A very erratic 11 ‘capper…

As I am without electricity or the internet at my home until Wednesday afternoon, my time for blogging is limited only by my own sense of how long is reasonable to sit at this McDonald’s, refilling my $1 iced tea every half hour or so.  Considering that I’m already a solid half hour in, I’d say that I’ve got at most an hour before I’ve more than worn out my welcome.  So, then, allow me to proceed.  News, notes, and trip updates coming later this week.

This entry is about how I golf.  Sure, it’s kinda narcissistic, but this entire blog is about me golfing, and traveling, and you have to understand that an entry like this was coming.  It’s my hope, though, that no matter how skilled, or unskilled, of a golfer you are, you will empathize with me as I describe how I approach the game; with the shots I look forward to, and the ones I dread.  We all have parts of the game we love, and parts that scare us half to death, and that’s true from the best of us to the worst of us.

I’m going to start with describing what’s in my bag.  I think it’s a prudent starting place.

Driver – Titleist 909 D2 9.5* w/ factory Aldila Voodoo shaft

FW – Titleist 909 F2 18.5* w/ factory Aldila Voodoo shaft

4-PW – Tommy Armour 845s Silver Scot w/ factory tour step stiff shafts

Wedges – 52*, 56*, 60* Titleist BV SM w/ factory stiff shafts and oil can finish

Utility – circa 1950 Beckley Ralston chipper

Putter – Odyssey White Hot XG9

As you can see, it’s a mix of very modern equipment and more vintage stuff.  The only spot in the bag that has rotation potential is the club between driver and 4 iron.  I hit my 5-iron between 195 and 215 depending on lie, conditions et al, and really only have the 4 iron for punching out of trees and hitting low piercing hooks with.  I’m quite confident with my ability to hit those shots with the 4, and it’s not going anywhere.  I’ve been, eternally, it seems, looking for a club I can hit between 230-250 with some sort of consistency, and the search is likely to continue ad infinitum.  Two years ago I gave a hybrid a try, playing with a 21* Titleist 909.  All I was able to do was hook it out of bounds.  Earlier this year, I picked up the 18.5* 909 FW and threw it in the bag.  The results, while not what I’m looking for, have been far more consistent than the Hybrid, and it’s likely that I just stick with the 909 FW for the duration of the trip.  I did recently try to hit my old man’s Northwestern Hubert Green 1 iron – and I’m not even sure Ben Hogan could hit the club.  I did hit a few decent balls with it, but they were low fades that only ended up going about 200 yards.  As manly and awesome as it would be to have a 1-iron in the bag, it’s just not in the cards.

By now, my several references to hooking the ball should have impressed upon you that I don’t hit it straight.  When I’m playing my best, I play a heavy draw, or minor hook.  Depends on your outlook.  For the baseball fans amongst you, I want you to picture the continuum from 4 seam fastball through dirty 12-6 curve ball.  If a standard draw is a flat slider and a massive hook is the 12-6, think of a slurve ball and you’ve got the idea for my ideal shot.  Start it right, bring it back.  With all of my clubs above the 52*.  As you can imagine, this presents some frustrating problems with the irons.  It’s tough to gauge exactly where I ought to aim at times.  Compounding the anxiety of standing over the ball is the ever present possibility that I hit it straight!  It’s been happening with increasing frequency this year, and has given me many opportunities to work on my short game from the right of the green.

The hook isn’t a guarantee though – I can open the face and hit a fade once in a while.  I’m most adept at this with the driver – and have actually impressed even myself by driving the green on two short par 4 dogleg rights within the past month.  It seems counter intuitive to me, but as the clubs get shorter, my ability to fade the ball if I need to decreases pretty quickly.  A few years ago, it was unthinkable to me that I would have any ability at all to shape a shot and actually have it happen.  I think that once you start grappling with this sort of thing, you are becoming a golfer, rather than merely one who golfs.

I have a very short backswing, largely the result of refusing to do anything with my wrists other than keep them locked and loaded for the entire duration of the swing.  On a full swing, the clubhead might make it back to directly above my head.  Despite this, I am a pretty big hitter.  My standard 200 yard club is my 5 iron, and from 150 it’s anything between 7 iron and 52* depending on conditions.  Off the tee, I am massive by comparison with most of my playing partners, but nowhere near professional grade.  I average about 265 off the tee, and will mash one over 300 somewhat frequently.  When I miss with the driver, it used to be a low lining hook (not quite a duck hook), but has now become an absolutely killed block out to the right.  Think 300 yards 15* to the right of target.  Considering that I’m already aiming right for that hook – can you start to feel the headgames going on on the tee?  For the most part though, I hit it straight enough.  I’ve hit 37% of fairways this year, which isn’t as high as anyone would like, but being in the first cut isn’t usually too much of a problem, and that’s normally where I’m at if I do miss.

Once I have finally gotten to the green, things don’t really get that interesting.  I think I’m the definition of the average amateur putter.  I have averaged between 31 and 32 putts per round the last 2 years, I prefer the 15 foot uphill putt with break to the 6 foot downhill one that’s straight, I miss 4 footers with alarming frequency, but generally two putt anything within 30 feet.  Nothing to see here folks.

Around the green, I think, is where the best golfers are the best, the worst golfers are the worst, and the high single digit low double digit handicappers like me are the most vulnerable.  I do carry 56* and 60* wedges, but getting me to use one around the green is like pulling teeth.  If the 1950 Beckley Ralston chipper wasn’t indicative, I’ll come right out and say that I love to play the ball near the ground around the green.  I like to read the green and let the ball roll.  I will always try the safer bump and run shot to the more daring flop shot if given the choice between the two.  While many of my playing partners would tell you it’s because I’m actually quite good at lagging low chip shots up near the hole, most of the reason I prefer to play these shots is because I lack even the tiniest amount of confidence in playing high soft shots.  Put me behind a bunker with a pin tucked in right behind it and I will rack my brain and investigate the angles for at least a minute trying to see if there is anyway I can run something through the bunker, play the ball off a hill  or bump or something, before finally conceding and hitting a nice safe shot 30 feet past the hole with my 52* wedge.

In golf, as in life, the things that frighten you the most can often times be your biggest opportunity for growth.  It’s no surprise then, that the part of my game I’d like to work on the most is having the confidence to be a little more daring and creative around the green.  I frequently take the double or triple out of play with a safe shot, but give myself a slim, slim chance at making that par.  Maybe I actually can hit some of these delicate shots?  It’s something I need to practice.

All of this adds up to, at the moment, a 10.9 handicap, with an anti-handicap of 18.9.  That’s a huge variation, but that’s also the beauty of the handicap system: it measures your potential, not your average.  I average 85.8 this year, up from 84.8 last year.  By most people’s standards, averaging thoroughly in the mid 80’s is pretty good, and I gotta say that in the end, I’m pleased that I’m able to score in this area consistently.

There are, of course, those rare days when everything goes well, and I know that a subpar round is lurking somewhere in the murky depths of my bag.  Last May, I was -1 after 13 at Brighton Park in Buffalo.  Then I made a quad on 14.  Then it got dark.  I ended up shooting a 76, and was bitterly disappointed that I wasn’t able to finally get to even for a round.  I only had 5 holes left!  It was one of 14 rounds in the last 2 seasons (out of 80) that I shot in the 70’s.  There were 53 rounds in the 80’s, 12 in the 90’s, and one miserable day in the triple digits.

Non golfers may marvel at what they’ve perceived to be a striking lack of consistency in what I’ve described as my game.  The golfers among you, however, will certainly empathize with me here, I’m sure.  Consistency is the name of the game, and in the end, while I have all the shots in my bag to be a scratch golfer, finding them has just proven too hard over the years.  Despite it, I’m content being around a 10 handicap, and find the game just as enjoyable now as I did when I was a 20 handicap 5 years ago.  Maybe in 5 more years I’ll have figured those other 10 strokes out.

Do I remind you of yourself?  Do you marvel at any part of my game?  Have any questions about how I approach a particular shot?  Have any advice!?!?  Leave a comment or email me.  golfing49in49@gmail.com.

As always, spread the word and consider a donation.  More fully developed entry on final charity involvement later this week.

Hit ’em straight.

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