Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shafted: Hybrid Gets a Makeover

Driving Range
Bensalem Township Country Club
200 Brown Ave.
Bensalem, Pa

Earlier this week I picked up my TaylorMade Raylor 4-hybrid from Golfsmith, where I had them re-shaft it with a UST i-Rod  hybrid shaft. I also had the length increased to 40-inches so it would play between a 3- and -iron in my bag. The Raylor was created by TaylorMade for some of its staffers to use at the 2009 U.S.Open at Bethpage Black. It has a "V-shaped" sole which makes it easier to hit the ball out of rough and to get the ball airborne from the fairway.
 TM Raylor (above) and UST i-Rod shaft (below)
I had planned to have it in my bag today when I went to the course, but because of the high humidity, I decided to skip playing a round and instead went to the driving range at Bensalem Township Country Club. I purchased a large bucket, which gave me 80 balls to hit. I warmed up with some stretching and 10 sand wedges, then hit 10 9-irons and 7-irons. I varied my targets, hitting to the left and right, as well as down the center. After five 5-irons, I hit 10 hybrids, 10 5-woods and 12 3-woods, before finishing off my time on the range with 13 drivers. Overall, I hot good shots, but there were some fat and thin shots mixed in. I continued to work on my pre-shot move of rehearsing my takeaway to get the feel of the club moving back.

 Bensalem CC Driving Range

After the range, I moved over to the putting green and practiced for about 20 minutes, hitting both short and long putts. On the long putts, I was trying to get a feel for speed and distance control, while I tried working on accuracy on the shorter putts. I also used a yardstick, anchored by two tees, to try and keep my putter moving in a straight line. I have neglected my short game practice this year and it has hurt my scoring as I have been inconsistent on my short putts all year. This has led to way too many three-putts. I hope this practice time on the putting green will payoff the next round I play.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

No Beating the Heat

With the East Coast in the grips of a killer heat wave, I decided to rest my game this weekend. The thoughts of last weekend's final few holes at The Fairways and how I felt afterwards from the 90+ temperatures were enough to confirm that skipping golf this weekend wasn't such a bad thing. I did, however, pick up two new pieces for my arsenal--an Adams Golf Speedline Fast 10 3- and 5-Wood. They will replace the TaylorMade Burners that I had been previously carrying. I picked them up on sale at a Dicks Sporting Goods near Easton, Pa., while visiting family this weekend.
 The 3-Wood has an 15-degrees of loft and an Aldila Wasabi graphite shaft, while the 5-Wood is 18-degrees with a Grafalloy High Launch graphite shaft. As you may know, Adams Golf first made its name with its Tight Lies Fairway woods in the 1990s, which revolutionized fairways woods through its low center of gravity and upside-down head design. Adams has gone on to become a leader in hybrids and is very popular among players on the Champions Tour, including Tom Watson. I've ready really good reviews of the Speedline Fast 10 and I can't wait to get them on the practice range to get better acquainted

Monday, July 18, 2011

Recovery Continues at The Fairways

The Fairways Golf & Country Club
Warrington, Pa
Yards: 2255/2248 - 4503
Par: 32/33 - 65
Rating: 62.1, Slope: 104
Score: 47/41 = 88
Date: July 17, 2011

I continued to work on the recovery of my game with a round on Sunday at The Fairways Golf & Country Club in Warrington, Pa. I was hoping to build on some of the momentum I established last week at Juniata Golf Club. Under sunny, skies, it was hot and humid as I teed off on the Tenth Hole with Jim and Jim, a father and son that the starter paired with me. My goal for this round was to continue to build consistency in my swing and my putting. I was also playing my first round with the new prototype golf ball that had been sent to me for testing by a major equipment company.

The Fairways Scorecard - Front Nine

Typically at The Fairways, I play better on the front nine than I do on the back.For this round, I chose a 5-wood off the tee at the short, 248-yard Par 4 Tenth Hole and crushed a drive that left me about 30 shorts of the green. I pitched long, then three-putted for a bogey 5. The Eleventh Hole at The Fairways has a local rule that only allows an iron off the tee at the 291-yard Par 4 Hole which doglegs right. This hole typically gives me problems as I always hit my second shot well right of the green, often out-of-bounds, and usually a triple-bogey or worse.. Yesterday I had no such problem as I wedged on for my third shot and two-putted for another bogey. A missed short putt at the Par 3 Twelfth led to my third straight bogey, but another 5-wood, wedge and two putts gave me a par at 292-yard Par 4 Thirteenth. A two-putt par at the 134-yard Par 3 Fourteenth was followed by a bogey when I missed the 113-yard Fifteenth Hole left off the tee. At teh Sixteenth, a 323-rad Par 4, I missed the fairway left, punched down the fairway, wedged on and two-putted from distance for another bogey. At the 374-yard Par 4 Seventeenth, I hit driver for the first time and crushed a nice draw that landed in the center of the fairway, 134 yards from the green. But with the fairway sloping from left-to-right, the ball was slightly below my feet and I skulled my approached over the green. I pulled my pitch left and again missed the green, which led to a double-bogey 6. The Eighteenth is a 334-yard Par 4 which doglegs right, which two bunkers on the right at the dogleg. I aimed my 3-wood at the bunkers and hit a nice draw which found the left side of the fairway, about 100 yards from the green. But my approach found the right greenside bunker and I made a bogey 5 after pitching out and two-putting. This left me with a respectable 41 for my first nine holes.

 The Fairways Scorecard - Back Nine

My playing partners decided to tackle the back nine again, so at the First Hole, I was paired with two young men, Chris and Adam. I hit driver off the tee and crushed another drive that ran through the end of the fairway. I hit a sand wedge to clear the pond fronting the green but went long and made a double bogey 6 after I failed to pitch back on the putting surface. At the 322 Second Hole, which plays slightly downhill, I hung a 3-wood out to the right, but had a good angle from the rough with a 9-iron. I cam up short of the two bunkers that guard the front of the green, chipped on and made another par. I made bogey at the short, 109-yard Par 3 Third Hole when I hit my tee shot fat and into the left bunker. I found the left bunker again at the 161-yard Par Fourth Hole when I three-putted after blasting out of the sand. The tee at the 372-yard Par Fifth Hole has been reopened, and I hit my 5-wood left into the treeline, then punched out into a creek on the right side of the fairway short of the green. Because of the dry conditions we have been having, the creek bed was only mud, so I blasted out--covering the front of me with mud--to the left side of the fairway, about 25 yards short of the green. My bump-and-run with a 9-iron just skirted the hole, but I missed the comeback putt for another double bogey. The Sixth Hole is a 284-yard Par 4 that plays downhill and has a creek running across about 85 yards from the green. My 5-iron off the tee ran through the fairway and my approach from the rough with a 53-degree wedge bounced over the back of the green. It took me three to chip on then I three-putted for a triple-bogey 7. At this point, despite constantly drinking water throughout the round, I was starting to run out of gas from the heat. My tee shot at the 168-yard Par 3 Seventh found the very back of the green, with the hole cut at the green's false front. My putt went long and rolled off the front of the green, but I nailed the second putt for my fourth par of the round. At the Par 4 Eighth Hole, I missed the green left on my approach, but missed an easy chip and had to putt from the fringe. I missed a short bogey putt for another 6, and with my legs feeling like rubber, I missed the green left at the Par 3 Ninth and made a poor triple bogey to close with a second nine 47 and a total of 88.

The Par 3 Seventh Hole

The Fairways was looking a bit brown due to the dry, hot weather and lack of rain we've experienced in the region. The fairways and areas around the putting surfaces were green, and the rough was playable. Overall, the course was in very good shape.  Overall, I hit the ball very well during my round. I only hit one or two shot that were not as crisp as I would liked. I got a bit careless with some of my chips on the second nine which led to higher scores that I should have posted, but I think some of that had to do with my legs starting to leave in te latter third of my round. My first experience with the prototype ball was very interesting. It seemed very hot coming off the club and my distances yesterday seemed longer than usual. I don't know if this was a result of the ball, the hot and humid conditions or combination of both. But I will say that my initial reaction to the first prototype was very favorable. I'll keep you posted as I play with it more.
Photo by The Muni Golfer

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Being Tested

I have recently been selected to test two new models of a prototype golf ball for a major golf equipment company. They have sent a 3-ball sleeve of each to test. As part of the testing, they ask that you hit drives, hybrid/long iron approach shots, mid-iron approach shots, short iron/full wedge shots and short game shots. Once we have tested each model, we are asked to complete an on-line survey of our on-course evaluations of each. I will playing with these new prototypes in my next few rounds to gather my on course data.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Recovery Round at Juniata

Juniata Golf Club
Philadelphia, Pa
Yards: 2805/2185 - 4990
Par: 34/31 - 65
Rating: 63.2, Slope: 106
Score: 43/49 = 92
Date: July 10, 2011

After my poor play in the Poconos, I decided I would try to get my game back on track with a round on the familiar fairways of Juniata Golf Club. So Sunday afternoon I teed it up trying to find the consistent swing that had carried through the first half dozen rounds of this season. As I had posted earlier, I made some changes to my arsenal, replacing my 4-Wood, 3-hybrid,, 4-iron and putter. In their place were a 3- and 5-Wood, 4-hybrid and a more traditional blade putter. I also wanted to try out a move move that I have added to my pre-shot routine  in which after addressing the ball, I rehearse my club takeaway to get a feel for the club moving back away from the ball. I had noticed Kevin Streelman doing this on the practice and during his round at the recent AT&T National range at Aronimink Golf Club. I had worked on this move during my time at the practice range last week.

 Juniata Scorecard

 I met up with Tim and Darnell on the First Tee to form a threesome for the round. My round started outwell with a 7-iron onto the green, and although I three-putter, I felt very good about my stroke. Tim gave me a small putting tip on the first green and it seemed to help me throughout the round. I went back to a more normal stance and ball positioning for my putting, which also seemed to help. After my bogey at the First, I made pars at the Second and Third Holes, and just missed a third consecutive par at the Fourth Hole after I missed the green to the right with my approach shot from the left rough. An overhooked tee shot at the Fifth Hole led to a double bogey when I lipped out my bogey putt, and I bogeyed the Sixth Hole after finding the left rough with my tee shot. A good drive combined with a good up-and-down from the right fringe gave me another Par at the Seventh Hole, but I closed with back-to-back double bogeys for a 43 on the front nine.  I felt my swing was much better than it had been the two previous rounds and I was making my short putts for a change. With this confidence I headed to Juniata's second nine.

 The Fourth Hole's new fairway bunker

After missing the green right at the Par 3 Tenth Hole, I made a bogey, followed by two more at the Eleventh and Twelfth Holes. At the Par 3 Thirteenth, I again just missed the green to the right, but got up-and-down for my fourth par of the round. I followed that with a hybrid off the Fourteenth tee to just in front of the green, chipped on and two-putted for my fifth par of the day. Then the fun began. The Fifteenth Hole has become something of a mental block for me. Afraid of overcooking my draw out on to Wyoming Avenue, I instead push the ball way right, making it almost impossible to salvage bogey, let alone par. This round was no exception as I hit it into a sand pile and took a triple bogey. The Sixteenth Hole now features a new tee box, which sits back high and above the old one, stretching the hole to 400 yards. It has also eliminated the right side, and for someone like me who draws the ball, has left a tiny window through which to hit your tee shot. I pushed my first two shots off the tee into the woods on the right. I then took drops on the women's tee below and proceeded to dump three more balls into a natural area that has been grown in front of the tee. As I heard chants of "Tin Cup, Tin Cup, Tin Cup" in my head, I finally hit my eleventh shot--a 6-iron--to about 90 yards, wedged on and two-putted for a 14! Although disappointed that the score had ruined my round, I quickly regrouped and made bogeys at the final two holes, including a decent up-and-down from the left bunker at the Par 3 Eighteenth Hole. I back nine 49--which included 20 strokes on the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Holes alone--left me with a 92 for the round.

 The new tee at the Sixteenth Hole

Overall, I played 16 holes really well and two holes really bad. My swing was as close to the best as it has been all season. I got off the tee well, hit my irons crisply, made mist of my chips and pitches, and putted about as well as I have so far this year. I now believe that the two poor rounds I played in the Poconos were just a hiccup as opposed to a decline in my game. The new tee at the Sixteenth Hole will require me to adopt a new strategy of hitting a mid-iron off the tee, with a longer approach shot to the green.  I think a visit to the practice green this week will be beneficial in helping me build on the improved putting from this latest round.
Photos by The Muni Golfer

Saturday, July 9, 2011

For Practice, Just Watch the Pros

Last Saturday I attended the 3rd Round of the AT&T National, the PGA Tour stop that was making the last of its two-year visit to the Philadelphia area. My ticket was a birthday present from Mrs Muni Golfer. I had also attended last year's event. Like last year, I spent a bit of my time at the Practice Range watching the pros prepare for their round or work on some aspect of their game post-round. Here are a few observations of one player who finished T15:

One of the players I had targeted to follow this season was Kevin Streelman, a member of the Wilson Staff tour contingent. He was playing in the AT&T National and was scheduled to tee off at 11:11 a.m. in the 3rd Round. I had arrived at Aronimink Golf Club around 9:30 and went straight to the range. Streelman's wife Courtney, who would caddy for him that day, was already on the range with Kevin's bag, going over the yardage book.
Streelman arrived on the range at 10:17, almost an hour before his scheduled tee time. He went into his bag and pulled out a tube of lip balm, which he applied, then grabbed a handful of tees from the bag and put them in his pocket. He then pulled a wedge from his Wilson Staff bag and began to hit soft pitch shots. After a dozen or so, during which he worked up to a full swing, Streelman then switched to a short iron and began hitting balls at a target green on the right side of the range. After about a dozen balls he switched to a mid-iron and repated the same process before moving to a long iron. After his irons, Streelman took out his hybrid and proceeded to hit about a half dozen balls off the turf, before changing to his 3-Wood and hitting about 4-5 shots off a tee. He then switched to hit driver, which looked like an old Cleveland XLS and hit 4-5 tee shots. He finished off with six more pitch shots with a wedge, before leaving the range.
After the range, Streelman stopped at the short game practice area. He hit about 15 chips and pitches from different locations to the near and far pins positioned on the practice green. He hit them all with the same wedge. He then went into the practice bunker and hit about 8 shots out of the sand to the two pin locations. He finished off with 3-4 more chips before moving to the first putting green just outside the entrance to the Aronimink Clubhouse.
On the putting green, Streelman marked two sleeves of brand new Titleist golf balls, then pulled our a small accessory bag, from which he retrieved a putting clip, which he placed on the face of his Odyssey Dart Putter. He proceeded to hit some long and short putts using two of the balls. After about five minutes, he removed the putting clip and continued to practice his putts. After putting, he pulled a wedge and dropped a few balls into some gnarly rough around the putting green and hit about four chips aiming at a hole. Streelman then moved to a second putting green just across from the First Tee. At this second putting green, Streelman stopped and again pulled a wedge to hit several chips at various holes around the green.
 At 11:05, Streelman and his caddy/wife walked to the First Tee, where he received his scorecard and a sheet indicating the location of that day's hole locations. He also took the time to spray himself with bug repellent, greet his playing partner, Hunter Haas and his caddy, before being introduced and officially teeing off at 11:11 a.m.  I didn't follow Streelman after he teed off, but picked him up again at the Eighth Hole. Despite being one-over on the front nine, he carded three birdies on the back nine and shot a two-under 68 for the round.
While on TV you usually only get to see the players hitting shots on the course, it was fun, and very instructive, to watch how they go about preparing for a competitive round and then actually see then put that preparation to use on the course

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Back to the Range

Driving Range
Bensalem Township Country Club
200 Brown Ave.
Bensalem, Pa

After my awful play in the Poconos, I decided I needed to hit the driving range and see if I couldn't find what was wrong with my swing. So last evening, despite overcast skies and some earlier rain, I hit the range at Bensalem Township Country Club. I only hit a small bucket of balls, which equates to about 40. I warmed up with 10 sand wedges, followed by 10 7-irons. I felt pretty good so I hit my last 20 balls with the driver. I had brought two drivers to the range--a TaylorMade R9 and a TaylorMade Tour Burner--and 10 balls with each. I didn't hit either one that consistently, so I think the Wilson Staff Smooth Driver will stay in the bag for now.
Looking to shake things up a bit, I have also made some other changes to my club set. I have replaced the 4-wood and 3-hybrid with a TaylorMade 3- and 5-wood, my Wilson Staff Ci7 4-iron has been swapped with a TaylorMade r7 CGB 4-iron and my putter is now a Snake Eyes MCS2. Hopefully, these changes will get my game back on track.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Muni Golfer Wins the FedEx Cup!

What an incredible Cinderella story, this Muni Golfer comes outta no where to lead the pack, at the FedEx Cup. He's on his final hole, he's about 455 yards away - he's gonna hit about a two-iron I think. Oh he got all of that one! The crowd is standing on its feet here, the normally reserved crowd - going wild - for this Cinderella, this Muni Golfer, he's come outta no where, he's got about 350 yards left, he's gonna hit about a five-iron, don't you think? He's got a beautiful backswing - that's - Oh he got all of that one! He's gotta be pleased with that, the crowd is just on its feet here, uh - He's the Cinderella boy, uh - tears in his eyes I guess as he lines up this last shot, he's got about 195 yards left, he's got about a - its looks like he's got about an eight-iron. This crowd has gone deathly silent, the Cinderella story, outta no where, a Muni Golfer - now about to become the FedEx Cup champion. It looks like a mirac - It's in the Hole! It's in the Hole....


Huh? Wha...what was I...was I dreaming? Oh well, one can always dream....

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Pocono Mountain High

Earlier this year, Mrs Muni Golfer won the use of a Pocono Mountain vacation home during an auction at a charity fundraiser. So last week, we traveled up to Hawley, Pa., at the northern tip of Lake Wallenpaupack, for a five-day getaway. This provided me with the opportunity to play a couple of courses in the Poconos and to test my game amongst the mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania.

Cricket Hill Golf Club
Hawley, Pa
Yards: 2819/2451 - 5270
Par: 36/35 - 71
Rating: 66.1, Slope: 111
Score: 51/55 = 106
Date: June 28, 2011

For my first round, I played at Cricket Hill Golf Club, a public course located between Hawley and Honesdale, Pa. It was a real bargain, as green fees were only $18 to walk. Check out the Cricket Hill scorecard here. It was overcast and humid when I teed off at teh short, 305-yard First Hole and I promptly hit my tee shot dead right and out-of-bounds. It was an omen of things to come for the next 17 holes. The first four holes at Cricket Hill run parallel up and back, with three short Par 4s and a Par 5. A light rain began to fall as I holed out for an 8 at the First, but I settled down to play bogey over the next five holes. I seemed to have a problem with club selection at the higher altitudes and I was under-clubbing, leaving many of my approach shots short of the green. The rain had stopped by the time I played the Fifth Hole, but the humidity hung on as the sun finally appeared.

The Par 5 Fourth Hole

The signature hole at Cricket Hill is the Sixth, a 150-yard, Par 3 that plays downhill and offers a beautiful vista of the mountains from the tee box. After missing the green right, I chipped on and two-putted for another bogey, before moving to the 325-yard, Par 4 Seventh Hole, which plays back up the hill and doglegs right. I pulled my tee shot well right and had an awkward stance with the ball well below my feet. I managed to knock it back to the fairway, but with the ball again below my feet, I overcompensated and hit my next shot into the woods. I took a drop, hit my fifth shot to the fringe, then two-putted for a 7. That was the second of eight golf balls I would lose during my round. I made bogey at the Par 3 Eighth Hole, before hitting my tee shot way right into a pond at the Ninth, which led to another 7 and a 51 on the front nine.

 The Sixth Hole

At this point, standing on the Tenth tee after a quick stop at the clubhouse, I found myself behind two foursomes of women, neither of which would allow me to play through. The glaciers that moved these mountains thousands of years ago probably moved faster than my round on the back nine. And the second nine at Cricket Hill is completely different than the first. Where the front is fairly open and the holes play straight (except for the dogleg Seventh Hole), the back is shorter, tighter and features six doglegs. Many of these doglegs you can go over with no more than a middle iron, but you then run the risk of leaving yourself with a short pitch from a very awkward distance to a very small, sloping green.

 The Twelfth Hole, dogleg Par 5

My back nine crashed at the Tenth Hole, a 477-yard Par 5 that doglegs left. I hit one ball out of bounds and another was lost when it hit a tree. When I finally tapped in, I had an 11. I managed to hit good tee shots through most of the holes on the back nine, but I could never take advantage, and after a string of 4s and 5s on my card, I came to the very short, 243-yard Par 4 Eighteenth Hole, which doglegs right and has a pond in the middle of the fairway just around the dogleg. I hit three balls into the woods and bookended my back nine with another 11 for a 55 and total of 106. This was the first round this season that I had failed to break 100. I started the round with 12 balls in bag and ended with 4.

 The tight tee shot at the Par 3 Fourteenth

Cricket Hill can be a fun course to play, but you really need to be familiar with the layout. For instance, on the back nine, I would not cut the dogleg on several holes, leaving me with a full short iron shot to the green. I chalked up my bad round to poor course management.  If you ever get up to Wayne County, I definitely recommend you try a round at Cricket Hill. It will be one of the best bargains during your trip.

 The short Eighteenth Hole

Buck Hill Falls Golf Club
Buck Hill Falls, Pa
Yards: (Blue/White Course) 3029/3239 - 6268
Par: 36/36 - 72
Rating: 70.3, Slope: 127
Score: 57/53 = 110
Date: June 30, 2011

My second round in the Poconos was played at Buck Hill Falls Golf Club, which opened in 1901. I have long wanted to play at this historic 27-hole course which was designed by the legendary Donald Ross. Even though it was a 45-minute drive from where we were staying, I didn't to pass up this opportunity. I was especially ready to shake off my bad round at Cricket Hill and get my game back in the groove. My round started off on the Blue Nine, where I teamed up on the First tee with a young woman named Laura. The first two holes of the Blue play straight uphill, then the course winds its way around for the next five holes, before playing back down the mountain towards the clubhouse. Check out the Buck Hill Falls Scorecard here.

 Approach to the Fourth Green--Blue

My round started out OK, with a bogey and double bogey at the first two holes, when again, my poor putting reared its ugly head. The Third and Fourth Holes on the Blue are back-to-back Par 5s, and I played them with a double bogey and bogey. I was not hitting it that well off the tee, my ball striking was not that good, and I was again missing easy putts. At the 143-yard Par 3 Fifth Hole, my Pocono experience was summed up: I missed the green short right, chipped about 10 feet past the hole, then three-putted for a 5. Things only got worse from there as I made 8s on three of the next four holes.

 The Sixth Hole--Blue

Laura only played nine holes, so I was playing solo on my second nine, this time on the White Nine. The White starts out like the Blue, with an uphill Par 4, but is followed by a 523-yard Par 5, with a stream running down the right side and crossing the fairway. I lost two more golf balls on this hole--bringing my total up to four on the round and 12 in 29 holes--for a 10 on the hole. After a double bogey at the Third Hole on the White, I decided to try to forget about everything else and try to concentrate on course management and just getting back to the basics with my swing. I then made a nice bogey at the 554-yard Par 5 Fourth Hole--my twelfth hole of the round. From the Third through Eighth Hole on the White, the course winds through vacation homes set along the fairways. I played a little better the rest of the way in, finishing my round with my only par at the Par 3 Ninth on the White. This 199-yard hole features an elevated tee and plays straight downhill.

 The Eighth Hole--Blue

Even though I shot a 110, Buck Hill Falls is a beautiful, well-maintained course with scenic vistas. In the Donald Ross tradition, it features sloping fairways and devilish greens with many falloffs. I can see why Golf Digest calls it the "best course in the Poconos." It is a course I definitely have on my "must play again" list.

The Par 5 Second Hole--White

In returning from the Poconos, with scores as high as some of the mountain tops, I realize that my game needs some work. My swing is a mess right now, and only some time at the practice range is going to fix it. I also need to work on my putting, which has been brutal all year, as well as my course management. Until I get my game headed in the right direction, I need to take a more conservative approach on the course. Hopefully, some time at the practice range this week will get me headed on the right track.

Houses on the White Nine

The Par 3 Ninth--White

Photos by The Muni Golfer