Sunday, November 25, 2007

Great Putting Streak...

I've updated my sidebar to show my best putting streak - recently went sixty holes without a three putt. Then I three-putted three times in eighteen holes (33 total putts, so not too bad). The funny part is I really felt I only hit one bad putt on the day.

Sometimes even a well stroked putt fails to fall,

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Golf is Mental…

It's All in My Mind...

I was reviewing my statistics and I have determined that Golf is Mental. Previously I had concluded that my recent rash of three-putting was due to two primary causes. One of those causes was the addition of snakes to my golf betting. This cause is most certainly mental. The other cause I pointed to was my improved GIR statistic. It seems reasonable to conclude that more GIRs provide more opportunities to three-putt, but looking at the data, I can see that this is NOT the cause.

This month I three-putted 25 times (over 225 holes) and 13 of those were after a GIR (13/25). The previous month showed 4/8 and the months before that get worse with 2/3 and 7/10. Looking at these ratios it is clear that more GIRs have nothing to do with my dramatic increase in three-putt frequency. That leaves snakes as the primary reason. Like many before me, I conclude: Golf is Mental.

Controlling the mind…

In looking at the data, there is a nice drop off in the three-putts just prior to the conclusion of the month. It is after loop number 18 in the chart below.

After loop eighteen, there is a stretch of at least 36 holes without a three-putt. That is the point where I finally got control of my mind. The final two three-putts during the month were still mental, but I feel I did not give those particular putts the proper respect and I was a bit over confident.

So how did I manage to control my mind? I wrote about it here where I discussed taking a practice stroke at a midpoint on the line and that worked for me. But it wasn’t the act of making those practice strokes alone. Those practice strokes gave me confidence and that confidence led to trust. With this trust, I can stroke the ball more freely and with considerably less tension.

So, What Now…

I certainly have not conquered the mental aspect of golf, but identifying that a recent struggle was completely a mental one, and looking at how I overcame it is a great start. The answer is confidence and trust. In the most general terms this can be applied to any golf shot. Simply consider how much confidence you have in the shot you are about to make. Consider weather there is another shot that you have more confidence in. I think the best place to realize this is chipping. Shots around the green generally have the most options; choose the option you trust most.

Playing Head Games,

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

15th Month at Green Caye Completed...

I finished out the month at Green Caye playing 27 holes. I shot 35/30/32, made 12 pars and 1 birdie, hit 10 GIRs, and managed only 3 up and downs. In the crap department I suffered one triple bogey, one double bogey, and 2 three-putts (one was the double bogey). The triple was on the first hole (the second hardest hole on the course, 185 yds to an elevated, turtleback green protected by mounding right and water on the left) where I drew my shot left into the water. I’m trying to figure out how I managed that since while warming up on the range, trying to hit a baby draw, I couldn’t hit it no matter how hard I tried (I did manage a couple hooks though). So I aimed at the pin and went for a baby draw. The ball started just slightly left and a baby draw moved the ball further left just enough to ensure that it had no chance of holding. The shot bounced off the fringe and plunked into the water.

This is that familiar place where I often visit called “no-confidence land”. I set up for a shot and expected a different result. I had no confidence in my ability to hit a baby draw. I wandered into a contradiction. I set up for a baby draw yet my alignment to the pin was more for a straight shot. I like to say I hit the shot but I didn’t play the shot.

Let me explain it more in tune with my thinking at the time:

I aimed at the pin and went for a baby draw. I was confident, based on my range work just a few moments ago, that the ball would likely fly straight or possibly fade slightly.

Using the words of Lee Trevino, I felt I was “dancing with the one I brung”.

So, I’m wondering why I was able to hit the baby draw on the course when I could not hit the shot on the range. I think the answer is “focused concentration”. Harvey Penick would often tell his students to “take dead aim”, and that is the precise difference between what I was doing on the range and what I did on the course.

On the range I often pick a landing area and try to work the ball into that area (like I did on this particular day). On the range I think more about swing mechanics, club path, and release timing than I do about the landing area. I’m focusing more on myself and less on the target.

On the course I focus on the target (I take dead aim) and trust that my body can hit the shot I intend to hit. I think in this case, focusing on the target kept my mind off of swing mechanics and allowed me to execute the shot.

There are a few things going on here and I’m just going to see if my hands can keep up with the typing as I think about them…

I committed to a shot that I had no confidence that I could make. That just seems so wrong when I read it, yet it felt like the right thing to do when I did it.

Somewhere in this is the difference between what I do on the range and what I do on the course. It seems that shooting at an area may be suitable when your target is a fairway, or even a green complex. Does the concentration required to focus on a specific target somehow produce more accurate shots?

How does focusing on a specific target compare with a general target in terms of concentration level. How does this apply to chips and putts? How can this be investigated?

Clearly though, you do not want to be thinking about swing mechanics on the course. So should warm up range time be free of swing mechanics too?

Perhaps the lesson here leads me right back to Harvey Penick and “take dead aim”.

Perhaps it boils down to trust. Would the result have been different if I set up for the baby draw with the correct alignment (center, or just right of the center of the green)?

In any case, there is some level of concentration that allows the body to produce the shot the mind envisions. This is the key to exceptional performance.

I need to reread Tim’s Gallwey’s book, The Inner Game of Golf.

Charts added!

Click to enlarge

Twenty-five is a good amount of loops played especailly considering the average is about sixteen. The big factor this month was the addition of "snakes" to the betting. You can see what happened with the black on chart one being excessive three-putting. This was compounded by a jump in GIRs. By the end of the month birdies were hard to come by.

Next month I'm going to work hard on lag putting to reduce the number of three-putts. If I can mange that and play similarly, I should see improvement in score, pars, and putts.

I'm adding a "Putting Streak" stat to my sidebar to show how may holes I've played without a three putt.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Snake Bit...

A Short Story...

Last time I mentioned that I played a course in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I also mentioned my friend, Bill, who has recently taken up golfing. The back-story here is somewhat entertaining so here’s how it went down…

Bill and his wife, Cindy, invited my wife, Kerri, and myself to go to Lake Charles for the weekend. When Kerri told me about it, I said it sounded great. I said (kidding of course), “Great, I’ll go golfing while you guys hit the casino”. My wife knows I don’t care much for the casino, but her response was a big, “Ahhh… I don’t think so”.

Some time later, Kerri is talking to Cindy and tells her (also kidding) that I wanted to go golfing while they did the casino thing. Cindy’s response was, “Oh great, now Mark will have someone to golf with”.

It turns out that a third couple was in on the trip and the guy, Mark, is a golfer. This guy has been friends with Bill for 20 + years and has been trying to get him to take up golf for nearly all of that time.

Upon learning that the two guys he invited to go to the casino were going golfing, Bill opted to buy a set of clubs so that he wouldn’t be stuck with the girls in the casino while Mark and I were out golfing.

Yes, I got to go golfing on that trip!!

The point of that story is that it was Mark who introduced me to “snakes” in the golf betting world.

Snakes on the Loose...

When adding “snakes” to your skins game you must pay close attention to three-putts. Whenever anyone in the game three-putts, he/she is considered to have been bitten by the snake. The last person to three-putt has to pay each opponent one skin for each of the total number of three-putts that occurred by all players during the game. So, you can see that it’s most important not to be the last person to three-putt.

The Problem – I’m a Three-Putting Fool…

I have been hitting GIRs better than ever this month and I even had two loops where I managed 78% GIRs. Like I said in my last post, more GIRs gives more birdie opportunities and you should (and I did) see an increase in birdies with more GIRs. The bad news is that more GIRs also provides more three-putt opportunities and worse still is that my three-putt stats have gone through the roof. I had a couple rounds where I three-putted five times over eighteen holes… ouch!! The "snake factor" adds considerable pressure and shines a spotlight on whoever three-putts. Now in our skins game, you win a skin if you win a hole. If you get a GIR you get a skin but only if you make par. Now think about the momentum and emotional swing that happens when you go from being closest to the pin to three-putting. You not only lose the greenie skin (and possibly the hole), but you now have the snake and the snake grows each time it bites. Confidence is the first thing to run from the snake. Time to work the mental game.

The Solution – So Far So Good…

Now I don’t like to serve wine without cheese (Was I whining back there? Cheese is good though so hang in there – remember I’m from Wisconsin), so I’m going to share how I’m currently overcoming my three-putting woes.

I have really tightened up my lag putting by making some practice strokes from a point (or points) between my ball and the cup. Here’s what I do:

I walk along the line from the ball to the cup to survey the shot. I look at the line from the cup back to my ball. These two steps are just to gather information about the line, the green condition, the slopes and undulations. Then as I walk back to the ball from the cup, I stop and take some practice strokes from some intermediate points on the line. These points could be an apex of the break or just a halfway point. On really long putts, I may do this at as many as three points. I don’t take a lot of time, I’m just feeling out how much pace I need to hit with at each point as I work back to the ball.

This putting routine obviously gives me a good feel for the line and the speed of the putt, but more importantly, it gives me confidence. After several weeks of three-putting as many as five times in 18 holes (average three-putts for the month is twice 18 holes), what I really need is some confidence. I need to stand over the ball and be confident that I can get down in two on long putts.

The results have been outstanding. I have not three-putted once since I started using this technique. My current streak is 38 holes without a three-putt.

More trouble…

Now to be fair, my ball striking has been a little loose lately (fewer GIRs means fewer opportunities to three-putt). My GIRs have fallen to 33% because I’ve been hitting these weak push fades. My distance has shortened up by nearly a club. Fortunately I figured that out too. I had been getting lazy in my swing and not keeping my left arm straight. With a slight bend in the left arm I have been hitting the ball very weakly and often a little thin. It’s more difficult to get a proper release as well so I had to work very hard to produce a draw. Now that I have that figured out I’m hoping to bring the GIRs back up while keeping the three-putts to a minimum.

I'm hoping to play in an individual stroke play tournament on the 30th (If Kerri is not working). I'll have at least one more opportunity to golf before this month's membership runs out. After that I'll post the stats.

Learning to love putting,