Friday, August 28, 2009

There's no "I" in TEAM, but there's M & E

Those who did not (or chose not to attempt to) qualify for the championship flight of the club championship are sorted into flights by handicap and compete in the flight championships. Each flight has 16 players and is single elimination match play. With my 6.5 index, I am the #12 seed in the first flight and play the #5 seed in the first round this Saturday.

Our state team inter-club playoffs also start this Saturday, so after playing my first round match at 7:30am, I'm hopping in the car to head to Chestnut Ridge Country Club for a 1:30pm shotgun start there. Six clubs, including ours, are sending six two-man teams to compete for the chance to continue in the playoffs.

Usually I would be ecstatic to have this kind of day ahead of me. However, with my game in the tank, I'm less than thrilled.

Luckily, playing poorly has only added to my motivation to work hard in the gym and I have stuck to my Monday, Wednesday, Friday workout schedule thus far. I did not experience nearly as much soreness this week as I did last week, which I attribute to additional stretching as well as my body adjusting to the routine.

Wednesday night I played a quick nine after work and then I hit a small bucket during lunch on Thursday. I'll probably hit balls again today at lunch and then work on my short game after work before heading to the gym tonight.

I would love to say that I'm more excited for the team match than my individual match, but then I would be lying! Winning the first flight at Rolling Road is tougher than winning a lot of other clubs' championship flights and would definitely be a big deal to me. We always play two-on-two, four-on-four and other team formats throughout the year, so the chance to compete as an individual is something I always look forward to.

Which do you prefer? Team competition or individual competition?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's gotta be the clubs...

I had a long, descriptive blog written up to describe my attempt to qualify for the championship flight of my club championship this past weekend. Luckily for you, I came to my senses and realized that nobody would be all that interested in a shot-by-shot recap of 36 holes of misery bad golf.

My very first hole of the tournament saw a 15 foot, uphill, right-to-left birdie attempt turn into a bogey 5 and it only got worse from there. I shot 82 on the first day, vowed to shoot 72 the next day, and was a beaten man after my 72 turned into an 87. I missed the cut by 15 shots and immediately put my irons and putter on eBay!

I didn't include that the clubs were clearly cursed in my description in the eBay listing, only that they were in excellent condition and I had only been using them for a few months.

Left with a decision to make on which new irons to buy, I did some research.

I went to Golf Galaxy to try out both the new Ping i15 and the Adams A7 since my pro didn't yet have the demos in stock. I liked them both and they fit the type of club I like to play: workable, but forgiving. They both have moderate offset and the sole and topline aren't too thick. The Ping is a "prettier" club in my opinion, but I like the fact that the A7's come with two hybrids.

In the past I have only carried one hybrid (typically 18* or 19*) and hit my long irons very well. I also need a long-iron because nobody hits a 4-iron "out-from-under-a-tree-with-a-30-yard-hook-only-four feet-off-the-ground-190 yards" quite like I do! Scott Van Pelt needs his grooves and I need a 3 or 4 iron!

However, in doing some research, I found that the lofts of the Adams irons are a little strong and the 5-iron will play like your standard 4-iron (25*). They are set up this way because your average #3 hybrid usually doesn't replace a 3-iron at all, it goes 20 yards further. So this set has a 20* & 23* hybrid, a 25* 5-iron and then goes in 4* increments to the 45* pitching wedge.

I could always have the Ping irons ordered to these specs, but would still be left with having to find two hybrids that I like. From my demo sessions, I couldn't find any hybrids that I liked more than the Adams A7. I recently bought the '09 Rescue (#3 - 19*) from Taylor Made and that's headed to eBay as soon as I finish typing this blog!

So I emailed my pro with my specs for the Adams A7 hybrids & irons this morning (2* upright, Dynamic Gold Super Lite R300 steel in the irons, UST Mamiya AXIVCore stiff flex graphite in the hybrids, New Decade White/Black grips) and will impatiently wait for them to arrive. I'm pretty pumped up about the purchase and am shocked that Adams Golf came out with a set of irons I would even consider.

Having worked in the golf industry for most of my life, I would honestly consider myself a snob in regards to golf equipment. If it isn't Mizuno, Taylor Made, Ping or Titleist, it's just not for me. However, I nearly bought the Adams A4 Tech Forged irons last year, but opted for the Taylor Made Tour Preferred instead. This was mainly because I just couldn't see myself playing Adams irons. In retrospect, it was a mistake and those clubs really signaled Adams' arrival (in my mind) as a major player in the irons market.

With the new A7, I think they have a winner. I'll let you know how I like them after they arrive.

Now if only changing my swing could be so easy...

Monday, August 24, 2009

I want my name on the wall...

There are four "majors" at our club each year. There's the three-day Member-Guest, the Medal Play championship, the President's Cup (2 day, 2-man team event), and the Club Championship.

While our club is not the most prestigious in Maryland (which is tough with Congressional, Baltimore Country Club, Caves Valley & TPC Avenel in your state), our golfing history is quite rich. As you walk down the main hallway to our grille room, there are three large boards on the wall with the names of our club champions dating back to 1919. Former club champions have played in the Masters, US Open, PGA Championship, and US Amateur, played full-time on the PGA Tour, won the Mid-Atlantic & Maryland Amateurs, the Maryland Open, the Baltimore Amateur, and our team won the state championship in back-to-back years in 2002 & 2003 (beating Congressional & Avenel in the finals).

Our reigning club champion holds the nine-hole record at Pine Valley (29), which counts many Tour players as members and is currently ranked #2, behind only Augusta, on Golf Digest's list of the 100 best courses in America. He played college golf at Wake Forest and, by all accounts, is at most the 4th best player at our club! I could go on and on, but you get the drift. We have had and still have a lot of guys that can really play!

I've stared at the wall in the hallway for 20+ years; looking at the different names, counting the number of times Spencer Overton won (22!), and dreamed of the day when my name would go on that wall.

It was a pipe dream five years ago, but as I started playing & practicing more and my handicap drifted into the mid-single-digits, I have become more optimistic. If I can go from a 12 to a 4 handicap in just a few short years, clearly I can go from a 4 to a +2 handicap, right???

Maybe it doesn't quite work that way, but I was optimistic heading into this past weekend's 36-hole qualifier. The format is as follows:

Last year's champion is exempt and is the #1 seed, while the remaining field (of 40 players this year) compete for 15 spots in the championship flight. Single elimination match play (where #1 plays #16, #2 plays #15, #8 plays #9, etc) follows for the next two weekends, culminating with a 36-hole match play final on Labor Day. At our club, this tournament is a big deal and it's not unusual for 200+ members to watch the final match.

My performance in the "majors" this year has been pretty solid. Although I would say I'm having a disappointing season overall, my play in our big events has been quite good. Maybe I'm just a gamer and it takes a big event to bring out my best! ;-)

My partner and I led the Member-Guest heading into the final day and I shot between 36 & 38 in each of the five 9-hole matches. We ended up losing our lead with a missed short putt on our final hole, but finishing 2nd was a nice accomplishment and winning a lot of side bets helped ease our sorrow!

In July's Medal Play Championship, with the course playing brutally tough, I managed rounds of 76-78. It matched my best 36-hole tournament score, which was 80-74 in the 2008 Medal Play.

In the President's Cup, my partner & I played well, but two 5 handicappers are always going to have a tough time winning this type of event. Despite an even par best ball (gross) and -10 (net), we really never had a chance. High-handicap sandbaggers always cheat their way to the Best Net score and our elite golfers set the Best Gross score at a level that I am still aspiring to.

So with some solid golf under my belt in the first three of our four "majors", I was optimistic heading into this weekend. I played a final practice round after work on Friday: Seven pars, one birdie & one double bogey for 36 (+1).

With my game seemingly falling into place at the right time, all that was left to do was pick out my outfit for Saturday and cruise through the qualifier!

(To Be Continued...)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Talkin' bout practice...

Unlike Allen Iverson, I love to practice. I could spend all day at the driving range. Unfortunately, I'm a member at one of the few private clubs I can think of that doesn't have a driving range! Sure, there's a net with artificial mats, but that's really only effective for a pre-round warm up.

With my 36-hole club championship qualifier taking place this weekend and my game in the tank, I needed to put in some work!

I've spent the past few days working primarily on my short game, so I figured I would use Thursday and Friday to spend a little time tuning up everything.

After work, I walked nine holes, as much for the exercise as for the golf. My play was uninspired, starting with two mindless bogeys, then missing four consecutive make-able birdie putts, splitting the fairway with a 280 yard drive on our most difficult hole only to miss the green by 40 yards with an 7-iron, followed by two more missed greens, one of which I got up-and-down. It took me 39 blows and an hour-and-ten minutes to play nine. I was much happier about the latter.

Feeling as though I accomplished nothing, I spent about forty-five minutes chipping and putting before (getting in my car and) heading to the range. These are the type of practice days I love, but rarely get to do.

After an hour at the range, my confidence is began to return. I didn't try to reinvent the wheel and just worked on taking the club back slowly and finishing the golf swing. My tempo tends to gets muy rapido and throws my balance into shambles, so these two thoughts typically get me back on track.

Today will be my final day of practice for the qualifier. I'm probably going to walk another nine holes and spend about 30-45 minutes on my short game. In days past, I would probably putt until it was pitch dark, but "Married Matt" will be home for dinner & a movie around 7pm.

My tee time tomorrow is 10:08 and I was happy to see I'm paired with two guys I get along with and both of whom will walk (my preference). I'll probably head to the range at about 8am and plan to be at the club to chip & putt shortly after 9am.

Usually a two day score of 78-78 will qualify for the Championship Flight match play (top 16 finishers), but then you end up playing the defending champ or another high qualifier. I'm hoping to shoot 75-75, qualify above the middle of the pack, and see what happens from there.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hitting the gym...

Monday was "Week 1, Day 1" of my new workout program. I'm not a gym rat, but I have spent plenty of time working out over the past several years for both golf and general fitness purposes.

However, passing into my mid-20s has brought on about 20 or so unwanted pounds. I'm currently 5'11" and 187 lbs and would like to start the 2010 golf season in the 165 - 170 pound range.

In doing research, I found that top athletes from all sports seem to turn to Athletes Performance in Arizona, Florida or Los Angeles for training. Their client list is like a who's who of the NFL, MLB and NBA, as well as many stars from other sports like Natalie Gulbis & Mia Hamm. Their "Core Performance" workouts are tailored to the sport you play and are designed to increase strength and flexibility while boosting energy and reducing pain. Their website is very cool and allows you to customize a workout based on your sport and how often you can workout. It does require a subscription, but you can get a 30-day-trial. After that it's $9.99 per month, but within a short period of time you'll have the workouts memorized, printed, or downloaded ;-)

The "movement prep" portion of their workout is my favorite and I use it to warm up before I play golf, as well as when I start my workouts in the gym. It's a series of core exercises and stretches designed to train your body for the movements in the golf swing. I'll probably go into more detail in a future post, if anyone is interested. You can also search around the Core Performance site and find samples of their golf exercises.

Following movement prep, I do a series of bodyweight exercises from to get further warmed up. After two circuits of squats, push ups, lunges and mountain climbers, I get into the meat of my workout (which is a pretty generic total body workout from Men's Health).

Superset 1 is 10 push-ups with my feet up on a bench for additional difficulty and to further strengthen my shoulders. I immediately transition into 12 reps (each leg) of step-ups on the same bench. After 30 seconds rest, I do it again, rest again, and complete a third superset.

Superset 2 is 1-leg RDL (Romanian Dead-Lift) for 8 reps per leg, followed by swiss ball mountain climbers for 10 reps per side. This is an awesome combo for golf as the 1-leg RDL really strengthens your lower back and doing it on one leg improves your overall balance. The mountain climbers are a great total core strengthener. If you haven't worked out much with a swiss ball, they will definitely be a challenge. I do a total of three supersets of this combo.

Superset 3 is the grand finale of my Monday workout and is 12 pull-ups followed by 20 wide-grip push-ups. I repeat the superset once. I will admit I had to use the weight assist for the pull-ups, which was a jab to my ego. I expect that as I lose a few pounds and get a bit stronger, this will change.

I hit the treadmill for a 15 minute interval session and then headed to the Precor stretch cage to finish up. All-in-all it took about 90 minutes and I was absolutely worn out by then end of it. I was really pleased that I kept my intensity level high for the whole workout, but know there will be plenty of days where that will be a challenge.

After this workout on Monday night, I played nine holes Tuesday evening. I was shocked at how sore I was and recommend not starting an intense workout plan on a day before you plan on playing any type of competitive round. Luckily this round was not competitive because I could barely take the club away!

I'm feeling better today and will be hitting the gym again tonight after some more (much needed) short game practice. My plan calls for me to go Monday, Wednesday & Friday and I'll be doing the Core Performance movement prep for golfers on a daily basis. I'll keep you updated on the progress...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Day 1 - Back to basics...

After two poorly played rounds this weekend, I viewed this Monday as a new beginning. In order to take my game to the next level, I need to get back in the gym and resume practicing.

I truly enjoy doing both, but finding the time is difficult. Usually by this time of the year, I've played enough that my game doesn't need as much work as it does in the beginning of the season. However, that has not been the case this year.

I have a pretty good work schedule for a golfer. I head into the office early and typically get off between 3:30 & 4:00pm. During the summer months, I could play every day of the week. Being a husband and a homeowner makes that a little bit difficult, but I try to take advantage of my schedule when I can.

Yesterday, instead of just heading to the club and playing as many holes as I could before dinner, I actually practiced! And I actually practiced the shots that can help you lower your score quickly: those from around the green. For over an hour I hit my bread-and-butter pitch and chip shots with my trusty 58* wedge. I gave myself different lies and tried to control my spin and trajectory. I also worked on some other shots that I use less frequently, like bump-and-run shots with my 4 & 6-irons and standard shots with my pitching wedge (which I usually over-complicate by using the 58* or 64* wedge!).

I love seeing the look on my playing partner or opponent's face after I put a little sauce on a pitch shot and check it up right next to the stick. However, for your average golfer seeking consistent results, using the standard bump-and-run is a much more effective and practical shot. It's nice to have the option to hit the shot you need, but I'm really going to try to focus on getting the ball on the ground as quickly as possible when it's the best option.

After my practice session, I hit the gym. I'm using the Core Performance program for golfers and I'll detail my workouts in future posts.

The Intro...

My goal in golf is simple. Like millions of golfers, I dream of shooting an even par round and eventually shooting under par. The focus of this blog will be my journey to get there. I probably won't be able to refrain from commenting on the current events in the world of golf, as well course and equipment reviews, but I'm going to try to keep the primary focus on my journey towards breaking par and eventually (hopefully) playing scratch golf. Perhaps it will help you on your own journey.

I'm sure you're dying to know more about me, so I'll give you a brief intro. I'm 27 years old and have been playing golf for as long as I can remember. In high school, I briefly flirted with the idea of trying out for the golf team, but instead tried out for the baseball team. I thought baseball would be more "cool" to play.

My high school baseball team was led by Yankees' slugger Mark Texeira and White Sox' pitcher Gavin Floyd. Due to LOFT (Lack Of F***ing Talent), I didn't make the team, yet never did reconsider trying out for the golf team and barely touched a club over the next several years.

When I was 19, I began working part-time at a retail golf store and this reinvigorated my love of the game. I worked within the golf business for several years, eventually running that same golf shop that hired me, before transitioning into the "real world". Oddly enough, once I was out of the golf business, I found that I had much more time to actually play golf.

Over the past four years, I have been playing about 2-3 times per week during golf season (March-November in Baltimore) and my handicap has gone from the 10-12 range to as low as a 4.3 index. My home course is Rolling Road Golf Club in Catonsville, MD, which is a par 70 track designed by Willie Park, Jr. (who also designed the North course at Olympia Fields & the Old course at Sunningdale, won two British Opens, and was the first professional to write a book on golf instruction). This is where I play 90% of the time and it serves as a great test for all areas of your game.

Recently, I stood on the 15th tee at Rolling Road even par for the day and proceeded to bogey three of the final four holes to shoot 73. I've shot 73 several times now and my low round in medal play competition is 74. However, I haven't been able to breakthrough that barrier.

That round got my juices flowing to take my game to the next level, but the play that has followed over the past few weeks has been less than inspiring. My handicap index is now 6.5 and I feel further away from even par than I have in quite some time.

However, I do have a plan! Project Under Par is my plan to take my game to the next level through fitness and practice. I won't shy away from seeking professional help and plan to make some swing changes once the competitive golf season comes to a close.