Last Season’s 2015 Goals
A scant 8 months ago, the 2015 season started with brand new optimism and hope for a better game and lower scores. Suddenly, Christmas is coming and the season is well over and it’s time to reflect on the season that was and set up some new goals for the future.
I was excited coming into the 2015 golf season but I knew I needed to improve on my short game to continue to shoot in the upper 80s, including:
- Better speed control for more 2 putts
- Better chipping for more 1 putts
- Better bunker play- too many thin bullets way over the green in 2014!
As the season wore on, my short game nicely stabilized into reliable form while my irons game was the piece that ended up needing rescuing.
2015 New Gear
I got new irons (Callaway Apex) this season and struggled with them during the first couple of rounds in Palm Springs Christmas 2014 trip. During my last rounds on the trip, I finally started to hit them solid by slowing down and hitting them in rhythm instead of trying to muscle every shot.
I also bought new hybrids over the 2014 off season- Callaway X2 Hot 3Hy and 4Hy. The 4H have quickly become one of my favourite clubs in the bag due to how easy it is to hit and how versatile the hybrid is.
Amazing Callaway Customer Service
In August, I sent my XHot driver back to Callaway for repairs (I think there was a loose piece of glue in the head or in the shaft) and to my surprise, Callaway and their great customer support sent me back a new Callaway XR driver in response! As an aside, when my first set of Callaway Diablo irons were coming loose out of their ferrules, Callaway kindly replaced it and as a nice gesture, replaced all my worn out grip for free. That’s why I’m a huge supporter of Callaway- especially since they also have great products on top of their great customer service.
2015 Progress and Review
I spent most of 2014 trying to ingrain changes from the 2013 off-season. In my lessons with Rob during the ’13 off-season, I learned a lot about the swing I was playing with. I was…
- Fanning the club open on the back swing;
- Starting my downswing with an excessive lateral slide towards the target;
- Consequently, getting my hands and arms stuck way behind me; and, thus,
- Leading to a stall and flip move to get the clubhead caught up, resulting in a big hook or a weak push/push slice
My slide, stall and flip was especially evident on video from 2014.
Stop the Slide
I finally was able to remove some of my excessive slide by working on a drill that turned the left foot inwards (to the right) and making slow swings. This restricts the ability for the body to slide too much and forces the body to turn sooner. I actually had a sore knee for a couple of weeks so please don’t try this with a full swing because serious knee injury could definitely result from too much torque if done wrong. Just do it in slow motion to understand how the left hip is forced to pivot back instead of sliding too much towards the target. In my mind, I was working on a “spinning out” move but in reality, on video, it was very much still a left hip bump and then a turn.
Fix the Grip
During the early season, I magically lost 1 or 2 clubs length and was fighting the occasional push and slice. I played this way for half the season and in an un-sustainable fashion, my scores didn’t really suffer too much at first. These shots were a small fade with short irons and was very accurate on short approaches. My first round of 2015 got me really excited- never had I had so many chances to score- 2 separate birdies, another par that missed birdie by a couple inches and a second par on 18th where I was a couple revolutions short on a straight 8 foot uphill putt. I even had an eagle look on a par 5 that I sadly didn’t convert. Eventually though, my distance problems started to catch up to me and hurt as I was not able to find a club to hit par 3s that were greater than 145 yards. At one point in the season, I remember thinking “this game is really hard” when I had to pull 6 iron instead of an 8i to try to get to a 150y pin, knowing full well it will only go 140 max. Also, as I move up to longer irons, the straightish fades quickly degenerated into a weak fade and then a true slice.
During the first half of the season, I also had lots of doubt with my setup and address. I fought with my address and messed with my setup but could not feel comfortable with the blade at address – it felt like the ‘square’ address was manufactured by manipulation and I had no way to bring the club back to the ‘square’ look on impact- this probably lead to even more flipping.
Finally, a couple things happened. One, I shared a video of my swing with some fellow blogging and facebook friends:
Another golfer took a peek and suggested that my face was a bit open at the top. Since I was not hooking the ball with irons anymore, I decided to try to go back to a much stronger grip that I used to play. 3.5 to 4 knuckles. It felt so foreign again! I realized I’ve slowly weakened my grip over the winter to the point where it’s more neutral to weak. I did manage to quickly adjust and started seeing straighter shots that sometimes even went left and a touch longer again.
Second- as I was working on the range, I learned that one way to force the face back to square at impact is to imagine ‘revving’ my right palm face “down” into the ball. Almost as if I want to karate-palm right on top of the ball with my right palm. This thought worked much better for me than the usual “left knuckles pointing to the ground”. When I made proper contact, I finally felt the ball making flush contact and feel/hear the most satisfyingly “zip” as the ball sizzles out into the distance.
It took til August to figure this out but luckily, I had a couple months of playing decent bogey golf and feeling much better about my game!
During one of my relentless range sessions throughout the season, I spent an hour in the bunker and tried to implement a bunch of tips I watched from youtube to help with the bunker game.
What was immediately obvious was that I was not taking enough sand- I would miss the back line entirely and make entry closer to the ball or even past the ball. Another great drill I learned was to try to hit the ball out of the bunker with just the right hand alone. This forces you to swing with some momentum but it also shows how “easy” it is to get out. I still get the occasional thins now and then but I’ve managed to get out of the bunker much better this season where it is now a non-issue. It feels much better being able to step in and feel confident that you’ll get out in one shot and not fly it directly at or over your partner standing across the green!
Also, as a bonus, no more “watch out, I’m dangerous!” warnings from me now when I step into the sand!
My putting seem to have really improved in 2015. I made what feels like a lot more birdie putts than ever before and had even multiple rounds of 2 birdies together. I think alot of it has to do with now focusing on speed more than line. During our early season Jasper trip, the instructor looked at my putt and didn’t really give me any suggestions other than to maybe have a better routine of standing behind the ball and visualize the ball going into the hole at the entry point before stepping up to putt. I notice my best putting occurs when I can just “see” the ball going in to the cup three ways:
- The general line the ball takes
- The point of entry into the cup – maybe it’s a left to right slider so it would have to fall in at 8 o’clock
- The speed that the ball is travelling at in the last 1/3 towards the cup
For example, I should imagine a ball is going much slower going downhill as gravity pulls the last few rotation of the ball into the cup versus going much quicker uphill so the ball has enough momentum to get to the hole. I’m not always on and still have trouble with very fast greens as I discovered during a recent San Diego trip but in general, I am much better at averaging closer to 2 putts/round than 2014.
This year, we were playing some courses where even the white tees were in the 6500 yard range. I think we really should be most comfortable playing in the 6250-6400 range but courses seems to be set up with tees either at 6000 or 6500. At 6000, we are not using much of our bag- lots of driver followed up with a short 9 iron or wedge on. As a result, we started playing the blues more often that are usually around the 6500 range. So now, we are hitting driver but then forced to use hybrids or long irons which is a much more difficult golf workout.
By August, I finally got my iron distances back. My short game was doing okay. My only nemesis was my driver now. On days where it’s working, I was able score in the 80s, even from the further back blue tees instead of the shorter tee boxes we were playing last year. In fact, I found that there was no real score differences- it really is the number of chips and putts that contribute a ton to the score. However, on off days, it matters and matters alot! There were a few rounds of 100+ this year due to hitting so many 3 off the tee. The distance anxiety is part of the problem I think. On long par fours where it’s an uphill 400 or flat 430+, I really feel pressure to hit one a long drive to get into an reasonable range for an approach but as we know, when you step on the gas, that’s when all sort of misses can happen.
Detailed Driving stats from Arccos
I’ve been using an amazing little device called Arccos to track my shots since getting it in August. As you can see from my earlier rounds, every once in awhile, everything clicks and I’ll hit amazing drives with very few orange mishits or bad shots. However, the mishits are hard to predict as they are very evenly split between left hooks and right slices! Last year, I was pulling or hooking drives so I aimed exclusively down the right hand side and predictably, the ball would end up on the left fairway or rough. I had a similar big pull early in the year so I was able to play it. However, as the year wore on, I was revisited by Mr. Slice again that I haven’t had the pleasure of greeting for quite some time since fighting the hook for so long. So that is the result today- I have to aim down the middle and try to play for a straight ball and hope the ball doesn’t draw or fade! There are actually days where my drives are amazingly dead straight but unfortunately, those days are far and few in between.
Face on shot. Thinned this one a little bit
Down-the-Line. My usual pull miss and standing up a little early.
I notice early in the season that I’ve been really losing my posture- standing up on the downswing and backing my head up to make room for a high handle impact. This is particularly obvious with the driver as you can see here. My driver strikes are also all over the place. I tend hit it very high on the face (almost marking the crown high) and have been trying to address this and will continue to work on my setup for next season.
I moved to Arccos for stats tracking in August this year and am surprised by some of my findings. I always thought my short game was bringing me down but a typical good round for me looks something like this:
A typical round analyzed by Arccos
As you can see, Arccos separates a player’s game or one single round into 5 different golfing facets- Driving, Approach, Chipping, Sand and Putting. I find that I’m usually playing well above my handicap with my driving. For this particular round, I hit 5 greens, averaged 2 putts per GIR, 3 up and downs, and even 1 up and down from the bunker. However, I only hit 5 fairways and missed 9: 5 to the left and 4 to the right!
Here are some more stats for all 36 rounds accumulated. My short game and putting stats got destroyed from my last 15 rounds in San Diego. Whereas sometimes we might get a nice stand up lie in the rough with bentgrass, chipping out of thick Bermuda is difficult- the ball sinks and the grass grabs the clubface/sole on the slightest mis-hit. Having to deal with grain on Bermuda greens was also tricky and a majority of my rounds at Aviara was on Poa Annua greens that was super fast and I just couldn’t figure out (2 putt was lucky, 3 putts on the large green was more the norm).
Here, it looks like I need work on both putting and driving while I’m playing close to my handicap in the other facets.
Arccos does some cool things on its own- here, it took all my drives and have some algorithm to discard abnormal hits to come up with smart distance and smart range for distances. From what I can tell, it will automatically exclude any hits marked with a penalty or anything that seems to be obviously short. Again, I’m unbelievably consistent in a bad way- equally missing left as much as right which means aiming for the middle of the fairway alot of times.
So on average, I hit just under 5 greens a round. I’d imagine alot of it has to do with just being out of position off the tee or hitting 3 of the tee. That, plus the early season distance problems only magnified the problem.
Short Game Stats
Short Game Stats (22.9% 3 Putts)
I’m actually very happy with my improved chipping and sand play this year. My putting looks alot worse than it really is because 15/36 rounds were on vacation. Obviously though, cutting down on 3 putts will help my score tremendously.
My handicap this year according to these apps jumped all over the place- from 21 down to 15.8 in August/September and then back up to 18.8 due to lots of rounds in the 91-94 range during the golf trip in December.
1. Work on the Driver.
I haven’t really worked much on driver in recent years. I think I’ve gotten most of the getting stuck, stall and flip out of my system through 2014 and 2015 so maybe it’s time to re-visit driver again.
Flexibility: For the off season, away from the course, I want to just focus on increasing flexibility and being able to bend properly from the hips. That means lots of youtube videos on stretching the calves, hamstrings and back.
Early Extension: I think this is partially the reason I strike the ball all over the face. I have a few ideas including drills such as this one from Monte Scheinblum called “zipper away”- where you squat down and back to start the downswing instead of “jumping” up and out like I want to do with the driver.
Driver length: Finally, I decided to cut down my stock 46″ by an inch and 1/4 down to 44 and 3/4″ long. I did this just before my trip and had to do some re-adjusting to figure out how far to stand from the ball. I thought losing that much length might affect the club head or shaft stiffness feel but I honestly haven’t noticed it. As well, my distances haven’t really changed despite the shorter shaft.
2. Stock shot shape?
I started 2015 with a little piece of info from a friend who was taking lessons. He told me his coach said to get to the next level, he’ll have to learn how to play both a draw and a fade. Unfortunately, I find I can purposely only hook or slice- just don’t have the fine grained control needed yet to draw and fade on demand. So instead, I think in 2016, I need to just work on a stock shot or shape. Even if that shot is “close to straight” would give me less wildness then attempting to tame something that is a little wild today. Also, I’m wondering if maybe something’s lost in relaying the message. I’m thinking the coach actually meant “being able” to play different shots as opposed to literally purposefully customization shots for each hole that you play.
3. Short Game.
Keep working on chipping and putting. I’m quite happy with my chipping and putting this year. There were lots of good chips into gimme range and I’d like to see more of these next year. Mid-year, I ran into issues and got it fix again by focusing on hitting down through the ball and not trying to look up quickly to see the ball in the air. Once I committed to making a clean hit instead of chasing the ball with my head, my chips became alot more solid again.
Keep working on grip! It’s crazy how easy it is to lose a fundamental like grip over the winter. I found on the golf trip that I started to fade and slice my long irons again and that may be due to unconsciously moving back to a weaker grip again. I’ll have to remember how I corrected my weak cuts in the summer by keep on working on going to a stronger grip and trying to ingrain the right palm down feeling.
Rehab the elbows and my poor left thumb. I injured my left thumb during the last weekend of golf in October and had to play with a modified grip during the golf trip. (Left thumb wrapped around the right side of the grip instead of directly on top of the grip). It’s slowly healing and I think rest is the best therapy there.I still have tennis elbow in the left arm and golfer’s elbow in the right. It’s been an awful slow recovery. I’ve tried physio but found that the “Tyler Twist” provides the most relief over time..
I’ve been more frequently in the high 80s last year whenever I have my driving working. I still have the occasional 100+ blow up rounds so next year, my goal is to be in the high 80s more often and try to limit my blow ups to the mid 90s. I’ve played golf for too many seasons to still shooting those occasional 100s! On the other side, I hope to break through that 85 barrier as well and start to really start to improve!
Golf can be a struggle sometimes but in a way, that really is the true attraction of the game. You have to always work at it and can never ever really reach “perfection”. It is a game where grinding through many down moments is just part of the game, but it also makes the “up” moments so much more rewarding. It’s been a great 2015 and fun to reflect on personal achievements and appreciate small victories and I’m looking forward to 2016! (Now to wait through this Canadian winter…..)
Have a Merry Christmas and here’s to another hopeful season in 2016!