Geeked on Golf


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New Year’s Shift

Having a day-at-a-time paradigm, the whole New Year’s thing doesn’t typically do it for me.  It has been a long time since I made a New Year’s resolution.  My wife’s enthusiasm for the holiday is influencing me this year, and even though there are still no resolutions forthcoming, I do feel compelled to share a shift I am making for 2015.

Upon reflection, last year was particularly challenging.  It was over-full, chaotic, and grindy at many times.  In my golf game, my work, and my life, I spent more time trying to make it happen than I did showing up with my best and letting it happen.  In my experience, that approach rarely yields the best results and often leads to burnout.

Toward the end of the year, I felt a shift taking place that I am carrying over into this year – in golf, in work, and in life.

I first noticed the shift in my off-season golf practice.  Focus on the game plan my coach gave me increased.  As my fitness and mechanics improve, my swing is beginning to feel natural and authentic.  I have stripped away mental clutter.  My strengths are engaged and powerful, on-target shots seem to be flowing through me. The experience has both a quality of a glimpse of the best of my past and the even higher potential for my future.

Therein lies my 2015 shift.  No more tight-gripped pressing to make it all happen through force of will.  Instead in this year, amidst the fullness and challenge of golf and life, I will keep a simple focus on my strengths and let my best performance flow.  Should be an exciting year.


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Copyright 2014 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Short Game Game Plan

One of the factors contributing to the variance between my current index and scratch is inconsistent wedge play.  I estimate that I’m leaving 2 shots on the course every round.  In reflecting on my short game, it occurs to me that part of the issue is a lack of commitment to one approach.

I have worked on my wedge game with my coach, I have read the tips in Golf Digest, and I have studied the teachings of Stan Utley and others.  There are numerous approaches to the short game, and techniques are often in conflict with one another.  Too much information can become confusing, and confusion never produces consistently good play.

Therefore, as of now, I have chosen a plan for my game from 100 yards and in.  It is the game plan that feels simplest to me, based on the technique I can most effectively groove.  Three sources of instruction have been most influential in arriving at this commitment:

1. My coach Scott Baines has been working with me on a more neutral setup and action (as opposed to hands forward and/or heavy on the wrist action) that takes better advantage of the bounce of the club.

2. This article from Golf Digest – The New Thing on Tour –  describing the straight-arm pitching method now en vogue among tour players.

3. Stan Utley’s teachings, encapsulated in this Golf Channel video, specifically regarding the path of the club head and his simple arm/body motion:

Based on these perspectives, my approach to a single “stock” technique is:

  • Neutral setup, with ball slightly forward of center and narrow, square stance.  Weight slightly forward 55/45 so head is over ball.  Good, tall posture.
  • Simple, relaxed straight-arm backswing using minimal wrist hinge.  Swing length plus body turn controls distance.
  • Gravity and club do most of the work on downswing (rather than hands), with body rotating toward target.  Club head stays in front of body and finishes between knees and shoulders, depending on length of shot.
  • The whole movement is quiet, relaxed and rhythmic.

That is the simple technique.  My stock shot is with my 58-degree wedge with a square club face.  It lands softly and runs out.

Rather than use ball position or technique to vary height and run-out, I will use different clubs and club face angles to give myself options – always employing the same technique above.

Using the 3 face positions with the 58-Degree wedge, as well as the 53-Degree gap wedge, pitching wedge, and 9-iron, I have 6 shot options.  Plenty to tackle any circumstance.

Knowing that the technique will remain the same for every shot allows me to focus on the target and selecting the right club based on a) distance to the best landing spot, and b) run-out length from the landing spot to the hole.  In my experience, target-focused golf based on confidence in simple technique and club selection yields the best results.

In this case, the intended result is to pick up at least the two shots I have been losing by increasing the number of hole-outs and kick-ins I create from 100 yards and in.

That’s the plan.  Now on to the process of grooving it in practice and taking it to the course.  I will report back with results – stay tuned…


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Copyright 2014 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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These are a Few of My Favorite Things

Meditation, gardening and golf have commonalities that draw me to them.

Over coffee, a friend was recently telling me about his new meditation practice.  He had experienced moments of real peace and quiet in his mind, and he was excited about continuing forward.  Having meditated over the years of my recovery, I felt the same peace.  But my experience of meditation has been much more varied than that, and not always so pleasant.

In a sense, meditation is the practice of creating conscious space.  Sometimes the practice works and the space stays open – hence the peace and quiet.  Other times, the space fills with buried memories and emotions.   At certain frustrating times, the space is nowhere to be found.  In meditation practice, there is no final destination, no mastery.  There is only the commitment to sit courageously and find out what the silence might bring.

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” – Pema Chodron

Similarly, gardening has proven to be a much broader and deeper adventure than I originally anticipated.

When I purchased my home in 2006, the garden space was poorly designed and even more poorly kept.  I figured that I would cut some things down, move others around, and voila, have a beautiful garden.

The reality of creating a beautiful garden space in much messier and more demanding.  The soil, the plants, the weather, the seasons – they are highly dynamic and cannot be forced to do much of anything.  Every time I have been overly willful with my garden, it has taught me a lesson in humility.  Conversely, when I have brought my faithful attention, effort and creativity to it in a real sense of partnership, I am rewarded with the awe-inspiring beauty of nature.

Those moments of beauty are fleeting though.  The cycles of growth and death never end, and the garden constantly clamors for attention.  As in meditation, the garden cannot be mastered.  It can only be tended, and it responds to that tending as it chooses.

“Then there are those who plant.  They endure storms and all the many vicissitudes of the seasons, and they rarely rest.  But, unlike a building, a garden never stops growing.  And while it requires the gardener’s constant attention, it also allows life for the gardener to be a great adventure.” – Paulo Coelho

Any player who has ever tried to play the game of golf well knows the fundamental truth of the game.  Like meditation and gardening, there is no “final destination”.  It cannot be mastered, it can only be played.  In playing, one will experience the entire range of thoughts, emotions and results on the course.

Golf is demanding physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually.  To play and score well consistently, a player must work on all aspects of the game.  That work can often feel like a game of whack-a-mole with one aspect coming online, just in time for another to go haywire.

Nobody, including a glutton for punishment like myself, would play golf if there were no rewards though.  Golf’s rewards are magical.  Perhaps the most magical of all.  Like moments of true serenity in meditation, or winter giving way to the first blooms of spring, a well-planned and purely struck golf shot is a reward like few others.  Stick with the work of improving at the game, and those shots turn into rounds, and even longer stretches of pure bliss.  That is why I am willing to endure the ups and downs of the game.

“Golf is a game of mistakes and unpredictable fortune. If it were not, no one would ever miss a fairway, a green or a putt. On top of that, there would be no sudden gusts of wind, no unfortunate bounces, no imperfections in the turf. Every ball would go exactly where you wanted it to go, and the winning score in a golf tournament would be something like 50 strokes per round.

If you truly love golf, you must love the fact that no one shoots 50, that golf is an inherently imperfect game. If you spend your time fighting the fact that golf is a game of mistakes and trying to make it a game of perfect shots, you’re really saying that you don’t like golf. You want it to be some other game–billiards, maybe. No one has ever perfected golf–not Ben Hogan, not Jack Nicklaus, not Annika Sorenstam. I don’t believe anyone ever will.

Golfers who understand and love the game accept it rather than fight it. They realize the essence of golf is reacting well to inevitable mistakes and misfortunes. They know they can separate themselves from their competition not by perfecting their games but by constantly striving to improve. I tell players that if there’s one thing they should always be proud of in their games, it’s how well they react to mistakes. I tell them that they will never have complete control of the golf ball. But they can control their attitudes.” – Dr. Bob Rotella

In the final analysis, these things are not my favorites because they are nice or easy or even enjoyable at all times.  They are my favorites because they are hard.  In overcoming the challenges of practicing meditation, growing a garden, or playing golf, I experience a fuller reward than any easier pursuit could ever provide.


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Copyright 2014 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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End of Season Wrap-up

This weekend was the final session of the season with my coach, Scott Baines.

We took some time to recap progress made, and to discuss work to be done during the offseason.  2014 was the second year of my work with Scott.  We have “mastery” goals focused on my full swing, wedge and short game, and putting.  And we have “performance” goals associated with my handicap index, scoring, and return to competition.  This year, due to my work and personal schedule, we decided that we would take a casual approach to the performance goals.  I only achieved one of the five, but did drive my index down further and nearly had an under-par round for the first time since my teens.

TitleistIrons

My sexy custom-fitted mixed set of Titleist irons.

Scott, being on the Titleist staff, also converted me to their irons.  We went through the fitting process, which was fun and fascinating (perhaps the subject of a future post).  As usual, I underestimated the time and effort necessary to adjust to a change like this.  I am just now getting a feel for the clubs and learning what they do when hit properly.

Regarding mastery goals, we made meaningful progress on my wedge game and putting.  Scott helped me with “stock” shots and I now have confidence and competence from 80 yards and in.

Perhaps what excited me most though, is the progress we have made on my full-swing.  The intention is to be able to hit high bombs and low knock-downs with all clubs (the latter has been my go-to shot until now) to improve my situational versatility. As a former hockey player, I have several bad habits that are not conducive to consistent ball striking.  I have worked hard on my posture and setup, and have eliminated the snap hooks that used to plague me by reducing lateral movement in favor of rotational movement.

In today’s discussion, we boiled the work ahead down into 3 keys that build upon my progress to date:

1.  The central key is to let my big muscles do the work in the swing to achieve a full, wide takeaway that is on plane.  This video of Tom Watson teaching a clinic, in which he explains how he finally figured out the golf swing, illustrates the point.

2.  Related to the big muscles is a focus on my left shoulder, and letting it serve as a lever.  This video from Golf Machine guru Lynn Blake is dense and intense, but he does touch on this key, and why it promotes consistent rhythm and contact.

3.  And finally, to generate max power, my key is a slight squat followed by an explosion up from the ground through impact.  This analysis of Rory McIlroy’s driver swing highlights the move, and the results.

Putting these 3 keys together, as I am beginning to be able to do, produces shots that fly higher and farther – pro quality stuff.  It is clear that I need to be stronger and more flexible, and so increased reps, better fitness, and work with my chiropractor are the order for the offseason.  As I continue to put the pieces in place, the emerging picture is exciting.

Of course, with these mastery goals, the work is never really finished.  That does not deter me though.  Every step of progress along the path, even when there are temporary setbacks, just increases my resolve.

On to the offseason. The pursuit of mastery never ends…


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Copyright 2014 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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A slip of the mind, and it slipped through my fingers.

I’m standing on the 17th tee at Kingsley Club, with one of my biggest golf goals in hand – I am 1-under and just two holes away from breaking par for the first time since I was 18.

Kingsley17Tee

The thought of achieving that milestone, as well as telling my coach about it, crossed my mind and lingered for a moment.  Part of me knew that it was a bad idea to be entertaining those thoughts as I stood behind the ball to select a target, but I could not help it.  “Stay in the moment and play just this shot,” I told myself.  It was too late though – the damage had been done.  A double bogey later, followed by a par at 18, and I finished +1.  Breaking par would have to wait.

I should have known better.  Not because I have received the coaching, or read the books about the mental side of the game.  I should have known better because, earlier in that same round, the golf Gods fired a warning shot across my bow.  After solidly making birdie on the first two holes, my brain temporarily went on TILT with the possibilities.  I completely lost track of where I was in the moment and made an ugly double on 3.  Slap in the face.  Back to the reality of the work at hand.

It took me just 13 holes to forget the warning.  And so it goes with the mind of the golfer – at least this golfer.  Perhaps some are born with a more focused, or focusable, mind than mine.  To quote Jack Nicklaus from his autobiography My Story:

“Beyond good hand-eye coordination, perhaps my greatest inherent gift in regard to golf is the ability to compartmentalize my mind, to switch it at will totally from one activity or concern to another, then, for the required duration of the new focus, blank everything else out 100 percent…At golf then, and particularly when I am playing well in an event that means much to me, I can wrap myself in a cocoon that is virtually impregnable until the round ends and it becomes time to click the switch to another activity.”

Jack was well-known for getting into that mental zone, as have all of golf’s greatest champions.  Even so, he describes earlier in his memoir the difficulties he had with thinking too far ahead about his quest to complete the modern Grand Slam, and how that projection into the future cost him.

It would appear that even those with the “greatest inherent gifts” still have to consciously wrestle with the chaotic beast between their ears at times.  A comforting realization that, along with the experience I gained at Kingsley, makes me much more likely to bring that under-par round all the way home soon.


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Copyright 2014 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf