9 Holes with a Golf Expert -- Part 1: Pre-Round & Opening Hole
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For the past 3 years, I've been providing golf tips through this newsletter. I've emphasized the importance of the short game, given suggestions on using new golf technology and encouraged you, the reader, to use my tips to improve your game. One thing I haven't done, however, is put it all together in a single package. It's kind of like getting lessons on the driving range from a golf professional, without ever seeing the pro play. Have you ever had a playing lesson with a golf pro, where you've gone out on the course? That's what I intend my next series of newsletters to address.
In addition to being an expert on the science and math of golf, I also carry in my bag a pretty good golf game. Over the years, I've had an accomplished competitive amateur golf career hovering between a +1 and a 3-handicap. I've won my Club Championship 6 times, won over a dozen local golf tournaments, played in my Provincial Amateur Championshp numerous times (one year I finished 6th, missing a spot on the Provincial Team by one shot) and played in 3 Canadian Amateur Championships.
So, I think I can offer some useful advice of how to play a round of golf. What goes through my head? How do I make my shot decisions? How do I compose myself after a bad shot? But, you, the reader, can be the judge. Take what you will from my playing experience. I hope you can apply my knowledge, attitude, outlook, etc, to improve your game.
Other than when playing in tournaments, for most rounds of golf, I get to the golf course after a busy day of work or family responsibilites. I don't usually have a lot of time for a warm-up. On my ride to the course, I do some deep breathing so I can begin to wind down from what I have just left. I also visualize the first hole and hitting my first tee shot.
I'll go to the practice putting green, take three balls, and place them down at different medium and long distances, say 15 feet, 25 feet and 40 feet. I'll hit the putts towards the hole with the sole purpose of getting a feel for the speed of the greens and to stroke the putts solidly.. I won't putt any of the 2nd putts that are left. In fact, I never hit any short putts before I play. I have found doing so will only hurt my putting confidence for the round if I start to miss short putts. I'm not going to fine tune or adjust my putting stroke mechanics anyway; they are ingrained into my muscle memory. The most important thing is to get a confident feel for the pace of the greens.
Next, I'll take a few balls and hit some half and 3/4 wedge shots. The purpose is just to get a feel of hitting the ball solidly. I don't get too fussy about how close to the flag the shots end. I just want to get a good feel of rhythm and solid contact. Again, the main goal of warm up is to gain pre-round confidence.
I never go to the range to hit balls before a round, not even when I'm playing competitively. I have found that hitting balls usually results in some errant shots and a resulting drop in confidence. That's why I tend to just hit some half wedges focused on solid contact. I'm not going to make any swing adjustments as a result of hitting balls. My body already knows how to swing (even though, not perfectly). Some claim they can get a feel of what works on that given day before going out on the course. I've found that what tends to be working on the range, doesn't readily transfer to the course. I keep it simple. Just get a good, solid feel. by hitting some short shots.
I will do some stretching before I hit my Tee shot, however, and make some full practice swings. The aim here is just to get those golfing muscles stretched and relaxed. If I have a little more time before teeing it up, I'll also hit a few more long putts, again, just to read the speed of the greens and gain a feeling of confidence in my stroke.
Before walking to the 1st Tee, I'll ensure I'm prepared for play with a supply of tees, my favourite ball markers and appropriate clothing. If it's cool, I will have put three balls in my pocket to ensure they are warm. I warm ball will fly farther than a cool ball, even if it's only a few yards. The exercise gives me a sense of preparation and that I'm in control.
The First Tee -- Hole #1
So, Hole #1, or more importantly, the first tee, the first shot of the day that counts. It's always nice to start off with a good tee shot and a good first hole for it can set the tone for the round. One wants to take steps that will increase the chances of this happening. Sometimes, however, it doesn't and you have a bad start, but that can be dealt with positively as well.
I play most of my golf at Salmon Arm Golf Club, one of the most beautiful and challenging golf courses in Canada. It's nestled in a beautiful valley, has lots of trees (mainly very tall fir) and is very hilly. The first hole is a 400 yard dogleg left par 4. The tee is elevated and the fairway at the dogleg sloping left to right. It's not a very easy starting hole, as most golfers that hit a fade or slice. Medium-long to long hitters can hit through the dogleg into two fairway bunkers. From the landing area, the green is a little uphill and slopes left to right and back to front (not an easy start for putting either). The green is guarded front right by a large bunker. Right of the green are mounds; if the ball lands on the right side of the mounds, it'll likely kick out-of-bounds.
The first hole is definitely not straighforward and has potential for some high scores even though only 400 yards. Thus, given it's difficulty and that this hole occurs early, it's important to "play the odds" and not take uneccessary risks. There is much more likelihood that you will score a 6 or worse on this hole than and birdie. For most golfers at my club, they are quite happy with a bogie.
I usually hit a 2-wood (230-240 yd) or 2-iron (200-1-215 yd) off the tee. A driver (260-280 yd) will definitely put me in the bunkers through the dogleg and I can't turn the ball right to left with it. My 2-wood is one of my favourite clubs and I can typically turn it and won't hit it far enough to get into the bunkers. If the hole is playing downwind, then I definitely hit a 2-iron. With either club, given the conditions, I'm left with anywhere from a 6-iron to a 9-iron, depending upon how well I hit it and how much I can turn it left. Now, the left side of the fairway is lined with trees; hit it left and you can only chip it out. So, if in recent rounds I have been battling a pull or pull hook, I'll definitely aim to the right side of the fairway and accept a longer shot into the green.
For a shorter hitter, it's definitely advisable to choose a club that you can be confident will hit the fairway. Staying clear of the left side is a must which means accepting a longer shot into the green. If one plays the hole "conservatively" like this, his/her stroke average will be lower than if an aggressive approach is taken (attempting to get the ball around the corner for a short shot to the green). And, it's best to start out on the conservative side so a dreaded "other" doesn't throw us off right at the beginning of the round.
So, that's the kind of mentality I use on the first hole. I tend to average about 4.3 on this hole. I can count the number of birdies I've made using two hands. With my "playing the odds" approach, I have avoided the big number starts. For every golfer, the key to shooting the lowest score day in and day out, is to play within his/her ability. Don't take uneccessary risks. The temptation is always there to make that miracle shot, that amazing par, because of course, you've done it before, at least once. Surely you could do it again, when you really need to! Not likely. You need to know your own, unique"shot
pattern" , and play the percentages to your advantage. See a more detailed example HERE.
In future newsletters, I'll explain how I deal with other "surprises" in the course of the round. I won't go through how I play each and every hole. I think I'd lose a number of you that way. Send me some feedback or ask some questions before I put out the next newsletter. Use this simple
In the next newsletter, I'll reveal my one major swing thought which I go back to time and time again when my ball striking goes wacky. And you know, most times it gets me back on track, eventually.
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