realization, I made sure to tape my lower jaw strongly forward, and practiced what it felt like to keep the tongue way forward, almost outside the teeth. I was back to the perfect sleep.
Since then, I’ve worked on training my tongue to always stay forward, and naturally rest on the upper palette more. To feel this, relax your tongue muscle, and tilt your head back, and you’ll find your tongue goes down and back to the throat. To feel where your tongue should reside, tilt your head forward and do a move where you try to create a double chin. Your tongue will go right to the roof of your mouth and out of the airway’s way. That’s the place your tongue should be when not drinking, eating, or talking. See the book Jaws.
And in the end, it seems like a simple fix. Getting my head to sleep in the right position – mouth closed and tongue up – was all it took. While rereading the sections of Breath again, a quote at the end of Chapter 3 about sleep tape stands out.
In the three nights since I started using this tape, I went from snoring four hours to only ten minutes. I’d been warned by [Burhenne] that sleep tape won’t do anything to help sleep apnea. My experience suggested otherwise. As my snoring disappeared, so did apnea.
I’d suffered up to two dozen apnea events in the mouth breathing phase [of his study], but last night had zero. … I never woke up needing to pee. I didn’t have to, because my pituitary gland was releasing vasopressin. I was finally sleeping soundly.
More Recovery to Come
There’s definitely more I can do to improve sleep. Light timing and eating habits are huge components. I’m learning more about these aspects and getting better at them, and they’ll deserve their own post. The difference is that this time, I can judge a lot better whether or not different habits lead to better sleep since I was able to remove the giant hindrance of apnea.
It’s weird to reflect on this and what’s changed. For years I’d been sleeping poorly. Going to sleep, during the evenings before a competitive golf round, I’d have to cross my fingers that I was going to wake up with energy. If I didn’t sleep well, it sucked to know I wasn’t going to be able to play my best. Would a sleep test have told me that it was a version of OSA? I don’t know. And I’ll admit I get caught wondering how different my golf resume during my post-college / mid-am years might be if I discovered this problem and solution in the past. Instead, I’m able to look forward and know that I can perform much better in the seasons to come.
2022 Year in Review
Back at the end of 2021, I was faced with a clear realization that I had known about, but didn’t want to bring to the front of thinking about my golf game — I wasn’t good enough to compete at a higher level with more difficult courses. This came when I was able to play Old Elm, where they set the course up in a more difficult manner. Tucked pins on upside down bowl greens (think Pinehurst #2) meant that shots that were slightly off ended up in death like positions.
Post college, when I started competing again, I had had a few good years. The difference that was shown in that time was that my game was able to handle Wisconsin courses, but at a national level, with the few USGAs I had in 2017 and 2018, I had zero changes of doing well. The difference between Riviera and Pebble compared to our Wisconsin tournament courses is giant. At the time I dismissed this, being glad I was able to play in those events at those courses. But end of last year, the feeling of being fed up with lack of ability came on strong. If I was to compete, I needed to make some changes.
This led to a commitment in January of 2022, where I gave myself permission to spend time and effort to practice. Swing changes, equipment changes, physical changes were all fair game and needed to be addressed. It’s not the easiest to decision to agree and commit to that list of improvements. We have a limited amount of time on earth, of which, there are so many different places we can spend it. Amateur golf isn’t exactly a main stake for commitment.
My reasoning in this case was to prove to myself that if I spent time and effort, I could achieve what I wanted — the ability to have a game to be able to compete at higher level courses. I’ve had this thought before in golf and other aspects, where if I didn’t perform particularly well at any event, it was only because I didn’t decide to spend the time to practice. Maybe it’s because I got older that I I became self convinced to show that my thinking was true.
In the end at the time of writing this, I feel I did fairly well at the goal. The couple national events (even if one was in our state) I could tell my game was at a much better level than before, making myself able to compete and knowing I could do that. This change helped in our state and local events as well, where there were many times I would finish a round and realize I had zero chance of playing that well in years past.
I haven’t hit a golf ball in a couple months now, kind of a late fall / early winter offseason, but I’m feeling that I’ll want to keep going for next year as well. There are still many places in my game I know are off and I have ideas on how they can get better.
This write up of what I did this past year was a way for me to track what changes I made to I can 1) know what worked and what didn’t, 2) figure out what still needs the improvement for next season, and 3) maybe help others with their games, both with ideas that might help them, and also show that they can put effort into their games and improve as well.
The winter solstice is almost here, where us in the northern hemisphere will soon be getting the longer days, more sunlight, and the start of a new year. We can spend some time thinking about the past, and move the mindset to thinking about the future.
Parallel Hips, forearm shaft, and skipping stones
I’m not a fan of New Year resolutions, considering any day should be a good day to create a new resolution. But in this case, I considered my off-season to end at the turn of the year, so beginning in January 2022, I was at it working on those swing changes I needed to make to create any chance of competing. Leading off is swing change #1, working to get my hips parallel to the ground at impact.
A common theme for my bad swings that comes up over and over, and is still something I need to work on when writing this, is lateral movement. I slide towards the ball rather than only rotate. What this leads to is extra motion I don’t need, and adding another axis of potential mis-timing. In terms of the hips, the sliding means the left side tends to come up at impact, and the right side goes down. If I were rotating better, both hips would be more parallel the whole way around.
June 2021 I tweet commented about Cantlay and Morikawa’s impacts
Parallel hips have been something in my head for a while. In October 2021 I talked about Sam Burns’s awesome impact position:
On January 26th, 2022, I was marveling at Morikawa’s impact.Read more: 2022 Year in Review
As for me, here are a couple pics from different times way back in 2020. So much sliding involved, even at the time I said I was hitting it well.
Jumping forward in time to Feb 2022, when I’d been going at these changes for a month and a half, I was getting there.
You might have noticed too that I’ve been making comments about the right forearm (for right handed players) being aligned with the shaft at the impact position. This is something that happens by default for players, but a move that I feel needs to be looked at. This is another case of having that alignment removing an axis of timing. If someone’s hands are below the shaft, creating an angle between shaft and forearm, that requires timing.
These swing changes were what I worked on in winter and spring and continued during the summer season. Hitting balls for an hour a day working to be more and more consistent. Progress was being made, consistency was up, and as the days kept getting longer and the season was coming around, I was seeing how my equipment needed some edits. As a reference before continuing, here’s my impact in August, right before I sprained my ankle. What a difference.
Putter Grip Change
I have very dry hands, which means I need a certain type of grip on all clubs, but especially irons. In previous years, I would switch out one Wynn grip for another on the Yes! Callie Tour I used, which had a pretty good amount of sticky traction at the start of the year, and then over the months would wear down and become more rounded. It’s as if I had a completely different grip at the end of the year than I did at the start.
In March, I realized that I had zero excuse to keep using that same type of grip when odds were there’s some other brand that would be better. I thought of it this way: grips cost in the $20-$25 range, but if I found the perfect grip, one that fit my hand size, had the needed hand traction, and ability to stay consistent through the year, it’d be worth a ton more than that.
I’ll say I got lucky, where the first new grip I tried was the one I needed. Enter the Iomic Jumbo.
This thing felt so as soon as I slipped it on and cradled it on the putting mat in the basement. Before, I’d have to spend time over a putt making sure that my grip was the same as usual, and that I wasn’t accidentally having my hands twisted too far to the left or right. The rigidness of the Iomic meant that it was very difficult to grip it any way other than the One.
Even though I didn’t putt that well this year (see section at the bottom), the grip change was a big benefit. My putter grip was definitely an equipment issue, rather than a stroke issue. But what about full clubs?
Driver Shafts – Turns out you can tell when a shaft fits you with one swing.
In golf, it’s not easy to know if it’s the equipment or your swing’s fault for bad shots. Now with the swing changes becoming more and more automatic, It was easier to see that my driver didn’t fit and I somehow needed a change.
The thing to remember about being fit for clubs is you need your swing to be on point right when you get there. If you’re slightly off, or not warmed up, it’s pointless given the small number of shots you can hit before they try to sell you on a shaft. I’ve always been tentative to pay someone for their time to try to tell me which clubs are right for my swing that part of the day.
On top of that, I have short legs and long arms, which means I like having a shorter driver shaft, which they’re not going to have at a fitting session. They want you to try 45.5 inches at least instead of the 44 inches I prefer. Sure, I can choke up, but the swing weight gets off. Coupled with how a single session is not long enough to find the right fit, I couldn’t do that.
At the State Best Ball this year in early June, I ran into Bob Gregorski on a tee box and the subject of driver shafts came up. I said how mine wasn’t fitting anymore, and he said how he has more than a few of X stiff driver shafts that he’d let me try to see if one of them fit. Through some coordination and a trip out to Hidden Glen for the transfer, I was quite pumped to have a go at the shafts.
I got back to my apartment and went to the sim and had the most fun hitting so many drivers with everything I had. Some were good, and with others it took one swing and I could tell the timing required to hit that shaft best wasn’t my swing timing. But overall, I was able to tell fairly quickly, within a couple swings, if the shaft was fitting.
How much better were the shaft changes? My ball speed jumped from ~179 with the shaft I’d been using to ~186 with the fitting ones. In the end it took a few days and a few sessions to get down to exactly which shaft fit my swing the best. I went with a KuroKage, starting at 46 inches that I cut down to 44.25 over a couple more iterations, and ball speeds moved into the ~183 range.
With the driver situation handled, I still had one more nagging issue.
Lie Loft Machine – The best $2500 I’ve ever spent.
Looking at pictures back to high school and college days, I find myself wondering what came first – my strong left hand grip or my super flat club heads?
Some courses or clubs have lie loft machines for members to use, but I don’t belong to a club. Most equipment places (Golf Galaxy) have them as well, along with other fitting places. For those, it’s not easy to find time or frankly trust what you’ll be told while there.
I could tell the lies were better for the new natural swing, but like the drivers, it took a few days with multiple sessions per day to get the clubs dialed in. And with my first bend coming on a Monday and the US Am qualifier on Thursday, I had a bunch of work to do.
The machine I went with is the kind with digital numbers showing the lie and loft of the club when locked in. That’s cool and all, but the process of bending irons is first to lock the club head in place. You have to squint your eyes and have them talk to your hands to make sure that bottom groove is perfectly parallel, which it never can be. Then you look at the digital numbers, take the heavy bar, crank it one direction or another, look at the digital numbers again, scratch your head and wonder why the loft went up along with the lie angle, move your head close to the bottom groove where you eye squint judge if it’s still parallel or you didn’t lock the club in well enough. Eventually you give up, take the club out of the machine, put it on the concrete basement floor and see if it looks better than before. Let’s just say I’m not that great at consistent bending.
I’d go through all the bends in the morning, go right back to the sim and start hitting each club, hit a couple shots, see that I screwed up by either over bending upright or not enough, and would plan which clubs needed what kind of bending when I went back to the machine that evening. Repeat.
By Wednesday night, I felt good about all the irons other than my 6 (which was still too flat) but it was good enough for the qualifier the next day.
The result was instant improvement. But wait, there’s one more last minute addition I made.
I was about to turn 32 and was partially holding off on migrating to push cart land. In one sense, I figured if I carried, it was a better workout and my body would be in better shape for rounds later in the summer. Not the smartest since I only have a limited number of competition days per year and really should be focused on doing what I can to play well in those. Another reason for not using a push cart was that it’s another giant piece of equipment I’d have to lug around and the cost of that wouldn’t equal the value of using one. I had a couple other smaller reasons for not using one too, like being unsure of how that would affect my upper body and in turn, my swing, since I would have to push something with arms rather than use my core to stay stable with a bag on my back.
My thoughts on push carts changed rapidly at this time when I was trying to think of anything quick and easy that I could do to play better. So I put something on twitter asking people if I should do it to get a sense of what others thought, and was sold by this:
The reference to the Stanford study made me remember back to the 2011 tournament we played in, Stanford’s team all had push carts. At that point, being a 20-year-old sophomore in college, my reaction was “huh, interesting” to seeing them with those in an event.
With all this, I asked a friend if I could borrow theirs, and was ready to go.
All of this in the 2022 season so far, with the work on swing changes, club changes, and now the push cart addition led me to a long day where out of ~80 people, only a few are happy at the end.
US Am Qualifier
I’ve talked to people before about how much I dislike 18 hole qualifiers. I’m a slow starter. I struggle to play well off the first hole, and I haven’t learned how to start with good judgment on my swing from a range session. It was a pretty windy day at Watertown, where us oldies with KVR and Beilo were put as the last group off hole #1. That first round, I got through #11 where I made my third bogey of the round with zero birdies to put me at +3. Something clicked then, to where I played the remaining 25 holes -7 with one other bogey. And the main reason that was happening was because I was hitting great drivers and giving myself birdie looks on pretty much every hole. The greens at Watertown were quite quick and not that readable meaning I didn’t convert too many of those.
It’s great that we have mobile scoring at WSGA-run events now, and being in the last group with live scoring, I could see what number I would need to get to to qualify. On #18, our 27th hole of the day, I hit a great wedge to a tap in that got me to -1 overall. When getting to the first tee, I looked at the scores again and came up with -3 would be a playoff and -4 would be in. That meant I needed 3 birdies on the final 9, and I’ll truthfully say that my bent clubs were the reason I could do it.
It’s hard to explain the difference in standing over a shot looking at a club that you know fits a normal swing, rather than one that’s so flat you have to decide whether you want to 1) make solid contact or 2) put a good swing on it. I didn’t miss a green that 9, including the only par 5 of their front 9 where I had that poorly bent 6 iron in for my second shot. There are two par 3s in a row, numbers 5 and 6 which were the big difference. In the past I would have been hoping that my miss was in a place I could get up and down. This time, I was standing over the ball with a mid iron thinking to myself that I could stuff it and make one of those needed birdies. I was 5 feet and 10 feet away for birdie on those holes. Missed both putts, but it’s huge for confidence.
We got to #8 and I was -3, having to birdie one of the last two to qualify. I was swinging so well and nuked a driver dead center on 8 where I had 54 yards in. The pin was back left with a swale in the middle of the green. I was close enough where I could walk up to the hole and judge where I wanted the pitch to land and with what speed and landing spin. I hit that pitch to three and a half feet and drained the putt. On number 9, I clubbed down because of the tension, and hit a pitching wedge (which was bent correctly) to 15 feet dead center of the small green, tapped the putt to a foot past and was able to tap in to finish -4 and get the third spot.
Qualifying for the US Am, with such a good finish given the wind and difficult greens and how well I hit the ball is truly something I’m proud of. Those environments are where I play my best. This was the 4th time I qualified for the US Am. Looking back on the others, one in Wisconsin, one in Michigan, one in the Chicago area, and especially because three of those qualifiers were in my Mid-Am Post College years, is something I truly impress myself with. And if I didn’t have a fitting driver shaft, correctly bent irons, and used a push cart, I wouldn’t have been able to do it this year.
So far in the summary, I’ve talked through equipment and physical game changes. Now I think it’s time to talk about a couple changes on the non golf specific side that I worked to improve, starting with sleep.
At that Best Ball in early June, we lost in the first match in a crappy way, where neither of us was able to do much. For me, the pure issue was poor sleep that night before. I was staying in the guest room at Mike’s parent’s house, an easy 5 minutes away from South Hills. I’d stayed there many times before so I was comfortable with the bed, but something was off that night.
When I don’t sleep well, I end up having a sick, empty feeling in my stomach. Eyes feel hollow, and sometimes I have shaky limbs, and a weak core. My body knows how important sleep is, which takes away my ability to concentrate and even if I’m able to do that, the weakness of my arm and core muscles means I can’t swing in a solid way. I’ve had this for a while, and still haven’t figured out a good way of overcoming these feelings other than being able to take a nap.
I’ve had these sleep issues for years as well. The 2020 State Open atBlue Mound is an example of this, where I slept so poorly the night before the final day that the first 18 holes of the 36 hole ending was a big time struggle trying to hang on with no big numbers. The time between rounds I spent in my car with the AC and eye mask on, and was able to sleep off the sick feeling. Result being I was much more comfortable in the final 18. I shot 74-70 in those rounds purely because of bad sleep. If bad sleep causes a scoring difference of 4 shots, this needs to be figured out.
A couple things I’ve done that have helped that I’ll mention here.
No caffeine during tournament weeks.
I like caffeine but that causes problems. It can cause daytime highs and crashes, and also can lead to poor sleeping at night if caffeine was had at the wrong time of the day.
Doing my best to not eat within 3 hours of going to sleep.
This one is a big help and I bet you’ll hear more and more about this if you listen to and read certain people. The idea is that digestion and blood sugar reduction takes a lot of work by your body, and if you’re doing that when sleeping, you’re missing out on the brain cleaning your body should be doing at sleep.
This 3 hour time frame can be tough if you’re in the afternoon / morning wave. If that’s the case, I’ll eat less for dinner. That can sound weird since after an afternoon round you might be thinking your body needs food to recover. Sleep is more important though, and you can always plan for this by eating correctly during the day before and the next morning.
Go to sleep early, and wake up early
Yeah sure, in the summer, Brewer home games start at 7, ending sometime past 10. But they play 162 games a year and I play in many fewer tournaments. Going to bed and lights out early, I’m talking before 9 if I have a morning tee time, is something I’ve found.
If you have a morning time coming up, it can take your body a few days to shift to be able to allow yourself to get up early enough to be ready for those times.
I used these later in the year at the US Am and the US Mid Am, for each of whichI had an early morning first wave tee time.
For example at the US Am out in Jersey, in order to get ready for my opening time at 7:10 eastern time, I wanted to be up and starting body warm ups at 5:00 eastern. I started getting to bed at 8:30, would wake up each day earlier, go down to the lobby and get some decaf coffee, and be outside to get some morning sunlight before 6:00. I did a similar plan in September for the Mid Am where my opening round was at 6:50. That was a little different since I was staying at my apartment rather than a hotel with less to do, but I needed to do whatever I could to avoid the cost of bad sleep.
If I sleep bad, I’m throwing away shots.
Golf is a mental game. Like sleep, a big pain I’ve had in my career is how I handle myself on the course in so many different realms that the term mindfulness fits.
Start with nervousness. At USGAs before this year, I don’t think I’ve ever come close to hitting the opening fairway. Another example is anger, where in the past I’ve tried to fake anger in order to help with another mindfulness term, motivation, of which I never find I have much.
Mindfulness is also a non golf benefit, which is why earlier in the year I decided to give it a go. I started (and am continuing) with Waking Up, one of many apps that helps someone learn the many types of different mindfulness and meditation. It starts with a 30 day intro playlist, featuring ~10 meditations that help you learn what to do. It also has conversations and other guided meditations by others in the field. I highly, highly recommend that everyone reading to this point try this out. They have a 30 day free trial, and yearly subscription fees are tiny compared to the benefit I feel this has given me in real life and on the course.
So what about the golf ecosystem? How can a phone app and time spent sitting be worthy to be written about in a year in review post? The benefits are as follows.
First, you come to a clear realization that nervousness is a made up emotion. A common talk in guided meditations are that when you recognize emotions as emotions, you find that they can quickly go away. I used this so many times this year on the course, where I’d get nervous, mostly at the start of rounds which is my normal time for feeling nervous. The thought process for this now is me noticing the feeling of nervousness, knowing that it isn’t me, and watching it fall away.
Another example of mindfulness on a golf course is with anger, another emotion that we feel, but isn’t who we are. As said above, my anger is mostly me trying to convince my uncompetitive self that I *should* be angry, which means I’m trying. The thought process is this: if I get mad at myself, I’ll know how much I dislike it, which should make me try harder on future shots. With mindfulness practice, that goes away. You learn to see anger as purely something on top of awareness. I can feel angry, and it’s good to notice it because it makes the anger vanish, like nervousness. There’s no reason to be angry. If I’m wanting motivation, that needs to come from a different direction.
A final example that mindfulness practice helps reveal is how often I get the feeling of boredom on a course. Not slow play boredom, which many other people complain about, but the pure fact that you’re out and not in front of a screen for 5+ hours. When starting the intro meditation course, which was just 10 minutes of sitting alone with my mind, I struggled. It felt as if me sitting without acting meant I was missing out on the latest news, missing an important message, or that my mind was too boring on its own to not be active. This feeling goes away. There are longer meditations the app provides, with the longest being an hour. With practice, those become so beneficial.
Hopefully this brief overview can convince some people to look into mindfulness and meditation as being such a good practice. Not being tied down on emotion makes every part of life much better. Having this help on a golf course is just a nice addition.
US Mid Am Qualifier
I figure I can quickly talk about the Mid Am qualifier as well, considering I was able to do something I rarely am able to do when out on a golf course — start off strong and hold it the whole round.
I’m 32 now, and my experience of the Mid Am qualifiers has been quite lackluster. Since I’d turned 25, I’d qualified for three US Ams, yet zero Mid Ams. Say what you want about quality of the field, but 18 hole qualifiers aren’t great for someone who gets better as a round and day goes on. This year was a different motivation for the qualifier than previous years, considering the tournament was in the Milwaukee area.
The second of the Wisconsin qualifiers was the Merrill Hills, a course which I seem to play every other year in one event or another, so I know the course decently well. The plan was to use the warmup time better, trying to hit shots as if they were all important instead of using range time to warm up the body. It’s working on the mind so every practice is like on the course, so when I got to the first tee, it would be as if I was starting the second round of a 36 hole qualifier.
And I felt I was able to do that. My opening shot with my 5 wood had that feeling leading to a par on the first. I hit the par 5 second in two and two putted for birdie. I then had my one hiccup on number 3, a hole which I played incorrectly off the tee and where I was lucky to not be in the little stream left of the green on my fairway bunker wedge approach. The next hole is a short par 5 where I hit a 9 iron second shot to a tap-in eagle. The rest of the front 9 has some difficult holes, where I made a bogey on number 6 after hitting 5 bad shots.
Moving forward in the round, coming into maybe 14, I could see I was at the top of the leaderboard. Once I got to 15, I could see that Nate Colson, my playing partner, and I were the only two at the top who started on the front 9. It was kind of a “duh” moment where we both realized that we were decently ahead of the field.
The front 9 at Merrill, which we’d been through, is a tough finish. 5-9 have two long-ish par 3s, a couple longer uphill par 4s, and all greens with slope. The back 9 from 15-18 is an almost drivable par 4, short par 3, reachable par 5, and then shortish downhill par 4 finisher. Once we realized this, we cruised to the end, and we were tied at -4 going into 18. I was in the fairway there with a wedge in my hand, and still had a good mindset where I hit it to under two feet for a tap-in birdie to qualify.
The main thing about this round, and one that I want to write about to engrain in my head, is that I can, if focused, play well in single rounds. I can get better at it, like getting a better physical warm up before a range warmup, and planning rounds better so I know what to do on each hole. It gave me confidence then, and confidence now, that I can improve.
After qualifying, my mind went to what my game could improve on before the Mid Am itself, but also that I needed to off-load some mental work on the course by going all in on those things they call green reading books.
Green reading books – Or really, approach shot books.
I’m probably in the minority of players in this age who say that green reading books of any amount of detail are fine to have and use on a course. I think of it this way: I want competitions to be about who’s playing the best at the time of a tournament, and have the least amount to do with people who’ve been lucky to have played the course in competition before. If someone wins because they know the course better than the others, that brings about a little asterisk to me.
The key thing about the green reading books is that I won’t use them for reading greens, but for approach shots. And knowing that is a huge advantage. That’s the advantage you have if you’ve played the course a bunch. That’s the information that everyone should be able to have if they know how to use it.
Here’s how approach shots work when you have those books. First, you laser the pin to get a number for the distance. Then you take out the pin sheet and match the numbers to the colorful green map in the green reading books. You use that image to visualize the green and figure out how much area, or how many steps in all four directions, you have to give yourself a good look to make the next putt.
For example, at the Mid Am stroke play round at Blue Mound, the pin on 9 was in the back left portion of the green. Short and right of it is this mini mound and unless you had a green book, you wouldn’t know about it. But with the book,you can see that you have only a couple steps right and left around the pin if you’re pin high, but if you’re short, you can have a little more safe space, and the putt is more of the normal uphill. The advantage of knowing that, knowing to take a few yards off the distance to put yourself in a better spot to make the putt and easier two putt is huge. That’s what these books are for.
At the US Am this year, my first in a few years, I didn’t get the green reading books in advance because I thought that the ones the USGA gave us would have enough about the greens to help. I learned my lesson. Now, I’m not about to say that if I had those, I’d have played better at Ridgewood and qualified for match play, but yeah, now writing about it, it probably would have made a difference.
Like I talked about above, even though I’ve played both Blue Mound and Erin Hills in the past, I used those books for an advantage. I also used the green reading approach shot book at the Stocker Cup in October, at The Preserve, on a course I hadn’t played before, with very tricky greens. I was going against guys who have played the course before, including the winner who’s played in tournaments there both as a pro and as a now reinstated am. There’s an infinite amount more confidence when you can be standing in the fairway or on a par 3 tee box about to hit a shot to a green you don’t know, but can look at a book.
I don’t know how I played without these books in the past, and I don’t know how I can do it without them anymore. The cost is well worth it, and when people complain about those books and how it takes away from the “nature of the game”, I’ll roll my eyes internally.
The Yes! change that came too late
As great as it was to get a new putter grip at the start of the year, the putter itself didn’t quite work this year. I putted ok at times, and I still had the confidence, but by the end I could tell that I needed something different.
The biggest of these misses came out at the State Mid Am, where I played 26 holes and kept missing. The first round alone I missed 8 putts from 4-15 feet.
Talking it over, two issues were found. 1) The Callie I was using had almost negative loft. In the past, I had a couple angry kicks of the putter so that the head would bend up, and after the rounds when I’d bend them back, I’d still leave some extra loft. I never angry kicked this Callie. 2) The Callie is a half toe hang, which when cross handed can cause problems. I’ve tried out a couple full toe hang putters and it was clear at the start the weighting didn’t fit with cross handed. Toe hang and cross handed is so bad that if I was forced to use a full toe hang, I’d use a normal grip.
Luckily, in the basement, there was another Yes! putter, this one named for Retief’s wife Tracy, and the one he used to win those US Opens back in the day.
This switch for me was two weeks before the Stocker Cup, my final event of the year. I was unsure if I’d be able to get comfortable with it in that time frame, especially because it was October and greens were being punched.
I went full in on it, having a couple sessions on my indoor mat in my apartment a couple times a day, and found out that humans are pretty good at adjustments to new norms.
At the Stocker Cup, with green reading books I never used on the green, I was able to make more than a few mid range putts with the Tracy, something I hadn’t done all year with the Callie. As always, that leaves good feelings and bad feelings.
If I had made the switch at the beginning of the year like I thought of, could I have done better? In golf and life, that feeling comes up so frequently. As they say, the best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago, the second best time is now.
Spending all the time writing this, I came up with so many thoughts about my game that I made some small changes with, some that I didn’t make, and others that I can work on improving next season. Instead of giving them their own smaller sections, I figured I should lump them in here at the end.
In 2021, I made the switch away from anything with sugar in it, due to the highs and crashes they deliver when consumed on a course. This year, I wanted to try to see what the talk of electrolytes was all about. I tried a few different brands, and fell on LMNT, which can mostly be described as delicious salt, and some other ingredients.
I really do feel it makes a difference. There’s a lot of talk about how we consume so much salt from daily eating that adding any more is harmful. From my diet though, I wasn’t getting enough. When I have a packet of the LMNT I can feel the positive effects.
On the course, I go through one or two of the packets depending on the weather and if I feel I’m needing them. Off the course, I go through one or two of the packets depending on the weather and if I feel I’m needing them.
DNS, or Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization is this sort of down low movement where people treat their bodies like they were still a baby. The overall idea is that when we’re in the 0-2 year age range, the way we move is built in, natural, and non-environmental. An example is that when we learn to stand, all babies use the same methodology to go from sitting to standing. As we get older, these methods go away. DNS wants us to go back to moving like we were kids.
I tried somewhat to fit this into the golf swing, to try to make it more “natural” in a way with some success. There are videos online showing exercises to do to try to engrain the DNS motions. There are some other good videos purely about using DNS techniques to use as a body warm up. Videos can only go so far though, and DNS people have classes you can take, but that requires travel and money. We’ll see how much more of this I work on in the offseason and for next year, but it’s worth mentioning here.
Some might have noticed this year that I started wearing bright white arm sleeves on the course. And you’re right! Decision was two-fold. First, skin protection is key. On both a skin cancer and aging look front, keeping skin fresh and out of sun glare is something we all should do better at. And second, I dislike the effort that goes into taking a shower after a round and trying to scrub away all the sticky sunscreen that I sprayed on.
I tried a couple types from Amazon, and I can’t remember the fake brand name the reseller put on them, but they worked well. Cheap, lasted a few washes, and didn’t slip down the arms which meant I didn’t have to continually readjust. I’ll keep with these going forward. As for other sun protection products, who knows, maybe bucket hats will get a look next year for face skin help.
I’m way at the end of the competitiveness spectrum. I do not care about winning. If I do win,I’m pretty much feeling bad for the others because I guarantee they feel worse about not winning than the benefit I get from it. I’ve tried to come up with ways around this, but all my tries at creating a competitive attitude so far have seemed so fake that I can’t get behind it. I’m going to need to come up with a different way to play well that feels natural. I think for the coming year it’s going to be on the mental side, where I enter each round with the plan to hit every shot perfectly and give it full concentration. That’s something that feels true to me.
I can always make swing changes, and this coming winter I’m wanting to come up with a couple. One change I need to do is be more in balance on my feet. Consistently, my bad shots are when something gets off with the weight of my body, which then translates to my feet trying to get myself back into balance. Like if my hands drop behind my body, then I have to switch the timing in my core rotation, and then I’m on my toes and trying to not fall over andI move to my heels. I’ve played around with this somewhat this fall already, with the swing thought of having my transition being directly from my back foot to front foot. If I do that, it’d be hard to get the rest of my body out of whack. I think.
I wasn’t quite sure what to call this section, but then I realized fitness is a great word to use. It shows in amateur events, for those of us who are not professional athletes, the player who’s in the best shape does the best. I mean, to win a USGA, you need to walk 18 or 36 consecutively for over a week! If you’re on a course and get tired, your swing goes to crap. The push cart is a good way of helping to not lose energy. I can still improve on this before the start of next season.
You know that first round of the year in the spring, with trees that don’t have leaves, brown grass with puddles all over from melting snow where you have to tiptoe around the course, cart path only? The next day we wake up with all-over soreness. The season progresses and by the end, you’re in good enough shape and think back to how crazy it was and how poor of shape you were at the start. I don’t want that anymore.
For those I’ve talked to about this, I’m anti-running due to the impact on your legs. I mean, check out what happened to Tiger. Cycling is a good way to decrease impact. Something like rucksacking is another act I want to try this offseason. Sure it can be cold out, but nothing better to get ready for walking during the summer than walking in the winter. Still has knee impact, but much less than running.
Either way, being in good fitness, to the point where you feel as energized on the 18th green as you did on the 1st tee feels like cheating. And that’s without even mentioning how good it makes you feel in the rest of your life.
New, and more, clubs
I talked about driver shafts and lie loft machines, but I still feel my game is missing something with other clubs. One example for me is my 5 wood. After fixing the driver shaft, I could feel my 5 wood felt just as off with the shaft. The other thing with the 5 wood is the distance gap between that and driver. It causes issues when deciding what to hit off the tee. I feel I need a wood that goes slightly further than my current 5 wood and has a shaft fit so I feel incredibly comfortable with it, knowing that it’ll hit the fairway.
This leads to me thinking I probably need to do something with the other longer clubs in my bag. Should I have a 3 iron? Hybrid? 3 wood + 7 wood combo? Maybe do something like have 15 clubs I practice with, and then depending on the course and conditions, pick which 14 I should play with at an event or round.
We talkin’ ’bout practice. More specifically, practicing with focus. A good summary talked about here, that talks about the importance of deliberate practice. Looking back on when I’d practice this past year, hitting balls in the sim, chipping and putting at Brown Deer, I had times when I was in a decent mental frame, but I wasn’t nearly as good as I could and should be. There’s no point in practicing if you’re in a different mental place than working for improvement that lasts. Big topic to talk about here at the end, but something worth noting.
One swing change I didn’t mention above was rounded back at impact. I had played around this in the opposite form a couple years ago, wondering if having a convex arched back would help consistency. That turned out to be a 10 minute nope, where giant slices and snap hooks were flying left and right. When spending all the time I did reviewing swings this springtime, I noticed the opposite, where players’ backs were much more rounded in a concave manner. Check this Rory / Lydia Ko combo pic:
I added that thought to my swing and consistency improved. That type of rounded back fits with the goal of reducing the need for timing, as a small timing difference won’t lead to bigger change in shaft or face angle. Also a big help in injury lessening.
This might have deserved a bigger section, but putting it at the end could be just as noteworthy. And that is that there was not one time on a course I was hungry! Past me would so often have issues on a course where I’d either sugar crash from too much sugar before the round (Dunkin iced coffee with sugar + maybe a donut that in my dumb head I figured would give energy) or not have enough normal type of food during a round. We’re in the sun, walking, for over 5 hours at a time, clearly which will require tons of energy. If I got hungry, my body treaded that as an early evolution sign that golf was not as important as getting food, and my game went to crap.
But this year, I can truly say I never had that energy drop. For pretty much every round, I went with salted cashews and a self made turkey sandwich. As soon as I had any thought about drop of energy, I’d stuff my face with some bites of either of those.
Looking back to previous years, I can find times where I didn’t plan for food, which caused straight up lost shots on the course. If you made it this far to the end of my year in review, I’ll say the easiest thing you can do to improve scores is make sure to have food on the course. Fin.
2022 US Am — Some good, some bad, can always get better
Another US Am, another missed match play cut. Compared to previous Ams however, this time I was closer and definitely felt like I had the game to compete — as long as I was near or at the top mentally and physically of course. The first round I had both, shot one under 69, and was only beat by one other player that day. The second round I was slightly off on both and the course beat me, ending with +9 80, and ending up missing the match play cut by 3. That number may sound like a lot, but after getting through 17 holes, I had a pitching wedge into the 18th, pictured below, where up and down would get me in.
In the following, I’ll go through all different aspects of my game and what I did to get ready in order to give myself the best chance of playing well. In past writeups (links below), I went more of a fun writing-route, considering my game wasn’t good enough to even be talked about. After 2022, I want to get better.
You’ll see frequently me talk about the differences between the two courses, Ridgewood and Arcola. Having two courses for the practice and tournament rounds was a really great learning experience overall for trying to find differences between them, which would allow me to come up with smarter plays. Examples of differences that I’ll talk about further below are things like grass types on the greens and the differences in speed, bunker firmness, and fairway lies. Knowing that these are different for each course can teach someone which questions to ask and get answers to at any course they play.
Past USGA Writeups:
- 2017 US Four Ball — Pinehurst #2 and #8
- 2017 US Am — Riviera and Bel Air
- 2018 US Am — Pebble Beach and Spyglass
Ball striking is King
Though it rhymes, I’m pretty much against the phrase “drive for show, putt for dough”. Look at the PGA Tour Strokes Gains lists for Approach vs Putting and tell me which list you consider better players at the top. The phrase might be reasonable to say at courses we play in the state with easy rough and without super tucked pins. But at championship level courses, if you want to legitimately compete, ball striking is king.
Let’s start with talking about off the tee. For both courses, the difference between rough and fairway was absurd. At some of the US Ams I’ve played in, recently at Riv and Pebble, the rough wasn’t particularly long there either. At Ridgewood and Arcola, the length of rough and sit-down lies where a huge part of the defense of the course. Miss the fairway, and your mind shifts to trying to see how far up you can advance towards the green, or even just chopping out to the fairway to the side. The first day at Arcola, I was hitting it great off the tee, missing only two fairways. One of those misses was a miss on a short hole with my 5 wood where I got lucky and caught a down grain lie and with a pin on the back portion of the green, hit a 60 degree to a foot and a half. Second day at Ridgewood I was slightly off where I missed 5 of the first 6 fairways, including a shot two steps out of bounds where those OB stakes were a mere ten steps left of the fairway edge. That was a small difference that made a huge impact.
A second point off the tee is that on the holes that had fairway bunkers, they were mostly in the landing area of my drives. Due to my distance and the age of courses in Wisconsin, many times I don’t have to bother thinking about fairway bunkers. Only a couple times in New Jersey did the fairway bunkers cause me to not hit driver. It was a case of rather being further up in a bunker (see the bunker section about the firmness) than having a longer approach in the fairway, let alone a longer rough approach. Holes #3 and #10 at Arcola, were short enough and had bunkers far enough out that I hit my 5 wood off the tee. Hole #4 made me hit a bunt driver to keep it short of the one there. Ridgewood was long enough that all par 4s and 5s were driver holes.Read more: 2022 US Am — Some good, some bad, can always get better
Now to approach shots, where the main theme was longer holes meaning longer irons into the greens. The courses played at pars of 71 and 70 for Ridgewood and Arcola respectively, where for normal play they’re both 72s. This meant three converted par 5s where we either played up a tee box, or they said screw it, tee off from the back boxes anyway. Besides those holes, Ridgewood had multiple par 4s in the 470 – 500+ range by themselves. What this meant for me is that I can’t remember having as many irons as approaches as I did in those two rounds.
At Arcola and their two converted par 5s, I hit 4 iron and 6 irons for approaches from over 200 yards away. On their normal par 4s, I had so many 9s, 8s, and 7s into the greens, compared to consistent wedges at home courses.
To have a chance to finish high on the scoreboard, you had to be right on with ball striking. Slightly off means bogeys regardless of how good your short game is. Is the importance of ball striking considered good for tournament golf? I’d say so.
The importance of ball striking was clear, but Ridgewood and Arcola had different kind of fairways than I’m used to, which lead to a couple more changes I needed in my swing.
Tightly mowed fairways means hit it thin
Every once in a while you play a course that thinks it’s fancy if they cut one half of the fairway bright and shiny and down grain from tee to green, and the other half dull, dark, and into the grain. I’m hoping there’s a reason for doing that other than optics, because if you’re on the dull and dark side, you’re going to have a legitimate much tougher time making good contact. At Arcola, the left side was the dull and dark side of the fairway, and hitting it there meant having to focus on perfect contact.
A great example of this issue was on the 3rd hole, my 12th of the day, a short, uphill par 4. I hit a good 5 wood directly down the middle to the point where my walk was spent hoping I had the down grain right side. That’s how big of an issue the fairway grain was. Unfortunately, that ball sat into the grain. I was left with 112 yards, ~5 yards uphill.
My first mistake was hitting a 54 wedge rather than a slightly shorter swing with a 50. Something deep in my head might have been trying to tell me I was standing over the ball with the wrong club, because stand over it I did for a good 10 seconds not pulling the backswing trigger. This lead to me forgetting about the grain and how I needed to slightly blade it to ensure nothing short and heavy. The green has a big rolloff the front, and the grain affected the contact and the ball rolled down and away. Right after the heavy contact I knew that me forgetting about the grain was going to cost me. I ended up with a bogey on the hole from middle of the fairway, just over 100 yards.
Ridgewood didn’t have the grain issue. Instead, it felt like the entire fairway played into the grain considering how tight the grass was mowed. To hit good shots, I’d needed to hit them a groove low wherever in the fairway I was.
The biggest pain for this was on hole #18. I had gotten to +6 overall since the 10th hole, and knew I needed to get to +5 for what would have been a larger playoff for match play. After missing a 10 footer for birdie on the par 5 17th where I was in a greenside bunker in two, I hit a perfect cut drive on 18 leaving ~145 yards to the pin. With the greens firming up, I felt that landing the ball about 140 would be perfect. Dumb me was too focused on starting the ball out on the correct line and I forgot about needing to be that groove low. I caught too much dirt, and the ball came up a few steps short of the green. That led to a missed chip that I made sure not to leave short, and the end of the tournament.
Even though the reason for needing to make thin contact with a ball in the fairway was different at Ridgewood compared to Arcola, the technique to do so was similar. And luckily, Ridgewood’s range had the same type of short grass with lots of dirt where so I could practice good ways to avoid heavy contact. The main technique I ended up using to avoid the slight heaviness that would cost 5-15 yards was choking up and having a feeling of my elbows staying bent through impact. It was fairly similar to how you hit a fairway bunker shot.
On par 3s I tended to tee the ball up much more than I do at local courses, to completely avoid the possibility of heaviness. For normal play, many times the grass is so long I don’t even bother using a tee; I can pick a lie that makes it seem teed up enough. But from picking lies on the range, it was clear that I needed to do whatever I could avoid slightly heavy mishits, and that meant using a tee.
It’s been interesting to come back to the longer grass where I don’t have this need to blade experience. Overall, I learned that slight thin contact is better than slight heavy contact in most all cases, and I think I’ll choke up slightly more often and more clearly look at what it requires to make as good of contact as I can.
Greens, and the importance of speed
Ball striking is what you need to compete at tougher courses, but by no means does that mean you can forget about putting, specifically, the speed of the green. And in the case of having two courses, the differences in the speeds between the two.
Arcola had greens there were of the type of grass I’m used to. Bent, with roll of 13 on the stimp. I was told they weren’t as fast as they sometimes put them for member play, but they didn’t seem unreasonable. Ridgewood on the other hand was poa annua, which I couldn’t remember the last time I’d experienced, or maybe I wasn’t smart enough to see the difference in the past. They were similar speed during the start of a putt, but for some reason there seemed to be less friction and the ball kept rolling around the hole, even on uphill putts. It was like wanting a ball, figuring it’d start decelerating, but decided not to and kept going some five feet past rather than the desired two.
There are many things to do in the two and a half day prep for a tournament like this, and the important thing I learned right away during the first hole I played was how important having green speed ingrained in my head was, and that I didn’t do a good enough job during the practice rounds.
That hole was #10 at Arcola, where I was ~30-40 feet away after the approach and nuked it with a misread to 10 feet past on the low side and missed the comebacker. On my second hole I was 50 feet past to avoid the water in front and left the putt 6 feet short. I was able to convert and make for par, but I kind of slapped myself in the face at how important the speed was. That start made me focus more on that and the rest of the round I was pretty consistent.
During the practice rounds, when getting to the green, I was kind of in a zone of “just hit some putts to make it seem like you’re doing cool practice things” rather than “hit some putts with mental focus on getting the speed right”. What I really needed to do, and something I do practice regularly, and now I’ll be better at, is a two ball drill. From any distance, hit the first putt with the mental focus as if it’s an actual putt on a course, with more time spent reading the speed and break. Goal is to have a tap in. With the second putt, you need to do better. If the first putt as bad, make the adjustments and learn what you missed, either the break or elevation change. If the first putt was good, do it again.
After the 69 at Arcola, we went over to Ridgewood in the afternoon to hit putts doing this to adjust to the green differences. Before the second round Tuesday morning, I went over a couple hours early and did the same thing. Actually trying on the longer lag practice putts rather than just hitting as a routine. My speed was dialed in with that. Experience here proved I can get back to that fairly quickly with what I did mentally, and showed the importance of that in general practice and before rounds.
I think I ended up being in only one bunker during play, but I sure hit a bunch of them in practice rounds to be ready. Getting up and down from the sand can be incredibly important, and found them interesting enough to mention here.
At Arcola, the sand was incredibly firm, to where I had to be careful with the 10 degree bounce of my 60. Ridgewood was also on the firm side, but they had both slightly more sand at the top level, and a little more cushion sand at the bottom. The perfect sand in my opinion. I’m very much against those poofy sand bunkers, those which the ball will be sitting down slightly, with just enough grains of sand behind the ball where you’re going to have to hack out with zero spin opportunity. To me that takes bunker skill away.
The only bunker I was in was the par 5 17th green at Ridgewood on a big upslope that I got to in two where I knew if I could get up and down I’d get back to the +5 number needed for what would be the playoff. I judged the distance perfectly, but I played it 10 feet to the left of the pin with the thought that misses from bunkers, with the club face open, scoot to the right. In this case, it didn’t, and it cost me.
Short game practice areas are my jam. A realistic putting green, and chipping area with holes that allow me to hit putts along with chips to practice the mentality of getting up and down, are things that are high up on what I use to judge the overall qualify of a golf course. These two places definitely had what was needed.
Arcola’s practice area had a great green behind the range with fairway, rough, and bunkers, where we could hit up to 50 yard pitch shots (assuming nobody else was in front of you) with the ability to recreate shots that I’d get on the course. I was able to use this pitching practice on 7 at Ridgewood in the second round to get up and down after having to wedge out from the fairway bunker I was a foot from clearing (talk about slight misses).
Ridgewood has a main chipping green, which wasn’t particularly great for legit shot recreation, as it was super sloped, had different tiers, and the condition of the green wasn’t matching the on course conditions. However, because they have 27 holes, they converted the 9th hole of the east into a practice area for us too. That green had real conditions of firmness and speed where we could judge the amount of rollout and spin that we’d be seeing for real. That green was used by so many people, with so many steps, that by the third day the rough was packed down in most places. I was able to find a few still that had expected length for the course and could practice shots with those just fine.
Key to this practice, as with the kind at any green, is to really make it feel like you need to get it close, like you need to get up and down. With this mindset, you can convert it to the course.
At the first hole at Ridgewood, I hit a good drive just off the fairway, then fluffed the 90 yard second shot where it ended up over the bunker but short of the green. (I didn’t practice those shots enough). From all the practice with the grass at both courses, I was able to read the lie. It was sitting down in the grass, but slightly elevated. I knew the shot could be open the club, keep the grooves square to the line I read, and accelerate under. It rolled out nicely it to 3 feet because of a slight misread where it didn’t break the first part of the roll. Still an up and down, and purely because of practice.
I’ll give a shoutout to the Ridgewood range as well. Besides the similarity that the turf had to the actual fairway turf that I mentioned above, the range had multiple green structures in the 90-110 yard range. We could laser the pins, and with the Pro V1s we hit, I could finally tune in those wedge distances, something I hadn’t been able to do this year.
A great example of this practice came on the frequently pictured Five and Dime hole, which was our #12. Some people, including all in the groups in front of us, hit woods or drivers to the greens. I laid up with a 6 iron to 112 out. +4 according to the yardage book, I could convert that to the feeling I had on the range. I hit a great shot to 6 feet below the hole on the tight green. No chance I could have done that before practicing on the range. I missed the putt because of a misread hindered by the green being in the shadows, but still, wedges gave me a chance to have that attempt.
Things I’ve done better than in the past
Now is the time for some introspection, where I list off things that I’ve done badly in the past, acknowledged the badness, tried to get better, and succeeded in doing so.
Birdie putts, par putts are all the same.
With the somewhat soft greens from early tee time and good ball striking at Arcola during the first round, I gave myself multiple putts in the 5-10 foot range for birdies. In the past at hard courses, I’d be happy to have what’s considered an easy par. Past me would give a sigh of relief I’m on the green, glad that no big number was in play from wayward shots, and being more ok with a two putt par. New me knows the importance of each shot when looking back on scores, and that making these birdies are just as important as making pars.
The best example of this was when I was coming in on the front 9. I birdied holes 5 and 6 with 5 footers which I stood over and wanted to drain. I then three putted the par 3 7th for bogey, which wasn’t bad because of the pond to the right of the green which forced us to aim left side of the green with a 5 iron to begin with, leaving a 50 footer where if I hit it too firm I could have putted it into said water. Hole #8, a converted par 5, I put a 6 iron to I had a 40 feet above the hole. A great case of being happy to be on the green and going for the two putt, but here I felt I had the speed and read down perfectly so I told Mike that I was going to drain it. I missed by half a ball and left it a foot and a half tap in away.
Finally, on #9, I gave myself a super downhill 8 footer for birdie. The two guys in my group had putts from both sides of my line so I was able to see two putts roll by. One slowly rolled 5 feet past and gave me the fall line, and the other from a slightly lower angle which showed it didn’t break as much as I thought initially. Using these, I could adjust my read from half ball outside with trickling speed to on the edge. Even though it was 8 feet super downhill, I had zero excuse to miss. I could have had comfort that I’d got on the green and could lag a par, but this was a putt and every stroke counts. That’s the mental energy I’ve tried to give myself this year, and it definitely showed up.
Lack of nervousness.
I’ll have more to write about this later, but meditation has been the best thing I’ve done for life and my golf game this year. In previous USGA experiences, and golf in general, I’ve let nervousness get to me. I can make a giant list of all the times being nervous has affected me, but in terms of USGA events, a quick list will work for now. The 2005 US Junior where hit my first shot ever OB, the 2011 Pub Links at Bandon, where on the first hole of Trails I made quad (only to finish the rest of the 35 holes in +1 to easily cruise to match play), 2017 Four Ball, where at Pinehurst #2 I hooked a 3 wood almost into the road (which I made an easy par after because I found a hole in the trees. It’s a great story — Mike, who hit the fairway, saw that I found my ball in bounds and told Andy, who was caddying for him, that I was going to make a par given how good I got at recovery shots), 2017 at Riv, where the first group off on facebook live stream, I hit a wood left but in play because that whole landing area is enormous, or the 2018 US Am at Pebble, where on the 10th hole I hit two balls on the beach and had to get up and down from 40 to save double. I can go on, but let’s say I got nervous off tees.
Except this time! A great practical use of mindfulness is how emotions are made up, and acknowledgement of them can make them go away. What good does nervousness do when on the first tee of a golf event? If you practice noticing them, you can learn to watch those feelings and how they go away. At Arcola, 10 is a downhill shortish par 4 where it was a 5 wood, very similar to all those other opening holes I listed above. This time though, I didn’t feel nervous with all the people watching and the big trouble areas on both sides of the fairways. I hit the fairway with what Mike said was “better than any of the 5 woods I hit on the range during warmup”. I still made bogey, but that was my fault for bad speed on the greens which I mentioned above. Overall, nervousness was so low compared to many of my USGA rounds in past years.
Importance of weights
Back at home, I enjoy going to the gym, either in my apartment or at the climbing gym (where I popped my ankle before the mid am). This means when I play golf at home, my muscles are always a little sore, but more importantly, tighter and connected. That connectedness is what I’d say is the most important part of a golf swing. Gyms are easy at home, but whenever I’d go on trips for events, or even non-Milwaukee state events, my muscles start to get too loose and my body and arms disconnect.
For my practice round at Ridgewood on Sunday morning, I hit the ball like crap and I could feel the connection was off. Getting back to the Hampton Inn, I went to their “Fitness” Center and did whatever I could to mimic the usual exercises I do at home gyms. Legs, core, arms, anything to get that feeling back. Turns out it was well worth it and I could tell the next morning when I was up at 5:00 for my 7:10 tee time and felt the soreness. I used that to hit the 16 greens at Arcola.
I used the gym Tuesday morning before Ridgewood, but didn’t do quite as much. Did that cause my slight misses on ball striking that caused my bad result? Maybe, but I know I did better than I have in the past.
Problems I still have, and were confirmed by being out there:
Now is the time where I list things I still can’t do well, but know about them.
I can’t start rounds off well.
Above I talked about how I wasn’t nervous off the first tees like in the past. That said, I still don’t start off rounds very well. Judging how this works, there were a couple different reasons this time.
In one case, the USGA won again with their over demanding and unfair at times pace of play rules. As the second group off, we didn’t wait for the group in front until the turns, when they ran into the group in front of them. That meant the entire time, we were walking fast and I wasn’t exactly able to get into much of a focus on hitting good shots. It was more like hitting shots to keep the ball in play which, sure, helps the score, but really the goal was to not spend the time looking for a lost ball or hitting a difficult chip that required thinking and slowing down. In fact, at one of the checkpoints, we had two birdie putts inside of five feed an the other was a 20 footer. If two of us had missed the green and had to mark our par putts, we’d have been put on the clock. If being behind is always in our heads, that doesn’t allow for good scores.
The other bigger issue for my poor starts is I don’t quite know my swing well enough to know where shots are going. During the warm up, I definitely try to how the swing is feeling, where misses are, if they’re normal misses or not. But in my career I still haven’t managed to figure out how best to use range time to figure out those issues. Once the round is in progress, I’ll usually see enough shots to get a feel and also get warmed up enough to know where shots are going to go. My back 9s are almost always better than my fronts. This seems like an issue I can work and find a solution for that will be a noticeable help.
Importance of green reading books
The rules regarding green reading books have gone through a cultural and rules of golf legal change in the past couple years. In a spectrum where one side is no information at all and having to judge distance by eyes only combined with no such thing as pin sheets, to the other side giving players as intricate information in books and using phones to get exact wind measurements, I’m very much on the side of more information the fairer the results will be. Alas, for the ’22 Am, I didn’t expect the USGA to go as far as they did with removing information from the book they provided, to the point where I was hit with unexpected blandness of the green information.
In the past events post college, meaning the ’17 and ’18 US Ams, the drawings of the greens had many more arrows showing slopes and different sections of the greens. This time, those were left as blank whiteness.
An example here is the 9th green at Ridgewood, which shows a five yard false front and a completely flat rest of the green. Turns out though, the green has a couple different waves where if you weren’t on the correct level, you’re not going to make the putt.
I’ll call garbage on people saying that green reading books slow down pace of play. I’d find it more likely it would speed up play where, after learning how to read the books, you won’t spend as much time walking around and staring. More importantly however, I want more information to know where to aim approaches. It’s true I could spend time during the single practice round and draw where there are ridges, but if you want fairness, you’d give us that info at the start.
I learned I needed more info for USGA events, and so I made sure to get the books for Erin and Blue Mound for the Mid-Am a month later. Standing in the fairway (or mostly rough due to how I hit so few fairways due to my ankle), I could look at the books and see the pins, and know where safe spot were. That info would have been helpful at Ridgewood and Arcola.
State of my Game — Represented by the final four holes at the State Open
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.
How We Built A Large, Adjustable Break Putting Mat
I have owned plenty of types of putting mats over the years. Usually they are small, cheap, and allow you to hit 6 footers mostly flat on the ground until a ramp of foam at the end allows the ball to drop into a circle of emptiness that can be considered a hole. The biggest problem with those putting mats is that it never feels like you’re hitting an actual putt on a real live green.
When I first was finally able to check out David Roesch’s indoor learning center for this winter, besides the three net set-up with a couple simulators, by far the most impressive thing I saw there was this large putting mat frame that allows you to adjust the amount of break. So my brother-in-law and I decided to make a version of that ourselves.
Because of the fakeness of most mats, we want a mat that has the feel of an actual putting green and allows us to hit different types of putts in a basement or garage. With our finished product, we can hit full putts over 10 feet (and of course shorter as well). We have aluminum holes that make the sound you expect when making a putt on a course. We have enough width where we can hit from various places and it doesn’t feel like the same fake putt over and over. We also have fake turf that’s by far the best I’ve ever used.
There are more than a few of these types of these large adjustable mats out there that you can buy around or over the $10k price point. The one we built ended up costing $1,152.63. It isn’t cheap cheap, but as you’ll see in the list of costs at the bottom, a large chunk of that is from reusable tools. Our next version of this will cost much less.
The goal with this post is to tell people what we did, what we learned, what we’ll do differently in our next version, and convince others to build their own.
The first step is to figure out the dimensions of the mat. This mostly depends on size of the empty floor you have available. For us, we were able to clean a 14×6 foot rectangle of space in the basement.
Thoughts on sizing: 6 feet wide is pretty comfortable. We’re able to stand on either side of the hole and hit a putt without being uncomfortably close to the hole or the edge of the mat. This is great because I’m standing about the same place as I would be if we were on a practice green hitting between holes. Going down to 5 feet wide – or maybe even 4 feet wide – is a possibility.
That said, bigger is better. For our dimensions, we ended up stretching as far as we could within the space. I think our initial guess was 12×5, but after moving around some things Mike had in the basement, we were able stretch the dimensions. Remember, this mat isn’t going to be moving. It’s heavy, we’re not looking to bring it with us when we travel, and there’s really no downside to making it as big as possible.
Finally, we decided to have only two holes on the mat in a symmetrical way. Each is in the center of the 6′ width where the back of the hole is 20″ from the end. We decided on 20″ just because, so don’t feel like it needs to be closer or further away. We thought of adding a couple more holes to add more options, like on the low side of the mat, but the 6 foot width is enough to let us hit varying shorter putts so the single hole on each side is more than good enough.
With the dimensions figured out, the next step is to build the frame. This was the biggest part of the build and the one that caused a couple unforeseen issues down the line. Next time, we’ll know how to get it right the first time, and likewise for people reading, don’t feel bad if you make mistakes too.
I mentioned above that we’re not looking to move the putting mat, but at some point, we might want to. Therefore, we decided to make the frame in two identical pieces, each 6’x7′, and connect them in the middle using bolts.
Here’s a final picture of the first half of the frame. Hopefully this picture is big enough so that you can get a sense of how we constructed it. Three of the outer edges have two long 2x4s screwed together, and the edge closest to us in the picture has a single 2×4 because this is where the two halves of the frame will be connected to each other.
To build this first half, we did the math to determine the number and the lengths of the 2x4s that build the of the frame, making sure to keep in mind that 2x4s are 1.5 inches thick which clearly will affect the lengths. This step will depend on the exact dimensions of your frame. If you look at the corners, there’s a bit of a zipper connection between the edges. Cool, but not important enough to make a difference in the overall structure.
Slow Pace of Play — The problem with no easy solution
One afternoon in 2011, while sitting behind the 9th green at Erin Hills to sign our scorecards after finishing playing our first round at the US Amateur, our group was legitimately looked down upon by a standing USGA ranger who asked us why he shouldn’t give us a penalty for slow pace of play. We had finished the par 3 9th a few minutes beforehand where I’m pretty sure we all missed the green and tried to get up and down which I did from one of the front bunkers by making a 6 footer. On the hole before, the snap dogleg 8th, a guy in our group missed the fairway to the left so we all walked around looking for his ball in the fescue before we were able to go hit ours. Because there was a lost ball to search for and we finished on a difficult par 3, we were then asked why we didn’t deserve a penalty.
Spin forward 6 years, and my brother-in-law and I were playing in the 2017 US Four Ball. During our first round on Pinehurst #8, on the long par three 13th hole, the guys we played with had trouble off the tee and through the green. After finishing the hole, we were told that we were behind the allotted 14 minute time limit, so we had earned ourselves a pace of play warning. We walked to the 14th tee where we sat down on the bench because we were waiting for the group in front of us to move towards the green. That’s right, we got a pace of play warning from the USGA and had to wait on the next tee. All because we played a long par three that some in the group had trouble on.
This writing isn’t just about the USGA and their feeling and enforcement of the pace of play. Slow pace of play is a huge issue these days, and keeps getting pushed higher and higher in talking points. How bad is the problem? What are the fixes? We all have thoughts, but the possible solutions are not straightforward at all.
Why write about this?
Last week at the end of the Euro Tour’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic stop (and before Bryson’s comment about being happy to play the Saudi event), Euro Tour twitter posted a video of Bryson talking to his caddie about a shot on the final hole of the event. It’s a minute and 13 seconds from the time he begins talking to the caddie to when he hits the shot. He discusses lots of things like distance, landing spot, and air density, which I assume was because he knew he was being recorded and wanted to push his “scientist” branding image even further.
People took off on trashing him in replies to the tweet about how slow he is and how much he overthinks his wedge shot. I tweeted this response, which I’ll now somewhat retract. Clearly Bryson’s wedge shot should have been hit quicker considering it was a wedge shot with complete lack of outside elements.
Brooks Koepka was interviewed a couple days after, where he said “I just don’t understand how it takes a minute and 20 seconds, a minute and 15 to hit a golf ball; it’s not that hard,” and “It’s always between two clubs. There’s a miss short, there’s a miss long. It really drives me nuts, especially when it’s a long hitter because you know you’ve got two other guys, or at least one guy that’s hitting before you, so you can do all your calculations. You should have your numbers. Koekpa continued to say “If it’s blowing 30, I understand taking a minute and taking some extra time with some gusts, you know changing just slightly, I get that, but if it’s a calm day there’s no excuse.”
Not just Kopeka, others on Tour seem to all be of the same opinion of Bryson’s slowness.
In the Bryson video’s case, the slow play is because of overthinking the slow shot process. This is a problem, yes, but Koepka brings up the number one cause for slow play that I see most often: Difficulty.
What causes the slow play?
Similar to the DeChambeau video, the Euro Tour posted this video of Ian Poulter and his caddie’s conversation last year. . The timing of this video is kind of ironic since it was the week after the Euro Tour’s shot clock tournament where they enforced a time limit. People complained about the time it took him to hit the shot, but not as many as complained about Bryson. Poulter’s shot plays over 210 over water to the green with a big wind blowing. You’ll also notice Poulter is +3, meaning that the course is playing pretty hard. The stronger the wind, the more it takes to ensure you’re hitting the right club.
Besides wind, firm course conditions is another weather aspect that slows down play completely. Approach shots must really be thought about in terms of how short and where to land it compared with flat, wet ground. That takes time. Also if you’re reading this, remember that landing distance is the distance you should be thinking about, not necessarily the distance to the pin.
Course design with difficult green complexes can slow down play. Elevated, slopey greens are a great example. A missed green then brings into play imagining the putt or chip with the swales and roll outs. From there, pins placed in slopey areas lead to more 4 footers for par rather than tap ins. You’re going to spend more time over that 4 footer.
The final big cause of difficulty is the amount of trouble on a course and how long it takes to search for a ball. This is a huge part of slow play on public courses. Huge.
One of the new rules for 2019 which I’m not a fan of at all is limiting for searching for a ball from 5 minutes to 3 minutes. This doesn’t affect guys on Tour because of the spotters and fans in the area and, well, the fact is that they hit it pretty straight.
For public players, they don’t follow that rule to begin with. Never has anyone pulled out a cell phone to start a timer to ensure the search doesn’t go beyond 5 minutes. People have different opinions on how to deal with search. Some throw a new ball down relatively quickly, following the local new rule about (knee) dropping in the fairway where the lost ball was estimated to end up. Others take their sweet time either enjoying not wanting to lose a ball, or playing in a betting game where every shot counts so they want to try to find the first. And then we have to add how many times we’re searching for multiple balls on the same hole but different sides of the hole.
Maybe that’s why people keep pushing for courses to be wider with less rough and no trees. Fewer lost balls means way quicker play. Hmm.
How should it be fixed?
I talk of difficulty as the number one reason for slow play, but that can’t be changed at a tournament level. The fixes they need to look for are ones that work to get the players moving quicker, but in a fair and reasonable manner.
Answering Twitter Polls — How much can course setup change scoring averages?
Asking questions using Twitter’s polls is a fun time to get people to think and talk about their opinions. Instead of only replying on the twitter threads, it’s easier to write here than be restricted by the 280 characters. These first three polls were all asking the question as to how much the course setup can change scoring – pin positions, the penalty of the rough and the speed of the greens.
How much of a difference do hole locations make?
Pins in any high level event are incredibly tucked, which leads the question, how much of a difference does that make?
At Firestone last week, there were plenty of examples of players missing short sided, causing difficult up and downs. There were also plenty of times where they stuffed it (on? to? at?) a pin, where the ball ended up between the edge of the green and the hole. Anecdotal evidence is never an accepted way to prove questions involving numbers.
If someone could give me the ShotLink data, that I could match up with pin sheets, we could get a sense of scoring averages depending on how close to the edge of the green the pin is. Yet apparently to get the data, I’d need to submit this giant form with tons of information, including my address, and the “institution” I’m a part of. Unfortunately, golf writing is not part of a university.
I voted for 2-3 strokes. Pin position makes a difference, there’s no denying that, but I can’t see too much other than a couple strokes a round.
Pinehurst #2 Review — Don’t miss a green on the wrong side
Pinehurst #2. What to say, what to say. It’s been so tough to figure out what I wanted to say about #2 that I haven’t written this review until over 3 months after the Four Ball. And it’s even so tough now that I’ve been sitting here a while without knowing how to start.
After writing the post, I have a summary to share. Pinehurst #2 is somewhat of a bland course in terms of hole distinction and differences in important shots. But it is impressive in difficulty in that basically every bad shot, especially approaches, is penalized. This makes it an ideal home course if you’re trying to compete since every shot requires perfection, and every other course you’ll play will seem easier.
I guess the first thing to say is that my dad and I played #2 back in the day and were featured in the Pinehurst newspaper the next day. Don’t believe me? My mom found it can snagged picture of it before the Four Ball. This was from almost 10 years ago now, and holy crap were clothes baggy back then. Oof.
Holy baggy rain pants. It was pouring, pouring rain so much then that barely anyone went out and played. We were unsure if we’d do that ourselves, but not like you can reject playing #2 when down there. I actually remember when this picture took place. We walking up to the second green and a car stopped on the road that cuts between the 2nd green and 3rd tee and a dude with a camera stepped out. We walked up to the green, said he’s from the local newspaper and wanted a picture of us on the green to prove that people were playing the course despite the crazy daylong downpour. Fun times.
Besides the second green, I remember a few other parts of the course — 16 because of the pond, 17 because of the semi valley from the tee to the green that was just all that bermuda style rough, and 18 approach shot because I stuffed this hybrid to a foot or so and had a tap in birdie.
When playing earlier this spring, the course was a 1000% percent different. Somewhat because I bogeyed 18 instead of birdieing it, but also because of the unbelievably perfect weather, spring warmness, no clouds, no sogginess, and different type of missed fairway penalty.
With the intro over, it’s time for me to go through all the thoughts I have on the course.
Expect a perfect shot, and be surprised if it isn’t
The video below has the CBS coverage of the ending to this year’s Masters. If you want to relive the excitement from the ending, feel free to watch the entire clip, otherwise, fast forward to the 41 second mark which shows Justin Rose missing his birdie putt on the 72nd hole which would have forced Sergio to make his ~4-5 footer to tie.
Did you see his reaction? If not, here’s a screenshot of what he looks like after missing that putt:
During my sophomore year in college, I’m like 75% sure I had the lowest putts per round average in the 2010-2011 NCAA season, at least against teams who kept their stats with Golf Stat. I’ve been trying to confirm or deny that but can’t find the past stats from the site. One of the biggest reasons for that is because I averaged something like 10 GIR per round which meant I needed to drain a lot of putts to keep the scores somewhat low. But despite how badly I hit the ball, I did drain a ton of putts.
The specific moment I’m talking about here was at the 2011 NCAA championship at Karsten Creek in Oklahoma, which played incredibly difficult then with the long bermuda rough and woods on every hole which meant a lost ball if it got anywhere near the forest. It was the 16th hole (my 7th) in the first round where this memory comes to life. I missed the fairway on the par 4, had to whack it out of that rough, and then whacked a garbage wedge shot to something like 30 feet past the hole.
I remember walking up to the green incredibly relieved to finally not have to hit any more full shots on this hole, and knowing, legitimately knowing, that I was going to make that for par. It was this downhill somewhat sliding putt that I read, stood over the ball knowing it was going to drop, and never had a doubt that it was going in.
I’m not lying by saying that over the putt. I knew that I was going to make it. And if it hadn’t, I’d have been surprised, just like Justin Rose above.
The Correct Attitude
It’s difficult to convince people here what the “correct” attitude on a golf course is. On Tour, there are club slammers (Jon Rham), there are giant fist pumpers (TDubs), small fist pumpers (PMick), there are expressionless players (DJ), caddie complainers (Bubba). For me, I slam my club too often (my b), but I’ve only mini-fist pumped twice in my life (both on the last hole of a US Am. qualifier when I knew I’d made it), and can’t say I complain to my caddie since I pretty much never have one (shoutout to Grant!). And those different on course attitudes can definitely suit people with different overall attitudes.
As the title of this post says, my advice is to always expect a perfect shot, and be surprised if it isn’t. I can claim I have proof of why this attitude is perfect from that NCAA putt, but I look back and wish I had extended that attitude from the putting green to all shots.
I cannot push this enough. When watching the Masters this year that showed Justin Rose being surprised rather than angry with his missed putt, I finally knew I had a way to prove that at least one of the top 10 players in the world has this attitude. And I’ll guess that others do as well, but we just can’t see it.
If you’ve read all the way down to the bottom of the post here, you need to use this attitude.
Tobacco Road Review — The Most Enjoyable Course I’ve Ever Played
When you go to the Tobacco Road website, you see a beautiful, sunrise picture of the par 3 8th green, the fairway of the par 4 9th hole in the background, and the following quote:
When talking about my favorite golf courses, I always tell people that the only feature that I need to see to be a fan of the course is that I have to be able to remember every hole individually after playing the course once. I need novelty, distinction, uniqueness, some other synonym of those words, and I don’t care at all if the course follows the rules of other courses.
Tobacco Road nails all of my requirements, and if I had to choose one course I’d play the rest of my short life, it would be Tobacco Road.
“It’s a beautiful course and even though I haven’t seen all 18 holes of many courses I could tell it was unique. I also liked ringing the bells when you left the fairway”
– My sister Sara, when asked her initial thought of Tobacco Road
“I figured you were writing a review but did not plan to be quoted ha”
– My sister Sara, when asked if she knew I was going to use her quote in the review.
“i REALLY did not expect you to use my second gchat hahah”
– My sister Sara, messaging me on gchat, after looking over the post and seeing her quotes.
I’m not sure when I heard of Tobacco Road for the first time, either way, when my sister and brother-in-law flew down to NC for a 3 day weekend to play golf back in February, I told them to head to Tobacco Road to check it out, and frankly knew how much they’d like it (and by they I mean both of them because my sister wasn’t playing, but she rode along in the cart). I also made sure to have them post a pic from the course, and obviously they went with the approach to the 13th green.
Fast forward a few months to the end of May when Mike and I (and couple caddie friends) were down in Pinehurst for the US Four Ball. Mike and I missed the match play cut, so we had an extra half a day before our flight back home, which meant that all four of us got a tee time at Tobacco Road mid morning, starting on the first tee.
I mentioned just above how an Instagram picture of the 13th hole approach shot is a frequently posted picture from the course. Another of the three main pictures is the view from the first tee to the fairway. Hills with shrubs for lost balls on both sides just before the landing area make it slightly intimidating, but they are also something that you’ll rarely see. Now, I’m lucky that I can hit drivers pretty far, far enough that from the back tees I can get so far over the hills that the fairway widens up enough. For those who don’t hit it as far, don’t worry, the fairway is still decently wide.
You’ll find this view nowhere else. On to descriptions of course features!
Semi Bucket Greens
Moving about 300 yards from the first tee to a 220 yard approach shot, the first green is a great example of the semi-bowl greens that are common to Tobacco Road. From the pic below, you can see the slope from the left side of the green over to the right. Looking at the bunkers on the right, you can see the slope to the back left of the green, and the slope from the back left to front right. A green that’s a valley.
It’s a very common feature of Tobacco Road (and exactly opposite of Pinehurst numero dos), and slopey greens make you need to know where to land the ball if you’re looking for a tap in birdie.
In my case, after a well hit driver off the tee and over the left hill (which is where to aim since the opening of the semi-bucket green is the left side), I hit a cutter 4 iron that fed down to the hole a decent amount from where it landed to 30 feet away, and I ended up 2 putting for a birdie.
These semi-bucket greens do make the course easier, but difficulty is not at all what I’m looking for when picking a course to play over and over and over, and neither is a feature that can help lower your score. The thought of landing areas and the excitement of seeing the ball roll to the hole, combined with the uncommonality of this feature, is the experience I want.
Doglegs where you choose how much to cut off, aka Loop Holes
If people start talking about this type of architecture as a Loop Hole, I’m getting credit for inventing the term.
When playing Tobacco Road, one of the main things you’ll see here are holes with giant, waste-area-bunkers between the tees and the greens, and a giant fairway that wraps around the entire thing.