Sunday, June 24, 2018

Mental Meltdown

Fairways Golf Club
Warrington, Pa.
Yards: 2200/2248 - 4448
Par: 32/33 - 65
Rating: 62.1, Slope: 104
Score: 48/52 = 100
Date: June 22, 2018

One of my golf resolutions for 2018 was to "maintain a focus on course management and playing all of my rounds under (a score of) 100 throughout the season." That resolution or goal came crashing down at Fairways Golf Club on Friday when I shot an even 100 for my round.

Buoyed with confidence from my last three rounds--75, 93 and 90 at the Fairways, Neshaminy Valley Golf Club and John F. Byrne Golf Club, respectively--I was anticipating another opportunity to go low as I stepped onto the first tee. And while I was satisfied with the way I was hitting the ball early on, I was just not getting the results I expected.

Fairways Golf Club Scorecard

As the round progressed, my tee shots strayed ever so slightly off line, iron shots struck crisply came up short, chips and pitches were hit tentatively and putts repeatedly went left or burn the edges. On those rare occasions on the front nine when I had the opportunity to make a par or bogey, it became a bogey, double-bogey or even triple-bogey. It all added up to a front nine 48.

Now, this round was certainly not the first time I had shot a 48 on the front nine at Fairways. And in the past, I have often been able to concentrate, grind out the back nine and post a respectable score. But during this round, try as I might, I could not get my game headed in the right direction. My mental game sagged when I needed it to soar. My mistakes got bigger and the frustration took hold.

My playing partner, who is my cousin, sensing that things were going south mentally, even suggesting letting a twosome behind us play through so I could hopefully regroup mentally. But it was not to be. My back nine scores included a 7, 8 and 9. At the 323-yard Par 4 Sixteenth Hole, my mental meltdown was complete as I thinned my approach shot from the fairway into the right greenside bunker, then hit it across the green to the left bunker, back to the right bunker, then well off the green to the left.

The Sixteenth Hole where I made a 9

In reviewing what went wrong in my round, I realized I was more disappointed in losing my mental approach than I was in hitting bad shots. As I lost focus, I lost my ability to grind. So, my resolution or goal for the year will be revised to "maintain a focus on course management and playing all of my remaining rounds under a score of 100 for the remainder of the 2018 golf season."

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Not Getting Byrne(d)

John F. Byrne Golf Club
Philadelphia, Pa.
Yards: 2273/2658 - 4931
Par: 33/34 - 67
Rating: 63.9, Slope: 116
Score: 46/44 = 90
Date: June 15, 2018

While the world's best golfers were grinding away Friday during the second round of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills on the eastern tip of Long Island, I was grinding away during my own round at John F. Byrne Golf Club in Northeast Philadelphia.

John F. Byrne Scorecard

While Shinnecock is a private wind-swept, links-style course that is ranked among the top 10 in the world, Byrne is a Philadelphia-owned municipal track that sits in a valley, with the Torresdale Creek serpentining throughout. It is more renowned for its elevation changes than its scenic views.

My round got off to an okay start, with a two-putt bogey at the First Hole, followed by a double-bogey at the long Par 3 Second Hole, which requires golfers to hit a very tiny green with their downhill tee shots.

After a routine par at the short Par 4 Third Hole, I faced the short, but devilish Par 4 Fourth Hole. Although the hole only plays 293 yards, your tee shot must carry over the creek and through a narrow opening in the treeline 145 yards off the tee. From there, the fairway slopes severely downhill from left to right. If you make it through the opening to the fairway, you must play your approach shot--often with ball well below your feet--uphill to the tiny green that juts out from the side of the hill. Any approach shot that misses left or right leaves a very difficult chip or pitch.

Opting for a conservative approach off the tee, I hit my 4-wood at the right side, hoping to draw the ball toward the center of the gap. My shot, however, hung to the right just enough and while I didn't hear it hit in the trees of the creek, I was unable locate my ball on either side of the creek. I finally took a drop on the tee-side of the creek, and drawing a poor lie, hit my third shot into the weeds along
Fourth Hole looking back to the tee
the creek bank. Another drop. I hit my fifth shot over the creek up the left side about 50 yards short of the green. With the ball way below my feet as I took my stance, my punch (sixth) shot landed short and bounded right down the hill below the green. My chip up (seventh shot) ran over the green into the rough, but against the hill. With room for much of a backswing, I hacked down on the ball (eighth shot), which squirted across and off the green. I chipped again (ninth shot), this time stopping the ball about six feet from the hole. I sank the putt for a 10!

As I headed to the Fifth Hole, my mind made me think I was playing the world class U.S. Open venue, not a Philly muni course! A 10! On only the fourth hole of the round. But wait, there was still 14 more holes to play and I was not going to let this one hole blow up my round and my score! All week long, I have listened to golf commentators talk about players who are grinders, who don't have flashy styles, but who get the ball in the hole and post good scores. Well, here was my chance to be a grinder! To focus and put up a good score, despite the 10. My immediate goal became keeping my score under 100, shooting in the 90s at minimum, and if possible, getting into the 80s since the last time I played this course in 2016, I shot 86.

The comeback started at the 293 yard Par 4 Fifth Hole. I hit 7-wood off the tee, leaving me a gap wedge for my approach that I hit to 15 feet. Two-putts and a par. The grind has begun. I miss-clubbed at the downhill Par 3 Sixth Hole, hitting my tee shot into the creek that front the green. Double-bogey. A poor chip led to a bogey at the short Seventh Hole and a bad tee shot at the slightly uphill Par 3 Eighth led to another. At the 376 yard Par 4 Ninth, the tee shot starts out downhill, goes over the creek, then straight uphill to the green. I found the fairway, but came up well short on my approach, then hit my pitch a good 25 feet past the hole. But I slowly rolled in the slick downhill putt for par and a score of 46 on the front nine, even with a 10 at the Fourth!

I stood with confidence on the Tenth tee, another downhill tee shot that had to cross the creek. It quickly evaporated when my tee shot found the water and led to a double-bogey. I pulled my tee shot well left at the uphill Par 3 Eleventh Hole, which resulted in another double-bogey. But I was grinding, and my tee shot at the Par 5 Twelfth Hole found the middle of the fairway. I hooked my lay-up left with my hybrid, pitched out to the fairway, then wedged on to 15 feet. Two-putts and a six. A three-putt bogey at the very short Par 3 Thirteenth Hole was followed by another bogey at the long, 219-yard Par 3 Fourteenth Hole. After missing the green right for another double-bogey at the Par 3 Fifteenth, I was determined to finish strong. Although my tee shot went left into the treeline at the Par 5 Sixteenth, I hooked a 5-iron out and down the fairway. My third shot with a 7-iron came up short of the green, but I chipped on and made the 12 foot putt for a par. I found the left rough on the Seventeenth and my approach shot went even more left. I got a break when my pitch shot hung up just above the right bunker, leaving me a straight chip and a short putt for bogey. I got another fantastic break at the Eighteenth, as my tee shot at the 371-yard Par 4 hit in the creek, bounced high in the air and forward up the fairway, leaving me 135 yards uphill to the green. My approach with an 8-iron found the left rough and I chipped up to two feet and a closing par. It added up to a 44 on the back nine.

As I headed to the clubhouse, I felt a great deal of satisfaction. I had done it. I had grinded out a decent score on a day when my game wasn't hitting on all cylinders. I had met the goal I set for myself after the disastrous 10 on the Fourth Hole. I hadn't let it define my round.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Another Hybrid Audition

Since the longest iron I carry is a 5-iron, I have long searched for a club to fill the gap between my fairway woods and my irons. This club has ranged from a 4-hybrid to a 4 utility iron.

This season alone, in the five rounds I have played thus far, I have carried a TaylorMade hybrid three
times and a Wilson Staff utility iron twice. Now, a new club is auditioning for the opportunity to fill that critical spot in my golf arsenal.

On Sunday, I picked up a Top-Flite Gamer Tour 4-hybrid at Dick's Sporting Goods. Top-Flite, which used to be owned by the Spalding Company and had a major presence on the PGA Tour, is now a brand that is exclusive to Dick's and Golf Galaxy. During the first 10 years or so of my golfing career, I used Top-Flite golf balls exclusively, so I feel some good karma having this brand return to my bag.

The new hybrid, which I purchased on sale for $40, has 22 degrees of loft a heavy head which features a low center of gravity to aid in getting the ball in the air. It also features an Aldila NV 75 shaft, which retails for more than I paid for the club.

The new hybrid will get its first audition in the bag when I play my next round this weekend. I look forward to seeing if it will earn a permanent place among my golfing arsenal.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Trying to Stay in the Zone

Neshaminy Valley Golf Club
Jamison, Pa.
Yards: 3338/2676 - 6014
Par: 36/34 - 70
Rating: 68.7, Slope: 118
Score: 48/45 = 93
Date: June 8, 2018

Trying to follow up on my record-setting round the previous Friday, I teed it up at Neshaminy Valley Golf Club. This course is where I had posted my lowest round ever for a course of Par 70 or better when I shot an 87 in 2011 (later tied with an 87 at The Rookery South in 2014).

Neshaminy Valley Scorecard - Front Nine

The tone for the day would be set early when I three-putter the First Hole, something that would be repeated throughout my round. The greens were seriously slow, much like they were a few weeks ago at Juniata Golf Club. No matter how hard I tried, mentally, I could not get myself to hit the putts hard enough to get them to the hole.

Neshaminy Valley Scorecard - Back Nine

On the front nine, I had two pars--a nice sand save at the long Par 3 Sixth Hole and the Par 5 Ninth Hole--two bogeys and five double bogeys. Most were the result of not being able to adjust to the slow speed of the greens.

The Twelfth Hole from the tee

On the back nine, I again made two pars at the Eleventh and Twelfth Holes, but I could have had at least two or three more if I could have putted better. My only bad hole on the back was at the Par 5 Fourteenth Hole, where I hooked my second shot left and had to chip back towards the fairway, then hit my fourth shot over the green, which led to a triple-bogey 7.

The Par 5 Fourteenth Hole

While I won't certainly complain about shooting a 93 at Neshaminy Valley, my score could have been so much better if I could have putted better.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

In the Zone at the Fairways

Fairways Golf Club
Warrington, Pa.
Yards: 2200/2248 - 4448
Par: 32/33 - 65
Rating: 62.1, Slope: 104
Score: 39/36 = 75
Date: June 1, 2018

It was one of days that you typically get in the summer: overcast, very humid, possible periods of sun, threat of pop-up heavy storms. Watching the meteorologists on the morning news, I was unsure if I should try to play nine holes, go to the practice range and just hit a bucket of balls, or find something else to do. Ultimately decided to try to play nine holes--thankfully--and it turned out to be a record-setting round for me!

As I set off to the Fairways Golf Club, my intention was to walk and play nine holes before the afternoon storms. But when I arrived at the course, I quickly changed my mind and decided to get a cart and play all 18 holes if possible. It turned out to be the right decision as the sun came out after a few holes and the storms never materialized. Not only did I play 18 holes, I made 10 pars during my round and shot my lowest score ever on a course with a par under 70: 75.

My scorecard from the record-setting round

The course was fairly empty when I teed off, no doubt a result of the uncertain weather forecast. But standing on the first tee, I had no clue as to the round that I would produce over the next couple of the hours. Here is a hole-by hole breakdown of my record-setting round (all yardage is what is indicated on the scorecard and not the actual yardage from the tee):

First Hole: 341 Yards, Par 4 -- My drive found the left side of the fairway in the first cut of rough. My approach with a 6-iron found the green and I lagged my first putt up for a sure opening par. But when I lipped out the par putt, I thought, "Uh-oh, I could be in for one of those days." Score: 5 (+1).

Second Hole: 322 Yards, Par 4 -- My drive found the fairway and my 8-iron approach trickled out of the left fringe and onto the green. I two-putted for par. Score: 4, Total: 9 (+1).

Third Hole: 109 Yards, Par 3 -- I hit my tee shot a tad fat and came up short left of the green. I chipped past the hole and two-putted for a bogey. Score: 4, Total: 13 (+2).

The Third Hole

Fourth Hole: 161 Yards, Par 3 -- My worst hole of the round. I overplayed my 5-iron off the tee into a bunker on the left of the green. Because of water in the bunker, I got relief, but had an awkward downhill stance and left my second shot in the bunker.  Another awkward stance, but I managed to just blast the ball out of the bunker and into the rough. A chip and two putts for a triple bogey. Score: 6, Total: 19 (+5).

Fifth Hole: 317 Yards, Par 4 -- My 3-wood off the tee found the left center of the fairway, but I hung my 8-iron approach to the right of the green in the collar. I chipped on and one-putted for par. Score: 4, Total 23 (+5).

Sixth Hole: 284 Yards, Par 4 -- I hit a 4-hybrid off the tee to the left side of the fairway, but again hung my approach out to the right rough with my Pitching Wedge. I chipped just below the hole and made the putt for back-to-back pars. Score: 4, Total: 27 (+5).

The Sixth Hole

Seventh Hole: 168 Yards, Par 3 -- My 6-iron off the tee landed in the right bunker. I splashed out onto the green and two-putted for a bogey. Score: 4, Total: 31 (+6).

Eighth Hole: 365 Yards, Par 4 -- My drive found the center of the fairway, but I thinned my 7-iron to the right rough, short of the green. I hit a so-so pitch which hopped onto the front of the green. Two putts for a bogey. Score: 5, Total: 36 (+7).

Ninth Hole:133 Yards, Par 3 -- My 8-iron off the tee found the right side of the green, where I two-putted to close out the front nine with my fourth par of the round and one of my best front nines ever at the Fairways. Score: 3, Total: 39 (+7).

A brief stop in the clubhouse to use the facilities and then I headed to the back nine hoping to continue the momentum from the opening nine holes. Several times on the back nine I had to give myself a pep talk to stay in the present and not think about a final score.

Tenth Hole: 248 Yards, Par 4 -- I hit a 3-hybrid off the tee, which found the first cut of rough on the left side of the fairway. My Gap Wedge from 88 yards found the right side of the green and I two-putted for another par. Score: 4, Total: 43 (+7).

Eleventh Hole: 291 Yards, Par 4 -- A dogleg right where you can only hit an iron off the tee, this hole has given me nightmares over the years. I hit a 7-iron off the tee and through the dogleg into the rough. My approach shot came up short and left. I chipped on and two-putted for a bogey. Score: 5, Total: 48 (+8).

Twelfth Hole: 139 Yards, Par 3 -- My 8-iron off the tee ended up hole-high, but in the right rough. I chipped just below the hole, then made my par putt. Score: 3, Total 51 (+8).

The Par 3 Twelfth Hole

Thirteenth Hole: 292 Yards, Par 4 -- A 3-wood off the tee found the right side of the fairway. My Gap Wedge approach from 88 yards was a touch heavy and trickled onto the front of the green, but a long way from the back hole location. After coming up a good short with my first putt, I three-putted for a bogey. Score: 5, Total: 56 (+9).

Fourteenth Hole: 134 Yards, Par 3 -- I hit my tee shot about 15 feet left of the hole, but left my birdie putt too high and made par. Score: 3, Total 59 (+9).

Fifteenth Hole: 113 Yards, Par 3 -- Playing 122 yards this round, I hit a Pitching Wedge about 20 feet right of the hole, but came up short on my birdie putt. Another par. Score: 3, Total 62 (+9).

Sixteenth Hole: 323 Yards, Par 4 -- I pulled my Driver left into the rough and had a long approach. I hit a 6-iron which again found rough left and short of the green. I chipped on and two-putted for a bogey. Score: 5, Total: 67 (+10).

Seventeenth Hole: 374 Yards, Par 4 -- Another Driver than went left, but this time it was in the first cut of rough. My 5-iron approach from about 165 yards rolled up onto the green about 12 10 feet to the left of the hole. My uphill putt just missed and I tapped in for my ninth par of the round. Score: 4, Total: 71 (+10).

The tee shot at the Eighteenth Hole

Eighteenth Hole: 334 Yards, Par 4 -- Another dogleg right, my tee shot found the left side of the fairway, but my approach was again a touch heavy. From short and left of the green I chipped past the hole, but made the downhill eight footer for my tenth par of the round. Score: 4, Total 75 (+10).

The score of 75 beat the 77 I shot at Juniata Golf Club in October 2001. I was +5 on the Par 3s and +5 on the Par 4s. The 10 pars also eclipsed the 8 I made during a round at the old Horsham Valley Golf Club in August 2010.

I also went back to the bag setup I had for my first round this year, except I swapped out a 3-hybrid for the 7-wood and an old 16-degree Golfsmith 3-wood for my 4-wood.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Home, Not So Sweet, Home

Juniata Golf Club
Philadelphia, Pa.
Yards: 2805/2185 - 4990
Par: 34/31 - 65
Rating: 64.2, Slope: 106
Score: 50/44 = 94
Date: May 30, 2018

On Wednesday, the Muni Golfer returned to his roots for a round at Juniata Golf Club, the Philadelphia-owned course along the banks of the Tacony Creek, where I learned to play golf. Although the course is officially owned by the city, it is successfully operated by the non-profit Juniata Golf Foundation.

Juniata Scorecard

Under gray skies, humid temperatures and the threat of showers, I teed it up at Juniata for the first time in nearly two years, and only the second time since 2012. The foundation has done a lot of landscaping and other improvements over the last decade or so, and they are noticeable as you play the course. However, and I will attribute some of the this to the very wet spring we have experienced, the grass was thick from the tee boxes to the greens. In fact, Juniata's greens were some of the slowest I have ever played on. On one green, I hit my putt so hard that on any other course it would have rolled past the hole and six feet off the green, but in this case, I cam up six feet short of the hole. When I missed a fairway, which was too frequently, my optic yellow golf ball was often difficult to find.

Conditions aside, I did not play very well. I was using this round as an opportunity to try a new Wilson Staff F5 Driver and Ping G20 4-Wood. Although the Driver has a regular flex shaft, it felt a bit stiff and I left numerous tee shots out to the right and short. This left me with long second shots from the gnarly rough, which meant long pitch shots to the green for my third shot. Coupled with the very slow greens and it added up to multiple double- and triple-bogeys.

After the Sixth Hole, where I pulled my tee shot just into the left rough and couldn't find the ball, I was very frustrated. But I gave my self a lecture about grinding out the round. I recovered a bit and made my first birdie of the season at the short, but challenging Seventh Hole. I shot a very uncharacteristic 50 on the front nine. I played slightly better on the back nine, making pars at the Thirteenth and Fourteenth holes, but still shot 44 on the easier of the Juniata's two nines. This gave me a disappointing score of 94 for the round.

For now, I will go back to my Wilson Staff Smooth Driver while I work with the F5 at the practice range to see if it has a place in my bag. My search for a reliable fairway wood that I get hit consistently off the tee also continues. Up next is an old Golfsmith XPC Plus 3-wood, which has 16 degrees of loft. I am hoping that it pairs well with my WS D200 7-Wood.

Because of the threat of afternoon thunderstorms, Friday is going to be a practice day at the range as opposed to a playing day on the course.