This was an interesting year for me and my game. Back in March I had a lesson with my instructor and we agreed that I needed to work on the mental side of the game. My swing was fine, the problem was it didn’t hold up under pressure. It was the first lesson I had where I didn’t walk away with drills to work on fixing an issue with my swing. My swing wasn’t perfect, but it worked. I’ve noticed this when I was on the range. My swing does what I want for the most part. I would spend an hour hitting balls and not feel a need to tweak my swing.
The trouble was handling the pressure in the tournaments. I’d get to the first tee and my swing would be tight and not feel anything like it did on the range the day before. I’d spend the next 18 trying to get the feel back. One of the things my instructor gave me was visualization. I would focus on visualizing part of my swing, either the target or the feel, it made handling the pressure easier and easier to maintain focus. The visualization started after a couple bad tournaments. I had 7 tournaments left on the schedule and I decided to restart my season from that point. I set goals for those tournaments, score less than 90, 32 putts or less, 9 GIR, etc. I’m really proud of how I did these tournaments. I had 7 of 9 rounds at 90 or less, 32 putts or less in 4 rounds and beat my tournament scores at 5 courses. My scoring average in those tournaments was 88 which is 5 strokes better than my season long average.
The highlight of the season came at the final tour event in KC, the tour’s City Championship at Shoal Creek. The first round was good. I had a little trouble off the tee, but my approaches and short game were excellent. I wasn’t making many putts and complained to one of the other players about it. He commented that I shouldn’t complain as I was leaving myself a tap in on every hole. On 10 and 11 I had 40′ and 30′ putts which I put to within 6″, including one that lipped out. I had one of my best shots on 16. Wallace hit his approach first and put his ball to 5′ from about 90 yards. I went next from 70 yards and put my ball inside his about 3′ from the hole. We both converted the birdies on that hole. I played the back nine really well, shooting a 40 for 86 overall, which beat my best tournament score at Shoal by 7 strokes. I was in third, four strokes back from the leader and three behind the guy in second. On Sunday I played with the two leaders. I started with a bogey streak and didn’t feel like I was very sharp. The leaders had some trouble of their own. At the turn I had narrowed the gap but was still behind by a stroke with a 43. I don’t track my own score but as I played the back nine I realized I was playing a great round. I had a string of pars with a birdie mixed in. On 18 I hit my worst shot of the tournament but still got a double, putting up a 38 (+3) on the back for an 81. My previous best tournament score at any course was 86 which I had three times. My 86-81 gave me a one shot victory and my first win in the Jones flight. I was very pleased with how I handled the pressure. Even though I didn’t know what my score was, I was aware of how well I was playing and that I might be in the lead. On the back nine I had 4 GIR and 14 putts. I felt the pressure on the putts for the last three holes. On 16 my first putt of 25′ left me at 6′. A 6′ putt isn’t a gimme but I made the par. On 17 my tee shot went a little long and I chipped to 4′. I had to back away from the putt as the nerves were getting to me. I sunk the putt for an up and down. On 18 after the bad tee shot, the approach going right, I chipped to 6′. Again I felt the pressure, more because the hole wasn’t going well and I could end up spoiling a good round. I sunk the putt for 4 putts in the final three holes. Being able to handle the pressure is something I will take with me to future tournaments.
In my next tournament, the Iowa tour championship at the Tournament Club of Iowa, I had another good tournament. I started the first round well, but ran into trouble on the last few holes of the front 9. At the turn I sat in the cart and tried to clear my mind and get my focus back. I started a string of pars on the back. One of my playing partners nearly jinxed me after my 4th par in a row by commenting on it. I managed to make a 5th par, but on 15 I put up a double. I followed the double up with three more pars for a 38 (+2) on the back, with 8 pars and 8 GIR. My 87 for the first tied me for 2nd. The second round was tougher. It was much hotter and I struggled with my focus all day. I did better on the front than I day before, but played poorly on the back, ending with a 94 and a third place finish.
The mechanical change I had this season was for chipping and putting. My instructor got me to change to chipping with an 8 iron. At first I had trouble judging the speed of 8 iron chips, but with practice it became natural. Now it is a nice weapon for getting up and down.
The bigger change was to my putting routine. Previously I’d spend a lot of time lining up my putts with intermediate targets. I never seemed to improve my putting with this technique, so my instructor scrapped it. Now I visualize what the putt will do, stand over the ball with my eyes on the target line, aim the putter then take my stance. This is more feel based and relies on my ability to visualize the break. The results have been good. In my first tournament with the new technique I had 29 putts. Both days at Shoal Creek I had 32 putts and only one three putt for the two days. I have so much more confidence with my short game now.
I also found that I was hitting my irons off the toe. I used some impact tape and I was consistently on the toe. I changed my address and started hitting it on the sweet spot. The biggest benefit was an additional 10-15 yards. I’ve never been the kind of golfer seeking more distance, except with the driver. Finding the additional distance made a big difference to my game. I’m taking one less club on most shots and that gives me more confidence. Hitting a 6 instead of a 5 or a choked down 4 is a lot surer shot. I’m also seeing more spin on the greens.
I believe my course management is improved. When I look at the scorecard I check the distances and think about what will be a comfortable distance for my shot into the green. Then I figure out how to get there. If the fairway is generous, I’ll leave myself 70 yards, if not, I’ll go back to a pitching wedge or 9 iron distance. I was talking with another player before a tournament and he was worried about the course. When he looked at the layout he only saw the trouble, trees on the right, water on the left, bunkers in front of every green. I was surprised by this as I never think that much about the trouble. It may change my club off the tee so I have a higher percentage shot and the best chance to get a green in reg. I have been able to focus on the swing and the target and not get distracted by the other things.
1. Win my flight. I managed to win my flight, though only because the guy who looked like he would win was promoted to the next flight.
2. 32 putts/round. Close, down to 33 putts this year.
3. 9 GIR/round. I started at 5, ended with 6.
4. 10 fairways/round. I averaged 8.5/round, so I am getting better.
5. < 2 penalties/round. I was just over 2/round so there was improvement. This was a bigger issue before.
6. Tour index of 16. I made progress going from 19.8 to 17.3 and I am headed in the right direction.
7. Tour scoring average below 90. I didn’t make this one, down to 93.7, a stroke better than last season.
8. Hole in one. Still waiting. I did win closest to the hole in two tournaments.
1. Shoal Creek — can’t wait to play again
2. Sand Creek Station
3. Coldwater Links
4. The Preserve at Rathbun Lake
New courses to me:
Stonebridge Meadows, Coldwater Links, Sand Creek Station, Tomahawk Ridge, Cardinal Hill, Lakewood Oaks
See tournament at Shoal Creek
Shoal Creek no. 16 (see above). Also in the first round at TCI on 18 I had a challenging shot. The 18th hole is a tough one with a pond running up the left and bunkers/tall grass on the right. I had 172 yards to the pin. I hit a 6 iron and it flew perfect, right at the flag. It left me a 12’ uphill putt.
Most disappointing round:
The tournament at Prairie Highlands. This is a course I’ve always played well. Not this day, trouble off the tee, couldn’t putt and 5 penalties.
Goals for 2014:
1. Earn promotion to the Sarazen flight. This might be the toughest. I need to lower my tour index to below 16.0. I have been playing to my handicap in tournaments lately so this will take overall improvement. This isn’t a case a where I have some bad scores weighing down my index. I need to lower my tour index by 1.4 strokes, which is doable.
2. Tour scoring average below 87. If I want the promotion, I will need this too.
3. 9 GIR/round. This will improve my scoring.
4. Break 80 in a tournament. I got close this year. It is only a matter of time. I will put up a good front and back and beat this. I can see this happening at Prairie Highlands or Shoal Creek.
5. Play in the Nationals. I’ve never played in the National Championships, even though I have qualified multiple times. Sawgrass here I come.
6. Have some golf travel. I didn’t travel this year at all. Next year will include trips to AZ, a couple of majors and maybe CO or NM.